Monday, September 12, 2011

Mailbag Monday: Philosophical Revolutions

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.


George writes,
Yeaux Breaux,I've been reading "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn recently (which I highly recommend by the way, he made up the word "paradigm" I mean how badass is that). Anyways, it got me thinking: have there been recent revolutions in philosophical thought recently? Do new ideas ever invalidate old ones, or do they just add to this huge ever-growing cluster of philosophical thought? Do philosophers' set of intellectual tools change over time, and what kind of things have metaphilosophers had to say about this kind of stuff? I don't feel like writing more questions to thoroughly cover the breadth of my mental void, but take this wherever you can.
Bro, I'm picking up what you're putting down. Kuhn is indeed a badass, and Structure is a great read. I'm on board here, and it's a fucking interesting question. So let's do this.

The short answers are "yes, yes, all the time". The middle of the 20th century was a huge period for revolutions in philosophy; bros were throwing conceptual haymakers left and right. Political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, no subject was safe.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bronouncement: Some clarifications

So, lately I've been seeing more and more comments coming through that assume I hold to the ideas in my summaries. In particular, when it comes to God and/or religion. For example, this comment on my most recent summary:

wrt way # 1: Bro, just because there's an unmoved mover (and who knows, maybe there is just an infinite regress of movers), that doesn't mean it's Jesus Christ. That's just lazy goddamn thinking right there. It could have been (well, not really) any of a myriad of other gods attested throughout history, or more likely there's some natural explanation.
wrt way #2: Bro, more laziness? It's the same fucking thing, with 'cause' substituted for 'move'. FFS, college freshmen are coyer about their bullshitting than Aquinas, bro.
wrt way #3: Yeah okay, this is Philosophy Bro and not Physics Bro, but there's plenty of research in physics that indicates that absolutely nothing is a lot less stable than something. Nature abhors a vacuum, and all that.
wrt way #4: So good just comes from god? Killing babies is good, so long as god gives the go-ahead? Sorry bro, I need to go make a call to someone about some good psychiatrists.
wrt way #5:
I love this site, bro, but where's the diversity of viewpoints that normally comes with your other posts? This seems a little lazy.

Or this comment on my Nietzsche summary:
To the author of the article: Man oh man, are you ever confused about religion and God. You probably don't feel confused though, but you are. Thoroughly.
And just the other day I got an email that started out, 
I'm curious, since you believe there's a God... 

I suppose I'll go ahead and take responsibility for this misconception; I did precious few summaries this summer and stuck mostly to the Mailbag, and any new readers who showed up in that time period might think that's most of what I do. The Mailbag is much, much less work than a summary, and, well, it was a busy summer. It turns out, though, what initially launched me to fame and what constitutes the bread and butter of this site during the academic year when I have full access to the usual resources and the right sort of time and whatnot, are my summaries of the philosophical works of others. All such summaries are written from the perspective of the original author, or else in some way follow their style (as in the dialogue format of The Allegory of the Cave or the objection/response format of the Summa) and if a summary lacks a diversity of viewpoints, it's because the original work lacked diversity of viewpoints, which is pretty standard for, you know, works that purport to explain the one way shit is. As my FAQ will tell you, I have intentionally occluded my own views on almost all subjects, because they are not the point of this blog. 

However, where I think you will find a decent diversity of thought (thought I do admittedly heavily favor the traditional Western Philosophical tradition, as a result of both my background and the majority of requests I get from you guys) is in my selection of works to summarize. In the obviously controversial field of religion, for example, you will find - in addition to the Thomistic apologetics and antitheist existentialism linked above - Christian existentialismHumean skepticism, and whatever the fuck Schopenhauer was trying to say. I don't really favor one viewpoint over another; I make an effort not to, in fact.

So, if you don't find those ideas very convincing, then you probably wouldn't find the original text very convincing. Which is fine! I have, by now, summarized several works that I am not personally persuaded by, and in fact disagree with strongly. My views are not the point of this blog. Please! Feel free to discuss in the comments the content of the works at hand. And if you feel like there's a major view that's underrepresented, the solution there is to email me a work to remedy that.

Finally, and this is just a peeve of mine I'm going to take the opportunity to pontificate on, it's fucking annoying to be told I'm lazy or confused. Not because I'm particularly insulted - I'm perfectly aware that I'm awesome, thanks - but because you're really calling the ideas lazy or confused, and I fucking hate to see a lack of engagement with the ideas. That happens all the time in philosophy classes, when people dismiss a historically badass motherfucker just completely out of hand. ALL THE TIME I see freshmen like, "Uh, Descartes used circular reasoning, herp derp." And it's just not that simple. We wouldn't read Descartes in every single fucking intro class ever for the last three centuries if it were as simple as, "He's going in circles, NEXT." I'm not saying you have to agree with Descartes or Aquinas or Nietzsche or, really, anyone; I am saying that a bro who spent his entire life in a monastery writing the two-volume treatise of philosophy that defines an entire era of thought and that people still find relevant today is probably not guilty of intellectual laziness, and of all the shit you could accuse Aquinas of being, lazy probably isn't in the top 50. There are perfectly valid arguments against all five of his Ways, but this shit's lazy isn't any of those arguments. It's possible Aquinas is dead fucking wrong. That doesn't make the thinking less excellent. THIS IS JUST AN EXAMPLE. My point is, if a guy is really, really famous for philosophy, at the very least a bunch of professors with PhD's think his ideas are valuable in some way, so don't be dismissive out of hand. You will be a much, much better thinker if you learn to respect your ideological opponents' strength. Because if you call some bro lazy or confused and it turns out you're wrong and their shit is super-rigorous and really thorough, then you look like a fuckwad instead of an engaged and intelligent participant in dialogue. And there are plenty of fuckwads in the world already, out there mucking up public discourse. Why would you want to be one? You wouldn't. You're much too intelligent for that, which is why you find this blog valuable.

Okay. That got away from me, but I'm glad I said it. Guy who made that comment, don't feel like I'm picking on you in particular, you just gave a really good example of a comment that accomplished a lot of mistakes at once, and I'm trying to help you (and everyone else) not make those mistakes. I don't think you're a fuckwad. I do think you don't know as much as you think you do. That's pretty common. We've all been there.

tl;dr: ideas in summaries belong to the original author, not me, and summaries are not balanced because individual works are not balanced. If you think I'm not covering a perspective that I should cover, make a suggestion. Don't be a dick, and if you're going to be a dick, make damn sure you're correct, or you look silly. No one likes wrong dicks. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologica, Q2, Article 3: Whether God Exists" Or, The Five Ways: A Summary

Objection 1: It seems like God doesn't exist. If you had two things that were constantly opposed, and only one of them was infinite, you'd think that would fucking wipe out the other, wouldn't it? We're not just talking opposites here; it's not like positive and negative, where they just meet at zero and go on their merry fuck way in separate directions. We're talking about real contraries here, fucking going at it, and one of them is infinite. You'd think it would have no problem whatsoever overwhelming the other. As advantages in conflict go, infinity is pretty high up there. But God is supposed to be infinite goodness, so if God exists, there shouldn't be any evil in the world. Well fucking riddle me this, Batman: there IS evil in the world. Pretty sure that means God doesn't actually exist.

Objection 2: Besides, why make shit more complicated than it is? If we can explain everything simply, why throw God into the mix, too? "Oh hey, here are a bunch of equations that perfectly describe how nature works, and, oh, here's how people work. That explains everything? Really? Cool. Also, God exists." Why the fuck did you throw God in there at the end? We got it. Physics and whatever the fuck it is that drives humans, and that's plenty. Who needs God anymore?

Except that God exists, and his very nature is existence. And right now maybe you're all like, "But how can we knoooooow God exists?" Well buckle the fuck up kids because I've got onetwothreefour FIVE FUCKING WAYS you can be sure God is real.