What Is the Question “What Are Women For?” For?
February 18, 2012

Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, ...

The Dude (via Wikipedia)

Now that everyone’s gotten in their shots at James Poulos (including my friend Lisa McIntire, who I think wins the award for both aplomb and bile), I’d like to skip ahead to his follow-up column and zero in on what seems like one of the more toxic premises undergirding this whole exercise (emphasis mine):

Women are largely freer than ever to pursue their life plans without the burden of a moral obligation to center their activity and their ambitions around exercising their unique reproductive capabilities.

Yet the story doesn’t end there. We still argue and wonder about which life plans to choose in a civilization that has greatly and productively loosened the once-intense moral link between women’s fecundity and women’s lives as unique individuals. And one area in which patriarchal dominance has persisted is in privileging some kinds of human pursuits over others. Philosophers from Plato to Rousseau to Heidegger have disapprovingly warned of the apparently natural propensity of men to fill up the world with stuff — machines, weapons, ideologies, and so on — that often objectifies and instrumentalizes people, and often distracts us from its own sterility as regards fruitful human living.

Difference doesn’t presume or ordain inequality. I’m not alone in thinking that women are uniquely able to help humanity avoid becoming enthralled to the more sterile cultural creations of men. But this sort of insight is far more circumspect and modest than the central principles of virtually all social conservatives.

While I was in Israel, I heard a Hasidic rabbi — new Hasidic, mind you, with an acoustic guitar and all the affectations of a totally chillaxed SoCal beach bro — make a very similar argument. His intention was to demonstrate to us that the convention of identifying God with the male pronoun “He” wasn’t really sexist or patriarchal, because all it did was link God to the male creator energy. The universe, he argued, had a distinctly female creation energy, which was great for women, because it meant that they were intrinsically closer to their creator — God — than us guys, who don’t hold within ourselves as much of the female creation energy.

According to Rabbi Jack Johnson, the reason why men observe Shabbat — during which time Jews are forbidden from participating in any act of creation — is to become, in a sense, more female, and therefore more receptive to God’s male creation energy. Women don’t have as difficult a time doing this, because they’re already predisposed, but — unfortunately, says the good Rabbi at this point — modern women have absorbed more of the male creator energy in recent years as they’ve taken a greater participatory role in politics, business, and other profane worldly affairs.

I don’t think I’m quite doing justice to how well the Rabbi framed this fundamentally conservative argument in the liberal-values-friendly vocabulary of hippie-dippie-dom. Lucky for us, he betrayed himself by blurting out the word “unfortunately,” thereby disclosing what the real implications of this worldview were. If women want to stay close to God all week — the way men try to get close to God from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon — then they need to abstain from icky male creator acts. You leave all the politicking, horse trading, art-making and craft-working to us menfolk, sweetie. That way it won’t soil your special connection with The Ultimate Manfolkperson.

Thus we see closeness to God become a consolation prize to be awarded to that underclass which Rabbi Duderino wishes barred — either by social convention or other means — from having any direct agency in worldly affairs. Poulos, along with the philosophers he enlists in his cause, appears to be making the same argument. Difference may not presume or ordain inequality, but I’d love to hear what makes this preferred state of affairs anything but deeply unequal.

UPDATE: Elias Isquith (whose blog you should be reading, if you aren’t already) tweets:

some men think if they turn up the “Madonna” and down the “Whore” in their Madonna/Whore complex, they’re feminists

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Blueprints to the Universe
February 13, 2012

In which Slate pulls an old classic out of the archives of the now-defunct Lingua Franca magazine. The topic: an enigmatic millionaire and amateur philosopher who, under the pseudonym “A.M. Monius,” wrote an audacious metaphysical treatise called “Coming to Understanding.” From the article:

“Coming to Understanding” is a remarkable document. As Ermanno Bencivenga observes in his review, in its sheer temerity the work resembles such philosophical landmarks as René Descartes’s Meditations, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea. (Bencivenga describes it as “a self-standing piece of reflection which asks to be judged on its own merit.”) With few citations and nary a footnote, the manuscript seeks to provide “a large-scale account of reality, its origin, purpose, and how it hangs together.” The questions it engages are grand: Does reality have a purpose? Why are things intelligible at all?

As a work of metaphysics, “Coming to Understanding” picks up where science leaves off. The purview of science is the world of “contingent beings”—things that might not have existed, or might have been otherwise, such as you, me, electrons, mountains, and the law of gravity. Science strives to explain the nature, properties, and causes of these contingent beings, which as a whole make up our physical reality.
But science does not and cannot explain why there are contingent beings in the first place. That is a question for metaphysics: Why do contingent beings exist? Or, put plainly, why is there something rather than nothing?

In answering that question, A.M. Monius laid out a new vision of the underlying architecture of reality:

“Coming to Understanding” proposes replacing the theists’ God with reality as a whole, or Being. It also advocates replacing God’s personal intention (that contingent beings come to love God) with an impersonal, fundamental good (that contingent beings come to understand the form of Being). Having made these substitutions, A.M. Monius reaches the following conclusion: “Contingent being exists for the sake of the coming to understanding of the form of Being Itself by contingent being.” In other words, “the central theme of the whole drama of reality” is that beings like you and me and A.M. Monius come to understand the purpose and structure of reality.

And as it happens, the purpose and structure of reality are precisely what A.M. Monius has on offer. In sophisticated detail, the last two-thirds of “Coming to Understanding” are devoted to a discussion of categories similar to Aristotle’s, such as the Universal, the Particular, the Spatio-temporal, and the Cognizable. A.M. Monius believes that these categories demarcate the fundamental types of Being and—in light of their interrelations—suggest the purpose of contingent being.

Silly? Maybe a little bit. But what makes A.M. Monius such an intriguing figure — both to myself and, I think, his critics in academia — is his ambition and fearlessness; his willingness to look silly for the sake of answering really big questions. If there are many contemporary analytic philosophers out there who share Monius’ temerity, I haven’t encountered them.* (That said, if you do know of any, please leave their names in the comments.) Maybe it took a precocious amateur to do what no sane, reputation-conscious academic would ever attempt.

I often miss these grand projects, unrepentant skeptic that I may be. Regardless of whether you think they describe anything true about the universe — regardless, in fact, of whether you believe there’s any such thing as a metaphysical fact — they at least give you a different lens through which to view the world. Think of it as accidental phenomenology.

*Some philosophy nerds would probably point to On What Matters, but Parfit’s subject matter there is limited to ethics.

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Special Topics In Crazy Metaphysics
January 20, 2012

Forgive the long blockquote, but I think this puzzle from philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel (who blogs at The Splintered mind) earns it:

In Anglophone philosophy since the 1960s, the dominant approach to the mind has been materialism: the view that human beings are naturally evolved beings, wholly made out of material stuff like elementary particles, with no immaterial soul of any sort. On materialistic views of consciousness, the reason that we have a stream of conscious experience is that we have brains that represent the world, can guide us in goal-directed action, and that are massively informationally connected in complex self-regulating loops. It is that fact about the complexity of our organizational structure that is responsible for our having a stream of conscious experience so that there’s “something it’s like”, phenomenologically, to be us, or to be a mouse, while there’s nothing it’s like (we ordinarily think) to be a toy robot.

But the United States appears to have all those same features! The citizens of the United States are massively informationally connected, in complex self-regulating loops – not in the same way neurons are connected, but just as richly. The United States engages in environmentally responsive coordinated action, for example in invading Iraq or in taxing imports. The United States represents and self-represents, for example via the census and in declaring positions in foreign policy. As far as I can tell, all the kinds of things that materialists tend to regard as special about brains in virtue of which brains give rise to consciousness are also possessed by the United States.

The United States is a large, spatially distributed entity. But why should that matter? Isn’t it just morphological prejudice to insist that consciousness be confined to spatially compact entities? The United States is composed of people who are themselves individually conscious. But why should that matter? We can imagine, it seems, conscious aliens whose cognition is implemented not by neurons but by intricate networks of interacting internal insects confined within their bodies, where each insect has a minor animal-like consciousness while the organism as a whole has human-like consciousness and intelligence. (Maybe such aliens are much-evolved descendants of bee colonies.) In the vast universe, it seems likely that intelligent environmental responsiveness, and consciousness, could emerge in myriad weird ways. It seems chauvinistic provincialism to insist that our way of being conscious is the only possible way. So why not regard group organisms as possibly conscious? And if so, why not the very group organisms in which we already participate, given that they seem to meet standard materialist criteria for consciousness?

This notion strikes me as being somewhat similar to Heidegger’s notion of Dasein — though I could be wrong about that, since I still have only the fuzziest notion of what Dasein is supposed to be. (Nor, if the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Martin Heidegger is to be believed, can real philosophers agree on a single account. Which should surprise no one.) Still, the fact that the Dasein label has been applied to both individual human beings and entire nations suggests a certain level of conceptual overlap.

There is a key difference, though: Dasein is a category of being within phenomenology, the field of philosophy which examines structures of experience while bracketing the question of whether the objects of those experiences are real. In other words, a phenomenologist might say that we sometimes have the experience of being part of a larger conscious body called a nation, though that conscious body may or may not exist outside of our experiences. Schwitzgebel, on the other hand, is not bracketing: he is suggesting that, in a very real sense, the United States is conscious.

With that in mind, some questions:

1.) Am I horribly misreading Heidegger? Wouldn’t be the first time.

2.) For the materialists who follow this blog (and who I occasionally successfully bait into replying to posts like this): Is Schwitzgebel’s theory correct? Why or why not?

3.) How big or small can a composite conscious entity be? What’s the criteria for determining when one exists and one does not? For example, can a family be collectively consciousness? What about all of humanity?

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Stoicism for the Kids
November 21, 2011

Cover of "A Guide to the Good Life: The A...

Cover via Amazon

I really wish I could praise William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy without qualification, but instead I’ll just suggest that the book’s repetitive passages and occasional bursts of condescension*, while regrettable, are outweighed by the fact that Irvine has written a pretty good primer on Stoic thought with some handy tips for how to practice Stoicism in modern, everyday life. At the very least, Irvine’s book might be a half-decent gateway drug to the wisdom and compassion of Seneca and the other classic Stoics. That alone makes it well worth reading.

I would especially recommend the book to folks in my own age bracket (eighteen-to-twentysomething), which might sound a little counterintuitive, given that it’s a book about an ancient school of philosophy written by a late-middle-aged academic philosopher. But just as Irvine argues that Stoicism is still relevant and valuable today, I’d argue that it’s especially relevant and valuable to those of us who are starting our adult lives in post-financial crisis America.

Because here’s the thing: most of us young’uns in the 99% are going to make less money than our parents did. Nearly all of us are going to have less stuff than we’d like. And that’s just talking to those of you who come from relatively comfortable upbringings. The overall trend in living standards is bad news for us, but it’s terrible news for the people who aren’t as lucky as us.

I say this not because I want to depress the hell out of you, but because it’s self-evidently true, and we should probably all start getting used to it. The vast majority of us are going to have to downsize our lives at best, and fight like crazy to get by at worst. If your idea of happiness is a fat wallet and a life of conspicuous consumption, then you’re going to be significantly less happy than you were promised pre-recession.

So that leaves us with two options: we can live lives filled with bitterness and resentment at the shit deal the Boomers left us with, or we can consciously strive to find our joy in something else.

Stoicism is a strategy for doing the latter. As a philosophy of life, it melds theory and practice in a manner that has more in common with Zen Buddhism than modern Western philosophy. The key difference, I think, is that whereas the practice of Zen is intended to temporarily obliterate most conscious thought processes, Stoicism is a method for ordering conscious thought in a manner that will promote happiness and tranquility. Because one of the keys to tranquility is stability, most of the strategies Stoics use in daily practice are designed to insulate their tranquility from uncontrollable external conditions such as the state of one’s material possessions, social standing, and so on.

But that’s not to say Stoicism is a selfish or anti-social philosophy. One of Irvine’s most interesting claims is that the Stoicism, properly understood, not only allows for but necessitates some level of civic virtue (as evidence, he points to the fact that many of the most famous Stoics — Seneca, Cato, and, of course, Emperor Marcus Aurelius — were deeply involved in Roman politics). That message, given the grassroots mobilizations currently happening all over the country, seems particularly timely.

*PRO TIP: Skip every paragraph that includes any variation on the phrase, “political correctness.”

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The Root of Knowledge
May 25, 2011

Check out the alt text on today’s XKCD comic:

For those who couldn’t be bothered to mouse over, the alt text reads: “Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at ‘Philosophy.'”

I gave it a shot with the article featured in the comic (spark plug) and, sure enough, it took me 27 clicks to get to the page for philosophy. Once I was there I kept playing the game by clicking on “rational argument,” which led to the page for reason. Reason leads to rationality, which leads to — yup — philosophy.

I’m not sure there’s any lesson that can be honestly derived from this exercise, but I’m gonna derive one anyway. That lesson being: Everything comes back to philosophy. Randall Munroe and Jimmy Wales just proved it.

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7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
December 3, 2010

The title of this post is the full text of Wittgenstein’s seventh, and final, proposition. After pages and pages of dense epistemology, philosophy of logic, and philosophy of language — sprinkled with the occasional zen-like pronouncement — we’re left, on the final page, with Wittgenstein at his most zen-like.

The seventh proposition exemplifies the doctrine of philosophy as therapy adopted by the New Wittgenstein school of thought. I see New Wittgenstein as an extrapolation from Wittgenstein’s assertion (back in the fourth proposition) that “[p]hilosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts.” To the New Wittgensteinians, there are tremendous psychological benefits that come along with eliminating confusion in one’s understanding of the world.

This, a New Wittgensteinian might argue, is why Wittgenstein is so careful to delineate what we can and cannot put into intelligible propositions. Too much of philosophy ties itself into knots trying to put into words that which cannot be put into words. The philosopher creates tremendous anxiety for herself by trying to reason through unintelligible statements, when she would be much better served by the recognition that these subjects are inherently unintelligible.

I have some caveats about this approach,* but overall I think it’s brilliant. And Wittgenstein’s conception of the purpose of philosophy is eminently sensible. Since I first read it, I’ve adopted it as my own.

It’s funny: When the Tractatus was originally published in 1921, the whole notion of philosophy as clarification must have seemed incredibly startling. I mean, we’re talking about a definition of what philosophy is and does which writes off thousands of years of metaphysical inquiry. Yet as devastating as that sounds, the kernel was always there, going as far back as the Ancient Greeks. In Athenian dialogues featuring Socrates — most notably Plato’s dialogues, of course — the insufferable genius would always prevail by asking probing questions of his fencing partners, forcing them to clarify their own assertions until the internal contradictions were inherently obvious. It was only when Socrates took it upon himself to propose positive theories that his acuity took flight and he fell into the same sort of ponderous metaphysical invention he had so effectively demolished in others.

What Wittgenstein proposes is little more than all of what made Socrates great with none of the chaff. And most of his own positive assertions about the nature of epistemology and what he calls “the scaffolding of the world” are beyond brilliant. It’s more like hearing the things you always sort of knew were true yet never had eloquence and expertise to put into words put before you in plain (well, sometimes) language.

In other words, it’s the clarification of statements. Namely the really big, really important statements. And no denying that it’s therapeutic.

I hope you guys had as much fun with this as I did.

*Which I addressed in my last Wittgenblog.

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Wittgenblogging: The Sixth Proposition, Part 2
November 30, 2010

Ludwig Wittgenstein 2
Image by Christiaan Tonnis via Flickr

(Part 1 is here.)

Okay. So. In the last few pages of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein finally gets around to tying up some of the nagging loose ends. Stuff like ethics, aesthetics, God, life, and death. As far as the first three go, whether or not you think Wittgenstein believes they exist sort of depends on what you think “exists” means. Are they a part of the world? No. Do they interact directly with the world? No. (“God does not reveal himself in the world.”) However, they seem to interact in some with the will. (Which, itself, doesn’t really interact with the world except to the extent that it influences your body’s behavior. “[T]here is no logical connexion between the will and the world,” says Wittgenstein.)

That doesn’t mean that these matters are irrelevant. After all, the will — the self — is the “limit of the world,” as we discovered the last time around. What changes the limit of the world, Wittgenstein writes, makes it “an altogether different world. […] The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.” This fits in with his earlier expressed affinity for solipsism, compounded when he says that, “at death the world does not alter, but comes to an end.”

So what are ethics and aesthetics, exactly? To Wittgenstein, they’re transcendental properties that are “higher” than logical propositions. That’s why neither ethics nor aesthetics can actually be put into words or logical propositions. It’s also worth noting Wittgenstein’s construction of how good is good and bad is bad: “There must indeed be some kind of ethical reward and ethical punishment, but they must reside in the action itself.” Skepticism of the existence of God or ethical laws is “nonsensical,” because “it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked.” Asking a question requires being able to formulate a proposition.

For Wittgenstein, that’s pretty much it. There is no discussion to be had about the nature of God, or beauty, or right and wrong. And that’s where I hesitate to jump aboard. It seems to me that these things aren’t so much transcendental properties that act upon the self as properties of the self. We build them as much as they build us, and as such it is within our power to change them. Therein lies the value of asking questions about these things and formulating propositions: we can refine those questions and propositions. We can make them more internally consistent and we can make them better for us. The questions may not strictly have what Wittgenstein would call sense, but they do have some utility.

Wittgenblogging: The Sixth Proposition, Part 1
November 24, 2010

I went into the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus expecting more or less what we’ve got over the last five propositions: a lengthy meditation on epistemology, philosophy of language, logic, and metaphysics (mostly how it doesn’t make any sense). What I didn’t expect: grand, zen-like pronouncements over the riddles of life and death. But in the latter half of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein goes there. Who woulda thunk that a proposition that starts with “The general form of a truth-function is [p, E, N(E)],”* would end with “It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.”?

But we’ll get to that in the next post. The first portion of the sixth proposition is all about the role of logic and its relationship with mathematics and empirical science. Logic, Wittgenstein writes, is what gives everything else structure. There is nothing in the world that is outside logic because it is “the scaffolding of the world.” Elsewhere: “Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world. Logic is transcendental.”

As a result, there’s no need to demonstrate logic as a proposition. In fact, trying to do so doesn’t make any sense. “The propositions of logic are tautologies.” Remember when I brought up the Cartesian Circle? Turns out Descartes’ first mistake was trying to construct a proof demonstrating the validity of the only tool one can use to construct sensible proofs. “Clearly the laws of logic cannot in their turn be subject to laws of logic.” Logic is true but unprovable.

So logic is self-demonstrating and self-affirming. “It is the peculiar mark of logical propositions that one can recognize that they are true from the symbol alone,” Wittgenstein writes, “and this fact contains in itself the whole philosophy of logic.”

So what is math? Or physics? Wittgenstein writes that mathematics is “a method of logic.” Physics — mathematics and inductive reasoning applied to the physical world — “imposes a unified form on the description of the world.” Wittgenstein compares Newtonian mechanics to an attempt to measure the size of black blotches on a white surface by placing a grid-patterned mesh over the surface “and then saying of every square whether it is black or white. […] The form is optional, since I could have achieved the same result by using a net with a triangular or hexagonal mesh.”

As for causality and induction themselves, Wittgenstein seems to recognize their necessity while also expressing some skepticism. In Proposition 5, he wrote that there is no causal nexis — no metaphysical property that connects a cause to its effect. Here, he says that there is no “law of causality” (it is “the form of a law,” not a law itself), but that if there were, “it might be put the following way: There are laws of nature. But of course, that cannot be said: it makes itself manifest.” In this sense, it is like logical expressions and mathematical equations. “[W]hat the law of causality is meant to exclude cannot even be described.”

“The procedure of induction,” Wittgenstein writes, “consists in accepting as true the simplest law that can be reconciled with our experiences. […] This procedure, however, has no logical justification, but only a psychological one.” As an example, he adds: “It is an hypothesis that the sun will rise tomorrow: and this means that we do not know whether it will rise.”

Then he takes it a step further: “The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.” He compares this to the belief of prior generations about God and Fate. However, there is no necessity that makes these laws as “something inviolable”: “The only necessity that exists is logical necessity.” The laws of nature are the mesh, our rough approximation of what the world is. That we can use it with some reliability to extrapolate what the world will be does not mean that we have stumbled upon eternally unyielding principles.

I’m going to stop here, before Wittgenstein gets into ethics, aesthetics, mysticism, and the other seemingly transcendental vagaries of the human condition. That’s a whole other epistemological clusterfuck, and I will do my best to tackle it soon. Probably after Thanksgiving weekend.

*And no, I don’t really know what that means either. Did I mention that I just barely passed my First-Order Logic class?

Wittgenblogging: The Fifth Proposition
November 17, 2010

Ludwig Wittgenstein 2
Image by Christiaan Tonnis via Flickr

Way back in my post on the second proposition (which, wow, was over a month ago — I didn’t realize Peter and I had been Wittgenblogging for that long), I asked whether or not Wittgenstein believed that a priori reasoning was possible. In the proposition 5.133, we finally get an answer: “All deductions are made a priori.”

But that’s hardly Wittgenstein’s most interesting assertion as we near the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Now that he’s thoroughly laid the groundwork for his conception of logic, he’s starting to go further out on a limb regarding its implications. For example, I don’t really know what to make of this section:

5.541 At first sight it looks as if it were also possible for one proposition to occur in another in a different way. Particularly with certain forms of proposition in psychology, such as ‘A believes that p is the case’ and ‘A has the thought p’, etc. For if these are considered superficially, it looks as if the proposition p stood in some kind of relation to an object A. (And in modern theory of knowledge (Russell, Moore, etc.) these propositions have actually be construed in this way.)

5.542 It is clear, however, that ‘A believes that p’, ‘A has the thought p’, and ‘A says p’ are of the form ‘“p” says p’: and this does not involve a correlation of a fact with an object, but rather the correlation of facts by means of the correlation of their objects.

5.5421 This shows too that there is no such thing as the soul — the subject, etc. — as it is conceived in the superficial psychology of the present day. Indeed a composite soul would no longer be a soul.

I’ve puzzled over this as much as anything else in the Tractatus, and I still can’t quite figure it out. I think he’s arguing that the subject I is the sum of my beliefs and thoughts, and not a different entity that produces and possesses those thoughts. Since the soul is supposed to be one unified entity, distinguishable and discrete from those beliefs and thoughts, it’s a linguistically incoherent concept. This reading is born out in 5.631, in which Wittgenstein says: “There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas.”

So what is the self? Wittgenstein calls it “the limit of the world.” It is the one thing that we cannot speak of, and since “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” that means it is not a part of that world. Wittgenstein again: “You will say that this is exactly like the case of the eye and the visual field. But really you do not see the eye. And nothing in the visual field allows you to infer that it is seen by an eye.” Similarly, nothing in our thoughts allow us to infer that they are being thought by a self.

Unless I’m grievously misreading here, Wittgenstein’s interpretation of the mind-body problem actually lends some credence to Sartre’s conception of a division between being-for-itself and being-in-itself (which I’ve previously argued for as the criteria by which to separate persons from non-persons). I think Sartre sees this as actual metaphysical categories, which is a bridge too far for me, but I think Wittgenstein might join me in comfortably describing the difference between -for-itself and -in-itself as a meaningful phenomenological distinction.

Has analytic philosophy made us any happier?
November 16, 2010

Happier? No clue. I’d say it’s contributed to the sum of human understanding. And I’d also say that a bunch of people — myself included — get a lot of pleasure out of studying it and refining philosophical arguments. A lot of those same people also probably hate it a little bit, but that’s how it is with any real obsession.

But I think asking whether it makes us happier is sort of beside the point. And to explain why, I’m going to need to go all philosophical on the concept of happiness.

We need to distinguish happiness from pleasure. Pleasure is temporary and unstable. Happiness is persistent and stable. A heroin addict may feel quantities of pleasure on a regular basis that, to the non-heroin user, are inconceivable. Yet, on the whole, I consider myself better off, and probably happier, than the majority of heroin addicts.

You could argue that this is true because the heroin addict experiences a lot of physical and mental wear and tear. So maybe you could say that happiness comes from maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, although that seems like a process with diminishing returns. When I try to conceive a scenario in which one regularly receives pleasure without any sort of struggle or adversity, I can’t. After a certain amount of time, what previously gave one the sensation of pleasure becomes the new baseline. It engenders boredom and anxiety.

So at that point your only option is to pursue different varieties and ascending quantities of pleasure. But any version and level you reach has only limited utility, and the more dependent on different and greater levels of pleasure your happiness becomes, the more fragile it is. Maintaining a baseline becomes impossible. Reaching for more is increasingly risky. You’re engaging in the compulsive behavior of an addict, and if a crash isn’t inevitable, then it’s at least likely enough to give us serious pause.

For this reason, I’d say we’ve got a better chance at happiness if we don’t pursue pleasure for its own end. I think the better strategy is to pursue an end we find worthwhile independent of the pleasure we get from our pursuit.

This is why the objective of the philosopher can’t simply be to find the theory or model of the universe which it feels most pleasurable to believe. If that’s the objective, then philosophy is essentially a hollow pursuit. There’s no way to critically evaluate models besides, “I like this one more right now,” and so there’s no way to achieve excellence within the discipline. Hell, calling philosophy a discipline becomes a joke. In a world where the aim of a philosopher is to make herself feel good, there’s no difference between philosophy and making up soothing bullshit.

This is why it needs a different end. Call that end truth. Call it human flourishing, or the clarification of propositions. But it can’t be pleasure alone. And there has to be a right way and a wrong way to do it, so that people can reach greater levels of achievement, and find enrichment and value even in their failures.

Simply put: any philosophical method that privileges pleasant arguments over sound arguments is illegitimate. The important question isn’t whether analytic philosophy makes people happy, but whether it is a method that produces sound arguments. To that, I would say: Absolutely. While I do have my complaints about the culture of analytic philosophy, its emphasis on reason and logical progression is both invaluable and unimpeachable.

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