Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Discourse of Significant Disagreement

A general idea in the public discourse of the presidential debates seems to be that the debates are about the most fundamental issues in which the candidates disagree at least slightly. This at any rate is clearly propounded by the punditry and evident in my conversations and the testimony of others. Even some persons who think that there is no significant difference between the candidates seem to believe the candidates disagree about fundamental issues vocally (though not, according to these persons in action). Glenn Greenwald has written a nifty piece arguing against this proposition. If Greenwald and I am right so much for the discourse of significant disagreement.  From the opening paragraph of Greenwald's piece we read his thesis:

"Wednesday night's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney underscored a core truth about America's presidential election season: the vast majority of the most consequential policy questions are completely excluded from the process. This fact is squarely at odds with a primary claim made about the two parties – that they represent radically different political philosophies – and illustrates how narrow the range of acceptable mainstream political debate is in the country."
He goes on to list the issues which candidates generally agree on in his piece. Such as:
  • The perpetuation of a prison state
  • Belief that we ought to continue the war on drugs
  • Substantial agreement on our foreign policy in the Middle East (Drone warfare, support for Israel, "belligerence towards Iran")
  • The growth of the surveillance state
  • Upholding international free-trade agreements
  • Refusal to prosecute suspected war criminals and wall street bankers in the states
  • Support for the executive power to assassinate US citizens
It does certainly seem as though these issues, if not fundamental, are quite important indeed! I think there are two more issues that the presidents unfortunately agree on that receive even less coverage than those issues on Glenn's list.

(1) The issue of nonhuman animal rights. The fact is that the US is engaged in an act of extreme barbarism by brutally raising, exploiting, and slaughtering billions of animals yearly. We do so in a way that accentuates unnecessary suffering. (There are really two issues here: whether it's permissible to exploit animals by killing them and whether the way in which we actually exploit animals is permissible. Here I am only concerned with the latter--as it's less controversial, though the former is clearly important as well)

(2) The issue of global poverty. This ought to be a central issue of international relations and policy. The deaths due to wars like Iraq pales before the number of yearly deaths due to poverty. UNICEF has estimated that
Roughly 1/3 of all human deaths, some 18 million annually, are due to poverty related causes, easily preventable through better nutrition, safe drinking water, mosquito nets, re-hydration packs, vaccines and other medicines
This is a problem would appear to have easy and affordable solutions for affluent countries like the US. Yet our foreign aid practices continue to be insufficient and pathetically ill-supported.

Hence although there is disagreement, the idea that this disagreement ranges across the spectrum of significant issues is an entirely untrue. So much the worse for our political discourse.

In a similar vein here is a piece by Noam Chomsky Issues that Obama and Romney Avoid

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why You Can Carry a Gun and be Pro-Gun Control

There is a confusion in the current gun-control debates. Many persons of the pro-gun persuasion will respond to a tragedy by claiming "if the victims had guns, then this tragedy would have been prevented, hence we should allow guns to be obtained easier and so on." Against this those tempted to a gun-control view say "na, uh, they wouldn't have been safer." But there is no need for those pro-control persons to say this! What they should say is "yes, you're right, but what I am concerned about is the whole of society being better off with gun-control." What the anti-control advocate has claimed doesn't follow. The proposition "individual x would have been better off had she been armed" is consistent with the proposition "society x would be better off if guns were illegal."

This shows that contrary to popular opinion one can carry guns while being pro-gun control. Such a person may think I would be better off with a gun, but society in general is worse off with the existing gun laws.

By no means am I claiming that persons should do this, only that it is a coherent position. Perhaps even reasonable in some situations.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Future For This Blog? And an Update?

I have clearly not blogged in quite a bit. As such I may slightly change the nature of this blog. I would like posts to be even shorter then usual, and more of the cuff as it were. I think these two blogs (kungfuhobbit and Alexander Pruss) manage to be brief in posts, yet deep in content. I would like to follow suit.

Generally I plan out the topics that I would like to blog about, these topics seldom come to be or rather turn into paper projects. For example I was hoping to post on why I am no longer a naturalist, the Israeli-Palistinian conflict, Schellenberg's work, political philosophy, the election, do a series of posts on animal ethics, and so on. The list is gargantuan and has become rather intimidating. These posts will probably come, but perhaps they have more chance of coming to be if I post a snippet at a time. And if there is something worth turning into a longer post or project I shall act in an appropriate manner.

There are several other announcements worthy of mention:

A new Outer Room is in progress.
Exercise II is coming along slowly.
I am running for President of the United States of America in 2028. Here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Human Lives

The question "what is the meaning of life" persists. In this post I would like to summarize what I think answers to a form of this question may be, from a humanist non-religious framework. Consider these thoughts more of speculations, possibilities, or leanings of mine rather then beliefs.

One way of interpreting the question "what is the meaning of life" is to ask what good's make life worthwhile. But we aren't looking for answers that are merely subjective we want objective answers to these questions. That is, the meaning of life isn't the pursuit of goods that merely satisfy a subjects desires, an appropriate answer to the question lies independent of what people think, it will be objective. For example a  life where a person is satisfied by endless stamp collecting doesn't seem meaningful despite the subject's satisfaction. At any rate such a life shouldn't seem meaningful to the humanist!

Ancient Wisdom

An ancient perspective on the meaning of life is that the "most worthwhile kind of life involves pursuing the joint tasks of understanding oneself and of understanding one's place within the universe." (See Evan Fales paper Despair, Optimist, and Rebellion) Notice how stamp collecting (unlike philosophical investigation, religious practice, and so on) does nothing to advance these goals. So some lives will be more worthwhile then others. Those lives which face the facts of human existence, the facts of this particular universe, and all that entails will be meaningful lives.

Yet one might worry that this perspective merely rephrases the initial concern. We want to know what we are and what our place in the universe is not to merely pose a question! Although the investigation of understanding into the depths of what we are and reality at large may be meaningful in itself, how much better will the answers to such questions be! As such we may want to consider some answers.

Social Goods

Humans are social animals, that is one aspect of what we are and one way to understand what we are. So perhaps one way in which life is worthwhile, and good is through  social pursuit. In getting to know other human beings, being involved in their lives and having other human beings know and be involved with us (our desires, needs, and other attributes) life takes on meaning. The goods of relationships with other animals (human and nonhuman) not only bring about pleasures (and of course pains), insight, but may also be good in themselves. 

Another good related to human sociability is being good. Treating others with moral concern is not only morally good, but meaningful as well. For example lives fighting for justice and equality, against racism, sexism, speciesism, and statism certainly seem meaningful. There is of course the question of whether life is meaningful in mere pursuit of such causes or in actual, concrete success. Either way morality will be relevant, central even in a meaningful life.

Human lives may also gain a boost in meaningfulness from aesthetic concerns. Fittingness is one of those aesthetic components. We might best capture what fittingness is by analogy. Suppose you are considering where to put your door frame, mentally picturing different possibilities, now absent practical concerns how are you to choose? Most likely on basis of what simply looks right, or in other word in which set-up fits. Not how it fits in respect to itself (whether the door itself looks right) but whether the door looks right in it's environment, in this case the house. We might describe fittingness as this then:
Fittingness is a judgment and experience of a thing x in regards to the surrounding things y. The judgment is an aesthetic judgment of x being in the state that it should be or is proper in an environment of y, where y’s properties are setting what x should be or is proper
How does this relate to the meaning of lives? I will quote Roger Scruton from his nifty book A Very Short Introduction to Beauty , “Aesthetic interest has a transfiguring effect. It is as though the natural world, represented in consciousness, justifies both itself and you. And this experience has a metaphysical resonance.” There is then a move between a fittingness of other objects, to the fittingness of the self. We recognize at certain parts in our lives that we are where we should be in relation to the universe. We are at home. These experiences are examples of fittingness. Now it is no doubt quite mysterious and vague how this works, but never the less it is significant. for these experiences of fittingness “contain a reassurance that this world is a right and fitting place to be—a home in which our human powers and prospects find confirmation."


The above answers to the question "what is the meaning of live" all have objective answers. We can answer whether someone is in fact living a life with ancient wisdom, full of social goods, and one that is fitting (independent about what they think or feel is the case). The answers to these questions will not depend on that persons desires, or satisfaction. Yet what if that person is horribly unhappy are we still to say that  their life is meaningful. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps happiness is a necessary condition for fittingness. At any rate one may think that a severely unhappy life isn't a life that is worth living, and thus it is not a meaningful life. Facing this challenge perhaps we could say that in order for a life to be meaningful there must be a marriage between subjective and objective goods. It is not enough to have one without the other. A meaningful life must be one in which a subjects desires are satisfied, but it must also have meaning outside of the subjects desires and preference. 

These then are a few ways in which a humanist can answer the question "what is the meaning of life." This list should of course not be taken as extensive by any means. Clearly each category of meaningfulness could use some more sketching out. At any rate I hope to have shown that there is some plausible answers for the humanist for the persisting question.

See Mere Humanism for a discussion on what a Mere Humanist might be.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mere Humanism

In Mere Christianity C.S Lewis argues for an account of what you need to believe in order to be a Christian. Of course there is a huge variety of beliefs between Christian denominations (possibly up to 50,000!) and within those denominations. What Lewis attempts to do is pinpoint the beliefs most of these Christians have in common, thus Mere Christianity.

I would like to shortly speculate what Mere Humanism might look like. After all so called, humanists differ in many ways (some are agnostic, others naturalist, they have different ethical beliefs, some are vicious in there opposition to religion others couldn't care less and so on). For example here is a definition of Humanism from my magazine the Humanist (which is produced by the American Humanist Association):

"Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny."

and according to Wikipedia:

"Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters."

From the American Humanist Association website:

"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."

My first qualm with these definitions is that they are speciesist, they only mention the value of humans rather than that nonhuman animals. So much the worse for humanism if it entails speciesism. Thankfully I don't think it does, at any rate Mere Humanism shall not!

Religious Skepticism

Humanism we are told is devoid of "theism and other supernatural beliefs"? But should the Mere Humanist reject all supernatural beliefs or remain skeptical? Should they even reject all religions beliefs? I don't think they should reject such beliefs nor should Mere Humanism entail that. For example it seems as though agnostics (even though they don't positively deny the existence of a theistic God) can be humanists! Moreover at the bottom of religious claims one sees, as J. L. Schellenberg has argued, what he calls Ultimism. Ultimism is the belief in a metaphysically and axiologically ultimate reality. So at the root of religious claims there is an ultimate reality and part of that reality exist the deepest possible goods which humans may receive/experience/whatever in relation to it. A reality that is ultimate and salvific. It is noteworthy that even though an athiest rejects theism they don't deny Ultimism, for theism is just a species of ultimism. And surely we are too limited and immature of beings to throw away all religious realities! Yet we should ask what should the Mere Humanist say about such possible realities? Well at the very least she shouldn't affirm them. Rather she should affirm that we can live morally and meaningful lives without any religious reality. Even if there is no salvific good, other goods may be surely achieved! Notice she need not say that we can live as meaningful and as moral lives as may be the case if some religious beliefs were true. Mere Humanism only entails that we can live moral and meaningful lives without religious realities.

So in order to be a mere humanist one need not be a naturalist or even an atheist, only a religious skeptic. That is someone who doesn't affirm or deny the existence of Ultimism. Notice that one can of course deny all religious realities as the naturalist does and remain a mere humanist. You might imagine then a spectrum of views with religious views on the left, and nonreligious on the right; the humanist may go further right then the religious skeptic, but not to the left--towards religious belief.

Meaning without ReligionWhat does it mean to say that life has meaning without religion? To begin with life is worthwhile without religion, it is worth living. Further there might also be purposes in life, there may be goods that are distinct from pleasure and morality, and there may be a narrative structure to human lives that deems at least some of them worthwhile. Which one of these ideas does a humanist have to embrace in order to remain a humanist? At the very least they should think that at least some lives lived are worthwhile. And in worthwhile lives there is meaning. Someone who thinks life isn't worth living is not a humanist so defined.

Morality without Religion

These days it's common to think morality can't be supported by nonreligious means. This is terribly unfortunate and false. A Humanist should think that there exist objective moral facts independent of whether religious realities obtain. That there are moral facts about what we ought to do, in the same way there are facts about math, science, and logic. Thus being a humanist is inconsistent with Moral Antirealism. In the words of AHA, Humanism "affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives...[for] the greater good." And this "greater good" isn't subjective, relative, or meaningless it is objective and meaningful!


Mere Humanism then is this: "a philosophy which affirms no religious realities, yet firmly believes that meaningful and moral lives can exist without such realities"

Of course in this post I haven't defended Mere Humanism, merely explained what it is. In following posts I would like to explicate what moral and meaningful lives might consist of and how they can exist without religious realities.

Here is Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Human Lives

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Excercise I


This is the first mini-album of experimental hip hop, Exercises if you will, in which I write over my beats. No instrumental samples, just synths and some beats. This is a lot different then the other work I have done, so I would appreciate any feedback or criticism.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hayes, Heroes, and Such

This weekend MSNBC's and The Nation's Chris Hayes set of a very minor firestorm for his comments questioning aspects of America's public discourse. It was a memorial day show, and as such Hayes and a panel discussed different issues related to the holiday in question. Now I haven't watched Hayes show often (I don't watch TV in general), just a clip here and there, but my initial impression is that his show might be one of the only decent ones featured on MSNBC. In response to the complaints and in defense of his friend, Glenn Greenwald commented over twitter appropriately "Questioning-rather than bolstering-orthodoxies is inherently controversial. That's what makes Chris Hayes' show so rare for TV-& so valuable." For instance not only did he mention the sadness of the first American death in Afghanistan, but also the first civilian death (an 11 year girl) in the conflict. Moreover he has also confronted the issue of drone use in foreign policy in a critical manner. His show at least appears to discuss important issues in a critical, questioning manner that often aren't discussed much. However one issue you aren't supposed to raise however is whether we use the words "heroes," "valor," and so on in a problematic matter when discussion our past and present men and women in the United States Military! Here is what Haye's said:

"I think it's interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words "heroes." Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word "hero"? I feel comfortable -- uncomfortable -- about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don't want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that's fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I'm wrong about that."

Clearly the words of an effete communist! At any rate the usual suspects responded with a slew of silly ad hominems. Chris then issued an apology,  for no good reason whatsoever. He simply had nothing to apologize for. He was certainly empathetic enough (commending genuine heroism, thanking a Marine Causality officer for his service, being careful about not offending families of the fallen, considering a rebuttal to his statement), and at the very least lived up to the rigor of mainstream news sources! Moreover he reasonably displayed discomfort one of the axiomatic assumptions of American discourse, something which should be welcomed. Chris even mentioned he could be wrong!

At any rate, in this post I want to dissect what Chris Hayes said, and question what the conditions must be met in order for one to be heroic, and what kind of good it might be to join the military.

Instrumental versus Intrinsic Bads and Goods
There was a central confusion in the response to Chris Hayes involving the ever crucial distinction between intrinsic and instrumental (OR extrinsic) bads and goods. An intrinsic good is good as an end in itself; intrinsic bad is bad as and end in itself. For example pleasure is an intrinsic good, it's good for it's sake, not for other things which it gets you. Pain is an intrinsic bad, you don't seek pain for it's self (even masochists seek pain for pleasure). An instrumental good is good only insofar as it brings about other goods. Instrumental goods are good because they cause other good things to happen. So although pain may be intrinsically bad, many people view it as an instrumental good. You may have to go through severe pain in order to become stronger (no pain, no gain!). So a thing can have both intrinsic and instrumental properties.

With this distinction in mind we can see that Hayes is putting forth the idea that constantly implying that past and present members of the armed forces are heroes is an instrumental bad. It's not bad in and of itself to call some person a heroes (for as Hayes specifically mentioned some members of the military obviously were heroes) but constantly referring to the fallen as heroes is bad instrumentally because it is used as a tool for more wars (at least some of which are bad). Now some critics took him as saying "none of the war dead should be called heroes" if they had bothered to listen to his statement you will see that this is a gross caricature of Haye's suggestion. But I think the majority took him as arguing against the thesis: that there is something intrinsically good about joining the military. That is someone who makes the sacrifices and serves their country in such a manner deserves to be commended for what they have done is good and heroic for as and end in itself. This however is a mistaken view, in this post I shall argue that there is nothing intrinsically good about being a member of the armed forces. At least that it isn't sufficient condition for heroism.

Heroism and Justification for War
But before confronting this issue about intrinsic heriocs, lets return to comprehending the how instrumental constantly commending fallen heroes may be. Lets briefly consider reasons for thinking it's an instrumental good or bad. For one it brings about the good of reverence for our ancestors, our comrades if you will. It brings consolation to some of the families. Further it may influence others to join the military, and insofar as that is a good thing commending the fallen is as well. Of course all these premises could be questioned. What reasons could there be for thinking constantly commending the war dead is instrumentally bad? One might reverse the last point for thinking it is good and suppose that joining the military is bad, and insofar as commending the fallen leads others to join the military it is a bad (controversial no doubt). Further some of the dead may not actually be heroes, hence it is wrong to say such. Hayes of course focuses on how accenting the heroics of the war dead leads to the justification of future wars. And since war in general is a bad, so accenting the valor of the fallen is an instrumental bad.

Which position is more reasonable? I am not so sure, at the very least one should be skeptical of the thesis that we ought to always commend the war dead. I take it that this skepticism will fully support Hayes, and the idea that an apology was unnecessary. More thoughts on how we ought to discuss heroism are considered at the end of the post.

The Conditions for Intrinsic Heroism
What makes someone a war hero? Well obviously one necessary condition for that title is that one be involved in a war. But of course that isn't sufficient, it isn't enough, for being deemed a war hero. Several more detailed accounts can be offered.

Patriotic Account for the Heroism of the Armed Forces
One might be tempted toward a very nation based account of war heroism. It may run as follows:
A person is a war hero insofar as they have served and sacrificed for their country

Hence insofar as a person has sacrificed their interests and done hard work in the armed forces they are a hero. What is important about this account is what it leaves out. For instance it isn't necessary that one serve in a just war or a war which served the interests of a nation state in question. This is a sentiment that is commonly expressed, at least in the comment sections of several reports of this discussion. Comments such as "it doesn't matter whether the war was right, what matters is that they died for their country." This exemplifies the sentiment of (what I have called) the Patriotic Account; serving and sacrificing for one's country is intrinsically good.

But this claim entails absurd implications. Under this framework the Japanese Bomber's in Pearl Harbor are heroes. So are the American Soldiers who raped and murdered victims in the Vietnam War. So at least some account of moral behavior has to be included. And if morality is to be included in the assessment of potential heroes, then an obviously relevant moral factor is the justness of their cause. So unless one is tempted to bite the bullet and allow that those who sacrificed in order to commit murder, rape, and genocide are in some way heroes the morality of the war is relevant. Of course this is not to say that no soldiers are heroes. Nor that even the solders who aren't perhaps heroes by virtue of their cause don't have any exemplary virtues. But this argument is sufficient to show that the Patriotic Account is mistaken.

Just War Account for the Heroism of the Armed Forces

Here then is another account for the appropriate conditions of heroism, call it the Just War Account:

A person is a hero if these conditions are met (a) they have served and sacrificed for their country and (b) they have done so in a just war

So although there is nothing heroic about serving in the military, all by itself, there is indeed something heroic about sacrificing for a just cause. There is an intrinsic good in serving one's country for a just cause, not just the instrumental good obtained from the ends of a just cause.

An objection is in order. In many cases it seems as though those in the armed forces are deceived or misinformed into thinking they were involved in a just war. So although they had the right intentions and reasonably thought they were in a just war, they were in fact were not. The person may have been brainwashed, simply tricked, or perhaps those commanding the war were mistaken.This appears intuitively unfair to call military member A who reasonably served in a just war that was in fact just a hero, whereas military member B who reasonably serves in an unjust war isn't deemed a hero. In both cases A and B were being reasonable, yet B isn't called a hero because of forces out of her knowledge and control. What should we do in cases like these?

I am honestly am not so sure. I don't know what to say about cases like these, other then that we can decrease them. If society stresses the importance of fighting in a just war, education and thought on what such a war would look like, and holds the government accountable we can decrease the numbers of those non-culpable persons fighting in unjust wars, like member B.

The Direction of Future Discussion
Thus ends my thoughts. We have found that there is nothing heroic in serving in the armed forces, all by itself. However the view that a hero is made when serving in the military under a just war faces a serious problem. Perhaps we should say that the conditions for heroism are sacrifice and the reasonable belief that they are fighting for a just cause. What then do we say about indoctrinated warriors? Should we call the suicide bomber who sacrifices all under the influence of religion and propaganda from which there is no escape a hero? It seems we should rather respond with empathy and sadness, to such a case instead of praise. But maybe I am wrong about that.

At any rate the discussion it seems should (a) become less emotionally charged (b) stress the important condition of a heroism as being involved in a just war (or at least reasonably believing that is the case) (c) stress the importance of education, knowledge, and thought on just war theory (and morality in general) and (d) stray from the standard that all fallen military members are heroes. Though many may be, it's no more credible to say all members of the armed forces are heroes, then it is to say no members of the armed forces are heroes. Perhaps we could change the trend by promoting specific acts of heroism, as opposed to constantly commending troops in general (perhaps "support some of our troops: bumper stickers would take off). With these points in mind what Chris Hayes brought up on his show was actually praiseworthy itself!

I hope that this post provides at least  minimal grounds for progress, and has not been hurtful towards anyone.

This article by Conor Friedersdorf does well in highlighting the silliness of  Haye's Critics (some of them that is, there are probably some non-silly criticis) and This short read by Peter Beinart isn't bad either.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Presuppositional Apologetics

When I began my independent study on Philosophy of Religion I read very very little on Presuppositional Apologetics. Though I was roughly familiar with the transcendent argument I hardly found it convincing due to the counter-intuitional and often confusing nature of such claims, and the non-presence of such work in Philosophy of Religon today. However a few days ago I did have the pleasure of meeting a presuppositionalist of sorts, and as such it merits a response.

The Argument

The Presuppositionalist argues that everyone must presuppose the existence of God, in order to make the world intelligible. Thus ethics, logic, metaphysics, epistemology all presuppose the existence of God, more specifically, the Triune Christian God. To presuppose any x is to assume the truth of x by it's affirmation or it's denial (It's different then any x entailing y where x assumes the truth of y in it's affirmation but not in denial). So according to the Presuppositionalist when one denies the truth of Christianity one does so only by affirming the truth of Christianity! So we can construct the argument like this:

1. The world is intelligible
2. The world is only intelligible, if Christian Theism is true.
3. Therefore, Christian Theism is true.

Since everyone thinks the world is intelligibility entails Christian Theism. Notice however that in denying Christian Theism one also asserts the intelligibility of the world (that we can know at least some things, there are some objective facts, and so on), thus according to the Pressupositionalist we must assume the truth of this argument.

This argument is logically valid modus ponens, but it hardly appears sound. Premise 1 is clearly true, but why think premise 2 is true? The statement (a) Christian Theism is false and (b) The world is intelligible are not in any way saliently contradictory. So premise 2 is obviously needed in order for the claim that they (a) and (b) are inconsistent. There is as far as I can tell there is one central reason for supposing premise two is true. Namely, Christian Theism is the best way to make sense of the fact that the world is intelligible; because logic, ethics, and so forth all demand a foundation which can only be supplied via Christian Theism. This argument I will claim is entirely unconvincing. By doing so I will confront the issue of logic in isolation. I take it that if one need not presuppose the existence of God in order to affirm the truths of logic, one shouldn't have to presuppose the same for ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and so on. Though of course the existence of God may best explain, be confirmed by, or entail such phenomena such arguments are noticeably different from the one advanced here.

Of course, it would be greatly appreciated if readers comment on ways in which the presuppositionalist argument could be better formed, or other arguments for premise 2--if there are such possibilities.


What We Actually Presuppose 

Since the presuppositionalist demands that logic needs a foundation we might ask why. I suppose that they would say something like this: "You can only justify the use of reason with reason. That is begging the question. We must all beg the question this way, but the only view which makes sense of this is Christian Theism" or they might create a dilemma "Logic is either founded in physical things, social conventions, or the Christian God. Since it isn't physical and they aren't social conventions, Logic's foundation must be the Christian God." Lets take the latter argument first (Which is sounding a bit like the argument from reason, not really a transcendental argument). First, it doesn't seem entirely implausible (though improbable) that facts about logic are really physical facts, however lets grant the point that facts about logic cannot be founded in physical facts. Even so, there is no reason to grant Christian Theism. For Logic might be founded in necessarily existing abstract entities. Thus the state of affairs in which logic obtains occurs necessarily (it could not not occur). There is no possible world in which these state of affairs do not obtain. Hence we can affirm logic, while consistently denying the existence of God. After all this is what theists will say about the existence of God, that her existence occurs necessarily, that she cannot not exist and so on. But at this point the presuppositionalist may yell "no so fast!" and revert to the first criticism. This criticism has two problems, first we should be skeptical of the claim "We must all beg the question this way, but the only view which makes sense of this is Christian Theism." Why think this is true? Why think Christian Theism is the view that best makes sense of Logic? This question will be investigated below. Further though the statement "You can only justify the use of reason with reason. That is begging the question" reveals our actual presupposition, and I think the key for undoing the presuppositionalist argument. For look at these claims:

(4) because of logic you can't beg the question
(5) logic is justified because of logic and
(6) logic is logically unfounded because it begs the question.

First off (5) may very well be false, logic may be justified because it occurs necessarily void of any logical considerations, but lets grant that there is no escape route here. What do (4)--(6) assume? The truths of Logic! Hence Logic is presupposed in affirmation or denial. Thus it is a fundamental presupposition. To make this clear let's investigate this further by introducing a standard question begging argument.

(7) Christian Theism is true if the Bible is true
(8) The Bible is True
(9)Therefore, Christian Theism is true

If you don't like this example pick another one. Essentially the conclusion of this argument is assumed in one of the premises (since at least in this example, the claims Christian Theism is true and the Bible is true are equivalent). This goes wrong because of another thing which is assumed namely logic. We sketch out this arguments invalidity because of logic, and nothing else. Observe (Christian Theism is true=C, Bible is true=B, and Logic obtains=L); The argument for B and C is invalid because L. Compare this statement with the argument which claims logic needs support because it begs the question: The argument for L is invalid because of L. The only way this argument could work would be if the reasons for supporting logic beg the question, but in order for an argument to beg the question logic must obtain. The denial of L assumes the truth of L! Thus one asserts the truth of Logic by assertion and denial.

Yes, of course the presuppositionalist might reply, but logic still presupposes God. But how can one presupposition presuppose another? For it's not that logic entails God, it's that logic presupposes God. This seems incoherent, even if it isn't how could we know? For since the truth of logic itself is presupposed in discourse, how could it be dependent on God's existence? If God didn't exist could we couldn't say logic wouldn't exist, because we must presuppose logic! Thus we have a problem of incoherence, and epistemology. This objection appears to damn the presuppositionalist's argument.

Why Presuppose Christian Theism?

Even if what I said earlier is false there seems to be little reason to suppose we ought presuppose Christian Theism over other alternatives. Why not Islam, Mormonism, or Buddhism? Or better why not presuppose "the ultimate foundation being" which is an impersonal, amoral being which is the foundation of all things. Or perhaps, a set of beings or entities which together found logic? Christian Theism hardly seems to have the upper hand against these alternatives, and due to atheological arguments it may very well have a lower one. Surely we ought to have reasons for preferring Christian Theism over what could very well be an infinite number of alternatives capable of grounding the intelligibility of the universe.

On the Fear of  Pleasing the Unbeliever 

As such I am inclined to pronounce the presuppositional apologetic strategy, as formulated, a complete failure. In closing I would like to ponder whether the strategy is reasonably motivated by theology. Here is a quote from presuppositionalist John Frame in response to the charge that presuppositionalism begs the question:

"God created our minds to think within the Christian circle: hearing God’s Word obediently and interpreting our experience by means of that Word. That is the only legitimate way to think, and we cannot abandon it to please the unbeliever. A good psychologist will not abandon reality as he perceives it to communicate with a delusional patient; so must it be with apologists."

The argument here is that using neutral standards such as reason and evidence (Natural Theology, the approaches of Swinburne, William Lane Craig etc.) surrenders the ground to the unbeliever whose whole standards of reason and evidence depends on the presupposition of the Christian God. But as we saw earlier there is no need to do such a thing, further what we presuppose are standards of evidence and reason! So we (the apologist, philosopher, naturalist, skeptic, whatever) are like psychologists who argue with other psychologists by accepting common standards of reason and evidence, not like the some psychologists attempting to communicate with some deluded patient. As such this fear of pleasing the unbeliever is unfounded, for despite Frame's words, his life testifies to the fact that  he is already pleasing many unbelievers. Thus it would seem as though Presuppositional Apologetics is not only a philosophical failure, but a theological one as well.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Music: Outer Room

Outer Room is a collaboration between myself and a good Friend of mine, Dylan Rupe. We make an eclectic mix of ambient, electronica, and so on.

Check out our music and download our album here!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I am even in this video:

I mentioned Doomtree's recent album as one of my favorites, I also attended one of their shows. It was splendid, sick, dope, and so forth.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Four More Musics

Here is a collection of four songs with me messing around with Ableton. One of these songs is a collab effort with Shag City Productions.

Yea That

Na Ha!
Yea That (W/ Shag City)
Electric Fantasy I
Numba 5


Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Musics! VG NU

I have another short collection of tracks available for free download! I have entitled this mini-album VG NU, as all the tracks are in some way video game themed. Or rather sound something like the video games of my childhood...


Intro Scene
Pad Fast
Dungeon Scene
Theme Scene

Download them all here

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chomsky's Foreign Policy Methodology in a Nutshell

In his own words:

"One lesson is that to understand what is happening we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy.  Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geostrategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns."

From Losing the World from American Decline in Perspective, Part I

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Some thoughts on "Drug Culture"

The other day (actually a week or so ago) I had the pleasure of viewing a forum/discussion on drugs. How I got to that topic or the video itself, I cannot recall. Here is the link. The panelists were the psychologist Susan Blackmore, journalist Peter Hitchens, philosopher Edward Skidelsky, and some anthropologist. They discussed the ethics of drug use, the war on drugs amongst other things. Peter Hitchens rather stole the show with his contrarian conservative opinions, though the other panelists had interesting things to say as well.

For example Skidelsky defended alcohol and marijuana as certain goods. However it seemed as though his case was that these drugs were a means to goods, not good in and of themselves. For example he cited an author who wrote all his books while drunk, and how marijuana can cause one to think of ideas which stand up to "philosophical scrutiny." These examples focus on the specific ends: novels and thought--not on the experience of the drug as good in and of itself. Further using marijuana and drugs clearly aren't necessary conditions for writing good novels and having good thoughts. Neither are they necessary for good lives. Still perhaps they help, for example many persons (Roger Scruton's book comes to mind) defend the proposition that moderate alcohol use enhances life. Some (Carl Sagan) do the same for marijuana. Skidelsky also warned of the dangers of solipsism from drug use. On this he is spot on; drug use doesn't enhance moral behavior in any way, and has much ability to do the opposite. Like other forms of recreation it enables one to ignore moral obligations to others.

Susan Blackmore defended not only marijuana, but powerful psychedelics. She stipulated, quite rightly that hallucinogens (psilocybin, LSD, Etc) can bring on quite powerful, changing experiences. I think tripping as such could properly be classified as religious experiences. Like religious experience she claimed they can be events in a life from which the tripper gains knowledge. In an article she claims and describes this phenomenon, pertaining to a specific LSD trip:

"Instead,  the onslaught of images eventually taught me to see and  accept the frightening depths of my own mind - to face up to the fact that, under other circumstances, I might be either torturer or tortured. In a curious way, this makes it easier to cope with the guilt, fear or anxiety of ordinary life. Certainly, acceptance is a skill worth having - though I guess there are easier ways of acquiring it."

She rather undercuts her argument by the last clause. If there is religious experience it is the experience itself that is valuable, not the knowledge. For as she acknowledges the knowledge could be gained otherwise, and there is in fact a good chance that it is false. For examples of the latter, if you feel like torturing yourself you may want to read Daniel Pinchbeck's book 2012 (which is in short druggie/jungian nonsense). Further many religious experiences cause knowledge of conflicting beliefs. There is a wide spectrum of Christian-Hindu-Anamistic-New Age etc. experiences which cause logically incompatible beliefs. This fact is enough to show that the actual knowledge will come from critical analysis that is independent of the religious experience. And analysis of thoughts that can come otherwise, without the physical and mental risks.

Peter Hitchen's was completely alone due to his antagonistic relationship with drugs. The conservative contrarian was probably the most interesting, because of this. He claimed that there was no war on drugs in the UK (A claim which I can't criticize or endorse. I am completely ignorant of the situation, and neither side made an entirely convincing case). He also mentioned the fact that marijuana can cause psychosis and can impair those who use it at a young age.This was a refreshing fact, that many manage to ignore. But this isn't relevant to issues of marijuana legalization for consenting adults; for we don't prohibit alcohol use for these reasons. So I am hardly convinced about his case against marijuana legalization. In fact quite the opposite. Since there aren't any sufficient reasons for making marijuana illegal to the public it shouldn't be illegal! Peter Hitchen's also made the banally stupid claim that addiction is just another word for "weakness of will." Apparently he is completely unaware of the work done by psychology and neuroscience on addiction. If he means by weakness of will something for which persons are responsible for he is completely wrong.

The anthropologist had little to say on the topic other than some nifty historical tidbits. That concludes my thoughts on the discussion.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Existence of Humans is Evidence that God does not Exist

In this post I will attempt to succinctly state the anthropic argument against the existence of God (A morally perfect, powerful, and knowledgeable being). I take a lot of inspiration from Mark Walker's piece here, though my discussion will proceed differently. It's basic form is as follows:

(1) If God exists humans would not exist (2) humans exist (3) hence God doesn't exist.
The 2nd premise is uncontroversial, the 1st is where we shall focus our sights.

Imagine this case: You are to procreate a child. We have designed a pill where you can choose what moral, mental, and physical traits your child has. You have two options (a) take a pill where the child in question will have just as much moral, mental, and physical abilities as you do or (b) take another pill where the child in question will be severely morally, mentally and physically deficient to you. In case (a) the human will be, so to speak, average in abilities, but in case (b) the being will have less moral knowledge, be intellectually handicapped, and physically handicapped. Now it seems wrong to take pill (b) since the deficiencies of the child will harm both the child and others; hence you ought to take pill (a). Further if you were to be the child you would clearly wish that your parents chose pill (a) in a case like this.

Lets think of another case, this time from Mark Walker. Suppose humans knowingly create Chumans;

"Chuman’, as this species is known, is created from a human chimpanzee cross. Chumans are mentally and physically challenged in comparison with humans, and have been genetically altered to have a strong propensity for violent outbursts (a propensity they wish they did not have)."

Further these Chumans survive humanity, yet lacking the tools and intellect for modern medicine and agriculture many starve to death. Their history is full of war, disease, starvation, and rape. Wouldn't it be wrong to create such beings? Why create such beings instead of more humans?

In fact there are several real world examples of the results of something like pill (b) and the chumans. There are actual persons who are physically, mentally, and morally handicapped. This causes harm to others due to the lack of moral knowledge and ability, and harm to the person in question who may lose out on many goods of the average human (social, physical, intellectual etc.). If given the choice most parents would choose pill (a), as they ought to.

Hence we can extract the procreation principle like this: 

It is wrong for X to cause, knowingly and voluntarily, the procreation of a Y; which is morally, mentally, and physically deficient to X

Using the procreation principle (PP) we can support premise (1). If PP is true God wouldn't create humans since she can do no wrong (being morally perfect and all). Because humans are morally, physically (in terms of ability--since God isn't a physical being), and mentally disabled from God, she wouldn't create such beings.

An Objection Concerning the Impossibility of PP

Suppose it's impossible for God to create creatures that are not morally, mentally, and physically deficient to her. Then one might be tempted to say that PP is false since it is logically impossible for God to create other beings like her in the required senses, yet it is still permissible for her to create beings. I am not inclined to think this is true but suppose it is, lets stipulate that it is logically impossible for God to create other Gods and that it is permissible for God to create a world even so. We then could amend the principle as follows:

It is wrong for X to cause, knowingly and voluntarily, the procreation of a Y; which is UNNECESSARILY morally, mentally, and physically deficient to X

Lets call this idea PP*. In it, unnecessarily means, that X shouldn't create a Y insofar as another Y* could logically be morally, physically, or mentally better off. So PP means X shouldn't create Y's that are deficient, but PP* says that X's can create Y's that are deficient but only as least deficient as possible.

How does this relate to the anthropic argument? Well according too PP* God can only create beings that are least deficient as possible. Do humans fit this criterion? Bluntly stated no they don't. We don't even come close. God could have created Angelic beings with more knowledge, power, and moral goodness. She could have made beings that are good by nature as she is. These beings don't have to be as powerful or knowledgeable as she is, all that is needed is that they be better then humans. 

So to the objection that PP is logically impossible hence premise 2 of the argument is false one can reply as such:

No. God could create or sustain other beings with the same mental, moral, and powers as she (even if these beings lack necessary existence or something like that). Further supposing she can't beings like her that in itself is no reason for thinking PP is false. If that were the case God simply wouldn't be morally perfect if she created any world with beings.

Suppose we are mistaken in thinking PP is true, than we can replace PP with PP*. Since there could be better beings than humans the anthropic argument goes through and God isn't justified in creating humans. And as such God as defined does not exist.

I think is one of the strongest arguments against the existence of God. This is probably because it taps into my strongest intuitions of morality and reality. Object away!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Caleb's Favorite CAlbums of 2011

Not only do I make music but I occasionally listen to it. And as such I thought I would make a list of my favorite albums of 2011 with brief annotations. In no particular order.

The Roots

A concept album, the album begins with the protagonists death and continues into memories and ruminations of an ultimately sad and criminal life. There are many thoughtful insights from a very well painted album, possibly because the artists themselves knew persons like the protagonist; and escaped a similar life themselves.

Bad as Me
Tom Waits

Tom Waits. Enough said.

This is our Science

Possibly the album which I have listened to the most of all of these. It has a smart rustic hip hop force. There are many allusions, most to scientists, many of which I have yet to discover.

Blue Scholars

Blue Scholars were the group that inspired my love of underground hip hop. This album is probably my least favorite of all of theirs but nevertheless it quite dope.

Are You Gonna Eat That?
Hail Mary Mallon
Hail Mary Mallon is a threesome of Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and DJ Big Wiz. This album is excessively obscure and abstract, and seems to have been put together rather quickly. But nevertheless these attributes are beneficial and representational of the overall project; one, which I think, barely belongs on this list.

Space Is Only Noise
Nicolas Jaar
Beautiful ambient album. Perhaps the most beautiful, sensual album on this list.

Amon Tobin
Another electronica album. This one contains butterfly robot space music. It bumps, twists, and raptures.

No Kings

Doomtree is a group of P.O.S, Sims, Dessa, Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan, and Lazer Beak. All of these fellows are very talented in whatever they do. All complement each other brilliantly. The beats are very nicely electronic as well.

Did I miss anything?