Monday, February 19, 2007

New Non-Originality

It appears that my thoughts and musings on moral philosophy which I have assiduously developed over the past nine years have been described before. It appears that this system's scripters have described, considered, and imagined the philosophy much better than I; that is, I am a paltry peon to their genius -- namely, Immanuel Kant and John Locke. These great geniuses understood and developed the system of Deontology.

Of course . . . I have long studied other philosphies of theirs, and my beliefs have undoubtedly been formed as a result of my exposure, rather than any substantial independent thought. Nevertheless, having begun to put the pieces of their puzzles together, and merely standing in their shadows give me great pleasure.

So, enough with my minor-league musings. At least until I'm able to read-up on this a bit more.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Waiting for my Real Life to Begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I'll keep checking the horizon
I'll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened
But in my dreams, I slew the dragon
And down this beaten path, and up this cobbled lane
I'm walking in my old footsteps, once again
And you say, just be here now
Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin
Let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
And I'll check my machine, there's sure to be that call
It's gonna happen soon, soon, soon
It's just that times are lean

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart, let the light shine in
Don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

-Colin Hay

Friday, December 01, 2006

Truth or Death?

Or Truth or Life, as it were.

Good choices must be built around a legitimate ethical structure; a legitimate ethical structure can only be based on sound moral foundations; sound moral foundations can only be based on fastly bedrocked principles. Hence, without correct principles, our morals, ethics, and choices are all wrong.1

It is therefore essential that our principles be correct. "Always tell the truth" is not a principle -- it is an ethic. The truth-telling ethic is based on the moral of honesty, and the moral of honesty is founded on the principle of Truth.2 If Truth is a faulted principle, and the sole principle upon which the truth-telling ethic is based, the truth-telling ethic is incorrect.

If our principles are principal, can they have a precursing argument? In other words, can something that is a priori also be a posteriori? Clearly not. Let us assume that Truth is a principle, and that empiricism and rationalism are progeny of Truth.3 Thus, empiricism and rationalism are tools whereby we can discover Truth. What if, though, we apply these truth-finding tools to the premise that Truth is a priori? If all things have a cause -- a beginning -- how can anything be a priori? Universalization (infra) requires that every properly-implemented principle always work without fault. Fortunately, rationalism and empiricism assume a priori. Can we simply assume that something just exists? (As Plato has Euthyphro tell Socrates when discussing a similar problem, "For somehow or other our arguments, on whatever ground we rest them, seem to turn round and walk away from us.").

Onto my point: A doctor is presented with a heart patient, one who the slightest upset will likely result in death. The patient asks the doctor about his health. Should the doctor tell the patient the truth, thereby likely killing him, or should the doctor soothe the patient, giving him time to recover? At first, we appear to be facing conflicting principles -- Truth or Life? They are both acute and poignant: we believe in and love Life; we trust and rely on Truth.

Truth appears to be irreconcilable with its progeny -- therefore, Truth appears to be a faulted principle.4 If, however, we treat Truth as the only a priori principle, and other principles as a posteriori to Truth, the resultant Truth model does not self-destruct. How, then, can we be certain that Truth is a principle at all? There are two reasons. First, our entire argument is based on the concept of truth: Truth must therefore exist.5 Moreover, there must be at least some absolutes (as Non Sequitur's Obviousman points out, the statement "there are no absolute Truths" is itself an absolutest assertion). An absolute is always true -- hence, Truth must exist. Truth, by its very nature, places itself first: by definition, it cannot be contradicted. In other words, the incontrovertible existence of absolutes proves the existence of Truth.

"Life" is not faced with any similar conundrum. Furthermore, we accept death as a natural part of life. If something is an a priori principle, it cannot be violated. Hence, if life is an a priori principle, death cannot exist. This is not to say that the preservation of life is not a principle, or at least a moral. But this moral can be found in the principle of Truth: we are designed to preserve ourselves, to live (otherwise, why would we heal or evolve?). If we accept that there is a reason we are designed in this way,6 we are relying on empiricism; if we are relying on empiricism, we are relying on Truth. Hence, Truth (and its ethic of integrity) requires us to act in conformity with our design: we must try to preserve life until it is time to die (purpose creates action, which enlightens purpose: even if all we can see is the action, we can induce the purpose).

Truth must therefore be our a priori principle. All ethical choices must therefore comport with Truth.

1. Hence, as is discussed infra, the effects of a choice are irrelevant to the basic morality of that choice.
Also note that a didogmatic (yes, a new word) view of the world -- one wherein their are absolute Rights and absolute Wrongs -- is presumed.

2. With a capital "T".

3. I reject the premise that empiricism and rationalism are mutually exclusive. One is merely inductive while the other is deductive -- if the processes and premises are correct, however, empiricism will result in the rationalism premises; rationalism will deduce the empirical evidence.

4. Let us assume that rationalism and empiricism are legitimate tools of Truth.

5. Yes, this reason is entirerly corrupt, as it is self-justifying: in order for us to be correct, we must be correct. As a result, its premise is incorrect and the reason is therefore wrong.

6. Sorry, but I'm not going to investigate the meaning of life today.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Friday, October 27, 2006

Fidelity of Thought

prin·ci·ple, 'prin(t)-s(&-)p&l, -s&-b&l, noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French principe, principle, from Old French, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator -- more at PRINCE
1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device
2 : a primary source : ORIGIN
3 a : an underlying faculty or endowment b : an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality
4 capitalized, Christian Science : a divine principle : GOD
- in principle : with respect to fundamentals

prin·ci·pal, 'prin(t)-s(&-)p&l, -s&-b&l, adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin principalis, from princip-, princeps

1 : most important, consequential, or influential : CHIEF

2 : of, relating to, or constituting principal or a principal

Where the weary traveler beds is not decided by where he finds his feet at night; rather, it is the path chosen by the traveler's deliberation (or not) that makes all the difference. Thus, the traveler's choice -- not the path itself -- is determinative. Moreover, the reasons precursing that choice are the true causes behind the traveler's newfound milieu. If the traveler's reasoning was proper, he will find himself where he sought to go; if the traveler's reasoning was improper, he may find himself lost in the undergrowth.

We cannot justify our choices by their results, as a fortuitous result may be just that -- fortuitous. Our misaligned reasoning may nonetheless lead us to the shining city; correct reasoning, however, should never fail.1.

Our reasons for choices can be based on many things. For some, intuition instructs; for others, logic leads.2. I do not here judge either (in fact I believe in both). But both intuition and logic are principalistic, whether that principle be a belief that one's "gut" ought be obeyed or that Reason is righteous. To act with integrity, however, we must faithful to our principals. That is, our principles must be principal; maxim-wise, we will get nowhere by putting the cart before the horse.

Choices made by acting on Cassandra's predictions must therefore have faulty foundations.3. Thus, only choices with principles at their center are structurally secure. Politicians and pundits are but too happy -- and far too predisposed -- to advocate or object to policies based on their self-prophesized outcomes. We must not fall into this trap! Such thinking is consequentalistic at its base -- an ethically-corrupt philosophy wholly lacking in morals and principles, desperately nihilistic and hedonistic.

We should demand more of them. The Declaration of Independence did not justify secession by a repetition of grievances; it grieved that the King's and Parliament's actions violated principles. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not base its proclamations on the state of the world; it recognizes the "inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." And President Kennedy did not legitimize the Cold War on keeping Americans alive; he articulated freedom as the preeminent value.

We should demand more, and act better ourselves. Legitimate choices are not justified by their ends; legitimate choices justify themselves.4.

1. All too often, though, our reasoning is justified and yet we find ourselves wandering circles in a dark forest. There are two causes: either our reasoning was faulty, or our execution was inexact.
Reasoning can be faulty for dirth of knowledge, myopic foresight, or any other number of reasons. Thus we find the simple, unfortunate, fact: we cannot know everything. To find every fact and contemplate every consideration is overly burdensome, if not impossible. We must therefore resign ourselves to forever striving valiantly with some shortcoming along the way: such is the curse of humanity. However, because our investigative efforts are elemental to rational reasoning, and rational reasoning is fundamental to finding the proper path, we might never find home without due diligence.
Likewise, mortality inflicts upon us an inability to will our wills. Like a traveler's broken bridge, accidents of fate, connivery of enemies, and human carelessness will always hamper and detour our designs. Again, we can only do our best to ensure the proper execution of our choices.
Thus, simply because we find ourselves coming up short again and again does not mean our reasons and reasoning was improper. Nonetheless, as way leads on to way, fortune of fate is furthered by attempting initial excellence.

2. My apologies for the excess alliteration.

3. Avoiding the question of fate.

4. This is the biggest problem with my formula (infra): it advocates permitting end results to justify means employed. It attempts to sidestep this by cautioning against acting in such a way that is morally outrageous -- but any accurate model must be fully integrated: one should not need to add external guidelines to control a legitimate theory.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it. -Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Decisions of Value

NOTE: Edited because I was wrong.

V = Worth of a Value
D = Quantity of Danger of Injuring/Violating the Value
L = likelihood of the danger occurring

If L1(D1V1) > L2(D2V2), then mitigate V1 damage over V2 damage; if L1(D1V1) <>2V2), then mitigate V2 damage over v1.

A few months ago a good friend asked me about how far to go when one believes in something. I've been told, more than once, that I tend to take an extreme view of things. My first and second years of law school, my theory was that if I worked myself to death, well, at least I had been working hard.1

About halfway through my second year, things changed. I became more social and had a roommate. I hadn't realized how unhappy I was before, and my increased sociability introduced a level of temperance. They (whomever "they" are) say "all things in moderation."

Of course, how can we possibly take a value in moderation? Unless we live in a world of moral relativism, wherein Truth is absent, values are absolutist.2 It is all-too-easy to dismiss such statements as mere zealotry, pontificated paragons lacking practicability. But there are absolute values -- that is, values which retain their worth in all circumstances. Most poignantly, and nearly universally, there is the paramount value of life. There are situations, however, where we see it as necessary to take a life (for an extreme example, where a terrorist is about to detonate a bomb inside a school filled with children). Here, the result is justified and imperiled by the same value: while we took a life to protect life, we still took a life. An apparently utilitarian, but not, approach is to show that the value of the lives saved outweighed the value of the life lost.3

Such an example is far too easy -- after all, no ethical system can stand if it cannot withstand universalization. What do we do, for example, when a plane is on its correct heading towards Chicago, but without radio contact (did the radios go out, or has the plane been overtaken)? Ought the plane be shot down to protect Chicago's citizens, or should the authorities wait for fate's conclusion?4 Enter, I propose, my above equation. The question is thus clearer: is the danger of the plane having been overtaken, and the consequences resulting from the likelihood of that danger, greater than the danger that the plane has merely lost radio contact and that hundreds of lives will be ended? Thank God is not to me to make those calls.

The formulaic nature of my formulation suggests that a numerical value should be attached, and a desktop calculator should make the decision. There are two problems with this: first, how does one quantify the quality of the value of another's life, much less hundreds of others? The very nature of values, especially when competing, makes such a task impossible. Easily, who am I to judge the value of another's life? More difficultly, is the value of a research doctor, on the cusp of curing cancer, greater than that of the woman who has just swallowed a bottle of qualudes with a stiff gin & tonic?5 Most troublesome, however, is the fact that life, as an absolute value, is inherently irreducable to a number. Put simply: to say that Esmeralda Elaine Jacobson's life is worth 14, whilst Samuel Sunnington's life is worth 19 lacks any sort of methodology.

The second difficulty comes from the gut: it is morally abhorrent to assign different worths to others' lives.6 Life is more than numbers and math.

But these difficulties are ultimately irrelevant. The formula is meant as a method to clarify the muddled moral morasses in which we all too often find ourselves. These are the considerations which we take into account when faced with ethical dilemmas, but by separating the cognitive processes, I believe the solution may be more clear, more resolute, and more methodological.7

There is a final difficulty with this system, however: its resolutions appear to be extreme. There ethical dilemmas wherein we must choose one defined course of action or another (is capital punishment moral or not); there are also ethical dilemmas where a number of solutions, possibly infinite, exist. In the former cases, the solution should work well. To avoid the excess of extremity in the latter cases, however, the correct course of action is to take those actions where L1(D1V1) = L2(D2V2):
all things in moderation.

Please tell me, what do you think?

1. One night after a movie, I asked friends to drop me off at school so I could get back to work. It was 11:30 p.m.; at one point I spent 3 days at school, awake throughout, because I had work to tend to -- I was sent home by a friend in front of whom I fell asleep in the middle of speaking a sentence.

2. Which reminds me of my favorite Non-Sequitur ever: "Obvious Man," the intellectual superhero, points out that the phrase "there are no absolutes" is itself an absolute statement.

3. The utilitarian approach, resulting likewise, would argue that the happiness (or utility) of the lives saved outweigh the sadness resulting from the life lost. Our approach is not utilitarian, because it is valuing the lives themselves rather than the utility resulting therefrom.

4. We will not here, yet, discuss fate. Take the word for how I mean it.

5. Of course, this question might be answered by the equation.

6. Of great internal distress is the fact that logic does not present an eternal solution to all problems. The paths of logic can lead to absurd and revolting solutions. Some things feel wrong. I have been working to resolve these two systems for years, and have not yet found a solution. Neither can alone be correct, because they cannot be universalized. This is a recognized fault in my argument above, which I am working to settle.

7. I also suspect that this may be a way to decide what to have for dinner. I have, of course, been accused of going to analytical extremes.