“Kant” Revisited: The Ethics of Adam Smith

Rough week. Too much going on. I’m surprised that I was able to write two original posts this week.

Hopefully things will start slowing down with Christmas nearing. I’ll be able to return to writing original writing soon. Or maybe things will never slow down and I’ll be forever scrambling to squeeze in time to do things.

We just never know.

But I’m a diehard. I could be on my deathbed, but by golly, I WILL get a post out. Death be damned. BUT, until things slow down, here’s another script from my defunct podcast My Life With Kant.

And as I’ve said before, and will always say, I don’t edit or spellcheck. Please forgive those errors.

Enjoy!

branches&creatures

I’ve been talking a lot about religion, nature of God, nature of governance, and so on. But what about the individual’s responsibility in this world, especially what is their responsibility to their fellow man? Now I’ll be honest here, but I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew with this one, so it might run a little long, but let’s jump right in. I’ve talked about a lot of different areas of philosophy but I haven’t covered ethics, so….Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments seemed like a good place to start. Everyone knows of Smith’s Wealth of Nations, but I wanted to cover a work that perhaps isn’t as discussed as much.

So Smith starts off by saying that man may indeed be selfish, but there are tendencies where he does indeed enjoy seeing the good fortunes of his fellow man, even if there’s nothing in it for him. Additionally, we might take sorrow from watching others suffer. And this is something that everyone, to include perhaps criminals, posses.

You know, when we see others in pain, it can become natural for us to sort of see ourselves experiencing that pain. The example that Smith gives here is that when people see sores on beggars in the street, people often feel corresponding scratches on their own bodies. It’s here where he brings up the word Sympathy. However, we experience Sympathy, at least from my interpretation, not when we necessarily see agony, or pain, or any other emotion alone, but when we understand the situation that caused that emotion.

Which we can understand that today. It’s all to easy to watch someone suffer on TV and not really care, but when we see somebody, especially somebody that we know, suffering right in front of us, we’re more apt to feel sympathy. So that’s what leads Smith to say, quote: “Sympathy, there fore, does not arise so much from the view of the passion, as from that of the situation which excites it.” End quote.

And he would end the first chapter with a paragraph describing our sympathy with the dead, and how our own emotions, or actions even, can have no effect on the condition of the dead. And this is only serves to further our fear of our own demise. And therefore the, quote “dread of death” strikes fear in the individual, but guards society. So he might be echoing Hobbes here, but I don’t know.

Anyways, we love it whenever we’re able to share our sympathies with others. But it should be noted that we prefer to share our disagreeable passions with one another, more so than what we like to share our agreeable ones. And of course, when people don’t reciprocate those emotions, or sympathies, we are hurt by the inability to do so. You know, misery likes company right? But it’s interesting to me that Smith finds disagreeable emotions as being a greater solidifier of friendships than agreeable ones. Sadly I find this a true statement, but I think that this idea has large implications on a number of different fields. But just look at your own friendships. Although I think that sharing negative emotions will more than likely find you alliances than positive one’s, but if your relationship hinges on those emotions, can those really be considered high quality, beneficial friendships?

But anyways, Smith would go on to say quote: “To approve of another man’s opinions is to adopt those opinions, and to adopt them is to approve of them. If the same arguments which convince you convince me likewise, I necessarily approve of your convictions; and if they do not, I necessarily disapprove of it: neither can I possibly conceive that I should do the one without the other. To approve or disapprove, therefore, of the opinions of others is acknowledged, by every body, to mean no more than to observe their agreement or disagreement with our own.” End quote.

So in order to sympathize with another person, is to approve of their thoughts, feelings, actions, etc. And this is true even if we do not immediately feel such sympathy. Smith’s example is when we hear of someone’s father dying, even if we don’t know that person or their father, we know that such an event warrants the feeling of sorrow. So although we don’t feel their exact degree of sorrow, we know that sympathy is warranted. So Smith concludes by saying, quote “Every faculty in one man is the measure by which he judges of the like faculty in another. I judge of your sight by my sight, of your ear by my ear, of your reason by my reason, of your resentment by my resentment, of your love by my love. I neither have, nor can have, any other way of judging about them”. End quote.

So there are two ways in which we evaluate the views of others. The first way is by evaluating subjects that have no particular direct effect on either of the parties involved. These include things like art, or the actions of another person. So, I guess that includes gossiping. So when everyone is in agreement with the quality or condition of that piece of art or person, no one really cares. But when the other person has something to add to the perception, or approach the subject from a different perspective, they deserve a quote “high degree of admiration and applause”. But we only consider the usefulness of this perspective as secondary. We are originally drawn to this view because it coincides with our own.

The second way is how we evaluate opinions or perspectives on how an object effects you or another person. As long as you or that other person share sympathy, differences don’t matter so much. However, these opinions are much more valuable than opinions under the first category because these are what bind people together. You may share disagreements over a particular piece of art, but you can still find ways to remain acquainted. Though I might take issue with that because, I tend to choose my relationships with other people based on their judgements regarding art or the actions of others, but I may be an asshole, so ignore that point. But basically Smith maintains that if you can maintain sympathies with one another, even if disagreements exist, you can still maintain a relationship.

However, one cannot experience the same degree of emotion as the person experiencing the pain. And this is where I would probably take issue with Smith, as he would go on to say that in order to maintain harmony, the person experiencing the violent emotions must flatten their tone in order to be in harmony with other around them. As asinine as that sounds, you know, asking a person who’s in distress to tone their emotions down in order to relate to everyone else, Smith would add, quote :”Though they will never be unisons, they may be concords, and this is all that is wanted or required.” End quote.

Now what Smith is getting at is, if all parties want to maintain a level of sympathy, everyone must maintain a degree of relatability. Additionally, if the individual experiencing violent emotions want to keep their level-headedness, they must engage with other in order to keep their situation in perspective. Therefore, quote “society and conversation” are necessary for one to keep a tranquility of mind.

Therefore everyone is doing their best to maintain a level of understanding between all parties by restraining their anger or forgoing their own selfishness. And perhaps the best quote from this particular section is, quote: “As to love our neighbor as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbor, or what comes to the same thing, as our neighbor is capable of loving us.” End quote.

Now there are some passions that originate from the body, And in here, Smith brings up hunger, sex and even pain. He says that from the perspective of the person not experiencing those things, they can never fully appreciate the degree to which that emotion is effecting another. Pain is a key point in all of this, it is a very physical sensation. And because it is physical, it is that much harder for others to relate to it. However, emotions or sensations that relate to the imagination are much easier to grant sympathy towards. Fear is a case in point because it is not a product of the body, but of the imagination. It is a certain dread you feel from the unknown.

But when it comes to love, Smith doesn’t seem to find much sympathy. And I guess this is due to the fact that when one person enters into love, another person that’s acting as a spectator to that event can’t experience what that love is like. However, one can relate to the desire to have love, and additionally relate to the experience of loss of love. So even though this Smith sounds questionable in this section, it sort of makes sense when you think it through. When your friend falls in love with another person, you can’t know what that love is like. But you can understand the effects of it. So even if you can’t experience your friend’s love, you can share their interest in obtaining it.

Hatred and resentment are what Smith considers unsocial passions. There’s a lot of things discussed here, but in this chapter, Smith talks about how expression of anger towards anyone is an insult to both that person and to others that are present. And because anger is such a strong emotion that people might be hesitant to pay sympathy, even if that emotion is justified. So before engaging in such passions, one must always consider how taking such action might be interpreted by others.

But the social passions that Smith claims are approved of by the spectator are generosity, humanity, kindness, compassion, mutual friendship, and esteem. And he would go on to say that these passions are never looked upon with aversion, even when they are overdone. But then there are selfish passions, like grief and joy. And if a person exhibits to much joy, then jealousy might occur, or if someone has too little grief, then it’s mocked. Or something like that. But I guess the important point here is that individuals must exhibit these passions in a matter that the spectator will approve of in order to find sympathy. However, the way how a person feels about their own sorrow can never be matched by our own sympathy. Even though, according to Smith, our sympathy with sorrow is more universal than our sympathy with joy.

Smith would go on to discuss ambition, and how we try to conceal our poverty but show off our riches. And he would go on to say quote: “Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to expose our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though our situation is open to the eyes of all mankind, not mortal conceives for us the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty.” End quote. And for brevity sake, it was difficult for me to get through this chapter, but then Smith would go on to say that “But rank, distinction, preeminence, no man despises, unless he is either raised very much above, or sunk very much below, the ordinary standard of human nature; unless he is either so confirmed in the wisdom and real philosophy, as to be satisfied that, while the propriety of his conduct renders him the just object of approbation, it is of little consequence though he be neither attended to, nor approved of.” So I guess, people hold others in discontent when they are either ranked highly above or below others, but those who think critically of their situation can become fully at peace with their place in the world.

Now this is where Smith brings up Stoicism. And I imagine, if you’re listening to this pod, you know the gist of what stoicism is. But the way I like to think of it is being accepting of your situation. It’s not necessarily falling into determinism, but simply coming to terms with the past as being an unchangeable entity. There are other virtues exposed here, but an important one is to not fall into vanity of material objects. Becoming a being of wisdom is far more preferable to becoming a rich man. So therefore it becomes acceptance of your current situation. I don’t know if that was Smith’s exact interpretation, but that’s what I’m rolling with.

So then Smith says that when we give off gratitude, then we actually saying that that object deserves reward. Additionally, if we give off resentment, then that object deserves punishment. So, you know, when you’re projecting gratitude, that’s essentially what you’re saying, you believe that that person deserves a reward of some sort. And with resentment, I really couldn’t find how Smith defines that, I tend think of resentment in a different way, but I guess when you’re angry with someone, you would want them to be punished, but Smith would say that “resentment cannot be fully gratified, unless the offender is not made to grieve in his turn, but to grieve for that particular wrong which we have suffered from him.” And then he would go on with this point for a couple of chapters.

In Section II, Smith discusses the virtues of Justice and Beneficence. Of Beneficence, Smith says that the end result of such actions may disappoint, but because they come from a place of good intentions, those actions cannot be punished. The other virtue, justice, is something that we all must serve first in order to have a full and just society because it makes man restrain himself.

Smith would go on to add that, quote: “there can be no proper motive for hurting our neighbor, there can be no incitement to do evil to another, which mankind will go along with, except for indignation for evil which that other has done to us.” End quote. So the impartial spectator could never condone an ill-will action against another without cause. One simply cannot act negatively against another for their own enjoyment. Not long after, Smith states that “human society stand in need of each others assistance” and so therefore, he would quote later on “society…cannot subsist among those who are at all times ready to hurt and injure one another”. And therefore justice is more valuable to society than beneficence. Laws of justice have to exist in order for society to continue.

….

Okay, so I left off on Section III of Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. And I’ll try to briefly cover the last half of this work before I move on, so I might skip over a few parts for brevity, but I’ll talk about some points that I found interesting. But Smith is still using an impartial spectator. He brings up an interesting idea, that when he attempts to examine his own behavior and quote “pass sentence on it”, he divides himself into two persons. It’s a strange thing to explain but Smith says quote : “The first is the spectator, whose sentiments with regard to my own conduct I endeavor to enter into, by placing myself in his situation, and by considering how it would appear to me when seen from that particular point of view. The second is the agent, the person whom I properly call myself, and of whose conduct, under the character of a spectator, I was endeavoring to form some opinion. The first is the judge; the second the panel. But that the judge should, in every respect, be the same with the panel, is as impossible, as that cause should, in every respect, be the same with the effect.” End quote. And from my interpretation, it seems that Smith thinks that one is more likely to engage in in moral behavior if they have religious conviction because they act in a way where they believe that they are being watched by an all-knowing being. There’s probably more to that, but that’s where I’m going to leave it.

In Section V, Smith talks about custom and fashion. Custom seems to be whenever we have seen two, or perhaps more, objects together, our imagination seems to get lazy and grow accustomed to seeing those things together. And when they are separated, we think that it’s strange or awkward. And Fashion is something that he attributes to people of nobility and the sort of things that they find fashionable or in vogue. Nevertheless, fashion is quote “different from custom, or rather is a particular species of it.” So the two are related.

But, apparently, custom and fashion do have an effect on moral sentiment. Although Smith would add that it’s influence isn’t quote “great”, he would state that when the two go hand in hand with the principles of right and wrong, they quote: “heighten the delicacy of our sentiments, and increase our abhorrence for everything which approaches to evil.” So, I’m gonna shoot for the stars here, and say that Smith might be talking some sociology here. Because he talks about those that were educated and accustomed to seeing things like justice, modesty, and humanity, and those who were raised in violence. So the values imposed by those two environments would produce two different results. And he would go on to state that “among civilized nations, the virtues which are founded upon humanity, are more cultivated than those which are founded upon self-denial and the command of the passions.” Which always makes me uncomfortable whenever I read something like that from that era, but there you have it.

What Did the Poor Ever Do to You?

I had a cushy seat job. Then I got laid off.

Now I’m back to doing what I was meant to do: warehouse labor.

I’ve held managerial positions. And one thing you learn quickly about the job is that it’s all bullshit. You only do things to make the company look good. It doesn’t actually contribute to any sort of “material bottom-line” if you will.

In fact, the higher up the ladder you climb…the more useless you become. Hell, I’d venture to say that the most useless person in the company is the CEO. Yet that person is probably the most expensive item in the ENTIRE COMPANY.

The far more important people are at the bottom. But don’t tell anyone in America that because that sounds WAY too much like “socialism”.

Sure, developers, engineers, planners, etc. all design a “product”. But it’s really just an idea. Technically, you can “own” an idea, but who actually has to execute the plan? Usually, it’s the mechanics and hard laborers that have to execute YOUR idea. And for some strange reason (because America hates poor people), the laborers who actually physically execute the purpose of the company are the low men (and women) on the totem pole.

And it’s because they aren’t “skilled”, even though that’s an idea that doesn’t mean shit. That’s a term that people use to help themselves sleep at night because they’re essentially ripping off poor people.

“So you want to pay people $15 an hour to flip burgers?” Some asshole is asking me.

Yes.

What purpose does McDonald’s serve? Come on, we all know why they exist. It’s to fucking serve burgers to their customers who demand their product! And who is serving those burgers? Is it the CEO? Is it the accountants and legal staff? Is it the developers?

No. It’s the mother fucking laborer that’s flipping the burger and serving the customer. That person IS McDonald’s.

And as a side note, every time I go into a McDonald’s…it doesn’t matter where….yes, there are usually fuck-ups, but guess what? Those assholes are actually WORKING their asses off to deliver YOU a product that you can shove into your fat fucking pie hole. And for some reason, people like to give these employees shit for fucking up an order that will probably only end up killing you later.

But think it through!

What if you were getting paid $7.25 an hour to serve the VERY REASON THE COMPANY EXISTS?

Honestly, I’m surprised people aren’t absolutely PISSED about this. Well, to be fair, there are people who are pissed. But how is this not an international outrage? The people who actually execute the purpose of the company, or the “unskilled” labor force…are the most expendable people in the entire organization.

That’s insane. But when you grow up under insanity, then insanity appears SANE. Which is why minimum wage has failed to keep up with the times and labor unions have dwindled. Because we’ve convinced ourselves that the strongman at the top is the true genius…the REAL shaker and mover of the universe.

And we’ve taken the power out of our own hands.

The CEO might conceive an idea. But does he execute it?

No.

It’s you and me that have to do his bidding. And we accept whatever compensation that he offers.

So again, we’ve convinced ourselves that we aren’t in control…even though an “unskilled” labor force greatly exceeds any “skilled” one. We’ve allowed those at the top of the ladder to peddle their fairy tales of “genius” and “hard work”….that they are the true saviors of modern society because they “sacrifice” capital to employ the labor force that is the majority population.

Capitalism is a religion. And we are being duped.

ANYWAYS….

Even though my cushy desk job was nice, it felt like I “sold out”. It was devastating when I got laid off, of course, but what was that job leading towards anyway? A career?!

In what?! Pretending to work?!

And I got paid WELL above minimum wage to do it. So because I was a college graduate, with a certain “skill set”, I looked the part. And on that criteria, the company felt justified to pay me what they did. Because there is no way they would pay a non-college graduate without a “skill set” to do that job. Even though a perfectly unskilled laborer could have EASILY done that job.

Why?

Because  that job existed only to make the company look good. It served no vital function whatsoever. (Which would likely explain why I was laid off)

And I had co-workers…that did the EXACT same job: nothing. Not only did I have co-workers, I had MANAGERS! What did they manage? I suppose all of our collective productivity of nothing. But someone had to do it. And they got paid A LOT of money to do it. So we had a lot of people getting paid A LOT of money to basically make the company look good which is pretty much a non-essential function of the organization.

Meanwhile, the entry-level employees that carry out the purpose of the company are getting shafted.

Look, maybe the company realized that they were basically flushing money down the toilet and laid us all off. But this just goes to show that just because someone has a fancy title and a fat paycheck…that doesn’t mean that they actually serve a purpose. And in all likelihood they probably don’t.

When I lost that job, I thought that my career was over. But those ambitions were only a mirage. Best case scenario, I would have continued being promoted….higher and higher to the point farthest away from any purpose.

The labor I do now is demanding. It isn’t “skilled”, and some dickhead would probably think that this work is beneath me. And if you think that, then go fuck yourself. But this is REAL work. I’m contributing to the “material bottom line” or to the purpose of the company’s existence.

We may be the “low men on the totem pole”, but without us….there wouldn’t be a company.

A New Theology: Part IV- The Gnostic Lens

The reality is that I write A LOT. I’m sure this New Theology seems somewhat perplexing. That’s understandable. But this is only my musings on how to rethink normal theology. I don’t know if it will make sense, and frankly I don’t care it does. To me, philosophy is supposed to be challenging and daring. Through it, we are to find our own voice. And I believe that I have found that by entertaining this New Theology.

I doubt that I’ve constructed any sort of consistent “theology”, if you will. In the post regarding stoicism, I stated that passiveness is not a virtue. If we want to extend that out, I suppose we could argue that we should engage in the physical world rather than remain a mere passenger. Therefore, this allows us to create our own paths and maximize our “freedoms”.

And there are many variations that we could derive from that maxim. Yet I suppose that some might see it as an endorsement of the material world. Even though the skeptic within me wishes to err on the side of materialism/physicalism as the basis of all reality, the human side of me doesn’t want to reduce it to that end. As I’ve joked before, “I want to deny physical reality.” And as the history of knowledge has shown: we cannot wholly trust our senses and methodologies to arrive at “truths”. Old scientific systems get replaced by new ones,we find more truths buried under established truths, etc. Yet our inductive methods of learning the world are the best tool we have. And if we wish to discredit this tool, we have to apply more inductive research. Additionally, the senses we use to construct methodologies of research and understanding are notoriously misleading.

How we developed our sense of phenomenological perception is presumably due to evolution adapting us to a set of noumena (or the Kantian “things-in-themselves). It’s entirely possible that a different set of “intelligence”, which developed at a different part of the universe, would have a completely different phenomenological experience. And therefore having a different set of maths, sciences, etc. If ants grew to take over the world instead of us, would they have arrived at the same conclusions we have?

It appears that we are being “deceived”. We don’t actually have “true knowledge” of the real world.

Now I don’t want to venture off into the mystical, and then say that we are being actively deceived by some demonic force. But if I may steal some Gnostic terminology, our phenomenological field is our own “demiurge”; a misleading characterization of the things-in-themselves. Our perceptions may reveal qualities of the noumatic reality, but are not full and complete representations. EVEN THOUGH they are presented that way. And our minds appear to be limited by this demiurge. Any knowledge that we may receive should be questioned, or at least not taken at face value. I would even venture to say that we can apply that logic to, well…logic itself.

Now clearly we are coming across a MAJOR problem. The only way to refute the methodologies of the mind is to USE the methodologies of the mind. If we have to accept this, we might as well stop doing philosophy because it will reveal nothing real to us. So out of a lack of a better argument, I’ll just ignore this fact.

BUT, we can apply this line of skepticism down to traditional theology. If God exists, and there are things that we can know about Him, then we would have learned those things through our demiurge (i.e. our mind). And our mental capacities, as previously demonstrated, are fallible. Whatever supposed “facts” that we learn about God (either through ancient scripture, logic, or even empirical evidence!), we can question its validity. So whatever God or deities that might exist independent of perception would presumably go above and beyond any sort of human comprehension. A being that is not bound by our phenomenological existence would simply be…unfathomable. Therefore, in all likelihood, whatever information that WE HAVE received about God would be false or misleading regarding the totality of His existence.

Again, no demonic or mythical force is necessary here. Our minds simply act as our demiurge. And because of our finite and fallible capacities, it is likely that we are “cut-off” by a mind independent reality. And so we have yet to escape Kant’s philosophical conclusions: we don’t have knowledge of things-in-themselves. We are essentially “cut off” from God. Therefore there’s little sense in speculating about His existence.

UNLESS, we take certain presumptions about the capabilities of God. Namely, that God is capable of OUR phenomenological capabilities. Or, more specifically, our abilities “branch” out of His. If we are to take a physicalist/materialist assumption (and say that our minds are generated from a material substance) we could argue that, out of God branched out material substance. Or, perhaps more importantly, God is embedded into reality. The material world IS God. This would mean embracing a near (or total) pantheistic or panpsychic view of the universe.

Therefore, the demiurge-like deception lies not in the material world, but by providing an illusion that God is “out there” rather than “right here”…that God is somehow not a part of His creation.

I suppose we can say there’s an almost Manichean-like duality that permeates physical reality. This isn’t a battle between the material world and a supernatural world of ideas, but the struggle itself is firmly embedded into perceptual existence. And we directly take part in this battle. BUT (and here’s where I might completely derail if I haven’t already) this duality only exists within human consciousness. “Good and Evil” are the constructs of the mind. Obviously. And exact definitions of these two extremes vary among cultures. But, if I may make an assumption about all of humanity, such demarcations are made by all peoples. Somewhere, somehow, these two polar extremes become separated. Such constructions may have always existed within high-functioning minds. And if that were the case, is unification the end objective?

Again, I’m falling into a Hegelian-like argument that I wish to avoid. There isn’t an end objective for all of history. Good and Evil are not thesis and antithesis, which will later be synthesized. Instead it’s through our deceptive minds that such distinctions get made. It isn’t a case of HOW to unify, it’s a case of how to get RID of Good and Evil.

Mich has been made about mankind’s fall into damnation…how we somehow fell out of accord with nature. Perhaps the most famous mythical account is that of Adam and Eve: Once unified with nature, but through deception, they ate of the tree of knowledge and all subsequent generations were DAMNED. This burden of knowledge has been both our blessing and curse. Instead of living in accordance with nature, we’ve made ourselves a beast above it: dividing our knowledge into extremes…forever separating it into distinct phenomenological events. On and on this goes, with no end in sight.

It’s not as simple as turning back the clock. The knowledge we have gained cannot be put back into Pandora’s Box. It has become an extension of who WE ARE. So we could argue that this knowledge should not be forsaken. But because of our self-delusion, we have failed to understand what we DO know. We perceive the world as distinct and separate objects, and that they hold no relation to one another. So we ourselves have become distinguishable from nature. Clearly, to move past this barrier…the barrier must be removed.

A consistent theme with this “new theology” is the flowing stream of the universe. I’ve said previously that it was flowing FORWARD in time, yet it could be flowing in all directions. Yet our perceptions might only reveal a “forward only” direction (which may or may not conflict with traditional physics). But we apply division to physical reality because evolution needed to help us navigate a mind-independent world. Unfortunately, this division of material has brought us to near conflict with nature, each other, and ourselves.

As some quote that I recently heard stated (and I’m paraphrasing): “A flower doesn’t compete with a flower next to it. It just blossoms.” The only objective that we have in life (if we choose to accept it), is to blossom and grow.

And even though there appears to be many inconsistencies and contradictions embedded in phenomenological experience, it appears that mind shouldn’t be. There simply isn’t a reason for our reasons. Yet…they’re there. Descartes may have made many mistakes, yet the cogito ergo sum seems to be on to something. I may not be able to prove that “I” exist, but something is going on.

If I can’t know anything outside of this something, we may not know God. But if God isn’t capable of OUR something, could He really be considered all Powerful? Reality, or our existence, is a difficult thing to explain. And we often fail to appreciate how incredible this experience is. If we desire to understand something about God, we can’t search beyond to some supernatural world. If such a thing were possible, we couldn’t access it. The only direction to go isn’t “outward”, but to reach within. Because indeed, this consciousness would be the only thing we could have in common with God. If we are to know God, we needn’t look farther than our own material existence.

So do we actually possess this Knowledge?

 

F**K Reality!

Every day, I ask myself: am I asking the right questions? And is THAT question the correct question?

And then I get pissed off at reality because I can’t break out of my own sense perception. Or (as the video above explains) we’re trapped within the phenomenological field which dictates to us what reality is.

I’d love to pretend that we can find these answers in the words of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Hilary Putnam (who was about to be the focus of this post). But these are just reinforced notions that the authorities of society want us to think are important. They’re great because all the intellectual authorities tell us they’re great. So even the great wordsmiths of history have no deeper insights into existence. You have the same rational capabilities that they have (or had). And this is partly why I’m pissed that the world still remains a mother fucking mystery to me. But a more alarming fact is that there have been those that have lived and died…who might’ve cracked the mysteries of the universe…and yet are buried and forgotten within the sands of time.

But anyways, my point is that inspiration can be found anywhere. We just have to be willing to let ourselves go places, perhaps strange places, in order to find truth (for a lack of a better word). Yesterday, I felt that no philosopher anywhere had the answers to the questions I was seeking. Perhaps I wasn’t asking the right questions. OR, perhaps I didn’t understand the terminology. Thankfully, I came across the term ‘naive realism’. Basically meaning that we perceive actual properties of objects, the world is physical, and we can know things about it (I guess). Its specifics aren’t important, but we do intuitively act in this manner.

Now, there are videos and articles that I could have used to further my personal philosophy. But fuck that.

The gentleman in the video above is angry, ANGRY, that we are confined to our phenomenological understanding. Not enough people are like that. Personally, I thought I struck gold when I found this video. But then I got angry at it because this guy accurately captured in ONE video what took me 8 months to explain in My Life With Kant. So don’t waste your time with My Life With Kant, just watch this video.

Now there are problems with this overall conception of understanding. If you listen to me or the guy in the video, you’d probably come to the conclusion that we don’t believe in reality outside of the mind. That objects have to be perceived in order to exist. I know that that sounds crazy. And the discipline of philosophy would almost uniformly reject this conclusion. But it’s also just plain WRONG. The continuity of reality and objects in it would suggest that there’s a tangible world that can be known.

But let’s not split hairs here. Throwing out words like ‘idealism’ only takes away from your own responsibility to come to an understanding. Which is why I’ve been a big critic of academia. And even academics themselves seem to mock their own highly specialized terminology. The logic seems to be: “If enough big words are used, then that will only confuse the audience and we would be able to deflect criticism of our own theories“. And I’m not going to lie. I like to play this game as well. But getting buried down in the meaning of words is only a creative way to escape responsibility. It buries the lead in regards to the true problems within philosophy, namely our own responsibility to meaning.

But this gentleman also points out a hardwired problem within human logic: that existence must have an underlying mechanistic cause. The story that he brings up is a familiar one: a mythological account of the existence of the universe. That the world is a dome-shaped structure that’s being upheld by an elephant, and beneath the elephant is a turtle, and beneath THAT turtle is another turtle. Then on and on this goes, all the way down. We just keep discovering one turtle after another. We think that we have escaped this ancient logic, that our scientific methods can discover empirical truths. But that’s only an illusion. Instead of turtles, we find one mechanistic cause underneath another mechanistic cause…never getting any closer to the ULTIMATE mechanistic cause. It’s turtles all the way down!

Now it’s popular for thinkers like me to invoke quantum mechanics at this point. It’s a cliche, really. The more I think about it, it seems strange to throw into question the validity of human perception and understanding, and then bring up something that was discovered by human perception and understanding to positively prove your point. I’m not immune to this. So I’m not sure how much water this argument holds, unless we want to believe Zizek’s joke that God didn’t plan on humans going past the atomic level. But these scientifically mechanical processes exist to justify our own “phenomenological understanding of the world”. Making their purposes virtually no different from the ancient myths of creation.

So the proper way out of this is to undo prior assumptions of the world. Both atheism and the religiously zealous are essentially explaining the same thing from two different ends. They’re explaining that there’s an underlying cause of all reality, and that the mind plays no cause in the creation of our perceptions. And so the whole objective of science and contemporary philosophy is to get around the mind. But under this argument, that’s a road to nowhere.

Now the host of this video is appealing towards the objective of personal development and enlightenment. But he’s using a philosophical argument to make his point. From a purely philosophical perspective, we can’t accept any of this. And we ESPECIALLY can’t accept this from a scientific view. Denying space, time, and matter is basically taboo within modern intellectual discourse. THAT’S the road to Berkeleyism. Or even worse yet…to solipsism. UNLESS we want to take the perspective that space, time, and matter are just manipulations of reality, and are not FACTS. (George Berkeley, anyone?)

I’ve seemed to have made this argument before…that common notions of physical reality are just projections onto a (quantum mechanical?) canvas. The concepts that we use to classify reality, and the objects within it, are both cultural and biological. Therefore, we owe a great deal of thanks to evolutionary psychology. BUT this leaves the question(s): what would reality be WITHOUT minds, and how far down do our conceptions go in regards to our perceptions OF the fabric of reality? And can these inquiries throw into question the validity of science itself? Therefore reality does not consist of FACTS, but of MANIPULATIONS.

For the record, I’m not entirely certain of these arguments, but I’m going to entertain them anyway.

Imagine the irrefutable atom. Did this conception of the atom exist prior to the human mind discovering them? Clearly the mechanical processes that contribute to the conception must exist (I’ll assume), but is the conception a universal necessity, or is it just a manipulation of the human mind?

And why stop there?

Can we ask the same questions for electrons, protons, quarks, and so on? And to what extent does this “phenomenological field” contribute to such conceptions?

Would these ‘things’ be things at all noumenalogically speaking? The intuitive answer is ‘yes’, and this is where we might be stuck in the world of popular and contemporary philosophy. Materialism might be coming up from the seams, and we’re struggling to keep up.

We take comfort in feeling that there’s a constant reality outside of us. So we do everything we can to confirm such notions. This post-materialist phase of science and philosophy might be in its earliest stages, and I know that that sounds pretty stupid now that I say that.

But what would the world be without a materialist foundation? What everyone seems to be avoiding is the possibility that it might be…nothing at all. No one wants to face this possibility because, clearly there’s something. And because there’s something, there must be more something beneath it all. Then on and on we go into our faulty human reasoning (“it’s turtles all the way down”). So without a materialist foundation, we arrive at a dead end.

But how could something also be nothing? Is this nothing noumenologically nothing?

I don’t know.

But correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t matter just energy? And what happens to energy when it stops? Does it go back to nothing? (I’m just spit balling here). So while we might not (at the moment) be able to connect consciousness with the manipulation of reality, nothing itself seems to be underlying the totality of existence. Scientists, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Of course, this still lends credibility to materialism because it shows that reality is just matter (or energy) in motion. Therefore, we really don’t escape materialism or physicalism.

So what was the question again?