Why Warren?

I said in a recent post that I believe Elizabeth Warren is the best presidential candidate of my lifetime. This post will explain why. And, just to be different, it will just be about Warren. I won’t even mention the other candidates. This is an election where I’m happy to be voting for someone instead against the others.

I guess I’ll start with the thing that she is most famous for, “Warren has a plan for that.” Every presidential candidate has ideas and hopes and wishes. Surprisingly few have plans. And the ones that do have plans don’t have plans like Warren’s plans. In the business world, they get excited about SMART plans. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Warren has SMART plans. She is not only telling us what she wants to do as president. She is telling us how she will do it, why she will do it, what the costs are going to be, and who will benefit from it. This ought to be the baseline for any presidential candidate, but it is rare. And Warren, to mix my sports metaphors, has knocked it out of the park.

The next thing is that Warren has a true grasp of the issues. She understands on a deep level. She’s not the type to work off of talking points given to her by advisors. It’s clear that she studies. It’s no accident that she’s always prepared. This understanding shows the work she puts in.

Warren’s tenacity is another selling point. She’s a fighter. She doesn’t give up or get distracted. She doesn’t get pushed around or bullied. She’s demonstrated her tenacity throughout her adult life.

The next two are related to each other. First, she listens. I don’t just mean that Warren has functioning ears. I mean she really listens. She might not always agree, but she does her absolute best to know where the ideas are coming from. Second, she cares. Warren has a high degree of empathy. It’s other people that she cares about. For Warren, it’s not about defending her point of view or protecting her cherished ideas. It’s about helping real people.

The most important thing that makes Warren different, and better, is what all these things add up to. To put it as plainly as I can, she gets it. In this case “it” is referring to a lot. She gets the issues, she gets the people, she gets the political climate, she gets the opposition, she gets the job, and she gets herself. But, more importantly, she gets how all of those things (and more) fit together. Because she gets it, as president, she will be in a perfect position to get stuff done, stuff that will improve our lives in the short and the long term.

This is the first time I can remember a candidate having the full package. The trick is getting everyone else to realize it. I’ll do my part. I hope everyone else gets onboard.

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Elizabeth Warren and Janet Jackson

After the New Hampshire primary, I was on Twitter. I ran across a Bernie Bro gleefully saying that Elizabeth Warren got what she deserved with her disappointing finish because she had gone after Bernie Sanders. He was talking about Warren saying that Sanders said that a woman couldn’t win the presidency, which I wrote a bit about here. I tried to dismiss the comment. Bernie Bros are saying stupid, mean-spirited things all the time. But, I kept thinking about it. What if there was some truth to it? Not to the part about Warren deserving it. She’s head and shoulders above all the other candidates. But what if there was some truth to the idea that Warren’s criticism of Sanders was the reason she dropped in the polls?

MILAN, ITALY – FEBRUARY 25: Janet Jackson attends the Giorgio Armani fashion show as part of Milan Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2013/14 on February 25, 2014 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Before trying to answer that question, I want to look at what seems to be a similar case, Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl half time show. That performance has been discussed ad nauseum, but one thing that is rarely brought up is that there is no way to look at it where Jackson is at fault. It was most likely a choreographed part of the show, in which case it was the choreographer/director’s fault. Or we can take them at their word and it was a wardrobe malfunction. In that case, it was either nobody’s fault or it was the costumer’s fault. Or, in kind of a worst case scenario, everyone might have witnessed Justin Timberlake sexually assault Janet Jackson on live TV. (I want to stress that I don’t believe Justin Timberlake assaulted Janet Jackson, but if it wasn’t preplanned and choreographed, what was he doing grabbing her and ripping her clothes off?) The point is that there is no plausible scenario in which Janet Jackson is responsible. Yet she is the one who lost work and had her music blacklisted as a result.

At the 2004 Super Bowl, in the public’s consciousness, Janet Jackson crossed a “too line.” She was perceived to be too overtly sexual and she got punished for it. It wasn’t fair, or right, but that’s the world we live in. Women are trapped by all the too lines. A small step in any direction gets women labeled as too outspoken or too docile or too serious or too masculine or too old or. . . There are thousands of these too lines and half of them contradict the other half. If a woman steps forward, she’s too serious, but if she steps back, she’s too flighty. Women live in a prison of expectations.

Getting back to Elizabeth Warren, it’s likely that her direct criticism of Sanders was seen to have crossed a too line as well. A bunch of likely voters saw it as too aggressive. Our society doesn’t expect, or want, women to be too aggressive. (Of course, they also don’t want a woman, or a presidential candidate, to be too passive.) Like all women, Warren is trapped by too lines, and it’s hurting her chances of being president.

Elizabeth Warren is not only the best candidate in 2020, she’s the best presidential candidate of my lifetime. It would be a shame if people’s sexist assumptions about what a woman should be kept her from being elected. Women can be anything. It’s long past time we stop adding the adverb “too” to what women are. As long as we do so, we are hurting ourselves.

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Philosophy Phridays – Colonialism

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Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is Colonialism.

Colonialism is one of the trickier things for philosophers to discuss. Part of that is because of the inherent difficulties of the subject matter. It combines history, sociology, psychology, economics, international relations, military tactics, and a whole host of other things. Part of the difficulty is that anything anti-colonial tends to disrupt the universalism that philosophers like so much (Universalism in the sense that truths are universal). But the biggest reason for the difficulty is the embarrassment. There are tons of famous, otherwise admirable philosophers who couldn’t see non-European people as anything but backward or savage.

The article starts by distinguishing colonialism from imperialism. Basically, colonialism is when lots of people from one country go out and settle in another country while staying loyal to the home country. Imperialism is when one country conquers another, but doesn’t send it’s people to live there. Other than where the conquerors choose to live, they are very similar.

Colonialism has been around for thousands of years and is not just a European thing, but European Colonialism has been the most significant in shaping the modern world and post-colonial studies, so that is the focus of most of the article. For hundreds of years, European thinkers mostly defended colonialism. The chief rational was that colonizing a land was a civilizing influence on those people who lived there. Sometimes civilizing was overtly religious, they wanted to bring the Christian faith to people who didn’t know the gospel. Sometimes civilizing was economic involving the ideas of property rights and such. And sometimes it was political, such as spreading democracy. These defenses of colonialism don’t really hold up because the indigenous people were mostly much worse off after colonization.

John Stuart Mill was fairly typical. He recognized the barbarity of colonization in practice and condemned it. He enumerated reasons why a land being governed by a foreign government was a bad idea. But he also believed that commercial society was what allowed people to flourish and by having countries like England bring commercial societies to new lands, they were helping those lands. The bad effects of colonialism were due to poor execution, according to Mill.

One thing I learned from this article was that Marx saw colonialism as a progressive force rather than a bad thing. Marx viewed history as a process. A feudal economy had to progress to a capitalist economy before the revolution could happen and everyone could be happy in a communist society. He saw colonialism as speeding that process. I think it’s funny that Marx, the hero of the left, was fine with colonialism while Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, actually argued against it.

After World War II, post-colonialism took over in academic circles. It was led mostly by Marxist thinkers and focused on the way colonial powers exploited their colonies. It is frequently pointed out that most of the social sciences are dominated by a European way of looking at things which makes self-determination by indigenous peoples almost impossible. Recently, people have started to criticize post-colonial theory for adhering to a progressive attitude to history. That was the kind of thinking that justified colonialism in the first place.

Now there is a field of indigenous scholars. They deal with questions like how much should an indigenous people participate in the practices of the colonial power in order to reform those institutions. They also ask whether accommodationist policies for the purpose of reconciliation actually benefit the indigenous people. Some call for an “indigenous resurgence.” This is the idea that the evils of colonialism will continue until indigenous people separate from their oppressors and go back to their traditional ways of doing things.

This is a tough topic to handle in a short piece. I hope I did it some justice, but I’m not sure I did. Certainly don’t quote me if you’re writing a paper on the subject. But I definitely recommend reading more about colonialism and post-colonialism and indigenous studies. It will change the way you look at things.

Kohn, Margaret and Reddy, Kavita, “Colonialism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/colonialism/>.

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I’ve Got a Problem

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I’ve always assumed that most people are good people. And I don’t mean 51%. I’m talking about 95% or more. When I pass someone on the street or meet someone new, I can’t help it. I’m pretty sure that’s a good person who deserves my respect. There’s a part of me that recognizes that bad people do exist, but I can’t live my life assuming the worst of people.

I understand that, among other things, this speaks to my privilege, but I’m going to set that aside for this piece. It’s more than just a feeling. I have philosophical reasons for believing people are generally good. One is, from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that as social creatures we would be predisposed to function well in society. That involves a decent amount of caring and compassion.

The more prominent reason for believing in the good in people has to do with the nature of good and evil. There’s a very old idea which I first encountered in Plato. It is that people aim at the good. If they fail to do good, it is because of a lack of knowledge or a mistake in judgement, not from a desire to do bad. In fact, in some versions of this, bad is simply equal to ignorance.

In this framework, at least my interpretation of it, evil is rare. That’s one of its advantages. Evil only exists when someone does bad and has no excuse for not knowing that it is bad. I know everyone uses him as the prime example of evil, but Hitler had no excuse. A desire to wipe out Jewish people wasn’t commonly held at the time. Murder was outlawed. Hitler’s views were outliers in his own time. That’s what makes him evil.

Someone like Ralph Nader, who unquestionably did bad by running for president in 2000, is not evil. It was completely understandable for people to be fed up with Bill Clinton, and by extension Al Gore, by the end of Clinton’s second term. It was also easy to be fed up with the Republicans who had been following Newt Gingrich’s hateful lead. So a person running with a third party was understandable. Nader had an excuse. Even though he got Bush elected which led to endless, unjustified wars and other very bad things, Nader probably didn’t know that when he made the decision to run. It was a terrible mistake, an extreme misjudgment, but not evil.

That’s my basic position, in broad strokes, of course. So, what does this have to do with the problem I mentioned in my title? Well, something has changed in the last four or so years, since the rise of Trump. It’s not that there’s an evil person in power. That’s happened plenty of times before. Just look at Richard Nixon. There are two things that are different now. One is that Trump is very openly evil. He’s been saying and doing evil things for as long as he’s been in the public eye. At least Nixon tried to hide it. The other change is that despite Trump’s open evilness, 43% of Americans continue to support him (according to FiveThirtyEight.com). When the truth came out about Nixon, his former supporters agreed that he had to go. That’s not the case now.

And that, specifically, is my problem. 43% of Americans have no excuse and still approve of the president. For the longest time, I tried to make excuses for them. Even though Trump went way out of his way to tell us in 2016 that he is racist, sexist, ableist, stupid, cruel, angry, prideful, lustful, lazy, gluttonous, envious, and greedy (yes, that’s all seven of the cardinal sins), I went out of my way to give the people who voted for him the benefit of the doubt. He was so far outside the norms that I told myself the people who voted for him didn’t really believe what he was saying. They thought that the Republican party would rein him in. Certainly more than 40% of American voters weren’t bad people. It was a really bad mistake.

After Trump’s election, as he started putting his “plans” into action and still 40-ish% of people continued to approve, my mistake excuse got harder to hold. Not only was he saying how horrible he is, he was demonstrating it with his Muslim ban, separating children from their families and putting those kids in cages, his clearly unconstitutional emoluments, and many, many other actions. If anyone didn’t believe him before, they had to believe him after his election. I couldn’t figure how that could be. He said how bad he was, demonstrated his evil, and a significant number of people continued to support him. I still didn’t want to believe that so many of my neighbors were bad people, so I talked myself into thinking that Trump’s supporters are stupid. Incredibly, colossally stupid.

I was never comfortable with the stupid theory. The vast majority of the people I know and interact with are not stupid. It would be a bizarre probability puzzle if that many people were stupid, but almost none that I talked to. More than that, it makes me really uncomfortable to think that almost half of all Americans are stupid. However, the alternative to thinking they were stupid was thinking they were evil, and, with those choices, stupid is preferable.

After the impeachment “trial,” the stupidity theory became untenable. No human being is that stupid. Even some non-human animals seem to get the basic idea of fairness better than 43% of Americans. That can’t be explained by the animals being smarter or more knowledgeable than the people. It can only be explained by the people valuing their greed or racism or sexism or whatever above the good. In other words, it can only be explained if these are bad people.

That’s where I am now. I’m trying to hold two incompatible beliefs at the same time. One is that people are basically good and the other is that 43% of Americans are bad. I don’t know what to do. I mean, the obvious thing is to give up (or modify) one of those beliefs. But a lot of other beliefs are tied to those beliefs. If I decide to abandon the belief that people are good, it will force me to change the way I interact with people. If I abandon the belief that Trump supporters are bad people, I run the risk of believing that Trump’s actions are tolerable. And those are just the two most obvious ones.

I find the fact the Trump has any supporters to be disturbing. But the idea that 43% of Americans are bad people is equally disturbing. I would be appreciative if someone could show me where I’ve gone wrong. Until I figure it out, I’m going to continue acting like I think people are good while being upset by the number of people who are clearly bad. When I meet someone new or pass someone on the street, I’ll interact with them the way I always have, but, sadly, I’ll be afraid I don’t really have a good reason to do that.

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Philosophy Phridays – Bodily Awareness

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Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is Bodily Awareness.

Bodily Awareness probably isn’t something most people think a lot about. Being aware of our bodies is the default. Virtually everyone has been aware of their own body for as long as they can remember. In philosophy, though, our bodies have always been treated strangely. Many philosophers have treated the body like a nuisance, while believing that our real selves are our minds or souls. Descartes’ point of view was common that the mind alone is active and the body is just dead matter.

With the rise of psychology and neurology, philosophers have had to change their views on bodies and bodily awareness. The modern approach is typically divided into three basic questions. How is bodily awareness different from awareness of other things? How are action and mental representations of the body related to bodily awareness? And, what makes us know that our bodies are our own?

The main difference between bodily awareness and awareness of other things is that we are aware of our bodies from the inside. We are aware of everything else from the outside. That’s fairly obvious. What’s puzzling is how we are aware of our bodies. For external objects, we become aware of them through sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Those five senses don’t cover it with our own bodies. Sure, we can see and hear and touch our own bodies, but that doesn’t cover the actual awareness we have. When we are hungry or tired, we don’t see, hear, or touch anything that tells us that. We just know. So, people have posited something called “body senses.” These body senses are what tell us our physical states.

There are two schools of thought as to what we are aware of when we’re aware of our body. One school of thought is that we are aware of mental representations of our body. This, naturally, comes from the school of thought that all we can know is mental. It’s a little counterintuitive to think that we really don’t know our bodies, but only know our mental representations of them, but this view does nicely answer questions about phantom limbs, tools and other bodily extensions, and things like that.

The other school of thought is that we know our bodies through action. This is the view held by Phenomenologists like Maurice Merleau-Ponty. It is often called the sensorimotor view. They make a distinction between the objective body and the lived body. Unlike the objective body, the lived body cannot be viewed from various angles or perspectives. It is the body we experience pre-reflection. This view has the advantage of being in line with theories that equate conscious feelings with bodily states. For example, the idea that you feel happy when you smile.

As to body ownership, the questions come from the fact that our bodies feel like ours in a different way than my computer feels like mine. Some take a reductionist approach and say that there is no feeling of “mineness” apart from the mere experience of having a body. Others see body ownership as coming from the feeling that we are bound and separated from other objects. The self is everything within that boundary. And still others say that the feeling of mineness comes from agency. Our body is that which we have direct control. This does nicely explain some experiments that have been done where people start to feel body ownership for avatars in video games.

There are lots of ailments that can mess with bodily awareness. Amputation is often discussed. There are also neurological disorders that make people believe they have an extra limb or that their hand doesn’t belong to them. There are many others, and this is where a lot of the literature on bodily awareness comes from. I think that’s unfortunate. I’m not sure how much you can tell about the mechanism’s normal functioning from looking at the times it fails to function properly. It’s kind of like psychology’s fixation on disorders. It’s not that they shouldn’t be studied, but they tell us very little about how a healthy psyche works.

So, there you have it. More than you probably wanted to know about a philosophical subject that you might not have realized was philosophical. If you want to go any deeper, I suggest you read the article. If you’re like me, I don’t have the neurological or psychological expertise to dig a whole lot deeper, it’s a nice primer on the subject.

de Vignemont, Frédérique, “Bodily Awareness”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/bodily-awareness/>.

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Birthday Blues

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Last year, I had an amazingly bad birthday. I contracted Lyme disease just before my birthday and started the antibiotic regimen on my birthday. Plus, I got the flu. So I spent my last birthday in bed with Lyme disease and the flu. It was at least as miserable as it sounds. This year was worse.

I was physically fine for my birthday this year. No flu. No Lyme. I still spent way too long in bed, though. You see, this year, I’m unemployed and nothing in my life is going right. I’ve already talked a bit about being unemployed, but I want to emphasize just how stressful it is. That stress means I’m fighting depression again. I’m battling. Some days are better than others, but my birthday was a bad day.

The general state of the world isn’t helping at all. The Iowa Caucuses were a disaster. The impeachment trial couldn’t have gone better for Trump. The press seems to have decided that Bernie would be good for ratings. The British economy is going to tank. There are still kids in cages. And we’re all going to die from Coronavirus. It’s a disaster.

The things that are supposed to bring relief aren’t there for me either. I love baseball. It’s an escape. It’s supposed to be fun. But my team is currently neck-deep in a cheating scandal. They fired their manager for that cheating, and haven’t made a move to replace him. And, on the eve of my birthday, they traded the best player they’ve had in decades. If you’re not a sports fan, you probably don’t understand, but Mookie was a joy to watch. He made every game exciting. One headline described the trade as the Red Sox spitting on their fans, and that’s completely accurate.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that being 45 really sucks so far. I guess the up side is that it can only get better from here. Let’s hope my next birthday isn’t quite so bad.

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Unemployed

I got laid off from my job last October. Soon it will be four months without a job. I haven’t written about it at all until recently. Part of that is because I’ve been trying to keep optimistic. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get a job any day and I won’t be unemployed anymore. Part of it is that, despite writing about some awfully personal things on this blog, I’m a pretty private person. But the biggest reason why I haven’t been writing about it is because I haven’t known what to say. I don’t want to come off as angry because I’m not. I’ve known plenty of friends and colleagues who have been laid off. This was just my time. And I don’t want to complain, at least not in a whiny, unproductive way.

The thing that made me start writing about it was realizing that lots of other people go through unemployment, but it’s not something that we talk much about. We see the rosy statistics on the news (the most recent statistics that I can find are that only 3.5% of the US is unemployed, and only 3.7% in Connecticut). I’ll grant, those numbers need a lot of context to be meaningful, and we are rarely provided with that context, but my point is that we never hear about the actual experiences of those 3.5%. A few years ago, after my divorce, I was going through a depressive episode and I wrote about it. Lots of people reached out to me to thank me for being open and honest about it because they had gone through similar things. I’m hoping this can do the same thing.

I should say for complete transparency that I don’t even know if I count in the 3.5% unemployment rate (there’s that context I was talking about). For most of the past fifteen years, I have had two jobs, one full-time and one part-time. I got laid off from the full-time job, but I’m still working a few hours a week at the part-time job. It’s not nearly enough to live on, but it helps slow the bleeding. I am, however, collecting unemployment, so I’m counting myself as unemployed.

The actual day-to-day experiences of unemployed people probably vary wildly. I spend my time doing all the things that everyone has to do, like taking care of my daughter, laundry, dishes, cooking, shopping, etc. And I spend a good chunk of my time looking for work. The one thing an unemployed person cannot be is lazy. Looking for work is an unpaid, but full-time, gig. Networking and going through job boards takes a long time. Each job I apply for takes at least two to three hours for the application process. Not only do they have pages and pages of questions and information requests, but I have to tailor my resume to the job I’m applying for and research the company and write a cover letter. It’s more time consuming than someone not doing it would imagine. Then, I spend whatever time I have leftover trying to take care of myself, both physically and psychologically.

That last bit is the real trick with being unemployed. For better or for worse, we live in a world designed around work. Being out of work destroys a lot of the structure in life. When I’m working, I wake up between six and seven and go to bed between ten and eleven. Without work, it is extraordinarily easy to stay up later and sleep later. It’s not good to let your schedule drift too far from everyone else’s. When I’m working, breakfast is before work, lunch is midday, and dinner is after work. Without work, meals shift around. Sometimes there are extra meals and sometimes meals are skipped altogether. Neither of those are healthy choices.

Psychological well being is even harder to maintain. There’s the obvious reasons, losing a job creates self-doubt in even the most positive person. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty and rejection while job hunting. That never makes anyone feel good. The longer a person is out of work, the worse these get.

There are two less obvious things about unemployment that can really mess with a person’s head. One is that it is isolating. Something we take for granted while we work is the social aspect of work. Everyone has work friends. And even if there aren’t a lot of close, personal relationships at work, there are a lot of interactions with other humans. That’s really important. When you’re unemployed, you can go days without seeing or talking to anyone.

The other thing is the lack of feedback. Applicants never hear back from most of the jobs they try for. The ones they do hear back from don’t tell them anything, at least not anything more informative than, “We decided to go in a different direction,” or, “You are no longer being considered for this position.” I understand that employers can’t say anything more than that without opening themselves up to lawsuits, but it’s hard on the applicants. All we want to know is what we did wrong or what we could do better, but there’s no way to find out. It’s very difficult to stay positive when nothing you do works and no one will tell you why.

So, that’s a little snapshot of where I am right now. I’m still trying, I haven’t given up, but I could be much better. I hope anyone else in my position right now knows that they’re not alone. And I’m not above asking for help. If anyone knows of anything I can do, I’d be thrilled to hear about it.

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Philosophy Phridays – Medieval Theories of Conscience

Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is Medieval Theories of Conscience.

When most people think of conscience, they think of that little voice in their heads telling them right from wrong. Or they think of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio. The idea of conscience has been around for a long time, but it has changed throughout the years. This article discusses conscience as described by Bonaventure, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. At the time, they all dealt with conscience in relation to synderesis. Synderesis is basically an innate moral consciousness (I hate using the word conscious in a piece about conscience. They’re just too similar.).

Bonaventure says that conscience is part of the rational part of people and that synderesis is part of the affective part (feelings). Conscience is then divided into two parts. The first knows general principles, like “obey God,” and is unerring. The second part applies those principles to specific situations. While the first part is unerring, the second can make mistakes, either mistakes of reasoning or mistakes of apprehension. Bonaventure considers synderesis to be a desire to do good. In that sense, it acts like the spark that gets conscience going.

Aquinas defines conscience as the, “application of knowledge to activity.” He says that the relevant knowledge comes from synderesis. Basically, synderesis give a person general principles, like “do good,” and the conscience applies that general principle to specific situations. Aquinas says that failure to follow the general principles comes from passion. A passionate desire to do something makes us see the action as the wrong type of activity and apply the wrong general principle to it.

Scotus sees conscience as related to the virtues. As it appears in the article, “one must perform appropriate virtuous actions to develop the habit of the virtue and to know the relevant right dictates.” Unfortunately, this is circular. You have to perform the virtues to learn the virtues, but you have to learn the virtues to perform the virtues. He uses conscience as the way into the circle. For him, the conscience determines what is to be done in a given circumstance. Performance of the conscience actions can be the basis for learning the virtues and allows the circle to get started.

Ockham had similar views to Scotus. The main difference is that he believed that there was more nuance that Scotus admitted. There are degrees of virtues that must be accounted for.

So, why is this important? It’s not, really. It’s interesting from a history of ideas perspective. And it can be interesting to contrast the medieval, rational conscience with the modern notion that conscience is a faculty. But that’s about it. I think I’ve mentioned before that medieval philosophy isn’t my favorite. It’s just what randomly came up today.

Langston, Douglas, “Medieval Theories of Conscience”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/conscience-medieval/>.

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Snooze

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Here is the first story for 2020’s 12 short stories in 12 months challenge. The prompt was “coalition” and the word count was 1,200. I usually like to make the prompt a central part of the story, but that didn’t happen this month. Everything about this was a struggle this month, so I hope it’s OK. Let me know what you think.

Jim’s alarm started ringing. He grunted. It can’t be morning already. I just got to sleep. He rolled over and tapped the snooze button on his phone. He rolled back and closed his eyes. He could probably hit the snooze button two more times before he absolutely had to get up.

Eighteen minutes later, he realized his math was bad. He really needed to be up. Come on. Just get up. She needs to go to school. He pulled the covers off, hoping that the cold would get him moving. After another minute, he grunted again and sat up. He was tempted to check his phone, but he was running late.

He stood and wobbled a bit. I can’t keep not sleeping. It’s a good thing I don’t have to drive. He walked slowly to the bathroom. After he was finished in there, he walked to his daughter’s room and opened the door.

Gail was already awake. She was always already awake. Jim started to say something, then yawned. “Good, you’re already dressed,” he said. “What do you want for breakfast?” Please say cereal.

“Oatmeal, please.”

That’s not too bad. “Come on. Let’s go downstairs.”

They went to the kitchen. Gail sat at the table. Jim opened two cupboards, took a bowl from one and a packet of oatmeal from the other. He put some water in the bowl, emptied the packet in, then almost banged his head on the cupboard as he turned towards the microwave. He growled as he shut the two cupboards. He put the bowl in the microwave and started it.

“Dad,” Gail said. After a few seconds, she said again, “Dad!”

“Hmm. I’m sorry, what?”

“Are you OK? You’re not talking at all.”

I feel like a giant pile of garbage. “I’m fine. Just a little tired.” He gave a weak smile, then took the bowl out of the microwave and placed it in front of her. He stood next to her chair.

She looked up at him, stood up, got a spoon from the drawer, and sat back down.

“I’m sorry, kiddo,” he said. “Eat up. The bus will be here soon.” He kissed her on the top of the head and wandered to the living room.

Before he had a chance to sit down, he heard, “Dad, did you sign off on my homework?”

He sighed. He couldn’t remember. He went to the den and brought Gail’s backpack to the kitchen. He checked and said, “I signed it last night. You better get going.”

She put her jacket, gloves, and backpack on. Jim put her hat on her head and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

“Have a good day at school.”

She went out the back door to the bus stop. He closed the door behind her and went back to his bedroom. Just a few more hours. He set the alarm on his phone and got into bed.

I’m going to lose the house.

No, there’s still a month left on the severance. I’ll find something.

No, I won’t. Nobody wants me. I can’t even get an interview.

Even if I did, I’d probably fall asleep in the middle of it. I’m so tired.

So, go to sleep.

Hah!

How’m I going to tell Gail?

I won’t lose the house.

Except I really might.

The internal dialogue continued for a while, but he must have fallen asleep at some point because he woke with the alarm. He lay there listening to it ring for a minute, hit snooze, pulled the blankets up under his chin and rolled over.

Just get up.

Nine more minutes.

I need to eat something, but I haven’t been hungry in weeks.

Nine more minutes.

After a bunch more “nine more minutes,” Jim realized that Gail would be home from school soon. It wouldn’t do to still be in bed when she got home. It took every bit of energy he had, but he got himself out of bed. A shower wasn’t going to happen, so he put on the jeans and hoodie he had worn the day before and went downstairs.

The cat was on the couch. He picked her up, hugged her, and sat down in her spot. After a moment’s struggle, he let her go and she ran into the other room. “Come on, cat. I could use the company.”

Nobody likes me.

Stop it! Just shut up for a while.

Jim stared at the red light on the bottom of the TV. He slowed his breathing. In through the nose out through the mouth. Focus on that. Nothing else is happening.

He didn’t know how long he was sitting there when he heard the kitchen door. She’s home. Get it together.

“Dad?”

“I’m in the living room.”

Gail walked in, looked at him, and laughed.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Your hair’s just funny.”

He tried to flatten it. “Come here,” he said.

She sat down next to him and he put his arm around her. “How was school?” he asked.

“Good,” she answered. “We talked about Australia. Did you know the whole country’s on fire?”

“I saw it on the news.”

“A whole bunch of koalas and kangaroos have died.”

“Don’t forget about the people.”

“Well, we’re going to do something about it. We formed the Koalalition to Save Australia.”

 “That’s clever. Who’s in this koalalition?”

“The whole third grade. We’re going to put on a show and sell cookies and get a bunch of money we can send to them.”

“That’s great.” Jim gave her a little squeeze.

Gail kept talking with Jim adding an occasional comment.

Why can’t I just do this? It’s more important than any “job” out there. And I’m good at it. Or at least I am when I can sleep and get out of my own head.

“When is the show going to be?” he asked.

“Two weeks. . .”

I love how excited she is. I don’t remember the last time I felt like that.

“Are you hungry? Do you want a snack?”

“OK. What do we have?”

“Apples, bananas, crackers. . .”

“Can I have a bowl of cereal?”

“Sure. Will you still eat your dinner?”

“Yes.”

Jim stood up and went to the kitchen.

I can’t believe I didn’t apply anywhere today.

It’s OK. It was just a bad day.

Yeah, the third bad day in a row.

He poured the cereal into a bowl and added milk. “Come eat it in the kitchen. I don’t want you to spill it on the couch.”

Gail walked in and he handed her the cereal.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow has to be a better day. I can do it for her. If she and her third-grade class can save Australia, I can find a job. Five. Five applications tomorrow.

That’s too ambitious.

OK, three. If I fail, I’ll never climb out of that pit. Three applications tomorrow. I will find something in the next month.

Gail finished her cereal. Jim put the bowl in the sink.

“How about you do your homework before dinner?”

“OK,” she said.

“Come here first.” She walked over. He gave her a hug and said, “I love you.”

“Love you, too, Dad.”

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Philosophy Phridays – Pantheism

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is Pantheism.

The word Pantheism is credited to John Toland, an Irish thinker, from 1705. But the basic ideas of pantheism have been around at least as far back as human history can take us. Here is how the article describes these ideas, “At its most general, pantheism may be understood positively as the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.” It is not confined to any one religion, culture, or period. It has always been a worldwide phenomenon.

There are two ways people arrive at pantheistic viewpoints, either from a posteriori religious experience or from a priori philosophical reasoning. The a posteriori position is basically when the world around us arouses religious emotions from us. We start to see the world itself as divine. The a priori position reasons from principles such as that God is omnipresent or that the world could not sustain itself without God or that God is omniscient or that God is the substance from which all things are formed. They reason from these ideas that God is everything or at least God is in everything.

For as long as there has been pantheism, there have been people who reject pantheism. There are many reasons for rejecting pantheism. Some complain that God is not a personal being in pantheism. Others say that God is necessarily perfect, and the world is imperfect, so they can’t be identical. (Although, it’s unclear how a perfect creator could create an imperfect world and still be considered perfect.) But what it mostly boils down to is that pantheism simply makes some people uncomfortable.

I’m not in any kind of position to weigh in on the truth of pantheism. I find it fascinating how there’s always been this tug-of-war between theists and pantheists. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find a religion that doesn’t have pantheistic tendencies. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find pantheists that don’t personify the divine in some way. And even atheists often speak in pantheistic terms. All I can say is that pantheism has as much going for it as any other theism (or atheism), and has as much against it as any other theism (or atheism). It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves.

Mander, William, “Pantheism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/pantheism/>.

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