The Irrationality of Existence or, How to Find the Meaning of Life, much to Nietzsche’s Chagrin


DSC01524We’re too busy to ask the big questions anymore, but they linger over our heads like an ominous shadow lurking in our rooms while we sleep. We keep ourselves occupied with jobs, television, movies, video games, the internet, and a host of other things. Companies make billions of dollars a year off the fact that we will buy anything, any amount of money, and do anything we can in order to keep ourselves busy and thoughtless. The more thoughtless the entertainment, the less it demands of us, the more likely we are to consume it. Why is it that reality television shows have become so popular? Is it because we are that dumb, or are we that desperate to silence the big questions of life? At least the alcoholic is honest with himself and admits to drinking in order to avoid and suppress life’s difficulties; the TV junkie or video game addict hardly realizes he has a problem.

Yet, we must all face the big questions. At a funeral, they sneak up on us without our permission and infect our minds. What if I’m next? What has the purpose of my life been? What if this is all it’s worth? We hate funerals because it reminds us of our own inevitability; certainly we will miss the person who has died, but even for strange acquaintances whose funerals we attend out of social obligation we still feel our stomachs turn.  We realize that one day we will be the person in the casket and it is in that moment that life’s big questions engulf us, it is then we all become Jonahs in the belly of a great fish, trapped in a darkness we’ve fought so hard to avoid.

We quickly push such thoughts away by looking at our phones for the latest news, looking at what Jane is wearing, thinking about what the kids have to do tomorrow, putting together a grocery list, and the line of distractions grow. We distance ourselves from the big questions, yet they remain. When forced to confront our own mortality, we are faced with the meaninglessness of our existence. To the ancient Greeks, life wasn’t meaningless because one was supposed to pursue the good. Of course, they then spent countless hours defining and attempting to understand exactly what “the good” was. For Plato, the good was some abstract form, something to which we could only achieve within the form world. To Aristotle, the good was found mostly in this life, through living a virtuous life. Yet, both seem meaningless; if the good is abstracted and unobtainable in this life, then what is the purpose in trying to pursue it? If the good is found in a virtuous life, how much virtue and how long do I have to live before I obtain it? For the Romans, specifically Cicero, the good was best manifested in being a good citizen. But oh that Cicero could have seen his Republic fail (he did see its twilight), for then he would realize that being a good citizen cannot be our ultimate end since the State is mutable. Turn East and one could seek the Tao, but the Tao is immutable and therefore one cannot know if it is obtained or not. Or one could seek Nirvana, which is ultimately nothingness; if the purpose of life is to obtain nothingness, then there is no purpose.

Before we ridicule the ancients in the East and the West, we should better understand that us moderns are infantile in our quest compared to the ancients. At least they dared to stand their ground against the big questions of life. Rather than fleeing as we do, they turned and like a brave soldier fought against these questions. They did battle with the struggles of life and even if they did not emerge victoriously, at least they fought. We moderns are far too quick to run away. We tend to take the meaning of life for granted, hiding behind beautifully written platitudes that when exposed to scrutiny, dissolve like paper in acid. Think of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which while a great film, provides a cleverly written, but stupidly simple meaning of life: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Like modern music, such a saying might sound great to the masses, but there’s really nothing behind it. If the meaning of life is to see the world, then already those who are poor are now excluded from enjoying the meaning of life. Only those who can afford trips need apply to having meaning in life. To see dangerous things to come, to see behind walls (that is, to see the truth of the world), to draw closer and find each other, and to feel; none of these, however, indicate positive things. By all accounts, both Gandhi and Hitler obtained the meaning of life, both Mother Theresa and Josef Stalin stood on equal footing when it came to finding meaning in this life. All involved saw the world, they saw the dangerous things, they saw behind the lies of the world, they drew closer to some and even found love, and they did feel. Such a meaning of life is amoral, which means there is no meaning at all.  Continue reading

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The Teacher


Truth is a Man

Here is another sneak peak from the book The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean Aspiring Author I am currently writing.  You can find the first two installments here and here.  Please keep in mind that this is only the first draft.


The Teacher

Growing up in a devout Christian family I heard the stories of the great biblical heroes numerous times and could recite most of them by heart.  It wasn’t until I was twelve, however, that I dedicated time to personally studying Sacred Scripture.  Naturally, I was immediately drawn to the more exotic, and often overlooked, books; the “black sheep” of the canon.  The first to grab my attention was Ecclesiastes, in which, to my great dismay, I read the following passage for the first time:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their…

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Some Thoughts On Don Juanism


What is Don Juanism?  It is, perhaps, most easily expressed by this simple Latin phrase made famous by the film Dead Poets Society: “carpe diem!” or “seize the day!”  Loosely defined, it describes a certain disposition or attitude toward life which is explained by the French existentialist Albert Camus in his influential book The Myth of Sisyphus.

According to Camus, Don Juanism is not a system or a formula but a general outline suggesting a way in which the “absurd man” might proceed in a world devoid of intrinsic meaning or value.  Who is the “absurd man” you ask?  The man who acknowledges the world is meaningless—and, that there is no hope of a life after death—yet, seeks to ascribe or, at least, search for meaning anyway.    The absurd man, when faced with the dilemma of nihilism, may choose (following the manner of that famous womanizer Don Juan) to suck the marrow out of each moment of his existence.  He does not dwell upon the past nor does he worry about his inevitable fate (i.e., death, dissolution, and non-being) but seeks to experience as much pleasure (not necessarily erotic pleasure; but typically so) as possible here and now.  He is driven by passion, desire and self-love.  He chooses not to limit himself—to narrow himself—to the love of but one creature but to share himself with all.  As Camus explains:

“Don Juan, as well as anyone else, knows that this [i.e., love which limits itself to but one creature] can be stirring.  But he is one of the very few who know that this is not the important thing . . . A mother or a passionate wife necessarily has a closed heart, for it is turned away from the world. A single emotion, a single creature, a single face, but all is devoured. Quite a different love disturbs Don Juan, and this one is liberating. It brings with it all the faces in the world, and its tremor comes from the fact that it knows itself to be mortal. Don Juan has chosen to be nothing.”

In short, Don Juanism suggests we adopt a god complex. In the face of the void it calls for us to create meaning and value in accordance with our likes and dislikes (we, thus, become the truth). It further challenges us to extend ourselves–our vitality–as far as possible; to transcend limitations and take in as much of this life that we can. Yet, ironically, under the impetus that one day we shall no longer exist and, thus, no longer experience.

It is safe to say that this is a way of approaching life many in our culture–especially those in Hollywood and the music industry–have embraced and enthusiastically promote. We are constantly told to live in the moment; to be true to ourselves (i.e., to passively allow our irrational instincts and biological impulses to dictate who we are); to release our sexuality; to hold nothing back. We are told to liberate ourselves from the shackles of traditional mores and moral constraints. This means moving away from longterm, monogamous relationships and diving headlong into unabashed–unrestricted–eroticism. We hear this ever so loudly in the music industry (Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, or Beyoncé are but a few examples).

The lines become increasingly blurred as we seek to extend ourselves and to experience as much as we can: oral sex with members of both genders, multiple sex partners, bisexuality, polygamy, androgyny, threesomes, orgies, unrestricted masturbation, sex toy’s, hooking up with strangers, pornography, beastiality–the sky’s the limit! All this in an effort to establish our identity; to authenticate ourselves.

Note, however, the basic premise underlying Don Juanism (inadvertently expressed in the quote I shared from Camus): individuals or persons become nothing. There is no intrinsic value or dignity to the person–in the world according to Don Juan we are but brief irrational manifestations of the monolith that is the cosmos. And, the cosmos is unconscious, unaware, uncaring, and purposeless. You and I are, thus, non-being; because we (whatever “we” designates) are temporary, unidentifiable, meaningless blips, in a long series of meaningless blips, destined to fade out and be utterly forgotten. There is nothing concrete or eternal about us. We have no essence and, thus, no identity. And, to renounce identity is to renounce existence.

So I ask myself: What kind of freedom is this? The answer comes quickly: It is a freedom without hope; and, hence, not true freedom. It is a freedom built on an illusion; and, hence, not true freedom. What silly and pathetic little god’s we have become! God’s incapable of changing our fate; god’s with only the illusion of self; god’s with the mere illusion of being able to shape the way things are. Don Juanism requires the impossible–it requires something to come from nothing. It requires the unidentifiable to create identity; the non-existent to bring forth existence.

But, from out of nothing, comes nothing. The “absurd” man is far more absurd than Camus dared to imagine.

The Philosophical Problem of Common Core or, Why All Modern Education Fails


IMG_1066Apple has done the world a great disservice by dubbing a great speech from Dead Poet’s Society in order to sell an iPad. The speech is as follows:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Now, I’m not exactly sure what any of that has to do with Apple products (my verse will be an overpriced machine?), but the speech itself is the cry of anyone who has sat through a humanities degree. Such people tend to realize that there is a life beyond what one can earn in terms of income. I happen to be one of those people with a humanities degree and like so many other people with one I’m consistently bombarded with the question, “Well what can you do with that though?” Well, I could ask why you want fries with that, or I could just become incredibly successful since that tends to be what people with humanities degrees do, mostly because they can read and write unlike their peers. The whole point being, everyone looks at an education as a vehicle and rightfully so, where we go wrong is in viewing education as a vehicle to a nice job.

Our quest for pragmatic education has its current culmination in a Common Core curriculum, an incredibly controversial program that doesn’t seem to have much to offer. From a scientist stating that its mathematical solutions are difficult to follow to Indiana officially removing Common Core from the classroom, Common Core is in desperate need of a PR firm. More than likely this program will eventually collapse and another program will take its place, yet our educational ratings will continue to decline and our students will still continue to lose the wisdom of previous generations.

The core problem in Common Core and in all modern education elements is that it attempts a “one-size-fits-all” education pattern, or to put it one way, Common Core is “…designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.” Via interpretation, the message is, “We’re preparing your kids for a job or to go to college prepared to get a job.” Every student from Maine to California will study under a uniformed method, expected to produce the same answers. Common Core will make the teacher nothing more than a factory worker, imputing data into tiny little machines and expecting them to produce the same product; and if the factory worker fails then the government just takes over the school completely (a la Bush’s still intact “No Child Left Behind” policies). Just as every iPad is the same after coming off the factory floor, so too should every child’t education be the same after coming off the factory floor of US public education. The Orwellian term employed throughout the website is “equality,” but expecting the same results from the same method is not equality, it’s uniformity.

Of course, everyone wants to remove Common Core, but this is a return to the status quo, a status quo in which American students are failing. Even college students are considerably worse off than they were ten years ago, especially in job prospects. Getting a vague business degree with a minor in management might seem like a sure-fire way to get a job until you realize that everyone else has that same degree. Or even getting a degree in the medical field or some other “hot field” right now doesn’t mean those positions will be open 4-6 years from now. I had many friends who did biology majors and have advanced degrees in pharmaceuticals because at the time they began working on those degrees, that field needed jobs. Once they graduated, however, the jobs were already filled. Same thing with those who received law degrees in the early 2000s, to the point now that unless your law degree comes from an elite university, you’re going to struggle to find a good that will even come close to paying off your school debt. Yes, we can remove Common Core, but it doesn’t come close to touching on our educational crisis, our problem, which is philosophical in nature.

The problem isn’t necessarily Common Core, the problem is we think education is meant to get us a job. When we approach education with the attitude, “This is meant to help get a better job,” then education is no longer about learning what is necessary for life, but instead what is necessary for a living. Education becomes a pragmatic pursuit that teaches the student nothing about the world and only about what is necessary to survive in the world. To some, this might sound logical, but put it in an analogy: It’s like taking a paratrooper in WWII, teaching them how to fire a weapon, how to jump out of a plane, how to survive once they land, and how to read a map, but then never telling them where they’re dropping, who the enemy is, or why they’re fighting. They’ll have all the technological knowledge in the world to make a good soldier, but they’ll still be ineffective because they’ll know nothing of the world around them. Our current educational system teaches our students how to get along in the world, but then tells them nothing about the world, meaning the students ultimately learn little.

A better approach is to realize that the goal of an education is not to develop a worker, but instead to develop a human. While many might agree, they ignore the ramifications of such a statement, the biggest one being is if we truly adopt this as our approach to education then there is no way to quantifiably measure learning. If we are in the business of developing humans and humans are diverse, it means that the outcomes in education will equally be diverse. Yet, we should allow such diversity to occur because diversity is the beauty of life, it is essential to a free society. Uniformity punishes anyone who steps out of life while diversity celebrates the lack of a line (within reason of course). The problem with Common Core isn’t just in its implementation or curriculum, it’s in the philosophy that works behind it that snuffs out diversity in learning. A better way to learn is to allow the natural creativity inherent within all humans to bubble to the surface and for the teacher to help the student hone and perfect that creativity.

Teachers ought not be viewed as factory workers putting cogs into machines and expecting the same results; rather, teachers ought to be viewed as midwives, bringing unique individuals into the world, guiding the process, but not forcing the process. Education ought to teach students about the world and how to be good humans within this wide, adventurous, and mysterious world. This approach is especially true at younger ages; an eight-year-old shouldn’t worry about a career path, nor should we prepare her for a career path. Let her first learn how to be a human before she learns how to be a worker. Do we really expect an eighteen-year-old to know what he wants to do in life? Or even a twenty-one year old? Why are we preparing them for careers before they even know who they are? Let them discover this world and who they are within the world, let them develop who they are within the world, and I assure you the career will come on its own. After all, that’s how it worked for thousands of years and the human race progressed quite nicely.

Though we’ve put a higher emphasis on the hard sciences, students are losing more interest in those hard sciences (unless we show how learning them will make them money). Our experts are at a loss, but it’s not that difficult to know why students aren’t interested; it’s because we’re giving them tools to understand the world without actually helping them to understand the world. At three and four years old, these kids unceasingly ask “why” when they encounter every new things, yet within two years they’re put in an institution with the capacity to answer these whys, but the students stop asking questions and instead become bored. Pragmatic education, educating students for jobs rather than life, doesn’t like or allow for a lot of “whys,” and instead just wants to feed the curriculum to the student. An education geared for life, however, teaches the student not only how to keep asking why, but how to search out the answer. An education for life takes the inquisitive taste for adventure of the four-year-old and helps that taste mature and develop into the actualization of that adventure later in life, of always asking questions and seeking answers.

Now don’t ask me for which system we need in order to accomplish this. While I’m heavily in favor of the classics, I also realize that how the classics are administered is going to vary from culture to culture, from state to state, town to town, and teacher to teacher. There is no single uniformed approach to learning how to live life; while a classical education is proven to be the best approach, that approach is quite ambiguous. All I know is that whatever educational system is developed at a local level, it must have one goal and one goal alone: Teach children how to be humans in this world. Don’t prepare them for the career path or for college, prepare them for life, which is so much more than what you do for a living or where you go to school. We prepare our students for a living when we ought to prepare them how to live.

We can continue on with Common Core or programs like Common Core. We can try our best to improve our education, but as time goes on we’ll notice that the job market becomes harder and harder despite all our innovative methods. We’ll find that we have students who understand certain aspects of jobs, but cannot think outside of the box or muster up enough creativity to find a new answer to an old problem. We need to educate our kids for life, not for jobs. Jobs will come and go, but life will always be around. If we train our kids for jobs and that job market fails, then they have no other recourse for income. If we train our kids for life, however, and their job fails, they will always have a calling, a mission, a goal, and the creativity to find some other way to make it in this world. Real success isn’t measured in tests, it’s measured in the lives our students end up living. By that measure, I’d say we’re failing.

 

Is Philosophy Dead?


It’s currently fashionable for scientists to dismiss philosophy as a viable activity – some have even pronounced its death!  One branch of philosophy, which particularly gets singled out, is metaphysics.  For those of you unfamiliar with this term please note that I’m not referring to the occult or astrology; but, rather, to the branch of philosophical inquiry concerned with the nature of reality.  A metaphysicist will ask (and attempt to answer) questions like: What is truly real? What is personal identity?  What is the nature of the mind?  How do things persist over time?  What is a cause?  What is time?  Etc..

Unlike a scientist, a metaphysicist approaches these questions, primarily, through rational discourse.  They are more concerned with abstract generalizations than with explaining concrete particulars–with the theory underlying our scientific presuppositions than with specific details regarding particular things.  As Stephen Mumford explains:

“When we consider what exists, the philosopher’s answer will be at the highest levels of generality.  They may say there are particulars that fall into natural kinds, there are properties, changes, causes, laws of nature, and so on.  The job of science, however, is to say what specific things exist under each of those categories.  There are electrons, for instance, or tigers, or chemical elements.  There are properties of spin, charge, and mass, there are processes such as dissolution, there are laws of nature such as the law of gravitational attraction.  Metaphysics seeks to organize and systematize all these specific truths that science discovers and to describe their general features.”

A good example of a metaphysical problem would be the laws of nature.  Scientists, largely through observation and testing, attempt to detect and record regularities in nature in order to explain particular events (e.g. the falling of an apple).  These regularities, over time, become laws of nature (i.e. the law of gravity or the law of thermodynamics).  Metaphysicist’s, in contrast, are less concerned with explaining particular events, and more concerned with explaining the nature of the laws themselves.  Hence, a philosopher will ask: What are the laws of physics?  Are they objective realities that we discover about nature or merely a construct of the mind?

Both questions are extremely important, but the methods we use to arrive at a proper answer are very different.  One must primarily rely upon empirical methods (i.e. observation and testing) in order to explain particular events; but to answer metaphysical questions, one must primarily rely upon reason.

Because philosophy focuses on the abstract, and utilizes slightly different methods than science, many scientists are suspicious of, and even antagonistic towards it.  Without realizing, they slip into a form of anti-intellectualism known as scientism.  Scientism, to put it crudely, is a stunted or incomplete theory of knowledge.  It is roughly the belief that science is the only viable source of knowledge and that all other disciplines are either useless (e.g philosophy or theology) or incomplete.  Scientism’s adherents will typically claim that empirical methods, alone, are capable of giving us genuine knowledge about reality.  Thus, they proclaim the death of philosophy!

Immediately, however, one should be suspicious of this point of view: namely, because scientism, itself, is a philosophical position.  It is not possible to prove the claims of scientism through purely empirical means.  From the outset, therefore, it refutes itself and demonstrates why we need philosophy.

Fr. W. Norris Clarke brings up another important point, with regard to empiricist limitations on knowledge:

“One central flaw in all such theories of knowing is that they are in principle unable to do justice to the very subject or self that is asking the questions, since this is at the root of every conscious sense experience and quest for understanding, but not out in front of our senses as an external object to be sensed by them.  In a word, the inner world vanishes in its very attempt to understand the outer world.  The empiricist way of thinking also cripples the age-old natural longing of the human mind to understand, make sense of, its direct experience in terms of deeper causes not directly accessible to us.  The human mind cannot be satisfied to operate only within this straightjacket of an arbitrarily restrictive epistemology.”

Inherently, we all desire to find answers to the questions philosophers ask.  We all want to know the nature of ultimate reality and the value of our existence; we all want to understand how it is that we can know anything about the world; or what knowledge is to begin with.  Scientific research is incredibly important, and empirical methods provide us with a vast number of interesting facts about particular things in the universe.  Science, however, does not give us the deeper meaning behind these amazing discoveries.

Science has especially failed to provide us with any meaningful answers to the questions of personal identity and self consciousness—the “subject or self that is asking the questions” as Fr. Clarke just put it.  It gives us innumerable, and important, facts about our biology and brain chemistry, but it fails to explain the value or purpose of the observer.  More pointedly, it fails to provide a viable explanation for the self’s existence at all.  These questions, along with a host of others, are primarily the subject of philosophy and theology.

Philosophy is not dead–and as long as subjective knowers (i.e. human beings) exist it shall never be.  For Philosophy – the love of wisdom and the desire to understand the deeper, underlying, questions about the nature of our world – is rooted in and flows out of our very nature as beings made in the image of God.

Re-Posted from: Truth is a Man.

The Triumph of Philosophy or, Why Lawrence Krauss is Just Wrong


 

In the above video, Lawrence Krauss speaks about the importance of students learning science and the greater importance of teachers feeling comfortable with what they are teaching. Certainly, Krauss is correct that our students are undereducated in American schools (overall, the United States is ranked 13th in the world in education, though that number is skewed by our appreciation for the liberal arts). Our teachers, likewise, are severely underpaid compared to their private sector counterparts. Why is it an engineer at a car company makes more money than the person who trained the engineer?

Moving away from where Krauss is right, let’s focus on the two points where he is just completely wrong.

1) Science is not the motivator behind the big questions of existence – those questions have been asked, and answers have been sought, long before the scientific method found its way into the world. In fact, the scientific method itself was born from the womb of epistemology. In asking “how can we know the physical world,” the scientific method came about. Thus, science is a child to philosophy, it is a tool of philosophy; the tool can never overcome the user.

Now, Krauss has a history of making philosophical statements and claiming they are scientific statements. In fact, when it comes to philosophy, Krauss is simply ignorant. For instance, he argues the following;

Philosophy used to be a field that had content, but then “natural philosophy” became physics, and physics has only continued to make inroads. Every time there’s a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers.

Now, no philosopher would ever discount scientific discoveries, we would only claim that science is a tool of philosophy to test claims about the physical universe. Even some of Aristotle’s (and later philosophers) most erroneous claims about our world – such as the earth being the center of the universe – came from observations, not theoretical conjuring. That the ancients lacked the technology needed to gain a better understanding of the universe is quite irrelevant; the fact that they still based their ideas off observations shows the first use of science, albeit in a primitive manner, as a tool of philosophy.

Philosophy, not science, asks the big questions, mostly because science in its proper definition is incapable of asking questions. Asking “how does this work” is inherently a philosophical question. The scientific method cannot cause you to ask a question, it can only supply an answer to a question. While more questions will undoubtedly arise in the search for this one answer, each one is based on the curiosity of humans, which is by nature philosophical.

The problem with what Krauss is promoting is that it leads to scientism, or the idea that science counts as the basis of all knowledge. It also betrays an absolute ignorance of the importance of philosophy not only within scientific research, but as the controller of scientific research. Sure, it’s easy to discount philosophy when one is pursuing physics and see no consequences (at least no immediate consequences), but what about biology, specifically human biology? The study of human biology without the guide of ethics and philosophy (namely a basis in metaphysics) can and has led to eugenics. Even in this day there are numerous scientists who promote the abortion and even infanticide of “less than desirable” humans (of course, such an idea is promoted under the guise of compassion).

The point being that scientific advancement needs philosophy, just as a child needs a parent. In both situations, there is a need of a moral voice. Science cannot tell us why it is wrong to kill someone because of his or her deformities. Science cannot produce a value statement on life. Science cannot even tell us why survival is something we ought to strive after, and therein lies the problem with science: in terms of ethics, science can never supply us with an ought, but without an ought there can be no science. That is, if philosophy did not take its primary place in the ancient, medieval, and renaissance world, science would have never been born.

Thus, while science is important, it does not ask the big questions, nor can it answer the big questions. It can provide us tidbits of information and be used as a tool in searching out the answers, but it is not the end-all of knowledge and is eternally subservient to philosophy. One can use a hammer to build a house or to bash in the skull of an opponent, both of which hold scientific equations. Only philosophy can tell you why one is better than the other.

2) Krauss then argues that science and math teachers should be paid more than their humanities counterparts, mostly because of the field of competition out there. Yet, this ignores the fact that humanities degrees actually end up making just as much, if not more, than their hard science counterparts.

A person with a degree in the humanities, specifically philosophy, can turn around and get a job in human resources (which typically comes with a six figure average), marketing, speech writer, communications manager, content manager, legal analyst, and the list really does go on. Thus, if we base our teacher’s pay scales simply on monetary worth in the private sector, there is little to no difference between what a scientist is worth and what an English major is worth. If anything, those with degrees in the humanities have tended to show themselves more versatile in the jobs they can accomplish, which is why they tend to see more success outside the university.

If we want better qualified people teaching, then we need to increase the salary for everyone across the board. Of course, where the school is located will determine what field is more competitive. For instance, a computer engineer will face a more competitive field in Silicon Valley than in Fargo, ND. The school in Fargo would have to pay far less for the teacher than the school in California. Yet, the same remains true for the humanities. While I agree we need to pay our teachers more, the logic of paying a science teacher more because he could make more by not being a teacher is just absurd; every qualified teacher could make more by not being a teacher, regardless of one’s choice in degrees.

Many teachers in the soft sciences, in fact, face a far more competitive field than scientific research. Companies will shell out quite a bit of money right now for people who have a background in ethics. Due to the increase of the internet over the past two decades, content managers and proof-readers are needed now more than ever for websites. That sociology teacher or english teacher could make far more money in the private sector, even more than her scientific counterpart.

In the end, Krauss betrays his bias, that he thinks science to be the only thing we really need in this world. He gives lip service to English teachers, saying, “Well, at least they teach us how to write and communication is important,” but he views science as the queen of all learning. Yet, one can easily prove that science is not the queen of the sciences, nor is it even primary. It is a tool, one that we must learn and use, but never forget that it is nothing more than a tool to be used by the philosopher.

About Texas or, Why the Vote Wasn’t About Women’s Rights


Photo from the Christian Science Monitor

Photo from the Christian Science Monitor

The Texas legislature may or may not have passed a bill that restricted abortions (they actually didn’t pass it), but regardless of how you feel on the situation, we must remember that abortion is not about women’s rights. At least, abortion is no more about women’s rights than slavery was about property ownership. Prior to the emancipation of slaves in the United States, owners made multiple arguments that they had a right to property. Thus, they were able to frame the debate away from the humanity of the slaves and onto their own rights as property owners. And no one would or could argue that property owners have a right to do with their property as they wish; but that right doesn’t extend to another person because a person cannot be property.

Likewise, with abortion, no one would argue that women can’t do what they want to their bodies. This is why we don’t have lawmakers attempting to pass laws against women wearing make up, getting tattoos, wearing pants, and so on. While there may be some who hold onto vestiges of patriarchy, the core issue for the pro-life movement isn’t trying to place restrictions on women, it’s trying to protect human life. Thus, Wendy Davis is not a hero, she wasn’t “brave” in what she did (“brave” is highly overused; how is it brave to stand with the majority or to stand when there are literally no consequences to your stance?). Rather than seeking to protect human life, she instead focused on protecting property rights and laying claim to another human as property.

At the same time, we shouldn’t celebrate the legislature that brought forth the bill because the bill itself failed to truly be pro-life. While I am all for restricting abortions, I do think we have an obligation as a society to offer up alternatives to mothers who seek an abortion. The child being born has no choice in the welfare of his mother or what she can or cannot provide. As the child is an innocent member of our society from the moment of conception, we owe it to the child to protect her. This means that any bill that seeks to restrict abortions should also increase funding for pre-natal care and post-natal care. I would go so far as to say that we should provide daycare to mothers who choose not to adopt, but need a job or need to go back to school. Being pro-life means more than being against abortion, it means actually valuing the dignity of life. It makes no sense to respect human dignity on one hand and call for an end to abortion, but then adopt some type of Ayn Rand belief that we’re all on our own and only the strongest will survive. Restricting abortions and then restricting aid isn’t pro-life because it looks to inhibit life.

To quote something I wrote a while back:

I would argue that people on both sides of the abortion debate tend to unnecessarily complicate the issue, adding in aspects that, while emotionally relevant, are morally irrelevant. For instance, that some women may face psychological trauma from having an abortion is tragic, but it’s not an argument against the immorality of abortion. Likewise, that the outlawing of abortions of a non-emergency nature may lead some women to seek back alley abortions does not change whether or not abortion is morally right or wrong. Both objections tug at the emotions of the person rather than the intellect; but being human means we reason through our intellect and seek to suppress our emotions, especially in difficult matters.

With the above in mind, the abortion issue isn’t actually all that complicated; rather, it boils down to a few simple issue.

First, is the fetus a human being (i.e. can we give the scientific classification of homo sapien to the fetus)? If not, then what objection is there to abortion? If so, then we must move on to another set of questions. I would argue that scientifically we have no reason not to classify the fetus as a homo sapien: The fetus (really, the zygote) has a unique genetic code, is independent of the mother (the fetus relies on the mother, but is not a part of the mother in the same way a toe or an arm is a part of the mother), is already an individual, has an autonomous body, and so on. From a scientific perspective there’s little ground to say that a fetus is not a member of the human race (not to mention how problematic it is to say that a fetus becomes a human, as though humans could produce something that is non-human, yet autonomous and living).

Thus, if a fetus is a human, we move onto the second part of the issue, which is whether or not humans have innate value or if value is earned. If value is earned then we must establish a certain criteria for what it means to have value (that is, what it is to have rights, specifically the right to live). Of course, such a criteria must be non-arbitrary, lest we say that those with freckles are not humans of value or something similar. Thus, the criteria would have to be universally applicable. I would contend that such a criteria can only be universally applicable when it states that value is innate to human nature and not something earned. To argue otherwise always borders on special pleading and generally creates an arbitrary standard for what it means to be a person of value.

With the second point in mind, we are left with a third issue to face; if the fetus is a human being who has rights, do those rights (specifically the right to life) hold sway over the mother’s right to her body, which the fetus is using? That seems to be the main issue concerning the philosophical debate surrounding abortion. The question really is, “Does our location determine our rights, specifically if that location hinders or inhibits another human being?” If our location does matter, then we must see if that can be applied to the abortion debate. If our location has no correlation to our rights, then where is the argument for abortion?

When we sit down and think about it, the abortion debate really boils down to those three issues. While there might be some complexities within those issues, the abortion issue itself is not “complex.” It’s really a matter of answering three questions. Furthermore, answering those three questions goes beyond one-liners and slogans that are better suited for protest rallies, but requires deep thinking; after all, this is a very important issue. If abortion is morally wrong, meaning it is the taking of an innocent human life, then our government is allowing a moral atrocity by allowing abortion. If, on the other hand, there is nothing morally wrong with abortion, then those who speak out against it are unwittingly attempting to rob women of their rights.

What is going on in Texas isn’t about women’s rights. It’s about what rights do human beings have. If the fetus is not a human or if we do not have innate human rights, then by all means, a woman has every right to an abortion. But if a fetus is a human being and humans do have innate rights (primarily the right to life), then a woman (or a man) does not have the right to willfully terminate an innocent human being.