Skip to main content

The Things I Have Been Thinking. (A Convoluted Prelude?)

Majoring in philosophy was probably among the smartest things I've done. That being said, it's had some odd consequences. It may even have a bit of a dark side lurking about...

One reason it's an obvious fit is my abundant intellectual curiosity and inquisitiveness as well as the happily pondering nature of my daydreamy side. Philosophy has proven not only a great foundation for my not infrequent thought sprees but, I hope, invaluable training for critical thinking and all that stuff. You know, interrogating the issue, unpacking the term, and all that gibberish. Turns out to be useful stuff some of the time.

Something I've discovered, though, is an almost sadomasochistic streak in my philosophical method. It seems almost cartesian* at times. Basically, I'll start with a thought, perhaps with some reflection on something I've learned or been learning about or overheard or read or whatever and stuff; then I'll start pressing it...following its implications and possibilities to the most mentally uncomfortable places I can...and then push it further...and further....

I describe it as somewhat cartesian in my willingness to let go of what I find untenable or unnecessary as I probe possibilities. It will probably sound rather dumb and sophistic; maybe even hoity-toity, which I certainly don't mean it to be. But here's an example of somethin I've been thinking about

So I've completely abandoned any notion of free will or moral responsibility. In case it isn't obvious (which it might very well not be), those are two major touchstones/cornerstones in philosophical debate. There is a very, very large contingent of perfectly respectable and respected proper philosophers and thinkers from many disciplines who are politely reluctant, at the least, or vehemently opposed, at the only slightly less least, to giving up those concepts. Many major theories and even just ordinary experience requires some implicit allowance of either of them. People have legitimately debated back and forth about free will, for and against, its nature or even nonexistence, and I've kinda...dismissed it at this point.

And, no; I don't mean this as "I'm the most brilliant fuck to ever think about any of this; I'm the revolutionary all you establishment pigs have feared!" or any such bunk. I have my reasons for arriving at this position, and I didn't reach it easily or accept it happily at first.

And besides, such a intentions to be a revolutionary or have some unique super-brilliance is total foolishness, and probably the worst way to approach philosophy. Philosophy is about considering problems, entertaining possibilities, and understanding things as best and most accurately you can, not super-star douchebaggery or hipsteresque defiance.


Like, take this free will thing. Philosophers who defend it have really very good reasons for doing so; whether as a fiction (if they're cynical) or as a reality (if they're sincere) it's a big component in how we understand the world and conduct our lives, both as far as everyday experiences and philosophical ones. The same goes for moral responsibility--that we are morally responsible for our actions. Dismissing these concepts raises some very awkward problems (How can we put people in jail if they're not morally responsible for their crimes? How can we praise people if they didn't do it via free will?).

For years, I was a champion of free choices and self determination and all that; back when I was a unendurable romantic and such. But I've gotten to a point now where I can't maintain such positions; they just don't make sense. I've arrived where I've arrived not because it seemed so novel and brilliant but because I couldn't make sense of the universe any other way. Other reflections I'd undertaken just made free will incompatible. And the awkwardness of the problems in dismissing free will began to seem more like an inconvenient consequence rather than a reason in itself to retain it. Free will, and consequently moral responsibility, just don't meet the burden of proof.

And you know what? It's okay. At least, I'm okay with it. I've been trying to put together a (hopefully) simple framework for understanding things without free will, and it's not so bad. It's a bit weird, sure. Maybe super weird. Maybe untenably weird (hopefully not, though). But even at this proto-theory state, it works pretty well for me. In fact, given how nicely it's jiving with other positions I've undertaken, I'd argue it's workin' a lot better for me than free will would have if I'd clung to it.

Now, I'm hardly going to say I have the ultimate answer to everything and that you should trust me, and only me, as your savior from the old world and bringer of the new....or any of that junk. But at the least, I hope to lay out the problem as I see it and the resolutions I've been working out to make sense of them. And that it will make sense to someone else and help them parse out their understanding of things, whether it's like mine or not.

This might or might not lead to some kind of large paper or book or some such some day.




* Part of DesCartes project in his Meditations and elsewhere was stripping away all his assumptions and rebuilding them based on reason and knowledge. This may seem a bit pretentious, but a large part of philosophy in his day boiled down to hackneyed science and weird logics. Like, if you can think of the worst manner of sophistry imaginable, and then make it worse. Yeah. If DesCartes reasons for "stripping away" assumptions and stuff were in fact at all pretentious or hipstery, I think mine are more pragmatic. (I could be an ass and say "pragmatical," but I'd probably crucify myself for it.)

Comments

Other things that might interest you...

This moment: A tattoo.

So I read Mrs. Dalloway in high school, and it was perhaps the most beautiful thing I'd ever read. One passage in particular, very early in the book, hit me hard with my first experience of the sublime, and stayed with me—and led at last to my first tattoo.
In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.  (Emphasis added; full paragraph included below. From the full text of the novel as made available by the University of Adelaide.)

The paragraph this is from, the 4th paragraph of the novel, is the 1st passage with the stream of consciousness the book is famous for; although self-limited here, the flow is no less gorgeous. In the passage, Clarissa is walking on a street to get those famous flowers herse…

Losing Doolittle.

I recently got to spend a few days at the lake house my family used to visit through most of my childhood; we no longer own it, and it turns out I missed it more deeply than I realized.

Anthony and I both got the week before NYC Pride off this year, so I contrived to get us a little time there. The cousins who own Greenshore gave Anthony and me permission to relax there for several days rather than just the 1 or 2 I had expected. Good god, I'm grateful for that.

I missed this place. Standing on the balcony, the porch, or the dock and looking out over the lake, I was reminded of the beauty and tranquility this lake represents for me. The meaning and memories, too.

This was always a place of solace and stability for me. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but we always came back to this place. It had been in our family for generations before I was even born—if we'd been able to keep it, it would have been a solid 4 generations including mine. This was where I figured out I w…

Gardenzia carnivorus.

I recently got back into horticulture after a bad moment of burnout, and wouldn't ya know it, I'm back at it with carnivorous plants! Despite tweeting about it endlessly, I haven't actually explained how or why this started.

Back in middle school, I helped my science teacher set up a carnivorous plant display. Nothing elaborate, mind you; a terrarium with a bunch of sphagnum moss and some pitcher plants, a sundew or two, maybe a Venus flytrap? Didn't leave much of an impression, except maybe that they died and that sucked. shrug.
A couple years later, I was in a bog near my grandmother's lake house, when things changed forever. I was in the back end of the canoe, and as my dad pulled the front end out of the water, I glanced to my right and spied, on a stump with some moss, sundews (Drosera rotundifolia, to be precise).
Of course I recognized therm instantly—they're hard to mistake, with those the sparkling tentacles and all. I gathered 3 or so of them (I know