Monday, December 12, 2011

Nietzsche: Questions everyone moustache themselves

Secular, as you probably already know from reading the other posts, means without God. Nothing reminds me of Nietzsche than the words "without God". Frederick Nietzsche was born in the year 1844 in a small German town. His father was a Lutheran priest and he himself studied theology in university. By the end of his life, Nietzsche found himself a full 180 degrees from his Christian roots.

Nietzsche was extremely opposed to the mainstream forms of morality in his time, especially Christian morality and Kantism. The opus of Nietzsche's work in philosophy is known as the master-slave morality. His theory was that society was separated into two different classes of people, Master and Slave, and with them their own schools of morality. The people in the class of master are people in the position of power, above the rest of society. That means the slave in this dynamic is the rest of society; subject to a different set of moral rules. The slave morality is what we all have learned about morality; sympathy and empathy are good, being superior and independent is bad. The master morality, conversely, does not have a definitive right or wrong, but rather the values are made by the independent master for his/herself.

With the master-slave dynamic in mind, Nietzsche argued that true moral actions cannot exist while both schools of morality coexist. In other words, the true path is nihilism. Nihilism is a dirty word to most philosophers because it simply deciding that life has no meaning, right, wrong, good, bad etc. Nihilism and philosophy are essentially matter and anti-matter in the sense that when they combine, there's just catastrophic explosions and no progress is made.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kant: Who he was and how he flipped philosophy on its side

I'd like to start this blog off by asking the reader to appreciate my journalistic professionalism in not making any puns with the philosopher in question's name. Sometimes I kant help myself. Just kidding, his last name isn't pronounced like "can't" anyways. ANYWAYS...

Immanuel Kant was born in Germany in the year of 1724. This was almost 300 years ago, and while he obviously was not a great philosopher right out of the womb, his ideas are still important in any moralist philosophy discussion to this day. There isn't much to say about Kant's life, since life was much more simple back in those days. His family was strictly religious, and his life was pretty monotonous. He never married, but was supposedly popular.

Now Immanuel Kant is someone you want to know about because he focused mainly on ethics and what should be done. To Kant, whether an action is moral or not does not depend on the action directly. An action is moral if the person performing the action has absolutely pure intentions. Let's examine a situation where one action has multiple moral implications.

Situation: I donate $1,000 to a poor family
Variable 1: I did it because I am a good Christian
V2: I did it because it is a moral thing to do
V3: I did it anonymously, I am a millionaire
V4: I did it anonymously, I am middle class

To Kant, the only action that is truly moral is V4. The rest of the actions only appear to be moral. In variable 1, you do this 'good' act because it pleases God. Pleasing God gets you into Heaven, or conversely displeasing God gets you into Hell. Therefore, this action is done out of fear of God, something that Kant emphasized as being a common source of appearing morality. Variable 2 is also amoral because you perform the donation because it is expected of humans to be moral. Therefore, you are merely keeping up appearances (aka you don't necessarily care about making a positive impact on the family). Variable 3 is only slightly amoral. While you are not seeking a direct reward from donating $1000, this amount of money is  minute relative to your available funds. Kant would argue that if you are truly trying to be 'good' and to positively impact the family in question, you would allocate a significant portion of your wealth. In other words, the money you saved is the indirect reward of doing this action.

Variable 4 is moral because you donate a relatively significant amount of money to the family without any reward. Anonimity means you are not going to get gratitude (if you are expecting the family to somehow make an effort to thank the donator, such as a press conference, refer to variable 2). You gave enough to make an impact without leaving yourself uncomfortably without money. This dynamic can be used to examine the morality of any action (through Kant's eyes).

The ideas of Kant are so revolutionary to philosophers (and enough to get many people to yawn with gusto) because of two factors; its logical soundness and its controversial effect on all other schools of morality. Since Kant's idea that all moral actions with a driving force other than doing 'good' are amoral, that means that a lot of moral schools go under fire. Religion, specifically, turns out to be very much amoral because of the implication of Heaven and Hell relative to worldly actions. Any ideas on morality are now primarily passed through the lens of Kantian thought before they can begin to be appreciated by post-Kantian philosophers. This is why he is one of the superstars of philosophy; whether or not a moral code is valid ultimately depends on it's conformity to the aforementioned dynamic.

Ayn Rand and Objectivism

When beginning to tackle the vast multitudes of philosophies that deal with secular ethics (and there are a lot!), I think it is best to start with Objectivism. But before we delve right in, it is important to first look at the life of the woman that formulated the philosophy. Ayn Rand was born to a rich family in Russia in 1905. During the Bolshevik Revolution , her family had their riches stolen. She later went to a prominent Russian university where her relationship with philosophy first began, then abruptly ended when she was once again purged by the Bolsheviks. One may be seeing the trend that communism has not treated Rand very well from the get-go, and this distaste for socialist thinking is extremely blatant in her philosophic theory. There is little more to say on Ayn Rand's life story other than she moved to America in 1925 and was now in the political climate of free enterprise (this will be important later).

So what is objectivism? If you've ever seen The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, both narratives written by Rand outlining her philosophy, you would know that there is a lot to say about it (those things are more like blunt weapons than books). Basically, the premise of her philosophy is that man should do anything to further his life. There are, of course, limitations to this; being dishonest and/or cheating your fellow man is not allowed. The success of an individual should be earned through blood, sweat and tears as opposed to chance or dishonesty. The argument Rand makes, which is very concrete when examined thoroughly, is that anything that is not work that makes you happy actually only appears to make you happy. For example, if I buy a Porsche and go 200mph in it, I think I am being pleased by my choice, but really I am not making a difference in the world and this temporary thrill only sums up to be a waste of time.

Now we can see how the word "morality" is truly a shit show to use. A moral action in the perspective of objectivism has no correlation with what you and I would call "moral" in our life. Giving charity is a moral action, right? Nope. At least that's the answer an objectivist would say. Moral actions, they would go on to say, are anything that seeks to truly further your position. Ultimately, it comes down to how much work you can do in your life. As a side note, what economic system ideally has a direct correlation between work and success? Capitalism! What is the enemy of capitalism? Communism! Hmm... looks like Ayn found a clever way to stick it to communism. Moving on, Rand's philosophy implies the non-existence (or at least non-importance) of God because the power to work lies in the individual wholly.

Now I need to preface what I'm going to say by making it clear that I really do love this philosophical system. If more people inherited this system of ethical rules, we would have an infinitely more productive society, not to mention a fair one. But, this business-centric moral system has a huge pitfall; it is hyper-idealistic (ironic, since Communism is also a highly idealistic system). By the moral standards I just discussed, doing nice things that have no affect on your work are actually aimless and amoral. If I talk to a cute chick at the bar, I'm putting pleasure before business. If I sell my friend one of my possessions for a lower price than I would get on ebay, I am once again acting aimlessly. In short, if everyone was a true objectivist, the world would be a bunch of emotionally-numb douchebags.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Hello reader of this blog! I started writing this blog because as a college student, I know about the endless walls of texts that come along with any journey of learning. There is no better example of extremely thick books about one specific subject that consist of 90% unnecessary words than books on philosophy. So who is my blog aimed at? Essentially anybody that wants to know more about the names every one of us hears such as Kant and Rand. And if you know a little about these famous philosophers, this blog may still be of use for you. If you are a Kantian scholar with a degree in ethics, this blog will probably be too vague for you to derive any pleasure from reading it. If this is the case, please open one of the aforementioned books about philosophy and feel free to comment with suggestions... or blatant hate mail.