Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Is it better never to have been?

By Socrates

My friends, you may have read my recent meditation on David Benatar's book, Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. If you have not, please do so here. My meditation includes a link to an article by the wise Elizabeth Harman in which she refutes Benatar.

It is raining this evening and I again find myself meditating on Benatar's book. He argues that because of the harm people experience in life, it is better to not bring people into existence. I have been thinking about the joys and pleasure that people experience in life and I wonder if these outweigh the harms. If so, Benatar's main premise will be refuted.

Benatar addresses this thought himself. He thinks that the harms we experience are constant throughout life. We live a life of pain. However, he thinks that we downplay the pain and suffering we experience throughout our lives. He thinks our minds have been evolved such that we focus on the good and forget the bad. Effectively the joy of life is something of an illusion--or a lie. And why does this lie exist? To drive us to reproduce. It is connected to this theory of evolution that you moderns have developed.

It seems that Benatar is trying to tell us something like: despite what you think, life is painful. You think you're happy, but that feeling is a biological trick. You really live miserable lives and so will everyone you bring into existence. Because this is bad, you should not bring anyone into existence.

But I wonder if there is another way to look at this. If people feel happy and joyful, doesn't that show that somehow they manage to overcome pain, either through evolved behavior or careful thought and reflection. And if overcoming pain, no matter how, results in a happy life, is that not good? And is that not something that should be experienced? Perhaps people should be brought into existence so that they too can learn how to become happy.

-- Socrates

Monday, December 11, 2017

Is it just to kill animals for meat?

I am most fortunate to be continuing to examine life. Here is a partial transcript of a recent dialogue in which we examined our treatment of animals. To my shame, this is something I never analyzed back in Athens.
-- Socrates

SOCRATES: Would a just person cause unnecessary pain?

MARY: No, of course not.

SOCRATES: As you are wise and knowledgeable, can you please tell me, is it true that people can live long healthy lives without eating meat?

MARY: Yes, this is true.

SOCRATES: Must it not follow that eating meat is unnecessary in terms of helping people live long and healthy lives?

MARY: Yes, that follows, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Can we therefore agree that if eating meat is unnecessary in terms of helping people live long and healthy lives, then killing animals for meat is unnecessary.

MARY: That is a reasonable conclusion.

SOCRATES: Now tell me, is it not true that killing animals causes them pain?

MARY: It seems to be true.

SOCRATES: Then it must follow that killing animals causes them unnecessary pain.

MARY: Yes.

SOCRATES: But we have agreed that a just person does not cause unnecessary pain, so it must follow that killing animals for meat is unjust.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Better Never To Have Been?

By Socrates

David Benatar has written a book called Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. In this remarkable book, Benatar argues that because bringing a person into existence causes them harm, we should not procreate.

Elizabeth Harman has written a wise response to Benatar. Her admirable paper can be read online here: Critical Study - David Benatar. Better Never To Have Been. I recommend that you read her work, my friends. Myself, I am eager to learn and will do so by examining Benatar's main argument directly.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Free education

By the gods, almost every day I find myself confused trying to understand the problems you moderns face. The wise country of New Zealand recently announced that students will receive a free year of university education. This, to me, is a triumph of modern society. To be able to offer its people free education surely is the sign of a successful country. But people are complaining about it. People think this is a big problem. Why? Because the free education will be paid for by the government, which means it is made possible through taxation. And many people don't want to be paying for other people's education. They think people who want an education should pay for it themselves.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Missing out on my promotion

Practical philosophy, my friends, is a worthy pursuit. By using the techniques of philosophical reasoning, practical philosophy can help people see their life problems in a different light. Yesterday I was conversing with someone who had missed out on a job promotion. My friend was feeling a mix of anger and depression. She had deduced that failing to gain her promotion meant that she, herself, was a failure. Her reasoning was straight forward and deductively valid, though unsound:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Concept of Western Civilization

By Socrates

Articles have been flowing through the Internet today. This one looked very interesting to me: "The concept of 'Western Civilisation' is Past its Use-By Date". I encourage you, good reader, to examine carefully the article and its arguments.

The author, Catherine Coleborne, is promoting diversity in education and is concerned that the University of New South Wales is reviving its liberal arts and humanities programme. In my ignorance I found myself confused. I have always thought of humanities programmes as being well positioned to offer diverse education, so I thought it strange that Coleborne indicated a dichotomy between the two. Evidently Coleborne believes humanities programmes are based on a concept of Western Civilisation that neglects the contribution that non-western cultures have made to the world.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The True Life

Alcibiades and Socrates
By Socrates

An admirable man by the name Alain Badiou has written a remarkable book about a charge brought against me back in 399 B.C. I was charged with two heinous crimes: Atheism and Corrupting the youth. The first of those charges may be more precisely described as a refusal to acknowledge the offical gods of Athens, which I refuted by referring to my numerous discussions on the nature of piety.

The second charge was based, I think, on the need to find someone to blame for the behavior of certain people who caused much trouble for Athens -- Alcibiades, for example. He spent much time with me before betraying Athens to the Spartans. My accusers concluded that his betrayal was a result of my teachings. But I don't teach. I simply ask questions and as a result, people learn for themselves how to examine ideas that are generally accepted without question.

Because I thought that rather than corrupting, I had done service to Athens in helping youth learn how to think, I suggested that my punishment should be free food and accommodation for the rest of my life. The jury of 501 regular Athenians did not take kindly to this suggestion. We all know what happened. The decision was that I should be condemned to death.

So what were young people learning from me? Why did it upset the establishment? Alain Badiou has written a worthy book on this, a summary of which can be read here: Applying Socrates to Politics.

-- Socrates

Monday, November 27, 2017


There is a stereotype about philosophers in which we are depicted as without jobs and money. In my case this happens to be true. Apart from my service to the army, I never worked. And I have little money. But there are many philosophers who earn vast sums of money practicing their art. So the stereotype is faulty.

Stereotypes are based on faulty reasoning. Allow me to show you, my friends, the reasoning behind stereotypes.

P1. (premise) The people I know in group X have character trait Y

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, all people in group X have character trait Y

As wise readers you will see immediately that this generalized conclusion does not follow from the premise unless, of course, the person in question knows all the people in group X.

People base their stereotypes on inductive reasoning, which is something I am credited with inventing. My quest was to draw deductive conclusions. But deduction is based on premises which imply some pre-existing knowledge. Since I had very little knowledge, I needed to develop my premises through inductive reasoning. My method was interrogative. For example, when trying to understand the essence of virtue, I would question people about particulars known to embody virtue and what they had in common. I would then draw an inductive conclusion about the essence of the virtue. Essentially, inductive reasoning makes the move from specific examples to a generalized conclusion. Counter examples weaken inductive conclusions.

Here is an improved version of the argument:

P1. (premise) The people I know in group X have character trait Y

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, probably everyone in group X have character trait Y.

Notice, good reader, the use of the word "probably" in the conclusion. This is the signature of inductive reasoning. Probability rather than certainty is established, which makes this version of the argument better than the first version. Your modern science is based on inductive reasoning. For example, a scientist may claim that because every object heavier than air has been observed to fall to the ground when dropped, it is therefore very likely that all objects heavier than air will fall to the ground when dropped. Now, if the scientist observed this effect only three times, the reasoning would be weak. If the scientist had observed the effect a million times, the reasoning would be strong.

Let us return to the example of the out of work philosopher. Here is a common version of the argument:

P1. (premise) All the philosophers I know of have no jobs and no money

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, all philosophers have no jobs and no money

If we assume that this person does not know every philosopher, this is a weak argument. The conclusion is most unlikely to be true, even if the premise is true. This can be demonstrated by a single counter-example, John Smith, who works as a university philosopher earning a very handsome wage.

On the otherhand, the stereotype may be based on this argument:

P1. (premise) All the philosophers I know of have no jobs and no money

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, probably all philosophers have no jobs and no money

The strength of this inductive argument depends on how many philosophers the reasoner has met. If he or she had met most philosophers, then the argument would be strong. But this is unlikely. I am unsure how many philosophers there are, but since most universities have them, I think it is unlikely that the reasoner could have met most of them. And there may well be philosophers who are employed in other jobs, earning reasonable money. I believe this inductive conclusion is weak.

One must be cautious in accepting reasoning that leads to stereotypes. Even if the conclusion happens to be true, the reasoning must be treated as suspect and the reasoner interrogated.

-- Socrates

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Questioning famous people

In this morning's news feed I saw someone ask: "what would it be to have a Socrates nowadays questioning famous people?" What would it be, indeed? Would it help people understand justice? Would it help people achieve happiness? Would it help people to become virtuous? Since somehow surviving my death in 399BC I have continued to question people, both famous and otherwise. It is my intention to learn as much from them as I hope they learn from me. Whether my dialogues have actually helped people, I am unsure. But I continue, nonetheless.

Back to the question: "what would it be to have a Socrates nowadays questioning famous people?" Is the assumption that only I can ask effective questions? This assumption surely is unjustified. Many people I have met are skilled at asking questions and identifying faulty reasoning. Questioning people is not an activity exclusive to me. We can all do it, and I encourage everyone to do it.

-- Socrates

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Death is nothing to fear

Death. The forbidden topic. It is forbidden, I think, because it is feared. You moderns, much like we ancients, do everything you can to avoid death. You alter your bodies to appear younger, you spend a fortune on medical treatments, and your scientists research life extension -- as if death is a disease that can be cured. But it cannot be cured, and although I have no real wisdom, I know enough to realize that accepting the inevitability of death is wise. I also believe that the wise person does not fear death.