Archive for July, 2005

The Meaning of Life

by Jason Stotts

It is often asked of me in a rather snide way: “You are a philosopher? So tell me the meaning of life.” I have always thought this, to put it bluntly, a retarded question born of ignorance and bad philosophy.

The meaning of life is so simple and so profound that even though I shall tell you now, you may not understand it to your deathbed.

The meaning of life is to live and flourish.

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On Relationships Part II

by Jason Stotts

I’ve said before that it is the proper role for people to be with someone of the opposite sex whom they Love (yes I am excluding homosexuals, no it’s not without a reason – watch for a piece coming out soon that explains this). People will often look at me when I say this and ask: “But aren’t you an individualist?”, of course implying that individualism is incompatible with romance and being part of a committed relationship. They, however, could be no more wrong.

It is only an individualist who can be in a relationship, it is only someone who can value themselves who has the ability to value another, and it is only someone who truly knows what “I” means that can truly say: “I Love you.”

What these people who ask this miss though is the fact that it is part of human nature to want someone to call one’s own, to want someone to Love and who loves you in return, someone to cherish you and who cherishes you in return, to want someone to value you who you value in return.

The loving relationship must be a relationship of two individuals, but it becomes more than that – through the concerted efforts of those in the relationship it grows and so do the people in it. In a proper relationship both the people support one another, but more importantly their desire to see the best for their significant others helps to drive them to heights which they could not reach alone.

Being an individualist does not mean you must do everything for yourself and by yourself, it means that you must be rational and objective and work for your values and your significant other should be one of, if not the, highest of your values. Your significant other should be a personification of your values as well as a flame in your heart.

When two individualists are in a relationship together, they can help each other achieve that which neither could achieve alone and their very existence brings value to small moments that lacked them outside of the relationship – a good relationship makes the world a brighter place, the colors richer, the smiles warmer, and the happiness more profound.

It is amazing that when you are in a relationship, even something as simple as cooking dinner can go from a chore to something that is special because you are doing it with the person you Love. This is not because you are altruistic and are sacrificing for this other person, it is because they are a value to you that you are able to connect so closely and pursue their ends as your ends, making any action you do for them selfish, because you selfishly value them and want to see them happy and doing so makes you happy as well.

Not all relationships are the same and that is to be expected because no two individuals are the same, yet they all must share fundamental characteristics if we are to even call them relationships (in the sense of loving relationships). Without two individuals, there can be no relationship – try having a relationship by yourself. Without two individualists there can be no true relationship, who would want to be in a relationship without Love? Without selfishness, there could be no lasting relationships – you must place your significant other as one of your highest values and act in their interest for that reason, if you sacrifice for each other, you will find that you have a “relationship” of two people who would rather not be in a relationship.

When I said it was part of human nature, I truly mean it as much as I mean that man is the rational animal and that we need air to survive. Sure, we can live without Love, but we can never be happy without Love – not in the sense of complete human flourishing. Happiness results from achieving your values, to have the most complete happiness possible you must achieve your highest value. Now this may not be your significant other or you may not even have a significant other, but if it is your significant other you can expand the scope of your happiness in ways unimaginable to those who are ignorant of this.

What’s the point of all this? Well, I guess it’s to say that Love is important, it is a word that I capitalize when I don’t even capitalize the word god, because Love is more important that a fantasy of our imaginations, love is real and it has the potential to make our lives so much better. Let us then all act with Justice and go out and find (or refind) our love and make our lives more complete – because we only have one life and there is no reason to spend it without being happy.

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Can Altruism be Valued?

by Jason Stotts

I recently heard a college professor nonchalantly talking about values and saying how one could value family, pets, and Altruism. Now, this got me to thinking about that statement – that one could value altruism. It seems to me that this statement is based upon a use of the word “value” as an empty concept, a word which operates merely through connotation and does not denote anything. Let us examine.

In order to value altruism, one must first understand what “value” means. Now, let us take as a rather uncontroversial definition, that value is “That which one acts to gain and/or keep”. If this is the case, then to value altruism would mean to act to gain and/or keep altruism, which sounds like an odd sort of thing to say about an idea. Let us instead use uphold and reformulate our statement as: to value altruism would mean to act to initiate altruist ideals and/or uphold the ideals of altruism.

So now we have an operational understanding of what “to value altruism” would mean, but we seem to have glossed over a key issue. The issue is that to value something, one must value it for some reason: it must serve some end. Now disregarding intrinsicism, which is the topic of a completely separate paper, a value must serve some goal which is not itself merely the thing which it is, i.e. you must value x for a reason y, which is not just the fact that x is x.

The act of valuing presupposes an entity which is capable of action in some sort or another. This means that valuing must be performed only by living entities, but not by inanimate matter. All living things have one main goal as part of their nature, life. Without this goal an organism would die off: the mere existence of organisms shows us the validity of this argument. Now, since all things must act to stay alive, they must choose things which are in their interests, they must value.

Obviously, this argument presupposes that Life is a necessary condition for the existence of values as such (which is irrefutable), but let me further say that life is also the standard of value, that by which we judge an action to be good or bad.

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with altruism. Altruism is purposeful “self-less” action; it is acting solely in the interests of others. Now since we have already established that an organism must act in its own self-interest to stay alive, altruism is acting for one’s own death and since the standard of value is life, it is impossible that Altruism could be valued.

Here is a proof that Altruism cannot be valid by assuming 1. to be true, and then showing this leads to a contradiction.

1. One can value altruism
2. Value is something one acts to gain and/or keep
3. The standard of value is life
4. Therefore, one cannot value something which destroys (or at least does not further) one’s life.
5. Altruism destroys (or at least does not further) one’s life

6. One cannot value Altruism.

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An Interesting Piece of Circular Reasoning

by Jason Stotts

[Picking up in the middle of an argument from last night]

Jason: You have no evidence for the existence of god!

Logan: The Bible says that God exists and that’s evidence enough!

Jason: How do you know that the bible is nothing more than a fiction?

Logan: The Bible is God’s word and cannot be false!

Jason: So you know that god exists because the Bible tells you so, and you know the bible is true because God would not let it be otherwise?

Logan: Exactly!

Jason: You’re a fucking idiot, that’s the best example of circular reasoning I’ve seen since Descartes!

In case you’re dense and you miss the point of this – you cannot say that you know that god exists because the bible and also claim that you know the bible is true because god makes it so, because you only know god exists because of the book whose only claim to truth is his existence. It’s one big circle.

For Logan’s sake, I hope it was only the beer talking, but unfortunately this argument is common among the ignorant and devoted, but I repeat myself.

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The Glass

by Jason Stotts

I’m sure that everyone has heard the old riddle: “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”

Well, it’s a question that I have always answered “half-full” merely because it indicates being “optimistic” as opposed to “pessimistic,” or at least that’s how the riddle usually runs.

Now for those of you who know me, I’m constantly doing philosophical “battle” with the best majors at Denison: Matt Morrell, Miriam Stetz, Mike Sato, Jake Neiheisel, Sam Benham, Amanda Klinger, Taylor McCann (who isn’t that great, just confused), and basically anyone else in range…

This is important because it sets the stage for why I’m even writing this piece.

So on Thursday I met a new girl who’s name is Ozzie Crump, who is a sophomore at Denison majoring in Psych. Anyway, the important point is that she is NOT A PHILOSOPHER and only a SOPHMORE.

While at lunch, I was having a HUGE cup of coffee and when it was at basically the halfway point, she looks at me and asks: “so is it half-full or half-empty?”

Being the typical smartass I can be sometimes, I looked into the glass hoping to say something like “it’s 20% full”, but alas it contained exactly 50% of its total volume. So I instead went with me standard “It’s half-full” line.

In response to this, she looks at me and says “You know, it seems to me that it matters whats going on – if you’re filling it then it is half-full, and if you’re emptying it then its half-empty.” She said in effect that we need to make a distinction here and keep the context in mind.

Now for anyone who understands how good of an answer this is, will understand why I nearly dropped out of my chair! She, without knowing me or my method of operation, had taken my very lines about distinction and context and said them in a nonchalant way, as if it were the easiest thing in the world!

Needless to say, I was impressed and explained to her that she had just off-handedly defeated me in a philosophical question…a feat that any of the above named majors can attest is no easy task.

So the point of all this?

1) Never think you know everything
2) Never stop questioning and take rote answers
3) Always be on the look out for intelligence, because even the cute girl across the table at the coffee shop can be more than she appears.

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On Relationships – Part 1

by Jason Stotts

There are many different types of human relationships, such as acquaintances, family, friends, and lovers. Each of these is important in life: one is typically raised and influenced by one’s family, one has many acquaintances throughout life, one has friends, and one should have a lover. It is this last one that we shall focus on here, the connection between human nature and the relationships of lovers.

“Lover” is a concept that denotes a relationship between two individuals who are more than friends and who love each other. Now, in order to be precise, I shall have to first define what I mean by all of the underlying concepts so that the reader can fully understand the context from which I am writing.

Friend is a concept that denotes a relationship between two individuals who hold each other as a value. It follows from the idea that friends hold each other as a value that they enjoy each others company and sincerely wish the other well. Now, there are limits to what can constitute friendship: a person who you rarely see and do not value is not your friend, they are your acquaintance, a person whom you love and share physical intimacy also is not your friend, they are something more. Yet here I go talking about “something more than a friend” again, when my purpose was to explain this…

A lover is more than a friend; a lover is someone you value greatly – conjoined with love. A lover is someone you love? Do tell! Now, by “Love” I mean that emotion which expresses one’s conviction that another is a high value to you, with which comes a strong emotive response. Yet Love is a two-faceted concept, consisting of a spiritual and a physical aspect which are inexorably intertwined so that neither can exist independently (for any period of time). Now, of course this does not mean that one should immediately have sex with anyone that one feels love for nor does it mean that one will necessarily love anyone one has sex with; yet neither of these situations could go on indefinitely. Love without any physical aspect would lose its connection (think if you could not even kiss or hug your beloved) and sex without love would only be meaningless hedonistic indulgence, devoid of its true meaning.

So, to re-examine our position on our path to knowledge of a loving relationship: we have established a rudimentary definition of lover (that of someone who is “more than a friend”, who is a high value, and for whom you feel “love”) and we have started to flesh out the meaning of these underlying concepts. This leaves us in the position of defining a “lover” as “a person who is a high value (subsuming the “more than friends” aspect) and who one loves”. But, we have already seen that Love is a harder concept to define than we originally anticipated, so perhaps we should revise our definition to reflect that fact.

Our new definition will be that a lover is “someone who is a high value and for whom one feels a strong emotive response of love conjoined with physical intimacy.” The only problem so far is that as our definition gets more precise, it continues to grow in length and what we really need are only the essential characteristics. Perhaps then we rushed into our endeavor too quickly, let us take a step back and examine what we would mean if we were just to say “this is my lover”.

Upon saying those words, I would mean that this is a person whom I care deeply about, who I trust, who I respect, who I value, who I wish the best for, with whom I am intimate, and who seems to “complete me”. Now, it seems that our definition has taken care of some of these aspects, yet the final one gives us pause on our path as our definition did not cover that aspect at all. Perhaps then, we should examine what that means, if it means anything at all, and see if it is essential to the concept which we are trying to define.

If I were to say that someone else “completed me”, I would mean that without this other person I would feel less than “whole”. I wish to pause and note that these terms are analogous, not to be mistaken for literal metaphysical arguments. Continuing on, does this mean then that any individual is incomplete and unwhole if they are not able to find a lover? No, of course it does not. It is an argument from Man’s nature and part of Man’s nature is that he naturally desires to be in love and have someone who can be there for him. When you’re in love you feel a deep connection with the other person and it makes you feel as though what was empty before in your heart is now full. It is this sense of “complete” that I mean when I say that your lover “completes you”.

Now that we have a more fleshed out understanding of what we mean, let us make another attempt at forming a proper definition of lover, which we shall define as “the person with whom one is in love.” Now this is a good definition of lover, given that we understand what “Love” entails.

By “Love”, of course, I mean your emotional response to your values personified in another person – but the definition also needs to acknowledge the duality of love, that love is not just spiritual but also physical. Our definition needs to include 1) the emotive response, 2) values, and 3) the dual nature of love. So, let us try to define “Love” as “a spiritual/physical response to your values personified in another.”

While our new definition does say basically what we want it too, it seems to be literally saying that love is a physical response…which it is, but we don’t want to say that when you see your values personified in another, the first thing that happens is that you feel love and get an erection! So perhaps we should rephrase our definition to be “a spiritual response to your values personified in another conjoined with physical intimacy.”

Now this definition seems to subsume everything we want, given that it’s understood in the context of relationship love and not any of the other kinds of love. But we’ve done a lot of work just to arrive at the mere definition of Love, which is of course integral to a loving relationship, but we haven’t said much of what such a relationship itself entails. Why would we even want a relationship at all? Well, that will be the topic of a future post – look for it soon!

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Black and White

by Jason Stotts

While out here at the Objectivist conference, I’ve been taking a number of interesting seminars, one of which is “The Elements of Thinking in Principles” by Dr. Craig Biddle. The official course description reads:

Ayn Rand’s cognitive clarity and moral certainty were consequences of her thinking in principles. Thinking in principles is, in essence, a process of identifying relevant fundamentals and applying them properly to a given situation. This course will examine and concretize crucial components of this method, emphasizing the practical, life-or-death implications of each.

We will discuss the nature, importance and interrelationships of: naming one’s primaries, excluding the middle, classifying by essentials, respecting hierarchy, keeping context and dismissing the arbitrary. Using a wide variety of examples, we will see how—when properly understood and applied—these elements unify into the whole that is the hallmark of objectivity: the method of thinking in principles. Attendees will increase their understanding of what is involved in this vital method, which will better equip them to pursue their values, promote their lives and protect their rights. (The course presupposes an intermediate-level understanding of Objectivist epistemology and ethics.)

Now of course I was interested in a course which purported to be able to help me think clearer – who wouldn’t want to increase their cognitive efficacy? So I enrolled, went to class on the first day, and something very surprising happened – the course lived up to its description. Instead of being a waste of time, which had been a fear of mine, the course was actually quite useful and it helped me to clarify a lot of things which I “knew”, but apparently only sketchily.

Take this for example, a thing must be either A or ~A (the tilde means “not” or “non”), so this implies that if A stands for “tables”, then ~A is the class of all non-tables. Every existence which is not a table, falls into the class of ~A and there is no overlap between the groups, they are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive (nothing is outside one of the groups and everything is represented). This makes it very easy to think about moral issues with very little trouble applying this framework to ethical issues. For example, let us start over with a thing must be either A or ~A, and let us represent the class of all actions which are moral. This means that ~A represents the class of all things which is not of the class of all actions which are moral, or ~A represents the class of all actions which are immoral. So, since a thing must be either A (moral) or ~A (immoral), this clearly means that everything is “black and white” and it clearly delineates moral action from immoral action. Now of course we still need Morality to provide us with what exactly the class of moral actions contains, but even before we have that knowledge, we know that no immoral action could be moral and that everything is either black or white.

Think about that for just one second, you have just yourself proved that everything is black and white by following my argument, you now know that there is no moral gray!

This was only one of the first points of the course and for me it wasn’t even the most insightful.

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Flying Thoughts

by Jason Stotts

How great it is to soar among the birds,
between the twinkling lights far below,
and the glittering stars far above.

How great it is to be master of nature,
to have a mind capable of feats not yet known,
to live among the wonders wrought by our hand.

How great it is to have knowledge,
knowledge is power,
and this power is good.

How great it is to believe,
not in false gods,
but in the efficacy of our minds.

How great it is to be,
and to be, that which I be,
a Man!

(FYI: I always use the word “Man” to mean a human person, not just males)

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