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PLEASE NOTE THIS SITE IS RETIRED. THE CURRENT SITE IS HumanistContemplative.org


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Comments

Please feel free to leave me any questions or comments you may have! Comments should be in your own words and concise. Limited quoting and referencing is okay but excessive "cut & paste" of large bulks of text is not a good idea...

30 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello DT Strain,

Last night I accidently found your wonderful website while I was searching for some info about Zhuangzi online. I realized after some scrutiny that you are one of those tireless truth seekers that are very rare these days. I felt that I could learn much from you. The depth and breadth of the materials that you have here is very impressive. I happened to be a secular humanist myself with heavy interest in science and philosophy both Western and Eastern (actually I sort of lean toward Western philosophy even though I was brought up in Asia). Anyway it's great that there are genuinely curious people like you out there in disinterested pursuit of truth. I am full of curiosities myself (especially of phlosophical sorts). I hope to converse with you from time to time if possible because there is virtually no one around me that wanna have discussions of this sort. It's nice to get to know you DT Strain and good luck with your master's degree.

SYL

3:41 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Greetings SYL!

Thanks for your kind comment - you flatter me! :)

We're fortunate to have the internet so that we can share ideas even when there are none we know personally to do so with. I hope you continue to find my ramblings interesting friend. Please feel free to drop me a line any time, as I too have much to learn!

Sincerely,
Daniel

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello DT Strain,

I am glad you received my comment so soon! I hope I am not taking too much of your time asking questions and stuff. :)

I am back with some actual philosophical questions this time.

By the way, forgive me if my English is somewhat awkward at times. English isn't my native language so sometimes it's tough for me to convey complex ideas in a sufficiently satisfying way, but I'll try to express myself as clearly and as unambiguously as I possibly can.

My questions are in regards to META-ethics. As you are well aware, it seems that there are two major categories of meta-ethical theories: moral realism and moral anti-realism. Crudely speaking, I think the former is the belief that there are objective moral facts and properties "out there" and the latter denying this. The two categories have subdivisions the details of which are found in Wikipedia entry: meta-ethics.

For the last few years, I have been most convinced by J. L. Mackie's error theory or what he prefers to call moral skepticism. When I first read his famous essay in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, I was deeply disturbed by its implications because even though his theory seemed perfectly rational, I could not fully accept that what I formerly regarded as absolute truth such as "committing suicide is wrong" was in fact not a true statement. Of course Mackie didn't actually PROVE his theory and no such theory can by nature be proved like a mathematical theorem or even like a scientific theory, but it does seem to me that his is the most rational meta-ethical view. Moreover that Mackie was not one of those irrational Romantic philosophers devoid of good scientific understanding makes his ideas more credible. (He seems to have based his ideas on Richard Dawkins' idea of evolution as described in The Selfish Gene.)

Naturally I was led to seriously ponder the existential dilemma so aptly summarized by Camus in his Myth of Sisyphus: "There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide." I guess I skimmed through the end of the book to see how Camus answers this question and felt disappointed by his "solution."

By the way, don't get me wrong I am not depressed or suicidal! I am just trying to think real hard about the meaning of the statement "it's wrong to commit suicide" because I do believe that it really is one of the most important philosophical question that one can ask. Why existence over nonexistence? Surely, if we choose to take certain ethical statements as axioms then other statements can be logically deduced to form a system of ethical “truths” like in Spinoza’s Ethics (which was modeled on Euclid’s Elements.) This would be very nice but why are we justified in taking such axioms as self-evident truths? I am not sure if there are any self-evident moral truths. OK I am starting to ramble a bit so I’ll continue some other time.

Sincerely,
SYL

Oh by the way I am not a nihilist or an anarchist or something like that. When it comes to practical ethics I pretty much follow humanist ethics such as your system, which I couldn’t finish reading yet but found very admirable, intelligent, and thoughtful. I think it's a great practical ethics of the future.
The above questions are on the theoretical basis of ethics which I abandoned thinking about a couple years ago and seems to have been rekindled by the accidental visit to your website. Recently I have been reading more on Eastern thought and found Taoism and (Zen) Buddhism particularly interesting.

6:38 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi SYL,

You say that no ethical theory can be proved like a scientific one. To me, the problem isn't one of proof so much as it is one of consensus on how we are going to define and approach the problem.

In other words, where there is agreement on a definition of ethics and on a methodology of investigation, then proofs are indeed possible. The trick is coming to that agreement on definitions and approach, and that is a matter of pragmatism (what 'works' better for our purposes in this endeavor we call meta-ethics).

I do not often get into highly technical terms on my site for, well, philosophical reasons. But I would qualify as Moral Realist (ethical naturalist). The best example I can give of this, is my essay on "Natural-Objective Ethics" here on my site. It explains why and how I believe ethics to be objective and why we can discover ethical PREscriptive norms scientifically.

But to do this requires agreement on the terms as I have defined them. In the essay I therefore explain my rationale behind my definitions and why I think they are practical. But just as with all of science, if two scientists can't agree on how long a millimeter is or the duration of a second, then they can't even begin.

On a side note, feel free to email me at dtstrain@yahoo.com, as this might be a better venue for extended discussion that the comments page :)

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, what a wonderful way to spend minutes during which I should be sleeping! --> Reading some of the interesting ideas and discussions on your page. I am a high school student and new to matters of ontological and existential dilemmas :), ethics, etc... but have developed a fascination in the subject of philosophy. I've only taken one semester of philosophy so I have vast amounts of concepts and ideas to learn and grasp. I just thought I'd say that I enjoyed reading your posts and look forward to reading some of your essays!

JR

9:40 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks very much JR for reading and for your comments! :)

1:22 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Excellent and worthwhile reading. I'll be checking in often. Keep up the good work!

9:53 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks John! I make a point to at least update the blog page once per week (sometimes more though). The philosophy site I add to as I happen to have things to add.

4:03 AM  
Anonymous MIlton Wood said...

Outstanding content, interpretation, and integration. An excellent resource for review and new ideas as well. Appreciate the effort it takes to make this information available. Milton Wood, Ph.D.

9:40 AM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks very much Dr. Wood, for your kind remarks, and for reading! :)

10:54 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

DT Strain,

Thanks for your efforts to forge a naturalistic approach to the teachings of Buddhism. As a humanist and a practicing Buddhist, the possiblity of a secular Buddhism has been a concern of mine for over a decade. I've been very grateful for the work of Stephen Batchelor in this area, and I'm very pleased to have found another deeply articulate examination of these ideas in your blog. Please feel free to read more of my ruminations on the subject at my own blog, "Dharma Notes."

Thanks again.
Peter Pfarrer

10:07 AM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Peter,

I'm assuming you read my article "A Naturalistic Approach to Buddhist Karma & Rebirth". I very much appreciate your comments, thanks! I have bookmarked your blog and will be checking it out asap :)

Sincerely,
Daniel

11:27 AM  
Blogger cw said...

The chicken or the egg ?
From a simple man from a simple and complex part of the hardwood forests_ I have never seen one without the other.

1:31 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Hello DT

I am sorry DT but u have talked your self out of your own argument. By your own logic you have said that chicken egg was laid first. You how ever said that the layer is the own of the egg such as a mother has ownership of a baby by law, but this logic is mistake because animals are not governed by law. Animals live in an uncontrolled unlawful society which it is ever animal for them self. Thus the layer dose not have ownership of the chicken egg but the egg is not owned by anyone but its self. So one must conclude that the egg came first by using your own logic.

Jack (your cuisine)

7:59 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hey Jack. I assume you mean you're my cousin (not cuisine) - I'm not into cannibalism! :)

Anyway - nice thinking. However, it isn't relevant that animals are not governed by laws. We humans make the definitions of things such as "what is an egg" and "what is a chicken" and so on. Therefore, if we say a chicken came before the egg or vice versa, we are playing a word game of our own making.

When I used the example of women's ownership of their eggs by law, it was to illustrate how we humans already conceive of these definitions. Therefore, for the sake of consistency, my argument is that we humans should carry that same reasoning throughout consistently.

But if we wanted to, human beings could simply decide that "chicken" means any creature with legs, in which case the chicken came first. Or, we could decide that the word "chicken" means only one specific chicken alive today, in which case the egg came first. There would be nothing "wrong" or incorrect about any of this. The question is: what is the best, most consistent, and most useful arrangement of words and definitions such that they function best for clear communication of concepts? In that light, our conception of things (including how those conceptions are illustrated by our laws) certainly do matter in forming such arguments. :)

PS> Thanks for reading! If you have more comments on specific articles, please send direct though - I wouldn't want this comment space to be taken up by the chicken/egg debate, since it's for my site as a whole. Thanks!

4:53 AM  
Anonymous ashley castro said...

i was taking a quiz online and it showed some things i should become, philosopher was one of them. i didn't exactly know what a philosopher really was. so i googled it. i saw this website on there and read about it. i've always asked questions such as the example you have. "why is the sky blue?". i always thought if i asked thoose questions, it meant something like scientists asked. see, i always think of what i want to be in the future, and i always said, i would ask thoose questions, and study about them to figure them out. a philosopher sounds close to that. so i thank you for that because i have more of an idea now. i think i'll continue to ask my questions and also continue my search to solve them. see, im only 12 years old. and i know i think differently then most 12 year olds. im more, mature then most. and you've helped me understand more about me, in a sense. thank you.

11:10 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks for writing Ashley :)

That's great that you ask questions about things. Some people stop doing that as they get older, but it's a great thing people should do more of. Also, I would keep an open mind about what you want to be - I changed my mind many times before deciding, and I still sometimes think about doing something else. But remember, to, that being a philosopher is something a person can do in addition to their job. A plumber can be a philosopher, as can a business person. In a sense, philosophy is something we all can (and should) do to some extent. Have fun!
--Daniel

4:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello DT Strain,

I viewed the PBS "Connection" video and wanted to comment, but there was no space available there as with your other postings, so I hope it's alright to comment here.

What was most concerning to me was your concept of "consensus" dictating what is right or moral. It sounds enlightened I suppose, but I found it to be a flawed way of deciding morality and ethics.

The reason is that consensus can never be a true standard because of its fluidity. A standard, by definition, has to be solid or it will not be obeyed or respected.

You seemed to indicate that in your world view, there is no black and white, no law which could not be changed if enough of a consensus were met over time.

Though perhaps not the perfect example, please indulge me -- property rights are revoked through so-called "eminent domain", where enough of the city leaders agree (through consensus) that their plan for someone's land is more important than that person's "black and white" right to own property, and so, said landowner is abruptly forced to relocate. Is this right?

My point is that using consensus as an individual's (or society's) moral compass can and does lead to loss of freedoms, which should be of concern to all Americans.

If I have misconstrued your positions, please feel free to rebut, however, this was the general impression your tv appearance left with me.

Thanks for your time and this forum.

Jim M.

2:53 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Anonymous - thanks for reading (and watching) and for your comments. I appreciate the opportunity to elaborate on things that a television program only has time to touch on.

I agree with your comments about the shortcomings of ethics which are derived from consensus. The problem is, that is the only source there has ever been for any ethics throughout human history. It's simply that not all people or societies are always fully aware of the mechanism.

You compare the consensus-derived ethic of public domain with the 'black and white' right to own property, but this is not how I'd see it. Rather, both concepts are equally derived from consensus. The right to own property is simply a case where the consensus is stronger and, perhaps, older. And, when it comes to the correct juxtaposition of these two notions, consensus is what will determine that. In other words, I am not 'making a proposal' that we derive ethics from consensus - I am describing what we already do.

You say that consensus leads to loss of freedoms. However, consensus also leads to the freedoms themselves (in fact, with freedoms/rights being subsets of ethics, this is their one and only source). The basic reality is that *all* (without exception) commonly accepted ideas and ideals about what is acceptable, expected, and good for societies and individuals is a product of consensus.

One might think that dictatorships, or religious edicts, or other non-democratic systems are exceptions, but even this is not the case. When a ruler or religious figure declares an edict, s/he is only able to do so successfully if there is some force of consensus behind him/her. Otherwise, the religion would find itself a minority cult (at best - destroyed at worst) and the monarch would eventually find themselves assassinated or overthrown. Another factor is that the monarch, judge, or ruler is themselves a product of their social environment. This means that many of their notions of what is proper and what is not, comes in great part from the consensus-derived culture in which s/he was raised.

There is some variation in that but the rubber band can only be stretched so far. It ultimately all boils down to consensus eventually, and that consensus sways in non-random ways according to the intersection of needs in the environment, and the inborn tendencies of human nature.

It is also understandable that one might wonder how or why such consensus could result in 'rules that stick' or are not flagrantly disregarded. Remember that we live in a 'soup' of human interactions, and all ethics are centrally about our interactions and behavior amongst and with one another. These rules also tend gravitate toward things that we naturally feel inclined towards. Therefore, one would find disregarding such rules to ones disadvantage as such.

A good analogy is language. The rules of language evolve over time and come about by common usage practices. They vary by region and culture but ultimately they must perform a collective function and this keeps them stable in the short term and makes flagrantly disregarding the rules nonfunctional for individuals. Ethics also must ultimately perform a collective social function for human beings and will therefore similarly remain stable in the short term, and similarly gravitate towards 'what works'. We as individuals can examine how well they work, make pleas to the 'marketplace of ideas' and hope to influence the consensus over time. Thus has ethics evolved and I have never seen, heard, read, or known of any examples of ethics proceeding in any other manner.

As we seek to resolve the dispute between public domain and private property, all arguments, court rulings, articles, radio shows, and so on are simply pleas being made into the larger community in an effort to direct consensus such that laws will be supported and changed one direction or the other.

Thanks :)
Daniel

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To DT Strain

I have just read your article on the matrix as i have just finnished watching all three of them in proper order. I would like to say that your article was very interesting and thought provoking and i thought it was brilliant. i then moved to your comments page and started reading some of the comments and would just like to say that it is brilliance. I will definitely be visting your site more often.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy James
South Africa

3:11 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks very much for your kind words, and for reading! :)

3:35 PM  
Blogger Jon Den Houter said...

Thanks for your excellent overview of the philosophy of Stoicism! It was easy to understand and very clear.

9:57 AM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks for reading Jon! Please feel free to check out my current blog and subscribe at www.humanistcontemplative.org

10:30 AM  
Blogger Jecon Joshua R. Atienza said...

Good Day DT Strain,

I have a question that bothers me for a week and as a man who asks but do not know all answers I decided to ask this to you, a scholar of such field;
Can anyone of the desire, passion, and reason to ask questions of his life and the whole of this universe be called a philosopher even if he is outside of any university? such that even professional philosophers and those who are not can be said to be in the same group of Philosophers base on virtue not educational attainment", for some called professional are not philosophers. Thank you!

10:23 AM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Jecon, thanks for your question. Philosophy is the "love of wisdom" and a philosopher is a "lover of wisdom". So, YES, ANYONE CAN BE A PHILOSOPHER if they pursue wisdom and examine their own lives, living accordingly. You do not need to be an academic or have a degree from a university.

Many people with philosophy degrees are not actually philosophers, but could be called 'sophists'. Some with degrees are philosophers, but only because of their inner convictions, lifestyle, and pursuit of wisdom.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Jecon Joshua R. Atienza said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Jecon Joshua R. Atienza said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Jecon Joshua R. Atienza said...

Thank you for your wonderful response DT strain!

You have a very comprehensive and superb website dedicated to philosophy and in fact I haven't found anything comparable to this! Dt Strain having my first question answered,I am again enthusiastic to ask yet another, is it possible and are there philosophers who tend to become one around or under their twenties? For I have always known of philosophers of the past, aged 40 and up. Most of them are bearded. So to my curiosity is it possible that a young person be a philosopher as great and may be said equal in possessing critical thinking as those past old ones, and can modernity of our time somehow favor this, if true?

12:18 AM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Jecon :)

Thanks for your comments on my website. This one has actually been retired. Please see my new site at www.humanistcontemplative.org if you like.

I think a person of any age can be a philosopher, working to learn and follow wisdom (no beard required). As to how wise they truly are at any given age, this will vary from person to person, but is certainly helped with life experience and learning, which takes time.

It doesn't matter much how we compare to other people though. And, as Socrates would say, we don't need to worry about how wise we are - we need to be aware of how ignorant we are. What matters is that we make personal progress, always learning and building better discipline and habits which lead to a better life. If we do this, then we are on the right track.

Lastly, I'm not sure our modern times make us any wiser. Many more wise people lived in ancient times. While we have more scientific knowledge today, knowledge is not the same as wisdom.

Best wishes!
-Daniel

8:56 AM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Jecon :)

I'm just a guy who likes to follow philosophy as it is my interest, and to try and live better. On whether study is needed, I would always recommend learning more. But you also need to think about what you believe and which ideas seem to make the most sense. While knowledge is not the same as wisdom, it is definitely wise to try to learn more and hear what others have thought and said. There are many great minds who have spent a lot of time working out important issues and we would be depriving ourselves to ignore them.

When it comes to matters of objective fact, it is definitely smart to listen to those who have actually taken measurements and observations of the natural world, rather than go on our own hunches or preferences.

As for what practices, perspectives, and techniques lead to happiness and well-being, the more we know about all the thoughts on this the better, even if we don't agree with them.

Having said that, it is also true that there is a lot of extraneous overly-technical language in philosophy. While technical language can be important for understanding very subtle concepts, more philosophy should be easy and accessible to all people to use practically in their daily lives. If something seems too technical or abstract to be of any use or interest to you, it is ok to back off of it for the time being, and pursue more practical and helpful philosophies.

What is important is that you are making progress, learning about things that make sense to you and that you can use to make your life and the lives of those around you better.

10:09 AM  

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