all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Category: Philosophy

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.

 

Your Fourth Pop Quiz. Let’s Hope You Studied. Oh, Wait.

 

Abstract:  We’re scaling the Pop Quizzes down from ten questions to six questions, so as to accommodate the declining intellectual powers of the internet-dwelling audience. No! Wait. What i meant to say was, it’s just easier to manage a pop quiz when there’s not a sprawling mess of nonsense stretched out in every direction. Wait! No! Doggone it, i’m having a bit of trouble getting my thoughts onto paper here. Anyway, here’s your most recent pop quiz. Enjoy!


 

1. Nonsense and its vicissitudes. Which of the following statements is true of sense and non-sense?

a. Sense is the sort of thing that makes sense, and nonsense doesn’t.

b. Sense is sensible. And nonsense is…non-sensible.

c. Well, jeepers, thus far we don’t really seem to have established anything.

d. Hey, dude, tautological statements are better than no statements at all.

e. The difference between sense and nonsense is kind of similar to the difference between peanut butter and almond butter.

f. Okay, now THAT did not make any sense.

g. Sure, well, maybe it’s YOUR MOM that doesn’t make any sense.

h. Sense is that which can be sensed, whereas nonsense is that which can non be sensed.

i. Sense and nonsense is the name of a popular novel by Jane Austen.

j. I am surrounded by insane people.

 

2. Absurdity is to nonsense as reason is to ___________________ .

a. Nonreason

b. Reasonlessness

c. Treason

d. Rationality

e. Good sense

f. Someone else’s Mom

g. A fork and a knife

h. Six heaping teaspoons of castor oil

i. Dude, you can’t have a heaping teaspoon of castor oil

j. Six heaping teaspoons of castor oil that has been dried into a powder

 

3. The four levels of nonsense delineated in the post “Nonsense and Its Vicissitudes” are:

a. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

b. Maggie and Milly and Molly and May

c. Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo and Chico

d. Height, width, depth, and time

e. What in the WORLD are these people talking about.

f. Pigs are the coolest animals, when you really stop to think about it.

g. Chaos and abaddon, with darkness upon the face of the deep

h. That wasn’t four things, it was three.

i. Your Mom is four things, how about that?

j. [sinks head into hands and heaves a sigh that evokes levels of despair previously undreamed of except in villages that have been saturation-bombed with old issues of Mad magazine for weeks and weeks on end]

 

4. When it comes right down to it, do flockbinkers really have any place in a discussion of philosophy?

a. Yes, indeed.

b. No sirree.

c. Well, yes and no.

d. Neither yes nor no.

e. “Neither yes nor no” isn’t a valid answer to this question.

f. Look here, bozo, how about i set down my answers, and you set down yours, okay?

g. Yes, but without the “indeed” following it.

h. Maybe. You show me what’s in your hand, and i’ll show you what’s in mine, heh heh.

i. These people are disgusting and filthy, and that’s just the site administrators.

j. To err is human, and on top of that, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with.

 

5. Which of the following statements may be accurately made regarding nonsense?

a. ‘Nonsense’ may be understood as the opposite of ‘sense’.

b. ‘Nonsense’ may be defined as “that which is contrary to the laws of logic.”

c. Nonsense don’t make much sense, now, do it. Heh heh, heh heh.

d. ‘Nonsense’ my be defined as, “that which… is… Your Mom.”

e. Pee-Wee Herman attempted to have a meaningful conversation with Mr. Bean. What resulted was utter nonsense.

f. Nonsense can be delightful and lovely, tra la la, tra la la, tra la la.

g. Nonsense is what you get when you enroll in Mrs. Vickers’ Gender Studies class.

h. Hey, don’t be trashing Mrs. Vickers now, she puts together a mean zucchini casserole.

i. Do you realize you just complimented a feminist academic on the strength of her cooking.

j. Nonsense is what you’ve got when you ain’t got nothin’ else.

 

6. If you were to line up five Bertrand Russells along the top of a fence, which of the following would obtain?

a. The possibility of five Bertrand Russells existing elsewhere at the same time would be eliminated.

b. The statement “There are not five Bertrand Russells on the fence” would be rendered nonsensical.

c. There couldn’t be five Bertrand Russells, ‘Bertrand Russell’ being an entity of an essentially unitary status.

d. Please tell me i’m having a nightmare.

e. Five Bertrand Russells, each of them immersed in nightmare, cannot at one and the same time be awake or immersed in pleasant dreams.

f. When you’ve got five Bertrand Russells on the top of a fence, now, and here’s the part i’m needing you to pay attention to–it’s the important aspect of the discussion–um—

g. Wut.

h. Okay, now these questions are really getting kind of ridiculous.

i. Maybe it’s Your Mom that’s getting kind of ridiculous.

j. Q.E.D.

 

 

Elvis Wu and Jennifer Smith Further Explore the Impossible Relationship between ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Social Skills’

 

Abstract:  This is part two of a dialogue that began several posts ago, between two of our thrice-worthy protagonists–Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major, and Jennifer Smith, budding philosopher-at-large. In the first part, the two of them talked about the nature of everyday conversation, and why it is that people approach it in the ways that they do. This time, the conversation moves to the even more interesting topic of whether philosophers are capable of having a normal conversation.


 

The scene:  Elvis Wu and Jennifer Smith have been talking for a while on the patio out in front of Panera Bread in downtown Chattanooga. The topic? Philosophy, philosophers, and whether these people know how to talk about the same normal things that everyone else talks about. They started out talking about typical conversational patterns, and now they’re moving on into darker territory: What DO the philosophers talk about, when you catch them in an unguarded moment?

 

Elvis Wu:  So here’s the interesting thing. Are conversations between philosophers substantially different from conversations between regular people?

Jennifer Smith:  Um. I guess? Because they’re full of lofty thoughts.

Elvis Wu:  Oohh! I like it.

Jennifer Smith:  So, do philosophers skip the small talk? What in the world DO they talk about?

Elvis Wu:  Well, you know, the usual: departmental politics, tenure tracks, the syllabus. That sort of thing.

Jennifer Smith:  Hardy har-har.

Elvis Wu:  Really, most philosophy professors talk about the usual kinds of things. That’s why i’d rather not use them as my examples of what philosophers are like. A real philosopher…you know, someone who actually lives it…would be more like your friend Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith:  Dang it! Somehow i knew–i just knew!–he was going to come up in this conversation. I just knew it.

Elvis Wu:  Well.

Jennifer Smith:  I just knew it.

Elvis Wu:  The dude thinks things through, and he chooses his words carefully.

Jennifer Smith:  That he does.

Elvis Wu:  And he’s never afraid to call anything into question.

Jennifer Smith:  You’re right. That he isn’t.

Elvis Wu:  He’s a philosopher.

Jennifer Smith:  I guess he is.

Elvis Wu:  And he’s a really good philosopher. He’ll not let go of a question until he’s fully satisfied that he’s gotten an answer that makes complete sense.

Jennifer Smith:  [sighs]  Yes, you’re right about that.

Elvis Wu:  Yet you seem not to appreciate these exalted qualities of his.

Jennifer Smith:  Well… they can make conversation difficult.

Elvis Wu:  Hah! Conversation isn’t always supposed to be easy.

Jennifer Smith:  [muttering things under her breath that do not sound very nice]

Elvis Wu:  There there, Jennifer. You’re a philosopher too, you know. It’s just that your philosopher side is not your favorite side of yourself.  [smiles]

Jennifer Smith:  [mutters a few more things]

Elvis Wu:  And that places you in the weeny minority, and in highly exalted company!

Jennifer Smith:  [mutters a couple more things, but at least she’s smiling now]

Elvis Wu:  He’s a pretty sharp kid. You’re fortunate that he’s picked you out to be his friend. He doesn’t connect with most people. He obviously thinks you’re pretty smart.

Jennifer Smith:  [stops muttering things, but doesn’t stop smiling]

Elvis Wu:  [smiles back]

Jennifer and Elvis:  [just a couple o’ grinnin’ fools]

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. I surrender. So, can we get back to a point you were making a minute ago? About the differences between philosophers’ conversations, and the way regular people talk to each other.

Elvis Wu:  Sure. It’s an interesting theme to explore.

Jennifer Smith:  Um. Do philosophers talk about…the weather? Do they talk about professional team sports? Do they talk about men’s fashion? How about movies and books? I suppose yes, on the books. Do they talk about nerdy books, or the regular ones?

Elvis Wu:  Whoah! That’s a lot of questions.

Jennifer Smith:  And music! Do they care about music? Or art? Do they attend the ballet? Do they go to rock concerts? I have so many questions about what philosophers are interested in!

Elvis Wu:  Apparently.

Jennifer Smith:  I mean: if your life is all about digging into things and asking the tough questions, then is it possible to be interested in the normal things that everyone else is interested in?

Elvis Wu:  Well, you’ve piled up a bunch of stuff for us to examine. Why don’t we start on in, and let’s use our little friend Biffy as the archetype of a philosopher.

Jennifer Smith:  Um, okay. The little nerdo.

Elvis Wu:  He’s a perfect live model to make use of here, because we both know him and we’ve got some idea of what sorts of things he would talk about, think about, take an interest in.

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. I surrender. Little Biffy it is.

Elvis Wu:  You mentioned art, music, and dance. Let’s start there.

Jennifer Smith:  Sure.

Elvis Wu:  So, if Biffy were to express an opinion about the arts, what sort of opinion would it be, and what sort of basis would he have for it?

Jennifer Smith:  You’re asking ME?

Elvis Wu:  Sure. You’ve dialogued with him enough to know what kinds of approaches he’s likely to take in the analysis of an idea.

Jennifer Smith:  [sigh]  I guess so. Well, let’s see. Biffy might say something like, “What is the purpose of art, and does this particular sculpture serve that purpose?”

Elvis Wu:  Marvelous! I think you may be on to something.

Jennifer Smith:  And then he might say, “This sculpture, for instance, looks like a lobster whose innards were blown out by a hand grenade and then swept into a little pile. In what way does this serve the purpose of sculpture as an artistic medium?”

Elvis Wu:  You’re nailing it. I almost feel like he’s speaking through you.

Jennifer Smith:  [smiles]  And then he would say, “If a sculpture is supposed to represent some aspect of the concrete world, then this one has failed. But might there be other aspects of reality that the sculptor was attempting to capture?”

Elvis Wu:  Wow. Go on.

Jennifer Smith:  And then he might say, “Why don’t we start by laying down some definitions. What do we mean by the term ‘art,’ and what are we saying when we claim that a given work of art is ‘good’?”

Elvis Wu:  I’m in awe. It’s almost as if you ARE Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith:  I’ve had enough conversations with him by now, to guess where he might go in our little scenario.

Elvis Wu:  You’re doing great. So, let’s stop there, and examine what he’s said so far.

Jennifer Smith:  The little dude’s barely getting started.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  I realize that, but you’ve already given us some good material to start with.

Jennifer Smith:  Good-o.

Elvis Wu:  So, one of the things he’s wanting us to do is to start out with definitions. How very Socratic! Our man Socrates would have done exactly the same thing. What is art? And what does it mean for something to be good? If we’re not clear on these two things, then the whole discussion turns out to be pointless.

Jennifer Smith:  But doesn’t everyone just sort of intuitively know what art is? I’m not Biffy right now, i’m me. Forgive me if it’s a stupid question.

Elvis Wu:  [laughing]  Not at all! The majority of people would probably say something similar. So, here’s my response. My little nephew recently created an art installation that involved some play-doh, a pile of weeds from the back yard, and one of his own bowel movements.

Jennifer Smith:  Eewww!

Elvis Wu:  Right, right! So, how should we approach this body of material… as an art object? As a pile of nonsense? Or something else?

Jennifer Smith:  You’re not being fair. Most art isn’t like that.

Elvis Wu:  It’s astonishing, the range of material that’s being offered to the public these days, under the title of ‘art’.

Jennifer Smith:  Um, okay. I guess that’s true. So how WOULD we define art?

Elvis Wu:  Well, i suspect our young friend Biffy would say something like, “Let us define ‘art’ as that which has been created not primarily for its usefulness, but in order to satisfy our ideas of what constitutes ‘beauty,’ or, at any rate, ‘the visually interesting’.”

Jennifer Smith:  Okay, i give up. You’re way better at channeling the Biff-ster than i am.

Elvis Wu:  Ah, i have learned from a master! So do you like the definition?

Jennifer Smith:  Sure, i guess. I’d have to think about it for years to really decide whether i agree fully with it or not. So let’s just say: yeah. It’s a good definition.

Elvis Wu:  Honestly, it’s as good a definition as we’re likely to come across anywhere in the literature on art, or philosophy–or, for that matter, philosophy of art.

Jennifer Smith:  [smiles]  I’m not even going to ask you if there’s really such a thing as “philosophy of art.”

Elvis Wu:  Oh, there are branches of philosophy for everything. Philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of knowledge, philosophy of education, religion, history. Every academic field has a corresponding body of philosophers who’ve taken an interest in that particular area of study… but they approach it as philosophers, not as scientists or religious leaders.

Jennifer Smith:  I mean, wow. I had no idea that the field of philosophy was so diverse!

Elvis Wu:  That’s a whole conversation by itself, and we probably want to get back to the one we were having–about art, examined philosophically.

Jennifer Smith:  Wow. But okay.

Elvis Wu:  So, Biffy–that is, you playing Biffy–also wanted to know what would be a good definition for a ‘good’ work of art. Even if we can establish what art is, in general, how do we decide whether a particular work of art is a ‘good’ one?

Jennifer Smith:  Yeah, wow. That *is* a good question.

Elvis Wu:  Everyone’s heard of the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo’s David, and maybe a painting or two by Picasso. What sets these monumental works of art off as examples of what art can be, at its best?

Jennifer Smith:  Wouldn’t you have to have a degree in art, or something, to even begin to be able to talk about that? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Elvis Wu:  Certainly, it’s a complex topic. And maybe we don’t need to get into it for now. What we were trying to do, if you recall, was to figure out what a properly ‘philosophical’ approach to things would look like, and i think we’ve at least made a start at finding out.

Jennifer Smith:  You’re letting me off easy.

Elvis Wu:  Well, to be honest, i’ve got a class coming up in a bit, and i need to get over to the university. Which means you’re off the hook for now.  [smiles]

Jennifer Smith:  Um, do you think we might be able to pick this conversation back up at some point? It was starting to get interesting.

Elvis Wu:  Well, you really ARE a philosopher, aren’t you!

Jennifer Smith:  Um. Maybe. I think the jury may still be out on that one.

Elvis Wu:  Well, when the jury convenes again, we shall discuss the philosophy of art in more detail! For now, mademoiselle: adieu, adieu, adieu.

Jennifer Smith:  Um, adieu right back at you, dude.

 

 

 

 

How Long Has It Been Since We’ve Had a Pop Quiz? TOO Long.

 

Abstract:  What’s the point in offering stimulating content, if we’re not making sure that our audience is fully tuned in? Here is the third in our agonizing… er, ongoing… series of delightful, challenging and educational pop quizzes. Have fun! Hope ya studied!

Note: In days of yore, our ‘Fun Quizzes’ used to feature ten questions, each accompanied by ten possible answers. It was borne in upon us that this arrangement was probably a bit much for your typical blog reader. “Omigosh, that’s just so much stuff to look over, i think i’m about to have a cow,” noted Sara, from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Phil, from the D.C. suburbs, added, “You people are dumber than my fox terrier, Ralph,” while Genevieve, from the Tampa Bay area, said, “When i eat a York Peppermint Patty, i get the sensation of being out in the middle of the Sahara Desert.” We may not be philosophically advanced enough to understand Genevieve’s insight, but it sure sounds cool.

 


 

Pop Quiz #3

1. Philosophy is a pursuit often associated with which kinds of people?

a. You totally don’t EVEN want to know.

b. Well, there are two kinds of people in the world.

c. What? ^

d. Intelligent, reflective people who think widely and deeply, and are unsatisfied with glib answers to life’s perennial questions. Also three-headed dwarves with eczema.

e. What?? ^

f. We three kings of orient are / Bearing gifts, we traverse afar / Field and fountain, moor and mountain / Following yonder star.

g. What??? ^

h. Well, the “three kings” thing made about as much sense as any of the other answers.

i. Your MOM is a philosopher.

j. This pop quiz seems to be off to a really dismal start. But maybe that’s just my opinion.

 

2. Which of the following statements are accurate discussions of Ultimate Reality?

a. It is that grid against which all things–that are, in fact, genuine phenomena–occur.

b. It is the cloth within which the universe unfolds.

c. It is the sum total of God and all of His works.

d. It is the collection of all true statements, along with their proper referents.

e. What the heck, man. You people actually talk about this stuff on the regular. Huh.

f. We do indeed, o thou insignificant sosh major.  [snicker]  The sosh major has an opinion! Listen to the sosh major trying to express his opinion!

g. I’m not a sosh major, dude. For your information, i majored in gender dynamics.

h. Ultimate Reality is that which is ultimate, and is also reality. And, um. Y’know.

i. Elizabeth, baby, i’m comin’ to ya. [clutches desperately about his chest area]

j. I cannot EVEN. Seriously.

 

3. If you were to encounter Ultimate Reality stuffed down into a breadbox, which of the following would be appropriate responses?

a. Wut.

b. Wait–isn’t ultimate reality bigger than a breadbox?

c. Yeah, i’m with answer number b. Reality can’t be stuffed into a breadbox.

d. ‘B,’ for what it’s worth, is not a number. It’s a letter. Dumbass.

e. What even. I do not EVEN.

f. It hardly matters, comrades, whether ‘b’ is a letter or a number. What matters is the dictatorship of the proletariat and the throwing off of those shackles formed by our adherence to the values and assumptions of the bourgeois class.

g. Hmmm. Wow. I’m just kind of standing around watching the parade go by.

h. Can you actually stuff Ultimate Reality down into a breadbox? I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of small down in there? I’m just, you know, wondering.

i. They addressed that issue in answers ‘b’ and ‘c’.

j. Oh. Whoops! So they did. My bad.

 

4. True or False: Metaphysics and Ontology both deal with the nature of being.

a. True

b. False

c. Both true and false

d. Neither true nor false

e. Both true and false, only not at the same time

f. True. Kind of. Well, i mean. You know. ‘True.’ Heh heh.

g. There were these six blind men who encountered an elephant, okay. And the first one touches the elephant’s trunk. And he says, “This animal is like a snake.”

h. Your Mom.

i. After all this time, does it really matter?

j. That other kind of false. Not the regular kind.

 

5. It is widely believed that flockbinkers and wamwams have in common the property of being treadknicious. What other attribute(s) do they have in common?

a. Wait, stop. I have some questions about what that word ‘treadknicious’ means.

b. You can’t stop someone in the middle of his quiz just to request a definition of terms.

c. Well, i can and i did. ‘Treadknicious’ is a stupid word. I bet it doesn’t mean anything.

d. For that matter, ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ probably don’t mean anything, either.

e. What does ‘treadknicious’ mean?

f. Get with the program, dude. They talked about that already in ‘a’ through ‘c’.

g. Oh. Oops! My bad. Carry on, my brothers and sisters.

h. Well, they have ‘spunk-boobly-osterific-titude’ in common too, if i’m not mistaken.

i. My goodness, is that spunk thing even a real word? I don’t believe i’ve ever heard it.

j. They have Your Mom in common.

 

6. Confucius and the Buddha appear to congregate at Chili’s restaurant with some degree of frequency. Which of the following statements is true of these meetings?

a. Their time together tends to be characterized by profound explorations of the nature of Reality and of the Good Life.

b. Confucius and the Buddha are almost singlehandedly the reason why those ‘Southwestern Eggrolls’ have stayed on the menu all these years. Anybody else eat those?

c. The Buddha likes to make profound-sounding remarks about the relationship between True Mind and the wind blowing and the water flowing, that sort of thing.

d. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I’ve tried it. No dice.

e. You can lead three Scotsmen to a fence, but you can’t make them sit on top of it.

f. Confucius is a cool dude and whatnot, but he’s not very good at running crowd control. What i mean is, Buddha says all this stupid stuff, that’s supposed to sound all profound and whatnot, or whatever, and Confucius just kind of rolls his eyes. Not enough, man! You need to exercise a stronger policy on that kind of nonsense!

g. Someone’s Mom, maybe Yours.

h. Omigosh, enough with the comments about someone’s Mom! I’m dying over here!

i. Confucius and the Buddha are two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The third one may just be Jeff MacDiarmid, who lives in east Trenton, NJ, just got a divorce last year, eats Post Toasties straight out of the box, and is a sort of old-school cobbler.

j. When the Fusch and Big Bud get together, the joint’s about to be jumpin’, that’s all i’ve got to say on the subject.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.’

 

Introducing Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major

 

Abstract:  In which we are, at long last, formally introduced to one of the more important characters on this blog, that champion of truth, the honorable Mr. Elvis Wu: The Last Philosophy Major.


 

If you’ve been following for any length of time, you’ll recall that in one of the early posts to this blog, there appeared a character named ‘Elvis Wu.’ In that episode, he related a story about a zen philosopher named Bodhifarma (which apparently means ‘the knowledge of agriculture’). Sound familiar?

Wu has also made guest appearances in a few other posts to the blog: for instance, this one, and this one over here, and that one over there.

Well. You are now about to be formally introduced to him.

“Elvis, meet my readers. Readers, please give a warm welcome to Mister Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major.”

[scattered polite applause]

“Hey, look, guys, you can do better’n that! I said let’s have a vigorous round of applause for Mister Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major!”

[nobody claps this time except for one greasy-looking guy in a blue and grey flannel shirt and a Pillsbury baseball cap, about three rows from the back]

“Jeepers, fine, whatever.”

 

Elvis Wu:  It’s really all okay, Blogger. Why don’t you just go on, and they can applaud at the end if they want to.

The Blogger:  But it’s the principle of the thing, Wu. This is just unacceptable behavior. It’s as if all sense of decorum or public civility has completely evaporated.

Elvis Wu:  Another possibility you’ve failed to mention, is that hardly anybody actually reads your blog.

The Blogger:  Ahem, so now i think it’s time that i shared with the assembled throng, the teeming masses, some of the main points of your biography.

Elvis Wu:  Sure, you do that! Tell the assembled throng what you think they ought to know about me.

The Blogger:  Terrific. I think i’ll do just that.

 

How he and i first met

Elvis Wu and i first met at a philosophy congress in Atlanta about 20 years ago. In the opening session, Wu was sitting in the row ahead of me, and i noticed that he would nod vigorously, or shake his head violently, when he agreed or disagreed with whatever the person on the stage was saying. I also noticed that his disagreements tended to come about five times as often as his positive appraisals. I grabbed him after the first morning session and made him sit down to lunch with me. What i discovered was a man deeply disaffected with the way philosophy and truth are being approached in the modern academy; and i was able to plot out some of my own misgivings alongside his. It was a significant moment in my own “coming of age” as a philosopher.

I tell the story of my creating him to teach my students philosophy

Well, that story about the philosophy conference… was on one level of reality.

The ‘Origin Story,’ as it were.

[the blogger snickers gleefully]

In a somewhat more real sense, of course, ha ha, Elvis is a creation of my own for this here blog. I invented him about 20 years ago for a philosophy class i was teaching at the time, and he has grown prodigiously since then. Back then, he was an interesting character i used in written dialogues to teach principles of logic. He has, since then, taken on a life of his own! The posts featuring him have been some of the most interesting and challenging ones. He’s among a handful of characters at the very center of the All Flockbinkers world.

Wu counters with an–obviously!–spurious story about me

“Actually, Mister Blogger,” interrupts Wu, with an odd smile on his generally impassive Oriental features, “it was i who created you, to teach philosophy to my students in North Georgia a few years back. Your first appearance was in a dialogue on the topic of ancient Chinese philosophy, built around an extremely clever pun. And you have been among my most popular and successful creations. I like to build you into logical syllogisms, for instance, and create dialogues in which you are one of the chief characters.”

The Blogger:  Dang it, i should have guessed that Wu would try to pull something like that. And, owing to the format of this blog post–which, may i emphasize, i am writing and in which he is an entirely fictional character–i’m not really able to respond to the scurrilous accusation. The clever wretch. The dirty dog! Dang him!

A bit about what he does for a living

He’s a private tutor [putatively, that is, since he isn’t actually real, ha ha, ha ha] and offers private classes in various subjects to the home-educating community. He teaches literature, history, cultural studies, and of course, the queen of the sciences: philosophy. Every year he advertises his programs, and every year there ends up being a waiting list ten yards long of kids wanting to get into his classes. He’s an excellent teacher, and has proven to be very good at transmitting a heightened sensitivity to wisdom and truth to the upcoming generation. Putatively speaking, of course, since he doesn’t actually exist, ha ha.

“Doctor Wu”

One of Elvis’s favorite songs–not surprisingly–is the Steely Dan classic, “Doctor Wu.”

“Are you with me, Doctor Wu? Are you really just a shadow of the man that i once knew? Are you crazy? Are you high? Or just an ordinary guy? Have you done all you can do? Are you with me, Doctor? Are you with me, Doctor?”

I’ve asked him, more than once, about the personal significance of these lyrics to him, to his life. He just looks at me and smiles in complete silence. Sometimes i wonder if everything going on inside that there noggin is entirely healthy.

A bit about his college studies

Elvis majored in philosophy, in the late 1970s–back when a philosophy major still actually involved–at least, in part–the study of real ideas. He studied metaphysics, ontology, the philosophy of science, philosophy of art, philosophy of language, textual analysis, axiology, epistemology, game theory, truth-value, philosophy of mind, the perennial wisdom, philosophy of culture, philosophy of history… and, of course, logic. You name it–if it was a division of the academic study of philosophy–he took a class in it. According to the records department at the college he attended, he took way more than twice as many philosophy classes as he needed to for the completion of his major.

If you give him space, Wu will wax rhapsodic on the joys of his philosophical training, and the subsequent disappointment he has experienced attending philosophy conferences and seminars. During the past couple of centuries, says Wu, philosophy has been falling on harder and harder times, and has now gotten to the point where it’s getting kind of pointless trying to learn it from philosophy professors. It’s not as if they know anything about wisdom. You just have to know which books to read.

Why Is He “The Last Philosophy Major”

The problem with the field of “philosophy” today is that it has come to be dominated by people who are not really interested in wisdom. They may, of course, be interested in certain models of knowledge or value. They may like the idea of appearing to be part of an intellectual elite. They may be interested in being classed as cutting-edge theorists. They may be interested in being perceived as part of an ongoing “project” of some kind. Many of them are self-conscious about being involved in a discipline that isn’t taken seriously by many practitioners in other fields. The one thing, however, that they are not interested in, is the genuine pursuit of truth. Indeed, they are often the ones in the Academy who are most vociferously denying the very possibility of discovering truth.

The Phuture of Philosophy

According to Mister Wu, the future of philosophy–at least, in formal academic settings–is a somewhat depressing one. As the culture around us deteriorates more and more into a relativistic morass of materialism and self-centeredness, the academic centers of philosophical “research” appear to be falling into step with the program. As Elvis Wu sees it, the real philosophy these days is being done by individuals who are not (typically) associated with the major academic institutions. They quietly search out that which is real and true, they write books, they conduct small seminars tucked away in this or that corner of the social world, they conduct their debates in whispers. They are a vanishing breed. They are the last seekers and defenders of wisdom. They are the last brave individuals willing to take a stand for truth. They are the heroes of our generation.

 

The Blogger:  Well, Wu, how does that sound? Did i set out a pretty good introduction?

Elvis Wu:  Golly, it’ll do until a better one comes along.

The Blogger:  Ha ha, i’m not exactly sure what that meant.

Elvis Wu:  [smiles mysteriously, and says nothing]

The Blogger:  No, man, seriously, i have no idea what you meant by that.

Elvis Wu:  [continues smiling mysteriously]

The Blogger:  Oh, come on, Wu, you’re kind of freakin’ me out, here.

Elvis Wu:  [continues smiling mysteriously]

 

The Blogger Lays His Metaphorical Cards on the Table

 

Abstract:  In which The Blogger candidly discusses whether or not this blog is actually about philosophy, or whether it’s just an excuse for some obscure horsing around.

________________________________________________________________________

The question has been put, and the battle has been joined: Is this blog really a substantial exploration of philosophical issues? Or is it a floppy monstrosity consisting largely of mostly aimless conversations in which The Good Reader scolds The Blogger for being a conspicuous ass?

As it turns out, quite a catalog of reasons can be assembled in support of either position.

Persons making the accusation against the blog: Sandra, from Kansas City, for instance.

“I’ve been following this blog for a couple of years now… well, i don’t know if ‘following’ is the right way of putting it… i mean, i’ve read the posts, you know… and i have to say it, i just don’t think it’s about anything. I think it’s a bunch of random thoughts that this blogger guy comes up with, and then he tries to make them funny, and he adds in some odd characters, and he writes about them.”

Oh boy. There are some people you just can’t reach.

Persons defending the blog, on the other hand, like… um… uuh… well… aw, gee….

Well, okay, here’s one. Christopher, who lives in the British Virgin Islands. He has this to say in defense of this website:

“Dude, i’m totally all about it. I mean, like Jack! this is some pretty funny material.” He pauses to snicker for a few seconds. “It’s like, how many Scotsmen can you put on a fence? Oh my gosh! This stuff is hilarious! So yeah, i’m totally about this website, as a, you know, way of communicating what–um–philosophy is, and, you know, that kind of thing.”

Well, okay. I reckon we’ll accept our defenses wherever we can find them.

So the sides are defined, and the field is marked. What IS this blog about? Is it, as Sandra avers, a random body of material? Or is Christopher right in averring that it is… well, whatever he seems to have been saying? And in keeping with the philosophical character of the blog (you see what i did there?) we’re going to structure our material as a series of logical arguments.

Let the games begin! Uhm, or something.

 

This Blog is a Substantial Exploration of Philosophy

The thesis here is that The Blogger is performing a significant public service by serving up generous portions of substantial argumentation in support of important ideas.

Argument #1:  Flockbinkers

Oh my word! Do we really need to include anything else in our defense? This blog is all about flockbinkers, and it’s hard to get any more philosophical than that. Flockbinkers are practically the definition of philosophy! They’re what philosophy is all about! Now, in response to the nay-sayers who might claim that flockbinkers don’t exist, our reply is: …well, give us a minute on that one. Scratching our heads here. This one turns out to be a bit of a toughie.

Argument #3:  Logical syllogisms

You can’t…and may i emphasize this?… you simply CAN’T chuck a rock around here without hitting a logical syllogism! The joint is veritably stupid with logical syllogisms! Um, if that’s the sort of statement that makes sense. Anyway. It’s just one logical syllogism after another. It’s almost as if they’re following each other to the seaside cliffs in order to hurl themselves off the edge! No, that wasn’t part of the argument. Just a nice image that i suddenly came up with.

Argument #2:  Definitions of words

Our final, knockout argument consists in the fact that…Dude. We are constantly defining words around here. This blog is practically about nothing but the definition of words. Spin around blindfolded, and you’ll find yourself pointing at somebody who’s in the process of defining a term. Hey! You there! Little Biffy! Whatcha doin’ over there? What? Defining terms? Ho! I figured as much! Carry on!

The defense rests.

 

This Blog is a Sad Excuse for a Bunch of Horsing Around

Since this is a position with which i am entirely out of sympathy, i have asked our friend Sandra (from Kansas City) to supply a few insights. Do your best, Sandra!  [snicker]

Argument #1:  Even an idiot can identify what’s wrong with each post

Oh my word. What a sad assemblage of nonsense, nonsense and more nonsense! Pretty much every single post to this blog is saddled with at least one, if not several, if not a seemingly unending stream of fallacious reasoning and just plain silliness! Sometimes the Blogger sticks something into the post that you’re supposed to find, and that’s not hard at all. On top of that, though, are the myriads of mistakes in reasoning, etc. that tend to clog the place up, apparently through no knowledge of his own. It’s exhausting, really.

Argument #2:  At no point are terms like ‘flockbinker’ or ‘wamwam’ ever defined

This blog is built around nonsense words that the blogger never takes it upon himself to define. What do these silly words mean? Does it matter? Do i care? No, in fact, i do not. Neither am i able to take seriously a blog where much of what’s going on is in the form of “cromblasters” and “wigwams” and “Your Mom” and other unintelligible things. If the Blogger wants to talk himself to sleep at night muttering random syllables, why he’s welcome to that, i just wish he wouldn’t call it a website.

Argument #3:  The so-called ‘logical syllogisms’ are awful, just awful

In his well-meaning but doomed-to-failure attempts to explore philosophy, The Blogger often sets up logical syllogisms in order to illustrate his points. Oh. My. Word. This guy is trying to teach ME logic? Every time i read this blog, i feel like i know less and less about logic. If i keep it up, i’m afraid that soon i’ll no longer remember how to eat and use the bathroom by myself, and i’ll need to hire a full-time nurse. THAT is how bad this blog is on logic.

The prosecution rests.

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  Yawn.

The Blogger:  I heard that. You yawned.

The Good Reader:  I did! I’m a little tired. And, plus, i don’t think i get the purpose of this post. Sure, you’ve finally admitted that your writing is somewhat pointless and silly, but apart from that, what…?

The Blogger:  I’m not sure i understand you. I was clearly the winner of our little debate.

The Good Reader:  You’re making a joke.

The Blogger:  I flattened her! My arguments made sense, and hers didn’t!

The Good Reader:  Hmmm.

The Blogger:  I laid forth a coherent body of evidence in favor of the blog, and she had nothing but a handful of sad personal impressions with no logical support whatsoever!

The Good Reader:  Ah.

The Blogger:  I won! I ran over her like a grocery store shopping cart running over a dried banana peel!

The Good Reader:  This is an experience you’ve had before?

The Blogger:  Just last week.

The Good Reader:  Which grocery store?

The Blogger:  Kroger. They’re normally really clean. I’m not sure what that banana peel was doing on the floor.

The Good Reader:  Cool. So, to summarize, you’re under the impression that you kicked some serious butt in that little discussion up there?

The Blogger:  Absolutely! She was rendered a smoking carcass by the time i finished my remarks. There was nothing left of her. Some smoke and a bit of ash, that’s about it.

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm.

The Blogger:  So you agree?

The Good Reader:  [smiling]  Absolutely. Is there anything to eat around here? I’m suddenly famished.

 

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.

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