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  • Showing only topics in ~humanities with the tag "philosophy". Back to normal view / Search all groups
    1. What awoke in materialism: A philosophically pessimist view of the cosmos and life

      Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" —As many of those who did not believe in...

      Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" —As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? —Thus they yelled and laughed.

      The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

      "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

      Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then: "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

      It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

      • Friedrich Nietzsche, “Gay Science”, 1882

      The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

      • Howard Phillips Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”, 1928

      “Humans desired reasons. Reasons for pain. Reasons for sadness. Reasons for life. Reasons for death. Why were their lives filled with suffering? Why were their deaths absurd? They wanted reasons for the destiny that kept transcending their knowledge.”

      “And that was God.”

      • Kentaro Miura, “Berserk” (83), 1996

      What's it say about life, hm? You gotta get together, tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day.

      • Nic Pizzolatto, “True Detective”, 2014

      The universe of modern science engendered a profounder horror in Lovecraft’s writings than that stemming from its tremendous distances and its highly probably alien and powerful non-human inhabitants. For the chief reason that man fears the universe revealed by materialistic science is that it is a purposeless, soulless place. To quote Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key”, man can hardly bear the realization that “the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.”

      • Fritz Leiber, “A Literary Copernicus”, 1949

      With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I should wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

      • Charles Darwin, in a letter to Asa Gray, 1860

      In a way, Darwin discovered God—a God that failed to match the preconceptions of theology, and so passed unheralded. If Darwin had discovered that life was created by an intelligent agent—a bodiless mind that loves us, and will smite us with lightning if we dare say otherwise—people would have said "My gosh! That's God!"

      But instead Darwin discovered a strange alien God—not comfortably "ineffable", but really genuinely different from us. Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn't be Jehovah. It would be H. P. Lovecraft's Azathoth, the blind idiot God burbling chaotically at the center of everything, surrounded by the thin monotonous piping of flutes.

      Which you might have predicted, if you had really looked at Nature.

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky, “An Alien God”, 2007

      The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death.

      • Joseph de Maistre, “St. Petersburg Dialogues”, 1821

      One night in times long since vanished, man awoke and saw himself. He saw that he was naked under the cosmos, homeless in his own body. Everything opened up before his searching thoughts, wonder upon wonder, terror upon terror, all blossomed in his mind.

      Then woman awoke, too, and said that it was time to go out and kill something. And man took up his bow, fruit of the union between the soul and the hand, and went out under the stars. But when the animals came to their water-hole, where he out of habit waited for them, he no longer knew the spring of the tiger in his blood, but a great psalm to the brotherhood of suffering shared by all that lives.

      That day he came home with empty hands, and when they found him again by the rising of the new moon, he sat dead by the waterhole.

      • Peter Wessel Zapffe, “The Last Messiah”, 1933

      For the rest of the earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. Their lives are about three things: survival, reproduction, death—and nothing else. But we know too much to content ourselves with surviving, reproducing, dying—and nothing else. We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering—slowly or quickly—as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are—hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.

      • Thomas Ligotti, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”, 2010

      This realization threatens to put us in a persistent state of existential fear.

      • Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”, 2015

      What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consiousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax…

      • Ernest Becker, "The Denial of Death", 1973

      In the literature of supernatural horror, a familiar storyline is that of a character who encounters a paradox in the flesh, so to speak, and must face down or collapse in horror before this ontological perversion —something which should not be, and yet is. Most fabled as specimens of a living paradox are the "undead," those walking cadavers greedy for an eternal presence on earth. But whether their existence should go on unendingly or be cut short by a stake in the heart is not germane to the matter at hand. What is exceedingly material resides in the supernatural horror that such beings could exist in their impossible way for an instant. Other examples of paradox and supernatural horror congealing together are inanimate things guilty of infractions against their nature. Perhaps the most outstanding instance of this phenomenon is a puppet that breaks free of its strings and becomes self-mobilized.


      Whether or not there really are manifestations of the supernatural, they are horrifying to us in concept, since we think ourselves to be living in a natural world, which may be a festival of massacres butonly in a physical rather than a metaphysical purport. This is why we routinely equate the supernatural with horror. And a puppet possessed of life would exemplify just such a horror, because it would negate all conceptions of a natural physicalism and affirm a metaphysics of chaos and nightmare. It would still be a puppet, but it would be a puppet with a mind and a will, a human puppet—a paradox more disruptive of sanity than the undead. But that is not how they would see it. Human puppets could not conceive of themselves as being puppets at all, not when they are fixed with a consciousness that excites in them the unshakable sense of being singled out from all other objects in creation. Once you begin to feel you are making a go of it on your own—that you are making moves and thinking thoughts which seem to have originated within you—it is not possible for you to believe you are anything but your own master.

      • Thomas Ligotti, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”, 2010

      Why, then, was the human race not wiped out long ago in great, raging epidemics of insanity? Why are there so few individuals who succumb to the pressure of life because their acuity reveals to them more than they can bear?

      A consideration of the spiritual history and present state of our species suggests the following answer: most people manage to save themselves by artificially paring down their consciousness.

      • Peter Wessel Zapffe, “The Last Messiah”, 1933

      Although we typically take our cultural worldview for granted, it is actually a fragile human construction that people spend great energy creating, maintaining, and defending. Since we’re constantly on the brink of realizing that our existence is precarious, we cling to our culture’s governmental, educational, and religious institutions and rituals to buttress our view of human life as uniquely significant and eternal.

      • Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”, 2015

      Man is an animal who has to live in a lie in order to live at all.

      • Ernest Becker, “Escape From Evil”, 1975
      10 votes
    2. Former naturalists/materialists, what changed your view?

      There have been a number of threads recently that have touched on this topic recently, and I thought the conversation deserved its own place. My default worldview for the past decade+ has been...

      There have been a number of threads recently that have touched on this topic recently, and I thought the conversation deserved its own place.

      My default worldview for the past decade+ has been something best characterized as naturalistic or materialist (the totality of reality can be explained by material and its interactions.) I've had a few things challenge this view recently, namely the "Hard Problem of Consciousness." I'll post my own comment about what moved me from hard materialist to agnostic on materialism, but I encourage you to post your own reasoning in your comment!

      28 votes
    3. Tell me about your weird religious beliefs

      Let's hear about religious and spiritual (maybe philosophical?) beliefs not considered "mainstream" in the modern West. The percentage of people who identify as "spiritual", "other", or "none" is...

      Let's hear about religious and spiritual (maybe philosophical?) beliefs not considered "mainstream" in the modern West.

      The percentage of people who identify as "spiritual", "other", or "none" is rising at the expense of larger "organized" religions.

      Disclaimer: it's hard if not impossible to draw hard lines around what is considered a "religion" verses a philosophy, culture, or mere ritual or traditional practice. If you aren't sure if what you believe fits the prompt, err on the side of sharing.

      Things that probably fit the prompt:

      • Minority religions
      • Native beliefs/cultures
      • Highly syncretic beliefs
      • Non-western religions or beliefs
      • "Pagan" beliefs
      • Esoteric or occult beliefs or practices

      Things that might not fit the prompt

      • Mainstream Christian beliefs or traditions
      • Naturalism or a lack of belief in any particular religious or spiritual tradition

      I don't exclude these two categories because they aren't important, but because they are incredibly important, and most of what we think about religious or spiritual beliefs exist in frameworks created by the above two groups. I want to use this opportunity to learn about others, and I feel that I already know a good bit more about atheism and mainstream Christian theism than most other perspectives.

      This is a sensitive subject that is tied deeply to people's sense of meaning; please treat your fellow commentor's beliefs, cultures, and values with respect. Thank you in advance for your input and perspective.

      56 votes
    4. Anyone have any interesting facts or wild stories to share about strange characters in history? I can start - with Marquis de Sade.

      My contribution: It's 2:17am on a school night, you're a teenager, and you're googling "most disturbing movie ever made" - because you can. Among mentions of films like A Serbian Film and...

      My contribution:

      It's 2:17am on a school night, you're a teenager, and you're googling "most disturbing movie ever made" - because you can. Among mentions of films like A Serbian Film and Audition, you also notice that a film with two names is commonly mentioned: Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom. Huh, even the name sounds creepy. After looking behind you to make sure no one's watching, a brief glance at a summary of the movie explains enough to make you want to forget about the whole thing forever. Regardless, you fall further down the Wikipedia hole... (or in my case, you really do forget about it for 10 years, only to unfortunately stumble across it again yesterday.)

      Salò was made in 1975 and is based on a novel written by Marquis de Sade in 1785. It is known as one of the most disturbing films ever made, but as I learned recently, the film and novel somewhat pale in comparison to the real life of the author. Sade was a French guy who committed all manners of wild, outrageous, and terrible behavior throughout his life, and his Wikipedia page is a crazy ride. You know the word "sadism?" This man is literally the etymological origin of sadism. (Also, practically his whole existence requires a content warning. In this case, it seems that the art has never been separate from the artist.)

      In 1763, Sade was charged with "outrage to public morals, blasphemy and profanation of the image of Christ," which at first makes him seem pretty cool. Alas, it all goes downhill from here, as he was known as a nuisance and danger to every community he lived in.

      TW: Sadism, sexual abuse, physical abuse, child sexual abuse

      He once locked a woman in a room and went on a ultra-cringe atheist tirade that would make even the most condescending neckbeard blush, screaming about how God doesn't exist while simultaneously masturbating, urinating on things, stomping on a crucifix, and ordering the woman to beat and whip him. He locked another woman in his home, whipped her, and poured hot wax in the wounds. He was arrested, then let out of jail because he wrote letters and whined to the King about it. He was such a creep that the local police started warning sex workers not to visit him. He fell in love with his wife's sister when she was 13, and eventually ran away with her. He committed absurd acts of pedophilia, including forcing groups of children to perform "erotic plays" while trapped in his home for weeks on end.

      Later, when Napoleon Bonaparte issued a warrant for his arrest after being offended by his novels, Sade was imprisoned, then had to transfer prisons because he was being such a disgusting sex pest to other prisoners at the first one. His family had him declared insane and moved to an insane asylum. While in the asylum, he was permitted to direct and perform his plays, using the other patients as actors. Somehow, even when living amongst the most underprivileged members of society in prisons or insane asylums, it seems that Sade was never fully prevented from promoting his ideas and art to the world, even though the subjects he explored were universally horrifying to society - then, as well as now. I found this fascinating.

      TW: child sexual abuse

      This man spent his whole life committing weird, gross, violent sex crimes at every turn, and no one ever really stopped him from doing that either. His life is one long cycle of rapes, arrests, assaults, kidnappings, and imprisonments, and he keeps on going until the very end. When he was 70, he entered a four year long sexual "relationship" with a 14 year old daughter of one of the asylum employees, and then died at the age of 74.

      Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom on scraps of paper while in an insane asylum in 1785, and lost it in the Storming of Bastille during the French Revolution. It was somehow rescued (eternally unbeknownst to him,) and was finally published in 1904, to eventually be adapted into the film that sent me down this whole rabbit hole.

      While reading about Sade's life, I was surprised not only by the major events in history he was present for, but the lasting impact he had on philosophy, art, and culture. As mentioned above, the word "sadism" has its roots in his name. The Surrealists adopted him as an inspiration in the 1920s, dubbing him the "Divine Marquis" and praising his ideas about "sexual freedom." (Side note: I love surrealism, but I swear, I never stop discovering new, unsettling facts about Dali and his ilk.) Along with Surrealism, he is said to have had great influence over Modernist art. Some consider his work to be a precursor of nihilism. Sade also influenced Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and at least one serial killer.


      Learning about this guy left me astounded, and I just needed to share with someone. Could I have just posted the Wikipedia article? Yes, but that's not as fun as writing down this crazy story and some of my feelings about it. (Note: I did not link sources excessively in this post, as it generally follows the structure of the Wikipedia article and sources can be found there.)

      I couldn't believe I didn't already know about Marquis de Sade before today (maybe because I've never taken a philosophy class?) It also got me thinking that I'd like to hear about any other outrageous, controversial, or just plain strange characters in history that you might know of. Even the other historical figures mentioned above have pretty wild lives themselves. (And on the other hand, I suppose there's so much here to chew on that we may just discuss Sade in general. If so, have at it. I'm particularly fascinated by how such a sick individual has heavily influenced significant parts of our culture, and how to feel about that.)

      Fun facts are welcome, considering I certainly didn't bring any.

      66 votes
    5. Looking for sources related to "The Repetitive Nature of Human Tribulations"

      Hello everyone :) I write as a hobby and have had an article in my drafts for a long, long time. In essence, I'd like to discuss the "repetitive nature of human tribulations/suffering/life", that...

      Hello everyone :)

      I write as a hobby and have had an article in my drafts for a long, long time. In essence, I'd like to discuss the "repetitive nature of human tribulations/suffering/life", that is, the fact that regardless of superficial characteristics we all are confronted with extremely similar circumstances throughout our lives.

      Whether it's 10 years into our lives or 40, there's joy, heartbreak, loss, a need to belong, some desire for freedom, a need for a purpose, lack of direction, obsession with a newly found direction, etc.

      I'd love to come across poets, philosophers, psychologists, etc who have touched upon this subject: we are not defined by our circumstances, as they are, in very broad strokes, largely the same, but by how we are able to adapt and reinvent ourselves amidst those same circumstances.

      Looking forward for your answers :)


      7 votes
    6. Non-revolutionary anarchism

      Edit: I'm just gonna list the recommendations I found interesting for my future reference Proudhon - One of the first anarchists. Wrote a lot about mutualism and tried to come up with mechanisms...

      Edit: I'm just gonna list the recommendations I found interesting for my future reference

      Proudhon - One of the first anarchists. Wrote a lot about mutualism and tried to come up with mechanisms to share resources based on usufruct

      The Dispossessed -Describes an alternate society. Supposedly written more like an anthropological study than a narrative

      No God's, No Masters - Written by David Graber, who also wrote the 3 Problems with the Revolution

      The Dawn of Everything - Talks about the organization structures of early societies

      Participatory Economics - Talks about economic organization without compulsion

      Walkaway - Recommended when I mentioned stealth anarchism


      I'm gonna be honest, I'm pretty sick of all the existing forms of politics. Conservatives, liberals, progressives, libertarians, I dont feel like I jive with any of them.

      The closest thing I've found to a philosophy I can get behind is anarchism, but I'm not really a fan of revolutionary anarchism either. I'm interested in just discussion of the constructive aspects of it. Like how the alternative vision of the world they advocate for works in practice, and what different options there are for implementation.

      I find it hard to really get into, because whenever I try to read up on any kind of political philosophy I run into the people who are trying to evangelize and it just really turns me off to the whole thing.

      Does anyone have some good reading recommendations that skip past trying to recruit people, and just is a good discussion?

      43 votes
    7. Does anyone here have any suggestions on readings in (modern) philosophy?

      An interesting, although quite academic, read I was recently suggested was Moral Uncertainty by Krister Bykvist, Toby Ord, and William MacAskill. Does anyone here have any suggestions on (modern)...

      An interesting, although quite academic, read I was recently suggested was Moral Uncertainty by Krister Bykvist, Toby Ord, and William MacAskill. Does anyone here have any suggestions on (modern) philosophy that you have currently been reading or are interesting in reading?

      18 votes
    8. No one wants sensuality

      A summarized transcription of the video No One Wants Sensuality. Source PDF Q: Bhante, you once said that the only reason one gives into sensuality is because one doesn't want it. What do you mean...

      A summarized transcription of the video No One Wants Sensuality.
      Source PDF

      Q: Bhante, you once said that the only reason one gives into sensuality is because one doesn't want it. What do you mean by that?

      Ajahn Nyanamoli (Nm): Well, what I meant was that universally, literally every human mind, regardless of the culture, education or religion, when a desire in regard to anything obtainable through the senses arises, that desire is oppressing. Desire is a need, a thirst, a hunger, it pressures you to act. You don't have to act and that's the whole point. As a human being you have a choice. But when desire arises, the automatic response is to give into that pressure of desire, and why would you be giving into the pressure of any desire? It's because it's unpleasant. If the pressure of the desire is neutral or pleasant, you wouldn't then make any effort and spend time trying to gain what your desire wants, because you'll already be at ease. But that desire is already unpleasant and in order for you to try and deal with that displeasure, you just give in to whatever the desire promises. That's what I mean, by engaging in sensuality, you do so to be free from the sensual pressure of the desire. When people say, "No, I enjoy my senses." That's a mistake, because if they were to stop and think, "When there is an unsatisfied desire, is that pleasant? Is that what I want?" They would realise that it isn't, or, "Can I fulfil desire by giving in to it?" No, you can never fulfil desire, because the point of desire is to stay a desire.

      Q: It's based on non-satisfaction.

      Nm: Exactly, it requires non-satisfaction for it to be. That's why if you stop and think about it you realise the only reason you are engaged with sensuality is because the pressure of sensual desire is unpleasant and you don't know any other escape from that pressure other than the temporary release of sensual indulgence.

      That's the whole point, whenever you encounter any form of displeasure, your only way of trying to deal with it is through acts of sensuality, which is why and how people turn to food, music, sexual intercourse or even meditation hoping for some pleasurable experience to lift them up when they're feeling down or depressed, they just commit harder to sensual activity, because that's the only thing that seemingly relieves oneself of that pressure. However, you're just making it worse because the more you're dependent on running away from that pressure of sensual desire, the more pressure that desire will exercise over you.

      Q: So what should you do?

      Nm: Well,in a way, you don't have to do anything. If you start seeing your own sensual desires as something that's controlling you, something that you are enslaved by, then you have to start seeing that 'nature' before you give into the desire. And then it becomes obvious, clear as day, that it's very unpleasant. Even sometimes when you can satisfy your desires, but maybe not quick enough, that's unpleasant. Either way, that desire is rooted in a disagreeable feeling, i.e. that pressure that's very unpleasant. So if you want to free yourself from it, you have to first start restraining your senses and from making it worse through giving in to that pressure of desire.

      You're training yourself to be stronger than something else. But in order to start doing that, you need to start resisting that thing. If you just habitually give into desire, and at the same time expect to somehow magically be free from the pressure of the desire, well that's just a contradiction in terms. Restraint needs to come first if you want to be free from desire. Then the obvious painful nature of the desire in itself becomes apparent. Initially when people start restraining, they notice more pain and they assume that it's because of their restraint. But it isn't. The restraint cannot cause you pain, it can only reveal the underlying pain of the desire that is already there.

      Imagine that you're tied to five powerful animals and they are running towards the objects of their desire, you naturally run with them to avoid that extra painful pull that you will experience if you try standing your ground. The animals are stronger than you, they pull you. It's unpleasant. But that doesn't mean that that initial pain is not there if you run with them. Running with them enables them to pull you even harder. So initially, you have to accept that sharp pain of restraint, which eventually you can see that actually it's not the restraint that's the problem, the restraint just shows you what happens when these animals are pulling in their respective domains. If the animals wouldn't be pulling, there wouldn't be any pain revealed by the restraint. Imagine the animals are tamed and calm, and they just move around slowly and you can just remain seated and not have to run with them. You are restrained, the senses are tamed and there is no pull, no pain.

      It's something anybody could benefit from, just learning how to say no to themselves, gradually, in regards to this and that, in regard to unnecessary things like luxuries and indulgences. Because each time you give in carelessly like that, the animals get more to feed on which means they get more powerful, which means each time they pull you, you'll be less and less able to resist those desires.

      Quite often, and I'm pretty sure many people can relate, your own desires take you to places you don't want to be, that you know you will regret even before you go there, yet you can't help it and you're just dragged there. How will it then be when old age or sickness sets in? When your senses start to fail, yet your mind is fully dependent on that pleasure that you get from that temporary satisfaction of your desires. When the only resemblance of relief from any disagreeable feelings, is now taken away. When the senses can't enjoy sense objects anymore, when eyes can barely see, when it's hard to hear, when it's difficult to chew, when the body doesn't move correctly, when it's not young and doesn't have that much energy. Yet your mind is dependent on that constant chasing after sense pleasures and now that's just taken away. How will it be when the unpleasant feelings arise, and they will, and you have even less ground to deal with it.

      Q: It will feel like an unwanted solitary confinement.

      Nm: Exactly. That's why people are terrified of solitude. They can no longer escape what they have been running away from.

      10 votes
    9. Nozick, the Fediverse, and the internet in general

      Intro This will be something of a long and theoretical post, but I'm interested in others' opinions on this - and a quick google search of Robert Nozick and Fediverse turned up literally nothing,...


      This will be something of a long and theoretical post, but I'm interested in others' opinions on this - and a quick google search of Robert Nozick and Fediverse turned up literally nothing, so I'm thinking that this is a new connection. The recent news about Beehaw defederating from other instances, and the wider discussions about how federation might or might not work reminded me of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), which I imagine anyone who's formally studied philosophy will have come across. The main point of this book is to make the case for the libertarian minimal state, with the overall thesis in the preface being:

      Our main conclusions about the state are that a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right. (p. ix)

      The book, while influential and important, is I think deeply flawed, and there's some general agreement about this in the philosophy departments I've been involved with. (Same with many of Nozick’s general opinions.) Unfortunately, the parts of the book that tend to be taught are the first two, and in particular the Wilt Chamberlain argument (pp. 160-2) in which he argues that unequal distribution of wealth and goods is fine as long as the unequal distributions were caused by a history of mutual freely consenting exchanges.

      I say 'unfortunately' because– while the first two sections and the Chamberlain argument are definitely important and influential– Part III, Utopia, is the strongest. I'm not a libertarian, but it's a novel, well-structured, and interesting argument for the minimal state, based in part on possible-world semantics, and I think it looks a lot like what the Fediverse is going for, which is why I'm interested in the crossover.

      The Possible-World Model

      Nozick begins by defining Utopia and identifying its main issues:

      The totality of conditions we would wish to impose on societies which are (preeminently) to qualify as utopias, taken jointly, are inconsistent... The best of all possible worlds for me will not be that for you. The world, of all those I can imagine, which I would most prefer to live in, will not be precisely the one you would choose. Utopia, though, must be, in some restricted sense, the best for all of us; the best world imaginable, for each of us. In what sense can this be? (pp. 297-8)

      He then sets up this perhaps rather convoluted idea, based on the concept of imagining possible worlds. The core idea is this: that in any possible world you can imagine, it must include that all other rational agents in that world will also be able to imagine other possible worlds, and that (if they prefer) they can then move to those possible worlds.

      The question then moves to: is it possible for this to be stable? Because Nozick is interested in whether utopia as traditionally explored by utopian theorists and authors (and note that to an extent he’s subtextually talking to socialist utopians throughout) is possible, the key question is whether worlds will keep being created over and over, with people moving over and over, or whether there'll ever be a world where everyone in that world chooses to stay. And stable worlds must then:

      [satisfy] one very desirable description... namely, none of the inhabitants of the world can imagine an alternative world they would rather live in, which (they believe) would continue to exist if all of its rational inhabitants had the same rights of imagining and emigrating. (p. 299, his emphasis)

      This is, given that people are able to move to worlds they imagine (which Nozick calls 'associations' - as opposed to 'east-berlins' in which inhabitants are unable to move to other worlds).

      He puts this also in set theory terms (quoted just below), and then points out an equivalency of members of S choosing to form an association of their own, vs. members of S refusing entry to those members of A who are not also members of S.

      if A is a set of persons in a stable association then there is no proper subset S of A [note from me: 'proper subset' means it's a part of the whole but not equal to it. So {1, 3} is a proper subset of {1, 3, 5}, but {1, 3, 5}, although a subset of itself, is not a proper subset of itself] such that each member of S is better off in an association consisting only of members of S, than he is in A. For, if there were such a subset S, its members would secede from A, establishing their own association. (p. 300)

      There is then a fairly lengthy section expanding on this, caveating it, and also doing some more in-depth logic/set theory, which I'll skip over as it's not as relevant (and this is already getting long). It's pages 301-6 if anyone's interested in reading, though. Page 307 onwards is where Nozick begins analysing how this model laid out above could be seen in the real world.

      The Real World

      Obviously, the above possible-worlds model is very idealised, and there are several limitations in the real world. Nozick lays out the following four:

      1. In the model, we can imagine infinite possible people to associate with (although we cannot have an infinite number of people in an association); in the real world there are firstly not infinite people and secondly we can't create them. So even if I can imagine the perfect association for me, it might not exist; same with a community I might want to join.
      2. In the model, the only ways associations interfere with each other is by drawing away its members - in the real world, communities impinge on each other in all kinds of ways.
      3. Information costs - it takes effort to find out about other communities in the real world; in the model it's instantaneous and easy.
      4. In the real world, some communities don't let their members know about, or move to, other communities.

      It’s worth noting here that Nozick was writing in 1974, before the advent of the internet (and to a lesser extent, globalisation in general), so point 3 is less of an issue here. Particularly regarding moving and travel costs, which are vastly, vastly, reduced online. In fact, I think these issues are all reduced on the internet, which is relevant when it comes to the potential for implementation. I say more about this at the end of this post, and it’s one of the main things I’m interested in hearing opinions about.

      Nozick, now, is interested in the implementation (or influence) of the possible-world model in the real world, and his key point ends up being this:

      The idea that there is one best composite answer to all of these questions, one best society for everyone to live in, seems to me to be an incredible one. (And the idea that, if there is one, we now know enough to describe it is even more incredible.) (p. 311, his emphasis)

      The ‘questions’ he refers to are questions of values, of activities, of interests. Security or adventure? Luxury or austerity? Private property? Religion? The fact, Nozick thinks, that utopian authors attempt to imagine a utopian society demonstrates a blindness to the heterogeneity of human nature. Which is demonstrated by the fact that they all have their own visions of utopia, and the fact that the inhabitants of their visions all lead different lives.

      The conclusion Nozick draws is that there is no sense in having one type of community in a utopia - rather, that “Utopia is a framework for utopias” (p. 312, my emphasis because it’s the most important point here). We should be aiming for a kind of “meta-utopia”, and this is where the real-world limitations flagged above come into play. The meta-utopia is necessary precisely because of these real-world limitations. What does this look like?

      [T]he environment in which utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first if more particular utopian visions are to be realised stably. (p.312)

      Nozick thinks this conclusion can arise from a few forms of arguments. One is, that people are different, and so thinking there’s any ‘best’ world for everyone is foolish. That’s what’s happening when he states that there’s no composite answer to the questions of how best to live/structure society. But what if there is a society that’s the best society for everyone? Nozick reckons that that still leads to this meta-utopia. His reasoning for this involves what he calls “design devices” and “filter devices”.

      Design devices basically attempt to structure an ideal society from the ground up, with a bunch of people discussing what the best society is, constructing a model for this society, and then implementing it.

      Nozick basically thinks that this is a non-starter. I think this analogy puts his ideas well:

      It is helpful to imagine cavemen sitting together to think up what, for all time, will be the best possible society and then setting out to institute it. Do none of the reasons that make you smile at this apply to us? (pp. 313-4)

      EDIT: I want to note that I mean that this analogy puts his ideas well. I share the scepticism of design devices, while simultaneously thinking that many societies denoted as 'primitive' tap into important and valuable aspects of human communities which 'modern' societies dismiss.

      The complexity of the human condition is also a large part of his reasoning here why design devices don’t work. So, the alternative is filter devices, which “involve a process which eliminates (filters out) many from a large set of alternatives” (p. 314). This is desirable for a few reasons:

      1. It requires less knowledge than design devices. Filtering processes don’t need to know precisely what an end-product looks like; they can just have some ideas about what they don’t want and begin with that.
      2. The filtering process naturally improves with time. When you have a filter for new candidates, then those candidates are, on average, of better quality (however that’s defined in this particular community), so the filtering process now has better material to work with.
      3. New material creates novel ideas, which would not be accessible with a design process (Nozick doesn’t outright state this, but I think it’s clear that he thinks it).

      Moreover, one single filtering process will be insufficient. Nozick describes it thus:

      [P]eople try out living in various communities, and they leave or slightly modify the ones they don’t like… Some communities will be abandoned, others will struggle along, others will split, others will flourish, gain members, and be duplicated elsewhere. Each community must win and hold the voluntary adherence of its members. No pattern is imposed on everyone, and the result will be one pattern if and only if everyone voluntarily chooses to live in accordance with that pattern of community. (p. 316, his emphasis)

      Some advantages he lists to this: given that the filtering process is largely constituted by people leaving communities they don’t like, this will cause communities which people want to live in; mechanical processes are limited “given our inability to formulate explicitly principles which adequately handle, in advance, all of the complex, multifarious situations which arise” (p. 317) - this one is very, very similar to many recent discussions I’ve seen about moderation and the ‘don’t be an arsehole’ clause.

      So what does all this lead to? Basically, that the utopian framework should be one that is informational. Whichever framework provides the best means for finding out about various communities, is the one that should be adopted– first, because that is what best facilitates the filtering process, and second, because it best mitigates the real-world issues laid out at the beginning of this section.


      Ok, so, that’s the bulk of what I wanted to put down. The rest of Utopia focuses very much on the physical world - it’s well worth a read. (NB I’m using ‘physical world’ rather than ‘real world’ or ‘actual world’ (which Nozick uses) because the internet is part of the real world. As opposed to the ideal world, which one example of is the possible-worlds model laid out above.)

      I was initially going to offer my own thoughts about how this connects to the Fediverse and the internet in general, but just the sharing of Nozick’s framework has gotten long enough that I think I’ll leave it there. Part of my motivation for sharing this is that, although I’m very much not a libertarian, this is imo one of the strongest defences of the minimal state; in addition to this, I’m much more sympathetic for a kind of meta-libertarianism when it comes to spaces like the internet, especially if they function to facilitate filtering processes.

      That said, I still have worries about the way this can be, and is, implemented. There’s been a lot of discussion on Beehaw defederating from lemmy.world and sh.itjust.works, and although I personally don’t see a problem with it, I can understand why people are annoyed. I wonder if this is a consequence of people thinking they’re existing in the meta-utopia, when in fact they’re existing in an instance of it. I also don’t want to label the Fediverse as the meta-utopia, although I do get the sense that that’s what they’re aiming to become.

      Nozick has a relevant section on the Beehaw thing, actually, and I’m just going to quote it because I’ve just about reached my energy limit for explaining/elucidating philosophy lol. Feel free to skip it, it’s a side-note to this post and not a main point.

      A person will swallow the imperfections of a package P (which may be a protective arrangement, a consumer good, a community) that is desirable on the whole rather than purchase a different package (a completely different package, or P with some changes), when no more desirable attainable different package is worth to him its greater costs over P, including the costs of inducing enough others to participate in making the alternative package. One assumes that the cost calculation for nations is such as to permit internal opting out. But this is not the whole story for two reasons. First, it may be feasible in individual communities also to arrange internal opting out at little administrative cost… yet this needn’t always be done. Second, nations differ from other packages in that the individual himself isn’t to bear the administrative costs of opting out of some otherwise compulsory provision. The other people must pay for finely designing their compulsory arrangements so that they don’t apply to those who wish to opt out. (p. 321-2)

      Another reason why I’m interested in opening up this discussion, is that I’ve experienced almost no discussion on this section of Nozick’s work in my experience of academic philosophy. The other two sections– and particularly Wilt Chamberlain– are talked to death, but Utopia has relatively little engagement. On one hand, I get this - a large part of philosophical education is understanding the history of ideas, and Utopia is comparatively uninfluential. You need to know Wilt Chamberlain if you’re entering academic philosophy; you don’t need to know all this. On the other hand, it’s a shame, because I think it’s the strongest part of Nozick’s work.

      I also think that it’s somewhat more relevant to the internet than it is to the physical world. Not because of the legitimacy of its ideals, but purely because of the relative ease of implementation. The four issues mentioned above are really reduced in online spaces.

      1. We still don’t have infinite people, but the variety of people we can interact with is potentially wider. Potentially. The issues with lack of– or exodus of– minorities, which I’ve seen discussions about on Tildes while searching past posts, is an important one here. I’m not necessarily referring specifically to Tildes here - I’m too new to the site to really have a good sense of the community. But just like in the real-world, I can’t conjure up people and create my own version of Tildes which includes all the people here currently and also all the other people I’d like to see.
      2. Communities on the internet obviously interfere with each other, just like physical-world communities. This isn’t that reduced, perhaps only in terms of stakes. Physical-world community interference can cause wars, financial boycotts, etc. Maybe doxxing or the like is analogous? Regardless, it’s reduced although not eliminated in severity, as far as I can see.
      3. The difference in information costs should be immediately obvious. It’s much easier for someone to try out Tildes, than it is for someone to try out France.
      4. Relatedly, internet communities don’t have the same power as physical communities to limit information, although there are definitely still issues here, especially with an increasingly-corporatised internet. On the other hand, the internet itself does work in breaking down these barriers in the physical world, at least in terms of information (not in ease of moving countries). At least, there’s usually no real financial costs to hopping platforms.

      Guess I’m leaving it here? Maybe all I’ve accomplished is sharing some cool philosophy– at least, I think it’s cool.

      The page numbers all reference Anarchy, State, and Utopia - I don’t know if I’m allowed to link PDFs here, but suffice to say it’s the first one that shows up.

      This Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy page also includes some useful context, and a bit of discussion on the Utopia section - although, again, relatively brief. Nevertheless a great source.

      20 votes
    10. What is your favorite apologetic for theism?

      Share your favorite argument for the existence of God below. Background: I'm an atheist (and have been for a decade) who's been interested in Christian Apologetics since I was a young Christian....

      Share your favorite argument for the existence of God below.

      Background: I'm an atheist (and have been for a decade) who's been interested in Christian Apologetics since I was a young Christian. As I entered adulthood, I found myself losing my faith, largely because I grew up in a fundamentalist, Young Earth Creationist household which taught that evolution and God are incompatible. While I no longer believe in this lack of compatibility, my belief in God never came back. I've tried to give it an honest effort, and there are many compelling reasons why I want Christianity to be true:

      • Reunification with loved ones who've passed
      • Absolute moral justice exists
      • A plan for my life, and meaning in my suffering
      • Access to unconditional love; to have a personal relationship with my creator
      • Surviving my own death

      For a variety of reasons seemingly outside my direct control, I still don't believe. It doesn't help that I've been introduced to strong arguments against the existence of God (e.g. the problem of evil and its subsets) which have rebuttals of varying quality from Christian philosophers. I don't think this lack of belief is my fault, or for lack of trying; I can't make myself believe anything. I try to be open to arguments, and this has led to an obsession with revisiting apologetics.

      Now I think of apologetics as at least a fun mental exercise; combing through the arguments, atheist rebuttals, and responses to those rebuttals. That's probably strange, but it tickles the right parts of the brain to keep me engaged.

      27 votes