Archive for June, 2005

The Stotts Tenets

by Jason Stotts

I swear, on my life and my love of it, that:

I will live and die by my Principles

I will be Rational at all times to the best of my ability

I will never allow a breach between myself and reality

I will at all times act in my own Rational Self-Interest

I will uphold Justice, giving praise to good and scorn to evil

I will never sanction evil or irrationality

I will never let my emotions rule my reason

I will always act with integrity

I will be as excellent as I can at all times

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Adam and Ashley’s Wedding

by Jason Stotts

Yesterday, Saturday June 25th, I went to my cousin’s wedding here in Atlanta GA and I must say, it gave me a lot to think about.

First, the night before the wedding, we went to the rehearsal and then to the dinner afterwards for the family and the wedding party. It was really great to see how many people came out to wish the young couple good luck, everyone from their family to their best friends. After the dinner, there was a slide show showing pictures of Adam and Ashley as they grew up till high school where they met and started dating. Then it showed their relationship as it grew and they grew with it – it was interesting to see how much they had changed in 7 years since they had started dating.

You could clearly see how much Adam and Ashley love each other and how close they were to each other, how dedicated, how committed, and how loyal to each other they were.

It all really made me think about my life and how empty it seemed compared to theirs with all that they had to give each other and how obviously happy they were together…

At the wedding, which was really formal with all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen wearing black, Ashley shone like a star in her elegant white dress. You could just tell how happy Adam was to see her walking towards him down the aisle and how happy she was to be doing it. As they stood on the dais with the preacher, Adam couldn’t help but have the biggest grin on his face and Ashley alternated between the brightest smiles I have ever seen and trying not to cry because she was so happy. When they kissed, everyone erupted in applause and admiration for the happy couple; everyone was so happy that they finally made everything “official” and had such a good time doing it.

However, all this reminded me of my significant other…who doesn’t exist.

It reminded me that trying to find a good woman to be with, who is both beautiful on the outside and on the inside, is damn near impossible. It’s so hard to find a girl who is both beautiful and intelligent, who is both a serious hard worker and who still knows how to have a good time, who can carry an intelligent conversation and who still laughs at stupid jokes, who would love me with all she has – both spiritually and physically.

It reminds me that trying to find a girl who loves her mind and her body is like looking for a needle in a haystack (which I guess used to happen a lot?), although its not likely that you’ll ever find it, you just have to look until you get “stuck”.

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On Value

by Jason Stotts

Recently I was having a discussion about value with someone and they claimed that value is just part of what a thing is – “Things are not valuable because we value them, they are valuable for what they are”, i.e. the claim is that value is intrinsic. Now, being the philosopher I am, this struck me as an odd thing to say – to say that a coin has value just because it is a coin or that a wife has value just because she is a wife. Let us examine this issue of the nature of value and see if we can’t come to any conclusions on it.

First it seems to me that we must make some distinctions if we are ever to come to a conclusion about this issue.

1. Value must either be a means to an end (instrumental) or an end in itself (intrinsic)

2. To say a thing is valuable there must be some standard of value such as to each person subjectively or to all persons collectively, or there must be an objective standard, or a thing could just be valuable in-and-of itself (intrinsically valuable).

3. To have value it must be of benefit to yourself (egoism), others (altruism), or to no-one at all (intrinsicism).

So there are three closely related issues regarding value: 1) Of value for what?, 2) Of value by what standard?, and 3) Of value to whom? Now usually these three questions are confused amongst each other or not even regard as part of the issue, but I believe without these distinctions we will never be able to sort out this whole mess about values and what they are and should be.

Now, obviously the most fundamental question which is presupposed by the others is the question of the standard of value, since without a standard we could never declare something to be a value in the first place.

I have set up three different standards (subjective and collective are being lumped together for a good reason although I don’t have space here to address that – look for a future post) in 2, which run the whole range of possibilities for standards of value (unless you’re a nihilist, or an idiot, but I repeat myself). Anyway, in order to sort out which standard to use, we need to look at what makes value possible in the first place.

What is it that gives rise to the concept of values? Can a rock value something? Can a tree or a dog or a person? Now it is apparent that inanimate matter has no values, there is nothing which a rock values – nothing can be either good or bad for it since it merely exists. So it seems that only animate matter can value, a tree values water, a dog values affection, and people have a wide range of values. The key distinction here is animate vs. inanimate matter: it is Life that gives rise to values – without life there can be no values.

So we have come to a standard of value – life; but is this standard subjective/collective, objective, or intrinsic?

Since it is the fundamental mortal choice that is the precondition of value, this makes life the standard of value, the measuring stick against which values are measured, if you will. Since life becomes the standard of value, it is apparent that value cannot be subjective/collective or intrinsic, because life serves as an objective standard of value. By having life as the standard of value, one sets up a telos for value and then can apply a teleological analysis to find out whether something is truly a value or not. To put this in simpler English, you have to set life as the goal and see whether a value furthers or hinders that goal in order to see whether it is truly a value.

We have now seen that values are objective and that their standard is life, thus proving that value is neither subjective/collective nor intrinsic and that objective evaluation is possible and, as a later piece will show, necessary.

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On Volition – Setting the Stage

by Jason Stotts

Due to the unusually high number of questions about volition (free will), I have decided to lay down some thoughts on it, both some standard thoughts and those of my own.

1. Determinism

This is the doctrine that there is no volition and that all actions are caused (either by God or nature).

a. Soft Determinism

The doctrine that your course has been set, but that there is still some choice

b. Hard determinism

The doctrine that no true choice exists

2. Indeterminism

The doctrine that free will exists and consists of the ability to choose between outcomes.

3. Compatibilism

The doctrine that it is possible to commensurate some determinism and some indeterminism into a theory that allows for choice and determinism (kind of like soft determinism with more choice).

Now, these are the standard three positions: you can believe in free will, believe in determinism, or believe in a mixture of both. The problem is that all of these positions view volition as the ability to choose between different outcomes, they all start from the same premise and go different ways. What Ayn Rand did, and what I think was a genius move, was to question that very premise.

Ayn Rand asked the question: “what is volition fundamentally?” She wanted to know if all volition was, was the ability to choose between multiple outcomes. This view of volition allows for the inclusion of even lower animals into the category of things possessing volition, since they can “choose” between outcomes. This led her to ask what made us different from them, what made us superior. The answer is, of course, our mind.

You see, the Objectivist view of volition is not the ability to choose between at least two outcomes, it is the ability for cognitive self-regulation. Now, let me just say that I need to examine this more in depth and I am not an expert on this, so I would recommend Harry Binswanger’s book Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation, which is available from http://www.aynrandbookstore.com/.

Although I’m no expert at this conception of volition, let me try my best to clarify the position and if someone can do it better, please e-mail me. The Objectivist position is that volition consists in the ability to make one’s mind more or less focused, i.e. to take a more or less active role in your thoughts and participation in reality. The best non-philosophical way I can explain this is with the example of two students, student A who is attentive and alert in class and student B who is sleepy and inattentive. The first student is exhibiting mental focus and the second is not.

So the idea is that volition is not about choosing between two outcomes, but rather choosing between being mentally alert.

Now, the epistemological question comes up: How do I know I have volition? Well, just as one must first experience something to know it, so too here one comes to know that one has volition by experiencing ones capacity to make ones mind either active or passive.

These are only perfunctory remarks about Volition, look for a more detailed piece to follow, but I hope it at least sets the stage for what’s to come.

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On Purpose

by Jason Stotts

This summer has provided for me a chance for introspection that one rarely receives – I was able to more concretely identify one of my fundamental characteristics like I had never been able to do before. The characteristic I am talking about is Purpose. You see, this summer I wasn’t able to find gainful employment (get a job) because of my travels in the middle of the summer to Atlanta and later to San Diego.

Because of this, I have been relegated to sitting around my house and basically doing nothing of importance. Needless to say I have become quite frustrated with my situation (e.g. notice how the number of blog posts has gone up so steadily?) and through this frustration I was further reminded that I am the kind of person who must have a purpose…I must have goals and be working for them if I am to be happy.

Now, some people say that being goal-oriented, which I am going to call teleological (pertaining to ends) here, is a bad thing since it can hinder spontaneity. I, however, think that the teleological orientation actually can be just as spontaneous as any other orientation, because it focuses on ends – not necessarily on paths to get there. Often I will set goals for myself that I have no idea how to achieve, but I know that I want to get them done. So I just take some spontaneous creative initiative and see what happens, often I am even surprised at how creative I can be when all I know is where I want to go but I leave the details more vague.

Now, this is not to say that the teleological orientation requires that one not set means to ends, this is perfectly acceptable too, but in order to pump as much spontaneity and creativity into the processes – just setting the end is the best way to go.

Now, to bring my tangent back in tune with my topic, the teleological oriented person, the person who operates on purpose, has a decided advantage over any other orientation such as lazy, unfocussed, or spur-of-the-moment. While there are obviously many people who are like that, in order to achieve maximum efficiency with our finite days in our life and get as much out of them as possible, we have to set goals for ourselves and work towards them.

Purpose is the key to happiness – a man with a purpose making progress to his goal is a far happier man than any hedonist or brute.

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Something That Really Pisses Me Off

by Jason Stotts

Okay, so this post is so titled because I’m pissed about this e-mail I received from someone named Justin, take a look:

“Care to explain how a mere human can ever be certain of this?”

[In reference to my saying:]

“I would like to begin by stating that I am a firm believer in volition – good ‘ol fashioned free will and because of this I think that one can do anything one wants to do (within the bounds of one’s nature).”

Well Justin, given that metaphysical apparitions such as Gods or Devils are metaphysically impossible due to the Law of Identity and Causation, I would ask what could be greater than the human intellect to understand what happens in the world? Because of course by saying a “mere” human you presuppose that a being exists which has powers greatly in excess of our in order to relegate us to the status of a “mere human”.

How can I be certain of it? It’s called fucking EPISTEMOLOGY – look into it, its all about certainty and about what you can and can’t know. How do I know about Epistemology? Because I’m fucking 2 classes shy of having TWO, not one, but TWO BACHELOR DEGREES! Not only that, I’m not the kind of person who just sits around on my philosophical laurels and treats philosophy as a joke, I take it very seriously and I am well-versed in many different schools of philosophy. Which may be why I’M THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF A FUCKING INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY.

But, given that I’ve ranted enough about your fucking skeptical derision of human nature and our faculties, perhaps I should give you an answer to your question of how “mere” human can know that I have volition.

1. I know that I exist
2. I know that I think
3. I know that I make decision, i.e. I FUCKING CHOOSE
4. Therefore, I have volition

Game and match, it’s that fucking simple. I can choose, I have volition. If you don’t, so much the worse for you and your sub-human status.

Oh, and by the way, skepticism is tres démodé (out of style) and has been since Aristotle, until that twit Descartes couldn’t decide if he was dreaming, but quickly fell back from favor.

How do I know I have volition? How do you know you can choose to doubt?

FUCK!

Why am I so pissed? Because I’m sick of people deriding human nature as inferior as opposed to some alleged metaphysical entity such as “God” who is “oh my…so strong…unbelivably strong”. Why do some people insist on forces their stupid premises onto others?

Philosophers Rule #1: CHECK YOUR PREMISES!

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RE: Obesity is Immoral

by Jason Stotts

Here is a reply sent to me by Miriam about my obesity post and my reply to her.

—————————————————

Jason…I understand what you are saying…however, i find it kind of ironic that your BMI is at or almost at 25…which indicates obesity…you’re either immoral or close to being immoral!

—————————————————

Miriam,

I would like to thank you for taking interest in my post and taking the time to reply, but I think that there are some things which you have overlooked:

1. As is noted in the July 2005 issue of Popular Science, BMI is a poor measure of obesity.

“…the unreliable ‘body mass index’ (BMI) – a number determined by a person’s height and weight – to define ‘normal’ and ‘overweight’…but BMI doesn’t take into account many important factors: physical activity, fat versus muscle, gender, or diet…I’d like to see some kind of fat index!”

I’d like to say that I completely agree that the BMI is not reliable since it does not take into account the percentage of fat, which is precisely what obesity is all about.

2. As I said in my post “Obesity is defined as a level of body fat percent such that it is bad for ones well-being”, so my BMI has nothing to do with anything, since my percent of body fat is clearly not harming my health.

3. FYI, a BMI of 25 (if that is what I have) is “overweight”, obese is above 30.

So, I think your assertion that I am either immoral or close to being immoral is unwarranted. Even if it was true that I was obese, claiming that I couldn’t talk about obesity and be obese at the same time would be a ad hominem.

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Obesity is Immoral

by Jason Stotts

Now I just know that some of you look at the title to this piece and cringe – and to you I ask that you set your prejudices aside and listen to my arguments before you decide on the issue or stick to your preconceived notions that you never gave that much thought to anyway.

I would like to begin by stating that I am a firm believer in volition – good ‘ol fashioned free will and because of this I think that one can do anything one wants to do (within the bounds of one’s nature).

Since I believe in volition, I am against fatalism (or determinism), meaning that I don’t believe that you are pre-destined to be a certain way and there is nothing you can do about it.

Now, on to obesity.

Obviously some people have a natural genetic disposition to be heavier than others – they have a disposition to obesity. I grant this without reservation, some people do indeed have this disposition.

Now, you may be thinking that this is the end of the discussion and I have already lost my case since some people are naturally disposed to obesity and moral condemnations can only apply to choices. Well, think again.

As Aristotle pointed out thousands of years ago, a disposition is merely a potentially to exist in a certain state, i.e. a disposition merely means that one might be obese, not that one has to be. Therefore, a disposition for obesity does not mean that one will actually become obese, merely that one’s body is naturally more inclined than others.

Given this, someone who has a genetic disposition for obesity and who is obese is obese because they chose to be. If one has a disposition to be obese and one chooses to eat a lot of calories, then one will be obese. The disposition can never actualize if one eats in moderation and monitors what one eats. In order to become obese one has to actually choose to eat the food which makes you obese.

You see, and this is the whole issue here, one must choose to be obese – and as we all know, all choices bear moral evaluation. Since one must choose to be obese, we must evaluate whether such an action is moral or immoral, i.e. whether the action promotes or retards ones life.

Obesity is defined as a level of body fat percent such that it is bad for ones well-being; obesity is necessarily unhealthy for you. Since this is the case, choosing to be obese means choosing to retard (or even destroy) one’s life, i.e. choosing to be immoral.

So there we go, obesity is immoral. If anyone would like to challenge my claims, feel free to e-mail me (Stotts_w@denison.edu). Otherwise stop your stupid bitching about my being insensitive to the plights of others and just recognize that it’s immoral.

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