Jun 24, 2015

Wed Review (Dash Shaw - Doctors)


This is a premise that has always fascinated me. I'm surprised we don't see it done more often. The premise is that we don't know much about the external world; we don't know if we can trust our senses. In this case a woman, unbeknownst to her, dies but continues her life in her own consciousness. This all happens while she's still on the operating table with doctors trying to revive her.

After she's unsure what reality really is. The fake existence she created unconsciously was better than her actual reality. The fact that it was fake is important only to the extent that her actual reality being real is of no significance. She would rather return to the fantasy that she thought was real. But the idea that a fantasy is better the reality makes all of existence seem unimportant and meaningless.

The book was like a fictional narrative of David Hume's philosophy - see especially his chapter on the self in the Human Understanding book. In that chapter Hume gets lost when trying to figure out what it means to say 'I'. How can 'I' say 'I' when I can't even trust my own senses? Hume finds solace in the idea that we all sort of revert to an uncritical acceptance of our senses; after we finish reading his book we will revert to our unbreakable faith that 'I' am 'I' and that I exist and that there is also an external world divorced from my consciousness (if I were to cease my existence, it would still be there).

In this book we are faced with the situation of not being able to simply go back to our faith in the common sense notion of reality.

This book is a more speculative and interesting take on this type of thing that say The Matrix and other movies that I've seen. For example, why doesn't Neo begin to doubt the reality of the 'real world' when he wakes up from the matrix? This story explores those doubts as well as the psychological horrors that would occur in absolute skepticism.

This is a comic that I think people like Camus and Sartre would enjoy.

Jun 17, 2015

Wed Review (Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel - The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice)


A common criticism of philosophy is that it concludes with statements that are obviously deluded and false or it ends with statements that are trivially true.

This book is victim of the latter, but it benefits in that most people don't recognize the truth. Take this statement from the concluding paragraph:

"The state does not own its citizens, nor do they own each
other collectively. But individual citizens don’t own anything
except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the
state."

That's trivially true, but not top-of-mind stuff. We live with the psychological belief that the stuff that I own I just simply own. The truth, however, is that the only reason you're confident enough to leave your property every morning is because the rest of society respects the private ownership system enough to leave "your" property alone (we've also invested enough resources, as a society, to prevent illegal takeover of property).

What follows are some quotes that I think adequately express the thesis and conclusion put forth in this volume.

"Taxes are naturally perceived by most people as expropriations of their property— taking from them some of what is originally theirs and using it for various purposes determined by the government.

...

It isn’t that people are unwilling to pay taxes, but they tend to think of taxes as an incursion by the government on a prior distribution of property and income by reference to which expropriation and redistribution has to be justified.

...

the right question (that we should be asking concerning fair taxation) is: “How should the tax system divide the social product between the private control of individuals and government control, and what factors should it cause or permit to determine who ends up with what?”


(back to me now:) The fundamental change is that 'private property' is just property that belongs to everyone that you've sort-of been given.

I was thinking about this the other day: the only reason we allow people to have private property is because we think society as a whole benefits from maintaining the system that allows it - the system that allows people to own stuff without fear of others taking it.
Nagel's psychological switch makes the awareness that you don't "own" it, at least not in the way you think you do.

Like all good philosophy books, I didn't really care about what the author's own conclusion was; I'm more interested in the affect it had on my own thinking, and how it's altered my (still in progress) conclusion.

That concludes the theory and practice of taxation. The next major conclusion concerns the political arena of taxation and everyone's self-interest (the rhetoric, versus the prior's reason and in-depth debate).

Nagel claims that too much emphasis on taxation fairness is put on what can be attributed to self-interest. Politics favours the rich, morality favours the poor.

I think in the end these two self-proclaimed amateurs of tax and law over-simplify the issues. They present a good view for the people to adopt as regards their property, but this is stuff that policy makers already know. These ideas may have an effect on how policy makers view the 'moral' side of taxation laws, but I wonder if that has had an effect on the laws and methods themselves.

Jun 10, 2015

Wed Review (P.F. Strawson - Freedom and Resentment

The essay pretty much tries to see what would happen if we operationalize the term determinism. What would determinism, or the lack of it, even look like? In the end whether the doctrine is real or not, it makes no real impact on our psychological feelings (moral sentiments). Strawson argues that in real life we do change our opinion of resentment based on the agent's responsibility. The example he gives, among many, is this: a guy steps on your hand. The first thing you think is, "what an asshole!!!". This initial response will change if you find out A) the guy purposely stomped on your foot or B) it was a complete accident (i.e. the guy was pushed).

Ultimately resentment and gratitude is a form of life and is ingrained in our social practices. It doesn't matter if actions are in fact pre-determined, our actions create our selves (we are our actions) or, as Strawson puts it: "Our practices do not merely exploit our natures, they express them". I think John Dewey puts it more clearly in his essay on ethics, "We are responsible for out conduct because that conduct is ourselves objectified in actions." The statement that claims that we are not responsible for our actions is an absurd one.

On the flip side, to suggest that if determinism were true it would undermine moral responsibility is absurd because you couldn't alter our psychological makeup, our propensity to feel resentment, with a change in philosophical perspective.

Jun 3, 2015

Wed Review (Thomas Nagel - What is it like to be a bat?)

Originally published in The Philosophical Review journal in 1974, "What is it like to be a bat?" is one of Nagel's most popular and best read works.

I'm upset that Nagel didn't reference Daredevil even once throughout the whole essay. I wonder if I could write a parody of this essay called "What is it like to be the superhero Daredevil?".

So Nagel argues that it's impossible to know what it's like to be anything other than what you are. We cannot understand another being's conscious experience through simple resemblance to our own being, extrapolate from our experience to figure out his; yet, we cannot deny that this other being does not also have an experience (a 'what it is' to be him). This makes the issue of consciousness extremely important and difficult. More so than the h20/water and life/dna problems. This inability to know an other's experience leads us to conclude that there are facts in the universe that will never be accessible to humans.

An important footnote states: "The problem is not just that when I look at the Mona Lisa, my visual experience has a certain quality, no trace of which is to be found by someone looking into my brain. For even if he did observe there a tiny image of the Mona Lisa, he would have no reason to identify it with the experience".

A physical demonstration of consciousness is, as Nagel says, a form of saying 'x' is 'y'; except in this case we don't have an idea of how these two different referential paths converge on the same thing (for example, it's pretty clear how 'water' and 'H20' can be described as 'x' is 'y', but to say that 'mental state x' is 'conscious perception y' is much more risky). We can't claim that a physical thing and a mental thing both refer to the same thing.