Monday, June 25, 2012

Mailbag Monday: Ethical Dogmatism

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.

Rolf writes,

Bro, i got a problem
So alright, you got this shit with ethics and not murdering for no reason and shit.
But if you keep asking 'why' long enough you discover that any sort of ethic-based code of living is eventually derived from either
  • intuitive feelings (i FEEL it's not right to murder)
  • or dogmatism (i can't murder because the bible says so)

and it eventually leads to some sort of nihilism where every fucking thing is subjective and you got like 2 philosibros arguing against eachother and im like 'yeah theyre both kinda right but whoever to believe doesnt really matter anyway cause its so fucking subjective'
Should i just pick whatever i 'feel' is right or live in apathy all my life?

Dude, you keep asking "why" long enough, you're going to have waaaaaay bigger problems than, "I'm not sure what's right or wrong anymore." Descartes tried it, and he had to rely on the existence of God and a really fucking suspect notion of how ideas work to get him anywhere other than, "Well, I exist right now at this moment in time insofar as time is maybe a thing." The external world, other minds, right and wrong, your memories of childhood, pretty much everything is fucked if you ask "why?" long enough.

In that sense, 'feelings' and dogmatism are really kind of the same thing - someone just asserting that this is the thing that grounds morality. You have to start somewhere! But people have derived morality from plenty of places - our capacity for pleasure and pain, our ability to reason, some sort of hypothetical contract - it's all over the place, man. It sure looks dogmatic when someone says, "It's utility that makes things right and wrong." Why? "Because. Because if we didn't get utility from things, we wouldn't have to bother." Well c'mon, that's just saying the same thing over again. But what are you supposed to say? What would an alternative to 'dogmatism' look like?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mailbag Monday: Paradoxes

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.

Mike Z. writes,

Hey bro, do you mind going over a couple paradoxes? Zeno's paradoxes, like what's the deal with them. Trying to explain that shit is fucking hard, think you can do it?

So maybe one of the reasons you're having trouble explaining paradoxes is that paradoxes are fucking hard to explain, and that's the whole thing about paradoxes. What is a paradox? Roughly, something that makes us go, "Oh, I get it, just... fuck, that does not make sense." Sometimes they generate straight-up contradictions - those ones are easy enough to understand, but hard to wrap your whole brain around, which is the point. 

Take Russell's Paradox: Does the set of sets that don't contain themselves contain itself or not? If it does, then it doesn't - but if it doesn't, then it does. We used to think that you could just, like, name a set and you would get a set - like, "Uh, the set of all odd numbers!" and poof there it was. In one sense, Russell's paradox is a super-clear demonstration that "sorry assholes, it's not that simple." But in another sense we're like, "Wait, so... the set has sets that don't contain themselves? So it contains itself... which means it can't contain itself... so it doesn't... but then it would have to? That can't be right, can it?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Philosophy of Humor at the Partially Examined Life

Today's post is over at the Partially Examined Life! The guys at PEL had me on for their Wittgenstein episodes, which you should listen to because they're awesome. It's almost four whole hours of musings about Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, which I have staunchly refused to summarize because there's so much shit going on there. Also, you can hear my dulcet tones filtered through several machines - I'm told I sound distinctly not Canadian... ladies.

Aaaaanyway, their most recent episode is on Henri Bergson's Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic and discusses what exactly makes shit funny. I wasn't on the episode itself, but I sent them some varied musings on the philosophy of humor, and I'm hoping to get some cool discussion going over there. So go check those out! And listen to the episode, which is great.

In Defense of the Expectation Thesis | The Partially Examined Life

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Karl Popper's "Introduction to the Logic of Science": A Summary

Look, there's been a lot of controversy lately about what is and isn't "good philosophy" and what we can and can't say, and opinions on that are like assholes - everyone's got one, and no one knows what to do about Wittgenstein's. But I think we can all agree that a really worthwhile task is understanding the world around us, especially with science. But no one is really talking about how science is supposed to work - they're just going around saying "Oh, science! Look at me, I'm science and I'm the best!" But if everybody is going to be using science, we damn well better make sure we understand exactly what the fuck is going on in science, right? I thought so.

After all, what makes science so great? Everyone seems to think it's induction, that induction is what makes science so great. They're all, "Look at all this data we have that proves that gravity is real! Where you at on the data for beauty and the soul, poets? Yeah, that's wht we thought. Fuckin' poets." Except fuck that, induction is broken. We've known since David Hume that induction is broken, and I'm here to tell you that there's no fixing it. You can't just drop shit a bunch of times and then be like, "Well, all these rocks keep falling at the same speed, and we've been dropping them for like three hours now so obviously that's how it is all the time everywhere in the universe." But for some reason people keep trying to figure out how many times we need to see rocks fall at the right speed before we can assume it's the same everywhere - "Uh, maybe if it happens the same way the first thousand times we try it, we can just go with it." Oh really? A thousand? How'd you get that number? Did we just test a thousand different things a thousand times and they've all worked so far, so we assume a thousand is the magic number? Bullshit, something could go terribly horribly wrong with the sunrise tomorrow and then your arbitrary "thousand" number is right the fuck out the window. You can't inductively justify induction, so you can't pretend like induction is all there is. Knock it off.

"But Karl, without induction, how will science tell us things? Why is is any different from metaphysical bullshittery?" Holy fuck, I'm getting there! Relax! But first, let's talk about how science even starts for a second. Probably because they've got their heads up their asses with induction, these same bros think that maybe we need to know how the scientist thinks, so we can get from one idea to the next and verify it, as if we need some logical breakdown of producing theories so that we can go about proving them in an orderly manner. But what the fuck would that even look like? Sure, maybe psychology can help us have better ideas or whatever, but how would understanding how we have ideas tell us anything about whether those ideas are good or not? Oh wait, right, it wouldn't. Whether a theory matches the world or not has nothing to do with how someone came up with it - we can draw theories out of a hat for all I fucking care.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mailbag Monday: Dialetheism

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.

Matthew writes,

I was wondering if you could explain Dialetheism for me. That shit is confusing. How can a contradiction be true?

Right, so, for those of you playing along at home, dialetheism is (roughly) the belief that there are true contradictions, or dialetheias - for some p, both p and not-p are true. Which means that, whatever p is, you could ask, "Hey, bro, uh... p?" and I could legitimately respond "Yes! Also, no."

And of course, at first blush that sounds fucking crazy. How can a thing be true and false at the same time? If you're a Randian, you are perhaps stomping your foot here and just insisting that contradictions can't be true, and that's all there is to it. (Also, if you're a Randian you should know that I'm going to be presenting two sides to an issue here, so get out while you can.)

It turns out, some sentences just don't fit neatly into the true/false paradigm. Sentences like the Liar's Paradox: "This sentence is false." What do you do with something like that? Is it false? Well then it's true, so suck it. Maybe instead you want to say it's true? Well if it's true, then it's false, so also suck it.