Archive for May, 2006

The “Differents”

by Jason Stotts

When people ask me why I’m an Objectivist, I usually take some time and explain why in detail. The short answer, however, is that in Objectivism I find the philosophy which I had always lived by implicitly brought out into the light in well-reasoned and articulate essays by Ayn Rand. To give a poignant example of this, I submit the following case in point.

Ever sense I can remember, I have felt different from those around me – I didn’t know precisely how or why, but I knew that I was different. I didn’t like to do the things that they liked: I felt no pleasure in their mindless diversions to pass their days, in their social networks and cliques, nor in their almost desperate desire to be liked. I had few close friends growing up. I preferred my own company and that of books and movies – at least in this company I could grow and develop. There had always been a few people who I felt were like me – others who were different as well. Growing up I never understood what the difference was, my best guess what that it was due to my intelligence.

To this day I still know few people who are similar to me – this number did increase significantly when I discovered philosophy and fellow philosophers, but even here the malaise has permeated.

Just the other day I was reading an essay by Ayn Rand, “Altruism as Appeasement”, and I found the following passage:

Between these two extremes of age – from college years to the culmination of a lifetime’s struggle – lies a silent psychological horror story. It is the story of men who spend their lives apologizing for their intelligence.

The following pattern does not enmesh all men of superior mental endowment; some manage to escape it; but, in our anti-rational culture, it strangles too many of them.

By the time he reaches college, a bright, sensitive, precociously observant youth has acquired the sense of being trapped in a nightmare universe where he is resented, not for his flaws, but for his greatest attribute: his intelligence. It is merely a sense, not a firm conviction; no teen-ager can draw such a conclusion with certainty nor fully believe so enormous an evil. He senses only that he is “different,” in some way which he cannot define – that he does not get along with people, for some reason which he cannot name – that he wants to understand things and issues, big issues, about which no one else seems to care.

His first year in college is, usually, his psychological killer. He had expected college to be a citadel of the intellect where he would find answers, knowledge, meaning and, above all, some companions to share his interests in ideas. He finds none of it. […]

Now, my own life was not quite as bad as it could have been. Although I know precisely the feeling of bewilderment for being hated for your virtue, I was fortunate enough to never doubt myself enough to conform to other’s expectations. However, I know all too well about the feeling of “difference” and its accompanying questions.

I hate to think about how many others who are out there, the “differents”, engaged in a struggle for their very life and who could benefit so greatly from the great philosophers like Aristotle and Rand.

If you are one of the “differents”, there are others like you – you are not alone. Never give up, never give in, preserve your intellect and character with your life – because that is what you’ll lose if you lose them.

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Dialectic

by Jason Stotts

What follows is the beginning of a story that I started to write two years ago. The purpose of the story was to create a modern dialectic on a philosophical issue so that the issue can be dealt with from many sides in a way that most people find accessible. This particular story will never be finished, it stands as it did two years ago with no corrections, but I may adopt the idea of a dialectical short story in the future as a vehicle to examine issues.

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In the small town of Granville, there are few people who take the time out of their packed day in order to examine some of the deeper issues in life. Those few who do, meet in a small group at a local coffee house to hold their discussions.

Tom: It’s great to be back at “Cup ‘O Joe”, this is one of the few places where I feel I can really be myself and just let my mind wander to all those abstract and impractical issues of philosophy that most people never even bother to think about.

John: I agree that it’s nice to be back, although I think that philosophy is more than just an abstract game that we play. Philosophy plays a vital role in all of our lives.

Dave: Please, John, spare us the melodrama. Philosophy is nothing but a game for us, the mental elite. Most of these plebeians have no idea of what Philosophy is, nor do they need it.

John: Tell me then Dave, who will you be voting for in the election coming up in the fall?

Tom: I don’t see what how that’s a philosophical issue, I thought that we were going to limit our discussions to pure philosophy and not to politics or economics or anything like that.

Dave: I agree, why would you even equate politics with philosophy?

John: Well, think about it. Every Political issue is philosophical, just look at issues such as gay marriage (moral), welfare (moral), taxes (moral), collective rights (moral and metaphysical). If you don’t think that Political issues are philosophical, then please point to a mistake I have made or find a counterexample to disprove me.

Dave: Why always with the Logic, John? You know that I don’t feel that Logic is important.

Tom: I don’t see any flaws in your argument, yet I still feel as if there might be something else. How about the issue of Medicare? That’s not philosophical, is it?

John: It absolutely is, in many ways. First of all, where does the money for Medicare come from.

Dave: What a stupid question, the government pays for it.

John: Precisely. Where does the government get this money? Does it sell goods and services to willing buyers as we businessmen do?

Tom: The government raises all of its money through taxes.

John: Is that moral?

Dave: What kind of question is that?!

Tom: I’ve never really thought about it…It’s legal, therefore it’s moral.

John: So the government can legislate morality now?

Tom: We all have to honor the state we live in, it raised us, and educated us, and we have a duty to respect it by following its wishes. If we thought it was a bad state, we could have left, they give us that choice.

John: I don’t agree with you, but that is beside the point as you didn’t even answer the question.

Dave: He certainly did. We have a duty to the state and we must act selflessly in accordance with our duty. Imagine what would happen if everyone questioned the state, there would be chaos. Since that is an unacceptable outcome, we should not do it. We must always judge our actions by the “Universalization Maxim”.

John: I think you have missed the point completely, as well as disregarded the question of whether the state can legislate morality. Let us look at an example and see if it can shed some light on our current problem. In the early twentieth century there was a government in a faraway land that called themselves the “National Socialist Party” or “NAZI’s” for short. This government took many actions which they declared to be legal, including the wholesale slaughter of everyone who had beliefs that were different than theirs. My claim then, is that this was completely immoral, although it was technically legal.

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Of Dead Things

by Jason Stotts

Today, in an effort to explain the syllogism, I created the following syllogism:

All fish are animals
All animals are alive
Ergo, all fish are alive

Now, in case you don’t realize what gave me pause – take a look at the last line. The first question that came to my mind was “Really, all fish are alive?” My first inclination was to think that “no, this in fact is not the case.” If all fish are alive, does that mean that no fish have ever died? If all fish are alive, are they all immortal? The sheer absurdity of the implications staggered me. However, a thought quickly occurred to that lifted me from the quagmire of absurdity.

It seems to me that when an animal dies, we cease to think about it as an animal at all. For example: the little organism swimming in a tank is “fish” – that same organism floating at the top of the tank is a “dead fish”. The modifier here is key, in no way can one describe the dead fish as a “fish”, except perhaps in the past tense. For all intents and purposes, at the moment of death an animal becomes a corpse.

This leads me to assert that, in fact, all fish are alive – if at any time the fish ceases to be alive, it ceases to be a fish.

The point of all of this is the following: at the moment of death, an animal undergoes a momentous change after which it is no longer an animal – thus to call a “dead fish” a “fish” is to be wrong and not understand the nature of life.

An interesting point, which I will not address here, is what about living organisms which are not animals? I’m thinking of plants such as corn, where it does seem as if the resultant ear of corn should still properly be called corn. Although, perhaps the difference is that the seed is potentially alive while the parent organism dies…

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Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’
Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.’

~Erich Fromm

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Longing

by Jason Stotts

The remembered kiss, your lover’s gaze,
Invoke thoughts of together days.

Your reunion, you do entreat,
Longing for the day when again you’ll meet.

Your lover’s embrace, you do desire,
It sets your heart and loins afire.

A single instant, of love’s true force,
Has changed your life and its course.

Now it’s time, for your life to start,
What once was two shall never part.

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Time and Existence

by Jason Stotts

I’ve long been interested in the question of the origin of the world. As I aged, and matured, the question changed form and became deeper – instead of wondering about the origin of the world, I wondered about the origin of the universe itself. This gave rise to the ultimate question – the question of the origin of existence.

This last question has bothered both philosophers and ordinary people for ages. It is, arguably, the very question which first gave rise to religious belief and the desire to believe in gods.

Having thought for a long time about the issue and having had some recent interesting discussions, I’ve come to understand the nature of the question more clearly than I had previously and I think more clearly than most people. To begin with, we need to make a few distinctions around which the argument will turn.

The first distinction that we need to make is between “existence” and “existents”. The former, existence, is the state by virtue of which we can say that a thing exists. By this I mean that existence, as such, is that in which all existents exist. The latter, existents, are the particular things which exist – this includes all instances of substance and all forms of actual energy. If you find this to be a rather difficult concept to wrap your mind around, think of the idea of the universe – the planets represent existents and the “space” represents existence. These concepts are clearly connected and can only be mentally separated.

The second distinction that we need to make regards the concept of “time”. Time is, as Aristotle noted, a phenomenon which arises from the movement of existents. This is rather obvious as the standard unit of measurement for a second is the vibrations of an atom in a vacuum (cesium, I believe) – the movement of the atom. Lest it be objected that that is only the way “humans measure time” (a shallow objection, but I will deal with it nonetheless). It should be understood that if one wants to disjoin time and motion, then one would have to assert the paradoxical claim that if one was watching a ball being thrown from point A to point B, that time TA does not necessarily precede time TB – which, of course, is nonsensical.

Now the idea of time gives rise to “temporal concepts” – concepts which signify a temporal relation, for example: before and after, now and then, earlier and later, et cetera. What makes this relevant to our discussion is that temporal concepts only apply to existents, since existents are that which gives rise to the very idea of time to begin with.

Now that we have articulated these distinctions, it is time to see where they lead us.

After much thought on the origin of existence, with the aid of the above distinctions, I have concluded that the very question is illicit. Since time is a measure of movement of existents, it does not apply to existence as such. Further, to ask what came before existence is to apply a temporal concept to existence, an illicit move. The problem is that existence “itself” does not have movement – it is the existents which are part of existence that move. Because temporal concepts do not apply to that which is not an existent, they clearly do not apply to existence itself and, ergo, to ask what came before existence is illicit. The only valid statement that one can make about existence, as such, is this: “it is”.

The problem seems to stem from an epistemic deficiency of imprecision in concepts and a desire to make everything that we experience conform to a temporal framework, which is the only way which most people can think. However, clearly this is illegitimate as some things are eternal. For instance, every element is eternal. While one can cause an element to change (with a tremendous amount of energy), the element remains in a different form – one cannot destroy an element.

The issues of epistemic precision and temporal conformity are certainly interesting issues, although they are beyond the scope of our present topic. However, it should be clear that one of the questions, that has plagued philosophy throughout the ages, has been solved. Now, the next time that someone asks you where existence came from, you can respond: “Existence is atemporal, there was no beginning and there will be no end.”

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An Interesting Observation

by Jason Stotts

I was thinking earlier, looking back on my four years at Denison University and reflecting on my recent graduation, and an interesting observation came to me. You see, while reflecting on my graduation I realized that I was not as excited about it as I had always imagined that I would be when I was looking forward to it. Of course, I was excited and I felt proud of what I had accomplished – proud of all the hard work that I had put into my BA and of all the development that I had undergone while at college. I was excited about the future now that I had my BA and the options available to me, but I would not say that I was giddy or ecstatic.

There was definitely something missing at my graduation and although I could clearly feel that something was not as it should have been, it was not until I had actually received my diploma and was waiting for the concluding speech by President Knobel that I realized what the problem was: the one person who I had really wanted to be there was absent. It’s not as if I didn’t understand why M. was not there, it’s just that she was the only person with whom I really wanted to spend a momentous occasion like that in my life.

However, thinking of her, instead of making me sad, made me feel quite the opposite. You see when I think of M. I feel that excitement that I didn’t feel during graduation – I feel an intense excitement for the future and an expectation of great things to come. M. is the girl that I never thought I’d find, the girl who I was beginning to fear did not exist, the perfect girl for me.

If I believed in the idea of “soul-mates”, people destined to be together because they are perfect for each other, then that’s what she would be to me.

That thought, however, was a little troubling to me – why was it that I was excited about M. and not about my graduation from college?

The question had been mulling around in my mind for awhile and last night while talking to RG, he pointed out the answer to me – an answer which was surprising simple. A Bachelors degree, for me, is only a means to something else (whether graduate school or just as a path to knowledge) while on the other hand, M. is an end in herself. That’s why I was not that excited about the BA and I was excited about M., the former represents another step on a path for me while the latter represents a goal.

Apparently, then, this means that I have my hierarchy of value in line, even if not explicitly, because I ascribed the appropriate amount of value to the BA and to M. without even realizing what I had done. It’s a good feeling to know that your values are aligned correctly and that you can act from them without fear that you’re actually deluding yourself.

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Senior Week

by Jason Stotts

It’s strange really…to think that the culmination of four years of hard work – studying, acquiring knowledge, and developing as a person – should be a week of decadent indulgence.

It seems that my fellow classmates, many of them at least, think that this indeed would be the best way to end their four years of trying to improve their minds – by partaking in activities that destroy it.

I must confess that I do not understand it.

I do not understand the attraction of drinking – I can’t understand those who think of drinking as an end in itself. What’s so great about losing control of your faculties and having your mind shut down completely?

The way I see it, there’s mainly two main reasons why someone would want to drink heavily – to “chill out” (shut down one’s mind) or to try and “hook-up” (have a random sexual encounter). These two things are clearly not exhaustive of the possible reasons why someone might want to drink, nor are they mutually exclusive, but they seem to be the most fundamental reasons.

Personally, I find both reprehensible.

I just can’t even try to convince myself to behave so immaturely and irrationally – the decadence no longer interests me.

There was certainly a period in my life where the decadence held sway, where I found joy in the immoral – those times, however, are gone.

I just don’t understand how they can evade the knowledge of what they do…I don’t understand how they can’t know that their actions are wrong.

Why is it that even at a place where one should expect to find Men, all one finds is apes in their image?

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