Path to idealism

A friend of mine suggested I should write up how I came to idealism, which I’ll do here. I’ll note up front that I do not think that I came to it through the best philosophical arguments, possible or actual. Nonetheless, the path itself may be elucidatory of rhetorically strong arguments for it. (It may well also just be a generally uninteresting anecdote, but in either case, the request is fulfilled.) I may as well also explain how I came around to agent-causal libertarianism and agnosticism regarding the existence of divine beings. They all tie together, anyway.

At the end of high school I was a generally stereotypical new atheist with a strong inkling of disillusionment coming out of having strong religious beliefs that fell apart (and were probably of a harmful variety, anyway). Along with this came an eternalist theory of time, incompatibilist determinism, and a general scientism. Ultimately, buying into a third-person methodology probably did a lot of this. When still a Christian, I appealed to revelation that couldn’t be verified with a third-person perspective. I was told that if something didn’t qualify as evidence for others, it can’t qualify for me either. This didn’t knock over the dominoes immediately, but once I internalized it, everything else started to fall into place.

My first semester of college I took two seven-week seminars that met daily. Each of the two professors were brilliant, and the latter of the two a theologian as well. At that point I had two contradictory beliefs in mind: (1) religion and theism are completely stupid and (2) these religious people/theists are brilliant and have thought hard about religion and theism. The latter option won given the stronger evidence in its favor (Dawkins and friends have very condescending things to say, but looking back, I don’t see much substance to those things). Of course, this didn’t defeat my atheism, but it certainly made me believe the alternative is plausible.

My third semester I took a course on ancient and medieval philosophy. In the class we talked about some sort of phenomena (either color or feeling or pain; I don’t remember–for the sake of not writing a bunch of disjunctions, I’ll assume pain) and the professor asked us to explain what they are, more or less. I identified pain as a neural state. I.e. pain is just an arrangement of one’s brain and neurons and maybe some other biological stuff. The professor responded that may have some causal or correlatory connection to pain, but is not itself the feeling of pain. I pondered on this for awhile and the distinction became immediately apparent. (This is when the door to first person methodology opened back up.) From this I inferred some sort of “soul” must exist. I used “soul” synonymously with “mind” or “immaterial self”. While now I know physicalists have a response to this, I did not know that at the time, so I was convinced. With this I became a substance dualist.

The next semester I took a class on early modern philosophy. I appreciated philosophers like Descartes giving me further ammo for dualism, but my focus turned more towards whether divine beings exist (or, specifically, God). Descartes’s Meditations persuaded me pretty well, particularly on how we can get around skepticism. In the Meditations he only gives a natural theological argument, so I wasn’t pushed to any religion, but I did take to deism, though with hesitation. In fact, the final for the class had two essay questions of which we had to pick one: argue for or against the existence of God or free will. Being hesitant on God, I picked the free will option, running the “both determinism and indeterminism are bad for free will so we don’t have free will” argument. (Which in the paper I’ll be presenting in April, I argue doesn’t actually work.)

The following semester (fall of my junior year; also my first semester as a philosophy major) I took a class on science fiction and philosophy in which I had plenty of opportunities to apply substance dualism to all sorts of fun problems. The main thrust of it relied on God mapping souls to bodies. The deism obviously was critical. In the sci fi and philosophy class I found the arguments for compatibilism really compelling.

The next semester (spring of junior year) a few important factors came into play. I took an independent study on early modern philosophy and the PSR. Reading more into Leibniz and Spinoza with their basically panpsychist views probably had some effect. Reading Reid fully convinced me of agent-causal libertarianism. I was already starting to see how compatibilist free will has some problems (like not being free will), but had no way around it, not really getting event causal libertarianism (and universal object causal libertarianism being wacky). ACL filled the hole the best and, to my knowledge, indeed is the best explanation. The door being open to first person experience being relevant to an argument was of course needed for Reid’s argument having any force on me.

In the winter months of my junior year I started reading some work found on marxists.org, in fact just plucking anything that looked interesting and giving it a go. At this same time I started paying more attention to continental philosophy (which isn’t covered super well at Valpo). Most notably for this story, I took a liking to Sartre. Moreover, I found his argument for atheism more compelling each time I read it. Once I was fully convinced of libertarianism, the deism fell out to positive atheism. A long conversation I had with another friend in which he tried to convince me of physicalism was the straw that led me to look at all the problems with dualism. Without God to make the whole thing work, dualism was ready to fall out. Of course, the original point that made me move away from physicalism holds, and since then I’ve found more compelling arguments as well.

This past fall, with physicalism and dualism each unappealing, I started to lean to idealism. A few weeks in, I read Peter van Inwagen’s chapter in Metaphysics in which he reconstructs an argument for idealism and then knocks it down. I found the reconstructed argument far more compelling than the knocking down. (While I’d read Berkeley twice before, neither time was I moved. I couldn’t really understand the texts at the time, either.) Since then I’ve been working on a nontheistic account of idealism. At the same time, I took a class on philosophy of religion. There I learned Sartre was wrong; free will and theism are compatible.

At this point, I’ve acquired more compelling arguments for ACL and idealism. The agnosticism on the existence of divine beings stems from no longer having a strong case either way. Traditional idealism demands theism, but I think this is a hasty move. Multiple people have pointed out that the most apparent problems in my current set of beliefs all go away with God in the picture. I’m hesitant to apply such a powerful fix, inclined instead to believe other options should be explored first (which is what I’m doing now, alongside trying to make the case that what I’m doing totally isn’t monism because there are at least two things). Moreover, as the friend who suggested this post put it, I want an ontological argument for every property of God. So even if there is some being keeping our ideas consistent and explaining intersubjective agreement, that being isn’t obviously omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, etc.

Path to idealism

Why Metal Isn’t Really Right-Wing (And Why the Left isn’t Metal Either)

A couple weeks ago an article starting circling the metal communities claiming metal is right-wing. As a self-described hard leftist and metalhead, I was taken aback. However, after reading Hood’s article, I came to the conclusion that his description of metal as far from the left is correct, though it’s not necessarily on the right, either.

He claims at the outset that ” heavy metal music has done far more to advance authentic right wing aesthetics, values, and yes, even philosophy, than all the failed institutions of the Beltway Right put together.” His mentioning of the Beltway Right will show greater importance later in his article after he characterizes the left.

He claims both metal and the right-wing value “themes of conquest, self-overcoming, strength, and conflict.” The right stresses hierarchy while the left stresses egalitarianism. This is a bit of an overgeneralization considering MRAs are generally on the right and the very hierarchical education system is on the left. The leftist hierarchy does tend to ignore nation, creed, and class, however, while the right seeks to preserve them.

As far as aesthetics go, “strength, vitality, and self-glorification” do admittedly tend to come more from the patriotic and narcissistic right. At this point, though, the difference between the labour left and the Tumblr left becomes pretty apparent, though Hood doesn’t give the former a fair shot. Traditional labour movements are about standing up for the value of work done, as opposed to the corporatist right that focuses more on increasing wealth for those who don’t do so much. Last I checked, tanning at one’s mansion while being served by working people is neither strong nor vital. (And it’s the opposite of the type of glory metal is about.)

Hood continues awhile with some valid points, but he ultimately gives the right such a nice presentation that almost anyone would choose it over the left he presents: to Hood the right is the people who work hard to make themselves better while the left is only the people who seek to whine on the internet. Sure he accurately captures a subset of each. but he ignores the left that pushes for better conditions for working people and ignores the right that seeks only to feed those who make wealth from wealth instead of doing things. Corporate doublespeak is neither leftist nor metal.

His poor characterization of the left does show what the popular left has become though. It’s no longer fighting malevolent powers but instead pandering to the attention-seeking needs of the bored (upper) middle class. Meanwhile the right is still selling the story of the American Dream, even if the policies enacted do the exact opposite.

At this point actually placing value on strength, vitality, and self-glorification require abandoning the wealth-serving right and attention-serving left. I certainly disagree with the claim that metal denies all sort of working towards a common good (seriously, “stand united” is one of the most overused phrases in metal). Hood himself derides the popular right we have now, but handwaves it away as not a true Scotsman.

And if we’re giving metal a philosopher, why not Hobbes?

Why Metal Isn’t Really Right-Wing (And Why the Left isn’t Metal Either)

The Fight We Have Left

On the /r/TumblrInAction subreddit, in a comment, /u/Be3Al2Si6O18 said

> The problem now is that we have a generation with very little to fight for

I disagree, which I think makes the problem you outline worse. Has the battle been won for a lot of groups’ legal rights and at least popular opinion? For the most part. In the Western world, anyhow. Being black or gay won’t get you in legal trouble. Being LGBT or irreligious might get you kicked out of the house if you’re a kid with your parents. Homicide rates are still pretty disproportionate (and while you can handwave racial disparities with wealth disparities, gay people and transsexuals come from all wealth classes pretty randomly).

Which really gets to the yet bigger issue of labour and wealth disparity. Somehow the left in moving to identity politics has neglected to fight for labour and in that time wealth disparities have soared in quite a few countries. Hell, race in America was invented as a concept to make the lower class fight amongst themselves before they’d realize they’d be better off overthrowing the guy cracking the whip. In the richest country in the world people are dying because they don’t have enough money and we’ve somehow become afraid to demand a distribute of wealth that works better for all of society rather than the short term interests of a select few.

There’s a shitload of fighting left to do.

Of course, part of the issue of bad focus comes from who’s doing the shifting. The big civil rights movements generally came from a more desperate point. But the people moving the focus to shit like otherkin generally have a good amount of comfort otherwise. Hell, they spend half the day on tumblr. That’s not encouraging to go out and fight. But it’s sure as hell a more comfortable target for the media to look at than bigger issues with either a smaller affected group (transsexuals being killed) or that might hurt those with extant power (wealth disparity).

The Fight We Have Left

Some People Following the Crowd Doesn’t Diminish the Reasons Behind the Movement (A response to Hans Fiene)

Hans Fiene says the move to legalize gay marriage is merely the result of a desire to imitate the Civil Rights Movement.  His article has a number of issues, from making false claims to false equivocations, but it can be taken in sequence.

He first establishes that the current generation learned about the greatness of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as a sort of sainthood, and now we want our own movement to run to be good ourselves. He also reduces the issue to standing up for a cause others aren’t rather than standing up for a cause because we ought to.

The first alternative he proposes is the unborn. He claims the anti-abortion movement isn’t gaining ground because of cost. Outlawing abortion would require a new approach to sex, which would change the lives of many people now forced to risk an unwanted child if they want to have sex. Of course, he conveniently ignores every argument for the right to abortion, including the defense of bodily autonomy, the defense of privacy, and the common consensus that a fetus is not a person.

His second alternative he proposes is poverty. He ignores the push for a state-sponsored fight to end poverty, implicitly stating that if we aren’t personally giving money (due to having a negative net wealth) then we aren’t at all in support of the cause.

This brings us to gay people. Gay people have something in common with another group that the current generation is in wide support of: women. The problems of the gay and female populations both arise primarily not from something tangible like scarcity of resources, but from the minds of others. Equal treatment can be obtained through changing minds, since minds are the source of the problems. Changing minds is a feasible goal for individuals to embark on.

His statement

Of course we know that politely telling a customer you’ve served for nine years that you can’t, in good conscience,provide flowers for his wedding isn’t in the same moral universe as murdering a black teenager for talking to a white woman.

gets a spotlight on the side of the page. He’s chosen two completely different examples, and I could just as easily say the hate murders committed against gay people are of much greater magnitude than refusing to cater a biracial wedding.

He slips in the tired argument that an inherently-childless couple shouldn’t qualify for marriage, ignoring the tired rebuttal that if we take a child-only definition of marriage, post-menopausal women and all people incapable of reproducing need to be banned, yet nobody is calling for a ban on elder marriage.

Fiene also has an issue with Takei’s protesting the RFRA via boycott. Why using the tools you have at your disposal is a bad thing is left unexplained. Perhaps a cause is only righteous if it comes from a point of low power. (In which case any non-Christian religion in the US is poised for a righteous movement.) He goes into a general complaint against the complains against the RFRA, claiming it’s not a big deal, but Benjamin Studebaker covers quite nicely why it is a big deal and his continued comparison to other states is unfounded.

Are there legitimate problems within the movements Fiene has issues with? Sure. Gay marriage has gotten a bigger spotlight than housing and employment discrimination as well as hate crimes. As it turns out, love is easier to market than being anti-discrimination or anti-anything else. Hence why anti-abortionists prefer the term pro-life, even if they take decidedly anti-life stances on other issues. The RFRA also had bigger issues than refusing to cater a wedding: it more or less allowed the law to be ignored by hiding behind a religion. Employers could negate the health insurance laws by claiming parts of it violate their religion. Legislation by a democratic state could be vetoed by religious entities.

Fiene doesn’t take this route, though. He makes a strike against the gay marriage movement by pointing out the fact that some people have self-interested motivations and a bit of Civil Rights hero worship. However he also abuses any instance where he makes the movement look weak to attack the cause itself. Moreover, he ignores parts of the movement that fight things like hate crimes and parts like Stonewall that have taken serious action. Sure most people participate because they want to be good, but that hardly diminishes the core reasons for why equality is the right direction.

Some People Following the Crowd Doesn’t Diminish the Reasons Behind the Movement (A response to Hans Fiene)

Response to Evidence for God from Science Part 2: The Cosmological Argument

In Part 1 I addressed some issues with Deem’s rendition of the cosmological argument. He happens to have an entire page dedicated to it, so it bears deeper examination, especially since it’s such a popular one.

From Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” Deem asserts God acted before time when he created the universe. This is a stretch: if God was acting in the beginning, as Genesis says, he’d be acting in time, not before the beginning. He does provide four other verses that explicitly state God acted before time began, so we can still work forward from the claim, ignoring Genesis for now.

Deem asserts because God exists outside of time, cause and effect do not apply. Whether he considers God an uncaused cause is somewhat unclear as a result, but let’s assume God is a cause but does not require a cause. This atemporal God of the standard cosmological argument runs into a standard problem: there’s no reason to think it’s unique.

Deem proposes alternatively that God exists in multiple dimensions of time and can move freely about them. In this case time is prior to God, and time is left as a necessary being, thus either part of God, leaving us with the previous case, or else being a necessary being is not unique, leaving us with the same problem as above. Let us ignore this case, then, as it resolves to the previous case.

If beings can necessarily exist, such as God, we have no initial reason to suspect only one does. In this case, monotheism is at best a guess. More egregiously, the universe itself could be a necessary being (space and time themselves could be necessary with matter and energy properties thereof). In this case no god is needed.

The argument Deem presents again attempts to conclude God from the finite time of the universe. He ignores other possibilities as he has already arrived at the conclusion of God, only looking back to draw a map that could lead to God, but could also lead to any other conclusion involving a necessary being.

Response to Evidence for God from Science Part 2: The Cosmological Argument