Archive

Archive for February, 2009

QotD: Hamburgers vs. Cheeseburgers

02/25/2009 2 comments

Hamburgers or cheeseburgers? 

Gross and Gross.

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Philosophical Temperament

William James once said that history of philosophy was, to a certain extent, the history of clashing temperaments. Hilary Putnam has taken up the torch of James in the past few decades by focusing on the importance of values in our philosophical views. One of Putnam’s points–as I think the point was for James–was that the disagreements between philosophers and other intellectual thinkers throughout history is ultimately the result of differing temperaments (or holding different values…call them cognitive values). There comes a point when two individuals can know all the facts, have read all of the literature on an issue, be familiar with all the arguments and all the counterarguments, and yet they will still disagree with each other. The only plausible explanation for why this can be the case is if these two individuals hold differing cognitive values such they place more importance on one set of considerations as opposed to another set. Or they count some piece of evidence as strong rather than weak, or count a piece of evidence as evidence at all as opposed to something entirely irrelevant. There does not seem to be any dictate of reason that does, after all, tell us what evidence counts as relevant and what evidence does not. The difference in our temperaments turns out to be the fundamental explanation for why we find such differing schools of thoughts throughout the philosophical tradition. I think Putnam is right that values shape the core of our cognitive lives.

It is for these considerations that I think reason is ultimately unable to settle our most fundamental disagreements in philosophy (this is not to say that it cannot settle any of our differences). Two people can be completely reasonable and yet hold differing and incompatible views. This also raises an interesting issue that I often find myself dealing with: to what extent are our current philosophical views dependent upon our current state of mind (or our current temperament)? I suspect that there are parts of our temperament that are slow in changing and may not change at all throughout the greater part of our lives, Yet, I find myself being more drawn to certain views when I am feeling cynical and pessimistic while being drawn to other views when I am feeling hopeful and optimistic. And because the cynical and the hopeful views are both views that seem rationally acceptable, I am able to jump from one to the other. Perhaps I simply have a rare and unusual case of philosophical schizophrenia. 

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What happened to Joaquin Phoenix?

02/12/2009 5 comments

Most people who keep up with such news probably already know Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from acting a few months back. If people were surprised by that, I think people are even more surprised with his change of personality (not to mention his change in looks). To be honest, I don’t exactly know what his personality was like before, but I don’t think he was quite like he is now. Psychologists have a field day with this stuff. My only question is: could this be nothing more than an elaborate acting experiment on his part? Probably not, but it’s possible. If you don’t know what I am talking about whatsoever, watch the following clip of Joaquin on David Letterman.

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Soren’s Song

02/10/2009 1 comment

“Whatever can be the meaning of this life? If we divide mankind into two large classes, we can say that one works for a living, the other has no need to. But working for one’s living can’t be the meaning of life; to suppose that constantly procuring the conditions of life should be the answer to the question of the meaning of what they make possible is a contradiction. Usually the lives of the other class have no meaning either, beyond that of consuming the said conditions. To say that the meaning of life is to die seems again to be a contradiction.”

“The best proof adduced of the wretchedness of life is that derived from contemplating its glory.”

“I say of my sorrow what the Englishman says of his home: my sorrow is my castle. Many consider sorrow one of life’s comforts.”

“Of all ridiculous things in the world what strikes me as the most ridiculous of all is being busy in the world, to be a man quick to his meals and quick to his work. So when, at the crucial moment, I see a fly settle on such a businessman’s nose, or he is bespattered by a carriage which passes him by in even greater haste, or the drawbridge is raised, or a tile falls from the roof and strikes him dead, I laugh from the bottom of my heart.  And who could help laughing? For what do they achieve, these busy botchers? Are they not like the housewife who, in confusion at the fire in her house, saved the fire-tongs? What else do they salvage from the great fire of life?”

—-Soren Kierkegaard from Either/Or

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Categories: Philosophy Tags: ,

Imagination gone wrong

So here is my question for the day…or week..or perhaps year.

Is anyone else deeply troubled by the tendency of our imagination to lead us astray? Let me explain. There are so many times where I imagine a certain event or situation (attending a social event, visiting a foreign land, transitioning to a new job, getting married… or whatever) going a certain way. I suppose you might say I have certain expectations of how a situation will play out. I have a certain image that pops into my head as to what it’s going to be like to be in that situation. The thing is, this is not a mental process I control. It simply happens. Tell someone about your trip to Paris or attending a rock concert and they will automatically have a conception of what it was like to be there even if they have never been to Paris or attended a rock concert. The problem is that these conceptions–these mental images–are often mere idealizations–mere indulgent fantasies–that turn out to be mistaken. And I find that troubling. You can psychoanalyze this all you want (maybe I just need to know what the future situations will be like because I have a longing for security or whatever) but it is nonetheless troubling, especially when you notice it happening in the most insignificant areas of your life.

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Categories: Philosophy

A-Fraud

Some of the biggest news in recent baseball history came out in the past week when A-rod–one of the greatest hitters in baseball history–admitted to taking steroids for three years. While I am not surprised that he took them (I suspected as much) I am surprised that he was caught and that he actually fessed up. Although I have always despised him, I respect him for coming clean. In many ways I am not the average fan who hates on all the steroid users. I understand the fact that, as A-rod said himself, such was the nature of the game back then (referring to the early part of this decade). Although we can blame all of the players for doing what they did, much blame is to be placed on the MLB officials for not addressing the issue earlier and for not implementing a system of punishment for known users. But now I am merely repeating what many people have already said. It really is just a tragic era in baseball. And not because I myself am against steriod usage but because the public at large is against it. And when the image of the MLB is ruined for the public, that can only be bad for the game. 

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Categories: Miscellaneous Tags: , ,

When existentialism meets pragmatism

02/08/2009 5 comments

I find myself falling in love with the existentialist idea that life is a story and that everyone is the leading or main character in their life. And that the plot does not move forward–or at least nothing of much importance happens–without the main character making choices. The story we are in is what we make it. It’s such a beautiful and hopeful idea (although perhaps a false one) to think that we don’t have an essence, that we create ourselves. That there is no one thing for us to be and that we are waiting to be defined by those choices. It gives hope that we can change who we are on the moment we start making one set of choices as opposed to another set of choices. Rather than despairing because our nature is fixed and unchangeable, our life becomes a pool of infinite possibilities. I don’t know how much I believe all that. But for the sake of my life I may have to take the advice of William James to “will to believe.” That, in itself, is quite a remarkable idea. To will belief: an idea so often dismissed by intellectuals and yet the more I learn, the more I experience, the more I come to find that James was on to something powerful, something wholly plausible. I cannot even begin to fathom the irony that Augustine–anticipating James by centuries–may have been right all along: “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.” In the spirit of existentialism, perhaps we need not interpret Augustine to be talking about any sort of rational or cognitive understanding but as a way to go about living. Sometimes, it turns out, willing beliefs may be required to becoming the sort of person one thinks is best. One person considers the act of willing beliefs a matter of self-delusion. The next person considers it a way to go about changing oneself from a person who makes one set of choices to a person who makes a different set of choices. In other words, a way to go about changing who one is. Existentialism says that we can make choices, that the future is open, and that in so choosing we become who we are. Pragmatism gives us a way of believing this in the face of our doubts.

As academic as I may sound here, this is actually something I wrote precisely because it relates to my life, my despair, my anguish (to use the words of the existentialists) right now. I am not merely spouting off random, perhaps intriguing, ideas. I am very much concerned with the possibility of becoming one sort of person as opposed to another. As such, it is not academic but personal. And at this point I actually have no idea how understandable and coherent this post even is.

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