all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: philosophy

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.

 

 

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.

 

Once Again, It’s Time to Look Through Our Reader Mail!

Well, it’s that time again. Time to reach into the mailbag and see what kind of correspondence some of you — our most excellent readers — have been sending in.

The last time we looked at our reader mail was… [counts on fingers]… um, oh dear, over two years ago! (If you’d like to check out that post, here ya go.) No wonder the mailbag is brimming over. Apologies for having neglected your letters! You’ve no doubt had all manner of insightful suggestions and lavish praise for the All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious blog during that time! Let’s have a look-see.

Editors’ Note:  We have assigned each letter a handy title — after the fact, you see — for your easy reference. The Blogger did not have these titles to refer to as he was opening each letter, else his entire experience of reading the mail might have been different.

 

Letter #1.  The classic “just what do you think do you’re doing” objection

Let’s start with… okay, here’s a letter from “Lindsay,” who lives in Port Huron, Michigan.

I have read every single post to this blog.

The Blogger:  Well, that is indeed gratifying! It’s good to discover that we’ve got another fan. Let’s read some more.

It’s a form of self-torture. I just can’t make myself look away. Your blog is the most appalling spectacle i can even think of. I have spent years studying philosophy, and your blog is, like, the opposite of philosophy. Making a mockery of the most basic questions humanity has ever struggled with… how are you EVEN a PERSON?

The Blogger:  Oh dear. And this letter started out with such promise. We cannot allow such baseless slanders to go unanswered!

Don’t interrupt. I’m not done yet. It seems to me that you’re doing immeasurable harm to the reputation of philosophy in the eyes of people who are just now learning the basics of it… you’re crippling them before they even have a chance to get started! How can you look at yourself in the mirror while shaving, that’s what i want to know.

The Blogger:  Dear, misguided reader! I am shocked!–appalled!—that you could have so misunderstood the nature of this blog. A lively, comical romp through the bowels of the philosophical tradition (if, er, “bowels” was quite the word i was looking for) is not AT ALL the same thing as “making a mockery” of philosophy. Why, “making a mockery” of philosophy would involve the trivializing of foundational principles of philosophical thought by turning them into occasions for slapstick. It would involve substituting nonsense and whimsy for the sober, perennial discussions of which the philosophical tradition is based. And we would never dream of doing ANY of that!

 

Letter #2.  A Reader has confused our blog with “Buzzfeed.”

Okay now, here we have a letter from “Taylor,” hailing from Pomona, California. Let’s see what ol’ Taylor has to say.

Man! I discovered your website a few months ago, and i’ve been digging on it religiously ever since! Dude! That is some funny jack, right there.

The Blogger:  [blushing]  Well, golly, you’re really being far too kind.

No, seriously, like, your quizzes are the best! Like, the one about what celebrity crush are you actually going to end up marrying. I was roaring.

The Blogger:  Wut.

And, like, the one where i had to answer a bunch of stoner questions and it told me which Harry Potter character i was.

The Blogger:  Um.

And your funny videos! The one about Americans from other parts of the country eating Midwestern food for the first time was HI-larious. And the one where blindfolded strangers try to guess each other’s age.

The Blogger:  Oh boy.

And all the articles about fashion and style and beauty and whatever.

The Blogger:  Okay, wow. Here’s the thing. I’m afraid you may have gotten us mixed up with some other website.

And the one where you have to guess what Stormy Daniels’s favorite color is, based on lines from classic Disney movies.

The Blogger:  [sigh]  I’m afraid we’re gonna need to move on to the next letter.

 

Letter #3.  A joke about ‘fruitcake’

Hmmm. Here we have a missive from “Johnathwane,” who makes his home in Newport, Rhode Island.

I very much enjoyed your Christmas post this past December. I particularly enjoyed your analysis of the concept of ‘fruitcake’. It set off a train of thought which i’d like to share with you.

The Blogger:  Well, sure, why not. Knock yourself out.

First of all, it occurred to me that we use ‘fruitcake’ in at least three different ways: (1) those inedible bricks of obscene non-food material that you can buy wrapped in cellophane during the holiday season, (2) the completely legitimate traditional food that the obscene bricks of gelatinous nonsense are supposedly inspired by, and (3) a crazy person.

The Blogger:  Okay… tracking with you so far….

So, in a sense, we could say that fruitcakes (1) are the fruitcakes (3) of the culinary world.

The Blogger:  Hah hah, that was clever. Wait. Was that the joke?

Not so much a ‘joke’. More of a lively observation. But wait: there’s more.

The Blogger:  Ah. Lay it on.

Imagine a fruitcake (3) — an actual person, not a fruitcake (1) that is being construed as a fruitcake (3) —

The Blogger:  With ya so far.

Okay, imagine such a fruitcake (3) attempting to produce a fruitcake (2) but ending up producing instead a fruitcake (1).

The Blogger:  That was it?

Mm-hmmm.

The Blogger:  [glancing furtively from one side to the other]  Wow, thanks, well-meaning reader “Johnathwane.” Looking forward to hearing more from you. Moving right along.

 

Letter #4.  Is logic really necessary?

Ooookaay, here we have a letter from “Madison,” who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. Let’s see what Madison has to say.

First off, i’d like to say that i think your blog is a lot of fun.

The Blogger:  Sweet! I tend to think so, too.

So here’s my thing. You seem to put so much emphasis on logic!

The Blogger:  Well, YEAH.

Logical syllogisms, logical premises, logical reason, logical conclusions, logical arguments, logic logic logic.

The Blogger:  Mmmmmmm.

But i feel like logic isn’t really all that necessary, you know? It feels like a lot of stiff, irrelevant, silly restraints on what you can say and think. I feel like logic is sort of the opposite of feeling, intuition, body wisdom, spirituality. So is it really needed? Can’t we just get by with spontaneously saying what we really feel and know deep inside?

The Blogger:  I totally feel your discomfort, Madison. I guess here’s what i’d like to say to you. Elephants are floating across my chewing gum. It’s a great day to be flaming, viscous and incoherent! I’m a jumping bean of putridity and amazement. Go, run, little napkins, be free! Eat more chicken. Fly a reindeer. Beat the odds, even the losers. We the people of the effervescent universe, fall, fall, fall. Rise. Fall again. Roll Tide.

What? That was your answer? But i don’t get it. That was just crazy talk. I don’t think you understood my question.

The Blogger: Tradition up a shrimp pole, forty-five asterisk, wah-wah, oh my stars, the square root of disharmony! Planet of the vapes, http://www.muumuu.org, 3.1415, owch, hmm.

Stop it! That made no sense at all! It’s all just nonsense! I can’t EVEN.

The Blogger:  [goes into a spastic seizure accompanied by grunts and screams, rolling on the ground, kicking his legs up in the air]

I have LITERALLY no idea what you’re EVEN trying to do right there. I am SO scared right now. I am LITERALLY shaking with nervousness.

The Blogger:  And i thus conclude my remarks on that topic. Due to space constraints, i wasn’t able to go into as full an explanation as i’d have liked to. We may just  have to devote a whole post to this topic later on.

 

Letter #5.  An idea about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence

Whew boy! All right, here’s a letter from a reader living in Taos, New Mexico. This one is named “Rainbow Steed.” The person who wrote the letter, i mean. “Rainbow Steed.” The reader who sent in this letter is named “Rainbow Steed.” It appears that i actually have a reader named “Rainbow Steed.” What a remarkable world we’re living in. Anyway, here’s what “Rainbow Steed” has to offer.

Okay, so i’ve been thinking about those three Scotsmen. The ones who are always sitting on that fence? I’ve been thinking about them a lot.

The Blogger:  You’ve got to level with me. Is your name really “Rainbow Steed”…?

Yuppo. So in a drama class i’ve been taking, they say you’re always supposed to try and get inside the motivation of the character. What is motivating the character?

The Blogger:  Yes, i think i understand you.

So these three Scotsmen. They’re up on that fence. Why? What are they doing up there? What motivated those three Scotsmen to get up on that fence, and sit there?

The Blogger:  A penetrating line of inquiry.

So. What if they’re really up there so they can more easily reach the light bulb?

You know, “How many Scotsmen does it take to screw in a light bulb,” and the answer is “three, but they have to get up on the fence first so that they can like reach the light fixture.” That would be funny, wouldn’t it? And that would explain their motivation.

Or cross the road? As in, “Why did the three Scotsmen cross the road? And right before that, they were like sitting on a fence, why were they doing that?”

Just brainstorming, you know, for some possibilities. And i’ll write again when i come up with some more ideas about the motivation of those three Scotsmen.

The Blogger:  Your further input will be highly appreciated, o most perspicuous reader!

 

Letter #6.  A Critique of the very form and content of this blog post.

I think we’ve got time for one more letter. Let’s see. Here’s one from “Malthe” in Copenhagen, Denmark! It’s always good to hear from our international readers.

Thank you. I have very much enjoyed reading the blog. I find it interesting in the extreme. It challenges my burgeoning philosophical inclination. And it’s funny.

The Blogger:  You’re too kind, Malthe. So what’s on your mind?

How is it that these letters are arranged in the form of dialogues? Like, the person who sent in the letter can tell what you’re saying in response to their letter, and so they add stuff in response to what you’re saying? What? How is that even a thing? Does the U.S. Postal Service even work that way? You can send mail that responds right as the reader reads it? No way. I’ve never sent a letter like that. The Danish mails do not work in this way.

The Blogger:  It might seem a bit odd, to the untrained observer…

I’m not an observer. I’m one of the people writing you a letter.

The Blogger:  Right, right. And i agree that it might seem a trifle odd that conventional mail should turn out to be… shall we say, interactive?… in much the same way that the internet often is. But that’s only to scratch the surface of the mysteries that surround the All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious blog.

You’re changing the subject. I want to know how mail can talk back while the person reading it is still reading it.

The Blogger:  Well, you know, it’s… it’s… kind of… complicated.

 

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

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

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

And that’s just in my morning carpool.

So i’m considering a pretty radical move.

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

Well… maybe….

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Conclusion

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

…and i Kant bear the thought of fracturing it.

 

May Your Days Be Merry and Delicious, and May All Your Christmases Be Treadknicious

 

Well, my gentle readers, it’s that time of year again. When the air is filled with tinkling bells / And the trees are white with crusty shells / And the frost is on the windowpane / It’s December time again! It’s time for evergreen wreaths and holly boughs, sleigh bells and silver bells, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, eggnog and spiced cider. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

The Good Reader:  Well done, Blogger! You managed to populate that introduction almost entirely with song lyrics.

The Blogger:  It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Isn’t it?

The Good Reader:  Mmm-hmmm. I think so.

The Blogger:  And may i just say, it’s good of you to show up to the party.

The Good Reader:  The party? What party?

The Blogger:  My little Christmas party. I’ve invited a few friends over to celebrate the joy of the season and share eggnog and fruitcake.

The Good Reader:  Real friends, or characters from your blog?

The Blogger:  Oh, c’mon, Good Reader, is that a distinction we really have to make right now? It being Christmas and all?

The Good Reader:  Hey, don’t mind me. You’re the one who’s all into making fine metaphysical distinctions and talking about everybody’s ontological status.

The Blogger:  Gracious heavens, Good Reader, i didn’t realize you even KNEW those words! You may blossom into a real philosopher yet.

The Good Reader:  Grrrrr.

The Blogger:  Speaking of which: will you look at that, here come some of my other guests! Jen, Biff, come on in, it’s great to see you!

Little Biffy:  It’s terribly good to see you as well, Mr. Blogger!

Jennifer Smith:  Um. What. Where are we. What in the world. I’m so confused.

Little Biffy:  Jennifer, may i introduce you to The Blogger? He’s a philosopher friend of mine. I suppose you could say, in one sense, that he has taught me everything i know.

Jennifer Smith:  Uh… well, it’s nice to meet you, Blogger. Do you have a real name, or are we all going by job descriptions here? In which case, i’m “Meaningless Desk Job at a Faceless, Soulless Behemoth of an Insurance Company.”

The Blogger:  Oh, Jennifer, i know all about you. That was clever, by the way. Come in, come in! Have some eggnog.

Jennifer Smith:  How do you know all about me? Biff, how does this man know me?

Little Biffy:  It’s kind of complicated. Ooohh, look, fruitcake! C’mon, Jen, there’s snacks.

The Blogger:  Make yourselves at home. Mi casa es su casa. Literally, sort of, heh heh.

Jennifer Smith:  He keeps saying mysterious and creepy things. Who is this guy, Biffy?

Little Biffy:  I’ll explain everything to you in a sec. Let’s go look at the appetizer table. Ooohh, yum, cheezy sausage balls!  [Biffy and Jennifer go to the other side of the room]

The Good Reader:  Blogger, seriously, is this young lady not aware that she’s a character in your blog?

The Blogger:  Ssshhhh. Keep your voice down. Sometimes the weaker ones will panic.

The Good Reader:  Pfft! It sure took me a long time to get used to it.

The Blogger:  Okay, here’s the scoop on Jen and Biff. He, being more philosophically inclined, grasped early on that his conscious experience of reality might be only one level or mode of participation in the larger matrix in which he is embedded as an existent entity.

The Good Reader:  Mmm. Exactly how i would have put it.

The Blogger:  Biffy casts a critical eye on his world, takes nothing for granted, and he asks all the right questions. Jennifer, on the other hand — although she’s pretty bright — tends to take things at face value.

The Good Reader:  So Little Biffy knows that you’re his creator?

The Blogger:  Sure does.

The Good Reader:  And he’s okay with that?

The Blogger:  What sort of objection is he supposed to raise?  “I don’t like the fact that i am a figment of your creative imagination. Make it stop! Waa-a-a-a-a-a-anh.”

The Good Reader:  Well, if you put it that way.

The Blogger:  He’s got a good attitude about it. We’re all somebody’s creation, after all. No sense getting all bent out of shape about it.

The Good Reader:  Hark! Looks like somebody else is at the door.

The Blogger:  Well, that would be Mister Wu! Elvis! Come in, dude! It’s so good of you to stop by.

Elvis Wu:  A strong argument could be made that i had no choice in the matter. [smiles] But the pleasure is, at any rate, entirely mine.

The Blogger:  Fellas, i’d like to introduce you all to Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major.

Jennifer Smith:  The very last philosophy major? Ever?

Elvis Wu:  [bows gallantly]  At your service.

Little Biffy:  I’m happy to actually be able to meet you at long last, having heard so many rumors of your existence.

Elvis Wu:  Or perhaps, my ‘modal’ existence.

[They both laugh, The Good Reader rolls her eyes, and Jennifer looks grumpy]

The Good Reader:  Well, Mister Wu… or should i call you ‘Doctor Wu’?

Elvis Wu:  Good one. I’m a Steely Dan fan, myself.

Little Biffy:  [Singing from near the appetizer table]  “Are you with me, Doctor Wu? / Are you really just a shadow of the man that we once knew?”

The Good Reader:  Ever since the Blogger first introduced you on this blog as “The Last Philosophy Major,” i’ve been curious about the same thing that Jennifer just asked. “The Last Philosophy Major.” What does that even mean? Surely you don’t mean that there are no more colleges or universities with philosophy departments. There must be.

Elvis Wu:  The answer to your question is actually kind of complicated.

The Good Reader:  Oh my gosh, you’re as bad as this guy!  [She indicates the Blogger.]  I can’t get a straight answer out of him either! No wonder you guys hang out.

Elvis Wu:  There are still academic departments at many institutions of higher learning that continue to label themselves ‘philosophy’ departments, if that serves as a partial answer to your question.

The Good Reader:  It’ll probably have to do for now.

Little Biffy:  [Still singing]  “Are you crazy, are you high, or just an ordinary guy?”

[Jennifer slips away from Little Biffy, and approaches The Blogger.]

Jennifer Smith:  Blogger, can i talk with you for a minute?

The Blogger:  Sure thing, Jen. What’s on your mind? As if i don’t already know. Heh heh.

Jennifer Smith:  That’s not funny! See, that’s what i wanted to talk to you about. I find it unsettling at best that you and Biffy seem to think that i’m your creation. But no. Come on. I’m an actual person, Blogger. I have my own thoughts and experiences. This “I created her” stuff has got to go.

The Blogger:  It doesn’t seem to bother Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith:  Biffy’s a freak of nature. I have no idea who or what created him. I think he may have sprung fully-formed out of a Black Hole in outer space. But i know who i am.

The Blogger:  If that’s true, then you’re a rare one indeed. Hardly anybody knows who they really are.

Jennifer Smith:  You’re going all philosophical on me, and i’m just trying to make a simple point. Stop telling Biffy that you created us! It’s sick and twisted, and he’s just a kid. You’re messing with the head of a little kid.

The Blogger:  He’s a boy genius. I don’t think he’s in any danger of being bamboozled by a story that is completely without credibility. And, as it happens, this story is a true one.

Jennifer Smith:  Okay… okay… then, how about this. You and i are standing together in the same living room right now, in what i assume is your house. Right? Here we are, you and me. I’m just as real, and as present, as you are. Or vice-versa.

The Blogger:  That’s because we’re both creations of the REAL Blogger.

Jennifer Smith:  Oh my word.

The Blogger:  Yup. You might want to think of me as an avatar of the guy writing the blog. I mean, i’m him, but i’m not really him, you see. I’m the version of him that he sticks into the dialogue to represent him.

Jennifer Smith:  I’m just going to sit down over here for a minute.

Little Biffy:  [From the appetizer table]  How’s it going over there? These cheezy sausage things are terrific!

The Good Reader:  I just tried some of the fruitcake, and it’s actually not bad! Everybody likes to make awful jokes about fruitcake.

The Blogger:  Mine is homemade, from a family recipe. You’re thinking of those rubbery inedible brick-shaped things wrapped in cellophane that they sell at truck-stop convenience marts.

Jennifer Smith:  Yeah, what are those made of, anyway? It looks kind of like, hardened jell-o with sediment and petrified fruits embedded in it.

Elvis Wu:  I’ve never spoken with anyone who has actually eaten one of those. I think they may be poisonous.

Little Biffy:  Or even caustic! They’re wrapped in cellophane because they cause burns if brought into contact with the skin!

Elvis Wu:  “Turn and run! Nothing can stop them, / Around every river and canal their power is growing…”

Little Biffy:  “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”!  The Last Philosophy Major knows his early Genesis! I salute you, sir.

Elvis Wu:  Except, in this case, it would be “The Return of the Giant Fruitcake.”

Jennifer Smith:  I have no idea what they’re talking about. What a frustrating Christmas party.

Little Biffy:  The Giant Hogweed is a terrible invasive plant species that looks pretty but can burn, scar, or even blind you if your skin comes in contact with it. And the British rock group Genesis recorded a song about it in the early 1970s.

Jennifer Smith:  Back when you were just a wee tot.

Little Biffy:  [Turning red]  I wasn’t born yet. But i listen to my parents’ records.

The Good Reader:  Yikes! Is this appropriate Christmas conversation? People’s skin being burned off by hogweeds and fruitcakes? I’m with Jen. This party needs a jump-start.

The Blogger:  Okay, we’ve covered fruitcake. What’s eggnog?

Little Biffy:  [Sings]  “Christmas is a-coming, and the egg is in the nog…”

The Good Reader:  I know this one! It goes back to the Middle Ages. Authentic eggnog is made from milk, cream, sugar, spices, eggs, and whiskey or rum.

Jennifer Smith:  Well, why don’t they call it an ‘egg shake’ or an ‘egg smoothie’? What does ‘nog’ even mean?

The Good Reader:  I think it was an archaic word for whiskey. Eggnog: Egg whiskey.

Little Biffy:  Yum. Egg whiskey.

The Good Reader:  My Grammy made it from scratch every Christmas. Mighty strong stuff.  [Hesitates.]  She was a bit of a lush, my Grammy.

The Blogger:  Fantastic! And what about the Yule log? Where did that come from?

Elvis Wu:  That one’s easy. You know the problem some people have, confusing the words “your” and “you’re”?

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm.

Elvis Wu:  Well, people used to have a similar problem related to their Christmas fireplace logs. The “You’ll” log was traditionally the one that a family saved for when they had holiday guests over — as in, “you’ll be at home here with us,” or something like that — but the tradition apparently fell into the hands of illiterate people and thus we have the Yule log.

Jennifer Smith:  Ugh. You’re not the Last Philosophy Major. You’re the Appallingly Terrible Puns Major.

Elvis Wu:  I enter a plea of ‘guilty’.

Little Biffy:  Given that we’re in the South, maybe we should start calling it the “Y’all” log?

[Groans all around, except for Elvis, who looks at Biffy with renewed admiration.]

The Blogger:  Well, i think it’s time for a holiday toast. Elvis, would you mind doing the honors?

Elvis Wu:  I would be honored.  [He pours himself a fresh cup of hot spiced cider.]

Jennifer Smith:  I have no idea what to expect. I mean. This guy.

Little Biffy:  Expect the unexpected.

Jennifer Smith:  But if you’re expecting ‘the unexpected,’ then what you’re actually expecting is… wait, he’s about to offer the toast.

Elvis Wu:  [Lifts his glass]  May your days be merry and delicious, and may all your Christmases be treadknicious!

The Assembled Throng:  Wassail!

 

 

The Long-Awaited Flockbinker Pop Quiz #2!

From time to time… well, let’s just be brutally honest, about once every couple of years… the Blogger undertakes to test how closely attentive his readers have been. The first time we offered a pop quiz on this blog (“Your Very First ‘Flockbinkers’ Pop Quiz“) the thing really was a roaring success, and….

The Good Reader:  That’s not how i remember it. I seem to recall that lots of people were seriously bothered by it. Many of your readers found it confusing and pointless. People accused you of mocking the very idea of philosophy. You got hate mail. You even had to devote a whole post to MY objections. And i’m your most devoted fan.

The Blogger:  Oh, golly, The Good Reader, this really isn’t the time or the place….

The Good Reader:  That first Pop Quiz was a bizarre mishmash of random silliness and even more random silliness; and the one thing it was NOT, was an informative test of anybody’s knowledge of philosophy, or of anything else.

The Blogger:  It seems to me that we’ve covered all of this ground before, haven’t we? Anyway, Good Reader, i’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m a changed man. I no longer include strange, sad attempts at humor or oddball bursts of surreal self-referentiality in my quizzes. You’ll see.

The Good Reader:  Hrmmff. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and at least have a look.

The Blogger:  Although, be warned, you know i can’t control what the readers are gonna do once they start taking the quiz and getting into discussions with each other about what the right answers are.

The Good Reader:  No. Just no. Do not do that again. Don’t even think about it. See, that’s just the sort of nonsense that i’m talking about!

The Blogger:  Hey, what? It’s not me doing it, it’s the people taking the quiz! I can’t control people who have free will and internet access.

The Good Reader:  You are so full of baloney! You and i both know that it’s you inventing those “readers” who are “taking the quiz” so that you can get a few cheap laughs.

The Blogger:  Oops, ahem… will you look at the time! Sorry, The Good Reader, i’m afraid we’re gonna have to wrap up this introduction. Onward ho, to the long-awaited follow-up to that first, epic quiz. It’s been a couple of years, and we’ve covered a lot of territory since then!

Your answers, o my faithful readers, to the following ten questions (each with ten possible answers, numbered ‘a’ through ‘j’) should give a fair indication of whether you’ve been paying attention of not.

 

1.  According to this post that went up during the last week of October — later supplemented by this follow-up post (“A Philosopher Hands out Candy — and Philosophy Classics — to Trick-or-Treaters“), which of the following are terrific ideas for something to identify as, for Hallowe’en?

a.  A character that Jane Austen would have included in her novel Persuasion, if only she’d known what she was doing as an author.

b.  An accident over on Aisle Five involving a small child, a rogue shopping cart, and several dozen boxes of breakfast cereal.

c.  A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.

d.  Your Mom.

e.  A mathematical impossibility.

f.  The vicissitudes of Justin Bieber’s career.

g.  A duck.

h.  The entire inventory of a Dollar Tree.

i.  Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

j.  Conan O’Brien’s bank account, including whatever he’s got hidden away offshore.

 

2.  As represented in a recent post to this blog, which of the following might accurately be said of Confucius and the Buddha when they are dining together in a public restaurant?

a.  Confucius has a rough time getting Buddha to stay on task, i.e. look at the menu and decide what he wants to order.

b.  Buddha has a distressing tendency to say mysterious, metaphysically odd things to the server, who — bless his heart — is just trying to find out what they want to eat.

c.  Confucius and the Buddha are frequently joined by Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu, Mao Tse-Tung, The Wu Tang Clan, Amy Tan, Bruce Lee, Chuck D, and Fred Ho — the proprietor of a little Chinese short order place on Market St.

d.  Buddha has an appalling habit of chewing with his mouth open, a habit which sends Confucius around the bend.

e.  Confucius tends to talk in phrases that sound like they came out of a fortune cookie: i.e. “You will come into an unexpected sum of money.”

f.  Both Confucius and the Buddha tend to order off-menu; for instance, “No, i want you to bring the goat in here and kill it right next to our table so we can see if you’ve done it properly.”

g.  Buddha’s tendency to fade in and out of nirvana is not only problematic for their interactions with the waitstaff, but infuriating to Confucius, who considers such antics to be out of keeping with proper social decorum.

h.  Their favorite restaurant is Panda Express, followed by Logan’s Roadhouse, Taco Bell, and CiCi’s Pizza.

i.  Buddha never tires of pulling out his favorite joke, “Make me one with everything.”

j.  Confucius tends to have a way with the ladies, which may have been all cool and stuff in the 500s BC, but can get you into seriously hot water in the year 2017.

 

3.  Which of these statements is the Buddha unlikely to have said?

a.  The self is an illusion.

b.  The self is an elf on a shelf.

c.  The self is in a state of constant evolution, and is in fact living under an assumed name in a duplex in Des Plaines, Illinois.

d.  Make me One with Everything.

e.  Make me one with two patties — medium-well — double-cheese, hold the lettuce, and could i have some of those little hot peppers?

f.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

g.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Yellow Brick Road.

h.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

i.  I have heard the sound of one hand clapping… geez, is this an audience, or an oil painting?

j.  To transcend the limitations of the physical form, you must gaze into the yawning emptiness of the infinite abyss… naw, i’m kidding, i’m kidding. Calm down! I didn’t mean it! Jeepers! You people.

 

4.  In a recent post to this blog (The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard), an interesting discussion occurs between two philosophers representing very different walks of life. Which of the following took place during that discussion?

a.  The Blogger is surprised to find a philosopher working security at a medical center.

b.  The Blogger is even more surprised to find a medical center located in the middle of the seventh hole at Bud’s Putt Putt Golf Paradise.

c.  The blogger and the security guard agree that philosophy is no longer popular or well understood among the masses.

d.  The blogger and the security guard agree, furthermore, that the KFC on Highway 2 needs to bring back their all-you-can-scarf-down buffet.

e.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by sheer force of logical argument.

f.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by quoting to him the first 357 lines of Beowulf, in the original Anglo-Saxon.

g.  The security guard takes out a criminal and pays for dinner and drinks, but not the movie… who can afford 12 bucks for a movie on a security guard’s wages?

h.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for a moron.

i.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for Kevin James.

j.  The blogger and the security guard discuss the fact that security guards, in general, tend to be viewed as intellectual giants with a vast breadth of knowledge of history, philosophy, the sciences, literature and the fine arts.

 

5.  Logical syllogisms, as represented in the recent post “Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms“….

a.  are typically made up of two premises and a conclusion.

b.  are often regarded as the basic building blocks of a logical argument.

c.  are examples of deductive reasoning.

d.  are generally regarded as superior to ‘illogical syllogisms,’ because hey, honestly, what would even be the point?

e.  sometimes get into frustrating conflicts with emotional syllogisms.

f.  are kind of like recipes, and kind of like instruction manuals, and kind of like graphic novels, and kind of like Shakespeare’s play “A Comedy of Errors.”

g.  very often have technical terms in them like ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ and ‘throckwhistle’ and ‘ooga-booga.’

h.  were pioneered by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and Christopher Walken.

i.  form the basis for several popular party games.

j.  can be found in the darnedest places, like, oh, for instance, the third stall from the end in the men’s room at the Carmike 18 Theater over on South Terrace Road.

 

6.  Flockbinkers and unicorns…

a.  are probably not the same thing, and certainly don’t hang out at the same nightclubs.

b.  are both (probably) varieties of small slippery fishes with eight legs and a stinger.

c.  have this in common: that they both refuse to eat cheese sandwiches that have had the crust trimmed off.

d.  are rarely seen together in public, but can occasionally be found together on medieval tapestries.

e.  have this in common: that they are both awfully fun to say out loud. I mean, seriously: “Flockbinker.” “Unicorn.”  Dude, i’m in stitches!

f.  are both nonexistent, but in different ways.

g.  Wait, how can two nonexistent things be nonexistent “in different ways?” Either something exists, or it doesn’t.

h.  Well that just shows how much you know about philosophy. Blogger, may i make a suggestion? Perhaps the younger ones should be given a simpler quiz.

i.  “The younger ones”…? Why, you slimeball, i oughta….

j.  Hey guys, sorry to arrive late to the party. May i toss my two cents’ worth in? About nonexistent things being nonexistent in different ways? Like, maybe, Moby-Dick is one kind of nonexistent, and a square circle is a different kind of nonexistent, and an efficiently run government bureau is even a different kind of nonexistent. I’m just spitballin’ here.

j2.  Oh, my gosh, i’m surrounded. These people are everywhere. Beam me up, Scotty.

 

7.  Which of the following statements can accurately be made of ‘Horse People’…? You may refer to this post from a couple of years ago if you need a refresher on what ‘horse people’ are.

a.  Horse People are essentially indistinguishable from unicorn people.

b.  Horse people and unicorn people are two completely different categories. A unicorn person would not be caught dead owning a regular horse, and many horse people don’t even believe in the existence of unicorns.

c.  Horse People are not at all the same people as the people who travel to neighboring planets in a space vehicle made by strapping 40 toaster-ovens together.

d.  Horse People tend often (but not always) to also be into centaurs, though not usually those winged horses, which honestly are not even a real thing.

e.  Horse People constitute one major category of humanity, the other category being ‘guinea pig people.’

f.  Expert opinion is divided on the issue of whether people who would be into horses, if they were ever exposed to one, ought to be considered ‘horse people’ or merely ‘people.’

g.  Horse People generally, and for reasons not yet fully understood, have difficulty distinguishing between flockbinkers and wamwams.

h.  Horse People are not necessarily all that good at navigating taxonomical frameworks.

i.  Horse People can be mighty touchy when you try to apply philosophical analysis to their putative truth-claims.

j.  There is a tiny subset of horse people called “horse with no name people.” These people are often found in deserts and have selective memory issues.

 

8. Which of the following statements would be true in reference to ontology and categories?

a.  Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with being: what existence is, what it means for something to exist, what kinds of things there are, and how they are related to each other.

b.  “Ontology, shmontology” is a statement often heard around philosophy conferences.

c.  One of the more interesting debates in ancient and medieval philosophy concerned the question of how ‘real’ categories are. Do categories actually exist, or only the things in them? Are categories mere conveniences that we develop in order to make sense of our world? All of that, by the way, was one answer to the question.

d.  Scattergories is a great game for training kids in the basics of philosophy.

e.  A few more good philosophy games would include “Go Fish,” “Twister,” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Cow tipping is also a favorite.

f.  There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy setting up categories, and those who do not.

g.  Heh heh, i saw what you did there.

h.  Dude, this is a quiz. You can’t just randomly make comments in the section that’s supposed to be for the answers to the questions.

i.  Well, i can, and i just did. Maybe you’d like to try doing something about it.

j.  I have never been more terrified in my life. I am literally trembling in my boots.

j-point-5.  Come over here and say that. Come on. Come on. Let’s see what you got.

j-point-7.  Fellas, fellas, geez, can you take it outside? We’re trying to run a quiz here.

 

9. Which of the following can accurately be said of philosophy?

a.  Philosophy is a fool’s game.

b.  Philosophy is something your mom would probably really get into.

c.  Philosophy is a rapidly disappearing intellectual discipline.

d.  Philosophy is for people who lack the people-skills to go into business, and aren’t coordinated enough to operate heavy machinery.

e.  You’ll very likely be better at Philosophy if you have a Greek or German name, than if your name is, oh, for instance, Donnie McDonald.

f.  Philosophy concerns mainly a bunch of fancy terms and arguments about obscure things like the ontological status of your mom.

g.  Dude, the  references to someone’s mom stopped being funny a long time ago.

h.  Hey, big fella, why don’t you do you. Hmmm? I’ll do me, and you do you.

i.  Please. “You do you” is one of the most incoherent suggestions you can make to somebody, right up there with “be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.”

j.  Watch it, son, now you’re getting personal. I’ve got that one about “be yourself” as wallpaper on my computer screen.

j-and-one-third.  Fellas! Please! Seriously, we’re trying to conduct a quiz here. Take the argument outside.

 

10. Which of the following are characters that have, at some point or another, made an appearance on this blog?

a.  Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major

b.  Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith

c.  Confucius and the Buddha

d.  Smokey and the Bandit

e.  The Captain and Tennille

f.  Three Scotsmen sitting on a fence

g.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

h.  The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse

i.  The Blogger

j.  The Good Reader

j.1.  The Decent Reader, So Long as the Book Isn’t Too Long

j.2.  The Reader Who Struggles with Words of More than Two Syllables

j.25.  Chuck Norris

j.5.  Your Mom

j.75.  The kid with the wonky nose and a haircut that looks like an abstract sculpture gone terribly wrong, who works at the McDonald’s on E. 3rd Street

j.9.  A mob of crazed orangutans, pelting good boys named ‘James’ with frozen waffles

j.92715.  A mob of boys named ‘James,’ pelting crazed orangutans with frozen waffles

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I knew it. I knew he was going to do it again. I just knew it.

 

 

Here’s Another Philosophy Joke: Confucius, Aristotle, and a Flockbinker Go into a Bar

“So, Okay: Confucius, Aristotle, and a flockbinker go into a bar, see….”

And the bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

Confucius say,[*] “I take offense at that completely inappropriate racial slur!”

And the bartender says, “No, look, I wasn’t talking about you.  I was referring to…that.”  And he points at the flockbinker.

“Oh,” say Confucius.  “Well, alrighty then.”

All eyes in the room turn toward the flockbinker.

Aristotle says, “Let us be clear. You are saying that it is the policy of your restaurant not to serve flockbinkers?”

“What?” says the bartender.

“This,” explains Aristotle, indicating the flockbinker, “is a flockbinker.”

“I don’t care what fancy name you wanna call it,” rejoins the barkeeper. “We don’t serve it, that’s what i’m saying.”

Aristotle says, “You introduce an interesting question.  Since we are uncertain of the ontological status of flockbinkers, it’s difficult to know what you mean by its ‘kind.’  You said that you don’t serve its ‘kind’ here. In your judgment, what ‘kind’ is he?”

The bartender replies, “Everybody’s gotta be a smart aleck.  Look, all i’m saying, we don’t serve those”—and here he again indicates the flockbinker—“in this here respectable establishment.”

“And why would that be,” demands Aristotle, “if you can’t even categorize him?  How do you know whether he belongs in the category ‘things we don’t serve here’?  Does your policy apply to all entities that are treadknicious?”

“Tred—what?”

“Treadknicious.  All flockbinkers are treadknicious.  Surely everyone knows that.”

The bartender squints at Aristotle, as if looking at a particularly appalling insect that has landed in his bowl of cereal.

“Flockbinkers are treadknicious,” continues Aristotle. “All of them. It is less clear, however, whether there might be other things (besides flockbinkers) that are also treadknicious. So does your policy extend to all members of the class ‘things that are treadknicious,’ whether flockbinkers or something else…?”

The bartender stares at Aristotle, as if studying a worm that has been opened up for dissection in a high school biology class.

Confucius add, “What my distinguished colleague is getting at is this: what is it about our little friend here” — and he indicates the flockbinker — “that makes you want to ban it from the premises?”

“Frockbinger,” says the flockbinker, breaking its silence.

Confucius and Aristotle turn to stare at it. Who knew flockbinkers could talk?

The bartender is losing patience.  “Whatever it is, we don’t serve it!” he spurts.

In the meantime, the patrons of the bar have been taking a keen interest in this little exchange. One of them steps forward and, in a voice that reverberates with passion and antique Roman heroism, proclaims:  “I am a flockbinker!”

Then another customer steps forth, this one obviously an accountant, and says, in a tremulous voice, “I am a flockbinker!

One by one, just like in the famous scene from Spartacus, each of the bar’s patrons steps forth and states, “I am a flockbinker!”

Understandably, the bartender finds this turn of events perplexing. What’s he supposed to do, kick out all of his customers?

“The problem with basing policy decisions on poorly-conceived taxonomical frameworks,” explains Aristotle to the hapless bartender, “is that your categories can shift on you and ruin your plans.”

“Frockbinger,” explains the flockbinker, helpfully.

The bartender is just standing there, his hands hanging helplessly at his sides.

“You are going to meet an interesting stranger,” Confucius say.

“I beg your pardon?” says the bartender.

“I said, ‘You are going to meet an interesting stranger’,” repeat Confucius. “You know, it’s the sort of thing you might find in a fortune cookie. I suppose i ought to introduce myself. My name is Kung Fu Tzu, better known to the English-speaking world as Confucius.”

“Name’s Fred,” replies the dazed bartender, extending a hand.

“Well gee, THAT was somewhat irrelevant,” says Aristotle.

“Sorry,” say Confucius.  “I never go off duty.”

 

[Editor’s Note:  If you’ve not yet heard the one about Confucius and the Buddha meeting for dinner at Chili’s, you can find it right around here somewhere.]

[Another Editor’s Note:  If you were troubled by the grammar in the sections where Confucius is quoted as saying something, perhaps it just means you’re unfamiliar with the “Confucius say” corny joke convention.]

[Yet a Third Editor’s Note:  If, on the other hand, you were troubled by the fact that this blog has made use of the “Confucius say” corny joke convention — because you feel that it represents an inappropriate stereotyping of the speech patterns of ancient Chinese philosophers — then do by all means feel free to leave a scorching comment articulating your concerns. We love to hear from our readers.]

 

A Philosopher Hands out Candy (and Philosophy Classics) to Trick-or-Treaters

This year, for the first time in several decades — indeed, the first time in the entirety of my adult incarnation — i decided to do Hallowe’en.

I’ve never gotten really excited about Hallowe’en. As a philosopher, i feel a need to know what i’m celebrating when i observe a holiday, and Hallowe’en seems to be just a confusing hash of ancient pagan imagery, modern horror, Disney, magical unicorns, and contemporary kiddie-fied commercialization.

However, this year i decided to get with the program; you know, find out what everyone else has been experiencing all this time. And it seemed fitting that, as a philosopher, i should provide the kiddoes with a uniquely philosophical experience that they’d be unlikely to get at the other houses.

Upon discovering that some people like to dress up the front of their home to reflect the spirit of the holiday, i decided to make an attempt. I chose as my theme the decay of Western Civilization… the tragic, inexorable unraveling of more than two thousand years of achievement and tradition… the entropic deterioration of centuries’ worth of cultural advancement and rational thought… leaving a (metaphorically speaking) dilapidated, moss-grown, disintegrating ruin. The advantage here is that i didn’t really have to do anything to decorate. My front porch already looks like that.

Then i hauled a big cauldron onto my porch and loaded it up with goodies for the little trick-or-treaters. Finally, i put on my bow-tie and wire-rimmed spectacles (my ‘philosopher’ costume) and i was ready to go.

The evening, i must say, went very well.

By way of illustration, why don’t i narrate for you my encounters with three different batches of trick-or-treaters, each group interesting in its own way. Let’s start with a group of five children that came by pretty early on, while it was still light out.

 

Group One

“Greetings,” i said to the group at large. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Breakdown of Western Civilization.”

They eyed the front of my house apprehensively, as if searching for a notice of condemnation by the building inspector.

“And what are you?” i asked the first kid who bravely stepped up to my porch.

“I’m Conan O’Brien’s haircut,” he explained.

“Ah!” i said. “Not bad. I can see it. An extremely accurate likeness. And you?” i asked the next kid.

“I’m an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper.”

“That’s exactly what i would have guessed. Very clever. Layers of ontological complexity. I like it.”

“And i,” said the next kid, an absolutely whacking redhead, “am a mathematical impossibility.”

“No kidding!” i said. “That’s amazing! Can you be more specific?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m the square root of peace and love for all humankind.”

Dig,” i said. “Oh yeah. Wow. Can you dig it.”

We all sort of dug it for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” said Conan O’Brien’s haircut, quietly. “Crazy.”

“And what about you?” i asked the next kid.

In the most earnest, heartfelt voice i have ever heard emerge from the body of a human being, he said, “I am a single tear from the eye of a magical unicorn.”

“Well, of course you are,” i acknowledged. “Even a fool can see that. Good work.”

The fifth and last kid stepped forth boldly. “And what are you?” i asked.

“Your Mom,” he said, simply.

“Roger that,” i said, and reached into my cauldron to fish out goodies for each of the kids.

Now, i’m afraid we need to pause a moment before going on.

Most regular people, when preparing to receive trick-or-treaters, will stock up on Mounds mini-bars, Kit Kats, Jolly Ranchers, and those awful candy corn things. But do not forget that we are here dealing with a philosopher, not a normal person. My cauldron was stocked with something much better than candy: pocket paperback editions of some of the shorter philosophy classics. To wit: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. And Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By way of concession to the tastes of children, i also had a pile of 100 Grillion Dollar Bars in there. To sweeten the deal, as it were.

“For you,” i said to the one who’d identified as my Mom, “a copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and a 100 Grillion Dollar Bar.”

“But it’s not real!” he demurred.

“What?” i said. “It is absolutely real! This is an authorized edition of the Tractatus!”

“I meant the 100 Grillion dollars.”

“Oh,” i said. “Hmmm. Define real.”

“Cool, a philosopher who’s also a smart-aleck. I can’t wait to tell my friends.”

I was not going to take this from a pipsqueak whose idea of a Hallowe’en costume was a lackluster impersonation of my Maternal Ancestor. “You were trick-or-treating in the hope of amassing a fortune?” i demanded. “No. You were trick-or-treating in the hope of getting lots of candy. This is candy. ‘Grillion’ isn’t even a number.”

Annoyed, i distributed philosophy books and 100 Grillion Dollar Bars to the remaining kids with no further complaint, although the fellow identifying as the tear from the eye of a magical unicorn did tremble slightly. No harm done, the kids were off, and i was left to contemplate the complexities involved in the naming of candy bars.

 

Group Two

This next interesting group came along a while later, after a few rather disappointing cohorts of fairies and zombies. “Hello, hello!” i said to them. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Utter Decay of the Western Cultural Tradition.”

“SWEET,” said one of the kids, obviously genuinely impressed. “It even looks like a deteriorating architectural corpse, a rude, broken-down relic of past greatness.”

“Um, yes, thank you,” i said. “Moving on. Let’s start with you. What are you identifying as this evening?”

“I’m a naughty, naughty fellow,” he said in the most perfect deadpan you’ve ever seen.

“Well, yes, i’ve no doubt of that,” i said. “I meant, what are you dressed up as?”

His companion, with an almost-matching costume, spoke up. “He means that literally. He is identifying as a naughty, naughty fellow for Hallowe’en. He’s usually the perfect kid. He never does anything wrong. The grown-ups all love him. It’s disgusting.”

“Ah!” i said. “How silly of me. Got it. And you?” i asked his cohort.

“Well,” he began, “I’m a fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen.”

“And i see you two are a package deal,” i observed.

“We are,” said the first one, a naughty, naughty expression on his face.

“And you!” i said, directing my attention to a young man dressed in what appeared to me to be the garb of a well-to-do dandy from the early 1800s.

“I’m a character from the novel Persuasion, by Jane Austen,” he explained.

“That’s tremendous!” i said. “As it happens, i just re-read Persuasion a few months ago. Which character are you?”

“Well,” he said, somewhat tentatively, “I’m not actually in the book.”

“I see,” said i, although i didn’t.

He continued. “I’m a character that Austen would have included in the novel if she had actually known what she was doing.”

“Ah,” i said. “That’s more like it. Most treadknicious of you.”

The fourth child stepped forward, a little squirt of a dude who appeared to be dressed, as nearly as i could tell, as a shapeless blue amoeba.

“I’m an as-yet-undiscovered chemical element,” he said.

“Ah, but here you are,” i said cleverly. “You’ve been discovered.”

“Discovered by you,” he said. “The scientific community still hasn’t got a clue.”

“Niiiiiiiice,” i said. “Does this element have a name?”

“Nunnayurbidnium,” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” i said. “Didn’t mean to offend.”

“No,” he offered, “I mean the element is called ‘Nunnayurbidnium’.”

“Ah,” i said. “Yes. Of course. Very good. I shall append it to the periodic table in my old college chemistry book. The scientific community will never have to know.” He and i shared a mutual scholarly wink, and then i cauldron-dove to fetch the kiddies their goodies.

 

Group Three

The third interesting group arrived shortly after dusk, at around that time when the little kids and their parents are starting to thin out and the teenagers elaborately made up as zombies or wearing lame skeleton t-shirts are becoming the dominant demographic. Happily, the group of which i now speak was not made of such stuff.

There were eight people in this group: one set of three, and another set of five. The two sets of trick-or-treaters weren’t actually together, but they all arrived at my front porch at more-or-less the same time.

“And who are YOU people?” I was talking to what appeared to be the leader of the group of five, which i took, furthermore, to be a family of aliens. Not the illegal kind; the interplanetary kind.

“We’re a family of aliens,” he explained helpfully.

“I gathered as much,” i said. “And what brings you ’round these here parts?”

“Well,” he began, hooking a tentacle into each of the two straps of his overalls, “It’s like this. We are the last of our race. Our civilization was wiped out by a race of even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.”

“Grrrrrr,” chorused the wife and kids, their tentacles waving menacingly in the air.

“That’s awful!” i said. “So you’re refugees here on earth, seeking asylum?”

“Well, it’s more like, we’re hopin’ to set up a GoFundMe account so that we can afford thermonuclear weapons and wipe them other aliens off the face of their stupid planet.”

“Well, gosh, y’know, okey-dokey,” i said, concluding that these varmints were serious customers and not to be trifled with. Casting about for a change of topic, i said, “Well, sir, your young’un here looks just like you.”

The lad waved his tentacles about in evident pleasure.

“Don’t he now?” said the proud papa, huffing a cloud of pinkish gas from the top of what i believe to have been his head. “He sure do favor his old dad, that’s what i’ve always said.”

I nodded. “I gotta say, the apple don’t fall far from the tree. So, remind me again… i don’t think i caught it the first time… what’s the name of the planet y’all are from?”

The father replied with the most horrifying sound i have ever seen produced by an object that was less than six feet away from me: a sort of screeching moan, mostly made up of harsh vowels and painful dreams. “So,” i squirmed. “Um. So that’s the name of your planet, is it?” By this time the conviction was finally borne in upon me that these were probably not kids wearing costumes.

“Wow, okay,” i said, turning my attention to the remaining group of three, who had sat patiently on their fence during the preceding proceedings. Did i mention that these three fellows had a portable fence, mounted on wheels, and that they were sitting on it?

“And you fellows,” i said. “What’s the story?”

“We’re Scotsmen,” said the first one.

“Aye, that we are,” said the second. “Three of us.”

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

That certainly cleared things up for me. “Golly,” i said, “you fellows seem oddly familiar. Might i have encountered you in a joke somewhere?”

“It’s not unlikely,” said the first one.

“You’ve probably haird the one about the three Scotsmen,” said the second one.

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

“Aye, that i have,” said i, involuntarily falling into their mode of speech. “So that’s why you fellas seem so familiar.” Then, seizing an opportunity that was not likely to come round again, i asked, “So what’s the punchline? I’ve never heard the finished version of the joke.”

The three Scotsmen looked at each other, then back at me, smiled mysteriously, and said nothing.

[Editor’s Note: For a discussion of the original joke about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, you might want to check out this post… (“So There Were These Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, See”) from about four years ago. You might, additionally, enjoy checking out this later post: “An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This ‘Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence’ Thing.”]

Unsure of how to continue the conversation, i dug out some Hundred Grillion Dollar Bars and pocket philosophical classics from my cauldron, distributed them among the strange company, and saw them off.

 

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. My first participation in Hallowe’en in about 40 years. I feel you must agree with me that it was a smashing success.

And you will be gratified to note, as i was, that after having checked all up and down the block the next morning, i saw no sign of philosophy books that had been tossed aside into people’s yards or chucked into conveniently located garbage cans.

[Editor’s Note: For some clues as to where some of these kiddies might have gotten the ideas for their inventive costumes, have a look at the post prior to this one.]

 

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