all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: philosopher

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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]

 

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.

 

In Which the Blogger Learns that a Photographer Is Not the Same Thing as “Being Stupid.”

Let’s just be honest. Odd things happen, from time to time, on this blog.

The Good Reader:  Odd things happen routinely on this blog. In fact, i think it’s safe to say that if something is found on this blog, it is by definition an odd thing.

The Blogger:  [being all sly and stuff]  Ah! But, The Good Reader, YOU are a regular on this blog.

The Good Reader:  Hrrmmmff.  [disappears in a puff of virtual smoke]

As we were observing a moment ago, it is not unusual for unusual things to happen on this blog. Usually. This means that, as a reader of this blog, you must not be surprised no matter WHAT happens. Indeed, the good reader will quickly discern…

Waittasecond, who are you? YOU’RE not The Good Reader!

The Photographer:  I don’t know what you mean. I’m an excellent reader!

The Blogger:  That’s not what i meant. You see —

The Photographer:  I read all the time. I’ve even been reading your blog lately.

The Blogger:  That’s terrific! But what i —

The Photographer:  I don’t have any trouble reading, and i’m mildly insulted that you would imply that i can’t read.

The Blogger:  That’s not what i meant at all! I simply —

The Photographer:  I’ve been doing all of my own reading since i was 26.

The Blogger:  There’s no doubt of that.

The Photographer:  I intended that as a joke. Of course i could read when i was 26. Geez.

The Blogger:  Right. Um. So, okay, here’s what i’m trying to say. The expression ‘The Good Reader’ as used on this blog is how i characterize my readership in general, and sometimes, ahem, one of my regulars in particular.

The Photographer:  Ah! I get it. And i’m not him.

The Blogger:  Her. At least, i think it’s a her. When it comes to the readers of this blog, you can never be 100% sure what you’re dealing with.

The Photographer:  If it helps, i’m a her as well.

The Blogger:  Excellent! And i can see from the script we’re both embedded in, that you’re a photographer.

The Photographer:  What?

The Blogger:  A photographer. Someone who takes pictures.

The Photographer:  I know what a photographer is. I meant, what script are you talking about?

The Blogger:  The script that we’re both embedded in.

The Photographer:  The script that we’re both embedded in…

The Blogger:  The very one.

The Photographer:  Either you’re attempting to be poetic, or your doctor probably needs to change the dosage.

The Blogger:  Heh heh. That was clever. Tell you what: this little discussion of the script is throwing us off the point. Maybe we should leave that to one side for now.

The Photographer:  No argument from me.

The Blogger:  So, Photographer, what brings you to my little blog?

The Photographer:  I thought it looked really interesting. Philosophy and flockbinkers and unicorns and strange conversations and funny quizzes: it’s my kind of entertainment.

The Blogger:  Wow, that’s great! And you’ve been able to keep up?

The Photographer:  Able… huh? Able to keep up?

The Blogger:  You know. You’ve been able to track with us. You’ve understood everything. You haven’t felt left behind.

The Photographer:  I’m a photographer. That’s not the same thing as being stupid.

The Blogger:  Oops. Right. Heh heh. Of course.

The Photographer:  And i’m also an artist. I create abstract images using photographs as raw material.

The Blogger:  That sounds impressive! I imagine that sort of thing must require a certain kind of intelligence.

The Photographer:  Oh my gosh, did you just patronize me in the most appalling way imaginable?

The Good Reader:  Don’t feel too bad. He does that kind of thing to me all the time. All. The. Time.

The Photographer:  Really? And you put up with it?

The Good Reader:  Not exactly. He’s got some battle-wounds. Ask him about it.

The Photographer:  You go, girl! Well, anyway, here’s what my work requires of me, and you, Blogger, can decide whether you think it involves ‘intelligence.’

The Blogger:  Fair enough. Lay it on me.

The Photographer:  I select one or more photographs, not just for content but for texture, line and color, and i create a geometric matrix within which the visual field is structured using the elements of the photo as source material, analyzing the raw content in terms of not just line, color, texture and subject-matter, but also positive and negative spaces, patterns of energy and movement, reconstructed form, and i shape all of that into re-visioned aesthetic structures while trying to, at some level, respect the integrity of the source material.

The Blogger:  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Photographer:  Which, i suppose, makes me a kind of visual philosopher. Maybe.

The Blogger:  [recovering composure]  Jeepers.

The Photographer:  Well, you did want to hear about what i do.

The Blogger:  Yes. Yes, i did, and i am impressed.

The Photographer:  Why thank you.

The Blogger:  I must say, these are uncharted waters, Photographer.

The Good Reader:  I like this one. I hope she sticks around.

The Blogger:  Me too!

The Photographer:  Me too! Oh, wait.

The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  It’s what i do, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  We are a rare and vanishing breed.

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

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

The Blogger:  So how do you like your job?

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

The Blogger:  Such as?

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

The Blogger:  Wow, that sounds pretty harsh.

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

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

Security Guard:  [sigh]

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

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

The Blogger:  Purgatory!

Security Guard:  The sheerest agony.

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

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

The Blogger:  Oh. Oops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  A few.

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

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

Security Guard:  And Other Salient Observations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  Idiom. That’s the word.

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  I use it to fight crime.

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  Jeepers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  [mumbles something indistinct.]

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  Red herring.

The Blogger:  Argument from analogy.

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  Say, you there! Naughty fellow!

Naughty Fellow:  Um.

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

Naughty Fellow:  What.

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

Naughty Fellow:  Huh.

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

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

Security Guard:  Dr. Mummer is pregnant?

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

Security Guard:  Ah, yes, of course.

Naughty Fellow:  Can i come in now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  Knock yourself out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mischievous Vagrant:  Every inch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  Clever Kantian pun.

Mischievous Vagrant:  Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger:  I’m stunned.

Security Guard:  [Beaming with pleasure.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Blogger:  Beg your pardon?

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

The Blogger:  Well, it could be argued….

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

The Blogger:  [turning beet-red with pleasure]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Guard:  Here for ya, bro.

 

 

 

We happen upon Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith in the middle of a rousing philosophical discussion. Let’s listen in.

If i’m not mistaken, you people…

(and here i refer to The Good Reader, in both his singular and plural capacities… that is, as an individual human person reading the blog, and as an archetypal personage representing all three of you who are readers of the blog… as well as in both his male and female manifestations)

…well, anyway, it is you, Good Reader, whom i am addressing, and it seems to me that i’ve not yet introduced you to Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith.

Which seems extraordinary. How many posts to this blog have we gotten through thus far, and still have somehow managed not to introduce these two characters who are so near the very center of what the “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious” thing is all about? Too many, that’s all i can say. So it’s high time you were introduced to them.

Let’s leave the detailed introductions for a future post. For now, suffice it to say that Little Biffy is a budding young philosopher and a student at Foundations Collegium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He’s somewhere around, oh, maybe ten years of age. It’s hard to tell. He’s really kind of ageless. As evidence of this, i offer the fact that he was created at least 15 years ago, and he’s still the same age now that he was then. YOU try pulling that off. (What’s that? You’ve tried, you say, and you’ve got thousands of dollars in plastic surgery bills to prove it? Well, i’m not sure we’re talking about exactly the same thing, but sure, okay, that’s fine.)

Little Biffy is sort of like a half-pint Socrates. He cannot imagine anything more enjoyable than the pursuit of truth. He loves exploring ideas with people, and plying them with questions until some sort of satisfying conclusion is reached.

One of his regular victims …er… fellow explorers, is Jennifer Smith. Jennifer is in her late 20’s. She’s a business graduate from UTC, and is presently working at Unum in some kind of decently-paying but not-terribly-inspiring desk job. She likes to wind down after work at the Panera Bread on Market Street, sitting at one of the tables on the sidewalk out front with a chai latte and a frothy bestseller, and forget that she finds her career and her life pretty unfulfilling.

Jennifer is a fairly typical twenty-something, in a lot of ways: she’s bright and did well in her college classes, but she has given very little thought to the big questions that life is built around. Or, to put it the way Little Biffy would, she has given insufficient attention to the sharpening up of her worldview.

Biffy met Jenn a few years ago while hanging out at Panera Bread, and she has been one of his favorite interlocutors ever since. She finds him amusing, annoying, and challenging, and puts up with his insistent lines of questioning because, deep down, she really does value truth, and enjoys his challenges to her way of seeing things.

The following excerpt is from one of their early conversations, one sunny spring afternoon a few years back, at a coffeehouse called the Stone Cup.

Little Biffy:  Allright, Jennifer… I think it’s time for a lesson in logic.

Jennifer Smith:  Wow. My friends are going to be so jealous.

Biffy:  Heh heh. I think you’re kidding. But, well, anyway, here goes. Listen closely. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  Wait. I thought you said this was going to be a lesson in logic.

Biffy:  Exactly! Yes. It is.

Jennifer:  But what you just said didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Maybe i’m letting my ignorance of philosophy show, but i thought logic was supposed to be about things that make sense.

Biffy:  But Jennifer, it makes perfect sense to say that all flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  In some other solar system, maybe.

Biffy:  Well, there is that. Heh heh. So stay focused. All flockbinkers…

Jennifer:  Stop. What’s a ‘flockbinker’?

Biffy:  You’re missing the point. Just hang with me. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  Okay. Fine.

Biffy:  And all wamwams are flockbinkers.

Jennifer:  I don’t know what a wamwam is, either.

Biffy:  That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Just stay with it. It’ll make sense eventually.

Jennifer:  Terrific. Got it. All flockbinkers are wamwams.

Biffy:  Actually… that’s not it. All wamwams are flockbinkers.

Jennifer:  It’s the same thing!

Biffy:  Well, really, no. But we’ll get back to that.

Jennifer:  Oh, come on. How can it not be the same thing? All flockbinkers are wamwams. All wamwams are flockbinkers. Not that it even matters, ‘cause you’re talking gibberish. All pooh-poohs are hubbabubbas. All blahblahs are froomfrooms too, i bet.

Biffy:  Heh heh. That sparkling wit. It never gets old. No, Jenn, you see, just because all wamwams are flockbinkers, that does not at all necessitate the opposite scenario, that all flockbinkers are wamwams. Try this. Imagine the category of all wamwams.

Jennifer:  I don’t dare. I’ll have nightmares for weeks.

Biffy:  Okay. Fair enough. Imagine the category of all dogs. You like dogs, do you?

Jennifer:  Dogs are great, and they have the added virtue of not sounding like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Okay. I’m picturing all the dogs.

Biffy:  Now imagine the category of all mammals. All the mammals in the world. Got it?

Jennifer:  That’s a bit harder to picture. There’s lots of mammals.

Biffy:  Right, but you know what mammals are, so you can at least imagine what that particular category would involve. Imagine all the mammals in the world, standing in a big circle the size of Alaska.

Jennifer:  Would they all fit?

Biffy:  Sure. Easily. Under factory-farming conditions, anyway.

Jennifer:  That was not even remotely funny.

Biffy:  Uh, sorry. [turns beet-red] So, anyway, all the mammals are in a huge circle the size of Alaska, with lots of room to walk around and graze and joyfully prance upon the grassy hillsides.

Jennifer:  Much better. Okay, all the mammals are in Alaska, prancing. Some of ‘em are freezing their little mammal buns off.

Biffy:  Great. I mean, not that the beasts are cold, but that you’ve got the picture. Now, imagine that all the dogs are also in that Alaska-sized circle. Got it?

Jennifer:  Sure. Well, wait a second. Aren’t they already there? ‘Cause they’re mammals, too.

Biffy:  Excellent! You’re getting it! You’re halfway there. So all of the dogs are mammals.

Jennifer:  Right. Every single one. And if you keep patronizing me, i’m going to tweak your nose. I’m old enough to be your… mmm, your aunt.

Biffy:  Oops. Sorry. [turns red again] So all the dogs are mammals. Now, are all of the mammals dogs?

Jennifer:  Of course not! Some of them are gerbils, and some of ‘em are wildebeests.

Biffy:  So: all dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs.

Jennifer:  That’s right… oh. I see. I’m embarrassed now.

Biffy:  No need! No need. So it’s clear to you that even if all wamwams are flockbinkers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all flockbinkers are wamwams.

Jennifer:  Yes. I get it. You don’t have to rub it in.

Biffy:  Okay then! Moving on. So if all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and all wamwams are flockbinkers, we can reasonably conclude that….

Jennifer:  We are visiting a zoo in wonderland?

Biffy:  Heh heh. You never seem to lose that lively sense of humor. That’s good. No, Jennifer, what we can reasonably conclude is that all wamwams are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  I guess so. And all borogoves are mimsy. And the mome raths, outgrabe. I think I’m getting the hang of this.

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