all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Category: Philosophers

Confucius, the Buddha, Aristotle, and Mr. T Return to Chili’s

 

Abstract:  In which our four redoubtable philosophers–one of whom is none other than Mr. T (!) (oh my)–continue their sometimes witty… sometimes, um, er, not-witty… and sometimes inexplicable… and sometimes… anyway… conversation about the Higher and Deeper Things at Chili’s Restaurant.


 

Waiter:  Have we, like, at long last, decided what we want to order?

Confucius:  I believe we have, yes. I’ll have the Southwestern Eggrolls.  [he leans in confidentially, whispering]  It’s hard to beat those Southwestern Eggrolls.

Waiter:  They sure do tend to be a favorite with our customers. And you, sir?

Mr. T:  Yeah, well when i was growing up, my family was so poor we couldn’t afford to pay attention.

Waiter:  Hey! This guy’s kinda witty, sort of.

Confucius:  Might want to be careful about encouraging him.

Waiter:  Aww, i think he’s harmless.

Mr. T:  [screws his face up into a horribly threatening scowl]  My prediction: Pain.

Confucius:  Tell you what, he’ll have the Caesar Salad and a Coke.

Waiter:  [visibly nervous, turning quickly toward Aristotle]  A…and you, sir?

Aristotle:  I’ll have the braised goat with milk curds and olives.

Confucius:  Hoo boy! Um, waiter, this gentleman will have the Carnitas Fajitas.

Aristotle:  Are you sure?

Confucius:  You’ll love it.

Waiter:  Um… okay… and you, sir?

The Buddha:  I’ll have what they’re having.

Waiter:  All of it?

The Buddha:  The man of understanding takes in the entirety of his world, and in the end finds it to be: emptiness.

Confucius:  I am so sorry. We’re rather a group of oddballs, aren’t we. He’ll have the cheese quesadillas.

[waiter scurries off, trembling just a little bit]

Aristotle:  So, shall we resume our discussion of the Higher Things?

Mr. T:  I believe in the Golden Rule. The man with the gold, rules.

Aristotle:  [taking a deep breath]  That’s a commonly held belief. So, do you think it’s best that those with the wealth should also be the ones with the power?

Confucius:  [stage whisper]  Are you really wanting to encourage him?

Aristotle:  [stage whisper]  I’m directing his random outbursts into patterned discussion.

Confucius:  [stage whisper]  I don’t feel like that’s going to yield much fruit.

Aristotle:  [stage whisper]  I dunno. We’ll see. Worth a try.

Confucius:  [stage whisper]  Okay, man. Go for it. You do you.

Mr. T:  I, uh, pity the fool.

Confucius:  [to Aristotle]  Here’s the problem, i think. If you ask our redoubtable Mr. T a question for which he doesn’t have one of his pre-prepared answers, you put him off his game and he doesn’t know what to say.

Aristotle:  Is that so!  [gets a devilish look in his eye, like that of someone who has just learned that you’re carrying gold nuggets in your pocket and is trying to figure out how to lift them without your noticing]

Aristotle:  [returning his attention to Mr. T]  So, which fool, exactly, is it that you pity?

Mr. T:  Um… uh… all of ’em?

Aristotle:  Ah! But you cannot pity all of them. For one fool may be at odds with another, and you must choose sides. Which fool are you betting on?

Mr. T:  I… I…  [he begins to tremble]

The Buddha:  Pain.

Aristotle:  Not now, Bud. I’m on a roll with this other guy.

Confucius:  How many kinds of fools are there?

Aristotle:  Dude! Don’t ruin my setup. I think i’ve got him against the ropes.

Mr. T:  Um… uh… uh….

Aristotle:  Imagine a poker table, and four fools sitting around it playing poker. One of those fools will have to win the game. How can a fool win the game?

Mr. T:  [recovering, seeing his opportunity]  There’s two kinds of people: the winners, and the losers. Which one are you?

Aristotle:  Dammit.

Confucius:  Oohh, and it seemed as if you were doing so well, for a while there.

The Buddha:  Pain. Huh huh huh.

Aristotle:  Oh my word, is the little Buddha fellow turning into Mr. T now? I have to deal with a whole table of Mr. T’s?

Mr. T:  Are the Mr. T’s at the table, or is the table full of Mr. T’s?

Confucius:  Dude, that was sort of a tautology.

Aristotle:  [losing patience]  Okay. Fine! You win, i lose! I still fail to understand what this man is doing at our table!

Confucius:  [leaning in toward Aristotle in a confidential manner]  Okay, i suppose i need to come clean with you. I told his mom i’d take him for the afternoon–she’s showing their house to a prospective buyer, and she thought it might be a good idea to show it without him inside.

Aristotle:  Ah. (Grrr.) It is all becoming clear to me now.

Confucius:  The man of genuine strength maintain his place even in rapidly flowing river.

Aristotle:  Please, not just now, bud. There’s a time and a place.

Confucius:  I get it, man. Just trying to be useful.

Mr. T:  My Prediction?

The Buddha:  Pain. Heh heh.

Aristotle:  Okay, look, i don’t think we can have a serious discussion with that man present.

Mr. T:  Yeah, fool.

Aristotle:  I was referring to YOU.

Mr. T:  Oh. Okay. Got it.

The Buddha:  My prediction: Pain.

Aristotle:  And i don’t even want to know what his deal is. It’s like he’s absorbing the ‘T’ person’s personality just by sitting next to him.

The Buddha:  I pity the fool.

Aristotle:  [throwing up his hands]  I cannot EVEN.

Confucius:  I’ll admit, he doesn’t seem to be in rare form tonight. His material is usually MUCH better.

Aristotle:  Which one?

Aristotle:  Mmmm, wow. Good point.

 

 

 

 

 

A Brave [Ahem] Attempt to Define the Term ‘Bertrand Russell’ [Oh Dear]

 

Abstract:  Before there was Bertrand Russell, there was the concept “Bertrand Russell.” Or, wait, did i get that right? Did the actual dude “Bertrand Russell” come before the concept of Bertrand Russell? It’s so hard to keep this stuff sorted out! Anyway, the narrative you are about to read concerns a group of philosophers gathered ’round a table at Chili’s restaurant. Bertrand Russell happens to be one of ’em. But listening in on the conversation, you’d never know it! Heh heh heh.


 

St. Thomas Aquinas:  I greet you cordially, gentlemen. As i believe you all know, we are gathered here to discuss the essence and existence of one Lord Bertrand Russell.

Bertrand Russell:  Greetings, fond fellows! It’s an honor to find myself among such distinguished company.

Albert Camus:  [mumbling]  I’m not certain i understand what’s so great about him, but whatever.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  If only Bertrand Russell were here.

Aquinas:  Oh, and if only the moon were made of green cheese! Look, you can’t always have everything you want.

Bertrand Russell:  But i am! Helloo! You’re such a card. I’m right here. Next to you!

Aquinas:  So. Perhaps we might begin by attempting a definition of ‘Bertrand Russell’ and establishing that definition as having ontological authority.

Wittgenstein:  That odd relationship between the words we speak regarding Bertrand Russell, and his concrete reality among other concrete realities, interests me immensely.

Bertrand Russell:  I’m right here, idiot.

Aquinas:  So here’s the agenda for this discussion. We’re going to establish the ontological basis for belief in the existence of Bertrand Russell, discuss the relationship between the term ‘Bertrand Russell’ and the actual dude, and explore the possibilities regarding his existence, nature, proclivities, and patterns of usage–in terms of lanes and spaces–when he finds himself in a parking lot.

Wittgenstein:  Could you lay all of that out for us in outline or grid form?

Aquinas:  I’m way ahead of you. Check this out:

 

Questions:

  1. Does Bertrand Russell exist?

  2. In what manner does he exist?

  3. Is it possible to define him?

  4. What sort of being is he?

  5. Is defining Bertrand Russell the same thing as defining the term ‘Bertrand Russell’?

 

Wittgenstein:  Dude, you are so cool. I’m seriously lovin’ this. I’m actually feeling just a little bit aroused right now.

Aquinas:  I shall interpret that as high praise, and not as an expression of a perverse, or at any rate non-normative, er, sexual…

Bertrand Russell:  Look here, the joke’s over. I’m sitting right here. I can answer all of your questions regarding my ontological status.

Aquinas:  So, to begin: the ontological status of Lord Bertrand Russell. Is he, or is he not, an actually existent entity?

Wittgenstein:  Of course, we’re using ordinary language to attempt to establish metaphysical realities. That’s maybe a problem right there.

Bertrand Russell:  I am here, right here, you mealy sop!

Camus:  I’m far from convinced that this discussion is of any importance whatsoever.

Wittgenstein:  Yes, that IS what you would say, isn’t it. [to Aquinas] Give this man a range of options, and he will always opt to spotlight his own importance.

Camus:  I’m of no importance. Meaning is all-important. And can only be realized through meaningful action.

Wittgenstein:  Tra la la, tra la la, tra la la.

Aquinas:  Gentlemen! Back to the topic. I believe that sufficient evidence exists, of a documentary nature, to support the thesis that Bertrand Russell is ‘real’.

Bertrand Russell:  Ass! I’m practically sitting in your lap.

Wittgenstein:  Regarding Bertrand Russell, perhaps we might say that he is “all that is the case in the case of Bertrand Russell.”

Camus:  Wut.

Wittgenstein:  I’m just sorta spitballing, here.

Bertrand Russell:  [muttering to himself]  Quelle nightmare.

Aquinas:  I’m having trouble tracking with you, Ludwig. Did you just spout a puffball of utter nonsense?

Wittgenstein:  Well, no. I attempted to formulate a definition of Bertrand Russell that would be both ontologically AND linguistically satisfying.

Camus:  [rolls his eyes]

Bertrand Russell:  I totally am right here next to you.

Aquinas:  I’m going to pretend this discussion is only just beginning, and no one has yet had the chance to articulate what strikes me as the utterest nonsense imaginable.

Camus:  Yo.

Bertrand Russell:  What is WRONG with you people? I am literally RIGHT HERE.

Aquinas:  So, why don’t we address the question, “In what manner does Bertrand Russell exist?”

Bertrand Russell:  Hello, hello! I know this one.

Wittgenstein:  He exists in a manner that can be thought, but not spoken of.

Aquinas:  You and your “thought, but not spoken of” nonsense. Get it together, Ludwig. We’re having a philosophical discussion, not a mystical communion.

Wittgenstein:  Um, ouch.

Bertrand Russell:  Look, i can answer that.

Camus:  It seems to me that if Russell is able to act authentically, then he is permitted to claim for himself existence.

Aquinas:  Yikes, i’d almost rather go with Wittgenstein’s answer. Hoo boy. Who was it that decided to accord existentialism the status of a valid philosophical system, that’s MY question.

Camus:  Yeah? Well, maybe YOUR MOM has the answer to that particular question.

Wittgenstein:  It’s good to experience philosophical debate at its most primal. Where’s Karl Popper when you’re wanting him?  [looking about the room for a fireplace poker]

Bertrand Russell:  Oh, come on! “In what manner does Bertrand Russell exist?” That’s an easy one. I’ve got this.

Aquinas:  Perhaps we should move on to the next question, “Is it possible to define him?”

Camus:  How is that not the same question as “What sort of being is he?”

Aquinas:  Well, if it’s not possible to define him, then we cannot say what sort of being he is.

Camus:  So they’re basically just two parts of the same question.

Aquinas:  I am developing a downright Aristotelian dislike for you.

Camus:  That did not EVEN.

Wittgenstein:  I can’t help thinking that neither of you has a point to make that “is the case.”

Camus:  Oh, go fondle yourself.

Bertrand Russell:  Ho! Woo-hoo! Look: I’ve got the answer to that one. I am a human person, the definition of which is consistent with the definition of humanity in general–if you want to get into all that.

Wittgenstein:  Look, what if we move on to the last of our five questions, which to my way of thinking seems the most interesting anyway. Is defining Bertrand Russell the same thing as defining the term “Bertrand Russell”?

Camus:  Of course not. Bertrand Russell defines himself through the series of choices he makes in a world of ambiguities. The term “Bertrand Russell”, on the other hand, is merely that: a term.

Aquinas:  And you, Camus, consistently choose to define yourself as an idiot.

Camus:  Maybe it’s your Mom who’s the real idiot.

Wittgenstein:  I’m thinking the terminological problem is intertwined with the problem of Russell’s identity so intimately that the two questions cannot be separated.

Aquinas:  Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

Bertrand Russell:  Imbecile! I am totally sticking my fork into your Southwestern Eggroll. Hmm? You like that?

Aquinas:  Interesting. My Southwestern Eggroll seems to be moving about of its own volition. I feel moved to revise my understanding of locomotion, causality, objectivity and the self. There are apparently things that Aristotle hardly dreamed of.

Camus:  [muttering]  Your Mom is Aristotle.

Bertrand Russell:  I am about to start poking all of you in the ribs with my fork.

Wittgenstein:  How can his Mom be Aristotle? Was your speech-act an attempt to characterize some aspect of the real world? Or an expression of the sublime and irrational?

Bertrand Russell:  Idiot. Here i am. I am literally poking my fork into your freaking spleen. There is literally blood coming out! You can’t feel that? Hmm? What about this?  [pokes his fork into Camus’s liver]

Camus:  Ow. It feels as if someone is poking his fork into my spleen. And also, perhaps my liver.

Aquinas:  I’ve about had it up to here with your attention-grabbing egocentricity, Al!

Bertrand Russell:  This is actually almost as enjoyable as getting to participate in a philosophical discussion. Here, i’m going for Aquinas now.

Aquinas:  Hey! What was that?

Camus:  What was what?

Aquinas:  One of you $!%*&#^@&$% s  just poked me in the ribs!

Camus:  Hey there, watch the blasphemy, Tom! Isn’t that one of the Seven Deadly Sins?

Aquinas:  Actually, no, it’s not, although it might cogently be argued that it–

Bertrand Russell:  [a giant poke]

Aquinas:  Ow! Who’s doing that?

Bertrand Russell:  Okay. I have to confess i’m actually considering giving up philosophy to become a practical jokester. Did anybody hear me say that? Of course not. This is the greatest! I’m here, but i’m not here! I’m an ontological impossibility!

Wittgenstein:  I’m still trying to figure out how Aquinas’s Mom can be Aristotle. Is there a variant sense in which you are using the terms?

 

The Dessert Course

In which B.R. exults in his newfound freedom, and continues joyously poking his tableware into the torsos and limbs of all present–much to his own entertainment and the growing consternation of the assembled company.

 

Confucius, the Buddha, Aristotle, and Mr. T Order Their Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  In which four of the world’s greatest philosophers discuss the nature of pleasure and pain, over a meal at Chili’s restaurant. (Er, just to give you a bit of advance notice, one of those philosophers is Mr. T.  We’re sorry. It just worked out that way.)


 

Waiter: Good evening! My name is Miles, and i’ll be your server today.

Mr. T:  You wanna know my name? Huh? Do ya? First name: Mister. Middle name: period. Last name: T.

Waiter:  Um–excellent!  [hesitates long enough to absorb this edifying information]

So, can i bring you fellows something to drink?

Mr. T:  Maybe you can shut your mouth. Maybe you can do that?

Waiter:  I… uh… [trembling]… beg your pardon?

Aristotle:  [sighs so very deeply]

Confucius:  How about four waters, please. And thank you for your patience.

[Waiter scuttles off, already apprehensive about the evening’s shift]

Mr. T:  I pity the fool.

Aristotle:  I can’t help noticing that you say that in places where it makes absolutely no sense.

Mr. T:  Yeah, well here’s what i have to say to you: pain.

The Buddha:  Pain is gateway to vision, even as gate is gateway to place on other side of gate.

Aristotle:  Uh: right. Ahem. Okay. So here’s an interesting question. What role do pleasure and pain play in the development of a healthy human person? Can a human truly grow, without experiencing the opposing forces which are not of his choosing?

Mr. T:  My prediction: Pain.

Aristotle:  Indeed.

The Buddha:  Bird in tree sing beautifully. Bird standing on rock also sing beautifully.

Confucius:  Thank you, Sid. Good stuff. So here’s how i would approach that question. It is through standing against the wind that the strong man prevails. The weak man has spent his days sheltered under a bush; he has not allowed the forces of nature to train him. Opposition is our course of training.

Mr. T:  I’ll show you a course of training.

Aristotle:  Someone remind me, how did this ‘T’ person end up at our table?

Confucius:  [sighs]  It’s a long story.

Mr. T:  I pity the fool.

Confucius:  Thank you, Mr. T. Keep it coming.

The Buddha:  Pain is the path that we take, which leads us to the other path.

Aristotle:  Mmm?

The Buddha:  You know, the other path. That other one. The one that isn’t the first one.

Confucius:  Let’s just move on.

Aristotle:  Okay. Um? I think that you and i were agreeing that pain is an important component in the process of maturing.

Confucius:  Right. Furthermore, if we lean into the unfortunate circumstances that beset us, rather than trying to avoid or deny them, then we gain tenfold the wisdom and maturity that we would have gained, had we successfully evaded them.

Mr. T:  Pain. It’s what’s for dinner.

Aristotle:  Look, that did not EVEN.

Confucius:  [sigh]  Let it go. Anyway, strength is gained through having to confront pain when it comes to us. The weak man, you will find, has led an easy life.

Aristotle:  That makes sense. I like it.

[Miles the waiter returns with four waters]

Waiter:  So, have you fellas made up your minds yet?

Mr. T:  I don’t believe in magic; but i have been known to make guys disappear.

Waiter:  I’m…sorry??

Mr. T:  You heard me. Get along now.

The Buddha:  Pain. Heh heh heh.

Aristotle:  [groans]  Could we have another minute, please?

Waiter:  You bet.  [makes a quick getaway before Mr. T is able to comment]

Confucius:  Perhaps we can all take a moment to look at our menus.

Aristotle:  What is this ‘Southwestern Eggroll’…? Isn’t that sort of a contradiction in terms? I thought eggrolls were from [and here he bows slightly to Confucius] the Orient.

Confucius:  I believe these Southwestern Eggrolls may be from the Southwestern part of China. You know, a regional cuisine.

Aristotle:  [somewhat doubtful]  Ah. Of course. Well, i guess i’ll try a batch of ’em.

Mr. T:  I remember one time i tried to pity this fool. It didn’t work out.

Confucius:  Pity the waiter, T, and make your selection from the menu.

Mr. T:  Where’s the bear? I wanna order the bear.

Aristotle:  [disintegrating visibly]  The…bear?

Mr. T:  Yeah, some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.

The Buddha:  I, too, wish to eat bear. It is the bear that brings us to the edge of what we are not, so that we may perhaps then discover what we are.

Aristotle:  [sweating, wilting]  That… i mean, it didn’t… what are we even… i need a drink.

Confucius:  Let’s make that two drinks.


 

Epilogue:  We’re sorry. There was really no predicting that this would be the result… oh dear. We’re just sorry, that’s all.  -The Editors

 

Jennifer Smith and Elvis Wu Talk About Whether ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Social Skills’ Are Mutually Exclusive Categories

 

Abstract:  So here’s a challenge for ya. Imagine a philosopher. Got him? Okay. Now imagine him entering into a normal, everyday conversation with someone. What, you say you can’t imagine that? Well, my dear reader, you are not alone. There are vast numbers of people out there who have no idea what philosophers talk about when they’re not philosophizing. Perhaps, then, this blog post will be of help to you. Because, please understand, Elvis Wu is the consummate philosopher…but he knows how to talk about all manner of things.


 

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Jennifer Smith is hanging out on the front patio at the Panera Bread in downtown Chattanooga, sipping a latte and reading something by Debbie Macomber. (If you were to ask her, “So what’s the title of the book you’re reading?” she would roll her eyes at you. She would probably not even know the title. She doesn’t typically make her reading selections based on their substantial content…and she figures that the title is more or less randomly chosen anyway.) However, when Elvis Wu spies her sitting at her table on the sidewalk, the first thing that pops into his mind is not the title of her book. He is, as ever, focused on matters of greater substance.

Elvis Wu:  Well, if it isn’t Jennifer Smith! Fond greetings to you!

Jennifer Smith:  Er, “fond greetings” to you as well, Elvis.  [she smirks playfully]

Elvis Wu:  Hah! Do you take exception to my somewhat unusual salutation? I guess no one else says “fond greetings.” Yet it’s precisely what i meant.

Jennifer Smith:  It’s okay. At least you didn’t say, “I choose to greet you with fondness in my heart,” or something extra uber-nerdy like that.

Elvis Wu:  [contemplative]  Wow, that one was really good. I’ll have to file it away for future reference.

Jennifer Smith:  Rar rar rar. So what are you up to today, good sir?

Elvis Wu:  It’s a beautiful afternoon, no? So i’m just walking about the downtown area soaking up some rays before the really wintry weather sets in.

Jennifer Smith:  Good plan. I guess that’s sort of what i’m doing, as well. You got big plans for Thanksgiving?

Elvis Wu:  Oh, i’ll be getting together with some friends for our own version of a Thanksgiving feast.

Jennifer Smith:  Sweet.

Elvis Wu:  And you?

Jennifer Smith:  Thanksgiving dinner with the fam. We all sort of live around the Chattanooga area.

Elvis Wu:  Nice! Well, i hope you and your family have a delightful holiday.

Jennifer Smith:  Thanks. I guess you’ll be spending your holiday wishing “fond greetings” to people.

Elvis Wu:  Well, probably something along those lines. Do you approve?

Jennifer Smith:  You know, it’s funny. We do have all these accepted ways of talking to each other, that have sort of developed as fixed conversation patterns. And even slight departures from the basic “hi, how ya doin” sort of thing really do come off as odd. I just never really bother to think about it.

Elvis Wu:  A terrific observation! I like to mess with those conversation templates a bit, when i think i can get away with it, to shake people up a bit–get them out of their fixed ways of thinking about conversation.

Jennifer Smith:  No wonder you seem to have a somewhat limited friend pool.

Elvis Wu:  Mmm. Mm-hmm.

Jennifer Smith:  I’m sorry–that didn’t come out the way i intended it to.

Elvis Wu:  No, it’s okay. You’re right. I choose my friends carefully, and not usually on the basis of whether they know how to talk like regular people.  [smiles]

Jennifer Smith:  Gosh, i just don’t know if i could be that committed. When i’m talking with someone, i don’t want to have to think through every single thing i’m saying to make sure it’s fresh and original and…

Elvis Wu:  Genuine?

Jennifer Smith:  Owch. Touché. Sure, okay–genuine. We all have these conversational patterns that we’ve learned–it sure does make talking with people a lot easier than if we had to come up with brand new stuff every time.

Elvis Wu:  I get that. And, really, the whole idea of “social skills” is largely attached to whether a person has mastered those ready-made templates for conversation. Philosophers, regrettably… [he smiles sadly] …tend not to have the reputation for making use of the regular conversational patterns that everyone else does.

Jennifer Smith:  Well, i mean, you’ve got excellent social skills. But then, i don’t think you represent all philosophers very well.

Elvis Wu:  Shall i interpret that as a compliment?

Jennifer Smith:  By all means.

Elvis Wu:  So. I wonder if it’s possible to be a true philosopher, and at the same time have excellent social skills?

Jennifer Smith:  Gosh, i don’t see why not. In principle, y’know? Philosophers like to talk about real stuff, real issues–but surely that can be done without wierding out the people you’re talking with.

Elvis Wu:  Fair enough.

Jennifer Smith:  Y’know, i have wondered sometimes–what it would be like if people had conversations based on what they were really thinking and feeling. So much of the stuff that we say to each other really does seem to be memorized junk. I do it. We all do it. Well, not you.  [she scowls at him]

Elvis Wu:  [laughs]  Why don’t we try an experiment?

Jennifer Smith:  Er, an experiment? Like what?

Elvis Wu:  Like, let’s try to have a regular sort of conversation, and analyze it as we go along.

Jennifer Smith:  Oohh. I do not EVEN know about that.  [she smiles]  But sure.

Elvis Wu:  Okay. Why don’t you start? Pretend that you just walked up to me, and you want to initiate a conversation. Do you start with a greeting?

Jennifer Smith:  Uh–sure. I’d say, like, “Hi, how’s it going.”

Elvis Wu:  Whoah, stop, stop! We could spend the next half hour just analyzing that!

Jennifer Smith:  Oh golly, let’s not. Please.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  Okay. Let me just make a couple of observations.

Jennifer Smith:  Fire away.

Elvis Wu:  First, there’s the word “hi,” which essentially doesn’t mean anything. Think about it. What does “hi” mean? It’s basically a way of acknowledging the other person. “Hi,” “hello,” “greetings,” etc. are basically just ways of saying, “I acknowledge your value and the relevance of your presence in my life,” something like that.

Jennifer Smith:  OMG. I do not even.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  And then there’s the part where you said, “how’s it going.”

Jennifer Smith:  Mmm-hmm. And now i’m thinking, i have no real idea what that means.

Elvis Wu:  Ah! Well, perhaps it means something like, “I wonder what the–long or short, depending on the circumstances of the conversation–table of contents of your life would feature, were you to lay it out for me.”

Jennifer Smith:  Elvis, you are so weird.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing again]  Oh, it’s probably gonna get worse. So then, if i were a normal sort of person, i might reply to you, “Oh, nothin’ much. You?”

Jennifer Smith:  Mmm, that sounds right.

Elvis Wu:  Which is a completely wasted opportunity to talk about real things, but we can set that to one side for now.

Jennifer Smith:  Good. Please.

Elvis Wu:  So it’s basically just a reflexion of what the first person said, and we’ve already covered that.

Jennifer Smith:  [breathes a sigh of relief]

Elvis Wu:  So then, what would you say next?

Jennifer Smith:  Um, i might say, “Not a whole lot.” Or, if i really wanted to talk about what’s going on in my life, i might mention something specific, like, “Well gee, i just got a raise! That’s pretty cool.”

Elvis Wu:  Nice! You’ve provided two possible branches the conversation might take. The first one isn’t very interesting, so let’s pursue the second.

Jennifer Smith:  Okay.

Elvis Wu:  If i’m really interested in you, and the circumstances of your life, i might pursue the idea of your raise. How much? Was it for doing good work? Will it enable you to expand your household budget?

Jennifer Smith:  People don’t usually go into all that.

Elvis Wu:  No: Because people usually aren’t all that interested in learning about what’s going on in your life. Sad but true.

Jennifer Smith:  Harsh!

Elvis Wu:  Am i wrong?

Jennifer Smith:  Er, well, not really. Most conversations take only a few seconds, and don’t go into any real detail at all.

Elvis Wu:  Well. So if i’m really interested in you as a person, i might pursue the details of your job situation. But if i’m not, or if time is limited, i might just say, “Sweet! That’s great.”

Jennifer Smith:  Sounds about right.

Elvis Wu:  And what would you say in response?

Jennifer Smith:  Well, maybe something like, “And what’s up with you?”

Elvis Wu:  Perfect! And, again, if they really feel like engaging you, they might come up with something interesting that’s going on in their life. Otherwise, they’ll probably just say, “Aw, nothin’ much.”

Jennifer Smith:  Yeah, that’s pretty much how it goes.

Elvis Wu:  And that takes us to the exit point, if the two people aren’t really interested in pursuing a real conversation, or they haven’t got the time. So one of ’em might say, “Well, all the best to ya!” And the other one might reply, “Sure, man, you hang in there!” Both of which could be translated, roughly, to mean, “I hope your future circumstances are consistent with your best plans and hopes,” something like that.

Jennifer Smith:  Something like that.

Elvis Wu:  And then they go their separate ways.

Jennifer Smith:  My word.

Elvis Wu:  Such a funny thing, conversation.

Jennifer Smith:  Y’know, from now on i’m going to be terrified–well, maybe half terrified, and half curious–about what you’re really thinking when we chat.

Elvis Wu:  Ah! Such a feeling of power.  [clasps his hands under his chin after the fashion of someone named “Smedley” or “Igor”]

Jennifer Smith:  Dude, you are SO strange, i cannot EVEN.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing heartily]  I assure you, my thoughts are nothing but charitable toward you, even when you’re talkin’ ’bout nothin’.

Jennifer Smith:  [smiles]  Well, that’s comforting. Sort of.

 

 

Three Philosophers Analyze Their Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  So there’s these three philosophers, see — variously interested in radical empiricism, rationalism, and the analytic/linguistic school of thought — and they meet at Chili’s for dinner. (For those of you who’ve not studied philosophy, the only people more fun than philosophers are [1] morticians, and [2] my Uncle Federico, who runs a dry goods store in Muncie, Indiana.) Gosh, what a barrel of monkeys! Can you dig it! Don’t you wish that YOU’d been at Chili’s that day? I know i do! Let’s listen in.


 

Our three philosopher-friends are seated at a booth by the windows — “so as to remain in touch with the more ecological aspects of human experience,” as one of them explained to the hostess while they were being seated. The following conversation picks up just as they’ve had the chance to settle in for a minute.

Philosopher #1:  Hmmm. What an odd document this ‘menu’ appears to be.

Philosopher #2:  How so?

Philosopher #1:  I see several problems. The subsections into which the whole is divided make no sense, either structurally or as bodies of intelligible data. And the menu begins with a listing of intoxicants. Should not that sort of thing come after the decisions have been made?

Philosopher #2:  Probably. I think i’m going to have the salmon with broccoli and rice.

Philosopher #3:  I don’t even see that.

Philosopher #2:  You’re looking at the desserts, goofball.

Philosopher #3:  Oh. This has very quickly become my favorite page.

Philosopher #2:  You can always come back to it. The dessert is supposed to be the last part of the meal.

Philosopher #3:  What canon of judgment establishes a necessary order for the components of a meal, ordered out of a menu?

Philosopher #1:  Here we go again.

Philosopher #2:  Look, dude, just allow the received social structures to define the manner in which you interact with the data.

Philosopher #3:  That doesn’t even.

Philosopher #1:  What if i were to eat a page from this menu, rather than any of the food items depicted thereupon?

Philosopher #2:  Please tell me that you’re joking.

Philosopher #1:  The ‘joke’ is a language-game in which i tend not to willingly participate.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  [sidles up to table]  Hi there! My name’s Geoffroy, and i’m going to be your server. Can i start you fellows off with something to drink?

Philosopher #1:  What is the square root of inert negativity?

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Um. Heh heh. I’m not sure i understand the question.

Philosopher #1:  [irritated]  It was a simple enough question.

Philosopher #3:  Great! Now he’s going to be in a mood for the rest of the meal.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Heh heh. Heh heh. Um.

Philosopher #2:  What is the square root of Your Mom.

Philosopher #3:  [laughs inexplicably]

Geoffroy the Waiter:  You know what, i’m gonna let you fellows look over the menu a bit more, and i’ll be back in a minute.

Philosopher #1:  Good plan, Ghee-off-rooy.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Heh heh, it’s pronounced “Jeff-ree.”

Philosopher #1:  No it’s not.

Geoffroy the Table Server:  Um, heh heh.  [scuttles off quickly, sweating]

Philosopher #1:  What an idiot.

Philosopher #2:  Never mind him. Just look at the menu and decide what you want to eat.

Philosopher #3:  Remind me again, at what point in the meal is it permissible to look at this “desserts” section?

Philosopher #2:  After you’ve eaten some real food.

Philosopher #3:  And by what standard are we able to evaluate the Real in the world of nutrition? Is not everything depicted in this menu Real? At some level?

Philosopher #1:  Perhaps it’s worth pointing out, at this juncture, that “nourishing” and “it looks good in the picture” are not necessarily equivalent concepts.

Philosopher #3:  Oh dear. I’m still not able to detect any intelligible pattern of interaction by which this ‘menu’ is mapped over the data of my own experience.

Philosopher #2:  When is that waitress person coming back? Before i’ll have had the chance to make a rational decision based on an adequate survey of the relevant data? I’m feeling pressured to make a decision based on insufficient data.

Philosopher #3:  [waxing oratorical]  I sense that he shall return in the fullness of time.

Philosopher #2:  Time! Now there’s a self-contradictory construct for you.

Philosopher #1:  I’ve told you a thousand times [sic], that doesn’t make any sense. Just because you’re able to slip something past your dissertation committee, that doesn’t make it a real thing.

Philosopher #2:  Nyah nyah nyah. You can’t dismiss an idea just because you’re not equipped to understand it.

Philosopher #1:  [muttering]  Your Mom’s not equipped to understand it.

Philosopher #2:  What? Did you say something about someone’s Mom?

Philosopher #1:  Maybe i did, and maybe i didn’t.

Philosopher #2:  If we were to have this same conversation an infinite number of times, i wonder how many of those times would involve a reference to your Mom.

Philosopher #1:  Well, even after ‘x’ number of conversations, even if she hadn’t come up any of the previous times, there’s no guarantee Your Mom wouldn’t come up the, like, infinite-th time.

[Geoffrey the Waiter slips back up to their table, having braced himself with a few slugs from the vodka bottle he’d conveniently hidden in his backpack that morning.]

Philosopher #3:  Well, how very Humean of you.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  It didn’t sound very human to me.

Philosopher #1:  What? You’re still here?

Philosopher #3:  I didn’t say ‘human’… i said ‘Humean.’

Geoffroy the Waiter:  So, you have trouble pronouncing ‘human’? Nobody’s perfect. We’re only human. Or ‘humean.’ Heh heh.  [immensely pleased with himself for holding his own amid such august company]

Philosopher #1:  ‘Humean’ is a reference to the philosophy of David Hume, an important philosopher of the 1700s.  [mutters under breath]  Imbecile.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Oh.

Philosopher #2:  Among other things, he said that if all of your knowledge is based on observation… which he believed to be the case… then you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, even if the same thing has tended to happen over and over in the past. For instance, just because tipping a glass over has tended to cause water to splash all over the table every time you’ve done it before…

[He deliberately knocks a glass of water over onto Philosopher #1’s lap]

…that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the next time. Oh, will ya look at that. I appear to have made a boo-boo.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  I just thought you had a funny speech impediment.

Philosopher #3:  I do have a funny speech impediment. It’s extremely rude of you to point it out.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Um. Uuhhh…Sorry?

Philosopher #2:  What does that have to do with David Hume?

Philosopher #3:  Nothing, so far as i can tell. I’m not going to be tipping this embarrassing specimen of a table server–i can tell you that.

Philosopher #1:  Me neither!  [hitching on to an apparent excuse to leave off tipping]

Geoffroy the Waiter:  [slinks off, unnoticed]

Philosopher #3:  I think i’ll have the ‘Southwestern Eggrolls.’

Philosopher #1:  What an incoherent concept. Eggrolls are not associated with the American Southwest, either historically nor as a cuisine.

Philosopher #3:  I think you’re demanding too much philosophical rigor from a popular family restaurant.

Philosopher #1:  If a food makes no sense, i’m not putting it in my body, that’s all i’m saying.

Philosopher #2:  Well, um, okay. So, do you see anything that appeals to you?

Philosopher #1:  I find nothing in here that meets my standards for logical coherence.

Philosopher #2:  Dude, how do you not starve on a regular basis.

 

Epilogue

As it turns out, the three philosophers did end up receiving nourishment, although it was not Geoffroy the Waiter, but the Chili’s restaurant manager who ended up making sure they got hooked up with the appropriate foods. Geoffrey was meanwhile quailing in the back, trembling slightly, and peeping out from time to time to see if the three philosophers had left yet. His life would never be the same. Shortly after the events recorded in this blog post, Geoffrey quit his job at Chili’s and has since been happily employed as a vacuum cleaner salesman…just a few miles, interestingly, from the place where “Southwestern Eggrolls” were invented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What IS a Flockbinker, Really? The Philosophers Weigh In

 

Abstract:  One of the ongoing challenges we’ve experienced in association with this blog, is the fact that some of our most essential vocabulary never seems to have been defined. Flockbinker? Wamwam? Someone’s Mom? Perhaps even yours? The assembled throng furrow their brows; heads incline with justifiable concern; someone passes out and falls over from the mental strain. So we’ve brought in some brainy types to see if this problem can be rectified. These include some of the leading luminaries in the history of philosophical thought, as well as some of our regulars here on the blog. This exchange ought to be a real treat.


 

The Blogger:  Okay, fellas, so here’s the question. What is a flockbinker?

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  A flockbinker is all that is the case, in that particular realm of discourse in which the term ‘flockbinker’ is applied as relevant.

Rene Descartes:  [Scoffing in a particularly French manner]  That was ridiculous and did not mean anything.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Your Mom is ridiculous and doesn’t mean anything.

Rene Descartes:  [Deliberately ignoring this remark]  Rrmff. I would say that a flockbinker is that which (in its capacity as a flockbinker) thinks the thoughts of a flockbinker, and therefore, is, a flockbinker.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Wut.

Rene Descartes:  Well, it was better than that stupide thing you said.

Plato:  Okay. Here it is. In order to ascertain what the term ‘flockbinker’ applies to, we must first determine whether we are talking about a feature of the ultimate realm, or merely an item in the world of appearances. Of course, if a flockbinker is a feature of the Real world–that realm from which the world of our ephemeral appearances derives–then it will of course have its analog in the world of our perceptions.

Rene Descartes:  [mutters]  That, too, was ridiculous and did not mean anything. These people who have chosen to call themselves philosophers!

Francis Bacon:  Well, what Plato calls the “world of appearances” is simply reality. Let’s strip away the foolish hocus-pocus. If a flockbinker can be demonstrated to exist–if he is available to our senses in the world of the real and concrete–then he is a real object. We cannot begin the discussion of his attributes until we have settled the issue of his existence.

The Blogger:  Well, of course he exists! He’s at the very center of what this blog is about!

[Francis Bacon looks the Blogger up and down in the way that one would examine a particularly fascinating centipede.]

William James:  Well, you know, this Plato fellow made a helpful distinction between different levels of reality. I’d like to, if i might, distinguish between the mental and the physical parts of the real world. It might be argued that any mental state in which a flockbinker is featured as real, according to the consciousness of the individual, is one that is, in a certain sense, peculiar to its own flockbinkerosity.

Everyone Present:  Wut.

Little Biffy:  So much philosophical talent assembled in one room! Gosh, i’m practically speechless! But not quite, heh heh. I would say that a flockbinker, insofar as it has any kind of independent existence, is a sort of logical placeholder for use in certain kinds of (generally quite funny) philosophical dialogues and syllogisms created by The Blogger.

The Blogger:  What an excellent answer! This little fellow’s a winner if ever i saw one!

Little Biffy:  [grins innocently]

Elvis Wu:  Hmmm. The flockbinker, he is like a cup of the very finest rice wine that can be imagined. Each saloon claims to feature it on their menu.

Everyone Present:  Wut.

Elvis Wu:  When one has a reputation for being wise and inscrutable, it’s necessary to invest some effort from time to time in cultivating the impression.

[Francis Bacon looks at him sort of cockeyed. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, has obviously had his respect for Elvis Wu’s intellect considerably deepened.]

Jennifer Smith:  Okay, here’s my question. If a flockbinker is not a real thing–

Plato:  Define “a real thing.”

Descartes:  Yeah. Define “a real thing.”

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. A real thing is a thing that actually exists in the real world.

Plato:  Define “the real world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  Yeah. Define “the real world.”

Jennifer Smith:  [rolling eyes]  Um. Okay. Whatever. Pass.

The Good Reader:  Well, my question is, so long as we’re getting all serious about nonsense words and such, why do we need to define a flockbinker specifically, as if it were a real item, like my purse? Are we also going to define a squibblymidget?

The Three Scotsmen:  Arrrgh!

The Blogger:  Well, of course a flockbinker is a real thing! It’s what this blog is about!

The Good Reader:  Okay. My little finger is a real thing. Is a flockbinker a real thing in the same sense that my little finger is?

The Blogger:  Well, um, we would kind of need to, um. Uh. Hmmm. Yo.

The Three Scotsmen:  Arrrrgh!

 


Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I’m thinking that this discussion didn’t go quite the way you expected.

The Blogger:  [Pouts, refuses to look her in the eye]

The Good Reader:  [Not to be put off]  Mmm-hmm, so, ya didn’t get the kind of conversation going that you were hoping for?

The Blogger:  Go away.

 

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.

 

A Philosophy Joke: Confucius, Buddha, and Bertie Wooster Have Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  In which P.G. Wodehouse’s classic creation Mr. Bertram Wooster dines at Chili’s with two classical Asian philosophers–Mr. Confucius and Mr. Buddha–and finds himself, oh, a bit out of his depth. Eh what?


 

If you’ve ever dipped into the fiction of British author P.G. Wodehouse, you are doubtless familiar with the character of Bertie Wooster.  You know, the somewhat sub-brainful scion of one of the English ruling families of about a hundred years ago.  And if you’ve ever dipped into the literature of the Ancient East, you are probably familiar with the characters of Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) and Shakyamuni (the Buddha).

But…ha! And i shall say it again: Ha! Has it ever occurred to you to imagine the conversation that might arise should Young Bertram find himself in the presence of these two ancient worthies, at Chili’s Restaurant? No! Of course it hasn’t. That’s why i’m the one doing all the heavy lifting about the place. I mean: SOMEBODY’s got to.

Wodehouse would’ve done it, if only he’d thought of it.

At any rate, what you are about to read represents one possible dialogue that might arise if persons #1, #2, and #3 were to find themselves at the same table at Chili’s on a warm Saturday afternoon….

 

Confucius:  [looking over the menu]  Hmmm. I’ve often wondered what these “Southwestern Eggrolls” are. Ordering them has never served to shed light on the matter. Though they are admittedly tasty.

Buddha:  All is vanity.

Confucius:  Well put, my man. Oh… i suppose i’ll go with the Cobb Salad again. Can’t go wrong with the classics.

Buddha:  To choose that which has endured the whirlwind, in this is wisdom.

Bertie Wooster:  [muscling his way through the crowd to their table]  I say! What a brainy sort of thing to come forth with at the dinner table.

Confucius:  Well, hello! I didn’t see you standing there.

Bertie:  Oh don’t mind me. Just casting about for a place among my fellow man. The restaurant’s a bit crowded at present. They’re working on a table for me. Chuffing waitstaff.

Buddha:  The man who is able to establish himself among his fellows without doing harm is of the….

Confucius:  Yes, yes. Please sit with us, at least until the crowd thins a bit.

Bertie:  Well, i don’t mind if i do.

Confucius:  My name is Kung fu Tzu, and my companion is Lord Shakyamuni.

Bertie:  I say! Pleased to make your acquaintance, and all that, your Lordship. Bertram Wooster here, at your service and all that.

Buddha:  The pains that result from our illusory desires may only be….

Confucius:  Yes, indeed, thank you. [to Bertie]  He can seem a bit like a broken record, until you’ve gotten to know him. After which, he continues to sound like a broken record.

Bertie:  I say!  [hesitating]  You coves wouldn’t happen to be philosophers?

Confucius:  Honored to be of service.  [extends hand in greeting]

Buddha:  To exist is to suffer.

Bertie:  Eh what!

Confucius:  Never mind him. Given the choice between social niceties and a philosophical coup, well, he’s not really familiar with social niceties.

Bertie:  I knew someone like that. Name of Spode. Suffering was his favorite theme–mine in particular.

Confucius:  Spode. Spode. You wouldn’t be referring to S.P. Oder, by any chance?

Bertie:  Nope. Fellow’s name was just plain Spode. Bit of a fascist organizer, cum white supremacist, cum uninvited attender at other people’s social occasions.

Confucius:  Ah. I’ve known the sort of person. Has a great many regrettable opinions about racial superiority, has he?

Bertie:  Precisely. Spode enjoys mowing his property, solely to hear the violets cry out in terror. His idea of a good party is one where a representative of the Master Race is putting it over on someone less masterful.

Buddha:  To master one’s cravings, this is the essence of superior spirituality.

Bertie:  Really? Oh dear. I fear i’ve not given much attention to mastering my cravings. At the Drone’s Club, we rather incline toward inventing new cravings.

Buddha:  It is no matter. You are well on the way to cultivating mindlessness, my son.

Bertie:  I say! Now you’re reminding me of my Aunt Dahlia.

Confucius:  She is a philosopher?

Bertie:  No, but this chap seems to share her view of my mind and its capacities, what?

Confucius:  We owe respect to our elders, even when their words to us are sharp, like the edge of a cultivating tool.

Bertie:  Aunt Dahlia certainly knows her cultivating tools, being something in the way of a gardener.

Confucius:  Indeed! To bring forth wealth from the soil, and to subsist by the sweat of one’s brow: such a life is not inferior to that of kings.

Bertie:   If you say so. Well, i mean to say, Aunt Dahlia doesn’t do much sweating about the brow, except where her prize rose bushes are concerned. She subsists mainly by the sweat of other people’s brows, including my Uncle Tom.

Confucius:  Ah.

Bertie:  Now, if this fellow [indicating the Buddha] had called me a blot, a rodent, a germ and an insect, he would rather have reminded me of my Aunt Agatha.

Confucius:  A woman of high spirits! I should like to meet her.

Bertie:  Enjoy leaping into vats of boiling oil in your leisure hours, eh what?

Confucius:  I beg your pardon?

Bertie:  Oh, just musing. Say, what do philosophers eat when dining out?

Confucius:  [nervously eyeing menu]  Er, the usual. Cobb Salads, that sort of thing. And what do privileged young scions of the English aristocratic class eat?

Bertie:  [also looking over menu]  Hmmm. I’m looking for the roast joint of mutton with roast potatoes, mint sauce  and haricots verts. What a confusing menu! What’s a “Southwestern Eggroll”?

Confucius:  Those are actually quite good. Recommend. We’ll just ignore the deeply confused gridwork of cultural appropriations.

Buddha:  The wheel of samsara can be escaped only through self-denial.

Confucius:  See, even he admits that they’re tasty.

Bertie:  I must say i’m not often in the company of philosophers. Well, there’s Jeeves, of course.

Confucius:  Chi Tzu?

Bertie:  Jeeves. J-E-E-V-E-S. Terribly brainy sort of chap. Reads dusty old volumes for enjoyment. No accounting for tastes, what?

Confucius:  A philosopher, then?

Bertie:  Ra-THER. He knows a good bit more about Schopenhauer and, oh, some of those other brainy chaps than i do about houndstooth tweed.

Confucius:  He sounds wonderful! And you say that you have employed him as your staff philosopher?

Bertie:  Well, not precisely. He’s my valet. You know, keeps the jackets ironed and the tea warm, that sort of thing, ha ha.

Confucius:  [somewhat disapprovingly]  Are you certain that you have employed him in accordance with his gifts?

Bertie:  Well, you know, ha ha.

Confucius:  No matter. You must bring him with you the next time we adventitiously meet at Chili’s for dinner!

Bertie:  Depend on it! And i can ask Jeeves later on what ‘adventitiously’ means.

Okay, that’s it. I’m ditching philosophy and taking up extreme sports.

Look. I’ve had it. The philosophical life has just gotten too dang hard.

Given the times we’re living in, and the direction the world seems to be taking, there just doesn’t seem to be much demand for philosophical thought anymore. Contemporary discourse is being taken over by darkness and unreason; the irrational has gained ascendancy over logic and clear sense; there is a breathtaking lack of interest in truth; it is increasingly popular to ignore obvious aspects of reality in favor of bizarre flavor-of-the-month ideologies.

And that’s just in my morning carpool.

So i’m considering a pretty radical move.

I’m gonna give up on being a philosopher, and take up extreme sports instead.

Well… maybe….

Because, you see, being a philosopher (i haven’t taken up extreme sports just yet) i can’t just jump into a life-changing decision like this. I need to carefully, analytically and systematically examine all of the ramifications. What follows is my painstaking analysis of the pros and cons of giving up the leisured, cerebral life of philosophy, in order to climb up sheer rock faces with my fingernails.

The Advantages to Giving up on Philosophy
in Favor of Extreme Sports:

  • Among rugged outdoors types, you don’t ever catch someone making a stupid pun on “Kant” and “can’t.”
  • No one in your ice climbing group will be examining your epistemological premises for consistency or fidelity to the available evidence.
  • You get to experience terror of things other than the meaninglessness of existence.
  • Getting tangled up in webs of reasoning is ten times more exhausting than getting tangled up in a mess of ropes and carabiners.
  • When you see a reference to ‘Academy’ you will immediately think of a sporting goods store, not Plato’s archetypal think-tank.
  • The name “St. Augustine” does not conjure up images of morbid self-reflection; on the contrary, it calls up images of parasailing off of sunny Florida beaches.
  • The name “Schopenhauer” is more likely to remind you of an imported beer, than the raw, brute will at the center of the universe.
  • Parkour may look kind of ridiculous to a jaded onlooker, but it’s not nearly as ridiculous as a dorm room full of sophomores discussing critical theory at 2:15 in the morning.
  • Your nightmares will be haunted by visions of hurtling off of icy ledges three thousand feet up, rather than an image of Jeremy Bentham’s stuffed cadaver on display at University College, London…which, honestly, is much more terrifying.
  • No more dealing with asinine conundrums, like the parable of “Buridan’s Ass” or the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”… instead, you get to face dilemmas like, “Do we continue on toward the top, risking starvation and sub-zero temperatures, or do we turn back, thus risking starvation and sub-zero temperatures?”
  • Reading Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy is a bit of a yawn compared with the cool merch available at Mountain Outfitters (West Jefferson, North Carolina)

Possible Disadvantages to Taking up Extreme Sports
and Giving up on Philosophy:

  • Sitting in an armchair contemplating the mysteries of the universe turns out to be a lot less dangerous than a near-vertical-grade slab climb.
  • When doing philosophy in my own home, i get to eat my own “trail mix” that is, in fact, made up of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cornbread, all arranged nicely on a big plate.
  • Whatever the disadvantages to being stranded in Plato’s Cave, it’s unlikely that they’ll have to send a rescue team in after you.
  • Hume’s “problem of induction” remains purely theoretical until you get out there and field test it: in reality, it turns out that every time i step on a loose rock, i will sprain my ankle.
  • Cracking your cranium open on a river boulder can seriously curtail your capacity for rational thought — a faculty that turns out to come in handy in a variety of life’s situations, not just philosophy.
  • Being a Socratic gadfly in the marketplace is not nearly so annoying to innocent bystanders as parkour.
  • The most violent thing that may happen to you is that you will be threatened with Wittgenstein’s Poker… and that only happens about once in a generation.
  • Heraclitus, schmeraclitus: You can step into the same river twice, and if the current is swift enough, suddenly the question of whether the Real World is in a constant state of flux will seem kind of silly and academic.
  • Sure, jumping to conclusions is a Really Bad Thing and all, but as it turns out, BASE jumping is far more dangerous.
  • The law of the excluded middle is a big deal in logic, but it’s an even bigger deal when you’ve inexplicably lost the middle section of your parachute
  • “Being and Nothingness” has such a vibey sound to it when you’re looking at a book by Sartre, but it loses its appeal when you’re hanging off the side of a cliff

 

The Conclusion

Having carefully weighed the pros and cons, i think i may hold off for a bit on taking up extreme sports. My cranium has become very dear to me over the years…

…and i Kant bear the thought of fracturing it.

 

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