On Political Philosophy

This is it; the fourth and final chapter of a very interesting discussion on philosophy. It has been a very enjoyable ride and quite thought provoking. This last section is going to revolve around four political philosophies: Plato’s Aristocracy, Hobbes’s Commonwealth, Locke’s Consensual Democracy, and Marx’s Communism. I must say I really struggled with choosing the one I wanted to agree with. It would have been preferable to agree with three, in part, and disagree with one. Alas, this cannot be done, and so I picked John Locke, and not just to be a good American.

John Locke was so interwoven into the formation of America that to take away Locke would be to take away the America we learn about in history; all those great stories about the founding fathers would not be as they were. America would be a different place. Looking past Locke’s particularly rosy outlook on human beings, which I do not hold, we find concepts such as natural law, natural rights, property rights, and the right to self-preservation. What I like is that Locke presents us with the truth that “humans have freedom but not license to do absolutely anything they wish” (Falikowski, 2004, p. 410). Natural law, that we should not “harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” comes from God, our creator or “Maker” as Locke says (Falikowski, 2004, p. 410). We do not need government to tell us what the laws are, they are imprinted on our souls by God, whether we wish to acknowledge them or not is our decision. Due to this fact, we do need government to protect us from the people who choose not to operate by the laws of nature. I also like how government is a servant of the people, not the master of the people. I agree that the government should have divisions of power, checks and balances, to keep it under control. I also believe that government should be dissolvable if necessary. Government should be a secretary to the people. People end up abused and oppressed when government is their master, not because government is evil, but because the people who run government are corrupt: they no longer serve the people, but want the people to serve them. Locke’s political philosophy prevents this problem from happening, provided the people remain in control. I should note that the people—the majority of the population with the same ideas—need to be good and capable of wielding government properly, and  when they do not Locke’s political philosophy falls apart.

Thomas Hobbes has a decidedly grim view of the human condition, and we would be lying to ourselves if we said it was all butterflies and roses. What Hobbes gets right is that we are miserable, self-serving, egotistical, not altruistic, and unequal in respect to bodily and mental capacities. He calls this the state of nature, and he is terrified of it, as well he should be. However, his conclusion that there is no objective morality is false. Morality, by its very nature, is objective. Truth, good, and evil are the same for you as they are for me. That is what I believe. When Hobbes’s only right of nature is that we all have “the freedom to use our power in any way we wish for purposes of self-preservation, even if this entails attack on another’s body,” I disagree with him (Falikowski, 2004, p. 403). I agree that we have the freedom to do what we want in regards to self-preservation, but it does not necessarily make such actions morally right. Since our right of nature as Hobbes terms it is to take whatever we can, then what is to stop us from abusing others less equal to us in bodily strength or intellectual capability? Nothing. Is this morally right? Hobbes solution is to give over our right of nature to government, an absolute sovereignty. We will be kept in check by fear of retribution. However, what happens when the government starts abusing the people? The government is absolute, one cannot do anything about it. Therefore, I conclude that Hobbes’s Commonwealth is not a place where I would wish to call my home.

As with Marxism, which we will explore after this next political philosophy, the Aristocracy presented by Plato is beautiful, idealistic, and, unfortunately, not something that would last very long. In fact, as much as it pains me to say it, Plato’s Aristocracy is looking for a veritable coup d’état to raze it to the ground. After all, picture for a moment that you are a highly intelligent young person with much potential. Your parents are from the Artisan class, but you have the opportunity to advance to the Philosopher Kings/Ruler class. Wonderful, right? Well, unfortunately for you, Jane or Joe Love-of-my-life is now no longer able to be married to you, as you had planned. They are beneath you, and mixing their blood with yours would be a no-no. You can have children with others of your own intellectual bracket, but do not expect to be able to raise them yourself. Perhaps, you have always been a high-spirited child and have the opportunity to join the Auxiliaries. Well, then do not expect any personal property, and you cannot marry anyone; you get to defend the people who do. I do not know about anyone else, but I would be ready for a revolt at this point. I want to get married to the girl I want to get married to, have some kids that I can call my own, and pursue the profession of my choice. Now, the logic of the Aristocracy is not wasted on me. Plato is not some twisted man who is trying to make life miserable by making you choose between two goals you really want in life; he believes that the Rulers will rule better without favoring their own offspring, and the Auxiliaries will be better off without ties such as personal property or families. But are we just cogs in the wheel of some government? We are so much more than that. We are people with dreams and aspirations that an impersonal government that is run like a clock cannot understand.

Next, we come to Marxism, a source of immense conflict for many people. I really want to like Marxism, it seems like such a beautiful, idealistic political philosophy; however, I cannot accept it wholeheartedly. There are some holes in his philosophy that make it very susceptible to sabotage. As was the case with Lenin and Stalin, what started out as Marxism turned into a hell for the people living under it. Marx does not seem to recognize human beings innate sinfulness. As human history points out for us countless times, government can so easily turn into an evil if not carefully monitored. I find that Marx has some noteworthy observations, such as the alienation, dehumanization, and idolatry/fetishism of commodities that capitalism creates. However, I am a strong believer in the economics of capitalism; the attainment of private property puts forth a tasty incentive for people to work hard. When rational people put the time and work into something, they care for it and respect it. The opposite is true for people who have not worked for something. One can talk all day about how splendid communism is and how we could all work for the good of each other, but I need to ask: have you seen the people in this world? Have you seen the selfish, awful acts they commit? Would you be willing to trust them to uphold your utopian ideal? Or better yet, would you, would I destroy it for them because we are too corrupt not to? Unless we can somehow find a way to change all of our hearts and minds from their inherent depravity and toward an altruistic love for others and ourselves, Marxist Communism will never work as it ought to.

I have enjoyed every moment of my time learning about philosophy. It inspires me, makes me think, and nudges me on to confront beliefs that are not valid. Picking a political philosophy was a difficult choice, but no less so than philosophies of life, epistemology/metaphysics, or ethics. Learning about them all has made me grow as a person, and I am better for it. Philosophy is not a useless and antiquated endeavor, but a thriving and arresting world that draws one in and is instrumental in the understanding of oneself and the world. There is so much I still do not know. My ignorance, like my shadow, grows all the larger as I attempt to learn by walking under the sun. In fact, I might be inclined to agree with Descartes when he said that, “to live without philosophizing is in truth the same as keeping the eyes closed without attempting to open them” (Descartes).

References

The European Graduate School. “Rene Descartes – Quotes.” 28 Apr. 2014. http://www.egs.edu/library/ rene-descartes/quotes/

Falikowski, Anthony F. (2004). Experiencing Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Discipline

I believe in discipline. Although I may not always embody it—every minute, hour, day, week, or year—I know the power of discipline. I have seen both sides of a life lived with and without the essence of this little word. I believe this word, discipline, makes all the difference in the world. When something needs doing, when something needs to be done, it is not completed by apathy, inconsistency, or hebetude. We guzzle steaming or frosty coffee every morning, not to be unproductive, rather so that we may accomplish the day’s tasks. Therefore, when I say I believe in discipline I can see it played out in people everyday; in tasks done, in goals accomplished, in victories achieved I see discipline.

Sweat pouring down an athlete’s face, arms, fingertips; down heaving chests and shaking legs, enveloping and cooling, eventually to disappear. I believe in discipline. A soldier pushes forward while blood spurts from an open wound, staining a uniform, mixing with sand, with dirt, with gravel, with pavement. I believe in discipline. Brain cells popping from overuse, striving for answers in the dark of night, in the cold, in the ancient hallowed halls. I believe in discipline. Bombs splitting eardrums, debris scattered and falling, a world—a home gone to hell; the courage birthed within when fear embraces with slimy, biting flesh. I believe in discipline.

Discipline begins in the sunshine, with the misty morning breeze gently flowing through leaf and branch, blade of grass, and little boy hair. Discipline begins in the heart, distilled from parent’s kind words and noble instruction. Discipline is a way of life; it is also a decision made day by day, hour by hour. Some run on this tiny rock, our humble planet, scheming with arrogant hearts dripping with arduous blood. Theirs is not discipline, yet, they once had held it close.

Discipline is lost somewhere along the way. Boy grows slightly ganglier in appearance, less a child, less innocent. More man than angel, and yet still there’s hope. Voice deepens as does pride, striking iron against the elder. Fuzzy face freckled and wild. Discipline is lost somewhere along the way.

Boy, no longer boy, and given a gift of sweet knowledge. Forever and repeated, on it goes as the ages turn and flip in their cosmic dance.

I believe in discipline. The indifferent souls will melt away like ice under summer sun, they will dry up like leaves and be blown away in the winds of change. So, it remains for me, once a little boy with wind in my hair, not to give in to the apathy that so wishes to lull me into futility. Living with eyes open wide to see what others won’t, ears listening for what others let fade into the noise, hands grasping for the feeling that others are too numb to feel, tongue tasting the spices that others never knew were there, nostrils picking up the traces of long lost aromas. Heart beating fast because I’m alive, and this takes discipline because living was never something to be done passively. I believe in discipline because laziness never taught anyone anything. I believe in discipline because it’s why I am here even now. I believe in discipline because without it our world crumbles slowly, but surely, to dust. I believe in discipline because beauty never came from idle hands or minds.

On Ethics and Moral Decision Making

So far, we have covered a range of topics, from philosophies of life to epistemology and metaphysics. Now, we press on to ethics and moral decision making. There are some great ideas from various different individuals here, and I wish to cover them all; however, as before, I must choose one to agree with and three to disagree with. Along the way I think I have grown in my understanding of not only the moral and ethical positions themselves, but also in my understanding of myself. The ethics we will be covering are Character Ethics, Deontological Ethics, Utilitarian Ethics, and Feminine Ethics. To begin with, I will be discussing the ethical position I felt best describes my own, however, not in its entirety.

Character ethics, conceptualized by Plato, seems to be a rather outstanding description of personal morality, in my estimation. Plato describes a scene for our imagination, a mental picture comes in to view, that of a charioteer who is being pulled by two horses. One horse symbolizes appetite and the other spirit; the charioteer represents reason. For the chariot to move properly, stay on the road, and perform its function, the charioteer must be in control of the two horses. In similar fashion, as humans we are made up of body, mind, and spirit, or soul. Therefore, when we control, with reason or the mind, our appetites whether for hunger, thirst, sexual urges, comfort, pleasure, relief from pain, etc., and our spirit whether our own honor, reputation, glory, etc., we reign in the metaphorical horses of our person and we are in balance and able to work properly. Unfortunately, when we become negligent and undisciplined in our mind, the horses run wild and we have lost our moral virtue; the horses must be tamed lest we die. I think that this ethic is something many people can relate to, one could even say that it is universal.  Plato also speaks about character types in political terms, and I cannot imagine a more appropriate way to do so. He uses five different character types as follows: the philosopher king/ruler (the enlightened, internally balanced), the timarchic character (spirited, competitive), the oligarchic character (appetite-driven, materialistic), the democratic character (easy-going, unprincipled), and the tyrannical character (criminal personality, full of anxiety). Now, this is just opinion, but I see these character types as reflective of both the rise and fall of nations and individuals. It is a sliding scale, and one better be trying to reach the philosopher king/ruler character type or else run the risk of decline into the tyrannical character type. The same is true of nations, of our own and the rest of the world. There is scarcely any stagnation on the character/political scale; a person or government finds themselves traveling up the scale through discipline and hard work, or they inevitably find themselves falling to the bottom, in fits and spurts, through apathy and lack of discipline. I find these types fascinating, and so true to life.

Emmanuel Kant, the man who synthesized reason and experience into his own epistemology, has chosen a different path now for his Deontological Ethics. Kant, this time around, uses merely reason, not a combination of reason and experience, to come to his moral findings. This is, in part, because Kant is not an ethical relativist. However, Kant presents an ethic that is rooted firmly in duty, either to ourselves or to others. Essentially, Kant does not allow for the breaking of any maxim, under any circumstance, if we consider it to be universally applicable. This, he calls a categorical imperative. Idealistically, that would be wonderful, but it is not the case in the world that we live in. If we hold true to the principle, whether it be to never lie, steal, kill, etc., we must do so, according to Kant, even if it means that something worse might happen. There are morally trying circumstances that occur in life, and I just cannot bring myself to agree with Kant that the principle alone is worth giving everything else up for. Unflinching do’s and do not’s are not all that morality is, such is a terribly inadequate imitation that does true morality a disservice. The right thing, the moral thing, cannot be based on rules alone. This does not mean that I am advocating ethical relativism, such a position is far too ignorant and nonsensical.

Feminine Ethics operates on the belief that there has been a lack of the feminine perspective in moral reasoning. Feminine Ethics acknowledges that there is a difference in masculine and feminine approaches to morality, which is true in every sense. Feminine Ethics prefers the feminine approach. While this is not a completely unsound decision, I see a wiser option open to us. I agree that there has been a long history of masculine orientated ethics, and feminine oriented ethics should play a role, as well; however, I do not agree that we should simply switch entirely over to feminine oriented ethics. Rather, I would say that there is good to be had in both and since we, as humans, are either male or female, is it not reasonable to assume that a universal morality should transcend both? Also, a feminine approach deals less with principles and more with relationships and the care and nurture of those. I would concede that this is highly beneficial, but I disagree that relationship is the highest good. If one chooses this stance, then the only moral code that one can have is keeping relationships no matter the cost. What then must be done if someone is walking a road of poor choices and bad decisions? Would one not say anything because of the possibility that the person might reject their words and them? This is unsatisfactory for both parties and for the world. Therefore, Feminine Ethics has a lot of useful material, but it is not applicable, universally, in its present form. The same would be true for a purely masculine ethic, à la Deontological ethics.

It is quite interesting how we, as humans, change our minds so often. That fact becomes startlingly clear as I examined this next ethical stance. Utilitarian Ethics marches to a thoroughly hedonistic tune, and since I chose hedonism in my first reflection, one might conclude that I would choose Utilitarian Ethics here. This is not the case. In fact, I reexamined my own hedonistic inclinations and have found that it is both a morally bankrupt position and can be proved to be unsound through reason. Essentially, Utilitarian Ethics claims that the right decision is the one that brings the most pleasure, or benefit, to the greatest number of people in any given situation. This is decided though hedonic calculus in which pain and pleasure are given numerical values. The highest pleasure number wins. The problem is that the numbers are entirely arbitrary. It is very democratic, however, people can vote themselves right off a cliff if they choose to. Also, Utilitarian Ethics is plagued by the “is-ought” fallacy where one tries to “derive a moral “ought” from an “is” of experience” (Falikowski, 197). Just because people pursue pleasure, regardless of consequence to others, does not necessarily mean they should morally do so.

Plato’s Character Ethics is an ethical standpoint that can be implemented universally and personally, and therefore is the best fit for moral decision making. Regardless, I do see potential holes in the ethic in a number of areas. Who determines when a person or nation is in control of their metaphorical horses or not? The ethic is ripe for abuse as is any other. Character Ethics is unstable, however, it has more potential and promise than the other ethics, in my view. Deontological Ethics bases moral decision making on strict universal rules that are true in every situation, and that makes it very hard to be human, to love, and to feel. Feminine Ethics is diametrically opposed to Deontological Ethics, basing moral decision making on the enduring relationships that we have rather than on principles and reason alone. The aforementioned three all had qualities I liked, but Plato’s ethics seemed best. Utilitarian Ethics is simply not ethical to me; morality is not something to be calculated, it goes so much deeper than that. All in all, morality and ethics are tough parts to work through in one’s personal philosophy, yet I find it is rewarding work as well.

References

Falikowski, Anthony F. (2004). Experiencing Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

On Epistemology and Metaphysics

Last time we talked about four different philosophies of life that were all very interesting in their own right. However, it is time to move on to deeper, more complex topics within the realm of philosophical theory. We will be discussing four new stances, but instead of perspectives merely on philosophies of life, this time we will be focusing on the epistemological and metaphysical approaches to philosophy. They are: Platonic Dualism, Cartesian Rationalism, Empiricism, and Kantian Structuralism. As before, my goal is to choose one and explain why I agree with it, though it does not mean I fully embrace said philosophy, and then explain why I do not agree with the other three, though it does not mean that I do not see the sense that they have to offer. Without further ado, let us press on.

Kantian Structuralism is the epistemology that I am choosing to agree with. I find that it provides us with the moderation and balance needed for separating true knowledge from mere opinion. Emmanuel Kant essentially synthesizes a new epistemology from what he saw as the failed ruins of Cartesian Rationalism and Empiricism. Kant allows reason and experience to exist together in a wonderful blend of the two. Kant believed the mind to be active, not passive. He also divided human knowledge into two faculties: sensibility and understanding. Sensibility is comprised of a priori, knowledge obtained from reasoning and deduction rather than experience, forms of intuition; understanding is comprised of a priori categories of knowledge. Kant also classified judgements as either a priori, through theoretical deduction, or a posteriori, through observations and experiences; this is another way of combining reason and experience. Essentially, what I really like about Kantian Structuralism is the fact that he synthesizes reason and experience into an epistemology that I find to be extremely balanced. I do not agree with all of Kant’s epistemology, but this is where I agree completely with him.

On the other hand, we have Platonic Dualism. This metaphysical epistemology draws from two sources of Plato’s day, Parmenides of Elea and Heraclitus of Ephesus. Parmenides believed things that really existed could not change, and Heraclitus believed the only thing that does not change is the very fact of change reoccurring. They had conflicting world-views that Plato attempted to merge into his own. This resulted in Plato’s Divided Line Theory which separates the Intelligible World of Being from the Visible World of Becoming. In a nutshell, Plato has four levels, two on the bottom and two on the top. The bottom contains our imagination and memories which have fermented for better or worse with time and do not resemble what actually was; the second level is our perception which is only slightly more reliable because we are in the here and now. The next level is comprised of scientific and mathematical truths; the final level, the epitome of what we can know, are higher forms such as goodness and unity, and we can only know these by pure thought or from an enlightened mind. I take issue with Plato’s theory, even though I find it compelling. I do not think reason or pure intelligence can solve everything. Even the higher forms that Plato gives us do not necessarily follow from being extremely intelligent or having direct intellectual apprehension, as he would say. Sometimes we learn more from imagination and the past than by just knowing things outright. Knowledge in and of itself cannot solve problems, in fact some can become disillusioned with vast amounts of knowledge. Which brings us to our next topic.

René Descartes, our disillusioned philosopher, became so after receiving his education, in fact, he felt more aware of his ignorance after graduating from the University of Poitiers. So, Descartes developed a method of doubt where he began to doubt everything in an effort to separate what he actually knew to be true from what he believed to be true based on assumptions and unchecked opinions from childhood, and his early years. What he discovered was, “I exist, therefore I am,” (Falikowski, 197). Now Descartes held that reason brought him to all his knowledge of the world, not the senses. However, I think he passes by the fact that he used his senses to observe the data that he placed into his reasoning. If we did not have any senses, we would not be able to reason. It is impossible to think that knowledge of the world can be gained on reason alone.

The other side of the coin, Empiricism, holds the belief that all knowledge of the world can be gained by sense knowledge alone. This epistemology was explored by John Locke, Bishop George Berkeley, and David Hume. Now, each of these men had varying degrees of empiricist leanings, and this translated into how radical their epistemologies would be. I am not interested in their leanings so much as I am concerned with Empiricism itself. Empiricism is diametrically opposed to Cartesian Rationalism and is, in my estimation, just as confused. We have two epistemologies that cannot quite seem to see eye to eye because they will not accept the usefulness of the other. Essentially, it is this my way or the highway vibe that does not make a whole lot of sense to me. Why both cannot be utilized? is the question that Emmanuel Kant asks. Therefore, this is why I chose Kantian Structuralism over the feuding Cartesian Rationalism and Empiricism.

In conclusion, Cartesian Rationalism and Empiricism lean too far towards reason or experience, respectively. Platonic Dualism is persuasive and probably my second choice; however, it is far too intellectually elitist, leaving little room for the simple folk who can oftentimes confound the intellectuals. Kantian Structuralism is the most sensible of the epistemologies that deal with reason or experience, for it utilizes both without discrediting the other.

References

Falikowski, Anthony F. (2004). Experiencing Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Controversial Does Not Mean Nonessential

As someone who prefers harmony to conflict, I find it hard confronting opposing viewpoints sometimes. I find it very interesting that neutral topics of discussion are usually topics of very little value—topics which inspire arbitrary opinions, such as: food, entertainment, recreation, etc. are all wonderful and pleasurable, but they should be the secondary driver of our lives; too often they reside first and foremost in our vision, leaving the primary topics to dwindle into the obscurity of our peripheral vision, or even to disappear when we lose focus entirely.

What are these primary topics that people so often shy away from in polite conversation? The dreaded duo: politics and religion. These two are arguably the most divisive topics in human conversation, but what makes them that way and does this mean that they are irrelevant or essential?

Politics has a grip on the world we live in more than any other factor. Yes, cynical folks may call politics a dirty game filled with unscrupulous people, but every profession has unethical persons in it just as every profession has disgusting parts about it. Politics might have a higher percentage of these undesirables, however, this does not dictate that a mass exodus of good and honest people from politics needs to take place. Such an event would make our world far worse than it already is. The dirtier a profession is, simply means that it is lacking ethical workers. If most people respond very cynically when politics is brought up, that means that the profession has a high percentage of unprincipled people in it.

Religion, on the other hand, dictates the spiritual condition of an individual or culture, yet much like politics, it is highly divisive among persons of differing religious backgrounds and even among persons who share the same religion but differ on certain details. Such is the fragile state that religion rests upon, but why is controversy so prevalent? The religious background of a culture is deeply rooted and implicated in the history and ancestral heritage of a people. Due to this fact, when someone introduces a new religion, the believers in the other religion will act viscerally. They do not want to be wrong and they do not want their ancestors to have been wrong.

My question is why do we not invest time into working out these topics? Why are we content to live with two relatively large elephants in the room that no one wishes to acknowledge? After all, this can make life rather difficult to navigate. I will attempt to answer these questions with three distinct points.

Number one, we are much too preoccupied with ourselves. Self has become the god of America and the majority of people are simply more concerned with their own interests and pleasures than their fellow man’s condition. What we forget is that when one of us is experiencing injustice, no one is safe. If you don’t stop it, who will?

Number two, life is not that bad. It may not be perfect, but why not let someone else worry about the state of the country and world. Life will continue on just as it always has. Unfortunately, this is the ignorant mindset of youth who grew up on the liberty that others died for. History tells a different story of the world. Ignorance is a weak salvation, and one far too dependent on civilized man.

Number three, politicians are all corrupt and religions are all mystical gobbledygook. We all spout these sayings, but they are borne from a broad brushed cynicism rather than from intellectual investigation.

In reality, politics and religion are as essential as philosophy. Perhaps you thought that tired subject had been dispensed with long ago? Thankfully it has not. Politics is essential to your physical life; religion is essential to you spiritual life; philosophy is essential to your intellectual life. In this sense, we are comprised of body, mind, and spirit so we might as well invest in these three parts of ourselves.

Even if you have no desire to learn about politics, religion, or philosophy the very fact that you can read and understand this essay means that you have a political viewpoint, a religious worldview, and a philosophy of life. Perhaps you may not be able to identify it with certain terminology, but it is there within you. My suggestion is to investigate the issues in the world and to examine yourself so that you know your opinions and positions on those issues. By doing so you will know your political stance, your religion (and by this I mean your beliefs, to whatever extent, concerning metaphysical and spiritual properties) of choice, and your guiding philosophy. We all have them. Saying that you do not wish to get involved in politics, or do not believe any religion, or that philosophy is a waste of time, is in itself a choice. If you are alive, you cannot escape these three. So rather than let the choice be made for you, take the time to choose positions that you agree with. It’s up to you to discover what yours positions are.

On the Philosophies of Life

Everyone has a perpetually evolving philosophy which influences our lives regardless of whether or not we realize this fact consciously; however, it is quite real because it is displayed through our actions and speech. Now, there are four rather differing philosophies of life that we will be looking at. Namely: stoicism, existentialism, hedonism, and buddhism. Among these, it is my goal to choose one, and explain why I like this said philosophy of life; the other three will bear the brunt of my criticisms. Nevertheless, before we begin in earnest, I would like to disclose that I am not advocating specifically for the philosophy that I chose to agree with, nor am I proposing that the other three philosophies have nothing to offer us. This is simply an exercise in argumentation and critical thinking. So, let us push on and discuss these highly interesting philosophical views.

Hedonism is the philosophy of life that I have chosen to agree with. Hedonism states that pleasure is the principal goal of life. There are two categories in this particular philosophy of life: psychological and ethical hedonism; the former explains why we do what we do, while the latter is a moral theory that deals in moral judgements. I will be taking the road of ethical hedonism, which will inevitably bring us to Epicurean Hedonism. This type of hedonism is, in my estimation, more morally conscious of itself than other forms of hedonism, such as Cyrenaic hedonism. I like the fact that Epicurus, the founder of Epicurean hedonism, distinguishes between momentary and educing pleasure. To summarize his thoughts: not all pleasure is good in the long run, and some pain now will increase pleasure later.  I think this is wise because it requires that we take steps to plan for the future, rather than just simply preparing for today. I also like ataraxia: the state of not having troubles. I think that there is a lot of sense to the concept of natural and vain desires; some desires are natural, something innate within us, and some desires are vain and do not contribute to the good life in the long run. I also like the importance placed on virtue and friendship in the attainment of ataraxia. Epicurus created a school called the Garden, where he welcomed all without discrimination. I admire the sense of community this must have brought, everyone serving each other to make the other’s life more pleasant.

Stoicism declares that we live in a fated and determined universe. In other words, we live among the pages of a book that has already been written and published, or in the frames of a movie that has already been produced and shown to the public. This is quite the claim. If everything has already been fated and determined, then why do we think or have choices? If it had already been determined to the letter, then why are we, within certain boundaries, free to do what we want? I would argue that life is not so fixed. If it were, why would life require so many choices?  Another problem I have with stoicism is that it wants us to have an emotional detachment. I agree that there are some circumstances which we just cannot change and we should just let those desires go, but there are occurrences that can and should be changed, for instance the issue of human trafficking. I do not believe emotional detachment will help with this issue, but rather courageous passion to bring hope and freedom to others.

Existentialism is “a revolt against rationality” and the “philosophical system building” used in stoicism (Falikowski, 67). It affirms the uniqueness of the individual themselves and their subjective experience. If stoics live amid the pages of an epic novel, then existentialists live in some daunting video game world where one has freedom to do whatever one wishes, but nothing makes sense. “In the existentialist’s universe of possibility and contingency, human freedom is guaranteed. It is the central fact of human existence” (Falikowski, 71). In fact, the existentialist is so unimaginably frightened with the amount of freedom placed upon his or her shoulders that they wonder whether anything truly matters. This is where I find fault with existentialism.  Within the existentialist’s damned to to be free mantra is the presupposition that humans are without a hope. Regardless of the fact that there are existentialists that believe in an afterlife or even God, existentialism is infused with atheistic thought and does tend to move in that direction. The belief that there is no God does not fit with how I view the world. The complex world in which we live, the laws that govern it, and our own minds and bodies, which we do not even fully understand, vehemently protest against such a claim. Every complex thing we create has a maker, us, so why would our world and ourselves be any different?

Finally, Buddhism is the last philosophy of life I will be critiquing. Buddhism diagnoses the problem with humanity as suffering. Notwithstanding the all too real truth of human suffering, where Buddhism fails is in not realizing that suffering and pain are usually symptoms of a much deeper problem, not the problem in an of themselves. The Buddha goes on to name the cause for human suffering: craving. Craving is the desire to satisfy our self, which is always perpetually wanting. By putting an end to craving we can reach nirvana, or enlightenment. However, the only people who no longer crave anything are the dead. To be alive means that one is craving something, whether it be sustenance, safety, or pleasure. To help his followers, the Buddha created a process called the Noble Eight-Fold Path. In following the Noble Eight-Fold Path, the adherents stay away from bad karma and enter rebirth, “a casual connection between one life and another” in which it is not the same life, but not entirely different (Falikowski, 113). And, “according to Buddha, a self, as such, doesn’t really exist.” (Falikowski, 105). I completely disagree with not having a self, and as for being quasi-reborn as someone else: I do not believe that is what happens; therefore, Buddhism does not quite conform to my philosophical palate.

These philosophies of life are all extremely interesting. This was a particularly tough task, for me personally, because all four philosophies of life have certain ideas with which I like and agree with, but many ideas which I think preposterous and do not agree with. My own shifting philosophy has aspects of all of these, but does not fit exactly well into any of them specifically. Wisdom can be gained from them all, when reasoned out, and can then be implemented accordingly to our own lives.

References

Falikowski, Anthony F. (2004). Experiencing Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

On Euphemisms and Taboo Language

Euphemisms. Those bumper-lanes of language—billowy and noncommittal. They stand for the convenient, inoffensive, and politically-correct. These greasy little words will not stay put. They evade definition and will not take a stand for what they actually mean. They seek to pacify us in their spiritless superiority. They seek to cajole us with lack of character. Why, then, do we accept them? Why do we tolerate their presence? Are they benign or malicious? Because language is so diverse—thankfully so—we have many ways to construct our sentences, our communications. The real question is multifaceted: is there a proper place to use euphemisms or are they entirely harmful, and if so, should we take a radical stand against the use of euphemisms?

This question has been knocking around inside my brain like the proverbial ball from a pinball machine. This outpouring of words is the result of that ball escaping between the flippers and through the out hole of the pinball machine of my mind. And so, we shall continue.

Euphemisms are used, primarily, because we do not wish to offend other people. The idea is to use one word, such as crap, in replace of the more offensive and divisive one, in this case: shit. The problem with this strategy is that everyone knows what you really mean. Why is one word accepted, albeit with its undesirable nature, like the delinquent adolescent that everyone puts up with and even smiles at, while the other word is taboo and is shunned with the severity of a serial murderer? If shit is synonymous with crap, then why are they treated so disparately?

The answer to this dilemma rests solely in linguistic interpretation and word connotation. Who has made the word shit taboo? The very community that uses it so readily, but of course. The word shit has a history of being unpopular, and it is sometimes thought to be used by ignorant folks. So when we tell our children not to use such language, and then proceed to use those winked at, pillowy, puff-balls of language that we call euphemisms, we end up looking rather like hypocrites—with good reason I might add.

What, then, is appropriate to use when referring to feces? If you feel so inclined: call it shit; if that does not appeal to your sense of propriety, then do be so good as to use terms such as excrement or stool. Unfortunately, now you sound like you have your head up the very orifice which deposits that object to which you are now referring. The choice is yours: will you be considered a pompous personage of politeness, wearing your modesty on your sleeve, or will you be considered a voraciously vulgar vagabond, perhaps speaking truthfully, but with no sense of decorum? Neither option sounds particularly appealing, does it?

Therefore, how does one go about referring to taboo topics? There is no polite way to talk about the impolite, yet, in our society, have we not lost our sense of the polite anyway? Using the name of God and his Son in vain has become commonplace because our society and culture no longer fears or believes in Him, and thus, damn and hell are left in our vocabulary as vestiges of our ancestor’s beliefs and we use them profusely. We are not ashamed of our disgusting nature, nor what is precipitated from it, thus we are not ashamed to use shit proudly and openly. We call other people bitch and bastard so cavalierly that we do not even realize the irony of our very words. Words have power and histories and when we use terms such as bastard and bitch to refer to other people, we are attacking their humanity and denying them respect—we are calling them objects and unworthy—therefore, it is no wonder that we treat other people so horribly. Of course, one cannot forget the almighty fuck that is used to such an extent that it has the all consuming power of becoming any word and every word in one’s lexicon; it even has the power to infix itself in ways that the English language was never meant to function as (such as abso-fuckin’-lutely), nor does it fully authorize this misuse—how apropos. It is almost beautiful in its double entendre were it not for the proverbial vortex that it creates when implemented in a person’s regular vocabulary, inevitably reducing their vernacular word quantity to a dismally small number.

The issue of whether to use euphemisms or taboo words is a complicated topic, and one that many people find offensive. Words are both nothing and everything all at once. This paradox may not make sense at first, but I will attempt to clarify this point. Words are made up of sounds, sounds that are entirely arbitrary in nature, and yet we impart meaning to them. Words are meaningful because they have been infused with meaning by those people that use them. Taboo language is taboo because people consider it to be so. In this sense, language and the words that it is made up of are blank slates. What makes a word taboo is intentionality. If one uses a word to convey taboo meaning and to offend another, then the negative intention is perpetuated; however, there are certain instances when a community takes a taboo word and dispels it of its taboo nature. The problem with doing so is that just because a specific community no longer considers a word to be taboo, that does not mean the rest of the speaking world has followed suit. This in turn, causes those who have not refashioned the negative term in a positive light, in their minds, to feel uncomfortable.

While this may be an offensive topic, it needs to be discussed. It should be discussed. What it comes down to is how we respect other people. Words have histories and if you care about others, you will be mindful of how your words affect them. You may feel that euphemisms are a way of not stepping on anyone’s toes, so to speak, but I am here to tell you that euphemisms are the worst offense because they straddle the fence between educated communication and ignorant babbling. Perhaps you enjoy using taboo terms, sometimes I do as well, but be decided in what words you use. As long as you—or I—know that by using fuck repeatedly in colloquial language that we are contributing to the lack of word variation in our culture, then by all means, do your worst. But, please do not use euphemisms and think that you are somehow evading the true meaning of what you are saying. Search for a more intelligent way to express yourself—it may not be the trendy thing to do, but hardly anything truly great or worthwhile ever is.

Therefore, I propose that we euthanize euphemisms. If you want to curse, do it. If not, then choose your words carefully and with purpose. You might even experience an increase in critical thinking skills as well as an understanding of the subtle forces which shape the language you speak. And it is important to disclose that I am guilty of egregious use of euphemisms as well as taboo language. This message, then, is for me as much as it is for anyone who cares to listen. Ultimately, this is intended to be encouraging and revitalizing, not vilifying nor condemning.