Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Evolving Phlilosophy and Ideas

Looking back at my earlier posts is sometimes revealing in how I thought at that time. I have certainly changed my opinion on quite a few things. My blog has become an insightful reflection on my philosophical evolution. For example, I had previously written that when it comes to ethical epistemology, I'm a consequentialist. While I haven't exactly did an about-face, I now lean more towards utilitarianism but I acknowledge the virtue of deontology. Utilitarianism largely considers the consequences for determining what is moral and immoral. Utilitarianism can be summed up in its most basic teaching, that what is moral is "the greatest amount of good, for the greatest amount of people".

Though this is not a huge moral transition, I do accept the criticisms of utilitarianism that have been pointed out over the years, largely by deontologists. I understand that no one philosophy covers ethical dilemmas perfectly as they all have their flaws. Consider the following thought experiment: 10 people were kidnapped and are being held for ransom at some undisclosed location and you have just captured their kidnapper. He knows he is already going to jail and refuses to identify where he is hiding the people for fear that in doing so he will lose all hope of escaping criminal prosecution. The10 people will die of thirst in a few days if they are not found. Would it be ethical to torture the kidnapper so that he gives up the location of the 10 people? The utilitarian says yes: one suffers, and 10 lives are saved, we have successfully maximize the greater good.

Now imagine that the kidnapper under the threat of torture isn't at all phased and doesn't give up the information, but, you discover a bargaining chip. He has a young child of his own and you threaten to torture her. This makes the kidnapper unnerved, and realizing the kidnapper's susceptibility to his daughter's livelihood, you must ask yourself if it would be ethical to torture an innocent child to save the lives of 10 people? Based on utilitarian principle alone, the answer is yes. One gets tortured to save the lives of 10. In mathematical terms, the lives of the 10 kidnapped people, are of greater value that the single child's. But this is where utilitarianism opens up some scary possibilities. When thinking about this moral dilemma, I try and imagine how differently I would consider the situation if I were the child. Why should my well being be used as a means to someone else's end, especially when I had nothing to do with the events? Is it ever ethical to use human beings as a means to an end, or are all human beings ends in and of themselves? Deontological ethics of the Kant variety would say the latter, and that it would never be right to torture the child no matter how many lives could potentially be saved. The utilitarian takes the former, in that the moral thing to do would be whatever it takes to save the larger number of lives, even if it means torturing a child.

These two classically opposed ethical schools of thought, have no easy reconciliation. I say I lean more towards utilitarianism in most situations but by no means is it a dogmatic practice. The toolbox approach is best when tacking every kind of ethical problem. I think that in this situation I have described above, I would lean more towards the deontologist rather than side with the utilitarian. There is something about the sanctity of life that I  feel is inviolable. I am torn across the belief that we should never think it is OK to kill a human being, to save the many, at the very least, in theory. I know that would violate the very heart of utilitarianism's ethics, and I am kind of stuck in the middle between this most classic of ethical arguments between deontology and utilitarianism.

Rule utilitarianism attempts to strike a compromise between the two and does a decent job. Rule utilitarianism finds the best actions to particular situations based on whether it conforms to the utilitarian principle, but turns them into rules that should always be followed. So lying to save a life is accepted since it results in the greatest good, and this ultimately becomes a rule. But it is only a rule when it results in the greatest good, and so lying never becomes part of any absolute categorical imperative as it does in deontology. Rule utilitarianism ultimately fails at resolving the debate between deontology and utilitarianism because once a rule is in place, it must be followed as a categorical imperative.

So I am left to think about these conundrums and read and learn more about philosophy more, and debate, and evolve. This is unavoidable. This is what it means to be a rational, thinking human being. I hope I can at the very least inspire others, and feed off of them, and bond, and stir the pot of ideas and philosophy.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Mid-Summer Night's Forty

I had to take Friday off from work from being overly stressed out. As I have mentioned before, I have a very stressful job. I slept in til early afternoon, and texted an old friend from my high school crew that I hadn't seen in about a year. I took the bus over to his house, and we got a bottle of Jim Beam and cut it with a bottle of Sprite, in two coffee cups. We walked and drank on the street, reminiscent of my high school days. We went to see some metal shows that he was helping to promote at Gussy's bar in Astoria. I saw a few old friends that I hadn't seen in years. We caught up on how shit's been.

It was really weird to step out of my routine and daily monotony to see some neighborhoods and people I haven't seen in years. It was a good mid-summer night. After we drank Budweiser forties at another friends house. I rarely drink beer or forties anymore, and it felt so odd. It could have been just what I needed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summertime Reflection

Those who work hard are naturally rewarded by the virtue of their efforts. But the lazy are occasionally rewarded by luck, and this luck has a way of disenfranchising the hard working. There is an early summer heat wave blanketing the East Coast and it is making the effort that hard work requires a bit more cumbersome. I consider myself hard working, with a side of procrastination. Or, maybe it's the other way around? I am worried that I will never become the atheist that I could have been. Although I am somewhat successful in the IT industry, I get little reward from my work, because I lack any real passion for what I do. On every break I get, whether it is my lunch break, or a 10 minute bathroom break, I jump to sites on my phone that deliver my real passions: science, philosophy and religion.

The problem with these subjects is that it is not easy for one to just walk into them and find work. One doesn't just become a scientist, or a philosopher. These fields often require a PhD, which I would certainly be capable of getting, if only money and time weren't an issue. But philosophy, my main passion, is not a real money making endeavor. Philosophers do not make anything other than essays, books, and lectures. They can sit on ethics committees or boards as advisers and this can sometimes make money. But ultimately, philosophy itself only asks that you think more deeply and logically about ethics, and reflect on your existence and the existence of nature around you. Philosophy requires thinking, and thinking alone does not produce money. So as a result, I am cursed in a way, by the virtue of my interests. If I were a money-obsessed financial type I could be rich right now, or at least a lot more wealthy. But instead, I am of the type whose interests in life are best suited for the one for whom money preexists or is earned my other means. I've often dreamed of win for life lottery games, and how much getting a free, un-worked for paycheck every week would allow myself to devote my life for humanist and atheist causes.

What could I do with all that free time? The atheist that I could have been would be working for a humanist or atheist organization of some sorts. I'd be more immersed in politics. I'd write more and give speeches; I'd debate and protest. The only problem with organized atheism or organization of any kind, is that you have a body of people making rules and policies that I may or may not agree with. I don't always like that, but then I could be a part of that body making the rules or voting on them.

At work I suffer from a lack of motivation. I fear that this lack of motivation might be not just a lack of motivation specific to my job, but a lack of motivation for life itself. There are days when I seem to not care about anything, and I lack the ability to connect with others due to my depression and indifference. These days are the worst and they make me feel bad about myself. I get depressed when I do not connect with others, because I am human and like everyone else, I need human contact. I have a really hard time getting along with those I work with. I feel best when I work with a small group of people whose interests are similar to mine. I am the same way with friends.

Smoking marijuana is great for self reflection. I haven't smoked in some time, but when I do, I have these mental epiphanies that are quite astounding. I suddenly see where I need to improve and what I need to change. I examine all aspects my life in great detail. Perhaps a little deeper self reflection is warranted.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Collectivism Vs. Individualism

At the heart of our deeply divided country, between those on the left and those on the right, is the debate over economics and the role of government, and collectivism versus individualism. I lean towards the left in most social and economic issues, so I am generally for collectivism. In a modern liberal democracy, we of course are going to have elements of both in our society, but many of those on the right are simply taking the Ayn Rand-ian philosophy of individualism to its extreme.

Conservatives want a sink or swim economy, where you either succeed with what you've got, or you fail. And if you fail from being a victim of your own circumstance, don't expect government to offer any assistance. That's not government's role according to proponents of individualism. They don't support government money used to pay for people's educations. I've always felt education is an investment into the future. If someone poor is helped to receive a college education, they can get a better job, spend more money into the economy and ultimately pay more taxes. Conservatives say no. None of their hard earned income should be taxed and sent to those who cannot afford higher education. But education is not government cheese, it is not a welfare check, it is the future of this country. When we cease to graduate scientists and engineers at rates comparable to other developing countries, we cease being a superpower. The country that masters science, masters the world. Conservatives drive me sick on this point, because they do not recognize how important it is for our future that we have Americans educated in skilled professions, particularly in math and science.

Conservatives are scared of a nanny state where there is a permanent underclass that receives subsidies from the government and becomes accustomed to it, and loses motivation to better themselves. I share this worry with them, and I too fear that some people get far too comfortable with handouts. Welfare reform was the right thing to do. If you are getting money from the government, you should be forced to get off your ass and work. Government aide should be temporary, but it should exist. People who face hard times who are not lifelong welfare recipients need a little boost while in transition. This is collectivism at its finest. It suited our hunter-gatherer ancestors very well and enabled our species to conquer the world. Collectivism is at the heart of our socio-biologocal evolution, and as such, this is a great justification for its continuation. A society that helps those who are down, has a better chance of prospering in the long run.

The Human Condition Part 3

With my love of philosophy, I've gotten deeper into Buddhism's philosophy with the help of its many interpreters. Alan Watts made an excellent video, capturing in image and sound some of the brilliant interpretation's of the Buddha, in particular meditation. As Buddhism's main practice, meditation has always intrigued me, but also intimidated me. I have tried several times to properly meditate, but each time I feel that I have failed miserably. I have never reached that highly coveted state of nirvana that the Buddha is said to have reached while in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

Meditation bemuses me. I am learning about it more and more to peel away its mysteries. According to its many experienced practitioners, it is to be conducted while in a calm tranquil environment, with slow, rhythmic breathing. Your mind should acknowledge the present, while the past should remain a distant memory. The past should no longer exist. The future shouldn't either. Your body is suppose to simply, be. Let the mind flow freely. Thoughts that enter the mind should be considered noise, like the sounds from nature. Reflect.

It is this part that I usually have such an issue with. Whenever I meditate, I cannot stop thinking about my past, and worrying about the future. It consumes me to such a degree that all hopes for even the lowest slopes of enlightenment are thwarted. It is something I am working on, along with my problem controlling my breathing. With meditation, I hope to reach a state of tranquility. I hope to reflect on my existence in a new light. All the petty issues that are bothering me, that cause me so much stress in my day-to-day life, I hope will become washed away, if even for a moment.  But for the long term, seeing past events in a new light can at least alleviate the negative effects it has on one's peace of mind.

This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of what often troubles me. How do I deal with my problems in life? How do I deal with people I do not like? How do I deal with situations that annoy me? Simple reinterpretation on past events is not the long term solution for me. Change needs to be made for dealing with these same problems for the future, so that the past is not repeated. I'm not sure if meditation is is even the solution for addressing such problems. Maybe it is not. If I can successfully meditate, perhaps that will change my behavior towards my problems in the future.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Trends in Atheism From

Check these statistics out from about trends in belief and disbelief in god. It seems that between 1998 and 2008, Western as well as Eastern Europe continue their trends towards atheism. According to these statistics, in the U.S. there is a slight trend towards a decrease in certainty that god exists, as well as a decrease in the percentage who disbelieve in god. Such anomalies can be explained in the article below.


% Don’t believe in God% Theists overall% No doubt God exists
1998           20081998          20081998           2008
Great Britain9.6              17.746.2           3622.5            16.8
Austria6.8              9.351.3           40.832.4            20.8
Netherlands17.2            19.844.2           36.726.4            21.1
Australia10.2            15.652.2           43.528.6            25.1
Norway11.7            17.742.5           3718.4            15
Ireland2.4              477.3           67.549.8            45.1
New Zealand7.9              12.552.9           46.430.9            28.2
Spain8.6              9.764.7           59.545.8            39.2
Italy4.1              5.373.5           69.548               42.9
Sweden16.8            19.525.8           24.912.3            10.3
France19.1            21.938.8           37.320.1            17.5
Denmark14.7            18.434              33.413.6            13.4
United States3.2              2.877.5           78.262.8            61.3
Switzerland4.3              8.544.5           45.128.3            28.8
Germany west12.1            10.541.3           48.123.4            27.2
Germany east54               5315.7           16.59.4              8
Japan10.6            8.713.2           16.44                 4.4
Northern Ireland3.7              6.874.4           67.450               45.2
Portugal1.9              484.8           72.960               54.4
Czech Republic20.3            37.330.4           23.917.1            23.9
Hungary12.8            15.351.6           42.431.1            23.2
Latvia9.2              18.338.9           36.922.9            21.7
Poland2.4              3.381             76.470.5            62.9
Russia19.7            6.140.2           58.223.8            33.9
Slovakia11.1            10.456.7           59.840.8            41.6
Slovenia14.2            13.639.4           40.722.9            24.2
Chile1.5              1.791.4           90.581.4            82.3
Cyprus1.6              1.984.8           70.265               59
Philippines0.7              0.882.3           92.579               82.7

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Day Unto Myself

In times this when the weather is spectacular and I unfortunately have nothing to do, and no one to be with, I get the most depressed. I'd still rather be doing nothing than working. I feel a bit reminiscent of the summer of 2010, when I was unemployed and had all summer long to do essentially nothing. Those were the days, but I do not like being unproductive and idle. There is a compulsion in me that wants to be busy all the time and not waste a day for anything, especially a nice day. Perhaps today is best for a little serious self-reflection. I am finishing up the touches of another refutation of William Lane Craig of his Cosmological Argument. His argument for theism is spearheaded on this and I want to address it, hopefully in a single blog.


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