Capitalism and Metaphysics

Sometimes people justify inequity through an appeal to metaphysics. By “metaphysics” I don’t mean anything terribly fancy or well-thought out — any appeal to the basic nature of reality is metaphysical. So for example people might say “Why is it ok that successful hedgefund manager H has five houses while social worker S was just evicted along with her three children” by saying “H has a right to the money he made.” That is a metaphysical appeal — it assumes that human beings have rights to the money they make; that this a fact about human beings and the universe or reality.

Compare the following. Supposing we are members of a simple society of hunters and fishers. We make the rule “whoever catches an animal must share it with the rest of us, but whoever catches a fish can keep it for himself.” This rule works pretty well — people are incentivized to catch fish for their own household in their own free time but also to participate in the communal hunts for caribou and occasionally polar bear.

Now suppose one day a hunter named Richie brings down a whale. We are all a pre-scientific bunch of hunter gatherers so our word for fish includes whales. This whale though is a hundred times bigger than the largest animal. Richie keeps the whale. It’s so much that he is able to trade chunks of whale meat for nets and harpoons. Before long Richie has much, much more than anybody else and this leads to a feedback loop where his having more leads to him having even more. Our society becomes riven by hatred and despair. Why even work, the children wonder. We will never be as rich as Richie.

Now supposing somebody made the following argument against Richie: “Richie does not deserve all the power he has because WHALES ARE NOT FISH. He should have divided it up with everyone because whales are animals and you divide animals.”

This argument I think is okay, but it is unlikely to get Richie to surrender his wealth. Because Richie, or a philosopher whom he can hire wit his whale meat could say “How do you know whales are not fish? Sure they are warm blooded and halibut are cold-blooded, but so what? I say that the criterion of fishness is an ecological one — any animal adapted to swimming in the ocean — is a fish. I grant you that if you judge by DNA a whale is closer to a bear than it is to a salmon, but I do not grant you that that is the only way to judge. I judge instead by closeness of ecological niche. A whale is a fish. I am entitled to my riches. Thanks for playing.”

A better argument is “We only came up with the rules for dividing animals and keeping fish for ourselves because it made our lives better. There is no metaphysical basis for it other than — people should do well rather than poorly. Your choice to keep the whale for yourself was a bad one and led to bad consequences. THEREFORE whales will not be judged as fish.”

A similar argument I think could be advanced to those who say Hedgefund Managers have a right to limitless wealth while others live in fear of making the next rent payment. We only said people have a right to their wealth because it made the world a better place. If it leads to suffering we need to re-evaluate it.


How Do We Judge Philosophical Changes?

Eric Schwitzgebel has written recently that he doesn’t think anybody knows if panpsychism is true or false, and philosophers who claim to know, are, consciously or not, faking it. We need more evidence he argued, and we don’t have it yet — that’s why there is disagreement.

I tried to articulate why I think this is the wrong way to pose this issue.

Panpsychism as I understand it, maintains that a salt molecule is conscious. My conviction is that there couldn’t be any conceivable evidence that a salt molecule is or is not conscious, so we cannot be waiting for evidence. It seemed to me therefore that the sort of big philosophical change that comes from embracing panpsychism or rejecting it has to be part of a larger group of social, cultural, aesthetic, and psychological changes which cohere with the belief “a salt molecule is conscious” (or a salt molecule is not conscious).

Eric asked — well are those changes justified? In effect, are we just talking about mob psychology here? If we are, it seems like bleak news for philosophy. It seems, sadly that we must all be kidding ourselves, or faking it, as we come up for justifications for major shifts that unjustifiable.

I don’t want to embrace that. So I think I owe a justification for philosophical change.

Here goes:

A philosophical change is justified if it helps us make the world happier by fulfilling people’s desires..

That’s why I will never embrace the view that a salt molecule is conscious, if that entails meaning that a salt molecule has desires. Because how could we satisfy the desires of a salt molecule and weigh them against the competing desires of the sodium and chlorine ions contained within it?

So since no philosophy will make the world happier by maintaining salt molecules are conscious, they aren’t conscious, therefore panpsychism isn’t right.


Why is it So Hard To Talk to People Who are Just Like Me, So Easy to Talk to Those with Whom I have Nothing in Common?

Maybe the people who live in the room with me it is too close for comfort and talking we need to keep each other at a distance? The guy who keeps going into my bed when I’m at work. He knows I know. I know he knows that! So if we were to actually talk…what would happen? We might come to blows? While the Chinese sage who lives in New Jersey — he and I get on famously talking about the unity of action and knowledge in the works of Wang Yang-ming!

Or maybe once I try to talk with the lady who is always pouring out water on the front steps even though I’ve told her not to — once I try to talk to her the most minor differences between us — I wear New Balance sneakers and she wears either dress shoes for Church on Sunday or floppy slippers the other six days of the week — they loom large as archaic colossal statues blocking out the sun of our shared humanity. While when I speak with the Viennese flaneur who lives in a castle the small differences between us — castle vs. apartment building, leiderhosen versus jeans from Lucky — because they are so large it would make no sense to talk about them they in fact become insignificant and he and I — the Archduke I mean — talk of life and death, planting and harvesting, the nursing of infants and losing one’s self in an ancient text or a moment or a dream of the future.

But perhaps it is not easy or hard to talk ever because who I am is talking louder and more clearly than my words ever can. And everything that needs to be said — that could be said — want it or not — is being said loud and clear every moment.

To everybody!


The Normativity of Nature by Hannah Ginsborg


I need to figure out this whole objectivity thing.

As far as I got from reading the introduction she says Kant says whenever we judge that something looks red for example we also think it ought to look red to anybody who is observing it. I’m not sure if that’s true, and not sure what it means, so I need to read this book.

I wonder though if I love something I don’t think I am judging that everybody ought to love it. I just love it. Couldn’t red be like that — I just respond to my experience of redness without having a view about how others ought to behave?



I used to worry about what the world is really like, as opposed to how people must think about it, but now I understand that this is a crazy thing to want. To want to think what the world is like with nobody thinking about it is like wanting to go to a place where nobody is, to be loved by somebody who is so cool he loves nobody, to belong to a club that wouldn’t take me for a member. It’s an intrinsically self-defeating goal.


Corporate Cafeteria

There is a little-used corporate cafeteria on the B2 level and sometimes I go there to get the egg salad sandwich, the soup of the day and either iced tea or coke. I usually don’t talk to anybody. When I’m in my cubicle I never talk to anybody. I work. I write copy for herbal supplements that are supposed to cure cancer and dementia and erectile disfunction although they do not, or if they do their curative powers are a result of the ingester’s belief that they will, and he could just as well drink water and save himself the 29.95 for the Alacra Package plus shipping and handling.

A young woman whose face had so many freckles that they joined together into a mottled pattern, and red hair, and the manga character of one piece on her back pack sat next to me one day and asked what I did for a living. I told her that I lied for a living and that made sense because the purpose of language was to deceive.

“How can that be?” she asked “Deception is only possible if most of what people say is true?”

I was sure she was lying to trick me, and indeed this was the case because when I returned to work I found she had stolen my egg salad sandwich.

Her name was Seraphina and later during war time I ran into her during a snowball fight we were having during a break in the action, and I said “Play is just a way we practice for war.”

“How can that be true?” she asked me. “The only reason we have war is to achieve peace so that we can have the freedom to love and play.”

And she hit me in the nose thwack with a snow ball.

When the intersubstantiate freed us of our physical bodies and absorbed us into the Omnisubstance I searched for her through crystals of the Adi Purusha. I found her at one of the Reflexive Junctures of Paramashiva and said “I have my guess at the riddle! Our mortal lives were simply a rehearsal for being dead.”

“Fuck that noise.” said Seraphina.


An Attempt at Self-Criticism

Everything I write is a tool to help my readers accomplish something. Sometimes though although I have provided a handle, there is another place somewhere you can grab on to, but it’s not a good place. It’s like a false handle — and if you try to use the tool holding it from that place it will be less effective. You might even hurt yourself with it. That’s a failing on my part and I will try to do better in the future. I don’t blame the user — part of the job of a tool-maker is making the tool easy to handle!


Thanks to NS Palmer for Lord Macaulay’s Translation of Horatius at the Bridge

And still his name sounds stirring
Unto the men of Rome,
As the trumpet-blast that cries to them
To charge the Volscian home;
And wives still pray to Juno
For boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well
In the brave days of old.

And in the nights of winter,
When the cold north winds blow,
And the long howling of the wolves
Is heard amidst the snow;
When round the lonely cottage
Roars loud the tempest’s din,
And the good logs of Algidus
Roar louder yet within;

When the oldest cask is opened,
And the largest lamp is lit;
When the chestnuts glow in the embers,
And the kid turns on the spit;
When young and old in circle
Around the firebrands close;
When the girls are weaving baskets,
And the lads are shaping bows;

When the goodman mends his armor,
And trims his helmet’s plume;
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.


More Books and Writers

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Zhuang Zi by Zhuang Zi
Little, Big by John Crowley
Pale Fire
Tristram Shandy
Don Quixote
Bleak House
Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
The Worm Ouroboros
Catch 22
Stories by Franz Kafka
City by Clifford D. Simak
Leonora Carrington
Gene Wolfe
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
Patric Highsmith
J M Coetzee

What else should I read? Who am I missing?