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Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Practice Of Arguing From Beliefs Back To Premises

Belief: College students are obsessed with food.
College students in this case mean eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old people who go to an institution of higher learning. There are people who go to college to learn who are not within this age group, but they are excluded for the sake of argument. An obsession with food is an exaggeration, for it is not intended to mean that college students literally have an unhealthy preoccupation with food which endangers their lives. Instead, it is meant that most college students (ages 18-24) are more preoccupied with their appetite than with virtue or intellectual matters.

Revised Belief: Younger people are more driven by their appetites than older people.
The appetite is one of the three urges which bring people happiness, the others being social and intellect. As a person ages, she or he shifts from letting the body dictate ones actions to the mind. It takes education, discipline, and time to develop virtues (or habits that bring optimal happiness). Being in transition between adolescence and adulthood, college students (18-24) use food both for the appetite and for the social urge. In other words, college students talk often about food, especially with other college students who share their food interest.

Premises: It is everyone’s natural desire to be happy, and optimal happiness relies on acting virtuously.
The three urges are different focuses of the one desire to be happy. The body maintains and enhances itself through the intake of substance, and it accomplishes this through urging the mind with hunger. Virtuous eating habits optimize the happiness gained in this process. Once the goal of eating is done, the person will only hunger again later. Happiness is in the moment for one lives in the present and not the past.

Alternate Premise: People search for happiness because their existence is empty.
What a strange predicament in which people find themselves. They remember the past, but finding that it no longer can be, they know that it is just as good as to them if the past never was. The present as well does not sustain the individual, for when the moment comes into being, it is immediately lost to the past. Through an act of constant striving, people seek happiness in the future. Sadly, they eventually find “when their life is at an end, that they have lived their lifelong ad interim, and they will be surprised to find that something they allowed to pass by unnoticed and unenjoyed was just their life — that is to say, it was the very thing in the expectation of which they lived” (Schopenhauer). Eating is just the part of the endless recycling of matter, and most people are unaware of it. The few people who do realize that they are but footprints in the sand and that nothing that they do is worth any effort. This realization is called Enlightenment, and Nirvana (or the cessation of striving) is the next step.
Works Cited:
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. M. Ostwald. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1962.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. The Emptiness of Existence. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, 2010. Accessed February 24, 2011.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Seventh Meditation: Someone Has to Work on Sunday

(The views in this article are those of Descartes and should not be misconstrued as those of the author.)
Because Descartes has a good reason why he cannot write another defense of his argument, I have assumed his mantle. The skeptics have given Descartes quite a whacking, and I aim to explain and defend Descartes’ arguments. The skeptics claim that there is no way to establish with certainty a correspondence between idea and its object. Beating them on their own turf, I will demonstrate how Descartes proves that one can know something, know something outside the self, and know the physical world.
Four skeptical arguments particularly bring into question the indubitably of my most basic beliefs. First, that my senses may be deceiving me. Secondly, I may be dreaming and do not know it. Thirdly, I may be insane. Fourthly and most dastardly, an evil god may be systematically deceiving me. The last of these, if true, would mean that I could not know that two plus three equaled five because the god could have caused me to think that instead of realizing that two plus three actually equal fish.
The god being the worst of my problems, I should demonstrate first of which an evil god could not deceive me. I can doubt my house exists. I can doubt god exists. I can even doubt I exist, but in every act of doubt there is an actor. It is immediately evident that doubting is occurring. Doubting clearly and distinctly entails that the doubter (or I) exist. For precedence of such an argument, the reasoning here is much like Socrates defense against the accusation of atheism. Since it is claimed that Socrates believes in supernatural activities, this entails that Socrates must also believe in supernatural actors, for every action has an actor. In other words, he cannot be an atheist. Likewise, for every instance of doubt there must be a doubter. I cannot rationally doubt my existence without contradiction. Having proven that something is true, I now have reached my Archimedes’ point and may start my ascent back into the world of fine college dining.
I know at this point that I am a thing which “doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses, which also imagines and feels” (94). I also know that something cannot come from nothing, for that is inconceivable. There are also ideas that I have which clearly do not come from my being, for these ideas present something of greater formal reality than I. Since every cause must have a greater or equal formal reality, the idea of an absolutely perfect being with infinite formal reality must have a cause outside of my being. The only entity capable of having creating such an idea is this perfect being, for any lesser one would have to receive it from something still greater.
Assuming correspondence, Big Bang theorists, Evolutionists, and mothers may claim that things start off at humbler origins, thus contradicting the principle of greater-or-equal-to causation. I know this principle a priori. The principle is demonstrated by the fact that it is impossible to get ten coins from a set that contains only five but possible to take up to ten from a set containing ten. This is basic mathematics. Having this principle in mind, the universe, the evolution of species, and my maturation are explained by the guiding hand of a higher being.
This higher being is “eternal, infinite, [immutable], omniscient and a Creator of all beings outside of itself” (99). The deity is not lacking in any way, which means it could not deceive me. In order to deceive, one must have some kind of lack. For instance, I might lie because I find telling the truth embarrassing, self-incriminating, or generally displeasing. Since having a fault would contradict its being infinite, the deity must not be deceptive. Since the deity is not deceptive, it must have given me—its creation—the capacity to determine correspondence.
If I have the capacity for determining truth, why do I err? Though I cannot know why the deity created me, I can know that I have all the tools necessary to defeat the skeptics’ arguments. I know that part of my nature allows me to affirm and deny things and another distinct part allows me to know something clearly and distinctly. The former I call the will. It allows me to doubt my existence even though I know that I must exist. The latter is my understanding, the tool which god has given me.
To say I know something is to say I understand it clearly and distinctly. It is important to distinguish this from imagination, for while I may understand what a thousand-sided polygon is, I cannot imagine it. The same goes for god. To understand something is to know its essence. The res cogitans must have the capacity to think and god must exist, for those are their essences. No sooner do I remove those qualities then do I eliminate them. If god does not exist, for instance, he would be limited; thus, he would not be the infinite god.
Now that I know that an evil god is impossible, I can tackle the skeptic’s other arguments. I cannot be insane, for I already established that I can have clear and distinct ideas, while an insane person by definition could not think properly. If cannot be dreaming, for I can tell if I am in a waking state or a dreaming state. For example, while things within a dream are nonsensical, the real world is consistently logical. I can know that my senses are not deceiving me because god would not give me my senses in order to deceive me. If I happen to see a mirage, it is not the failure of my sense but of my will.
I know that god cements my connection with formal reality. Knowing that, I can start to explore the world outside of my mind. First, I establish that the essence of objects in the world is that they are extended. Second, I can derive from their dimensions a formal language which conveys knowledge about those extended objects to others. Thirdly, that language is mathematics. From my personal experience through the understanding, I derive corresponding conceptions for the res extensa.
The relationship between mind and body is interactive. While there are impulses originating in the body, there are intentional actions from the brain. The god, being so kind, has provided me with bodily warnings so I may maintain my body. A hunger to tell me to eat in order to maintain the material conditions of my body. Some may point out that when I have a foul itch, I look for anything that will scratch. They misunderstand what an itch is. The god would never create me with such a flaw. It must exist for my benefit; I just have to determine how to act upon it. As I should never eat anything poisonous regardless of my hunger, I should be conscious of the best way to relieve my itch—preferably with a cream.
I have responded to skeptics’ arguments and demonstrate that knowledge is indeed possible about my being, god, and the world. I made god the bridge between my mind and the world. The existence of god is indubitable, for it is the source of all existence. The god has infinite formal reality, so my idea of god maps onto it. I have divided the universe into three substances: the mind, the physical, and god. These all have distinct qualities. A god and res cogitans cannot be a res extensa because the res extensa is divisible and the others are not. The god does not have limits on its understanding which I do. These substances interact in such a way that I have an idea of god, perceive the world, understand physical objects, and control my body within certain limitations. Now I have return back to my life in college.

Windows into the Lives of Transgender People

Popular discourse has circulated the acronym LGBT very well, yet most of my friends only know the meaning of the first three letters mean—Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual. The last is transgender, and when asked, most of my friends would know nearly nothing about this group. It could be because there are so few transgenders compared to homosexuals and bisexuals. I, however, think that the silence about transgender people reveals society’s ideological project of gender essentialism, and that the rare news articles about this minority act as counterdisourses against the prevalent gender mythology.
In the January 5th, 2010, article, “First Transgender Presidential Appointee Fears Being Labeled ‘Token,’” Russell Goldman wrote about President Obama’s new technical adviser for the U.S. Commerce Department, Amanda Simpson, the first openly transgender person to hold such a high position of government. A major concern for many in the LGBT community about this appointment is it may be a token. Simpson fears people will view her like one and second guess her qualifications. However, as Goldman reports, Mara Keiling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), believes that the appointment was not in order to “fill a transgender spot” because Simpson is also very qualified. Keiling may be more sympathetic towards Simpson’s fears because Simpson served on the board of directors of the NCTE for three years, a fact which Goldman notes at the very end of his article.
In another article written about a year later, the Associated Press (AP) explains how marginalization presents major difficulties in addressing the problem of life-long societal and institutional discrimination of transgenders. This article, titled “Transgender Activists Face Multiple Challenges,” begins by pointing out a correlation between “transgender Americans [facing] intolerance in almost every aspect of their lives, contributing to high levels of homelessness, unemployment and despair.” The AP responded to and reports on a recent “comprehensive” survey of 6,450 transgender people by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Before looking into the survey data, it brings up the well-publicized repeal of the policy Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), pointing out a much overlooked fact: While gay-rights groups celebrate the legislative victory, the military still may discriminate against transgenders. Next, the article discusses other legislative blocking of policy that deals with gender identity and then moves to the distressing statistics, especially of black transgender people. Addressing the perception transgender people have of their relation with the LGBT community, the AP quotes the transgender aide of U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, Diego Sanchez as saying that many transgender people feel as if the “‘T’ [in LGBT] instead meant ‘token’” and like they are “‘a minority inside of a minority.’” The article ends on a positive note, quoting optimistic statements from Keiling about the progress made with the help of the gays and lesbian activists at decreasing hate and increasing transgender awareness.
Though the two articles were published a little over a year apart from each other, they share key characteristics. Both refer to tokens, specifically transgender people feeling like tokens. Both present the frustration transgenders feel towards Obama and the way transgenders are treated by the federal government. The articles reveal within that continuity of furstration with the Obama administration for many transgender activists against the military’s discriminatory practices even after Congress repealed DADT. Both articles only quote transgender people and information provided or gathered by LGBT organizations. Among their quotes, the articles cite Mara Keiling of the NCTE giving more positive interpretations of the event in question than many of her peers. Both articles also report mention difficulties faced by transgender people in the work environment.
In interpreting the articles, one might reasonably conclude that transgenders face more marginalization because they are a ‘minority within a minority’. Both articles deal with the small numbers of transgender people in their own respective ways. Simpson is the first openly transgender person to a position her importance in U.S. government. As the Associated Press article quotes, Keiling believes that “the LGBT movement—by sheer force of numbers and financial support—was inevitably going to focus on the agenda of gays and lesbians rather than transgender people.”
While transgender people make up only very small demographic, an important variable in addressing discrimination, this interpretation fails to account for the immense effect societal notions of gender has on discourse. While Congress allows lesbian, gays, and bisexual activists debate in over legislation, Congress bars transgender people from it. The title of the survey that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality is “Injustice at Every Turn,” alluding to domination throughout society of discriminatory practices towards transgenders. Because of the wide-spread ideology of gender essentialism, society has refused to show, as the black trans woman Ja’briel Walthour of Hinesville, Georgia, put it, “an ounce of empathy or compassion for individuals who may be displaying atypical gender roles.” , In other words, not only is society silent, it is silencing, and these articles acts as windows into lives and perspectives of this usually silent minority.
Understanding that news articles about transgenders tend to act as windows, one can expect other articles about transgenders to cite similar people, events, and statistics in order to provide a similar look into this minority. For example, Susan Donaldson James’ article, “Transgender Ridicule: Models to ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketches”, follows the same discourse. It starts with a story about workplace discrimination of a trans man, shifts to the same survey cited in the Associated Press article, and ends with a story about LGBT groups asking for an apology for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch which ridicules trans women. Knowing that ABC News published this only a few days before the Associated Press article also provides an explanation for why the same survey is cited. Of the relatively hard to find articles about transgender people in the news, they generally provide the same counterdiscourse towards a predominant gender essentialist ideology.

Works Cited
The Associated Press. Transgender Activists Face Multiple Challenges. Rep. CBS News, 4 Feb. 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2011. .
Goldman, Russel. First Transgender Presidential Appointee Fears Being Labelled "Token' Rep. ABC News, 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 7 Feb. 2011. .
James, Susan D. Transgender Ridicule: Models to 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches. Rep. ABC News, 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2011. .

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Love and Relationships

*This is an assignment where I had to write a letter in the persona of Seneca, a Roman stoic. Chris, also know as Alexander Supertramp, is the character/person from Into The Wild the moive. This does not reflect my views.*

I have seen many examples in my life of people divided against themselves because of infatuation, Chris. The love and sexual appetite you describe has bereft many of the most virtuous people of their better judgment. You are in a predicament where you must choose between the person you love and your noble mission. Remember Venus-child Aeneas, forefather of great Augustus, had great vacillation of the mind when choosing between beautiful Dido and his mission to Italy. To understand why you must learn to depart yourself from this young girl, I must first explain the individual’s evolution of love.
Love is our longing for that which is immortal. When we are young, this manifests itself as infatuation for beauty in what is corporeal. As we realize the impermanence of youth, we progress like a climber on a latter to a greater love. Eventually, our soul finds what it has forgotten. That which is immortal in us realizes its origins as part of and emanating from Providence. As our love to the divine grows, so too does our love to our fellow man. Our love expands from “our relatives and friends, to our fellow citizens and eventually to all mankind”. What is divine in us is also within everyone; thus, service is of utmost virtue.
Sexual appetite, unlike that for food and drink, is a passion that only brings harm to oneself, “just as a foul itch finds satisfaction in anything that scratch”. As greed draws us to the trappings of money, sexual appetite draws us to the trappings of the flesh. One must learn to derive pleasure from that which is good for the soul and avoid that which harms us. Be not like other youths who in their heat of their passions abandon all virtue. Imagine if Aeneas had succumbed to his lust and stayed in Carthage—what would be of Rome? Remember Socrates rebuff of Alcibiades, how Socrates made no sexual attempt on this man who loved him. You face that now with this young woman.
I suggest to you, Chris, as I did to Serenus who also had much vacillation of mind, to partake in intellectual pursuits, make friendships, and go on excursions of drink and nonsense. These shall help cure your mind. Most importantly, though, you must have “faith in yourself and believe that you are travelling the right road”. If you let this woman distract you, she may lead you astray. Those who lack stability of mind constantly change their plans like insomniacs who toss and turn in their beds. You will live a life of regret if you let the passions of the body rule, for in the end you will have found that when you good have aided your fellow man, you had pursued self-interest as their expense. The person who follows their passion shall stop changing their mode not because of dislike of change but because of old age.
If you know of my correspondence with Serenus, then you know I suggested madness or nonsense as a remedied for vacillations of the mind. Madness on its face may look a lot like the lust; however, while madness allows the excited man to have a great and transcendent utterance, lust appeals the baser parts of our nature. As Aristotle says, “Genius is an admixture of madness.” While madness too will take you from the trodden path, it shall unlike lust set up aloft and cause divinely inspired poetry to cross your lips.
On your mission to Alaska, I beg you not to give up on society, for to do so is to renounce humanity. You should not live wrapped up in yourself because it will cause you to squander the time Providence has given you as a precious gift. I will suggest a public position but will not necessitate it for you. Even Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chysippus, all of whom urged people like you to take up a public career, did not themselves follow one. The reason being is that I suspect from what you have told me thus far that Providence has ordained your journey to this far off land. Unlike how you perceive, I believe that is part of the divine plan that you improve the lot of man on your journey. Pay special attention to those around you. Ponder on why Providence put these particular people along your path. Remember that destiny decides who you meet in life, but you decide who stays in it.
That being said, I shall continue to your question about the possibility of becoming friends with the young female. Aristotle explains quite clearly that a true friend is your equal. There are friends who exist for pleasure and those for utility, but true friends are both useful and essential to the good life. Unlike this woman, a true friend should be a man, around your age, and of good moral standing. Now you cannot become friends with someone in solitude because friendship necessitates interaction. While you neither become nor remain friend with someone who lives far away, solitude would separate you from the necessary social activities for friendship. If you remain too long in solitude you shall feel in your very soul your losses incurred through your flight from humanity. You shall reverse the good created through such ties, pursuing your lofty yet foolish dream. Providence has created us for each other and provided us with laws so that we may live well together. If destiny has it that you shall die in that wilderness, you will ultimately regret your decision to rebuff the people divinely placed in your life.
I do not know what you will find in Alaska. You may find new friends, who need you and whom you need. Socrates too had a divine sign which caused him to not take public office. It guided him to teach people their ignorance; however, it was society which spurn him, not vice versa. We stoics also applaud your travels because we value people who have sought relations with the whole earth. Your travels you have described before meeting this woman reflect the various relations you have successfully established. Many people have come to love you. Even if you refuse to return to your house, the broad world will remain open to you.
There is also the love that parents show to their children. You have described a very negative view of you childhood and of your parents. You feel as if your parents are more harm than a good. You have spurned them as a memory one want not to remember. I believe your ignorance of Providence has misguided. Your lack of faith in that which is in all of us, even your parents, has blinded you from recognizing Providence in your life. Just like a poor sailor may not know that the “lunar orb causes the tides to swell”, you do not know of Providence guidance. If you are a good man, as I suspect, no harm can come to you. Remember that “opposites cannot combine”, so no evil shall befall a good man. The treatment from your parents has hardened you. The strength has prepared you for this journey.
To question why you did not receive the childhood you wanted is like a soldier asking why the city had not elected him general immediately. We cannot all have a childhood of abundance. Some people will have parents like yours, or would you rather people like your parents cease to exist. Would you rather that Providence move others away from you strictly on your whims? Would you rather a life without difficulty? You are questioning providence, which is a pot complaining to the potter.
I hand you, Chris, these prescriptions to evolve your love, fend off the vacillations of the mind, and develop healthy relations with your fellow man. You have only yourself to blame if you bring unnecessary pain and suffering to your life and others by shunning society or by embracing that young girl in sexual union. Socrates himself could have easily refused to not follow his sign. He could have avoided the public which would grow to hate him, but then he would not have performed the duty of protecting those in public office from bringing Athens into decadence. TO reiterate, remember Providence’s wisdom greatly outpaces yours and mine. The world is vast, and your travels have brought you to many places within your large country. The faces you have met are not coincidence but given to you by Fortune. Know your place and learn to make the most of what Providence has given you. If your sign ever leads you in a different direction than that which you expect, follow it without question. As I told Serenus, “But note well: none of them is potent enough to protect so frail a boon unless devoted and unremitting care encompasses it to prevent backsliding.”
Work Cited:
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. M. Ostwald. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1962.
Coogan, Michael D., et al., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 4th rev. ed. New York: Oxford, 2010.
Plato. Apology. The Trial and Death of Socrates. 3rd ed. Trans. G. M. A. Grube and Ed. John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000.
Plato. Symposium. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Michael Joyce and Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961.
Senena. The Stoic of Seneca. trans. by Moses Hadas. New York: W. W. Norton and Company,1958.
Virgil. Aeneid. trans. by Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis:Hackett Pubishing Company, 2005