all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

Forays into Logic, Whimsy, Meaning, Hilarity, and Nonsense.

Category: Ethics

The Parable of Buridan’s Ass; and, in Other News, There’s Apparently a Delinquent Ruffian Named “Skeeter.”

 

Abstract:  In which the Blogger takes on the timeless parable of ‘Buridan’s Ass’… with some helpful contributing material from Buridan himself, as well as from his ass, by which of course we mean his donkey, heh heh…as well as a few contributions from a delinquent ruffian named, and i am not kidding you, Skeeter.

 


 

This post is about insoluble dilemmas. Well, i mean. Okay. Yes. It is. Never mind. [sigh]

On Facebook, one of my friends–Marcy–which rhymes with ‘parsee,’ as in, ‘a member of a certain south Asian priestly class,’ hardly a coincidence–posted a challenge on her page, to the effect that her readers were to grab the nearest book, find page 56, read the 5th complete sentence on that page, and post it.

Here is what i came up with.

“His words leapt forth in explosive pulses, not entirely unlike the bursting of an egg that has been hurled against a red brick schoolhouse wall by an incorrigible young ruffian named either ‘Charlie’ or ‘Freeman’, or ‘the Biff-ster’, or ‘Your Mom’ or even ‘Sir Your Mom,’ or perhaps ‘Skeeter’.”

My friend’s Facebook challenge was a bit more problematic, in my case, than it may have been for some of her other readers. As i sit here at my computer desk i am literally sur-ROUN-ded by books, and in attempting to select among them, i found myself confronted with the same sort of dilemma Buridan’s Ass was faced with. You might well reply that Buridan just needed to get his Ass in gear, which might have been a workable solution had the hapless animal been of a mechanical sort, some sort of motor vehicle that just happened to have the term ‘ass’ in its name, for instance, the fuel-injected ASS-495, but regrettably, the donkey was an actual flesh-and-blood critter whose inability to choose between the two bales of hay located equidistant from him resulted in the unhappy animal’s demise.

Oh dear. It occurs to me that before we continue i’m afraid i’ll need to school the good reader in a bit of Medieval Philosophy.

The Good Reader:  This post has already descended into almost pure chaos. I have no idea what’s going on.

The Blogger:  Well, for the aficionado of philosophical thought, i’m certain my material has presented no difficulties.

A Randomly Selected Aficionado of Philosophical Thought:  An absolute pile of incoherent hash from beginning to end, my good man. No sense in it whatsoever.

The Good Reader:  [grins to herself, says nothing]

The Blogger:  Oh poo, we’re just wasting time here. Back to the topic. Um, whatever that is. We were talking about…Buridan’s Ass.

You are perhaps familiar with the parable of Buridan’s Ass from your studies in Medieval Philosophy. But if not, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.

Our protagonist, in the present instance, is a man named John Buridan (c. 1299 – c. 1360), one of the key philosophers of the late middle ages. Mr. Buridan was noteworthy for his work in epistemology and impetus theory, but what he is perhaps chiefly remembered for among today’s students of philosophy is his parable of “Buridan’s Ass.” In this little story, a hungry donkey ambles into a hayfield and finds himself, inexplicably, evenly placed between two equally delicious-looking bales of hay. Poor hapless donkey! What is he to do? For each bale is as tasty-looking as the other, and each is equally far from him, so he is left with zero basis on which to make a decision in favor of one or the other. The poor donkey, logical to the last, languishes between the two haybales until he dies of starvation.

But here’s the question: Was Buridan himself responsible for the parable of Buridan’s Ass? Nearly overwhelming evidence seems to suggest that the parable was developed by one of his detractors. Nevertheless, it remains to this day the one thing he is *sigh* best remembered for.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Ahem. Here’s the point in our narrative at which i find i must sheepishly confess to having made up the quotation, above identified as having been taken from page 56 of one of the books that surround my desk.

Since i could not choose from among the grousands* of books among which i am ensconsed here in my man-cave, no one of which is measurably closer to me than any other, i have elected to generate a sentence which, i am reasonably sure, MUST be featured on page 56 of at least ONE of these books. Consider, by way of comparison, the story of the grousands of monkeys iconically working away on grousands of typewriters, and the likelihood that one of them will come up with Hamlet.

But we have wandered afield of the point.

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  But iff’n it weren’t no real quotation, then you done lied to yer trusting readership.

The Blogger:  Wha- Huh? Who the stink are you?

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  I’m Skeeter. I was listenin’ and it sounded interestin’. So i done came over and inserted myself-like in the proceedins.

The Blogger:  Oh. Um, how did you even get into my house?

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  I grokked my way in. It weren’t hard.

The Blogger:  Oooooo-kay.

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  So do ya have a book that says that thing about Charlie or Skeeter–that’s my name, Skeeter–or don’t ye?

The Blogger:  Um. No. I don’t think so.

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  But you said ya did. In my book, heh heh, get it, ‘book,’ that means yer lyin’ to yer trustin’ readership.

Buridan’s Ass:  But if he’s simply using the quotation as a kind of placeholder in order to make his point, does it really matter whether the quotation is a real one or not?

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  Well, seems to me it does. Fella’s gotta mean what he says and say what he means, is how i was raised.

The Blogger:  Um. Waittasecond. Who in the name of all that’s biological are YOU?

Buridan’s Ass:  I’m Buridan’s Ass.

John Buridan:  And i’m Buridan! It’s a pleasure!  [shakes hands all ’round, as hearty a fellow as ever broke biscuit or went for a ride on a rickety snowmobile]

John Buridan. At your service.

The Blogger: But…how did you guys even get in here?

John Buridan:  Well, your young friend here left the door hanging open when he grokked his way in.

The Blogger:  But that doesn’t… i don’t even… what in the….

Buridan’s Ass:  You’re focusing on an unimportant side issue. The question before us is twofold: (1) whether the ass will eat of the hay on one side of him or the other, and (2) whether this is even the sort of question that can be resolved.

The Blogger:  Those aren’t the questions i’m wanting to explore in this post.

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  But it seems to me, fellas, that if you got a ass–heh heh, i just said ‘ass’–

Buridan’s Ass:  [rolls his eyes]

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  –like i said, iff’n you got a ass–heh heh–that’s plopped right down between two equally spaced bales of hay–well, y’know, on my pappy’s farm–

Buridan’s Ass:  Yada yada yada. I’m the ass here; seems like i’d be allowed a crack at the question of what an ass would do.

John Buridan:  The ass makes a fair point.  [pauses significantly]  Heh heh, i said ‘ass.’

Buridan’s Ass:  [rolls his eyes]

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  Well, all i’m a-sayin’ is–

Buridan’s Ass:  Silence, child! I shall now address the question at hand.

[All present direct their attention to the ass, who holds forth from the top of a conveniently placed hay bale]

If i were confronted with two bales of hay, each one looking equally tasty and nutritious, and each located precisely the same distance from me, i’d just arbitrarily pick one and go at it. The idea that i would stand there and starve to death is insulting.

John Buridan:  Well, i mean.

Buridan’s Ass:  No, c’mon, seriously. I get your need to illustrate a logical principle. Sure. Okay. I just resent your oh-so-easy reliance on a negative stereotype about asses. We may be stubborn, but we’re not stupid.

John Buridan:  Don’t blame me for the goofy analogy. I’m not even the one who came up with it. Some shmoe with a low opinion of my work did.

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  I dunno, man, the ones on my pappy’s farm is so dumb you could thow a rock at ’em and not do no damage.

Buridan’s Ass:  That…didn’t make any sense.

John Buridan:  [laughs heartily, claps his hands]

The Blogger:  But if you’re going to tell a parable, it obviously isn’t going to apply across-the-board in all instances. The point of a parable is to illustrate a specific point. I don’t think the story is intended to confirm anyone’s stereotypes about the stupidity of asses.

Buridan’s Ass:  The story could have been about an ocelot.

John Buridan:  What? I don’t even know what that is.

Buridan’s Ass:  Or a weasel. My point is, there’s no reason to select an animal that already is enmired in a struggle against people’s deeply held prejudices.

The Blogger:  I think you may be going a bit deep with the cast of characters in the story.

Skeeter the Delinquent Ruffian:  Well my only point is, when you got a ass–heh heh–and it’s tryin’ to eat a bale o’ hay, you don’t wanna put no distractions in its way.

John Buridan:  Once again, child, that was a completely strange sort of thing to say.

 

Epilogue

The Blogger:  Well! That one went all over the place, didn’t it.

The Good Reader:  Your blog occasionally never ceases to amaze.

The Blogger:  You have to admit, i actually ventured into the field of real philosophical investigation this time.

The Good Reader:  As opposed to…?

The Blogger:  Oh, well, you know. Um. Attempting to identify the salient features of a flockbinker.

The Good Reader:  Ah. Yes. Well, you sort of did, didn’t you.

The Blogger:  Sort of?! I totally did! Axiology, logic, talking asses…it’s all there.

The Good Reader:  Well, you didn’t really address the issue that you set out to address. You started out surrounded by a bunch of books and trying to figure out how to pick one. Then you went off onto asses and hay. You never did get back to your original point.

The Blogger:  Well, maybe the original point was about the difficulty of making decisions?

The Good Reader:  Okay. I remain unsatisfied. I want to know what to do when i’m surrounded by books.

The Blogger:  Ah! A delightful dilemma to find oneself in, wouldn’t you say?

[The Blogger and The Good Reader heave a contented sigh together]

 

*A note on weights, measures, and quantities:  The term ‘grousands’ denotes an amount somewhat less than ‘grillions’ but vastly more numerous than, say, ‘a bunch’ or ‘a whole lot’ or even ‘lots and lots.’

 

A Very Particular Set of Skills: or, What if Liam Neeson Were a Philosopher

 

Abstract:  In the film “Taken”, Liam Neeson plays a father whose “very particular set of skills” comes into play as he tracks down his daughter’s captors and rescues her. Which leads to the obvious question: how would this set of skills come into play if the same character were–say–a philosopher?


 

Imagine with me, if you will, a world in which philosophers were making movies. Ahhh!

Among the current batch of film actors, Liam Neeson is probably–more than most, anyway–associated with a single picture: “Taken.” In this film, Neeson plays a father whose “very particular set of skills” comes into play as he tracks down his daughter’s captors–a ring of sex traffickers–and rescues her.

All of which, quite naturally, leads to the question: how would this set of skills come into play if the same character were, say, a philosopher?

So blissful a thought! Of course, the films would probably be awful, but oh, the ideas! The logical inferences! The conceptual recommendations!

Ahem.

For the benefit of Those Who Do Not Remember, here is the iconic telephone speech that Liam Neeson gives near the beginning of the film Taken:

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Of course, a more philosophically-inclined version of the same character, in the same film, might have said something similar… yet different… perhaps along these lines:

“The set of possibilities, of which i am currently cognizant, contained in the sets of (1) ‘who you are’ and (2) ‘what you want’ and (3) ‘how much money i’ve got’ is circumscribed to such a degree as to be essentially irrelevant. I am, however, possessed of [Set A], which for our current purposes may be defined as ‘a very particular set of skills,’ such a set having been acquired across [Set B]: ‘over a very long career,’ the sum of which will inevitably result in the maximal state of unhappiness for you. The possibilities from this point include the following: (A) You let my daughter go now, which will result in [the consequences for you = the Null Set], or (B) Your inevitable and very painful….”

“Hello? Hello?” [shaking telephone] “Hello? Anyone there? Hello?”

Anyway, if we were to imagine such a world, that delightful world in which the action heroes were philosophers, and the philosophers were action heroes,* we might be able to envision a scenario like the following:

“Immanuel Aquinas is having a bad day. To begin with, the guy at the laundry not only messed up his best suit, but he had the nerve to follow that with an absurd line of argumentation, rife with fallacious inferences, in his own defense. Then, Aquinas got stuck in traffic for an hour, and had to endure the pathetic socio-cultural diatribes of the guy in the car next to his. But the worst thing of all? Tom Kant, his nemesis, is about to walk away red-handed with a satchel containing $10,000,000 of the government’s money. The solution? Looks like it’s time for Aquinas to kick some serious conceptual ass.”

–from a film that Liam Neeson has not starred in

[YET]

…but almost certainly will if the universe is the sort of place i suspect it to be.

I thought that, in this post, it might be worthwhile to imagine some things that Liam Neeson would or would not do, if cast in a philosophical action film. To wit:

Some things Liam Neeson would NEVER do:

  • He would never give you up
  • He would never let you down
  • He would never run around and desert you
  • He would never make you cry
  • He would never say goodbye
  • He would never tell a lie and hurt you

Um. Just a moment. We need to check on something.

Um. Hmmm.

Oh, dear. We’re sorry: that wasn’t Liam Neeson, it was Rick Astley. Similar fellows, understandable mistake.

Well, now that we’ve publicly embarrassed ourselves, oops, ha ha, why don’t we move on to the list of things that Liam Neeson would do, ha ha, or skills that he would reveal, as a philosopher? I feel we’re on somewhat firmer ground here.

Here are some things Liam Neeson would do:

He would summarily drop anyone who tried to make a pun on Kant and can’t. I mean, seriously…wouldn’t you?

Logical fallacies would be punished swiftly… dialectically… and permanently.

Wittgenstein’s Language Games… hah! You won’t be playing any with him. Not, that is, if you value your respiratory tractatus. Er, tract.

All flockbinkers may or may not be treadknicious, but you’re about to be.

(Wait. What? Umm.)

Don’t even try coming at him with obtuse, verbally bloated explanations: he will cut you with Occam’s Razor.

The Law of the Excluded Middle…after he’s finished excluding YOUR middle, you won’t have anything left to digest your food with.

He’ll crush your monads (get it? your monads, heh heh), Leibniz to the contrary notwithstanding.

And speaking of notwithstanding… Pythagoras notwithstanding, when Neeson’s through with you the squares of your legs will NOT be equal to the square of your hypotenuse.

Please don’t go on and on about some “Prisoner’s Dilemma”… The only way to act in your own self-interest when dealing with Liam Neeson is to hand over the total and pray that he doesn’t feel like investigating the boundaries of game theory.

Oh dear. Once again, we’re not even sure what this last one meant.

He’ll separate your yin from your yang.

(We thought that last one was pretty funny, and we’re going to repeat it.)

He’ll separate your yin from your yang.

Heh heh.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, schmynthesis… The Hegelian Dialectic notwithstanding… among the various other things that are notwithstanding… you’ll find yourself in a world of contradiction if Liam Neeson isn’t pleased with the status of your triads.

He kicked Buridan’s Ass, and he’ll kick yours.

When he’s done with you, you’ll be reduced to a cardboard caricature useful only as a mouthpiece for certain widely dismissed philosophical positions… oh… waittasecond… oops… sorry, there… we kinda got Liam Neeson crossed up with Ayn Rand.

She’ll have to wait for another post to the blog.

 

* Heh heh. A bit of a nod to Plato, there.

 

The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard

If you’re like most people, you may think of philosophers as starry-eyed eggheads who haunt university corridors and rarely interact with the real world.  Although this may be the case in the vast, vast, vast, vast… vast… vast… majority of instances, it isn’t always.  Philosophers can, in fact, be found in a wide range of settings.  There are philosopher-sales reps, philosopher-garbage collectors, philosopher-sportscasters, philosopher-pastry chefs, and even philosophers in middle management.

However, the stereotypes persist.  That’s why i find it so gratifying when i unexpectedly encounter philosophers who have chosen to establish themselves in non-academic settings.

The other day, for instance, i was entering the building where my doctor maintains his office, when i was caught off-guard… no pun intended… by the voice of a uniformed security officer whose desk was sort of obscurely placed in a corner.

Security Guard:  I greet you with enthusiasm and a high regard for your dignity and sense of well-being.

The Blogger:  I say! What a carefully thought-out salutation!

Security Guard:  It’s what i do, sir.

The Blogger:  You employ language in a careful, deliberate manner, choosing your words as vehicles for meaningful communication rather than rote conventionality, in such a way as to optimize precision, clarity and significance?

Security Guard:  Dude. You took the words (as it were) right out of my mouth. Except i would have included the Oxford comma.

The Blogger:  Is that what the security company that you work for pays you to do?

Security Guard:  Well… not really.  [He leans in toward me.]  You won’t narc on me?

The Blogger:  I wouldn’t dream of it.  It’s a pleasure indeed to meet a fellow philosopher in a place like this.

Security Guard:  We are a rare and vanishing breed.

The Blogger:  Especially in the security industry, i’m guessing.

Security Guard:  You’re tellin’ me, bub.

The Blogger:  So how do you like your job?

Security Guard:  The work isn’t terribly difficult. But there are annoyances.

The Blogger:  Such as?

Security Guard:  Everyone seems to assume the security guard is a moron.

The Blogger:  Wow, that sounds pretty harsh.

Security Guard:  It’s true! They don’t bother to ask questions, for instance; they just figure you don’t know anything. People routinely seem to take for granted that i know nothing about the physicians and staff in the building where i work five days a week. They’ll stand there in the lobby, puzzling over where to find a particular doctor, staring dumbly at the directory on the wall, asking each other questions that of course none of them are able to answer. I will generally toss them a cue at this point… “Is there someone i can help you find?” At which point they will often say, “No, thank you, well-meaning but retarded fellow. We’ll figure it out.” Okay, they don’t usually say the ‘retarded’ part, out loud, but i can tell they’re thinking it.

The Blogger:  Security guards are not widely reputed as being, er, mentally gifted.

Security Guard:  [sigh]

The Blogger:  So is that the only thing you find troubling about your job?

Security Guard:  No. There’s also this: I’m expected to sit here and stare into space, with no books to engage my cognitive faculties or writing materials to use in composing my thoughts into structured bodies of argument.

The Blogger:  Purgatory!

Security Guard:  The sheerest agony.

The Blogger:  But at least the money is probably pretty good…?

Security Guard:  You are, of course, making a cruel joke.

The Blogger:  Oh. Oops.

Security Guard:  But — i’ll tell you a secret — you can’t let this get out —

The Blogger:  I am as silent as the grave. Well, that is, when i’m not talking.

Security Guard:  So here it is. I really do keep books here with me at my post. I keep them well hidden so that i won’t get in trouble. Come around here… i’ll show you.

[I step around the Security Guard’s desk and look under it. I am flabbergasted to discover a library of several hundred books, neatly organized by subject and author’s last name.]

The Blogger:  Now that’s an impressive body of reading material!

Security Guard:  Well, just a few volumes i’ve pulled together.

The Blogger:  A few.

Security Guard:  But enough about me. What is it that you do?

The Blogger:  Well, among other things, i’m The Blogger. I have several blogs, one of which — and the most relevant for our present purposes — is called “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious.”

Security Guard:  And Other Salient Observations.

The Blogger:  Wait. What? You’ve heard of it?

Security Guard:  I’m one of your most devoted readers.

The Blogger:  Well, jeepers. I don’t EVEN know what to say.

Security Guard:  Reading your blog has kept me going during the times when i’ve been tempted to think that philosophical thought has all but disappeared from the postmodern world.

The Blogger:  Well, building discussions of philosophy around the concept of flockbinkers is what you might call my own personal… er… my…

Random Knight of the Round Table, Whose Arrival No One Had Noticed:  Idiom, sir. [He disappears again, just as mysteriously.]

The Blogger:  Idiom. That’s the word.

Security Guard:  Hey, whatever works. Plato had his Socratic dialogues; you’ve got your flockbinker blog.

The Blogger:  [Blushing] You place me in auspicious company, sir.

Security Guard:  Not at all. So, would you like to know how i’m able to apply philosophy in my current occupational setting?

The Blogger:  I’ll admit, i have been wondering.

Security Guard:  I use it to fight crime.

The Blogger:  You mean, you employ your deductive powers in the solving of open cases?

Security Guard:  Well, i guess i could do that. If i wanted to. But what i meant was that i use rational discourse and the application of philosophical principles in dealing with perps right here on the property.

The Blogger:  Seriously? So, for instance, if a bad guy were to show up right now, here at the entrance to the building…?

Security Guard:  I will subdue him by sheer force of logical argument.

The Blogger:  Jeepers.

Security Guard:  Not the usual sort of thing. That’s what you’re thinking.

The Blogger:  I am.  Boy!  Wow.  So, you’re saying that you are actually able to apprehend and immobilize the criminal element… by discussing philosophy with them?

Security Guard:  That’s precisely what i’m saying.

The Blogger:  And this happens here on a regular basis?

Security Guard:  Well — i mean — not really on a regular basis.

The Blogger:  So how many times have you taken down a bad guy using philosophy?

Security Guard:  [mumbles something indistinct.]

The Blogger:  I’m sorry? I didn’t catch that.

Security Guard:  [Turns several different shades of red, one after the other.]  I… well… that is to say… I haven’t really, up to this point.  That’s just sort of how i imagine it playing out, if i were given the opportunity.

The Blogger:  Wait. So you claim to fight crime using philosophy, except you haven’t actually tried it out yet?

Security Guard:  Dude, chill. I’ve got it all worked out. I can picture in my mind precisely how things would go down, if i just had the chance.

The Blogger:  And i can picture in my mind exactly what it would be like to win the lottery.

Security Guard:  Red herring.

The Blogger:  Argument from analogy.

Security Guard:  [Scowls.]  Okay. I’ll give you that one. So you’d like to see what doing combat with a potential vandal or robber — using philosophical argument, of course — actually looks like?

The Blogger:  If you can actually pull it off, yes. I’d love to see you in action.

Security Guard:  Okay then. Let us choose, as our first subject, this young gentleman approaching the front doors. He is clearly up to no good. I shall confront him.

The Blogger:  I’m about to see the master in action! This’ll be good stuff.

[A male in his early 20s comes in through the automatic doors.]

Security Guard:  Say, you there! Naughty fellow!

Naughty Fellow:  Um.

Security Guard:  If you have come here to perpetrate acts of unspeakable naughtiness, please know that your plans are doomed to failure!

Naughty Fellow:  What.

Security Guard:  As an advocate for the Rational Order of Things, i shall take all steps necessary to prevent you from performing deeds of wickedness.

Naughty Fellow:  Huh.

Security Guard:  If you have legitimate business in this building, you may state it now.

Naughty Fellow:  My girlfriend here to see Dr. Mummer. She pregnant.

Security Guard:  Dr. Mummer is pregnant?

Naughty Fellow:  Dr. Mummer a dude, man. My girlfriend is pregnant.

Security Guard:  Ah, yes, of course.

Naughty Fellow:  Can i come in now.

Security Guard:  You may. But mind you refrain from perpetrating acts of naughtiness.

Naughty Fellow:  Sure thing, man. Whatever you say.

[The young man continues on through the lobby, gets into the elevator and disappears.]

The Blogger:  I’m thinking that didn’t go quite as you’d anticipated?

Security Guard:  Not exactly. But you can’t afford to take chances.

The Blogger:  Of course not. The world being what it is, and the times being what they are, and all that sort of thing.

Security Guard:  Precisely. Oh, look, here comes someone else who appears naughty. What do you think?

The Blogger:  I’d rate him a nine out of ten on the naughtiness scale.

Security Guard:  At the very least. I must confront him.

The Blogger:  Knock yourself out.

Security Guard:  You there! Mischievous vagrant! State your business on this property.

Mischievous Vagrant:  Well, to be honest, i’m here to vandalize the exterior of the building and then go in and rob as many of the patients as i can.

Security Guard:  [aside to the Blogger] You see? We’ve got a live one here.

The Blogger:  I must admit, you nailed it this time.

Security Guard:  [To the mischievous vagrant] Rude fellow, know that i shall do everything in my power to prevent you from carrying out your nefarious program.

Mischievous Vagrant:  I’m trembling in my boots. Show me what you’ve got.

Security Guard:  To begin with, there’s the Categorical Imperative.

Mischievous Vagrant:  Oh, so you’re going to pull out Immanuel Kant on me? No dice. Deontological ethical theory is a house of cards.

Security Guard:  [His breath catching] So, wait. You’re… a philosopher?

Mischievous Vagrant:  Every inch.

Security Guard:  [Aside to the Blogger] Now THIS i had not anticipated. There may be some rough going here.

The Blogger:  Dude, you’re telling ME. The guy appears to know his stuff.

Security Guard:  [Returning his attention to the mischievous vagrant] So you fail to recognize that participation in organized society places ethical obligations on each moral agent toward all others?

Mischievous Vagrant:  I deny the very principle of moral agency. Take that!

Security Guard:  [Recoiling, then recovering] Then you deny that the universe presents us with any kind of intrinsic moral architecture?

Mischievous Vagrant:  I do. Categorically. Get it? Categorically?

Security Guard:  Clever Kantian pun.

Mischievous Vagrant:  Thank you.

Security Guard:  There is no larger structure informing any given course of action that you choose to undertake at any given time?

Mischievous Vagrant:  Well, there is the entirely subjective system of needs and desires that i’ve assembled during my life, due to a combination of heredity, environmental influence, and rational examination of the consequences of various kinds of actions.

Security Guard:  A teleological approach to ethical decision-making, if unsupported by a transcendent order, is merely arbitrary and indefensible.

Mischievous Vagrant:  [Takes a few steps back as if he has suffered a serious blow, then advances again.] Freely chosen actions need not be defended in terms of any ethical system outside of the agent’s own subjective proclivities.

Security Guard:  Any society structured along such lines as you describe would suffer from the most extreme version of Hobbes’ anarchic vision, and life would indeed be “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Mischievous Vagrant:  [Falls back again, recovers, and comes at the Security Guard with his best shot.] It’s impossible to establish an objective ground for moral decision-making; a systematic study of the world’s religious and ethical systems leads to a radical relativism.

Security Guard:  [Winces and takes two steps back, then moves in for his coup de grace.] On the contrary: When we consider together (1) the promptings of the individual conscience, (2) the typical patterns of cultural taboo found in most human societies, (3) the core teachings of the world’s religious traditions, and (4) the positions resulting from a utilitarian approach to social good, then certain patterns emerge that can be employed in the establishment of a binding social contract that will result in the securing of the persons and property of both individual persons, and the res publica in general.

Mischievous Vagrant:  [Stunned, he falls back several feet, utters an expletive, and turns tail to run.]

Security Guard:  And i think we’ve seen the last of him.

The Blogger:  I’m stunned.

Security Guard:  [Beaming with pleasure.]

The Blogger:  It was like… it’s as if Clint Eastwood was a philosopher.

Security Guard:  People really tend to underestimate the power of philosophical discourse.

The Blogger:  That was amazing. I’ve never seen philosophy used so directly in the service of public safety.

Security Guard:  Well, you know, so many people think of philosophical discourse as merely a web of abstractions disconnected from the realities of the practical world. If i can, in my small way, do something to change that perception….

The Blogger:  It’s a vision worth living by.

[We both stand in silence for a little while, contemplating the implications.]

 

Security Guard:  Oh! By the way, i’ve been meaning to say this for several minutes. The treadknicious character of flockbinkers is not necessarily the sort of fact that might be established through empirical investigation.

The Blogger:  Beg your pardon?

Security Guard:  Sorry. I should explain. It’s been my understanding that some of your readers are troubled by the fact that this blog has flockbinkers in the title, when in fact flockbinkers are not always the topic under discussion.

The Blogger:  Well, it could be argued….

Security Guard:  Right, right. I get you. But not everyone who reads the blog will have attained a sufficient level of philosophical sophistication to understand that.

The Blogger:  [turning beet-red with pleasure]

Security Guard:  As i understand your usage of the term, ‘flockbinkers’ exist… insofar as it can be said that they DO exist… in accordance with several distinct modes of ontological nuance.

The Blogger:  I can think of a certain regular reader of this blog who will take strong exception to that.

The Good Reader:  Enough of that, now. It’s not like i can’t hear you.

The Blogger:  Technically, Reader, you’re not hearing. You’re reading.

The Good Reader:  [says a word that we do not feel justified reproducing here, given that this blog is aimed at a family audience]

Security Guard:  So i made a seemingly purposeless reference to flockbinkers just so that no one will be able to say this post didn’t mention them. Y’know: to take some of the heat off of you.

The Blogger:  I am strangely moved, o noble security guard.

Security Guard:  Here for ya, bro.

 

 

 

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