Archive for March, 2006

Good News

On Monday, Dr. Lisska was talking about Marx and asked the class “are there any Marxists in here” – now the class has about 30 people in it and to my sheer joy, no one raised their hand and everyone looked surprised that he would think that there might be.
Good times…

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A Letter

To All Denison Objectivist Club Members,

I write to inform you that the Denison Objectivist club is officially ending.

In the three years since the club’s inception, there has been many memorable times and many great members. But, being an organization devoted to the perpetuation of true ideas and having only one member who actually believes those ideas and is capable of communicating them to others with passion and the drive to keep the club alive, this organization cannot survive without a strong leader.

Given that I am about to graduate and as such cannot devote it enough of my time to do it justice and given that I have no successor, the club is now defunct.

The dream was great, the battles were fun, and the ideas are True; but in this contest apathy has taken the day. Truth can never be completely beaten by apathy and good ideas can never die, but they can withdraw and on this occasion the club is going to do just that.

I regret that I have no successor, that I was not more active this year in recruiting, and that the meetings weren’t as informative as they should have been. Although Scott has graciously tried to take control of the club and run it as President Pro-Tem, clearly the job is too much for him and it’s not fair of me to unduly burden him with the commitment.

At this point for the club to be revived, it would need a good and capable leader who was also an Objectivist. Since I seem to be the only one on campus, I shall consider the proviso moot.

Nevertheless, I want to thank Sam for being there from the beginning. Miriam for helping to keep the club together and always coming. Scott, for always coming and bringing food, as well as trying to act as president this year. M., for coming to the first meetings of the semester and changing my life. I don’t think I’ve missed anyone else, since I can count you all on one hand…but if I have, I thank you as far as you’ve helped the club grow and prosper.

There will never be another year like ’03-‘04 when the Objectivist Club changed the Denison’s campus and broke out onto the scene with shockwaves. Alex, Sam, and I were quite the team and the club suffered a great casualty with Alex’s loss that it never recovered from.

So, in closing, never forget that Philosophy is one of the greatest powers in the world and that there is a good philosophy for Man here on Earth – do not let your mind be clouded by the irrationality and evil that permeates our culture today. Remember always that Objectivism is viable and in the future, when it starts to change our world for the best, stand with it. Don’t let apathy rule you forever lest you come to realize that it has stolen your very life from you.

Sincerely,

Jason Stotts
“The Damned Rational Egoist”

Founder, The Denison Objectivists

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“V for Vendetta”

by Jason Stotts

I went to see this movie hoping that it would live up to the hype the commercials laid for it – I was hoping that when the commercials said “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” that this movie would deal with political issues philosophically. I was not disappointed.

The movie is an amazing tale of one man who has had enough of his government controlling its citizens and he decides to right the injustice of government acting contrary to its proper purpose – a government should protect its citizen’s rights and create opportunities for them to flourish. A government that acts contrary to its proper purpose is a government that needs only one thing: overthrown.

The movie dealt with the issue beautifully and while I can’t give it an unconditional endorsement without seeing it again and knowing more about it and it’s purpose, but I can say that the movie has a lot of excellent points and it most definitely worth seeing.

The movie did forcefully remind me of one thing which I sometimes doubt, but which I always hope is true and that is this: the spark in humanity, that infinitesimal kernel of Integrity, of Justice, of Truth, and of Pride, cannot be destroyed no matter how bad the times nor how hard one tries. Even the spark within ourselves cannot be fully extinguished by our actions no matter how bad they are, the only act which can extinguish the spark is death and then the spark can become a conflagration that can consume an entire populace if done by the right person. While the clearest example of this is something fictional like the movie “Braveheart” or this movie “V for Vendetta” – there are historical examples as well.

In any age, in any place, no matter how bad things have become, no matter to what depths humanity has sunk, the spark will be there within each and every person…waiting. It doesn’t take any special kind of person to ignite the spark, or rather it shouldn’t have to. The spark is ignited by the simplest act in the world – the simple act of standing up and saying “No!”. All it takes is Integrity, all it takes is Justice, all it takes is to recognize the proper nature of your own humanity and stand up and say “I will be human and there is nothing anyone can do to stop me!” To gain your humanity through your death is tragic, but to gain it instead of living as a sub-human is divine. To see the choice at hand and know that even though death awaits you – you will be human, truly human, if for just once in your life.

Go and see this movie.

Remember that spark, the spark which can ignite an unstoppable firestorm of righteous Justice, is within you.

No matter how dark the day may get, no matter how far we fall, as long as we are human nothing can stop us and nothing can take that which is most important from us – the divinity of the human spirit.

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Justify My Love?

by Jason Stotts

What would you do if you were asked by your beloved to prove your love to them?

What would you do if you professed your love to your beloved and they did not believe you?

The issue of the communication of feelings is an especially tricky one – even in a hypothetical analysis where the situation doesn’t have all of the complexity of a real life case. Yet, I think the issue is great for gaining insight into the phenomenon of love and it also pushes us to stretch our creative and explanatory faculties in order to tackle this difficult issue.

Let us dive in and assume for our hypothetical situation that we have a man and a woman who are a couple, but whose relationship is only newly formed and as such is not perhaps as stable as an older relationship nor has it yet stood up against many tests. Let us further assume that in this instance that it is the man who professes his love for the woman, who professes disbelief and asks her lover to prove himself.

The first issues that arise to me are:

1) Does the woman doubt that the man is sincere or does she doubt that he knows what love is?

2) Why does the woman express disbelief in the first place? Has her lover made a mistake? Has she had bad past experiences with love and so is “scarred” from that? Or perhaps she herself doesn’t know what love is so she doubts that he could either?

With respect to the first set of questions, the answer here will determine the type of justification necessary to engender her belief. If it is the sincerity that is doubted, the man must show his sincerity by habitual actions indicative of love – whereas if it is the knowledge of love that is doubted, the man must show that he knows what love truly is.

With respect to the second set of questions, the answer will determine the content of justification, if such should even be applied in the case.

If the man has made a mistake he must prove that the mistake was a) atypical of his character, b) the mistake is not prohibitive of a further relationship (or that the future benefits of the relationship outweigh the cost of the mistake), and c) a sincerity to correct the cause of the mistake.

If the woman has had bad past experiences with love and is left incredulous to anyone truly being able to love her, then it is only the passage of time that can cure this – the man (if he wants to take on this burden) must show his love through habitual action and the passage of time. If, however, the woman doesn’t know what love is and so doubts another could know either, then he must show her what love is – explain the nature of it and its causes. If she doesn’t understand or refuses to understand, then it’s probably best for the man to cut his losses and leave with his sanity and integrity intact.

However, as we have just seen, many of these cases involve an appeal to what love is – so perhaps we must look to that idea ourselves and see if we can’t discover its nature.

Now love seems to me to be an extension, or perhaps a special kind, of friendship – so it seems as if it would be beneficial to first examine that concept and then build off it in order to arrive at knowledge of love.

Friendship seems to be something like a relationship of mutual goodwill, based on mutual good characters. Friends are a great joy to each other and they enhance the lives of their friends through pushing them to do better, helping them through hard times, and celebrating together in good times.

An intimate relationship is similar to a good friendship since it too has mutual goodwill and mutual good characters as its basis – yet an intimate relationship has a much stronger and more acute bond of love than friendship does. While friends are great values, your true beloved should be one of your highest values in life.

Love then, seems to be this emotional response to the good character of your beloved, to their virtues and sense of life, and to the value that she brings to your life. Love is an emotion – but it is an emotion based on reasons. Your beloved must share a similar sense of life as you – imagine how ill matched two people would be if one of them had a very positive outlook on life and the other had a very negative outlook on life, they would be perpetually annoyed with each other.

Even if two people cannot explicitly identify the basis of their love, it still exists.

However, love is based on trust and open communication. These two things are necessary conditions for the love – if either of these conditions is not met, love will either not arise or will cease to exist.

Trust is based on a person’s experience of another, it is based on your knowing that they will do the right things in the right situations – trust is based on your knowing a person’s character and their essential defining features. For example, if I were to say that I trust some girl M, what I would be saying is that based on my past experience of M, I have no reason to doubt that she will do the right thing because she has exhibited the right kinds of habits and a good character – since I know that one essential fact about her is that she highly values her mind, she will not take actions to destroy it.

Open communication is the basis of any kind of relationship, whether friendly or intimate. Open communication just means that you feel comfortable talking to the other person in your relationship, that you feel like you can tell them anything, and that they feel the same.

So, now that we have come to a fairly good definition of love, it is time to answer our original question: “How would I justify my love?”

Let us continue our original hypothetical situation where we have a man and a woman who are a couple, but whose relationship is only newly formed and as such is not perhaps as stable as an older relationship nor has it yet stood up against many tests. Let us further assume that in this instance that it is the man who professes his love for the woman, who professes disbelief and asks her lover to prove himself. Also, the woman’s reason for doing this are that she doubts that he is sincere based on something he did which deeply troubled her.

If this is the case and we were to counsel our gentlemen friend how to quell his lady’s ire and reestablish the relationship, it seems we should counsel him to first analyze what he has done and see if he truly regrets it. If he does then we should continue to try and help him, if he does not regret it then he should talk with her and see why she is offended. If no consensus can be reached about whether the action was wrong or not then the relationship should be dissolved. However, if he does truly regret it and they talk about it and they come to a consensus (let us assume the consensus is that the action in question was in fact wrong), then the next steps for our young friend are to make amends as best he can, talk with his beloved and show that his intentions were not malicious, and to make sure not to repeat the offending behavior.

If his beloved still has doubts, then he must show her that she can trust him again and explain to her that he does understand what love is and remind her why they were in love in the first place.

If he works at reminding her why they originally fell in love, the values they share, the good times they have, and the joy they have in each other’s company – then hopefully she will return to him.

If, however, all of this fails then the best counsel we can offer is for him to give his beloved space and see if the passage of time will melt the objections in her heart and whether she will return to him. In this case it would be best for our young friend to remove himself from her life, since she already finds him objectionable and he wouldn’t want to exacerbate this by continually being present and being a constant reminder of the offense.

Luckily though, the case is only hypothetical, but if it were real then it would be hard to imagine a more dreadful position to be in than to realize that you had destroyed true love by a mistake and that there was nothing you could do to convince your former love of your love.

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UNF Conference

by Jason Stotts

The UNF (University of North Florida) Conference just ended as I write this – it was last night and all day today. It’s been an interesting time down here, mostly because this is the first time I’ve ever presented a philosophy paper at a conference. I must confess that I was rather nervous going into the talk and I probably spoke just a little too quickly, but I didn’t trip over many words and I got done right at 30mins, so I didn’t go long. There were a couple good questions, but the paper stood sturdy and somehow so did I.

The conference wasn’t precisely what I was expecting (although really I didn’t know what to expect), but it was a lot of fun. Dr. Ellen Wagner chaired the conference and she kept things running pretty well on schedule – this seems to be how things run at UNF too as the grad students affectionately referred to her at their Matriarch. It was kinda weird, because I was expecting something more like the Objectivist Conferences (which are the only conferences I’ve been to) that are more formalistic and professional. Although it does make sense that since this is a student conference that it should be more relaxed.

Everyone was really nice and the topics were interesting – there were a couple papers on epistemology, a couple on ethics, and more on metaphysics. After the lectures today we all went out to dinner together and sat around talking for awhile, which was nice. I was introduced to Macallan (scotch), which was a lovely way to watch a Florida sunset out on the patio with a glass of scotch and good conversation.

It’s kinda weird though because M. is also here in Jacksonville…although she did not come down to hear me speak, rather she came to visit her ex-boyfriend Ryan who also happens to be a student here at UNF.

All in all I had a great time and it’s nice to have a mini vacation (even if it is a working one) before I have to go back to Ohio and work hardcore to finish my senior research on time. What makes it even better though is that Denison graciously offered to pay for me to do this, which is the only way it was feasible for me since otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to come.

So a big thanks to UNF, DU, and everyone who supported me doing this!

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On Paternalism

by Jason Stotts

The issue of Paternalism is a pervasive issue in both moral and political philosophy, although the issue is slightly different in each case. This essay will deal with “moral paternalism”, or more elaborately it is on the ethical ramifications of paternalistic actions between two adults, where we shall understand paternalistic actions to be something like “acting like a parent to another; i.e. assuming that you know what is best for them and attempting to make them pursue this end whether or not they want to”. This kind of activity is usually preceded by the statement that it’s “for your own good”. While this is significantly different in particulars from political paternalism, many of the same principles will apply in each case and so our analysis will apply to both moral and political paternalism, although I will focus exclusively on the former here.

The best way to start our analysis is to look at true parental actions – we need to look at the nature of the relationship between a parent and a child. This relationship is characterized by the parent trying to help raise the child – the parent knows what is best for the child (usually) and so it is their job to help guide the child into the right choices and decisions, sometimes even forcing them to do specific actions or prohibiting them from other actions. Basically the parent is in charge of the child and is primarily responsible for their upbringing, the child is supposed to follow the parent’s advice and is not completely responsible for his actions, since he does not have fully developed mental faculties and does not yet know what is best for himself.

Now a full adult, as against a child, is completely responsible for their own actions – since Man is a being of volitional consciousness and life necessitates specific actions, one must take the actions necessary for one’s continued existence as a Man. One is responsible for the condition of one’s own life; this responsibility is only to oneself and any default is payable to reality since while one is free to act however one pleases, one is not free to evade reality as it immutable and will allow no improper actions to go on in the long run. People must think for themselves and determine the best course of action for their life consistent with their goals and their hierarchy of values. No one else can do this for them – while someone can help with this process, it is only the reasoning that is useful and not the conclusions. If you want to have good rational thought, then you must evaluate the reasoning underlying the conclusions you accept lest you be left with castles in the clouds, divorced from reality and precariously perched. Now, on to the issue of paternalism.

Paternalism is an easy trap for people to fall into as all of us experienced this as we were being raised (some moreso than others) and it’s easy to think “well, I know what is best for him so I’m going to help make sure that he does it, even if I have to force him a little”. It’s easy to say and I know I myself have fallen prey to this line of thinking, but it is nonetheless very wrong.

First knowledge forced upon someone else is absolutely worthless to them, our minds cannot operate under force and it is not the conclusions that would be useful, but rather the reasoning.

Second, if one succeeds in being paternalistic, then the results are not some noble goal achieved, but rather what is achieved is the death of the independence and identity of the person whom the goals were forced upon. In so “helping” the other person you are destroying their ability to act for themselves and destroying their character. No matter the intentions of the “helper” – the result is the same, the growth of dependence and an inability to handle life without guidance. It’s like the old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, no matter how seemingly noble your intentions are it is always wrong to try to force someone’s mind.

This whole issue is exacerbated in a loving relationship because the connection between the two people is stronger. Given the nature of a loving relationship involves the intertwining of two separate and independent souls, the relation must be equal or else one soul will be dominated by the other. The unequal power structure often involves one person being paternalistic to the other, which is assuredly the quickest way to cast the other into resentment – or if they are not so cast, then they are not worthy of love. Paternalism in a relationship is deadly to it, at least to a true relationship as it precludes the possibility of true love.

Although we of course want our significant other to help us in our times of need, we cannot have them cross the fine line to paternalism.

If you love someone you have to let them live for themselves and make their own mistakes, otherwise how could you be proud of them if they aren’t really choosing their own path? Is it not better to let them live free and comfort them when they stumble, catch them when they fall, and sing their praises when they soar? What good is it to love a slave, even if it is a slave that you yourself made?

Although it can be painful to know the right thing to do and watch our beloved flounder, if we do more than try to guide them down the right path, if we try to carry them ourselves, we will destroy our beloved as surely as their demise and little could it be called something else when their soul dies.

We must brace our hearts to the possible pain of watching our beloved flounder and ward our hearts against helping too much, lest we kill ourselves that which we love most.

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Looking Back

by Jason Stotts

Looking back over the year of writing I’ve done for the blog I decided to take a minute and list some of my personal favorite essays and why I like them.

On Purpose is an interesting essay because it represents a personal epiphany for me, a bring into explicit conscious thought something which I had always known, but hadn’t really identified. My favorite part of the whole essay is the last paragraph and the idea expressed there.

On Dreams is a fun essay for me because it was written completely in a car on the way from Granville to Cleveland to see Scott while Miriam was driving and yet I also think it’s one of the best essays I’ve penned to date.

On the Role of Fiction is the result of me watching some movie, although I can’t recall what movie now, and noticing the effect it had on me and the people I was watching the movie with. It’s mostly an extrapolation of this into principled thought that is universally applicable.

On Depression came from me working with Rand’s idea of “sense of life” and Love – while working on the ideas to push Rand’s analysis further and trying to combine it with Aristotle’s ethics, I randomly thought of one of my friends who’s constantly depressed and the whole issue clarified in my mind.

The Meaning of Life was just for fun for me – although I completely agree with what I said and I firmly believe that if one understands my statement that they will be well on their way to living a better life.

Sanction is my attempt to reconcile my past thinking with Rand’s position on Sanction and noticing that my thinking fell short – so it’s more of me flexing my newfound position and seeing if it’d hold up.

The Problem of Contemporary Philosophers was another essay written at the same time “On Dreams” was; in fact it was written immediately after when I was thinking about how I was creating my philosophy while most academics only philosophize about the original philosophy of others.

Obesity is Immoral was written last summer after I got back from the Objectivist Conference in San Diego and I noticed an unusually large number of…well…large people in the airports and decided to formalize my thoughts on the issue.

The Glorification of Brute is one of my more passionate pieces – meaning that I was writing more from my passion than from a calm sense of reason. In order to understand it better it should be read that way instead of the poised position that most of my pieces have.

A Shattered Crown is perhaps my most passionate piece written almost entirely as an impassioned denunciation of one of the things I find most obscene about our world – Christians. The piece exhibits a Nietzschean style and poetical influence, although the philosophy is sound.

Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing which essays are other people’s favorites and why, so someone let me know…

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On Depression

by Jason Stotts

Recently I was thinking about the issue of depression and I’ve come to conclude that the fundamental aspect of depression is impotence – no, not sexual impotence (although this could certainly cause depression), but rather a kind of metaphysical impotence. By this I mean a feeling of being powerless to affect the world around you, feeling powerless to control yourself, a feeling of inefficaciousness that arises from a lack of control over your own life.

Many of you will find it curious that I speak of feelings here and not thoughts – well it’s because I think that the issue is fundamentally at the sense of life level. The issue of depression starts with one’s sense of life – which is a pre-rational, subconscious self-evaluation of yourself and your life which greatly influences your opinion of yourself. Although the sense of life starts at the pre-rational and subconscious level, it can be controlled (to some extent) by one’s conscious convictions and rational choices. Nevertheless, most people never even attempt such control and for them their sense of life is running on auto-pilot; although unfortunately for them, auto-pilot just means integrating and evaluating any random feelings and thoughts that happen to pass in one’s mind into an evaluation of yourself and your ability to deal with reality.

For most this means that if they do well in life then they will have a positive sense of life and if they do poorly in life then they will have a negative sense of life – in each case since the person is not consciously affecting the process it just integrates what’s available. This is, however, something of a “vicious circle” as good actions reinforce a positive sense of life so that you are more able to act in the future and bad actions reinforce a negative sense of life so that you are less able to act in the future. In each case, one’s chance behaviors and success (or lack thereof) end up determining their future to a great extent as one acts from one’s sense of life – not directly but as the fuel and motive force for one’s conscious mind and rational faculty.

Have you ever stopped and thought about why you were just fundamentally a “happy person” or a “sad person” – it is because you have that kind of sense of life. It’s not as if most people consciously control this, for the people who do not attempt a conscious rational control, this is “automatic”. Yet, it affects your consciousness because someone with a positive sense of life naturally feels that they will succeed and so this influences them to act more often and in the right ways, whereas someone with a negative sense of life is less likely to act (since they believe they will fail) and if they do act they typically “shoot themself in the foot” because they act thinking they will fail – which inevitably leads them to do precisely that.

Sense of life affects depression because your sense of life gives you your sense of efficacy in the world. Someone with a positive sense of life believes themself to be efficacious and will act with certainty, while someone with a negative sense of life believes themself to be inefficacious and will act timidly or not at all. This can cause depression because if one feels that they will fail before they even begin, they will adopt an attitude of “what’s the point?” and fail to take the actions required to actually succeed.

Because a sense of life can affect one’s sense of efficacy in the world, one’s sense of metaphysical potency or metaphysical impotency – it greatly affect one’s life. In fact, it makes no little difference in one’s life, but rather all the difference.

I firmly believe that most people who are depressed from internal causes (i.e. excluding those who have lost some external value like a loved one) are suffering from this sense of metaphysical impotency and that if they could recognize this and act to start correcting their sense of life, that they could fix their problems.

Of course, I am greatly indebted to Ayn Rand for the concept of the sense of life, which she identified as playing a major role in life, but I think that her analysis can be pushed to much greater lengths than she went. While Rand recognized that sense of life has a large role in love and in art, I don’t think she realized the over-whelming implications that it has for all facets of one’s life.

Since one’s sub-conscious provides the fuel and impetus for one’s conscious mind, one’s sense of life literally affects everything one does. For a person with a proper sense of life, there are few set-backs that cannot be overcome and these are dealt with as incidental issues to one’s goal – they are dealt with magnanimously (as The Philosopher would say) and treated as challenges to be met. Alas, someone with an improper sense of life treats any minor set-back or issue as a crisis and is constantly beset by doubt and worry – draining all of their energy and holding them back from their true potential.

The issue of sense of life and of metaphysical potency (a term which I coined) are quite important to understanding one’s life and they deserve to be elaborated and clarified much more than I have done here, since I have barely begun to wrestle with some of the more complex issues. Yet, I think I have laid a sufficient amount of groundwork for my purposes here to show the connection between sense of life, metaphysical potency, and depression. For the rest I will have to issue a promissory note, although the more I think of the issue the more I become convinced of its importance and the more I am inclined to pursue it.

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