Richard J. Eisner: Writer / Philosopher

Below are samples of my writing, preceded by a list. Most of the pieces are taken from a philosophy club's now-defunct website, where members posted comments and arguments on various topics. When that website existed, I simply, here, gave a list of my writings posted there, a link to the site, and instructions how to find my articles on it. Now that the other site no longer is, if I want anyone to read the articles, I have to post them on websites of my own. Some of the pieces explicitly reply to other members’ remarks. I do not post the remarks to which I’m replying (either because I have no copy of those remarks, or for other reasons); and I was disinclined to rewrite my piece to obviate this explanation, which I hope will suffice. If an essay is posted on its own dedicated website (containing only that essay), I simply provide a link to the website, instead of posting the piece again here.

  1. Purpose in War: a Rebuttal     © 3 December 2004 by Richard J. Eisner

  2. Nine Comments on Plato and Aristotle    © 2002 by Richard J. Eisner

  3. Egoism: a Rebuttal     © 9 January 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  4. Determinism     © 12 March 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  5. Free Will     © 23 April 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  6. Why are We Here?     © 2 April 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  7. Pascal's Wager Argument: a Rebuttal     © 9 July 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  8. Wager: Rebuttal to Epsilon     © 27 August 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  9. Democracy     © 7 August 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  10. Theology and Falsification     © 29 May 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  11. Utopia     © 29 October 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

  12. Knowledge     © 1 April 2006 by Richard J. Eisner

  13. Why Be Moral?     © 2 February 2007 by Richard J. Eisner

  14. Moral Luck    © June 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  15. Four Critiques of Buddhism     © 17 November 2007 by Richard J. Eisner

  16. A Foolish Consistency     © 8 March 2007 by Richard J. Eisner

  17. Living with Contradiction?     © May 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

  18. The Impossibility of Knowledge, Free Will, and God     © 24 May 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

  19. The Rationality and Ethics of Voting     © April 2017 by Richard J. Eisner

  20. Why the Left Should Vote     © 27 February 2008 by Richard J. Eisner

  21. Conservatism     © 27 November 2008 by Richard J. Eisner

  22. Mark Twain Ghost Speech     © 4 July 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

  23. Boundaries     © 28 July 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

  24. Life after Death     © 29 August 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

  25. Kant’s Categorical Imperative     © 28 March 2010 by Richard J. Eisner

  26. For the Right to Abortion     © 1981 by Richard J. Eisner

  27. Abortion: Reply to Ron     © 22 March 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  28. The Epistemology of Testimony     © 16 January 2011 by Richard J. Eisner

  29. Happiness and Well-being     © 28 April 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  30. Personal Identity     © 23 May 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  31. Suicide: Rebuttal to Mirav     © 26 June 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  32. Suicide     © 24 July 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  33. Egalitarianism     © 22 November 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  34. Opportunity and Capitalism     © December 2003 by Richard J. Eisner

  35. Nietzsche’s “Master” Morality     © 21 May 2003 by Richard J. Eisner

  36. Universal Love     © September 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

  37. Morality and Religion     © 24 July 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

  38. Infinite Repetition: Reply to Raveen     © 27 July 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

  39. Infinite Repetition: Rebuttal to Robert     © 23 November 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

  40. Eternal Recurrence     © 27 September 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

  41. Limits of Law     © 21 September 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

  42. Gun Control     © 17 January 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

  43. Gun Control Redux     © 24 February 2018 by Richard J. Eisner

  44. Does the Universe have a Purpose?     © 23 February 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

  45. Desire     © 5 July 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

  46. John Rawls     © 20 December 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

  47. Justice     © 14 February 2015 by Richard J. Eisner

  48. Justice and Marx     © 12 September 2018 by Richard J. Eisner

  49. Nothingness     © 24 November 2015 by Richard J. Eisner

  50. Explanation, Reason, Cause     © 30 January 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

  51. Explanation, Reason, Cause: Rebuttal to Robert     © 10 July 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

  52. Black Lives Matter     © 15 August 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

  53. Confederate Statues Should be Removed    © 27 June 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

  54. Reparations for African-Americans     © 30 July 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

  55. Social Darwinism     © 15 October 2002 by Richard J. Eisner

  56. Three Short Meditations on Moral Character and Virtue     © January 2017 by Richard J. Eisner

  57. Is Your Life Valuable if All Humans Die Shortly After You Die?     © May 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

  58. Some Reasons Not to Use Drugs     © 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

  59. The $40 Million Vase     © November 2018 by Richard J. Eisner

  60. Possible and/or Impossible?     © 21 June 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

  61. Evolutionary Ethics     © 24 July 2021 by Richard J. Eisner

  62. Optimism and Pessimism     © 2003 by Richard J. Eisner

  63. Morality     © 2011 by Richard J. Eisner

  64. Thoughts on the Big Bang Theory     © 1998 by Richard J. Eisner

  65. The Repugnant Conclusion     © 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

  66. Oblivion     © August 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

1. Purpose in War: a Rebuttal     © 3 December 2004 by Richard J. Eisner

At the 21 November 2004 meeting of the Philosophy Club, a member—I believe it was Ron—asserted that the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, though undertaken (by the Bush administration) from bad motives, was nonetheless beneficial, and therefore justified (the end justifies the means). I agree that the war was begun for bad reasons. The reason given (immanent, serious threat posed by “weapons of mass destruction”) turned out to be a fraud. So it wasn’t the real reason. If the real reason were a good one, or if there were any good reason for it, Bush would have given that instead. But I disagree that the war was nevertheless helpful and thus warranted, as follows.

            Specifically concerning Iraq, this war has caused enormous damage, among which is a huge tax burden for Americans, massive loss of life and limb; widespread destruction of property, including irreplaceable, priceless cultural artifacts; virtually permanent radioactive contamination of Iraq’s land; and increased world hatred of the United States, with consequent heightened risk for all Americans of terrorist reprisal. These terrible and mounting costs are no more outweighed or justified by the admitted evil of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein than the amputation of a hand is justified by the presence on it of a wart—and the suggestion that those opposed to this war favor Saddam Hussein makes no more sense than the charge that those against severing the hand are in favor of warts.

            More generally, to judge aggression rather by its outcome than by its purpose would be counter-utilitarian. The reason is that it will often be difficult to prove that a war did more harm than good. And if our condemnation of aggressors must depend on and await such proof, we will be able to punish very few of them, which will impair a major disincentive to such aggression and thus considerably increase it. So the question is whether ill-intended hostility is bad on the whole. I submit that it is. In denying the importance of purpose in this connection, Ron drew a medical analogy, arguing that, if a surgeon performs an operation from motives other than the patient’s health, say from greed, and yet the surgery is competent and successful, then it was desirable and the physician’s purpose irrelevant. This hypothetical example, however, assumes that, in addition to the surgeon’s ulterior motive of greed, is a valid ostensive purpose (the patient’s well-being). But usually when aggression has an ulterior purpose, there’s no other purpose. Hence the appropriate surgical analogy for an ill-intentioned war is, not a well or poorly done operation, but an unnecessary one. Just as surgery, unlike some other medical procedures like massage, is inherently destructive, so, too, is war. And while a surgeon may sometimes put his medical fee to better use than would his patient; and an aggressor put the spoils to better use than would the conquered; and while occasionally other good may accidentally result; in the vast majority of cases, and overall, the harm (not even counting the dread engendered by the possibility of gratuitous medical or martial incursion) will be far greater. This is why both surgery and war are universally—justly—considered wrong unless done for proper purposes . . . which do not include greed.

2. Nine Comments on Plato and Aristotle     © 2002 by Richard J. Eisner

● Aristotle says that in a teleia philia (a “completed friendship”) one wishes for what’s good for the friend for the sake of that which is good in the friend that warrants it. But why this particular person (the friend)? Surely, there’s good in many people that warrants our help. It seems to me that, rather, it’s just part of our human nature; being involved in such a relationship satisfies our needs. Aristotle’s hypothesis here, I think, illustrates a fallacy in which philosophers (at least Plato and Aristotle) indulge: ascribing abstract, rational, philosophical reasons, justifications, and principles to that which occurs merely by nature. It’s like saying apple trees produce apples because it’s good for apple trees to do so.


● Plato argues that our intuitive knowledge (or capacity for knowledge) of abstract matters, such as mathematics, could not have come from sense perception, so it must be something we remember, which we possessed before we were born. But the flaw in this argument is the same as the flaw in certain arguments for God, those to the effect that a complex, intelligent world must have had an intelligent creator. Both arguments, instead of solving the problem, only move the issue back a step, leaving a no less considerable difficulty. In the argument for God, we still have the question, Who created God?; and with Plato’s knowledge argument, we still must answer, How did we get the knowledge before we were born? The supposition that we somehow acquired the knowledge, or the capacity for it, at birth not only makes just as much sense as the assumption that we attained it in some previous existence, but, further, because it (the at-birth explanation) is simpler and more natural, it strikes me as more likely, and, at all events, preferable. Either way, we have a mystery, the existence of things, of the world, of life, consciousness, mind, knowledge. But I would rather have a frankly acknowledged mystery than a cheap, clumsy attempt to sweep it under the philosophical rug (where it causes an unsightly bulge).


● I have the impression that Plato attempts to defeat the skeptics’ argument that knowledge is unattainable in order to overcome the argument that there can be no absolute moral standards. But I think the relationship between the two (knowledge and moral standards) is not quite the relationship Plato implies. It’s true that, if we can know nothing (that is, if we can’t know anything), we can’t know what’s right or good. But it doesn’t follow that if we can know something, we can know what’s right or good. One reason it doesn’t follow is that we may know some truths but not others. More important, even if we can know about right and good, it may nonetheless be that there’s no absolute right or good. We may gain knowledge of the subject of good, but learn that good is completely subjective. It almost seems that, by placing so much emphasis on the question of knowledge in this connection, Plato is attempting to use that inquiry as a straw man or red herring to divert our attention from the main issue whether right and good are absolute, subtly inducing us to accept resolution in Plato’s favor of the knowledge argument as tantamount to favorable resolution of the other matter.


● In his cave allegory, Plato argues that knowledge is better (even when less pleasant) than delusion. The short, but entirely adequate, reply to Plato would be “Speak for yourself.” Which—knowledge or pleasure—is better is not an objective matter. Each person makes the choice based on his own (subjective) values and desires. I, myself, would choose knowledge, or true perception, over happier illusion, but only because I value accomplishment over pleasure. If I valued pleasure over accomplishment, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose delusion over less pleasant knowledge.


● They say you shouldn’t seek wealth, because “you can’t take it with you.” . . . But neither can you take awareness or wisdom with you. Does that mean (since we can’t take it with us) that we shouldn’t seek wisdom, either? . . . If the unexamined life is not worth living, is the examined life worth living? This is more than the nugatory question it might at first seem. Socrates, or at least Plato, not only believes in eternal life (transmigration of souls), but also professes that the very purpose of living a virtuous life, of devotion to philosophy, is to prepare oneself for the afterlife, to enhance the soul’s possibilities there. I wonder how Plato would answer the question: If we disbelieve in an afterlife, what should be our motivation, if any, to live virtuously?

            Moreover, it seems that all the reasons that Plato and Aristotle advance for acting virtuously involve personal benefit to the actor. What happened to the dichotomy between selfish conduct and moral conduct, the idea of doing the right thing versus doing the easy or convenient or pleasurable thing?; what happened to other people, and the question of the actor’s effect on them; the notion that to do right is to do good, to do the greatest good, which sometimes conflicts with one’s personal well-being, and that, unless you do good when it conflicts with your own well-being, it’s not really moral behavior, but only selfish behavior . . . as a man’s belief in freedom of speech is truly tested, not when he approves of the speech in question, but only when he disapproves of it?!

            Finally, returning to Socrates’s famous dictum, imagine that you could live a profoundly examined life, arrive at some great philosophical truths, and write them down in a form that brought you lasting fame and honor among men. And suppose you had the following choice: You could live that life and die (forever) at, say, age 70; or you could live that life, and then, at age 70, instead of simply dying (ceasing to be), you would have a sort of second life, or post-life, in which, for 100 years, though you could not participate in or affect events, you would be able to (uncritically) observe the Earth and perceive humanity reading, discussing, and admiring your works, and honoring your memory, and you would feel great satisfaction over your life’s accomplishments and generally experience intense happiness, and no pain . . . but you wouldn’t examine your life. Which would you choose? I would choose the latter combination—the examined, productive life followed by the blissful secondary life. That second life would thus be an unexamined life that’s worth living, a counterexample to (disproof of) Socrates’s maxim.

            On second thought, one might contend that my foregoing paragraph didn’t prove my point. The ideal life-combination I fantasized about involves great self-examination (during the first 70 years). Doesn’t that, rather, prove Socrates’s point, that self-examination is essential to a good life? To disprove Socrates, shouldn’t the thought experiment involve some different set of choices? Well, let me clarify. The essential element in the 70-year first-life I imagined was accomplishment and lasting fame, not self-examination. I used the philosopher example merely because I happen to be one, and a philosopher examines life, largely by examining his own. I’d be just as pleased, instead, to be a great composer, who does not necessarily examine life. I suppose the real comparison would be an unexamined life or life combination versus no life at all. For Socrates is saying that an unexamined life is no more worthwhile than nonexistence (“the unexamined life is not worth living”). But I, for one, would prefer a life with any number of possible goods (fame, pleasure, and so forth)—but without examination—to no life.


● According to Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D., in his course The Great Ideas of Philosophy: “Aristotle identifies the attraction we have to the rule of law as arising from the law’s philikon, or ‘friendliness’ toward us. That is, by bringing out what’s best in us, the law functions as would the virtuous friend to whom we are attracted by, again, what’s best in us.”

            I dissent (from Aristotle). I think we make the laws to benefit, not those whose conduct the law seeks to control, but others, by protecting them from that conduct. For instance, we outlaw murder, not because we’re concerned with the negative psychological effect that committing murder might have on murderers, but instead to prevent people from being murdered. In general, such laws are the only legitimate ones. Laws aimed at benefitting whose behavior is to be controlled, where the conduct in question would not harm others, per se, are ordinances, like drug laws, designed to punish victimless crimes, which laws are destructive.


● In The Republic, Plato analogizes a city to a an individual, arguing that a just city is one in which the parts, the citizens, do their appropriate tasks—the thinking persons (philosophers) guiding the city, the spirited ones (soldiers) guarding it, and those with desires (everyone else, the workers) doing everything else—just as a person’s health depends on the harmonious workings of the various parts of his body.

            The analogy is fundamentally flawed. First of all, whereas the parts of the body exist solely for the sake of the person, the city’s inhabitants are important in their own right. As to the individual, it’s all for one (the parts of his body for him); as to the city, it’s both all for one (the individuals for the city) and one for all (the city for the individuals). Second, the functions of parts of the body are predetermined; but people’s functions are not, and the people will have their own preferences for what tasks they do. Hence, a city must decide how to allocate tasks and, more generally, benefits and detriments, among its inhabitants, considering both what’s best for the city as a whole, and what’s best for the citizens individually, taking into account both their talents and their needs and desires. Justice is the appropriate distribution of society’s goods and ills among its people, for their (individual) sakes.


● Again according to Professor Robinson, Aristotle taught that . . .

            “Actions are performed for the sake of something. That which is desired for its own sake is eudaimonia, a flourishing form of life, a major component of which is contemplation of the sublime. . . . Actions performed for their own sake rather than instrumentally tied to other goods are ‘godlike,’ for the Olympians do not act out of necessity. Only the contemplative life is ‘godlike’ in this sense and answers to this description. The contemplation of the sublime is not a practical matter, it is not done in order to achieve some other good—wealth or fame or the like. . . . If the contemplative life were lived ‘in order that . . . ,’ then it would follow that there was a life more basic than the contemplative life.

            “But is the contemplative life enough? As a social animal, man cannot flourish in isolation. . . . It is our nature to seek out the company of equals and enter into enduring friendships. Such relationships presuppose the well-ordered state. Therefore, the eudaimonic life is that form of life that creates justice and the rule of law by which lives of virtue can be enjoyed by the best of the citizens. The eudaimonic life is the active life of the lawgiver.

            “Scholarship is divided on the question of this seeming conflict. Perhaps it is best to conclude that Aristotle himself was unable to choose between the two.””

            To clarify, the issue is how to more precisely define the good life. (Actually, a more fundamental issue is how to more precisely define the good; but since most, including Plato and Aristotle, agree that the good involves our lives, the question is often restated, What constitutes the good life?) More immediately, though, the issue is how to resolve Aristotle’s proposing two apparently incompatible candidates for the good life: the solitary activity of contemplation and/or intellectual/artistic flourishing, on one hand, and the socially-involved civic life, or governance, on the other.

            It seems to me that Aristotle, stopping just short of announcing the solution, implicitly resolves the conflict, based on an analysis involving the distinction between ends and means, as follows. Whatever the good life consists in, certainly it’s an end (indeed, the end) and not a means. (“Actions are performed for the sake of something. That which is desired for its own sake is eudaimonia [the good life].”) Thus, as between the two candidates proposed by Aristotle, the good life is contemplation, and not governance; for contemplation is an end and not a means, and governance is a means and not an end. We don’t govern for the sake of governance. A well-ordered society of automata would be pointless. Conversely, if we could achieve a well-ordered state without the need to actively govern (if, for example, the gods would perform this function for us), surely we would prefer that, as it would afford us more time to pursue our interests, such as, in the case of philosophers, contemplation and intellectual/artistic flourishing. To just this effect, Aristotle describes contemplation as “action performed for its own sake . . . [and] not done in order to achieve some other good,” and justice and the rule of law as entities “by which lives of virtue can be enjoyed by the best of the citizens.” He fails, however, to take the final step of explicitly drawing and applying the distinction to eliminate governance as a candidate for the good life by characterizing it as a means. But why? I would conjecture that it’s for either or both of two possible reasons: one, in accord with his (and Plato’s) practice of urging moral action in terms of benefit to the actor (rather than, say, in terms of the overall good, which may clash with the actor’s own good), in order to postulate a rationale or motivation for men to engage in the activity of governance, he feels he must construe the means as an end; and/or, two, because he observed that some men enjoy, or find gratifying, the act of governance, just as others enjoy contemplation, which (enjoyment) is characteristic of an end, but he was unwilling to posit as the good life, or the good, a more basic element, such as happiness, common to both experiences.

            (We might at least mitigate Aristotle’s failure in this regard by supposing that he wrote his argument for contemplation as the good life [in his “Eudemian Ethics”] after he wrote his argument for civic participation as the good life [in “Nicomachean Ethics”], thus finally correcting himself. Even so, he should have explicitly clarified his position.)

            Postscript: It seems that not even flourishing and contemplation meet Aristotle’s own definition of “that which is done for its own sake.” Something is desired for its own sake if and only if it’s desirable in all possible circumstances. But there’s a circumstance in which you might not desire flourishing or contemplation: a universe with no other conscious beings, and in which contemplation was not pleasant for you. There, you wouldn’t necessarily care to flourish (do your art), because you’d have no audience for it, and you wouldn’t necessarily wish to contemplate, because it would not be pleasant. If you desire flourishing, just where your work has an audience, and contemplating, just where doing so brings you pleasure, then you wish to flourish, not for its own sake, but just as a means to greatness and fame, and contemplation just as a means to pleasure. (The sole desideratum that meets Aristotle’s definition of what’s desired for its own sake is happiness, which is beneficial to you in all circumstances.) So what’s the resolution? People prefer different activities in different circumstances. But the most relevant circumstance is our circumstance, this life on Earth. It’s fallacious to categorize activities as ultimate ends, or merely means, because different people have different needs and wants in this regard. And we can’t focus on happiness as the ultimate desideratum, for two reasons: one, you can’t attain happiness by striving for it directly; it’s a byproduct of doing other things; and, two, some people prefer other desiderata over happiness. Philosophers love contemplation and they wish to flourish, in writing great philosophical works. Musicians wish to make music; composers wish to write it. Physicians may love to practice medicine; lawyers, law. And politicians may love statecraft. In consequence, we should simply try to arrange society so that people can do what they wish to do and do well.


● Aristotle says: “Moral virtue is a mean between excesses, a balance point. The goal of virtue is perfection, conceived of as just the proper relation of elements—the golden mean, the middle way.” But if perfection is the hallmark of virtue, then the most virtuous are the dead, and death is the ideal state, for nothing exists which is as perfect as nonexistence.

            Similarly, again, Aristotle asserts that, ultimately, good consists in a “flourishing” life, or contemplation, or knowledge. On this theory, since there are no negative values of those desiderata, the worst possible state of affairs would be simply a total lack of them: total unproductiveness or ignorance—nothingness. But there is something worse than nothing: pain. An ignorant man in pain is worse than just an ignorant man.

3. Egoism: a Rebuttal      © 9 January 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

In his (on-line) essay “True Morality: Rational Principles for Optimal Living” Peter Voss writes that ethics should be a “system that we enthusiastically pursue, not from duty . . . but for personal benefit . . . ” In essence, Voss is advocating (ethical) egoism, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as “the ethical belief that self-interest is the just and proper motive for all human conduct.”

            I agree that self-interest is a proper motive, but disagree that it’s the (sole) proper motive. One difficulty with egoism is simply that it disregards other people. Voss notes, “This does not mean that what is good for us is necessarily detrimental to others—life is not a zero-sum game. Fortunately, many rational [that is, egoistic] moral principles benefit both ourselves and others.” That “many egoistic moral principles benefit both ourselves and others” suggests that perhaps some egoistic moral principles do not benefit both ourselves and others. And, of course, since ethical egoism urges the egoist to act in his own interest, when egoism would not benefit both the egoist and others, the one(s) whom it would not benefit are the others, which latter category Voss does not address. Imagine you’re walking and you happen upon a drowning man, whom you could easily save by tossing a nearby life preserver; but doing so would cause you to be two minutes late for your (very edifying) Book Club meeting. Egoism would compel, or justify, your letting the man drown. (I suppose that would be unfortunate?)

            Another problem with Egoism is that its pronouncement that self-interest is “the proper motive for all human conduct” implies duty, which (duty) Egoism explicitly denies. And rightly so. Self-interest, the impulse to advantage oneself, is more accurately characterized as motivation than duty. But morality is about duty, especially that to others or the group. So the theory’s flaw might be capsuled as the confusion of motivation with morality.

            From a broader perspective, there’s a fundamental, age-old, quite real dichotomy of the individual’s welfare and society’s (the two do not necessarily conflict, but, because resources are scarce, they tend to); and there is something contradictory about urging the general adoption of a doctrine of self-seeking, about recommending to the group that which is against the group’s interest. Egoism is a pseudo-ethic; it is naked selfishness attempting to look respectable by dressing itself up as a philosophy.

4. Determinism      © 12 March 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

Debra poses these questions:

“1. Do we live in a deterministic world, or do random events occur?

2. If we could roll back the clock to the big bang, or to 5 seconds ago, would events unfold the same way?

3. If random events occur, how small a chance was human evolution?”

I believe in causal determinism. A rerun universe would no more unfold differently than would a rerun movie.

The answer to the query about random phenomena depends on the definition of random, one such (per The American Heritage Dictionary) being “Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective.” Thus defined, randomness and determinism are consistent, because causation does not entail purpose. If I fire a gun into the air on New Year’s Eve, and the bullet comes down a mile away and kills John Doe, Doe’s death was random, since it was not intended; but it was causally determined, by the position of the gun when it was fired, the weight of the bullet, the wind speed, and so forth.

Randomness in the larger, metaphysical sense, on the other hand, is, I think, inconsistent with determinism, in that there is no chance that given conditions will proceed otherwise than one certain way. Perhaps randomness and probability, strictly speaking, refer, in this context, just to our state of mind, our expectation. For instance, we might say that rain is seventy percent likely; yet either it will rain, or it will not rain. The “seventy percent” describes the uncertainty of our knowledge about the event, not any uncertainty in the event itself.

Postscript: Einstein’s dictum “God does not play dice with the universe” is problematic, in suggesting an example (dice-playing) of that (randomness) which the statement purports to deny.

5. Free Will     © 23 April 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

Free will is impossible, thus. Free will requires more than that your will cause your action. It requires also that your will not be caused by something other than you. Ergo (since it must be caused by something), it must be caused by you—you must will your will. But, for the same reason, you must also will your will to will, and so back ad infinitum, a situation that cannot be, as our first will is given to us, at birth. Which is just to say that, ultimately, we do not cause ourselves, but rather are caused (causal determinism).

            The problem is that we seem to have free will; and, without it, a man is not truly responsible for his conduct, in which case, arguably, it’s wrong to punish him for it. The solution, I think, is to frankly distinguish between the theoretical and the practical, and to posit a sort of utile fictitious free-will analogue. (Although we might regard the latter as the freedom, within limits, to effect our wishes, while our wishes themselves are beyond our control; this, too, finally, is merely a convenient mode of expression, for wishes encompass the inclination whether, and how, to act on an urge, and, more broadly, determinism entails that conditions, including our actions, proceed in just one certain way.)

            In this quotidian world in which we appear to have a degree of control over our actions, we seem to shape our behavior, to an extent, by predicted consequences. Therefore, since, for example, some persons refrain from robbing banks at least in part because they understand that they may be punished for it; we know that, in practice, if we want to protect our money, we must make a law restricting people’s bank withdrawals to amounts they’ve deposited or that the bank voluntarily lends them, and penalize those who break the law. Hence practicality justifies—nay, necessitates—the imposition of punishment. Furthermore concerning penalties, the principle that humans are not responsible for their actions would apply also to our act of meting out punishment, and so absolve us for that as well. Or, if we are responsible for penalizing whom we consider wrongdoers, then so, too, are they for their actions. In other words, the argument against punishment is contradictory, in that it assumes free will as to the act of punishing, but a lack of free will as to the acts punished.

            Similarly rationalizing the use of this pragmatic free-will counterpart is its consistent application, even by those of us who deny the strict form. As I hold others accountable for their deeds, I likewise expect to be held accountable for mine; just as, correspondingly, though I know that, in the end, a writer does not create his compositions, I am nonetheless chagrined at a poor piece of work, and proud of a good one.

6. Why are We Here?      © 2 April 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

“Why are we here?” is a variant of the proverbial query about “the meaning of life.” One signification of “meaning” in this connection is value (including disvalue), which has two senses. Intrinsic value is that value whose presence or absence is a fact, or truth, independent of our opinion about it. My own opinion (though I won’t rehearse the argument for it) is that intrinsic value is impossible. The other kind of value is extrinsic value, which is what we value. It’s a property of individuals, not of life.

            A second definition of “meaning” here is purpose. If all living things were irredeemably unhappy, life would seem pointless. Which suggests that what’s purposeful is happiness. Unhappiness would not be merely pointless; rather, it would have a sort of negative purpose. It seems, then, that purpose is closely related to value. Just as intrinsic value is impossible, so, too, is intrinsic purpose. And just as there’s an extrinsic value (what we value), there’s extrinsic purpose—the state of mind akin to intention, or what we want, a property, again, of individuals, not of life. Like extrinsic value, extrinsic purpose is subjective: your “mission in life” does not exist prior to and independent of you, awaiting your discovery of it, but arises from you. Different people have different purposes, and not all of them involve happiness, which we often sacrifice for other desiderata. One man’s purpose may be to play the violin well. Another’s purpose may be to get rich; or to help his family; or to do God’s will.

            As to the proposal that life’s purpose consists in its creator, God’s purpose for it, I have this twofold response. First, as I’ve shown (elsewhere), God is impossible. Now, I’m not arguing that, because God does not exist, therefore life has no purpose. Instead, I’m saying that, if you’re asserting that life has a purpose, and your argument for it is that God exists, then you’ll have to find another argument for it, because that one doesn’t work. Second, even if we assumed that God exists, God could confer neither intrinsic value nor intrinsic purpose on life. God’s purpose, likewise, would be extrinsic—it would be God’s purpose, not life’s purpose. By the way, about the wish to do God’s will: Considering that any course of events (including our actions) willed by an omnipotent being would inevitably come to pass, regardless of our little effort for or against it; what is the logic in the notion of attempting to discover and do God’s will? Alternatively, what adjustment would we make in our purpose to carry out God’s will if we supposed that God wants us to do simply what’s best for humanity?

            A third acceptation of “meaning” of life is a combination of the other two, and is captured by “meaningful.” When we pursue meaning in our lives, we’re seeking value and purpose. Which meaning, again, is subjective, something each person must generate for himself. What we search for in this respect is, not meaning, per se, but rather a sense of meaning; not the meaning, but a meaning . . . which I have found in writing about such philosophical questions.

7. Pascal's Wager Argument: a Rebuttal     © 9 July 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

In his “Wager” argument, Pascal reasons that, since belief in God, if the belief were true, would infinitely gratify the believer; therefore, however low the probability of God’s existence, as long as that likelihood is finite (not zero or infinitesimal), it pays, and so is rational, even rationally compelled, to (try to) believe. Preliminarily, a clarification. Infinite experience, happy or otherwise, for a finite being, is impossible: attainable neither instantaneously nor cumulatively (no matter how long finite increments accrue, you never reach infinity). Nonetheless, if the improbability of God’s existence is both finite and fixed, some sufficiently large finite quantum of pleasure will outbalance it, and eventually accumulate. Hence, in this context, we should use endless instead of infinite.

            Pascal’s argument, though, contains many significant faults that are not repairable. One is the notion that belief is a choice. Even if I could acquire great benefit by coming to believe “Thrice two is four” or “The Earth is flat”; I don’t think I could so convince myself.

            A more fundamental flaw is that, almost question-begging, the argument depends on a degree of the very beliefs that are the subject of its conclusion. If you think it’s twenty-six percent likely that God exists, but that, if God did exist and you believed in His existence twice as strongly (more than fifty percent, or more likely than not), then you would get unending happiness—in these circumstances, it might be perfectly reasonable to take steps to thus augment your belief in God (if, again, you also believed you could succeed therein). But if you lack those beliefs, if you firmly disbelieve in God or Heaven (let alone if you think that God would better reward nonbelievers), then your spending valuable time attempting to cause yourself to believe in God would be no more rational than, say, giving your fortune to a stranger on the street in response to his assurance that your doing so would bring you eternal bliss (an argument of exactly the same form as Pascal’s).

            A further, equally basic error in Pascal’s argument is this: the argument’s apparent persuasiveness derives largely from its mathematical structure, its irrefutable assertion that an infinite (or an ever-increasing) volume is (or will eventually be) greater than a definite one. Even if we suppose that human choice is a mechanical, computational process, this reasoning assumes that the elements whose quantities are compared are equivalent, the implicit common unit being happiness. But not all desiderata are commensurable. And a man’s choice among them is ultimately subjective; he may rationally choose (and choose to spend his time pursuing) wisdom (which is explicitly sacrificed here) or glory, for instance, over (even perpetual) pleasure. In fact, a sure advantage, versus a speculative (if potentially larger) one, also amounts to an incommensurable qualitative difference, likewise a matter of personal preference.

            Finally, Pascal’s implication that reason dictates your choosing to believe in God, is ironic. The philosopher’s thesis includes two components: the decision and the belief. Because either decision, to try to believe, or not to, is justifiable, depending on your existing beliefs and values; the decision is, as it were, rationality-neutral. But Pascal urges you to adopt a belief you think false, to believe what you disbelieve, to delude yourself. Ergo, Pascal’s proposal, far from being mandated by rationality, involves an irrationality.

8. Wager: Rebuttal to Epsilon     © 27 August 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

This replies to Epsilon’s 10 July 2005 entry (which responds to my 9 July 2005 comment on Pascal’s “Wager”). Epsilon first argues that a human is infinite, thus: Our existence includes phenomena, like meaning, beauty, and truth, that are not measurable. What is finite is measurable. Therefore, if it’s not measurable, it’s not finite; and if it’s not finite, it’s infinite. One flaw in this reasoning lies in the equation of not-finite with infinite, or the assumption that a thing is either finite or infinite. Such inference is valid with respect to entities that have magnitude, but not as to those that lack it, which things are neither finite nor infinite. And the phenomena that Epsilon cites (meaning, beauty, truth) are of the latter sort (Epsilon himself says these are entities “to which measurable magnitude does not apply”). Alternatively, that we include an infinite phenomenon does not mean we include an infinite amount of it. Space may be infinite; but a man encompasses only a finite portion of it. Nor does our being greater than the sum of our parts imply that we are infinite.

            The reference, in my earlier piece, to the shape of the Earth was (obviously) meant to illustrate the simple point that belief is less a choice than a fact, not necessarily changeable by an act of will. When I read Epsilon’s words (second paragraph), “For anyone who believes in these things [evidence that Earth is round], then it is impossible to convince them that the Earth is flat”; I thought he was agreeing with me. When I read his next sentence, however, “But for one who does not believe in such things, it is very hard to convince them that it is round” . . . I realized that I’m utterly at a loss to know what Epsilon’s point is.

            In his third paragraph, Epsilon writes, “[P]ost-rational beliefs do not simply follow the rules of logic . . . because they also follow other rules that cannot be reduced to logical arguments and are therefore more advanced. . . . [W]ho is to say that an irrational belief isn’t more advanced than a rational one?” To begin with, Epsilon confuses nonrational and irrational; not-follow and violate. When I eat breakfast, I am not following traffic rules; but neither am I violating them: they simply don’t apply. My breakfast is non-legal, not il-legal. But if I jaywalk while eating toast, that the toast is nutritious does not render my action lawful. Merely that a statement does not follow logical rules does not make it irrational; but if it is irrational (if it infringes logical rules), its conformance with other principles will not negative its irrationality. And, since philosophy is a rational affair, the irrational is bad philosophy (the purely nonrational is not philosophy). On the other hand, it is true that an argument might seem illogical just because, ahead of its time or highly sophisticated, it’s not immediately understood. But our judgment’s fallibility does not foreclose its viability. That I occasionally miscount my change does not mean I should abandon the attempt. Indeed, the very notion of the advancement of our thought presupposes both judgment, by which we discern the more and the less advanced, and criticism, whereby, through argument, we test each other’s ideas (count our philosophical change, and inspect it for the sometimes overlooked rare gold coin but also for the far more common slug), come to recognize our past deficiencies, winnow out the unsound, and so intellectually advance.

9. Democracy     © 7 August 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

I find Plato’s philosopher-king argument for monarchy unsound and, further, disagree with its conclusion (I favor democracy), as follows. Plato’s argument, most fundamentally, is this. There is something which is intrinsically good. Other supposed desiderata count for nothing; and, unless a human lives as to partake of or achieve the one true good, all is lost, his potentially significant life is naught. Moreover, this final desideratum is not the subject of common knowledge, for opinions about what is good vary greatly, and all such opinions, except the single right one, are wrong. Consequently, just as you would need the special expertise of a physician to know what is a healthy life, you need the special knowledge and wisdom of a philosopher to know what is a good life. And, since the people need a governor who knows what is good, in order to lead them to it, and because philosophers, and only they, can be counted on to know what is good, the ruler must be a philosopher. And just as the patient must follow the orders of his physician, subjects must obey the philosopher-king.

            Plato is of course correct that the purpose of government is to help citizens live good lives. If, additionally, just one sort of life is actually good, it's perhaps not unreasonable to argue that the person most likely to be able to ascertain it be responsible to do so and that his determination therein be followed. But I believe that intrinsic good is impossible. And, if no sort of life is ultimately better than another, there would seem no justification to demand that a person live other than as he desires (consistent with the well-being of his neighbors); and I would construe good here as a man’s own sense of satisfaction, however he pleases to define it. This relative conception of good suggests to me that, by and large, we do what society as a whole find most satisfying, which contraindicates autocracy, for, if one man’s, or even a small minority’s, preferences (even if selflessly motivated) are always adopted, then, on balance, the group will be less satisfied than if, through a democratic, accommodating system, the majority’s preferences are taken, or everyone’s interests are proportionately indulged. It's as if a band of six (mature, independent) individuals needed to choose a movie to watch every week. Suppose one person likes comedy shows; four others enjoy dramas; and the remaining one (the philosopher among them) prefers educational/philosophical films. Under my plan, a democratic mode would fulfill everyone’s interests as far as possible (and maximize net satisfaction), perhaps by viewing a comedy movie one week, a philosophical presentation another, and dramatic shows for a number of weeks. Under Plato’s doctrine, the philosopher would be in control, and a philosophical film would be the choice every week. Though the philosopher might think this is for everyone’s edification and good; in reality, all that would be happening is that the philosopher would have his way, have his interests met, all the time; the other members, never: the philosopher would in this respect be constantly satisfied, the others constantly dissatisfied; and overall satisfaction would be less.

            If we interpret philosopher more broadly as one who is thoughtful and conscientious, Plato’s argument involves another problem. Presumably, such good men can also be elected; so the question is, Why is the head of state more likely to be a good man in an autocracy than in a democracy? I see no apparent reason therefor. In fact, the opposite seems more probable. In a monarchy, the governor is randomly determined by birth (or some similar happenstance); whereas, in a democracy, we can deliberately select him on the basis of leadership traits. Plus, if the ruler starts to govern selfishly, only democracy enables the people, without violence, to replace him; and his knowledge that he can be replaced makes his ouster less often needed (“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”). And here, again, optimization of public satisfaction requires, in addition to a benign leader, a mechanism whereby the people’s wishes can be given effect.

            Finally, I prefer democracy to autocracy on grounds, not only of utility, but also of principle, the principle that competent, mature humans have, or should have, a right to equal participation in decisions that affect them and for whose benefit the decisions are supposedly made—in short, that men have a right to determine their own lives. But this principle entails yet another matter of utility. Given men’s instinctive, and, I think, quite reasonable, feeling that they have a right to share in their state’s governance; then, even in the unlikely event that a monarchy conduced to society’s welfare as effectively as a democracy, the people would still be less satisfied, since they would have an additional source of substantive unhappiness in their lives: resentment at being excluded from the decision.

10. Theology and Falsification     © 29 May 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

In his 3 April 2005 Critique of Antony Flew’s essay “Theology and Falsification,” Ron writes, “In this essay Flew relies on an incorrect understanding of what falsification is. Take this comment in particular:

            [Ron quoting Flew:] ‘Now it often seems to people who are not religious as if there was no conceivable event or series of events the occurrence of which would be admitted by sophisticated religious people to be a sufficient reason for conceding “There wasn’t a God after all” or “God does not really love us then.”’

            [Ron continuing:] “But that has nothing to do with falsifiability. What will convince a believer regarding the truth of a proposition is distinct from whether the proposition is in fact falsifiable.”

            Flew ends his essay by asking religious persons, “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?” According to Ron, because falsifiability is an objective property, independent of acceptance or rejection, Flew’s query about what the devotee would accept as falsification of his beliefs is irrelevant

            But it seems to me that the misunderstanding is Ron’s, not Flew’s, who I think makes a good case for his inquiry’s dual relevance, as follows. One purpose of Flew’s question is to deal with a certain logical double standard sometimes employed by believers. The faithful often cite factual evidence for their opinions. But one assumes that, if evidence could be adduced for a conclusion, evidence might be adduced against it. Flew is addressing the hypocrisy of the religious man who, aware that his offering evidence for his claims obliges him to be at least potentially open to counter-evidence, purports to be open to it, but whose conduct belies it (he glibly explains away and dismisses anything that might contravene his dogma). Flew confronts this deceit by stating his conviction that the religionist would in fact never accept anything as falsifying his beliefs, and challenging him to show Flew wrong in this regard by saying what he would accept as falsification.

            More fundamentally, falsification is essential to truth, nay, to meaning itself. If you don’t know when a statement is false, you can’t know when it’s true (“true” is “not-false”). If your acquaintance tells you, “I have several paintings in my home,” but later, upon seeing a chair in your office, he exclaims in earnest, “Oh, you, too, have a painting!”; you can no longer credit his original assertion, for apparently he doesn’t know what a painting is. To know what is a painting, you must know what is not a painting. With respect to a grand religious declaration, like one about God’s existence, or His love, whose presence allegedly benefits men; unless the world would look different depending on whether the utterance is true or false, the assertion is meaningless; and, unless you know how the world would look (different) if the belief were false, you don’t know its meaning, much less its truth (and the proselytizer has the burden to define and prove his doctrine).

            Postscript: Religion is faith, which The American Heritage Dictionary defines as “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Since the ultimate suppositions of science and philosophy are likewise unprovable, however, we must go on to say that what most basically distinguishes faith from those disciplines is that it involves, not critical thinking, but rather the suspension of critical thinking; and, concomitantly, it seeks, not truth, but comfort (the intuition by which we accept mathematical axioms is qualitatively different from faith, inasmuch as a reasonable man cannot deny them . . . and that a belief is comforting neither implies nor suggests that it’s true). So perhaps the central incongruity here is (rational) argument on (a-rational) religion.

11. Utopia     © 29 October 2005 by Richard J. Eisner

The closest we can come to effecting happiness, which cannot be done, is to advance the freedom to pursue it. Essential, however, to the freedom to seek happiness is basic economic well-being, for only when we are relieved of the constant struggle for mere life do we have time and energy to pursue what makes life worthwhile. But utopia, by definition, is good for all of its inhabitants, not just for a few, which entails widespread economic well-being, which, in turn, given the scarcity of material resources, requires the sharing of such wealth, and a limit on individual amassment of it.

12. Knowledge     © 1 April 2006 by Richard J. Eisner

In his 15 October 2005 entry, Brian raises, among kindred issues, the central question: Is knowledge (in the strict, philosophical sense) possible? A useful point of departure here is Descartes. He holds that certain of our ideas, including those we acquire through sense perception, such as that we walk and eat, are unknowable, because a powerful demon could deceive us about such matters—we could be hallucinating. But Descartes maintains that we can know other truths, as an example of which, he cites his famous aphorism “I think, therefore I am.” You are your awareness. So, when you are aware, you are. To think is to be aware. So, when you think, you are. When you think “I think, therefore I am,” you’re thinking; hence, you are. “I think, therefore I am” is consequently self-confirming, deception-proof. (Based on these observations, Descartes proposes an axiomatic, quasi mathematical method of philosophy, a means of gaining knowledge, whose most fundamental rule is to receive just utterances [like “I think, therefore I am,” and specifically excluding ones based on sense perception] that are so clear as to be irresistible to the mind.)

            My own view is that we can know no statements at all (only our raw consciousness itself). For our sense of sureness, our sense of “irresistible clarity,” regarding them (statements) is ultimately unreliable, in that we could theoretically possess that same sensation about false or meaningless propositions. Many times in a dreaming or half-dreaming state I’ve thought some concept was utterly clear, and wished to write it down, but, on waking, immediately realized that the idea was nonsensical. Even if our perception properly corresponds with truth, we have no way finally to check that connection. (Remember, the issue is not, Are we right?, but, Do we know?) Hence, as to any given proposition I might accept, I believe that it’s true (perhaps even absolutely true), but that I cannot know it. (Since our lack of knowledge pervades every kind of proposition and manner of reasoning, we cannot work around it by avoiding certain forms or modes of thought; and maybe the only helpful prescription along these lines is simply the age-old advice to be self-critical and to think and write as clearly as one can.)

            Brian mentions the problem of using reason to determine reason’s own limit. But, I concur with Brian, this is no more a problem than using our mind to determine our mind’s own limit, in, say, recognizing, late at night, that we would be too tired to read and comprehend a difficult book. Similarly, though, one might contend that my disavowal of knowledge is paradoxical, as follows. If I don’t know the truth of any proposition, then I don’t know the truth of “It’s impossible that I know.” Ergo, I’m leaving open the possibility (or, I believe) that “It’s impossible that I know” might be false, and this translates to “It’s possible that I know,” which contradicts my original position (“It’s impossible that I know”). The flaw in this “paradox” is that it confuses knowledge and truth. It (wrongly) implies that not knowing a proposition entails that the proposition could be either true or false. A true proposition cannot (at the same time and place) be false, nor a false one true. Yet you may not know its truth. Suppose you’re standing outside a house, and someone is inside. You don’t know whether someone is inside, but that doesn’t mean that it could be false that someone’s inside.

            In answer to a final question, which Brian asks, Is this a limit on all knowledge, or just on human knowledge?; I believe that the limitation is an inherent one—that knowledge is impossible.

13. Why Be Moral?     © 2 February 2007 by Richard J. Eisner

In “Why Be Moral? A Dilemma for Nontheists?” (2001), Keith M. Parsons argues that there is a metaphysical source or ground of moral obligation, that there are objectively true moral precepts, such as “The gratuitous infliction of harm is intrinsically wrong and therefore ought not to be done.” I dissent. Precepts (rules of conduct) are not true or false, let alone demonstrably or absolutely so. There is no fact of the matter (only that fact). Like purpose, duty is merely a state of mind, the sense of duty, existing just when and as we experience it, and whose content is virtually unlimited. For example, a man might (perhaps inspired by a vision wherein the doctrine is revealed as a command of God, who—it's well known—works in mysterious ways) adopt this version of the foregoing no-gratuitous-harm principle: “I should do good to my friends and harm to my enemies; and if the harm is intrinsic, so much the better.” Even if such a tenet is unquestioned and globally accepted, the point is that one could differ (logically, if not socially). Nor do we make something a part of the structure of the universe by consensus. And human nature is not metaphysics. It's useful, even necessary, to construct moral laws and to render moral judgments; but we should understand that we do so in relative, human terms, not in absolute, metaphysical ones.

            Postscript: Given the subjectivity of ethical obligation, the question “Why should we be moral?” reduces to “Why should we do what we feel we should do?,” which is nonsensical.

            Post postscriptum: Parsons cites as an exemplar of ethical objectivism John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” argument: that a person ignorant of his eventual social circumstances, rich or poor, able-bodied or disabled, and so on, would, to account for his possible relative disadvantage, elect an equitable state. Rawls’s thesis is circular, positing an act as its own reason. Thus, just as I scratch my neck, not because I would scratch it, but because it would relieve my itch; and I forbid my toddler to cross the street, not because I would forbid it, but because it would make him safer; so, too, here, we choose egalitarianism, not because we would choose it, but, rather, say, because we would benefit from it. Which criticism, however, is secondary to the aforesaid more general one: Our vision of the sort of world we should create is not true or false; ultimately, we cannot prove it, but only speak on it, and hope that our words will move others to feel the same.

14. Moral Luck     © June 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

“Moral luck” is our anomalous tendency to judge the same conduct morally differently depending on “luck,” or factors beyond the agent’s control. An example would be two equally careless motorists, one whose trip is uneventful, the other who is “unlucky” enough, during his inattentive episode, to encounter a child running into the road in the path of his car, and which latter driver’s negligence we judge more harshly because of the resultant injury to the child.

             One proposal for dealing with this incongruity has been to exclude from ethical assessment the agent’s action, and focus instead on the element supposedly fully within his control: his intention. This is Kant’s position; and he in fact declares that a good will, or intent, is good in itself, regardless of its effects.

             But judging people solely for their intentions is problematic, to say the least. How do you evaluate an intent?—by its duration?; its intensity?; its object? If I hold a good intention for two hours, is it twice as good as someone else’s that lasts for just one hour? Is wanting to give everyone in the city ten dollars, twice as good as wanting to give everyone five dollars? Does it matter how much money the intended giver has?

             Besides, if a man never acts to harm another, why should we punish him for his “bad intention”—any more than we should reward him for his “good intention” if he never does a good deed? Speaking for myself, all I care about as to others here (and all I think I have a right to expect from them) is that they not adversely affect me.

             Yet a further difficulty with concentrating exclusively on intent is the observation that our character and will are not immune to luck, since they’re given to us by heredity and shaped by our environment. More important still, an intention is all too much like a thought or a feeling, over which we have no control (as Nietzsche says, “A thought comes when it will, not when I will”). In a sense, we have more control over our actions than over our intentions. I was once physically attacked, and my initial reaction—probably not uncommon—was rage, fused with a determination to exact violent revenge. Fortunately, my cooler head prevailed, and I sought more civilized recourse. We cannot reasonably be held accountable for our thoughts or feelings—only for how we act on them. (And, conversely, the clearest evidence of intent is action.)

             Perhaps the best we can do in this regard is to focus on conduct and intent, such that, in any given case, a bad act and a bad state of mind in doing it are both necessary for censure, and promulgate such standards of conduct, enforced by sanctions for violations, in the hope that people will conform thereto sufficiently to permit a decent society.

15. Four Critiques of Buddhism     © 17 November 2007 by Richard J. Eisner

One.    A fundament of Buddhism is the nonexistence of the self. Yet Buddhism is preoccupied with suffering. And suffering is not an unindividuated mass, like air, but rather experience, which is had exclusively by individuals: When I die, my suffering ends, yours continues. The individual is the self: I am myself; you, yourself. Were there no self, no one would suffer, and suffering would not exist; but obviously it does. Hence, there is a self.

             Two.    The first of Buddhism’s “Four Noble Truths” declares that the ultimate aim is to eliminate suffering. That’s a valid goal, and yet the most efficient means to it is suicide, which seems a bad remedy. The resolution is that the cessation of suffering is only half the object: We live, not merely to extinguish the negative, but as well to effect the positive (such as joy and enlightenment). Death is an unsatisfactory solution because, though it achieves the former, it also precludes the latter. Verily, the termination of suffering is a reason not to live, not a reason to live.

             Three.    Buddhism’s fourth “Noble Truth,” which in essence teaches that enlightenment, and only enlightenment, liberates us from suffering, is equally problematic, thus. If an enlightened person with terminal cancer runs out of pain medicine, he’ll suffer, despite his enlightenment; nor are philosophers immune to boredom, depression, or sadness. Conversely, a dose of heroin will (at least temporarily) disperse an ignorant man’s anguish; and there is much truth in the old saying “Ignorance is bliss.” In reality, both the wise man and the fool can experience both agony and ecstacy. Enlightenment and happiness have precious little to do with one another.

            Four.    The second and third of the “Noble Truths” likewise address the problem of suffering: the second identifies desire as the cause; the third, the removal of desire as the cure. These two statements imply that desire is . . . undesirable. But far from being detrimental to us, desire is essential to our humanity: love, for instance, involves the desire for another, or for his welfare. Nay, our very existence depends on our desire to live. This denigration of desire, moreover, taken together with the first Noble Truth’s focus on (the elimination of) suffering, and the fourth Truth’s prescription of “enlightenment” as the spiritual panacea, produces an unwholesome bias for experience over accomplishment: a bias, for example, that, confronted with the young Mozart, miserable in the frustration of his desire to compose, might have counseled him to abandon the desire. Surely, though, the world is better off that Mozart followed that thirst. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that Mozart, having fulfilled his life’s passion, and actualized his genius, regretted not taking an alternate path—including experiencing the pleasurable sensation of “enlightenment.” (And, apropos, men who have accomplished a body of written work on Buddhism, likely a source of considerable pride and satisfaction for them, urging the rest of us to give up striving for accomplishment, and to just meditate instead—is that not disingenuous?) The truth is that, what’s gratifying or meaningful—what constitutes a good life, what makes life worth living—is something each person must determine for himself, in light of his own interests, values, abilities; which determination will be different for the Buddha, Plato, Newton, Freud, and Mozart. To proclaim one sort of life, one sort of pursuit, as right for everyone, is downright . . . unenlightened.

16. A Foolish Consistency     © 8 March 2007 by Richard J. Eisner

In his famous adage “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” just what is Emerson attacking? Not, I think, consistency in general, for consistency is essential to truth—necessary, though not sufficient, for it, and central to the search for it: A thinker tests the soundness of his outlook by probing it for inconsistency, which will indicate the presence of error (if two propositions are inconsistent, one of them is false). I believe Emerson is criticizing sequential, as opposed to simultaneous, consistency, as follows.

             Both wise and foolish consistency involve the impetus for agreement among our opinions. The difference lies in the set of opinions with respect to which harmony is sought: in the first (wise), it is the present body, in which our standard is truth, and we discard old notions as we come to see that they conflict with it; whereas, in the second (foolish), it is the series, wherein, to avoid having to admit that we erred, our principle is conformity with our past assertions, and we suppress new ideas at odds with them. In other words, the former strives for the truth, even at the cost of appearing fallible; the latter strives for the appearance of infallibility, even at the cost of the truth . . . and, by thus inhibiting the quest for truth, foolish consistency constricts the mind.

17. Living with Contradiction?     © May 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

In his 2017 essay “Can We Live with Contradiction?” Eric Kaplan’s answer to that question boils down to this: We should learn to live with contradictions because there will inevitably be some. As an example, Kaplan cites philosopher Peter Singer’s assertion that the most worthwhile thing is complex conscious life and feeling, which (Singer acknowledges) entails that the life of a severely mentally impaired human is worth less than that of a chicken. Which assertion, Kaplan says, is contradicted by Singer’s spending money to care for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother. Kaplan notes that a philosopher who finds himself believing two inconsistent propositions demands a theory to reconcile them (if he’s unwilling to renounce one of them). But, says Kaplan, we cannot come up with a theory to reconcile Singer’s contradiction, at least not soon.

             I agree that we should not tolerate our holding two contradictory beliefs (if we’re aware of it). In that situation, we should strive to determine which belief is false, and reject it, or explain why the seemingly inconsistent beliefs are actually consistent. But the Peter Singer example is not contradictory. To start with, the contradiction that Kaplan alleges is one between belief and action. That’s not the kind of contradiction we’re talking about: a logical contradiction between beliefs, or propositions.

             There is, however, a species of contradiction that does compare belief and action: hypocrisy, which Merriam-Webster defines as “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel; especially, the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” Is Singer a hypocrite? The classical sense of hypocrisy involves conduct that falls below professed moral standards. Here we have, if anything, the opposite: conduct (Singer’s supporting his demented mother) that goes above the cold belief he professes (basically, that severely mentally impaired people are worthless). Let’s allow this twist (that hypocrisy includes even conduct that goes above professed belief), and see if it applies to Singer. Consider that there’s a wide range of degrees of mental impairment in humans, ranging from (at worst) brain death, to (at best), say, mild occasional forgetfulness. The most severe degrees of it do indeed reduce the victim’s level of mentation to that of a chicken, or below. For Singer to have contradicted himself, his mother’s mental state would have to be at that level. But we don’t know that. Certainly, nothing in Kaplan’s piece compels that conclusion. In fact, presumably, it’s not true—Alzheimer’s disease is not brain death.

             But even if it is true, Singer’s supporting his mother is warranted: Even if her mind is so far-gone that being cared for makes no difference to her quality of life, we probably cannot know that (unless she were actually, or virtually, brain dead); and if we don’t know, we should err on the side of caution, and give her support. (Also, caring for the demented elderly helps us, the caregivers: knowing that we might be thrown out like garbage if and when we become senile, would make us anxious.)

             Singer’s conduct, then, is not hypocritical, because it’s not contradictory—we don’t know that his mother’s mental state is diminished to the level of a chicken’s. In other words, Singer could be acting consistently with this entirely reasonable principle: Some people are so severely mentally impaired that it’s not worth keeping them alive. But we should not end an impaired person’s life unless we’re sure her impairment is that severe. I’m not sure my mother’s impairment is that severe.

            So the supposed contradiction is reconciled . . . though, alas, I suspect these words won’t reach Kaplan anytime soon.

18. The Impossibility of Knowledge, Free Will, and God     © 24 May 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

Only a conscious being can have knowledge (or free will or be a god); and a conscious being is contingent, not logically necessary (there is a possible world without consciousness). As to any contingent being, a greater creature, one that could deceive the lesser one, is theoretically possible. Ergo, an entity cannot tell whether any belief is not a deception; and thus (propositional) knowledge is impossible. Moreover, because free will presupposes knowledge (to have absolute volition in doing an act, you must know what act you do), and knowledge is impossible, so is free will. And insofar as knowledge and free will define God; God, too, is impossible.

19. The Rationality and Ethics of Voting     © April 2017 by Richard J. Eisner

“The Ethics and Rationality of Voting” entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy argues that voting is irrational because the value for any given voter of the potential difference that his vote would make in an election’s outcome, discounted by the minuscule probability that his vote would make the difference, is less than the value of his time in voting, just as it’s irrational to play the lottery, because the value of winning it, discounted by the microscopic chance of that happening, is less than the cost of a lottery ticket. (And it couldn’t be morally compulsory to use your time counterproductively, to do an act worth less than your time in doing it.) But I think voting is rational. One problem with the foregoing argument to the contrary is the supposition that a person’s vote is inconsequential unless it breaks a tie. Elections that close are indeed rare. But elections are often lost by narrow margins, and specifically by the failure to vote of a relatively small number who neglected to vote on the rationale that their vote wouldn’t change the result. Perhaps more to the point, let’s view the situation at the collective level. Most people are drudges, working hard merely just to survive economically; they don’t live lives of quiet desperation, because they don’t have enough leisure time to contemplate the meaning of their lives. But poverty in this country could be ended simply by redistributing its (considerable) wealth. Such redistribution depends on the government, which, short of revolution, is determined by elections. So voting can potentially change the people’s quality of life, for better or for worse, far more significantly than practically anything else the people might do on any day. As to whether we have a moral obligation to vote, the answer, strictly speaking, is no: moral obligations do not objectively exist—a moral obligation is the feeling of obligation (we have an obligation if and only if we feel we have one.) So “I have a moral obligation to vote” is elliptical for “I feel morally obligated to vote.” (But I feel morally obligated to vote.)

20. Why the Left Should Vote     © 27 February 2008 by Richard J. Eisner

As the rich get richer while the rest get poorer; and as the government inches further and further to the right, with more and more middle- and lower-class people’s electoral participation consisting in electing not to vote; one would think leftists would be clamoring to get citizens to the polls. Many are. Ironically, though, the Left itself is the source of certain familiar anti-voting arguments, which herein I shall rebut and, I hope, thereby counteract.

             One vote-disparaging comment from the Left is that it doesn’t really change anything. Were voting of no avail, however, oppressors would not deny it to the oppressed or the latter struggle to acquire it; nor the Right work so assiduously to get their vote out, and to keep ours in. Surely, you could effect significant change if you could determine the outcome of every election, or even some of them . . . or if enough progressives voted.

             Similarly, the vote is denigrated on the basis that we should focus, rather, on educating the masses about political realities. Insofar as this is code language for revolution; if you can stir enough persons to violently overthrow the government, you can stir enough of them to vote for it, which purpose, given the inherent destructiveness of the bullet, is better achieved through the ballot. Anyway, why should we not vote also?

             A third reason given for not voting is the alleged counterproductiveness or impropriety of supporting the lesser of two evils. But when both options are adverse, we should vote for the lesser of the two evils, very simply because . . . a lesser evil is preferable to a greater evil. And in such circumstances, a refusal to vote for the lesser ill is tantamount to a vote for the greater. If you were in severe pain, would you decline medicine that would reduce but not eliminate the agony, on the ground that less pain is still pain, and so merely the lesser evil? If you found a hundred-dollar bill, would you throw it away because you really needed three hundred dollars? The principle here is that, as between two states of affairs, the better one should be taken. To except from this rule cases wherein the better alternative is bad, just makes no sense.

             Finally, some assert that conditions must fall, to galvanize men to radical change. Howbeit, while degeneration might spur a man to constructive action; it could also demoralize, or rouse amiss. And though small victories could make a man complacent, they may also empower and encourage him to fight for further gains. The two modes—retrogression and melioration—being neutral in their stimulation of salutary conduct; the net effect is that the first makes the world worse, the second makes it better. And transformation may be gradual, as well as sudden. Wherefore, we should strive invariably and straightforwardly for society’s improvement . . . which process we would considerably advance by persuading our comrades to vote.

21. Conservatism     © 27 November 2008 by Richard J. Eisner

The Left are liberal in favoring a redistribution of wealth toward greater equality, but conservative in supporting preservation of the natural environment and of the lives and health of the populace. The Right, mainly the rich, are conservative in supporting the continuation of unrestrained capitalism, essential to perpetuating and expanding the wealth disparity in their favor, despite the resultant harm to the environment and to the well-being of the people; in their willingness to sacrifice which latter desiderata, they (the Right) are liberal. It seems to me that what the Right are really interested in preserving is their own advantage, and that, to the extent to which conservatism is a principle and not a pretext, the true conservatives are the Left.

22. Mark Twain Ghost Speech     © 4 July 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for attending. My name is Mark Twain. More precisely, it used to be Mark Twain. I’m his ghost. That’s why I look so pale. I am, however, quite confident that I will, in the near future, once again be incarnate, because science is on the verge of discovering how to bring back previously living things, like in that movie . . . oh, what’s the name of that movie . . . yes, Jurassic Park. Thank you. My memory isn’t what it used to be . . . being dead is pretty hard on the mind—it’s because the brain has difficulty getting oxygen, or so they say; I don’t know all the physiological technicalities. I still do pretty well, though, despite the handicap. But being dead has its advantages. For example, you no longer have to brush your teeth, since the teeth stop decaying. On the other hand, I can’t smoke anymore. Don’t ask me why; all I know is that I tried it, and it doesn’t work. Which is a shame, because now I could do it with impunity as regards my health. And I used to love to smoke. It was a habit I took pains to cultivate—with considerable success, I might add. I particularly enjoyed smoking after meals. I don’t miss that so much as I might, seeing as I don’t eat anymore—no need to. Where was I . . . oh, yes, that movie, in which scientists resurrect dinosaurs. Some have called me a dinosaur. But I assure you that, if brought back to life, I would be no dinosaur; I would be extremely relevant, and very useful. In fact, that is why I'm here to speak to you tonight—to prove that I have ideas that can help the world solve many of its most pressing problems, which will, I trust, put me very near to—if not right at—the head of the line, to be brought back to life by scientists, as soon as they know how to do it.

             Today, as was true in my own time, one of the most significant problems is the economic situation. Among those who do the most good in this regard are philanthropists. What a wonderful contribution they make. Take Bill Gates. To start with, it’s because of him, and other extraordinary business leaders like him, that we’re the wealthiest nation on earth. Why, if Bill Gates moved to another country, the U.S. would immediately sink to ninth or tenth place. And Mr. Gates benefits not only the United States. His charitable foundation pays for life-preserving drugs for millions of impoverished persons in Africa and other nations. This one man alone has saved innumerable human lives. And therein lies one of my most important ideas for helping the economy. This is the plan: institute a special federal tax, earmarked for the “philanthropic fund.” When about 10 billion dollars has been amassed, give it to one man, the designated philanthropist. I hereby offer to perform that function when I'm brought back to life. I say “when,” rather than “if,” because, the more I think about it, the more strongly I am convinced that I would be providing so invaluable a service in this respect, that the scientific community will be virtually unanimous in selecting me as one of the first subjects for revivication, if not the very first such subject, when the technology is developed. And my pledge is as follows: Bill Gates gives 20 percent of his fortune. If you’ll give me ten billion dollars—I’ll give . . . 50 percent. Hold your applause, please. And I am prepared to give that much—why? Because, ladies and gentlemen, I believe in sacrificing for the greater good.

             Indeed, I even have some creative ideas on how to deploy the money I give away. One of the best of them is this. Public television frequently hosts experts on personal financial management; for example, the author of a book titled . . . oh, what is that . . . it’s something like “Rich Mother, Poor Father”—my sincere apology to the author, whose name I can’t remember either—I probably mangled the book title. I wish I had notes here to work from; but, you know—well, you probably don’t know—ghosts can’t make notes, because we can’t pick up writing utensils. The fingers just pass right through a pen or pencil, so you can’t get a grip on it. . . . It’s tough being dead. . . . Where was I? Oh, yes: these personal-finance gurus. I confess, I don’t fully understand what they say; but they’re so impressive. The one whose name I’m so ashamed I can’t recall, says, “Stop working for money, and let money work for you.” You’ll have to admit, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a powerful concept. I am so thoroughly convinced of the inherent rationality of those ideas, and of their efficacy in enabling people to create wealth in their lives, that I have come to the conclusion that we could end hunger on Earth by the dissemination of these finance books to the poor, because, in the final analysis, poverty-stricken persons around the world are in such a state of deprivation, not so much because they lack material resources—that’s the symptom—but rather because they lack knowledge of sound investment strategies.

             Ladies and gentlemen, I have many more great ideas for improving the world, but I’m afraid I must conclude for now—I don’t possess the stamina I used to possess when I was alive. The spirit is willing but . . . anyway; I shall present the other thoughts in future speeches, to which you are all invited. Thank you very much for coming tonight. Adieu.

23. Boundaries     © 28 July 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

A real and definite boundary is the boundary of consciousness, as it were; each percipient is unique and distinct, never blending into another.

24. Life after Death     © 29 August 2009 by Richard J. Eisner

Following is my view on life after death. Preliminarily, we must define the entity that is supposed to survive (the issue addressed by the concept of the soul). As I see it, that entity, the individual’s quintessence, is consciousness, bare sentience, sans mental equipment, like memory and thought (which may decline or end in a creature, though he remains the same individual).

             I believe that afterlife is logically possible (we came once, we could theoretically come again), but unlikely. Heaven and Hell are pure fantasy. Less easy to dismiss is reincarnation, an individual’s continuing, perhaps endlessly, by successive rebirth in other organisms, most often envisioned occurring between humans. While it cannot be disproved (or proved—if it happened, no one, not even the subject, would know it); I disbelieve in reincarnation as well, for this reason.

             The number of potential awarenesses that have never come into actual being is infinitely times as great as the number which have previously lived, even if the latter number is itself infinite (it's the contrast between the actual and the possible, the possible being infinitely more vast than the actual, even if the actual is infinite). Thus, when an organism is about to be born, it is infinitely more likely that the consciousness that will come to life in it will be drawn from among those which have not theretofore been realized than from among those which have already existed (because the first category is infinitely greater than the second). And so the likelihood that anyone will ever have another life, is infinitesimal—theoretically possible, practically impossible.

             On the bright side, rejoice!; for if you ever did reappear, it is overwhelmingly (though finitely) probable that you would come back, not as a man (let alone a great one), or even as a lion, but rather as a mouse or a flea, because they far outnumber higher animals . . . assuming the distribution of life forms on Earth typifies that throughout the cosmos. More to the point, life, even human life, is, on balance, wretched. Ironically, there may be justice, and mercy, not in the existence of some resurrection everlasting, but in everyone’s life, its joy and its misery, being finite.

25. Kant’s Categorical Imperative     © 28 March 2010 by Richard J. Eisner

Strictly speaking, Kant’s thesis that certain ethical duties are rationally prescribed, involves a category error: A moral obligation is ultimately subjective, nonrational, and arbitrary—it is, in essence, in a given situation, merely whatever you feel, or sense, you should do, for whatever “reason,” or for no reason, and having virtually any content.

             Less formally, Kant’s philosophy contains numerous inconsistencies, at the heart of which lies his bizarre dismissal of consequences. One contradiction: Kant says that only something “whose existence in itself had an absolute worth” (and Kant believes Humanity has an absolute worth) could be the ground of a categorically binding ethical law. Which implies a (consequentialist) duty to maximize the amount of what is thought to be intrinsically valuable. (Kant is right that morality depends on value; hence the impossibility of intrinsic worth, which I have shown elsewhere, likewise means the impossibility of an objective ethic.) Correspondingly at odds with Kant’s dictum to ignore consequences is his admonition to treat persons as ends in themselves—ends are consequences (as in “the ends—the results—justify the means”). Further, to act with regard for a person as an end, is to act with regard for his well-being; and to act with regard for a person’s well-being, is to have regard for our actions’ effects on his well-being. From a slightly different aspect, would a person’s choice whether to have chocolate ice cream or vanilla ice cream for dessert be the subject of a moral obligation (as Kant would see it)? Presumably not. And why not? Because that choice affects no one besides the actor—indeed, it barely affects him. But if you don’t have a moral obligation to act unless your act has an effect, how can an act’s effects not figure in its morality?

             My emotional response (for what it’s worth) to Kant’s proposal to disregard consequences, is this: In arguing for that position, Kant talks endlessly about rationality. But to feel morally compelled to do an act that you believe will have no effect, or even a bad effect—I can scarce think of anything more irrational!

            Postscript: When I asked if a person’s choice whether to have chocolate ice cream or vanilla ice cream for dessert would be the subject of a moral obligation, I answered it (“no”) as I imagined Kant would see it. What about as I see it? Well, to the extent that there’s a should about a person’s choice in his dessert, and assuming that the choice’s exclusive effect will be a possible difference in his own pleasure, he “should” choose whichever dessert he thinks will give him the most pleasure. Pleasure counts—one’s own as much as anyone’s. Which points up a distinction between utilitarianism and other ethical codes. Generally, ethics pertains to how you treat others; helping oneself is considered a matter, not of morality, but of mere motivation. But utilitarianism prescribes an ethical duty to maximize happiness, which (if it maximizes total happiness) would entail a moral obligation to maximize one’s own happiness.

            Post Postscript: Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act as if the maxim on which you act were to become, through your will, a universal law” can be paraphrased: “Act as you would have everyone act.” That paraphrase shows that Kant’s rule is a variation on the famous Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would have others treat you.” But the variation is significant. To Kant’s credit (though also to his chagrin, had he foreseen this implication), his version is more general, since not all human actions that we’d want to encourage or discourage permit the reciprocity envisioned by the Golden Rule. For example, both the Golden Rule and Kant’s rule potentially apply to stealing; as to the former, you could say: “Don’t steal, because you wouldn’t want others to steal from you.” But consider your eating dessert. It affects no one else, so the Golden Rule wouldn’t apply. Yet Kant’s rule would apply: You should choose to have dessert if it gives you harmless pleasure, as you would hope others, too, when the opportunity comes, would give themselves harmless pleasure.

26. For the Right to Abortion     © 1981 by Richard J. Eisner

A person’s decision whether abortion, or any other activity, should be legal is a matter of individual perception or feeling. I, as one member of society, would choose, and vote, to sanction abortion, on the following considerations.

             One rationale commonly advanced for proscribing abortion is that a fetus, as a person, has a right to life. But I disbelieve in objectively existing or inherent rights, including a human right to life. It seems to me that rights are merely an aspect of social relations: only those “rights” exist that we choose to afford, which decision, again, is subjective

             And I, myself, feel no necessary compunction (let alone one I’d want to impose on others) about killing persons, hypothetically including human fetuses. Circumstances, it seems, may justify homicide; for example, in some cases I favor capital punishment.

             Another possible reason to forbid abortion might be that we value human life itself and so want there to be as much of it as possible. But I think human life is not intrinsically valuable. If anything is, it is happiness, not mere life.

             Then perhaps we should prohibit abortion because we value human happiness, and want to have as many happy people as possible. As I’ve shown elsewhere, however, there can be no intrinsic value. Since I feel morally compelled only to make the universe truly better; having discovered the impossibility of intrinsic worth, all moral questions have for me become mere motivational ones; and my concern has naturally shifted from the group’s interest to my own. Concomitantly, my social outlook has gone from the universe’s betterment to society’s. Thus, though unlikely, even if disallowing abortion somehow resulted in a larger number of happy people, and in greater total happiness (and even assuming this the best means to achieve it); because I think an increase in the number of individuals, even happy ones, would not make already existing men happier (in fact, just the reverse, with our current overpopulation); therefore, given my (exclusive) preference for our happiness over that of the possible universe, neither would this prospect move me to favor outlawing abortion.

             This perspective distinguishes the law barring intentional homicide from a ban on abortion. For me, the most important reason why we who make the laws have a law against wilful homicide is simply our legitimate selfish interest in protecting ourselves, and our friends, from being killed, by others. And yet, disallowing feticide would not serve to protect us, or our comrades, for none of us lawmakers, or voters, or those we know, are (or will become) fetuses.

             I might feel an exception, as it were, to my selfish purpose if abortion caused fetuses distress. As irrational as it is, I feel a difference between missed pleasure and effected pain. I could not live comfortably knowing we were torturing. But while we may dread murder, presumably fetuses do not fear abortion.

             Hence, finding no good reason (basically, promotion of our own welfare) to attempt to ensure the life of every, or any particular, fetus, I find nothing to counterbalance the woman’s choice (who is one of us) to have an abortion. . . . That’s how I see it.

27. Abortion: Reply to Ron     © 22 March 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

This answers Ron’s question how I distinguish abortion from infanticide and child-killing, such that the latter two practices should be outlawed, but not the first. Whereas child-killing, and even infanticide, would cause both the dread of being murdered (which even the very young can feel) and the loss of those with whom we may have interpersonal relationships (including the very young); abortion has no such negative effects, as fetuses neither fear abortion (presumably) nor enjoy personal relationships. Moreover, while tolerating even infanticide could endanger the rest of us who have been born, by creating a slippery slope in which the permissible age for killing is gradually raised or other sorts of exceptions made; permitting abortion does not imperil us, because no slippery slope operates from fetuses toward the already born, as birth is a natural, intuitive, determinate dividing line here. Few, if any, even among those who favor the right to abortion, favor the right to infanticide. The issue of abortion (by definition and in practice) is confined to fetuses.

28. The Epistemology of Testimony     © 16 January 2011 by Richard J. Eisner

Broadly, I believe that (propositional) knowledge is impossible, and that, therefore, we cannot know the truth or falsity of others’ assertions. From a slightly different aspect, we do not choose our beliefs, any more than we choose our thoughts—they simply happen to us (as Nietzsche says, “A thought comes when it will, not when I will”). In the end, we do not know—let alone decide—how we come to believe as we do, or what processes or sources—memory, reason, sense perception, and/or testimony—determine our beliefs. The affair is mysterious, imperfect, and intuitive. How do we find—or seek—the truth? We do our best.

29. Happiness and Well-being     © 28 April 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

A fundamental issue in the philosophy of happiness is whether it consists in an emotional state, on one hand, or well-being or flourishing, on the other. The former definition makes more sense, for this reason. Happiness is a matter of degree, and also has a negative dimension, as implied by the correlative term “unhappiness.” Pleasure and pain fit this description perfectly. Whereas, life satisfaction, a common touchstone of well-being, is in strict usage not a matter of degree. One is either satisfied or not. And flourishing has only a positive side; here, the worst that could be is a total lack of productivity, or zero—death

             The answer to the reverse question, whether well-being is happiness, must be dichotomized between the subjective and the objective. Subjectively, well-being is self-defined. Each decides what makes his life good (which may involve desiderata besides happiness). Objectively, the one and only thing that everyone appreciates in every circumstance is pleasure. One person may value becoming wealthy; another, making fine art. And each may think the other’s idea of flourishing worthless. But whatever you wish to do, you’d rather do it and feel good, than do it and feel bad. And so happiness is the sole element that is necessarily, objectively good for a creature.

             A likely reason why happiness and well-being are sometimes confused is that in practice they are strongly, if imprecisely and waveringly, interrelated: how I feel, greatly depends on how I feel about . . . my creative productivity. When I'm irritable, angry, and depressed, I often soon discover that some (subconscious) part of my mind had found, and was dwelling on, a problem with one of my writings. And when I solve such a problem, or complete a new work that I'm proud of, I am jubilant.

30. Personal Identity     © 23 May 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

The essence of any sentient being, that which makes it an individual, is its consciousness (its being this percipient). It is what makes identical twins distinct; what would survive if you died and were reincarnated; what makes you the same person today as you were yesterday. You are you by being the one sitting in the theater of your mind and viewing the movie of your life. If a magical operation were performed on your brain whereby somehow someone else’s memory and other mental content were substituted for your own, you would be watching a different movie, but you would still be you in being the one who is watching.

             In contrast, a creature’s personality and mental traits, like intelligence, reasoning ability, creativity, and articulateness, are strictly accidental, or incidental. And yet, it is these accidental features which give us human beings our more meaningful identity, and which are the source of our pride (or humility). Each bare consciousness itself, though at base unique, is in all other respects utterly undifferentiated. It is as if we are all fundamentally separate yet unremarkable humans, but, in virtue of our personal accouterments, (happen to be) traveling in greatly diverse vehicles. Our ability to think, unnecessary for awareness, is part of the vehicle. Average men go about in cheap, nondescript, underpowered rattletraps; whereas, those who are brighter, better at thinking, or otherwise more clever or expressive, are in sleek, precision, high-performance racecars.

31. Suicide: Rebuttal to Mirav     © 26 June 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

In her 27 May 2012 piece, Mirav argues that suicide is immoral, for the following three reasons.

             First, since taking another’s life is immoral, so too is taking one’s own life. The difference, however, is that, in murder, the killing is done against the victim’s will; whereas, in suicide, the act is done in accordance with the victim’s will. This is a critical distinction in innumerable sorts of actions. If I cause you to go to the beach, against your will, I commit an act of kidnaping, which we make a crime for good reason. But if I wish to go to the beach myself, and I do so, my act is perfectly proper.

             Second, Mirav argues, suicide has a negative effect on family and friends. But what if one has no family or friends? At most, this argument suggests that suicide may be immoral sometimes. Mirav also argues that suicide is morally bad in depriving society, and the suicide himself, of that person’s future productivity. But if someone who has contributed much to the world, is now very old, and wishes to retire and not do any further productive work, does he not have that right? I would think so. Therefore, again, the most this argument establishes is that suicide may be wrong sometimes.

             Third, according to Mirav, we did not start our lives (God or a Life Force did that), so we should not end our lives, either. But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that a person’s committing suicide is in his best interest (say, he’s hopelessly ill and in severe, irremediable pain), and that his suicide harms no one. If we came into being through no conscious agency, but wholly by accident, as it were, why should a person not do whatever is in his best interest (including ending his life)? On the other hand, if we were deliberately created by a god, why would God want us to do what’s against our best interest? And if God wanted us to act against our best interest, why, if we had a choice, should we go along with Him in that?

             The mere fact that we did not create ourselves does not seem good warrant for our not destroying ourselves. The proposition reflects a certain symmetry, but symmetry does not necessarily constitute good reason. Here, the connection seems arbitrary . . . like thinking that because you heard church bells ringing when you arrived at work, you should not leave work, even though you’re done with work for the day, until you again hear church bells ringing.

             Footnote: Mirav says that she is not “attempting to pass judgment on others.” But her thesis, “taking one’s own life is an immoral act,” is a judgment: on those who commit or attempt suicide—a judgment that they have committed, or attempted, an immoral act.

32. Suicide     © 24 July 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

Insofar as suicide has been the subject of moral philosophy, my own discussion of suicide appropriately entails a brief summary of my outlook on morality, thus: There are no inherent moral obligations or rights; no intrinsically valuable things or acts; no objectively valid ethical precepts. Ultimately, we make such decisions on an intuitive, ad hoc basis; at most, we may develop some loose guidelines. We don’t drive our cars in conformance with any certain metaphysically predetermined road markings; instead, we decide how we wish to proceed, and draw the marks to facilitate our chosen movement. So prefaced, here are my own thoughts on suicide.

             I agree with Seneca that what counts (about our life, or about our experience) is the quality, not the quantity—or, longevity is good, just when life is good. When a person’s quality of life becomes negative, such that his existence is worse than nothing, and he lacks other incentives to continue living, and he sees no realistic prospect of improvement, suicide may make sense, so to speak, and he probably has, or should have, or should be given, a right to commit suicide; in extreme cases, as perhaps those involving terminal illness and intractable pain, we might even help the sufferer to end his life. But in many other instances, especially where the anguished man is young and physically healthy, the psychic pain, and the loss of the will to live, are transient or can be cured or alleviated. Considering as well that the decision to kill oneself (if successfully carried out), as opposed to the decision to go on living, is irrevocable and momentous, and that we may be unable to tell fleeting suicidal moods apart from more abiding ones, it seems to me that we should, forcibly if necessary, prevent these persons from committing suicide until we have attempted to remedy the painful condition and restore the afflicted person to a normal, healthy state. This is how I would want to be treated.

33. Egalitarianism     © 22 November 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

“Luck egalitarians” argue that, since the (very) unequal distribution of wealth (in a capitalist economy) is a function at least in part of natural capacities and other advantages that were (unevenly) given by luck (in other words, the individuals who have them are ultimately not responsible for having them), it’s unfair to allow resources to be so maldistributed (that is, largely by luck). But if a person’s acquiring an unusually large sum of money is due to any ability on his part, it’s essentially the ability to acquire money. And why should a person be entitled to a considerably higher quality of life than others merely because he has a greater aptitude to amass wealth—however he got the talent? It’s as if capital were assigned simply by the playing of poker. Why should, say, a great doctor who helps improve the health of the entire populace, but who’s a lousy poker player, live in poverty, while the accomplished poker player, whose only skill is in playing poker, and who helps no one but himself, live in luxury (however long and hard he may have worked to develop his game)? If we apportion assets unevenly, the allocation should be in accord with merit, with one’s contribution to society, not with the facility to make money. It seems to me, however, that egalitarianism is preferable even to an unequal distribution of resources based on merit, in virtue of simple utility: In general, with respect to a given population, the greater the disparity in wealth, the less the per capita happiness or welfare. By the law of diminishing returns, a certain amount of money means more to a poorer man than to a richer one: a billion dollars would not make a millionaire a thousand times—or any—happier, but even the relatively small sum needed to give a homeless man a home would significantly increase his quality of life; wherefore, egalitarianism maximizes well-being.

34. Opportunity and Capitalism     © December 2003 by Richard J. Eisner

As suggested by the United States’ glowing description of itself as “the land of opportunity,” the notion of opportunity is a piece of the argument for capitalism. By capitalism, in this context, I mean unrestrained capitalism, as opposed to a modified system in which everyone is guaranteed a certain minimum standard of living.

            Part of the way it works is to try to counteract the criticism of unrestrained capitalism’s inequality of wealth. It does this by substituting opportunity for wealth, suggesting that capitalism is egalitarian after all, in that every person has equal opportunity to attain wealth. An overtone is that, since everyone possesses the same opportunity for abundance, everyone could be rich, and so the poor are poor through their own fault, by failing to take advantage of their opportunity. But this implicit argument has several flaws.

            One is that, whether or not opportunity is equal, resources are limited. Not everyone can be rich. Everyone who buys a lottery ticket has equal opportunity to win the jackpot, yet only one can. Similarly, someone must do the actual work. While each laborer in a factory has a theoretical opportunity to create his own prosperous enterprise; for every wealthy factory owner, there must necessarily be many more workers who do the basic work. All of which means that, when some are rich and others are poor, in order to end poverty, ultimately you must redistribute wealth, which cannot be accomplished merely by adjusting “opportunity”—“opportunity” is not a substitute for wealth.

            Another flaw in the opportunity argument is that opportunity in capitalism is not actually equal. It's equal ideally and legally, in that there is no law explicitly barring certain people from making money. In practice, however, the wealthier you are, in unrestrained capitalism, the easier it is for you to hang on to the money you have, and to amass more of it, and vice versa. As the cliches go, it takes money to make money; and, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Which means that, in modified capitalism vis-a-vis unrestrained capitalism, the underprivileged have greater actual opportunity to improve their economic status; but, conversely, the rich have less opportunity to get even richer (if there’s more money at the bottom, there’s less at the top). Hence, in modified capitalism, there’s greater equality of economic opportunity.

            But what of other kinds of opportunity? The rich having less opportunity to become even richer does not significantly decrease their opportunities in life. They still have enough money to never have to work—all their time is leisure, which they can spend however they wish. But the provision of a minimum level of wealth to a poorer person would give him the opportunity to work part-time instead of full-time—in other words, to have some leisure time, and therefore to follow some of his interests and passions, and thus to some extent to actualize his potential (not to mention the opportunity simply to live a more pleasant life).

            In sum, a modified system would increase equality of economic opportunity, and absolutely increase life opportunity.

35. Nietzsche’s “Master” Morality     © 21 May 2003 by Richard J. Eisner

In a radio interview a philosophy professor said that Nietzsche opposes liberal democracy, or egalitarianism, or utilitarianism (the greatest happiness for the greatest number), which he (Nietzsche) calls “slave morality,” on the ground, among others, that, in seeking to advance the general welfare, they enhance the average at the neglect of the exceptional, and therefore militate against individual (and hence also societal) excellence, and that he (Nietzsche) favors a return to the kind of hierarchical, authoritarian (frankly, fascistic) social and political structures prevalent before the French Revolution, which structures Nietzsche calls “master morality.”

            I disagree (with Nietzsche). I think utilitarianism and its cognates are preferable to authoritarianism, even just in their effect on “excellence.” The utilitarian touchstone in resource distribution is, not slavish equality, but rather society’s greatest good (utility). For example, a given amount of musical education would yield greater benefit to society if given to a musical genius instead of to a musician of mere talent, and so utilitarianism would distribute that resource accordingly. Contrariwise, in a master-slave situation, what masters seek is advantage, which need not take the form of excellence. But even to the extent that masters pursue excellence, they pursue, not excellence generally, but rather their own excellence. If, for example, a master knew that one of his slaves possessed innate musical genius, but that his (the master’s) son possessed mere musical talent, the master would likely still devote greater resources to his son’s musical training than to his slave’s. So utilitarianism better fosters human achievement, by promoting it more widely: among all people, not just the privileged few.

            But even if a utilitarian distribution of resources is simply an equal distribution, you can’t become a great artist or philosopher or scientist if you’re too poor to get a good education, or if you have to spend all your time and energy working to get enough money to survive, as is the case with so many poor and working-class people even now. Egalitarianism does not mean that everyone is to be equal (average) in every way. It means that everyone is to have equal resources to live—equal right and opportunity to actualize his potential. And the greater the number of people who actualize their potential, the greater the amount of excellent work that will be produced. Of course, those who have already achieved intellectual/artistic excellence would benefit personally from a less egalitarian society, which, by limiting the rise of competitors, would preserve their own superiority. One wonders if that isn’t Nietzsche’s true interest.

36. Universal Love     © September 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

In his essay “The Myth of Universal Love” Stephen T. Asma rebuts the proposition that we ought to help all humanity. First he attacks Peter Singer’s argument that we should have equal concern for all, based (according to Singer) on an understanding that everyone is equally important. Asma simply replies that his kith and kin are more important than strangers. I concur with Singer that we are all equally important, only negatively, in that we are all intrinsically unimportant; but I concur with Asma’s retort, in that our kith and kin are more important to us.

            Then, taking on Jeremy Rifkin’s view that we should expand our domain of care and empathy to everyone, Asma counters that care and empathy are a finite emotional resource, of which we possess only enough to cover a limited number of our family and friends, and that our trying to further extend such sentiments would dilute them to ineffectiveness, and exhaust us to impotence. Expressing it positively, Asma notes that close family and friendship ties are the main ingredient in human happiness, in the good life. In which connection he quotes Cicero (“Society and human fellowship will be best served if we confer the most kindness on those with whom we are most closely associated”) and Graham Greene (“One can’t love humanity, one can only love people”).

            While I agree with Asma’s observations; I disagree with their asserted consequence, thus: I, for one, favor global utilitarianism, not (as Asma conceives it) merely for the sake of others, but also for our own sake (enlightened self-interest). Broadly speaking, the self-serving conduct of the few has brought about such wealth disparity, overpopulation, and environmental destruction as to significantly degrade the well-being of the many. And to reverse the situation, what is called for is, not (as Asma supposes) individual direct action, like selling one’s luxury goods and sending the money to starving persons overseas, but rather collective action in large-scale or systemic changes. Such collective action, though, takes common effort (or at least agreement) by great numbers. Their motivation to so cooperate involves their expectation of a fair share of the benefit, which in turn requires our willingness and commitment to give it to them, and our encouraging them to apprehend that they will have it. (And because the plan is fair, it can be philosophically justified and advocated.) We are the one species able to so act; and, if we as a species are to survive and flourish, we must so act.

37. Morality and Religion     © 24 July 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

Some (religious) people contend that, to be moral, you must be religious. For example, in the Atlantic Monthly (December 1989), Glenn Tinder asks “Can we be good without God?” and answers “No.” I, of course, disagree.

            Preliminarily, we must clarify two terms in that question: God and good. “God” refers, not to God, per se, but to our belief in God. That is, Can we be good without believing in God? “Good” refers to moral good. For a simplified, working definition of good, I’ll mean unselfishly helping others. Bad, the opposite, would mean selfishness, such that one helps oneself at the foreseeable disproportionate expense of others.

            A common reason advanced for the proposition that we cannot be good without God is that religious belief motivates people to act well by the prospect of God’s rewarding us if we act well and punishing us if we act badly (classically in the form of Heaven and Hell in the afterlife). But people who act well for those reasons are not morally good—they’re acting selfishly, to gain pleasure or to avoid pain for themselves. And the idea that there’s no good conduct without such selfish inducements, entails that there’s no genuine (moral) good at all. Which seems implausible.

            Tinder’s argument is a bit more sophisticated. He argues that the set of beliefs that compose the Judeo-Christian religion provide a foundation for, and thus strengthen, the ultimate practical beneficent moral conviction. But Judeo-Christian religious teachings do not necessarily support good moral inclinations. Those teachings are notoriously open to interpretation, and have been used to justify both good and wicked deeds. What determines how you treat others is your character, which is more fundamental than, and prior to, religious teachings. Religion does not determine your character, but the reverse: if you become religious, your character determines how you interpret religion. A bad religious person will construct a religious outlook that justifies his bad conduct. Or, if he’s not clever enough for that, he’ll simply be a hypocrite, of which there are many. And a good person will not somehow turn bad by lack of religion.

38. Infinite Repetition: Reply to Raveen     © 27 July 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

In his 22 June 2013 entry, Reveen contends (or expresses the fear) that infinite time means that “everything that can possibly happen will repeat . . ..” But this is impossible, because it can never be that everything that can possibly happen, has happened. The universe, like a drop of water drawn from a limitless ocean of potentiality, can and does continuously uniquely change, as by the addition of sentient creatures (awarenesses) that have never before been. Possibility, infinitely greater than actuality, can never be exhausted.

39. Infinite Repetition: Rebuttal to Robert     © 23 November 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

In his 15 September 2013 entry, Robert rebuts two theses I speak in my 27 July 2013 piece. One thesis of mine is that not all possible events could actually happen—not even in theory. Robert counters that, in theory, any (even infinite) number of possible-but-not-actual events could be added to actuality. I agree. But—and here is where we disagree—not all of them could be added. Let us state the problem in other terms. Two events are different if the actors in them are inhabited by different awarenesses. Take one of Napoleon’s battles. The same outward event is different if Napoleon’s body bears my consciousness instead of his. So the realization of all possible events would involve the realization of all possible sentient beings. Ergo, the question can be put thus: In whatever way the infinite number of sentient creatures that have existed is multiplied (to which multiplication there is no limit), could it ever come to pass that all possible awarenesses have already been, such that a subsequent one’s birth would require some previous one’s reincarnation? I think not.

             My other thesis that Robert disputes is that possibility constitutes a larger infinity than existence. Preliminarily, existence is a proper subset of possibility (all that exists is possible, but not all that is possible exists). It is true, as Robert notes, that even if a set contains infinitely many members not contained in a proper subset thereof, the two sets may nonetheless be of the same size. An example is the set of all integers (one, two, three, and so on) and its subset of all odd integers. However, because other infinite sets are of different magnitudes, like the integers versus the points on a line (the latter set being greater), the question is whether existence and possibility are more like the second pair. As existence can be increased infinitely without limit, never exhausting possibility, I think so.

40. Eternal Recurrence     © 27 September 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

We live our same lives over and over, everlastingly. This is Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence theory, which he posits mainly to encourage us to improve our lives—to live as though we would make this life the prototype for eternity. The theory, however, has many flaws. One, it presupposes free will (the ability to change—improve—your life). But free will seems at odds with Eternal Recurrence, in that, if we have free will in this life, we should likewise have it in all (identical) subsequent lives; yet free will in them is ruled out by the idea that this life sets the (immutable) pattern for all future ones. (Or, since eternal means no end or start, we should, as well, have had past lives, which predetermine this one.)

             Additionally, Eternal Recurrence entails the repetition of the identical (finite) sequence of events, like the constant rerunning of a movie. A bizarre implication of which, the seam between the end of the sequence and its re-beginning appears a (very unlikely) suspension of the natural flow of event into event.

             An even more significant problem involves Nietzsche’s purpose (to stimulate us to live better); the problem being this: Nietzsche advocates acting in one’s own interest. And he identifies a person’s own interest as “power,” or creative expression, self actualization (this is the “will to power”)—rather than happiness (thus he condemns utilitarianism, which holds that people should, and do, seek just happiness).

             Parenthetically, I think Nietzsche is wrong here. I agree with him about power insofar as not all of men’s motives reduce to the quest for happiness, and that one such distinct and important human drive is that for self actualization. The question, though, is what’s in your best interest. And here’s the answer. A person’s happiness is necessarily valuable to him, advantageous to him in all possible circumstances. But not so his artistic fecundity. Imagine you were alone in the universe, and that you knew that no other sentient beings would ever exist. In that situation, if you also knew that creating art caused you agony, but engaging in some nonproductive different behavior brought you ecstacy, your electing to do your art would be absurd. Therefore, objectively, happiness, and only happiness, is beneficial to the individual. . . . Realizing my creative potential, generating work that will be appreciated by posterity, is my goal merely because it happens to be my goal (I did not choose it, it chose me; or perhaps my pride overpowered my reason); and, to the extent that my valuing creative self-expression makes me less happy, I’m less fortunate. And yet, I do value it. I also value a man’s freedom to do with his life what he wishes (consistent with other men’s rights), without undue social pressure, especially if he’s disposed, and able, to be culturally fruitful (since—even if it hurts him—it helps the world).

             But the point is that Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence theory militates against his will-to-power thesis (and the humanity-benefitting production of great art), as follows. A great artist is sometimes motivated to do art, despite anguish, by the thought that his recognition—by future generations—lasting far beyond his own existence, will considerably outstrip whatever (limited) pain he bears in his lifetime. Eternal Recurrence alters this relationship by making the artist’s limited suffering endless. To the extent that his suffering in producing art thus increases, the likelihood that he will yield to the natural inclination to act in his “real” interest, and pursue a less painful alternative, also rises.

             Complementarily, Eternal Recurrence calls in question our creativity. If we perpetually redo our very life’s work, then, after the first instance (if there is a first instance), it’s no longer true creation, but instead mere repetition. And the artist’s devaluing his accomplishment, thereby induces him to give greater weight to the competing desideratum—enjoyment, in turn causing certain less productive but more pleasurable activities to become more attractive to him.

             To similar effect, the theory intimates that we could achieve eternal youth by dying young, which diminishes the artist’s oeuvre.

             Recurrence further potentially dulls the artistic prod in this way. The postulation of an unending series of lives could say to a creator, “Don’t worry about getting it all done now, you’ll have plenty of time”; undermining his sense of urgency in the awareness that this brief life is his one chance—ever, ever—to do work that will leave his mark.

             By way of conclusion, there is, yet, a variation of Eternal Recurrence that both possesses the virtue of being true, and avoids the problem of preferring one value to another, which variation we might call (Quasi-)Eternal Recurrence of the Day. Because your life is just the cumulation of your days; as you live each day, so you live your life . . . if you waste half your time every day, you waste half your life (and the longer you go on living as you do, the less likely it is that you’ll effect a significant improvement). Hence, live today as if you would so live the rest of the days of your life.

41. Limits of Law     © 21 September 2013 by Richard J. Eisner

On the limits of the law, I both agree and disagree with Lord Devlin.

             About the disagreement, Devlin, in support of legal moralism (the view that the state may legislate against immoral behavior, even that which is otherwise harmless), argues thus: A state is constituted in part by its common morality. Society, to preserve its own existence, has a right to bar acts that threaten the state’s morality, acts that arouse in the populace moral disgust or indignation, such as homosexuality, even when done between consenting adults in private.

             As I see it, the problem with this argument of Devlin’s is that, by and large, allowing a perceived immoral activity will not cause a society to cease to exist. The difference for a society between enjoining such an activity and not enjoining it, is, generally, not the difference between the society’s existence or nonexistence, per se, but only between the society with the activity in question and the society without the activity, or, more precisely, between the society with the activity prohibited versus it not prohibited. So Devlin’s argument is a nullity, since it leaves us with the original inquiry: Should we have the society with the activity in question outlawed, or the society with the activity not outlawed (or, simply, should the activity be outlawed or not).

             And yet, I agree with Devlin’s following pronouncement: “I think, therefore, that it is not possible to set theoretical limits to the power of the State to legislate against immorality. It is not possible to settle in advance exceptions to the general rule or to define inflexibly areas of morality into which the law is in no circumstances to be allowed to enter.” – Lord Devlin, The Enforcement of Morals (pages 12–13)

             As vehemently as I oppose many of the well-known recent instances of legal moralism, including the proscription of homosexuality, which opposition has historically caused me to believe that I’m opposed to legal moralism; now that I focus my attention on the issue more acutely, I find that there is some conduct which I favor banning, simply because the conduct, though arguably harmless to humans, just somehow seems wrong. An example is the killing of higher mammals, like dolphins.

             I think that, concerning the various principles proposed for limiting the law, such as the harm principle; the offense principle; the avoidance of infringement of human liberty, autonomy, or dignity—these are not principles that determine legislative outcomes, but merely considerations that may occur to us and guide us in making those decisions, which, like all moral decisions, are ultimately ad hoc.

42. Gun Control     © 17 January 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

So-called gun-rights advocates make several arguments to resist calls for more stringent gun control. One argument is that the rights of law-abiding gun owners should not be infringed because of the actions of a few criminals. A flaw in this argument is that, before they go on their rampages, most mass murderers are law-abiding citizens. Another argument is,“Guns don’t kill people—people kill people.” True, but people kill people with guns, and, with guns, people kill people more efficiently, and in greater numbers. A further response to both of these pro-gun arguments is that they could be used against outlawing the private ownership of machine guns (access to which most persons agree should be restricted).

43. Gun Control Redux     © 24 February 2018 by Richard J. Eisner

Gun-rights proponents now argue that the key problem in the epidemic of civilian gun massacres is, not guns, but the mental illness of those who commit the atrocities, with the suggestion that we should therefore focus, not on guns, but on "mental illness," and on keeping the mentally ill from acquiring guns. But even if we define the intent or the planning to commit mass murder as mental illness, some of these killers acquire their guns before they form that intent. And often people who interacted with the mass murderer before the crime, even recently before, express surprise and shock on learning of that person's being the perpetrator, and they say: "That's not the person I knew." In other words, whatever mental illness these killers may have, they're shrewd enough to effectively hide it from the world, so as to accomplish their deadly purpose. The fact is, many of those killers, when they acquire their guns, have no readily detectable signs of serious mental illness (and no public record of antisocial acts). Because we cannot reliably identify such dangerous persons before they commit a crime, it seems that the sole way reliably to keep extremely dangerous weapons away from dangerous people, is to keep them away from everyone. And as between, on one hand, those weapons being widely available, including to persons bent on mayhem, and, on the other hand, their being available to no one-the latter option's preferability seems obvious. I, for one, would gladly give up my right to possess those weapons, for the sake of public safety. An AR-15 assault rifle is not particularly good for hunting, for precision target shooting, or, for that matter, for self-defense. As to the claim that a citizen needs a weapon like that to resist an oppressive government, even an AR-15 would be about as effective as a BB gun against a military force wielding machine guns, artillery pieces, tanks, ships, planes, and bombs. But until the coming of that great fantasized apocalypse, citizens are being massacred. And we must do something to stop it.

44. Does the Universe have a Purpose?     © 23 February 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

Does the universe have a purpose? Consider the human lung. We might say that its purpose is to enable men to breathe. But what’s the universe’s purpose? It would seem that, if it has any purpose, the purpose would somehow involve life. A universe with no life—with just a bunch of stars and barren planets flying around—would be pointless. So perhaps the universe’s purpose is to serve as man’s home. In other words, like the lung, its purpose is to enable man’s existence. So the question of the purpose of the universe collapses to the question of the purpose of man. But if all men were irredeemably unhappy, man’s existence would seem pointless. Which suggests that what’s purposeful is happiness. Unhappiness would not be merely pointless; rather, it would have a sort of negative purpose. It seems, then, that purpose is closely related to value. As I’ve shown (elsewhere, and I won’t rehearse the argument for it here), intrinsic value is impossible. But there is what we might call extrinsic value—what we value. Correspondingly, there is no intrinsic purpose, but there is extrinsic purpose—the state of mind akin to intention, or what we want, a property of individuals, not of man. Extrinsic purpose is subjective: your “mission in life” does not exist prior to and independent of you, awaiting your discovery of it, but instead arises from you. Different people have different purposes, and not all of them involve happiness, which we often sacrifice for other desiderata. For example, my own purpose is to write well. Another man’s purpose may be to get rich; or to help his family; or to do God’s will.

             As to the proposal that we have the creator, God’s purpose for us, the same analysis applies. Even if we assumed (against reason) that God exists, God could confer neither intrinsic value nor intrinsic purpose on man. God’s purpose, likewise, would be extrinsic—it would be God’s purpose, not man’s purpose.

45. Desire     © 5 July 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

The so-called good-based theory of desire (“For a person to desire P is for him to believe P is good”) is demonstrably wrong, since we can desire what we believe is bad (like craving a piece of cake, knowing it’s unhealthy). More generally, the good-based theory is fallacious because desire is a matter of feeling, while belief is a matter of intellect; and the two (head and heart) are fundamentally different, and not infrequently (if not always) in conflict (as with the cake). More generally still (this is an observation a philosopher should use sparingly), in many contexts desire is not susceptible of philosophical rigor, which puts too fine point on it; it's better understood by reference to a dictionary than to a philosophy book.

46. John Rawls     © 20 December 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

I largely agree with Rawls’s “justice-as-fairness” thesis, except his “difference-principle,” according to which social and economic inequalities must be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged class in society. Rawls says that the difference-principle differentiates his conception from the variety of Utilitarianism known as average utility: the principle that society should be structured so as to produce the greatest per capita utility (utility being roughly equivalent to well-being). The difference-principle is indeed inconsistent with average utility. And therein lies its flaw, as shown by this hypothetical example. Take a society comprising a billion and one people. A billion of them are constantly mildly happy. The remaining one also is constantly mildly happy, except for two hours a year when he's mildly sad. This state of affairs could be changed so that the billion become better off, in being constantly ecstatic (ecstatic is much better than mildly happy), but the other man becomes worse off, in that his yearly period of mild sadness doubles, to four hours. Average utility would compel, but Rawls’s difference-principle would preclude, this (clearly-for-the-better) change.

             Yet the difference-principle is likewise inconsistent with justice-as-fairness, because justice-as-fairness implies average utility. Rawls’s basic argument for justice-as-fairness is the veil-of-ignorance thought experiment, whereby he argues that justice-as-fairness is the societal arrangement that would be chosen by a self-interested, rational person for himself to be born into if he were ignorant of the conditions of his birth, like his social position, wealth, income, race, religion, sex, health, intelligence, talents, and motivation. This thought experiment, together with Rawls’s pervasive insistence on equality, implies the standard of the maximum well-being of a randomly selected person, which translates to maximum per capita well-being.

             Thus the difference-principle should be modified or replaced, or excised. And justice-as-fairness should be described, not as a doctrine in conflict with Utilitarianism, but rather as a form of Rule Utilitarianism, whereby following its principles is simply more likely to maximize utility than is aiming at it directly.

             Footnote. Query: Given the importance to a person’s well-being of income and wealth; our ability to distribute them; and Rawls’s emphasis on equality—why does Rawls classify those (income and wealth) as conditions of birth, rather than as social elements to be decided on?

47. Justice     © 14 February 2015 by Richard J. Eisner

My philosophizing about justice is marred by my own interest. My own interest, to be a famous writer, gives me a motive to suppress the work of other writers, to reduce my competition, my doing which would be unjust, to them, and perhaps also to society at large. With my personal interest, can I even know what I think justice dictates? If I can somehow force myself to discover what I might think about it in an unbiased state of mind, I can write down my thought, which is philosophizing about justice. I’ll try.

             Justice is the proper allocation of goods among conscious beings. (Justice may demand reward [an increase of good] or punishment [a decrease of good].)

             Starting in the abstract, if it were up to me, as a sort of hypothetical god, wishing to do justice, and beginning with a blank slate—no existent beings (except me)—how would I proceed? Prefatorily, no matter how many beings exist, even if infinitely many, only an infinitesimal portion of possible beings can actually exist. This bears on justice, for, necessarily, if some are, then some potential beings will enjoy the benefits of existence, and others not. One option would be to actualize no one, maintaining perfect equality among all potential beings. An alternative would be to create a profusion of ecstatic beings. I would prefer this option, since the disparity (some existing but most others not) is unavoidable, and nonexistent beings would not feel the sting of any prejudice against them. I wouldn’t even have to make the existent beings equally ecstatic, for in an abstract world, unburdened by a scarcity of resources, a gain by one would not mean a loss by another. And no such being would be unhappy having less ecstacy than others—by creation, he would be ecstatic, and exactly as ecstatic as he was made.

             But let’s consider the real world. Now, justice is not the same as goodness, and the two need not coincide. Imagine there are one hundred ten persons. Fifty of them grievously and maliciously harm the other sixty. You have this choice: Either the fifty wrongdoers die, and the sixty victims turn into very (and equally) happy persons, living together in harmony; or the sixty victims die, and the fifty become very happy persons living in harmony. While all of the fifty would be equally happy, they would be slightly happier than the sixty—enough so, in fact, that even their total happiness would be greater. Arguably, the latter would be a better but less just world.

             As a practical matter, the supposedly better second situation (the fifty wrongdoers’ surviving) would never be selected if the sixty victims, the majority, made the decision—they would choose the first situation (their surviving) because it benefits them, and they would rationalize it as being required by justice.

             But even if we say that we would bring about the best possible world, regardless of justice, justice must be taken into account, since we are so constituted that our perception of justice is an element in our happiness. We will be less happy if we think that an injustice has been done—at least if we think it has been done to us. Conversely, of course (by definition), the good is an element of justice. Justice may indicate punishment, but disproportionate punishment is unjust. Generally, an unwarranted, avoidable deprivation of good is unjust to those affected.

             Perhaps we decide our affairs on the basis of three contending forces: our perception of justice; our perception of the good; and self-interest.

             In this messy world, can these three disparate forces ever coalesce, to helpfully point our way? I think so. They can unite if we focus on the element that is both the most easily manipulable and yet also the most strongly determinative of the distribution of people’s opportunity to pursue their conception of the good life (including their ability to express themselves artistically)—money. The constraints on our ability to control the world I think on balance actually help us in this regard. Our task is more difficult than that of a god in an abstract world, for we must deal with men’s tricky feelings and personalities. But our task is easier than a god’s task would be in this world. For example, I would not have to decide how much innate talent people should have. All I would have to decide is how much money they should have, a more superficial responsibility, which avoids my deepest psychological demons.

             The unification of these three forces through economics is usefully introduced by a meditation on the current healthcare debate.

             Reasons against a right to healthcare are objections by those who have it to giving it to those who don’t have it. Take the prolonging of wait times. This adversely affects just those who already have access to the healthcare service in question. It does not adversely affect those who don’t have access to it, because they now have no wait time—they simply don’t get it; for them, getting it at all, whatever the wait time, would be an improvement. Arguments against a right to healthcare are selfish, implicitly saying, “Sharing with you means less for me.”

             The foregoing observation prompts a question. Some who have no, or very little, access to healthcare may want it treated as a right so as to gain access (or greater access) to it themselves. This, too, is self-interested. But is it selfish, in the bad sense in which I imply that the opposite stance is selfish? No. The difference is that pursuing more than one’s fair share is wrong; but demanding one’s fair share is right, even commendable.

             And I think that, by and large, a fair share is a roughly equal share. Why? One, in this real world with scarce resources, equality means that no one’s well-being comes at another’s expense. Chiefly, though, it has to do with utility: In general, with respect to a given population; the greater the disparity in wealth, the less the per capita happiness or well-being. By the law of diminishing returns, a certain amount of money means more to a poorer man than to a richer one: a billion dollars would not make a millionaire a thousand times—or any—happier, but even the relatively small sum needed to give a homeless man a home would significantly increase his quality of life; wherefore, equality maximizes per capita well-being (which [the maximization of per capita well-being] should be the guiding principle).

             Economic equality, then, furthers justice, goodness, and people’s (enlightened) self-interest because it maximizes well-being.

48. Justice and Marx     © 18 September 2018 by Richard J. Eisner

● It has been noted that Marx often and in many ways implies that capitalism is unjust, and that communism is just, but he never (explicitly) declares it. One commentator has explained this feature of Marx’s work by proposing that Marx “believed that capitalism was unjust, but did not believe that he believed it was unjust.” “In other words, Marx, like many of us, did not have perfect knowledge of his own mind.” I think that’s unlikely (that Marx believed it, but didn’t believe that he believed it—that he didn’t know his own mind). Here, I think, is a more likely explanation: Marx’s main, and more important, theory was a factual one: that social forces would eventually and inevitably cause capitalism to collapse and be replaced by communism. He also, incidentally, thought, or felt, that capitalism was unjust, and that its replacement by communism was just.

            In some of my own essays, I start with a statement of objective truth on the topic at hand, and then give my own (subjective) opinion, or sentiment, on it. In fact, I’ve used that pattern as the structural scheme in some of my works. Unlike me, Marx could not quite work out how to integrate the two aspects of his thought—his main social, factual theory, and his moral sentiment on the subject. He may even have felt they were in some way inconsistent. So he simply chose not to dwell on the latter aspect. But this hardly means that he was unaware that he had those thoughts or sentiments.


● On the other hand, some argue that Marx actually thinks that capitalism is not unjust, and does not think that communism is just (meaning, not that he thinks communism unjust, but merely that he would not use “just” to describe it). Indeed, a more general clarification of just is in order. It cannot mean simply “not unjust.” My eating spaghetti for dinner tonight instead of macaroni is not unjust, yet “just” seems far too grand a word for it. I think justice properly refers to what justice demands, usually in response to, or as a remedy for, an injustice. For example, if someone commits murder (an injustice), we might think that justice demands that the murderer be punished, and perhaps that he make reparation to the victim’s family.

            But if Marx thinks that capitalism is not unjust and that communism is not properly described as just, why?—what’s his argument? Let’s take capitalism first. I frankly see no convincing arguments on Marx’s part here. (Perhaps they’re there, and I just don’t see them.) A situation, as Marx acknowledges capitalism is, wherein a privileged few live in extravagance by stealing from and impoverishing the many—whatever you call it, or don’t call it, seems a classic, paradigm case of injustice. So if Marx thinks that capitalism is not unjust—he’s just wrong.

            As to communism not being just, Marx’s argument seems to be that communism transcends justice. The purpose of justice, he reasons, is to resolve disputes. But there would be no disputes under communism (and hence no need for dispute resolution [justice]), for two reasons. First, communism would bring about such great material abundance that everyone could have all he wants without taking from anyone else. But such a state of affairs will never be. It’s pure fantasy, the stuff of thought experiments, or the religious notion of heaven, which Marx purports to disdain. Besides, like a mixed metaphor, it confuses concepts. That kind of abundance could happen only through a (fantastical) technological breakthrough. But communism is an economic revolution, not a technological one.

            The second reason why, in Marx’s vision, there would be no disputes under communism is that it would bring about complete fellow-feeling among all people. This seems just as illusory as the other supposition, but let’s indulge in the thought experiment: Imagine that there’s total fellow-feeling. Everyone feels he’s on the same team, works hard for the commonweal, and never begrudges anyone else anything—everyone, that is, except one man. He’s still selfish; he takes advantage of everyone else’s generosity and maneuvers the situation so that he does no work, but amasses great wealth, at everyone else’s expense. Now, it seems to me that justice serves at least two functions: yes, it deals with resolution of disputes; but it also, and more fundamentally, deals with the proper distribution of goods among people. And even if the first function is not needed, the second still is. Is theft not unjust merely because the victim doesn’t know he’s been robbed, and makes no claim against the thief? Even with complete fellow-feeling, we would still need to see to the proper allocation of goods among people.

            Capitalism and communism are economic systems. The essence of an economic system is distribution of goods among people. If capitalism should be replaced because it’s unjust, and communism is the ideal economic system that should replace it, then communism is demanded by justice, and so is just.


● If Marx thought communism just, his particular theory of justice would probably be his famous formulation that each person should contribute according to his ability and receive according to his need. My own particular theory of justice is, essentially (with many provisos), average utility (or happiness or well-being). The two theories not only differ, but potentially conflict, because supplying the needs of one person or group might reduce average well-being. Take a society composed of one hundred people. Ninety-nine are happy, with, say, 8 units of happiness apiece. The other person’s level of happiness is only 7; he has a rare disease, and needs a million dollars’ worth of medical care a month to keep him alive, which money would have to be supplied by the other ninety-nine people. He needs it, and they can give it. But that expense would deplete the others’ funds enough to cause their level of happiness to diminish to 7 units apiece (versus 8 if they let the sick man die, and saved the money). Hence Marx’s ethic would be for the expenditure; mine, against it. If the average utility standard were adopted, however, it should not be applied strictly or mechanically, for we don’t want to live in a cold, compassionless world.

49. Nothingness     © 24 November 2015 by Richard J. Eisner

Could there be nothing? To start with, there is something—at very least me (or my awareness). One problem with the possibility of nothing is that, just as something cannot come from nothing, nothing cannot come from something. This does not apply to awareness, however, since every sentient creature could die, and not be replaced. (And yet, how do we classify a past experience? Is it a sort of existence? If so, then perhaps the nonexistence even of experience is impossible, because, while it can cease to be now, its having-been cannot be undone. If not—if an awareness’s once having been, does not count as existence—then, arguably, after we die, our having been [except what we create for posterity] is equivalent to our not having been, and does not matter.) But there is also non-sentient stuff, which, it would seem, cannot come to naught.

             In a larger sense, if we imagine total nothingness, what sorts of things would we still allow to “exist”?—those that are in all logically possible worlds, or necessarily existing things, like mathematical truths (“Twice two is four,” for example). Conversely, the sorts of things we think would not exist if there were nothing are contingent things, those that are in some logically possible worlds, but not in others. Saying that, the question seems almost to answer itself. There is a logically possible world that contains no contingent things. And hence nothingness is physically impossible, but logically possible.

50. Explanation, Reason, Cause     © 30 January 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

● To posit that everything has a reason for being, because omniscient and omnipotent God made it all, and He had a good reason for it—is to anthropomorphize the universe.

● The philosophers who espouse the Principle of Sufficient Reason (the “PSR”) talk about things having reasons (plural). But if there is explanation, reason, cause; why should it be discrete, multiple? Why should there not be just one explanation, reason, or cause—for the whole? And where and when does the cause leave off and the effect begin?

● Descartes maintains that necessary truths (like “Twice two is four”) are caused (by God). He’s wrong. A necessary truth cannot be caused, since cause implies that what is caused could have been different, and that at some time (before it was caused) it did not exist. But a necessary truth could not be different, and (necessarily) always was. I give two reasons despite the PSP, the Principle of Sufficient Proof (my own invention, or discovery): the principle that one conclusive proof (or disproof) of a proposition is sufficient.

● There is no “filler”
In the field of stars at night:
Each one is a gem.
All that is, is; conflicts none,
Just our misunderstandings.

51. Explanation, Reason, Cause: Rebuttal to Robert     © 10 July 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

In his “Fallacies and Confusions” (3 May 2016) Robert attacks several of the theses I state in my above “Explanation, Reason, Cause” (30 January 2016).

             He starts with this thesis of mine, which he quotes: “To posit that everything has a reason for being, because omniscient and omnipotent God made it all, and He had a good reason for it—is to anthropomorphize the universe.”

             Robert writes: “First, ‘to posit’ is to suppose. We may suppose anything we like. Our conclusions may be false, or even absurd, but they will follow (if we use good logic) from our suppositions. If our supposition is false—and it may well be—then our conclusion may be false as well.” That’s true. But irrelevant. Yes, a person is free to suppose anything he likes. And when he does, the rest of us are free to comment on its truth and its implications. If, on the other hand, Robert’s point is that I should have said “argue” instead of “posit,” because “posit” pertains just to single, simple propositions, and what I’m criticizing is not a proposition but an argument, it’s a quibble.

             Robert continues: “And if we suppose the universe, or its elements, has purposes, we by no means have to suppose an anthropomorphic being is the source of them . . .” This, too, is true but irrelevant. The issue is not whether a purposeful universe implies an anthropomorphic creator, but whether our supposing a purposeful creator as the reason for the universe’s purposefulness constitutes our anthropomorphizing the universe.

             Robert finally gets to a relevant point in his next paragraph: “Second, suppose there was in fact an omniscient, omnipotent being, full of purposes and intentions, with some great ‘plan’ for the universe, and for us. Such a being need not be ‘anthropomorphic’ at all.” I disagree. Parenthetically, you cannot (rationally) suppose “there is in fact” such a being, since it’s impossible. (See my “On the Impossibility of Knowledge, Free Will, and God”—above.) But here’s the main point. It’s been said that man was not created in God’s image; but, rather, God was created in man’s image. I agree. I think that the traditional concept of God (which Robert describes) is a peculiar figment of the human mind: it is a man blown up in our imagination to cosmic proportions. Like a man (or an ideal man), it is conscious, intelligent, knowing, wise, purposeful, and well-meaning. We’ve given God human traits, which is to anthropomorphize.

             Robert’s next attack on my opening thesis is this: “Third, the existence of a ‘God’ (an omniscient, omnipotent creator) does not entail that the universe need be ‘anthropomorphic.’ Either Richard misspoke, or he has something like the erroneous view of a pantheistic ‘Brahmin’ of Hindu lore in mind (the universe as a ‘man,’ hence, it is ‘anthropomorphic’). No one I can think of ever thought of the universe as ‘anthropomorphic’ (even Hindus—Brahmin is not seen by them as ‘a man’; that is a Western Judeo-Christian-Muslim conceit). In the West people think of the creator as anthropomorphic [What?! Wasn’t Robert just before arguing against that assertion?], and humans as ‘made in the likeness of God’ (anthropomorphism), but never the universe as a man-like being.”

             No, I didn’t misspeak. But perhaps Robert did. My argument (which Robert has been discussing) is to equate the universe, not with a man, but with God. What Robert probably meant, or would have meant, and probably would have said if he hadn’t misspoken, is a variation on what he did say. (A good philosopher adheres to the principle of intellectual charity, whereby, in going over another man’s argument, you address the strongest possible interpretation of it, rather than the weakest.) What Robert should have said is this: God is not the same as the universe; He is contained within the universe and smaller than it. So even if God is anthropomorphic, that doesn’t mean that the universe is. I agree. But we’re not talking about how Robert or I view it, but about how those who posit the thesis I reference view it. And they equate the universe with God. They don’t see God as smaller than the universe. They see the two as coextensive. If you ask them where God is, they’ll say, “God is everywhere.” (I guess that’s what “omnipresent” means.) Indeed, God is perhaps bigger than the universe. God didn’t just pop up in the universe (which would be more reasonable), but the other way round: God created the universe, and everything in it. And everything has the good reason for being that God gave it. In other words, as these people see it, the universe is totally infused and identified with God. And since God is anthropomorphic, the universe, too, is anthropomorphic.

             About half way through his (approximate nine-page) article, Robert attacks my third point. Quoting me, his paragraph begins, “‘Descartes maintains . . .”. Robert then says that my statement is “simply untrue.” He offers no explanation, analysis, or argument why it’s untrue. Instead, his attack consists of a disparaging remark (“Richard needs to review his Logic 101”), followed by half a page or so of some general statements on the subject of causality, none of which, as far as I can tell, contradict my claim. I’ll comment briefly on two of them. One statement of Robert’s here that at first blush seems to be a specific response, in part because it comes near the beginning, “A Cause ‘C’ of some Effect ‘E’ in no way implies that E could have had a different cause,” actually does not respond to my argument, which is that an absolute truth can have no cause, not that it can have just one cause. Two, Robert says, “[A] triangle is caused by a closed geometric figure having three sides and three angles,” possibly proposing that this is an example of an absolute truth that’s caused. My own original example (“Twice two is four”) could be rephrased in the same way: “Two and two makes (or causes) four.” But my point is not about elements within the statement, but about the statement as a whole—that “Two and two causes four” itself has no cause. So if that’s Robert’s argument, it fails.

             This approach of Robert’s, which could be described as argument by insinuation and disparagement, relieves him of having to grapple with my argument; of having to determine whether it’s sound; and of having to identify and articulate the flaw in it, if it is flawed. He doesn’t even have to understand it. He perhaps believes that if he makes his writing long-winded enough, and full enough of pedantic jargon, a lay audience won’t scrutinize it, that they’ll assume that he knows what he’s talking about, that what he says is pertinent, and that his criticisms and insults are just—that readers won’t see through him. There’s another word for Robert’s approach: intellectual dishonesty. And this isn’t the first time I’ve called him on it. See my 23 February 2013 entry in the “Moral Luck” topic on this website. [That website is now defunct.]

             Robert’s final attack on me comes at the very end of his item, which he closes with these words: “. . . Richard seems to endorse Reveen’s view that there isn’t anything at all—a curious position to take for a man who takes pains to post his contact information at the end of every post.” Robert’s comment that I endorse the view that “there isn’t anything at all” makes no more sense than his other attacks on me. Again, he doesn’t explain it. It’s not what I believe. More important, nothing in my piece (or in anything I’ve ever written), I think, supports Robert’s conclusion. Indeed, quite the contrary; if I talk about anthropomorphizing the universe, then I believe in the universe, and man; and toward the end of my piece I say: “All that is, is.” Which includes me . . .

— Richard J. Eisner (1-818-343-0123;

52. Black Lives Matter     © 15 August 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

Some have criticized the Black Lives Matter movement with the retort, “All lives matter.” Glenn Beck recently commented that that criticism makes no more sense than criticizing him for objecting to a waiter’s failing to bring his order of pie, while bringing pie for everyone else at the table, by retorting, “No, Glenn, all pie matters.” Beck’s focusing exclusively on his own pie is reasonable, since it was just his pie that was not brought. That’s the point. But let me elaborate.

             In the national epidemic of unjustified police killings of civilians, if the victims’ race was not a factor, if the killings were apparently random with respect to race, if the proportion of Black victims and of White victims roughly corresponded to their proportion in the population—in those circumstances, if Black people complained about the Black victims, shouting, “Black lives matter!”; the rest of us could rightly reply, “What about the White victims—don’t they matter, too?! Don’t all lives matter?!”

             But if, as seems to be the case, almost all of the victims are Black; and they’re being killed because they’re Black—the response by Black people of “Black lives matter!” responds exactly pertinently to the situation, which is that, apparently, judging from the actions of those policemen, and, perhaps even more important, of the so-called justice system, which refuses to punish them for it—in their eyes, Black lives don’t matter. If you want the phrase “Black lives matter!” to be inapposite, end the police murder of Black people.

53. Confederate Statues Should be Removed     © 27 June 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

In her September 2017 essay “Destroying Confederate Monuments Hurts Us All—and Accomplishes Nothing,” Cheryl Benard argues for that conclusion—or is that her conclusion? A significant problem with Benard’s argument is that it’s not clear what her conclusion is. She rails against, alternately, destruction and removal. I agree with her that no monument or any work of art should be destroyed; but I disagree that none should be removed. Perhaps neither would Benard herself support a blanket prohibition on removal. She starts her essay’s last paragraph with this sentence: “It’s true, of course, that there are historic personages who should not be honored or venerated.” But that’s what a public statue does: it honors the person depicted. We don’t erect statues to those we despise.

             Julian Baggini, in his (June 2020?) essay “Not All Slopes are Slippery,” argues that removing offensive statues is not a slippery slope, in which the removal of any inevitably leads to the removal of practically all. There’s good reason to remove some, but also good reason to keep many others. We must think it through carefully, and make a thoughtful determination in each case. He offers what I think is a useful three-part test for deciding whether to remove a given statue: one, Is the achievement for which the subject is being celebrated closely tied to his sins?; two, Was he significantly worse than others of his time?; and three, How recent was the offense? Especially apropos here is the first prong: Confederate statues recognize their subjects precisely for their part in the fight to perpetuate the enslavement of black people. Moreover, today’s (black) descendants of those former slaves continue to suffer from slavery’s legacy: widespread racism against them, including general impoverishment and frequent murder by police. A fourth relevant factor in deciding a statue’s fate, not mentioned by Baggini, but implied, is whether it genuinely causes offense to and distress in a significant number of people. To black people, those statues are like a giant extended middle finger, which causes them considerable pain—and that was the intent. Hence, those monuments should be removed from their prominent public pedestals, and be put in museums or special parks. It may be that someday, when racism has long since been banished, and brotherhood and equality reign, we might all be able to laugh at statues of Confederate generals and politicians, seeing them as monuments to our former ignorance and wrongheadedness; then we might harmlessly return the statues to their original places. But that’s not today.

54. Reparations for African-Americans     © 30 July 2020 by Richard J. Eisner


Many advocate reparations for African-Americans, for their injuries from slavery, Jim Crow, and other forms of de jure and de facto racism.

             Some opponents of reparations deny that slavery or racism causes contemporary African-Americans any, or much, harm. I disagree. In general, contemporary black Americans are considerably worse off than white Americans, not because they’re unintelligent or unambitious (they’re not), but because of the combined effects of past atrocities and continuing structural racism.

Some questions

Then what’s the remedy? For simplicity’s sake, let’s say money. And who should be compensated? At the outset, we can say who should not be compensated: the dead—they can’t be compensated. Compensation must be limited to the living, and their descendants. And how much money is owed? A simple measure would be the difference between the per capita wealth of black Americans and that of white Americans. Multiply that by the number of black Americans, and that’s the debt. But who should get how much? Should each black person get the same sum? And who should pay it?

Some answers

● Wealthy persons, like Bill Cosby, should not be paid. Only those whose wealth is less than that of the average white person should be paid. And they should get only the difference between their own wealth and that of the average white person.

● The money should come from white persons of above-average wealth, and first from the wealthiest.

● Then, poor non-black persons should be paid, but likewise only as much as their wealth falls below average. (As Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree writes: “[We should institute] a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.”)

Other considerations

● A one-time payout would mal-distribute the reparations by leaving out the recipients’ progeny, who would continue to be harmed by structural racism.

● A one-time payout, moreover, might actually hurt future-born black people, in assuaging the dominant society’s guilt for its racism, thus removing or reducing a potential impetus for improving race relations.

● So long as racism persists, we’ll owe a like debt to every succeeding generation.

● Conversely, though, if racism and its adverse consequences ended, wouldn’t the debt, too, end? Imagine a truly fair, egalitarian society. One day, it’s discovered that certain segments of the population were in ancient times enslaved by certain other portions of the population. What should be done about that now? Should the present wealth equality be replaced with a wealth disparity in favor of the offspring of the earlier victims, in compensation for the old wrongs?


The best solution is simply to create an egalitarian society, with roughly equally distributed wealth. Until then, a debt is owed to all the disadvantaged.

55. Social Darwinism     © 15 October 2002 by Richard J. Eisner

One form of Social Darwinism supports capitalism, arguing essentially that, like the competition among organisms in evolution generally, economic competition eliminates the less “fit” persons and so selects the more “fit” ones, thereby improving both our species and, hence, its chances of survival. For the following reasons, I disagree with the conclusion on both counts and, at all events, think capitalism is undesirable.

             To start with, capitalism does not select anyone for anything. In evolution, to fail, to be eliminated from competition, is to cease to reproduce (and therefore to cease). But those who fail in capitalism do not cease to reproduce—in fact, they don't even reproduce any less prolifically. Furthermore, regardless of reproduction rates, there is no correlation to speak of between wealth and personal quality, physical or mental. Few of history’s best minds were financially independent, and some of those who were, became so by winning prizes for their accomplishments, which paid them money to enable them to pursue their work, a process almost the opposite of capitalism.

             Not only does capitalism not improve humanity, but it actually reduces our chances for longevity. With his special combination of intelligence and dexterity, man is the only animal in Earth’s history capable of rapidly and radically altering nature, of rendering it unnatural. Capitalism, with its guiding principle of maximizing profit, encourages the unregulated, unplanned use of the means of such change, leading to toxicity and deterioration of the environment and, like a planetary cancer, to ever-increasing overpopulation, conditions less favorable to man’s endurance.

             (And not only does capitalism not improve us, and hurts our prospects for survival; it also hurts our lives now. That same environmental degradation and growing overpopulation, together with the great economic disparity it also engenders, diminishes the average person’s quality of life.)

             In closing, Freud noted the opposition between the “pleasure principle” and the “reality principle.” As Professor Daniel N. Robinson writes, on Freud: “In repression, our instinctual drives to get pleasure and gratification in the service of our [individual] survival come up against social strictures intended to preserve the species as a whole.” Social Darwinism stands this relationship right on its head by positing that the pleasure principle, individuals seeking to enhance their own personal welfare, explicitly in disregard of that of the group, actually best promotes the group’s welfare. This contradiction in Social Darwinism is resolved, however, when we consider that Social Darwinism is not so much an absurdity, as it is a fraud, perpetrated by the few whom capitalism benefits—the rich.

56. Three Short Meditations on Moral Character and Virtue     © January 2017 by Richard J. Eisner

● The ancient Greek moral philosophers focused on moral character, which, they taught, one should have in order to be happy, or to live well. Subsequent philosophers emphasized instead moral duty. This shift makes sense, I think, because morality is essentially a matter of duty, to others. To pursue something just for your own sake is a matter, not of morality, but merely of desire. (The ancient philosophers accounted for an obligation to others indirectly by positing that a person’s acting properly toward others is necessary for his being happy. Utilitarianism, the modern ethic of striving for the greatest happiness for the greatest number, straightforwardly fuses the ancient reverence for happiness and the later idea of duty to others, or to the group.) In light of the modern understanding of morality, what is moral character? I think that proponents of all theories of moral duty might agree that good moral character is a disposition to treat others well—or, in a word, kindness. And where does moral character come from? Let us consider. In substantially benefitting the world, probably more important than character is ability. The great artist does his art, not to be good, but to be great. Anyone who can do excellent work will do it, because the rewards for it, like recognition, are greater than those for being destructive. Generally, if you’re satisfied with your rewards for being constructive—if you like your place in the world—you will love yourself and the world, and you’ll be benevolent. If you’re dissatisfied with your rewards for being constructive—if you dislike your place in the world—you’ll hate yourself and the world, and be malevolent. Practically, though, the surest boost to moral character would be rough equality of wealth. When one person’s advancement is an advancement for e veryone, and vice versa, when all persons’ interests are thus aligned, there’s an automatic motive to serve the well-being of others—everyone is on the same team.


● The bird watcher says that life without watching birds is not worth living. The painter says that life without painting is not worth living. The musician says that life without making music is not worth living. And the philosopher, who devotes himself to examining the nature of things, including life itself, says the unexamined life is not worth living. Each man has his own pursuits that make his life meaningful for him. But to generalize your own interests as a requirement or prescription for everyone is rather narrow-minded—ironic for a philosopher. Then too, even if it’s important to examine your life, how much time does it take? If you contemplate your life for a year, come to some conclusions, and then move on to live in accordance with those conclusions, is that not sufficient examination?

             As to moral self-examination, most of us contemplate the morality of our actions only when we feel we’re in a moral quandary. The great majority of the time, our thinking about our own morality is incidental, taking place, as it were, in the background. We spend our time, instead, thinking about our immediate tasks of work and play: how to arrange our day, our week; how to accomplish our goals: how to make more money, how to find a lover, how to get recognition for our work. The moral philosopher, of course, spends considerable time thinking about morality. But he does so to satisfy his interest in the subject, not to be ethical—to be a good philosopher, not to be a good person. Perhaps this is for the best. If we were more occupied with our conduct’s morality, we would have less energy to pursue our special talents, interests, and passions, removing the sweetness of life, what makes it worth living.


● Strictly, no moral precept is true or false; no action is morally right or wrong; intrinsic value is impossible, so no action is “intrinsically” better than another. Practically, though, some actions do seem better than others. In deciding how to act, no single ethical theory is helpful exclusively. In the end, I conduct myself, not formulaically, but ad hoc, relying intuitively, as the situation at hand may seem to warrant, on a variety of ethical doctrines, most of which have some use. The moral virtues proposed by virtue ethics are a useful supplement to the rules of deontological ethics and utilitarianism’s guide of maximizing happiness. The virtues are like additional tools in my problem-solving toolkit. I can solve many problems with a hammer and a screwdriver. But when I encounter a bolt that needs tightening, it helps to have a wrench.

57. Is Your Life Valuable if All Humans Die Shortly After You Die?      © May 2014 by Richard J. Eisner

Is my life valuable if all humans die shortly after I die? No, yes, and no. First no, trivially in that intrinsic value is impossible. Yes, because my life would still be valuable to me in my still being able to feel pleasure. And finally no, since I value, even over pleasure, my lasting fame, which humanity’s early demise would preclude.

             If I thought the world would end shortly after my death (shortly), I would stop studying and writing (now pointless), and focus instead on getting pleasure directly, probably mainly by taking drugs. But since my pride in my work and my hope of eventual fame, and those alone, give my life meaning, and enable whatever pleasure I feel; without that sense of meaning, and given the general tendency of drug abuse, the momentary, largely artificially-induced sensual pleasures would be unsustainable, I would soon become severely depressed and, now having no reason to live besides pleasure, kill myself.

             Of course, some would welcome our doom. The envious, for example, who feel oppressed by others’ superior talents, might be consoled by the thought that their rivals’ accomplishments will soon vanish. Which perhaps underscores the truth that death, individually and collectively, is the great leveler; and that all our proudest efforts and works are, in the end, mere vanity.

             A question is why it should make a difference whether mankind’s end comes sooner, or later—it has been argued that, here, a billion years is logically the same as a hundred. The answer is that this is a matter, not of logic, but of emotion. For whatever reason, it feels different. We're born with a drive to consider our lives meaningful, a drive which, like a flower growing up through concrete, finds a way to break through any barriers to its fulfillment.

58. Some Reasons Not to Use Drugs     © 2012 by Richard J. Eisner

To view the piece, click on this link:

59. The $40 Million Vase     © November 2018 by Richard J. Eisner

On 2 November 2018, Daniel Kramer, Esq., wrote this:

             “A good analogy that Keith Bruno taught me (I’ll probably butcher it) goes something like this:

             “Say there’s a one-of-a-kind ancient vase worth $40,000,000 on a table at the owner’s house. One night the owner throws a party and Bill Gates is a guest; he (Bill Gates) isn’t looking where he’s going and bumps into the vase, causing it to break into thousands of pieces, thus losing all its value. Would anyone have a problem compensating the owner for the full value of the vase? And then requiring Bill Gates to pay for the full value? No more, no less?

            “Now, suppose a college student who is living off ramen is a guest at that same house, isn’t paying attention and bumps into the vase, breaking it into thousands of pieces. Would anyone value the vase any differently? Would anyone give the owner any less than the true value because a college student broke it and not Bill Gates? Does anyone think the vase is any less valuable because the college student broke the vase? Does anyone think we should value the loss to the owner any less? Etc., etc. You’ll get them talking and just see who has hesitations and does value the vase differently.

            “I used it in my most recent trial and it got the jury talking.”


It may have got the jury talking; one wonders what they said. It got me talking (inwardly). Here’s what I said:

            I don’t know what this account is supposed to be an analogy for; I’ll address it on its own terms. Before we attack it, let’s analyze it. Kramer starts by asking us to accept, in the first scenario, that, if Bill Gates accidentally bumps into and destroys the $40 million vase, he (Bill Gates) should be required to pay the vase owner $40 million, the value of the vase. We accept this proposition, because no objection to it is immediately apparent. If this actually happened, Bill Gates, being the gentleman that I’m sure he is, would probably quickly take out his checkbook and write his host a check for the full amount—and profusely apologize for his clumsiness.

            In the second scenario, Kramer posits the same situation, but in place of Bill Gates he substitutes a financially poor college student. The question is whether the poor student should likewise be required to pay the vase owner $40 million for the loss. Kramer argues that the student should be liable for it, on the ground that the value of the vase is the same, no matter who breaks it. He implies that, if we think that the poor student should not be required to compensate the vase owner $40 million, we must be valuing the vase differently.

            I disagree—on both counts. Whether or not, in Kramer’s first scenario, Bill Gates should be required to pay $40 million; I think the poor student should not be required to pay it. And it’s not about the value of the vase; it’s about the value of a man’s life and time. Assuming Bill Gates should pay, the difference in the result (that the college student should not be forced to pay) has everything to do with the difference in the two men’s wealth. While requiring Bill Gates to pay $40 million would have no significant effect on his (Bill Gates’s) quality of life; requiring the poor college student to do so would probably impoverish him for the rest of his life. That “punishment” does not fit the “crime.” In fact, why should the student be punished at all? It was an innocent accident. If anyone is culpable, it’s the vase owner, who violated his responsibility to safeguard the irreplaceable and extremely valuable work of art in his custody by leaving it where it was highly vulnerable to damage or destruction.

            Anyone who owns a $40 million vase is likely very wealthy. The college student’s paying him $40 million will not bring back the destroyed vase. Requiring him to pay for it will merely create a situation in which a poor man is forced to pay a rich man. Since the rich man is rich, the money scraped up by the poor man won’t significantly improve the rich man’s quality of life. The only real effect would be the degradation of the poor man’s life. So utility dictates that the poor man not be required to pay.

60. Possible and/or Impossible?     © 21 June 2020 by Richard J. Eisner

On 31 July 2017, Carl Berkovitz, Esq., wrote this: “[I]f it is possible, then it is possible it is impossible.”

And, on the same date, Olivier Taillieu, Esq., wrote this: “If something is possible, it means that it is either possible or not—i.e., impossible (possibility is not an absolute). Therefore, saying that something is possible is equivalent to saying that it can be either possible or impossible. This is a classic philosophical/logical faux paradox.”

Here’s my response to both comments:

            The statement that something is possible or impossible, like the statement that tomorrow it will rain or it will not rain, is a tautology—logically true, true of everything, of any day. It’s vacuous, empty, saying nothing. So that cannot be what “tomorrow it will rain” or “this is possible” means, because saying that, is saying something. Nor can anything be possible and impossible. Remember that impossible means “not possible.” And if something is not possible . . . it’s, well, not possible.

            Postscript: The misimpression that possibility encompasses impossibility, probably stems from an indeterminacy in possible. Many possible things may or may not exist or occur or be true. For example, it’s possible that it will rain tomorrow, but it’s also possible that it won’t (it’s possible that either will happen, not that both will happen). But impossible does not have that indeterminate sense; it’s always restrictive. If it’s impossible that it will rain tomorrow (say on Mars), just one of those two alternatives (not-rain) is open—the other (rain) is foreclosed. The confusion is to think that those things that turn out not to exist or occur or be true, but which might have gone the other way, are impossible—in other words, to think that possibly not means not possibly. (If it doesn’t rain tomorrow [in a rainy season on Earth], that doesn’t mean that rain that day is, or was, impossible.) Possible and impossible are contradictory (one is true, the other false): possible says that a certain thing could exist or occur or be true; impossible says that it couldn’t.

61. Evolutionary Ethics     © 24 July 2021 by Richard J. Eisner

Brian (Gould) capsuled the topic, Evolutionary Ethics, with this paragraph:

DOES THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION GIVE ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS OF VALUES AND ETHICS? Here’s how the “Evolutionary Ethics” article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the issue: “Evolutionary ethics tries to bridge the gap between philosophy and the natural sciences by arguing that natural selection has instilled human beings with a moral sense, a disposition to be good. If this were true, morality could be understood as a phenomenon that arises automatically during the evolution of sociable, intelligent beings and not, as theologians or philosophers might argue, as the result of divine revelation or the application of our rational faculties. Morality would be interpreted as a useful adaptation that increases the fitness of its holders by providing a selective advantage. . . . The challenge for evolutionary biologists . . . is to define goodness with reference to evolutionary theory and then explain why human beings ought to be good.”

Here are my thoughts.

Article statement: “Evolutionary Ethics . . . [argues] that natural selection has instilled human beings with a moral sense, a disposition to be good. . . . Morality would be interpreted as a useful adaptation that increases the fitness of its holders by providing a selective advantage.”

             My response: What moral sense (a disposition to be good)?! When I look at the world, I see, predominantly, not altruism and kindness, but greed and meanness. It would make no less sense to ask, Has natural selection instilled in us greed and meanness, which fits us for survival?

Article statement: “The challenge for evolutionary biologists . . . is to define goodness with reference to evolutionary theory and then explain why human beings ought to be good.”

             My response: That statement evinces the classic is-ought fallacy described by Hume. A definition of good with reference to evolutionary theory, is a fact (an is); whereas, the proposition that humans ought to be good, is . . . an ought. And you can’t logically get an ought from an is. Besides, the moral sense is, essentially, not any specific content of moral obligation, but merely the sense of obligation, or the capacity to have, or to feel, moral obligation. Therefore, to ask why we ought to be good, is to ask why we should do what we feel we should do—which is nonsensical.

            Some stray other thoughts of mine on the question: Just because humans are a product of evolution, doesn’t mean that every human trait is a product of evolution. Or, if morality is a product of evolution, the connection might be this: Insofar as we consider moral content (precepts), we make moral rules to encourage what we like or want, and to discourage what we dislike or wish to avoid. If our survival is among the things we want, and our moral rules reflect that, our survival instinct is thus reinforced, making us more likely to survive.

            In a larger sense, to say that evolution produced our morality (whatever “morality” we may have), is simply to say that we, and all our traits, were produced by nature. I have whatever capacities I have because I was born with them. Which is true for every human since humans began. If you dispute that, what’s the alternative?—that God instilled morality in us? But that’s implausible, for (at least) two reasons. One, as I’ve shown in my essay, “The Impossibility of Knowledge, Free Will, and God,” God is impossible. Two, if God instilled morality in us, how do you account for immoral people? Didn’t God create them, too? Perhaps you would answer that God gave us free will, and it’s up to us whether to act morally or immorally, or indifferently. But that means that God instilled in us, not morality, but free will—the ability to act however we want.

            Another alternative to the nature idea is that, even if nature produced us, we instilled morality in ourselves, because we’re extremely enlightened (and talented). But if the instillment of morality comes from you, and not from something outside of you (such as nature), your inclination, too, to instill morality in yourself must come from you. But your inclination as well to have that inclination must come from you. Yet that theorized chain of events, back, back, back, runs into a problem at your birth, or at least at your conception. That is, you could not have instilled your very first inclination to instill morality in yourself, because the first such inclination arose after you were born, or conceived, and, before that, you didn’t exist so as to have created anything, including your inclinations.

            Or perhaps you would argue that, like mathematical propositions, moral precepts are objectively true, and we discover them with our rationality. But then how do you account for various people who wish to act morally arriving at conflicting moral precepts? Are the persons who adopt precepts inconsistent with yours, stupid or irrational? More fundamentally, some people don’t wish to find moral precepts at all; they may, for example, seek money rather than goodness. The difference between those two sorts of people is that the ones who seek to acquire money and not to discover moral precepts are immoral, or amoral; whereas those who seek to discover moral precepts are moral. Which means that morality is not precepts themselves, but rather the inclination to seek them.

             Postscript: There’s a further problem with the idea that we should try “to define goodness with reference to evolutionary theory and then explain why human beings ought to be good.” Which is this: Why should we be slaves to evolution? In deciding what to do, we’re not limited by evolution’s force or trajectory, or by history; our one and only limit is our ability now. Within that limit, we simply look around at the world; decide what we want; and work to bring it about. If, say, we want to be kinder to our fellow man, and afford him greater equity, then we do it. If we don’t want that, or we feel it’s too much trouble, then we don’t do it.

62. Optimism and Pessimism     © 2003 by Richard J. Eisner

To view the piece, click on this link:

63. Morality     © 2011 by Richard J. Eisner

To view the piece, click on this link:

64. Thoughts on the Big Bang Theory     © 1998 by Richard J. Eisner

To view the piece, click on this link:

65. The Repugnant Conclusion     © 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

To view the piece, click on this link:

66. Oblivion     © August 2016 by Richard J. Eisner

Lately I’ve been depressed about the likelihood of oblivion, the likelihood that my work will be forgotten, lost to posterity. That prospect makes my existence feel meaningless. Absolutely speaking, life is meaningless: intrinsic value is impossible, and so nothing, not even happiness or great art, can be intrinsically valuable. But I want to be meaningful, relatively speaking. Specifically, I want my writing to be great, and have it valued by posterity. That my writing is not intrinsically valuable does not mean it’s not great, or that it’s less great; indeed, just the reverse: my having discovered and proven intrinsic value’s impossibility makes my writing all the weightier.

             Several considerations, however, threaten my confidence that my work will live on. One is the biological improvement of our species’ intelligence, a trait we may soon be able to manipulate. If men over time become more and more sophisticated, my own comparative intellectual level will diminish; and because literature is a product of its author’s mind, my work will likewise erode, and eventually become second-rate, and be superseded. More distantly worrying, mankind may go extinct, and, in any event, our universe, or its contents, will ultimately be destroyed.

             And yet, if I were as great and famous as Mozart or Beethoven, I’d be satisfied. So I’ll concern myself, not with the ultimate, but with the immediate, as the mountain climber on a high precipice should not look down, but focus just on the steps at hand. If my work does not become publicly known during my lifetime, it’s unlikely that it will have any longevity at all. So I need to concentrate on getting my work known, and, moreover, simply on warranting fame, by enhancing my body of work, including by creating new works . . . like this one.