Monday, March 28, 2011

Mailbag Monday: Trolley Problems

Mailbag Monday: A weekly segment that covers readers' questions and concerns about all things Philosophy, Bro, and Philosophy Bro that don't quite fit anywhere else. Send your questions to with 'Mailbag Monday' in the subject line.

Brad writes,
Hey Bro,

Do you think you could go over the Trolley Problem? You know, where a trolley full of bros is barreling toward a cliff and the only way to save those bros is to divert the path of the trolley so that it hits and kills some other bro. What's a bro to do?
Absolutely, Bro. I love the trolley problems more than Rebecca Black loves Friday. They're used to examine important ethical dilemmas; wrestling with them is a staple of any education in philosophy, like being asked how you know over and over or pulling out your hair and yelling, "THAT'S A FUCKING CIRCLE, DESCARTES". It's a moment we've all had.  But they're used in a whole host of other cool ways, too.

So let's start with the basic TP, stated in the question above. If you pull this lever, you switch the tracks and save the lives of, say, 5 bros - but the track that you switch it to has a bro on it who can't get out of the way in time, and he'll be killed. Decision time!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

John Locke's "Second Treatise on Government": A Summary

I'm not sure why some bros think the state of nature was so fucking terrible. Look, we all know right from wrong, and back in the day where we all roamed free in the land of plenty, if someone broke that natural law, you beat his ass, he knew better, and everyone went about their business. Was it a perfect system? Obviously not, or we wouldn't live in the society we do, but it sure as hell wasn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, if everyone had chilled the fuck out and acted reasonably back then, we'd probably still be in the state of nature and no worse off for it.

The most important thing we have is liberty, and that's precisely what made the state of nature so great: everyone was free to do as they pleased, as long as they let everyone else do as they pleased. After all, no one owns me except me, and no one can tell me how to work, or what to work for. That's the foundation of property - bros worked their goddamn asses off to make shit, so they had the right to that shit. An apple on a tree that no one owns is fucking useless - some bro had to pick it to eat it. Who are you to tell him he can't eat an apple that he worked for? Owning land isn't as jamming two sticks in the ground and calling it 'property' - the first bros to own land built houses with their bare fucking hands. Yeah, I have no problem with them telling you to keep the fuck out. Sorry I'm not sorry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bronouncement: Hey, Tumblrs (and other bloggers)...

Stop lifting my posts!

I appreciate that you want to share my writing. Why wouldn't you? It's hilarious. So please, link to me early and often. But I'd appreciate it if you excepted a paragraph or two and linked to the rest. Traffic matters.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mailbag Monday: Empiricism and Rationalism

Mailbag Monday: A weekly segment that covers readers' questions and concerns about all things Philosophy, Bro, and Philosophy Bro that don't quite fit anywhere else. Send your questions to with 'Mailbag Monday' in the subject line.
/sci/duck writes,
Could you outline the debate between empiricism and rationalism in terms simple enough for a scientist to understand? How is it possible to believe you can know something not mediated thru the senses? Is this just 2deep4me, or are philosophers really this stupid?
Oh man, bro. Long-time readers know how I feel about this particular attitude. You are definitely over-committing yourself if you mean that everything we can know is mediated through the senses - I mean, mathematics? Logical tautologies? I don't need my eyes to know that 'all bros are bros' or that 1+1 = 2. Perhaps when you were writing your e-mail you felt smug; you didn't need your senses to know that you were feeling that way. You have what we call privileged access to your own mind. "Bro, you were wrong when you said you felt sad." That doesn't make sense at all. 

So here's the broad rationalist position: we have knowledge, either in the form of intuitions or innate ideas, from which we can deduce true things without observation. We're pretty much all rationalists with respect to math and logic - no one insists that you gather the proper measurements to verify that addition works or that first order logic is complete. Sorry bro, but you can't just smash two numbers together in an accelerator and measure whether they add properly. By now we're mostly empiricists with respect to science - we certainly can't reason our way to gravity without watching some shit tumble. But what about all the middle ground?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

David K. Lewis' "On The Plurality of Worlds": A Summary

If you picked up this book thinking a 'plurality' means, like, 7, then buckle the fuck up, kids.

Think of all the ways things could have been. The mundane ways, sure: you could have preferred tea instead of coffee, that lightbulb could have been blue instead of yellow, Steve Jobs could have founded Windows. Whatever. But shit could have been way crazier than that. We could have tentacles. Gravity could have been twice as strong. Geometry could be parabolic. Electrons could be replaced with - who the fuck knows, really. 

Are you ready for the fun part? Because here comes the fun part: there are uncountably infinitely many worlds, and there's a world for every single fucking possibility. Remember how Hume said that nothing was ever necessarily connected to anything else? Yeah. As long as something doesn't contain any blatant contradictions, there is a world in which it's reality. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mailbag Monday: Zombies, Minds, and Possibility

Mailbag Monday: A weekly segment that covers readers' questions and concerns about all things Philosophy, Bro, and Philosophy Bro that don't quite fit anywhere else. Send your questions to with 'Mailbag Monday' in the subject line.


Geoffrey writes:
Bro, my 21st is on Sunday, so it was a pretty huge burn when my Professor scheduled our Philosophy of Mind exam on Tuesday.Would you be down to help me out with Kripke's Modal Argument and Chalmers' Zombie Argument this week?
Get at me bra,A humble brotégé
 Happy birthday, broseph. Hopefully I can help you avoid atoning for your shenanigans for at least one more day - it's what mentors are for.

So Kripke's Modal Argument and Chalmers' Zombie Argument both rely on the notion of possible worlds that we touched on last week, and they're both arguments against physicalism, the idea that everything can be described in terms of physical properties - if it's not physical, fuck it. It's not real. That's an interesting thesis for philosophers of mind, because it sure seems like consciousness isn't just physical. Descartes famously imagined himself as nothing but a mind - if everything physical ceased to exist, he said he could definitely keep thinking. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Epicurus' "Sovran Maxims": A Summary

Why the fuck are people so obsessed with what happens when you die? Look, once you're dead you can't feel a goddamn thing, so get over it. We have bigger, more important things to worry about: how to live the good. fucking. life. That's it - that's what is important. We're only here for so long, and if we fail to make the most of it, we have wasted our lives.

Some bros think they need billions of drachmas to live a pleasant life, but while they're off chasing money and women and conquest, I'm sitting in a comfortable chair, listening to beautiful music and getting my chess the fuck on with my bros. I'm happy as fuck on a philosopher's income, because it turns out that living the good life is easier than getting Socrates' friends to agree to something. Our very nature which drives us to seek pleasure also makes it easy to attain: we just have to get rid of pain. That's it. Remove anything that causes pain, chill the fuck out, high five everyone because you're awesome; fucking lather, rinse, repeat. The greatest source of pain is fear, and the secret to removing pain is to be wise, honorable, and just.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Immanuel Kant's "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Chapter 1": A Summary

The only thing in the entire universe that is intrinsically good is a good will. We can abuse literally anything else for evil. Courage? "My heart was racing, and I was afraid, but I summoned my courage and stabbed him anyway. High five!" Intelligence? "Welcome to the grand unveiling of the Quantum Death Ray 2.0! With twice as many sharks!" Health? "I'm in the best shape of my life. I'll definitely be able to hold him under, no matter how much he struggles." Without good will to control shit, anything else has the potential to get out of hand real quick.

Moreover, consequences aren't what make good will good. If you took five minutes out of your day to walk an old lady across the street, no one could be mad at you if a fucking hipster on a runaway fixed-gear ran her over as soon as you got there; that would not diminish the goodness of your act, since good will motivated it. If you tried to save a box of kittens from being sent into space, but didn't get to them before some asshole hit the 'kitten launch' button, you still did the right thing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mailbag Monday: Ontological Arguments

Mailbag Monday: A weekly segment that covers readers' questions and concerns about all things Philosophy, Bro, and Philosophy Bro that don't quite fit anywhere else. Send your questions to with 'Mailbag Monday' in the subject line.


Brozzly writes,

Broseph, want to cover the ontological arguments? They're clever, but I always feel like something's a bit off with them. Keep it up, Brocrates. You should be a brofessional bro-it-all.

Sure thing, bro. The brontological argument is definitely the philosophical argument with the highest controversy/word ratio in history - Anselm's, the original, clocks in at just 75 words in Latin, but holy shit do people love to argue about it.

So, here’s the breakdown of the original. God is the greatest bro we can think of, right? Well obviously He has to exist. I can think of a bro with all the qualities God has, and who also exists, and obviously it's way better to exist than to be imaginary. So if God is the greatest bro we can think of, but he doesn't exist, I can think of a greater bro, and that shit is a contradiction. God can't be the greatest and imaginary. So obviously, God has to exist.

The thing is, if this argument works, it only works for one being, and that's the greatest being. Some bro named Gaunilon wrote a rebuttal in the form of a reductio that said, "Hey, imagine there's a greatest imaginable island. But obviously a greatest imaginable island would exist, since an existing island is better than a non-existing island. Atlantis is real, bro!"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Descartes' "Meditations on First Philosophy: Third Meditation": A Summary

Read the summary of the first two meditations here.
When last we left off I had discovered that, no matter what else is an illusion, I exist and I think - not a bad start at all. Let's see what else we can hammer out.

Well, how did I figure out that I exist? Because it's so goddamn apparent. It's clear and distinct - there can't be any confusion at all about that question. To doubt it wouldn't make any sense at all. When things are that clear, that un-fucking-contestable, I can know them with certainty. Of course, right now, that's a small set of pretty lonely things... {me}. Awww.

I mean, I also perceive a ton of other shit before me, too - obviously I perceive my couch and my pipe and my house, but ideas about those things doesn't tell me jackshit about their reality. Even math - what if 1 + 1 = 3? What if Euclidean geometry is false? After all, non-Euclidean geometry is a real thing, and it might be how the world really is. God could be a huge fucking troll, just making me think 1+1 = 2 and not really banana.  But I do have all these ideas  - obviously I clearly and distinctly think that 1+1=2. I definitely have an idea of what a couch is even if I can't be sure that there's anything out there that conforms to a couch. So even if these ideas are wrong, I definitely have them. But what the fuck are they? Am I stuck just knowing I have them?