Archives for category: Philosophy
Evidence of life, by the Pacific Ocean, November 28, 2019.

A stopped clock may be right twice a day, but a stopped military clock is right only once per day.

Just a reminder: the Russia investigation “was a nothing,” as my father used to say. No evidence advanced to show that any American solicited aid from Russia, and no evidence that the meagre “interference” on social media by a bunch of Russians affected any outcome, not so much as one vote:

There is no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.

. . . There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge, and that the nature of the [allegedly Russian] scheme was that the [Russian] defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on virtual private network [VPN] here in the United States so if anybody traced it back to that first jump, they appeared to be Americans.

Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as recorded by CNBC, February 18, 1018.

The build-up to the final indictments in the Mueller Probe was relentlessly breathless, saying that Trump was doomed. And then? Nothing. Zip. Nada. All we had were pathetic prosecutions, the most ludicrous being of the named Russian “hackers.”

It is worth mentioning that the United States regularly intrudes on other countries’ elections far more thoroughly and effectively. The clutched pearls of the anti-Trumpers is so disingenuous.

And remember, one of the more recent elections that the U.S. Government interfered in was in the Ukraine.

So, naturally, as if led by an invisible hand with a wicked wit, Democrats, Deep State operatives, and the corporate media have pushed a bizarre Ukraine “interference” and “quid pro quo” and “bribery” allegation against the president for allegedly soliciting Ukrainians to “interfere” in our elections by investigating Joe Biden, Trump’s “political competitor.”

This is worth remembering as we gear up for the great fizzle that seems imminent regarding impeachment.

Although we do learn some of our history from hoaxes, we learn far more of it from sources that are unabashedly fictional. Rather than our quest for ammunition or enlightenment, it is our yearning for entertainment that most often leads us astray. A 2001 study, for instance, found that nearly two-thirds of high school students surveyed based their understanding of the Vietnam War on the movie Forrest Gump. The same pattern might hold for the First Thanksgiving if only Hollywood found it more interesting.

Robert Tracy McKenzie, The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History (2013) .

The “freedom of assumption” lies at the heart of human ontology, and it is our consideration of non-facts that make us who we are, and even allows us to act:

Dale Jacquette, Alexius Meinong, The Shepherd of Non-Being (2015).

Note to praxeologists and “objectivists”: our values are determined by fancy as well as facts.

Meinong’s innovation is very similar to George Santayana’s doctrine of essences — which Santayana referred to as “promiscuous” in that the objects of our thought require no existence to be meaningful.

And from this line of reasoning we can see where the Ontological Argument fails.

This was my Thanksgiving message on Facebook, expressing my gratefulness for all the important objects of consciousness that do not exist.

The Fourth Estate relentlessly pushes political power, but has no interest in uncovering the truth for our benefit. If the journalists/papers/news channels were really interested in Story they would be all over some of the biggest stories of our time. But their interest in Story is circumscribed by their interest in partisan power-mongering. What they offer, instead, is Ideological Narrative. Not quite the same thing. Because of this, they are easily influenced by the CIA and the rest of the Deep State, and side with it.

Off Reddit.

And they have no interest in ‘protecting women’ or #metoo or anything even slightly noble . . . if it disrupts their narratives of expanding secular power and the subjugation of a free people.

As I understand the current impeachment case, it seems to have problems:

1. Neither the infamous quid or the notorious quo of the quid pro quo actually occurred — at best the case has it that Trump wanted to withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for a promise to investigate the corruption of the Bidens, but the aid was eventually given and the investigation did not happen.

2. The Ukrainian president was most interested in a meeting with Trump, and appears not to have realized at the time of negotiations that aid was on hold. Negotiating for meetings is trivial b.s. not worthy of review by Congress. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying in a deposition, not for his special White House hotel grift.

3. Testimony from the prime witness has Trump explicitly denying, upon a request for clarification, the withholding of aid as a negotiating tactic.

4. Rep. Schiff and the pro-Deep State press (CNN, MSNBC, et al.) continually characterizes what Trump wanted as ‘investigating a political rival’ and not as investigating obvious and frank and even boasted-about [‘well, son-of-a-bitch’] corruption on the part Joe Biden and his son.

5. The continual denials of any evidence for Biden wrong-doing by Democrats and the Deep State press, is mere stonewalling and denial — lying.

6 The principle of the Double Effect is at play here: we expect more than one motive to go into any complicated maneuver like the disputed Ukraine negotiation. Since investigating corruption is entirely legitimate, that provides more than enough cover even to get what Trump may have wanted regarding his ‘political rival’ Biden.

7. The irony of charging Trump with trying to get foreign powers to help get dirt on a political opponent is PRECISELY what Hillary Clinton did with the Russian Dossier — how pot-and-kettle can they get?

8. And as for the sheer horror of investigating a political rival, that is what Barack Obama did to Trump’s campaign. Quite clearly.

9. The whistleblower heard nothing himself — it was all hearsay, and after the testimonies, that ‘heard said’ turns out to be mere unheard suspicion.

10. It is obvious from the very words and grimaces of testifying Deep State operatives that what they really objected to was that their beloved ‘interagency consensus’ was being derailed by the new president’s very different approach. Anyone with an ounce of skepticism about the FBI, CIA and ‘the interagency’ should not give one vermin patootie for their commitment to their policies — they are not supposed to be in charge. Why any American would be sympathetic to this crowd of professional liars and incompetents I don’t know.

There is more, but this is enough to make me utterly incredulous about the charges, which seem weaker and more indicting of the side marshaling the indictments than of Trump.

Talk about ‘interfering in our elections’! This story is out there, but does not seem to be getting much play:

The story seems interesting, anyway:

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota-5th) was recruited by a foreign government, received funding from a foreign government, and passed sensitive information through intermediaries to Iran, a Florida court has been told, as The Jerusalem Post confirmed.
Speaking to the Post, the office of the Congresswoman denied the allegations.
The claims came during testimony by Kuwati-born Canadian businessman Alan Bender, who was giving evidence in the trial of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani. The Qatari emir’s brother stands accused of ordering his American bodyguard to murder two people, and of holding an American citizen hostage. His deposition, obtained by Al Arabiya English, was authenticated by the attorney for the plaintiffs, according to the publication.
Speaking from Toronto by video link, Bender told the Florida District Court that he met with Qatar’s Secretary to the Emir for Security Affairs Mohammad bin Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Masnad and two other senior Qatari officials.
According to his sworn deposition, the three officials told him: “If it wasn’t for our cash, Ilhan Omar would be just another black Somali refugee in America collecting welfare and serving tables on weekends.”Bender testified that the officials asked him to recruit American politicians and journalists as Qatari assets, and that when he objected, was told that several prominent figures were already on the payroll. Omar was described as the “jewel in the crown,” he said.

Donna Rachel Edmunds, “Ilhan Omar denies being ‘Qatari asset,’ witness confirms Jerusalem Post report,” Jerusalem Post, November 28, 2019.

But, that being said, if these accusations prove true, many crimes may have been made in all this. But not treason, since America is fighting no declared wars.

It is well known that the title Benjamin R. Tucker gave to Steven T. Byington’s translation of Max Stirner’s great German work, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, is far from a perfect analog of the original. The Ego and Its Own does not suggest the original meanings in anything like its fullness. That being the case, what would be a better title? Something, I think, like

  • The Self-Owner and His Property
  • The Self-Owned Self
  • The Properties of the Self-Owned Self
  • Oneself as Owned Self
  • The Self’s Own Liberated Property

A lot of self-help book titles come to mind:

  • Disowning Servility
  • De-Slaving the Self
  • Freer Selves Self-Owning
  • Taking Ownership of Oneself

And perhaps more scholarly visions could hail from the title:

  • Selfism from Max Stirner to Jack Woodford
  • The Properties of Property and the Ownership of Self
  • Oneself as Self–Proprietie: The Ownership of Personhood

And one that I’m working on:

The Self and Its Aptness

A friend suggests “aptitude” is a better word than “aptness,” but the primary definitions of “aptitude” scuttle the intended meaning, and so is not apt.

The above squibs have all been culled from my personal and professional Facebook page, from the last few days’ postings. The photo at top is something I snapped at Long Beach Peninsula today, a bright, sunny, cold day: seagull prints in the sand.

…change a paradigm!

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?


“Extraordinary claims” are extraordinary in context of accepted dogmas. A very ordinary bit of evidence can falsify an accepted dogma, easily. And with such a falsification, or a series of them, a perspective cascade can invert our notions of ordinary and extraordinary quite fast. We are all aware of paradigm shifts. These are catastrophic/eucatastrophic in nature, and what was once extraordinary becomes ordinary in almost the blink of an eye. 

The maxim “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” may best serve not as a legitimate epistemic standard but as a conceit to preserve status quo paradigm defense, and thus allow corrupt scientists and others to rig data sets, hide evidence, and distract the attention of honest researchers and innovative thinkers.

Claims require evidence. Sure. But claims to facticity are not all we deal with in our thinking. There is conjecture, supposition, assumption, counterfactuals, what-ifs — all are legitimate in their place. 

Of course, juggling these is hard. We all make mistakes. And we need epistemic maxims, like the “extraordinary claims” warning, like (better yet, but still tricky) Occam’s Razor. Unfortunately, folks commonly adopt a lazy attitude regarding these maxims, making of them too much, and of critical thought generally too little. 

Discovering truth is a tricky business.

I have been spotty so far, not being a scientist or a professional philosopher, etc., etc. But many confident assertions made by public professionals appear increasingly iffy and wayward and even perverse.


Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Civilization consists in giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result. And the false name joined to the true dream does create a new reality. The object does change into something else, because we make it change. We manufacture realities.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Books, 2001), pp. 65–66.
…currently reading…

Philosopher Jan Lester offers what he says is a new paradigm for libertarianism. Though old hands at the philosophy may raise an eyebrow at the daring of such a claim — and I am, by this time, one of those old hands — it is not as if libertarian social philosophy were all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Looking at his essay “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians,” I found myself not at all shocked by his alleged novelty — though novelty there is. From a perspective of critical rationalism (via Popper, Lakatos, Bartlett, and others), Mr. Lester advances three alternatives to most libertarian ideology and rhetoric:

  • Instead of “justificationism” and the eternal search for the Foundations of Ethics and Politics, Lester insists that we stick to the more humble and honest task of offering conjectures about which we are open to debate.
  • Instead of characterizing our normative theories in terms of “deontological” or “consequentialist” terms, recognize that they are “more like two sides of the same coin.”
  • Instead of waffling and arguing in a circular fashion, develop an explicit, sufficient and necessary “theory of freedom.”

This last point points to the most obvious need, but it is not one that many libertarians recognize as an actual problem. There is an awful lot vagueness and hand-waving among libertarian theorists. And some concepts get jumbled together, like “self-ownership” and “negative freedom” and so forth. Hearkening back to classical liberal days, Lester focuses on non-interference — Henry Sidgwick would have understood this — and develops it as a prohibition of “proactive constraint.” I have not adequately confronted this understanding of liberty, so as I prepare to read his book, Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, I will try to keep an open mind.

I am sympathetic to his general perspective, and, so far, seem to agree on quite a lot. I do have a different way of looking at freedom than many libertarians — and this has been one reason for my odd position in the libertarian movement: I am a member of no faction, and hail not from the School of Rand or School of Rothbard, but, instead, from the School of Nozick . . . without having ever been a Nozickian.

Odd man out, I.

So, before I lash out at Lester’s paradigm, or drop mine, I will put them to the test, which would also mean essaying to discover whether the two might be compatible.

As far as the deontic/consequentialist debate goes, anyway, we are on the same side. I found this “controversy” very interesting in my early 20s, since it was a major feature of libertarian intellectual discussion in the 1980s. I soon decided, however, that most discussions of this were hopelessly muddled or, at the very least, red herrings. My late boss R. W. Bradford, writing as Ethan O. Waters, did not exactly make the issue clearer, in the pages of Liberty magazine in its first year. I went a different direction, taking consequentialism chiefly as a meta-ethics.

Regarding Lester’s anti-justificationism, well, this strikes me as a terminological issue. He denies this. I am more in line with C. S. Peirce than Karl Popper, so I see all this “critical rationalist” talk as just another form of fallibilism, whereas he regards it (I think) as quite distinct. I may have read both Popper and Lakatos, I confess to having devoured their work only in small doses: this is not an area of anything but a passing familiarity for me. So, I should practice caution. Still, I will drop a hint: Jan Lester believes that philosophy is not about words, it is about the world. That is certainly a nifty slogan. It reminds me of Husserl’s “to the things themselves!” I think philosophy cannot help but be about words — and definitions, too — because words are our chief tool for engaging with concepts. He calls them theories and conjectures, and that is fine, except it seems a long way around to say something fairly obvious.

But I could be wrong. Indeed, all this jumps the gun of reading his book.

So, if I have not read this book, and the cited essay is brief, how do I know what Mr. Lester holds to? Well, a year-and-a-half ago a friend of mine and I interviewed Mr. Lester at length. And this week I finally turned the Skype session into a video, which is now up as a series on YouTube:

Where Libertarians Go Wrong:

  1. Introduction: Why “Critical Rationalism
  2. Error One: Seeking a foundation or justification
  3. Error Two: Taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism
  4. Error Three: Lacking an explicit, necessary & sufficient theory of freedom

By the way, I had intended to do this all last year. But the best laid plans of mice and men, the gang’s all here in the glee club, and all that.

Jan Lester’s Escape from Leviathan. And me.
Definition of a word most people are not familiar with, from the Century Dictionary.

Some simple jokes are so simple — maybe stupid is the word — that most people “forget” to laugh. But if they are just the right amount of silliness, I remember.

To laugh.

I guess I shouldn’t explain why, though:

The image has its own page on this site, as a project.


Does Philosophy Affect Culture?
What philosophies to you think craft the world today — or do they not matter?

As Answered on Quora

Academic philosophy does not affect culture very much today, except for the far left strains of Marxism, neo-Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. These have had a disastrous influence on our culture. Why? Because bright people are very susceptible to cults, and these philosophies gave blueprints and marching orders for cultic intellectualism and intellectual cultism.

In Greek and Roman times philosophy deeply impacted culture. Then philosophy deeply influenced Christianity, which in turn influenced western culture greatly. There is also evidence that philosophy affected Judaism, which influenced Christianity and Islam. And philosophy was a part of Islam in its fairly early years, until the anti-intellectualism and cultic nature of the religion squashed it.

I think we can say that the Enlightenment had a huge influence on the modern world, and Enlightenment philosophers were big influences upon the English and American Revolutions and the direction of American culture for a long time. Names to remember, here, include Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Francis Hutchinson, who are worth remembering in this regard. At the back of the Enlightenment was not only the Renaissance, with philosophers quite various, but also the discovery of De Rerum Natura, which may have been an inspiration and much more — Epicurean atomism spurring much analysis and the scientific method, too. The Scottish Enlightenment percolated throughout the world, in part under cover of political economy, which hailed (in part) from one of the greats in the Scots tradition, Adam Smith. Then Romanticism was ignited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from which flowed the French Revolution and the rise of socialism as a cultural and political force. Other thinkers of Enlightenment France included Denis Diderot, who did much to influence the secular trend now dominant.

John Stuart Mill has certainly had an influence on political and general intellectual culture. But remember: in the 19th century the most popular philosopher was Herbert Spencer, who definitely contributed to the making of the modern world, particularly the English-speaking world, and despite the turn against his thought around the time of his death in 1903. And in the German culture? Feuerbach and others ushered in an onslaught upon Christian dogma and certainty, which Friedrich Nietzsche ramped up to 11.

And we must remember: artists tend to be influenced by philosophy. Arch-individualist Max Stirner had a huge impact on composer Richard Strauss and on a generation of aesthetes and artists in America in the early part of the 20th century; Sartre and Camus and the whole existentialist movement deeply affected popular culture in that century’s third quarter.

And who can deny that William James and pragmatism did not somehow become part of the warp and woof of American culture, as had Transcendentalism earlier? In Italy, the influence of the anti-fascist Benedetto Croce was not insignificant.

Ideas move the world. Philosophers contribute to ideas, no?

Sometimes mightily, sometimes not.


3 Great Errors

It is not a common term, this “agnarchism.”

Do a Google search: most hits come back to me and mine. As I have readily admitted before, it is not my coinage, but it was coined for me. Way back in Liberty magazine days, I would often explicate my basic take on political philosophy: I am more confident of the direction we should go than how far.

I hold that, human nature being neither infinitely malleable nor absolutely adamantine, we cannot know where, exactly, the possibility boundary of social action and policy lies the further we are from instantiations of any given imagined possibility. We must withhold judgment, at least admit a high degree of fallibility about the ideal legal-political realm. Especially if we accept as given that current taboo boundaries enable so much exploitation, misery, confusion, and needless death.

But my agnosticism in ideology is a bit more precise, as well as extreme. I am pretty confident that moral reasoning does not readily justify a State. That is philosophical anarchism. But I am much less confident that moral reasoning is perfectly matched to human nature. I suspect there may be something like an Incompleteness Theorem in the ethical domain. I fully accept that social morality rests upon notions of universalizability and reciprocity — but I am not certain that human beings can, in fact, establish and maintain a workable advanced society solely on the basis of the social statics of universal laws and reciprocal habits of action.

IMG_1239Human beings are primates. We share a lot with other primates. And these similarities are not limited just to violent chimp and peaceful bonobo and hierarchical gorilla. There is some individualistic orangutan in us, too. And, alas, no small amount of baboon.

The human acceptance of hierarchy seems more than adaptable to coercive orders. Indeed, I see a lot of evidence that most humans demand coercion and readily supply coercion. Force is a heady tool, quite addictive. Can man curb the habit not cold turkey but limit it to defense and retaliation?

I do not know.

Which makes me not an anarchist (which is what I confess I would like to be) or panarchist (which is what I am on alternative weekdays), but an agnostic-about-the-state. I do not believe that the State is moral. I just doubt that morality is all it is cracked up to be. The State may be inevitable, an ugly, hateful necessity.

And I have held this position explicitly for more than three decades. Traces of my philosophy can be found in the first twelve volumes of Liberty. But I never really wrote it out in full.

Which brings me to Jan Lester, author of Escape from Leviathan (2000), an excellent and challenging treatise as well as an eminently accessible essay, “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians” (2013). I am happy to report that I do not make all three of the errors he identifies. But perhaps I do make one or two. Over the next few weeks, I aim to consider Lester’s “new paradigm” for libertarianism. And I will, if I manage to follow through, report on my explorations here, at

At top, notice Lester’s list of errors, which I have, with some effrontery, perhaps, put in imperative form: J. C. Lester’s Three Commandments for Libertarians. In his original form they are

  1. The error of seeking a foundation or justification
  2. The error of taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism, etc.
  3. The error of having no explicit, necessary, and sufficient theory of liberty

And, to prove that “most libertarians” make these errors, just ask philosophically minded libertarians what they think of this list. I bet most would indeed be shocked by at least one of them, perhaps two or all three.

But wait: I have already made an error!

You see, we cannot prove anything, says Lester. Nothing can be “supported”; there can be no “justification.” All we can do is offer conjectures and respond to criticism.

As you may guess, Lester is a critical rationalist. And by that he means he follows in the tradition of Karl “Conjectures and Refutations” Popper, as elaborated by Imre Lakatos, W. W. Bartley III, and others.

Or maybe that would be Karl “Objective Knowledge” Popper. Or Karl “Realism and the Aim of Science” Popper. Could it be Karl “The Poverty of Historicism” Popper?

But before I draw out some not-very-funny joke about intension and extension and book titles, I will simply confess: I do not really disagree much with critical rationalism, though I come at it from the critical commonsensism of C. S. Pierce and his pragmatics of meaning. What separates me from this philosophy is language, word choice. J. C. Lester insists that words like “proof” and “support” and “justification” have no place in legitimate epistemology (not to mention epistemics). And I see his point about the use of the first of those words, for I still hold (if without much enthusiasm) to a variant of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and agree that matters of existence map orthogonally from a logical plane. Logic relates to the realm of essences. It does not provide us truth so much as validity. Logic may track the truth of concepts in the purely conceptual realm, but not existents in the external world.

Or something like that. I could be wrong.

To me, though, good indications of the truth about the world constitute “support.” A preponderance of the evidence “justifies” belief. I am not too disturbed by this sort of word usage. More importantly, I strongly suspect that matters of normativity hold to distinct operations and principles of their own (Bentham coined the term “logic of imperation” to handle this aspect of everyday “reality”), and that justifying a norm and justifying an act and justifying a belief are three distinct things.

So, Lester’s first challenge is something I will have to think about. I may be expressing confusion, here. It is late . . . in the morning . . . (why am I not asleep yet — it is nearly seven antemeridian!) . . . and it has been years since I have read what little I have tried of Popper, or what I have read of Peirce, and all the rest. I have been struggling with Meinong recently, and my struggle has not yet ended.

Miles to go before I sleep.

As I will explore in other entries, I am generally in agreement on Lester’s second contention, and in general approach (if not content) regarding his third. Amusingly, Lester calls himself an anarchist. He seems confident of that, though his method seems so fallibilist I am just no sure why he does not identify, with me, under the agnarchist label.

As I go through Escape from Leviathan, and as I edit a video conversation I had with him and Lee Waaks on Sunday, I hope to “live blog” the Lesterian paradigm in this venue for some time to come.

And I will place the videos here, as I put them into final form. We talked, the three of us, for over two hours.



All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing and for the State to do something.



Just as “left” and “right” are relative to one’s position vis-à-vis up and down and forward and back, Sartre’s dictum that “existence precedes essence” is true only depending on the direction of a particular philosophical transit.

And I see no reason to privilege one trek over another.

More valuable is Santayana’s counter to ancient rationalism: “essences are promiscuous.” That is, essences are infinite and non-determinative of existant matter.

Existents have many essences. That is, for every existent there is an infinity of essences. And which one may or may not be relevant to any tale or problem or accounting depends on the exact nature of each tale, problem, or accounting.

This is a relativism of essences.

It is not a relativism of truth, however.

How so? Truth is a function of propositions . . . or, if you prefer, a function of maps, and maps are arrays of essences conceived as mirroring or directing us through the realm of the objects of our attention — one realm of which includes, not surprisingly, the (or some) set of existents.

Existents are one kind of object; essences another; and when the latter maps the former in a more or less serviceable way, we have truth.

So, which precedes the other is irrelevant — from the aforementioned Promiscuity Theory of Essence. Emphasizing existence as taking precedence over essences, or vice versa, cannot be bedrock, for it all depends on where we start the story of our intellectual transit.

Essentialism? Existentialism?

If we start the story from our embarrassingly humble origins as a gamete pair or a baby or the first grader on the bus to school’s first day, existentialism is obviously the better story. But if we begin intellectually, as every philosopher qua philosopher in fact does — in medias res, as it were — within a vast realm of signs and portents and rumors and concepts and memeplexes, then essentialism cannot help but capture our imaginations.

One might be tempted to call this viewpoint “relativism,” but that will not do, will it, seeing as how we must reject a relativism of truth for a relational set of essences mapping existence?

But “Relationalism” is ugly.

Philosophical promiscuity, with the tip of the hat back to Santayana?

Who himself called this perspective “critical realism.”