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Refuting Pascal’s Wager

Special thanks to Kristy and Pearson for their editing.

Blaise Pascal was a French jack-of-all trades in the 17th century. He carries weight in many fields, like; philosophy, physics, mathematics and theology. One of his more popular ideas is properly coined “Pascal’s Wager” from his collection Pensées. This idea is commonly used by people of faith to refute atheism, especially to someone who is on the fence about higher powers. There are plenty of reasons to believe in a higher power and there is nothing wrong with it…HOWEVER, while this argument sounds reasonable, it’s bunk and should not be used. It goes as follows;

Pascal’s Wager states that if you believe in God and he is real, then you will have eternal happiness. If he isn’t real and you believe, then nothing happens. If God exists and one doesn’t believe, you face the risk of eternal damnation but if he doesn’t exist…nothing happens. Pascal and theists believe by this logic, it makes sense to choose to believe in God. The benefit (or lack thereof) outweighs whatever chance there is in facing eternal damnation.

            This is okay for people who are curious about God or for believers to steepen their faith, but it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. For example, the idea is not a proof at all, it just says its better to believe in God, there is no argument for the existence of God. Another problem is this claim that in believing, there is nothing to lose. Being a theist can be expensive, whether it be through tithing or sacrificing one’s time to worship and pray. It should also be noted that even to this day believers (Christian or otherwise) are being killed for their faith. Another issue is it isn’t as much of a 50/50 chance as Pascal would have us believe. The number of gods (50+ depending on your definition of a god) greatly muddle the chances that the God you choose is the right one.

            Another issue is how exclusive this wager is. It has no room for more than one higher power. Pascal grew up in France in the 17th century so this argument was for the catholic God but what if were born in Persia or India? Beliefs are largely localized so this argument could be used by anyone for any God, Allah, Jehovah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism).

The idea that one can choose a religion is also something that can and should be refuted. It can be argued that one establishes belief by what they experience and being convinced of something. By that logic, one cannot simply choose to “believe” in God, it is something they are convinced to do. If a Christian believes in God then it is by concluding from experiences (sermon, Bible, divine encounter, etc.). I did not choose to be an atheist and a Hinduist did not wake up and decide to believe in Hinduism. Even so, by the logic of the Holy Bible, salvation requires faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ as a savior. This is stated several times in Scripture;

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

The Holy Bible NIV

            The word faith is mentioned 31 times in the Bible, faithful is mentioned 11 times and faithfulness 7 times. If the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and it carries divine weight, then it should be heeded by Christians. Faith is a prerequisite for salvation. There are many instances in the Old Testament where God claims that he is a jealous God and alludes that he requires full devotion. In giving this full devotion, you have to accept the embodiment of God as Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This is a problem with Pascal’s Wager, there is no faith required for salvation (which is demanded), it is only betting on the existence and that doesn’t suffice for the Big Guy upstairs.

            The final qualm I have with this idea is how the wager uses fear to persuade the audience to place their bets on God. Using fear to instill belief is a cheap tactic at best. Though this is used many times in the Old Testament, much of the New Testament rectifies this. In Orthodox/eastern Christianity, this idea of a punitive and punishing God is rejected. I spoke extensively with a friend who is an Orthodox Christian, he shared very good points that counter the fear tactic implemented by Pascal’s Wager. This is what he had to say;

“…So this idea is a branch of the same overly-academic thinking that further separated the west from the east within Christendom. It’s predicated on the idea that salvation is a juridical exchange by some far off deity who demands payment for the sins of humanity. There is a huge difference in how the early Church understood and believed things in the first centuries vs how Pascal believed them 1500 years later.

Sooooo the west has formed this concept of heaven and hell as two geographical locations somewhere “down there” and somewhere “up there.” That’s the general idea. The early Church never believed that. It’s something that the Greek/Roman Pagans believed about the afterlife. When Christ said “on earth as it is in heaven,” He made clear that the reality of heaven is not far off. The Church has taught that when a human dies, the soul is in the presence of God. That simple. CS Lewis even understood this. It’s made pretty clear in his allegorical work “The Great Divorce.”

Heaven and hell are a spiritual state. If we have lived a life in our best humility to do what is well-pleasing to God, it is understood that His presence is sweet to us, a paradise. But to those of us who have lived a life in conscious denial of God who loves humankind, the reality of His presence is like a consuming fire.

…my point is that a god who is not the embodiment of love is not worth believing in.”

            These are the general beliefs of the early church carried on through tradition of the Orthodox church. The draw to believing in God should be founded in the love He provides, not the punishment of Hell.

            So is there a good alternative to Pascal’s Wager? Not definitively, although there are answers that may satisfy people who want to argue for the existence of God. The most valid argument(s) in my opinion, are the cosmological arguments from Thomas Aquinas.

            The backing of his logic is to avoid infinite regress. Infinite regress is the idea that evidence relies on the existence of something that comes before and this continues backward, with no starting point. For example, the universe was set in motion but what set that in motion? Aquinas argues that it would be God, the Unmoved Mover.

            Thomas Aquinas had four arguments for God;

  1. Argument from Motion
  2. Argument from Causation
  3. Argument from Contingency
  4. Argument from Degrees

The Argument from Causation is simple and a rephrasing of the first argument. Thomas argues that you can follow things back by what caused them all the way to a point that must stop; God.

The Argument from Contingency says that everything is contingent on the existence of something that is necessary and independent. If there was no independent being, then there is a possibility that nothing existed. We are dependent as contingent beings on an independent, that being God.

The last cosmological argument is the Argument from Degrees. Aquinas claims that we only know the degree of something by comparing it to another thing. We know the free grocery store coffee is bad because we have had good coffee. So for perfection there must be something we can measure it to, something that is the definition of perfect, God.

This doesn’t escape critiques; it falls to many of the flaws that we can find in Pascal’s Wager. It isn’t specific to the Christian God nor does it claim require a sentient higher power like the Christian God. Finally, the biggest qualm is the certainty that there can be no such thing as infinite regress. It should also be pointed out that in saying there has to be something that sets everything in motion or causes everything he has defeated his own claims. What comes before God?

Is there even a point in trying to logically prove the existence of God? Most deities claim to be outside of the realm of human understanding. If we try to make an argument for a metaphysical higher being then we will fail, all reasoning and arguments will fall short one way or another. Therefore, there is no smoking gun to believing, either you do or you don’t.

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On the Morality of Death

                Special thanks to Kristy Coventry and Pearson Bolt for editing.

Death is the end of life we can account for. For some it is a terrifying and sudden end, yet others believe in an afterlife of some sort. Is death evil? Of course, it is biologically determined but there are claims that it is a consequence of sin and other metaphysical factors, which will be discussed later. So the question to address is as such; what is the nature of death?

            When thinking about death, it is easy to fall into a sort of existential dread at the thought of the afterlife. Whether it be Hell or ceasing to exist, the ideas are endless. In Kierkegaard’s work, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary he shares that “Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eyes happen to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy.” Further on in the paragraph, he expands on this, “Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of the freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself” (Kierkegaard 1844). This “dizziness of freedom” is the dread one has in realizing the possibility and freedom to choose anything. While having the option to do something is nice, the multitude of choices can be jarring. This is certainly the case when you have so many choices and you are left wondering what is best. Many readers understand this (in context) as Kierkegaard’s advice to use one’s existential anxiety and dread to one’s own advantage. However, like most philosophy, this can be applied elsewhere.

            One of the most daunting things about death is the lack of clarity on what happens. Specifically, being unsure about the continuity of the consciousness is like staring into the abyss. Is there a bottom of this yawning abyss or are we going to just end? The problem is this fear of the unknown and believing that death is a bad thing. If we believe that death is defined by the end of existence, particularly that of the consciousness, then it carries a severe weight. The severity is the fact that your consciousness will cease to exist, and this is a terrifying thing for people to consider. If there is no end and we go on, is it possible to experience pain? If so, we are left to wonder if we will and what we have to do to avoid it.

            With all the uncertainty people have, the morality and nature of death are incomprehensible at worst and muddled at best. That comes back to a question in the first paragraph, is death evil? Well if there is no afterlife then it has no effect, thus it is not evil. Thomas Nagel writes extensively on the contrary. His immensely thoughtful article from Mortal Questions (which inspired this work) conveys his opinion on the topic.

            Nagel completely disregards the metaphysical possibilities in his work. In doing so, the pain and damages presented by the existence of Hell are nullified. Rather he focuses on the absence of life being the true evil behind it. The deprivation of good from untimely death is the evil of it. To summarize his essay titled Death, I will share something from the conclusion of his paper, “Having been gratuitously introduced to the world by a collection of natural, historical, and social accidents, he finds himself the subject of a life, with an indeterminate and not essentially limited future. Viewed in this way, death, no matter how inevitable, is an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods” (Nagel 1979). Another problem with death is posthumous suffering.

            Many people who have subscribed to religious thought fear repercussions after death. Christians (Protestant, at least) believe that death is the consequence of sin and thus we will die one day. After death, there is the possibility of Hell and eternal damnation. This makes death a very uncertain prospect and a toss-up on the destination. Eastern religions (like Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Taoism) believe that life continues after death in a few ways, like enlightenment and reincarnation. Religions that believe in reincarnation focus on good karma (actions) to achieve enlightenment. If one doesn’t move up, they are forced to be born again in another body. This can cause anxiety as to whether or not the person who is the subject is going to be enlightened or reborn. With this, there is a reasonable fear of death.

            It should be pointed out, this fear of death is more often than a temporal one, the fear of untimely death is far more prevalent because of the fear of missing out (FOMO as my girlfriend calls it). Untimely death at the young age of 16 is a tragedy to some and it is surely sad but does the person who passed away actually mind? The disservice in this circumstance are that which hurt those around this person, as well as the things they will never experience. Arguably, this only matters to the people who know the deceased is “missing out”. If I was biking home and got hit by a Ford F-150 and died on impact, I would have no idea that I was dead, nor would I know of the experiences I’m missing. For family and friends it is a great sorrow but for some death might be a release.

            Life is arguably as “evil” as the death that ends it. Take the example of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, the father of absurdism. He explains the original myth; Sisyphus was punished by the gods to push a boulder up a mountain every day. The catch is that no matter what Sisyphus tried, he could never make it to the top. Camus uses this as a metaphor for the mundane life many of us lead, for some this is immensely depressing. Absurdism is the recognition of our pointless existence in a purposeless and chaotic universe. This is a dreadful thought and Camus addresses it by saying we should find ways to enjoy the absurd and mundane existence. However, for some even this isn’t enough.

            Without getting into specifics, life can be very difficult. This is especially true for those who are marginalized and impoverished, but even for those who are materially wealthy, life can be immensely hard. This existence is as evil as the death of one who enjoys life, so is it selfish to expect someone to live when they hate doing so?

            Death can the end to either a wonderful life or the release from a terrible one and to attribute a nature and morality to something that is inherent to life is a fool’s endeavor. Even for those who are religious, death is the possibility for a new beginning and meeting the salvation or enlightenment that they strive for. Like Camus’ explanation of The Myth of Sisyphus, those who believe in an afterlife should be optimistic in the face of death because if they follow their tenets, they should openly accept their earthly ending.

            If we recognize that the beauty of life is its brevity, then we should learn to appreciate what we have and be grateful by not hoping for more. Life is a mixed bag of good experiences and bad. If there was a definite nature or morality of the determined end of life, it would be purely subjective to the person who dies, not to the act.

Works Cited:

Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813-1855. The Concept of Anxiety: a Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin. Princeton, N.J. :Princeton University Press, 1980.

Nagel, Thomas, 1937-. Mortal Questions. Cambridge [Eng.] ; New York :Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Absurdism

The philosophical notion of the absurd is very abstract but present in all of our lives.

The absurd is this jarring realization that despite the fact that we naturally want to have a meaning and purpose in life, we aren’t able to because our universe is meaningless 

We all encounter this phenomena eventually but how we deal with it is completely on us. A few people have done work on the absurd in the field of philosophy.

In the primary work on Absurdism, The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus spends a large portion of the book trying to explain the abstract concept known as the Absurd, on page 29 of the VIntage International version, he says;

 “ ‘It’s absurd’ means ‘It’s impossible’ but also ‘It’s contradictory.’ If I see a man armed only with a sword attack a group of machine guns, I shall consider his act to be absurd. But it is so solely by virtue of the disproportion between his intention and the reality he will encounter, of the contradiction I notice between his true strength and the aim he has in view.” (Camus, Albert The Myth of Sisyphus pg. 29).

This is also applicable when we look at someone trying to find meaning from a meaningless universe.

The first to notably contribute was Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard once said, “As the reality of God is beyond human comprehension, it is absurd for humans to have faith in God.” 

Quote provided by but unsourced by BBC Ideas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoePDl14Eyc&t=86s

Soren Kierkegaard provided the idea of the absurd when he uses the term anxiety, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” used in The Concept of Anxiety. However, Kierkegaard’s answer to this problem of anxiety or the absurd is a leap of faith. Address the anxiety by limiting the cause. You can limit the causes by believing in God. All knowledge and meaning is derivative of a value set by God

What, then, is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up. etc., has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being, in as much as all immediate recognizability is pre-Socratic paganism and from the Jewish point of view is idolatry.

—Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1846, Hong 1992, p. 210 

Source Concluding Unscientific Postscript by Soren Kierkegaard

To Camus this is philosophical suicide. In “Myth of Sisyphus” Albert Camus establishes himself as the leading philosopher on the absurd. At the beginning of the text, Camus extends what he believes to be, the most important philosophical question; “There is but one serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” 

–Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942 p.3

Camus argues that to put hope and a sense of meaning in God or some higher being is taking the easy way out. By committing to this leap of faith, Camus claims we give up the ability to find our own meaning by putting stock in God. He makes it clear that he isn’t judging that belief in God. He clarifies this on page 41 and in the footnotes on page 42. Camus says;

“I am taking the liberty at this point of calling the existential attitude philosophical suicide. But this does not imply judgement, It is a convenient way of indicating the movement by which a thought negates itself and tends to transcend itself in it very negation, For the existential negation is their God. To be precise, that god is maintained only through the negation of human reason.” (Camus, Albert The Myth of Sisyphus pg 41-42).

In the footnotes he follows up on this paragraph writing, “Let me assert again: it is not the affirmation of God that is questioned here, but rather the logic leading to that affirmation.” 

Let’s unpack these two quotes. The first is saying that this leap of faith is philosophical suicide, he isn’t poking fun at those who believe in God, rather he thinks its a perfectly reasonable way to deal with the absurd. HIs issue however, is that by believing in God, humans are giving up their ability to reason. This is also the case in the next quote. Camus says, “Let me assert again; it is not the affirmation of God that is questioned here…” he doesn’t care about believing in God, it could be any god or leap of faith, he goes on to say, “but rather the logic leading to that affirmation.” This way of thinking is known as phenomenological analysis. Frankly, you don’t have to know what that means in depth but basically it’s trying to understand why someone has come to think what they think. 

On page 47 and 48 of “Myth of Sisyphus” he says, “The abstract philosopher and the religious philosopher start out from the same disorder and support each other in the same anxiety.” Both philosophers recognize the absurd and are plagued by it. The ways they deal with it are different. The abstract philosopher here recognizes and embraces the condition of absurdity while the religious philosopher attempts to escape it. This is the why of believing in the leap of faith as a solution. It is easier to suspend reason and avoid the absurd than it is to face it.

Now that we have thoroughly discussed what the absurd is, we can discuss how to deal with it. Albert Camus offers three solutions, two of which we have talked about. 

The three ways to deal with the absurd are:

Suicide

Philosophical suicide (or a leap of faith)

And Recognition

In the same way that philosophical suicide is an escape from the absurd, physical suicide is also a way to avoid facing the anxiety of the absurd. To Camus, suicide is also an easy way out. It is confessing that life is too hard and not worth living. To the absurd man, as Camus would put it, by committing suicide you are depriving yourself of the passions and beauty that life can offer. Therefore, Camus rejects this solution as a reasonable way to deal with the absurd.

Since we previously discussed the solution that is the philosophical leap, we can move on to the final solution, which Camus supports. 

In order to deal with the absurd we should recognize it and find ways to appreciate it there are three parts included in recognizing it. This is how you should deal with the absurd should you choose to recognize it.

On page 64, Camus points out these three consequences in the second paragraph, “Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death- and I refuse suicide.” (Camus, Albert, The Myth of Sisyphus, pg.64)

To break this down, we should work to understand the meaning of these three consequences. 

When he uses the word “revolt” it is in reference to the refusing to commit suicide, essentially the absurd man will attempt to find his own meaning in spite of the absurd. 

Camus says, “my freedom” in regards to the limitations of religion, especially on the ability to reason.

Finally the term “passion” is allowing yourself to experience the fullness of life. To Camus, the worst way to go about recognizing the absurd is obsessing over it. When you focus on reasoning through something unreasonable, you deprive yourself from the beautiful aspects of life. 

 We will come back to The Myth of Sisyphus momentarily, but this is the perfect opportunity to introduce a work of fiction by Albert Camus known as The Stranger, also translated as The Outsider. The Stranger was written a year after Myth of Sisyphus but published the same year. In The Stranger we follow an absurd man by the name of Meursault, the opening line is, “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don’t know.” (Camus, Albert The Stranger pg. 3). Much of The Stranger  is written in these short, impersonal sentences that gives the reader a sense of indifference. Meursault cares very little about almost everything. He allows himself to take in simple pleasures of day to day life but doesn’t strive for some lofty goal. He knows this is pointless, absurd. He enjoys what is available to him. His only frustrations in the book are from the sun and it’s inescapable sun of Algeria, what was then a French territory. His hate of the sun and the fact that he goes with the flow leads him down a dangerous path where his indifference costs him everything. The correlation I would like to point out is that he disregards negative things in his life as unimportant and focuses on the simple pleasures.

This is what we ought to imagine Sisyphus should do when he pushes the boulder up the mountain for eternity. The reasons and traditions change when it comes to why Sisyphus was condemned to this fate but for the sake of time, you can rest assured knowing he was the king of Corinth and had tricked the gods and they banished him to the underworld to push a boulder up a mountain everyday only for it to fall down when he reached the top.

Camus draws a parallel to us with Sisyphus. We are doomed to work thankless jobs and go home tired everyday just to do it again the next. He says that the interesting part lies in the descent down the mountain, after the boulder has fallen. Camus says, “That hour like a breathing space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.” (Camus, Albert The Myth of Sisyphus pg. 121).

Sisyphus is choosing to go back to his rock, despite knowing it is meaningless and causes him pain. Sisyphus doesn’t give up or kill himself, rather he goes back to the boulder to do it again. There has to be some bad in every good. The argument applies the other way around, there has to be some good in the bad. Camus argues that we have to focus on being happy despite everything else. In the last paragraph he writes, “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes all is well.” (Camus, Albert The Myth of Sisyphus pg. 123). 

Sisyphus then takes ownership of his burden and finds ways to enjoy it. He becomes stronger by pushing the boulder, he gets to see what is beyond the mountain everyday, he can find easier ways to get it up the mountain and he can focus on the ways the mountain and boulder changes everyday. Camus famously writes, “ One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (Camus, Albert The Myth of Sisyphus pg.123).

Oppositions to absurdism

It’s likely that anyone who disagrees with notions set forth by existentialism also disagrees with absurdism. That’s not to say that people who disagree with absurdism don’t believe in the absurd. Remember absurdism is how you deal with the absurd. Since absurdism claims there is no meaning in the universe or by higher power, anyone who believes we are given meaning by a divine being or concept disagree by definition.  

Some might be inclined to say this is a privileged philosophy. Only people who aren’t greatly affected by problems can ignore them completely or only focus on the good. While that’s fair, it’s important to be aware of the fact that this was written during World War 2 and Camus came from poverty. That doesn’t mean he is an authority on oppression or this can apply to everyone but it’s a way to keep sane in a world full of despair. 

Further Reading

The Myth of Sisyphus has had a tremendous impact on my life and has helped me in many ways. 

The Stranger– Camus

Fear and Trembling– Kierkegaard

Thus Spoke Zarathustra– Nietzsche I know we haven’t talked about Nietzsche today but this offers a different way to approach the absurd that Camus didn’t talk about.

An Elementary Understanding of Hegel’s Dialectic Method

The following is an excerpt from an upcoming work titled: “Ethical Considerations of Violent Revolution”. Thank yous must be extended to my friend and peer, Jordan Gerdes and my beautiful partner, Kristy Coventry, for their immense help in revising and adjusting not only this excerpt but the work in entirety and others.

Hegel derived the term dialectic from Plato, who used this term to explain how Socrates argued with people. Someone would argue with Socrates, then Socrates would offer a counterpoint and argue back. This is the dialectic. Hegel was concerned with the whole of the argument. His method was to determine the moments of logical concepts, these concepts made up parts of the whole and this is how arguments evolve. Hegel also applied this theory to how society tends to grow and establish. It’s important to note that Hegel didn’t think that things evolved linearly but rather flowed between two polarities until it came to a mid-point. But these moments that make up evolutions or arguments are contradictory and incomplete because the whole is the synthesis (which we discuss more shortly) of the two incomplete parts. This synthesis is whole, but only for a time. Even a synthesis will have something that contradicts it at some point.

Hegel determines that the dialectic method is a process of logical reasoning, therefore, instead of using the term parts or pieces, he uses the term moments. His method is made up of three moments; the thesis, the antithesis, and the synthesis. The thesis presents a logical proposition. The antithesis presents an opposition to the thesis. Between the thesis and the antithesis, the synthesis develops. The synthesis dissolves the conflict between the two (moments) by negating the contradictions present, allowing for a compromise and finally a positive result.

Since the synthesis grows out of a contradiction between the two opposing rationales, or determinations, the earlier logical determinations are not eliminated but present in the very essence of the synthesis. As the argument progresses through its cycle, an antithesis will develop to challenge the determination of the newly formed synthesis. This provides growth for the logical whole or for the phenomena to which it is applied, e.g. society. The reason this antithesis develops usually pertains to a weakness within the synthesis, or from frustrations that one of the earlier determinations was somehow neglected when the synthesis came to be.

Hegel argues that this dialectical method and development is progressed by a concept called the Spirit of humanity often called “World Spirit” or the Weltgeist, in German. This is not a transcendental phenomenon in the way people believe in spirits, nor is it a tangible object but rather a manifestation of consciousness. This is an incredibly dense and complicated concept developed in Hegel’s work Phenomenology of Spirit and the interpretations vary. In short, we are “conscious” of things and “self-conscious” in regards of ourselves. When we are conscious of things and of ourselves, we know that we have the ability to reason. This action of reasoning brings about a force called Spirit, that allows us to make changes upon society and the world. Hegel argues that this Spirit came unto the world through Jesus Christs’ death and resurrection and it necessitates the existence of Spirit in man. This Spirit has existed forever, since God is Spirit, and since we are supposedly created in the image of God, we are Spirit, thus our actions carried out are also Spirit in practice. Ultimately, the Weltgeist, or World Spirit, is the idea that consciousness is not individual but the unity of reasoning and rational consciousness present in all people.

This idea gave a foundation for dialectic materialism established by Marx and Engels.

The Peculiar Murder of Philando Castile

The shocking and disturbing case of the murder of Philando Castile is probably one of the most apparent cases of outright racism if not implicit bias within our justice system. Castile’s death left a daughter without her father and a girlfriend without her partner. On a macro-scale it left the black community and its allies outraged. According to the Washington Post police killed 962 people in the year of 2016. (Washington Post). Philando Castile is just one of many black men killed in this statistic but for some reason his untimely death become one of the hashtags on Twitter.

Police brutality is nothing new, especially towards black men within our societal context. Amina Khan shares this in the Los Angeles Times, “A new study finds that about 1 in 1,000 black men and boys can expect to die as a result of police violence over the course of their lives – a risk that’s about 2.5 times higher than their white peers.” (Khan, Amina). What was so enraging about the murder of Philando Castile was that despite complete compliance with a police officer who had antagonized the situation, Castile was shot multiple times by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Two videos have since been released, a dashboard camera as well as the livestream video from Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. This happened just a day after the murder of Alton Sterling in Louisiana.

The videos of the shooting show two different perspectives. The dashcam video shows Philando pulling off to the shoulder of a road and Officer Yanez notifying Castile that his brake light was out. The policeman asks for license and registration before Philando Castile politely informs the officer he has a licensed firearm. Officer Yanez says “Don’t reach for it then, don’t pull it out. Don’t pull it out!” (CBS News). He says this while pulling the gun on his hip before shooting at Philando Castile 7 times. The moans of pain from Castile precede the start of his girlfriend’s Facebook livestream.

Diamond Reynolds stood strong in one of the most adverse moments she will likely ever face. As Officer Yanez panicked and cursed, she calmly informed the camera what had happened. Yanez aggressively yelled at Reynolds to not move and keep her hands visible. There was something so frustrate yet admirable about the demeanor of Diamond Reynolds. Being so calm when the father of her child was murdered in the span of just a few words. The stream ends with Diamond’s daughter reassuring her that everything is okay as her mother weeps.

There are many issues with this murder outside of the abhorrent racism. The two I will focus on are the evident issues of hypocrisy. The first is that Philando Castile was a registered owner of a firearm and this should have been a flagship case for the NRA and conservatives arguing for gun control under the guise of defense against a tyrannical government. That was not the case. The second is an issue within the judicial system itself, we have seen a disproportionate uptick in police violence in the past ten years. These things are in tandem and conjunction with a bevvy of other issues that exacerbate the factors leading to the untimely death of Philando Castile.

Historically, conservative gun rights activists have always been silent in regards to people of color and marginalized groups gun rights. A specific instance would be the civil rights, direct action group The Black Panthers. They were the perfect example of a group of people being oppressed and arming themselves to defend their communities. The U.S. government attempted to disarm them and labelled as black-extremists and terrorists. We can also look to Leonard Peltier and the American Indian Movement defending their land in what’s known as the “Pine Ridge Shootout” in 1975. None of these parties were represented or supported by right-wing gun activists and this is the case with Philando Castile. Philando had a registered and legal firearm with a concealed carry permit and without drawing his sidearm he was shot and killed by an agent of the government. Is this not what the NRA fights against and holds value in? To view the United States as tyrannical in 2016 in speculation and subjective but this is precisely the argument conservative gun activists stand by. Dana Loesch, the spokesperson for the NRA quickly denounced the innocence of Castile in a tweet saying, “He was also in possession of a controlled substance and a firearm simultaneously, which is illegal. Stop lying…” (Cohen,Kelly). While Castile did have high amounts of THC in his system, that doesn’t justify his murder.

The claim that the judicial system has an implicit bias or there is systemic racism has been heavily refuted. A question comes into the mix and that is, just how tangible can racism be in an institution? Can an entire system be fundamentally racist and discriminatory or is it that individuals within an institution (judicial, in this case) may be prejudiced? While I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, this question is imperative to our understanding of the conditions that surround police brutality. In the case of Philando Castile, we may have an answer. The individual, Officer Yanez, was racist at an implicit level, if not explicitly. He made an assumption that led to the death of Philando Castile and this assumption was made from a prejudice that black people are criminals or that Castile was dangerous because black people are dangerous. I understand this is a speculative claim but in comparison to cases where white men have done worse (see Dylann Roof) and have been apprehended, there is foundation. One only needs to log onto Facebook or Twitter weekly to see the stark contrast between the way police handle black perpetrators and white perpetrators. Officer Yanez was racist at an individual level but is this not a symptom of the distrust the police have towards black people and vice-versa? The justice system has entrenched it’s prejudices by fermenting beliefs that were established on a misinformed foundation.

Police violence is an epidemic that is geared towards marginalized people, whether it be people of color, the poor or people within the LGBT community. It was important to not mention how Philando Castile was a stand-up citizen and a cafeteria supervisor loved by his students because that doesn’t attribute a value that should have prevented Officer Yanez from killing him in his car. Philando didn’t receive due process and he lost his life over a taillight. The issue transcends rhetoric and justification, we shouldn’t have nearly a thousand people killed by police officers every year. A black man is more likely to be killed by a police officer than struck by lightning or winning the lottery and if that doesn’t frame the issue, I’m not sure what does.

Works Cited:

CBS News, “Police Dashcam Video Released in Fatal Shooting of Philando Castile” Youtube, June 20. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y7sgZZQ7pw

Cohen, Kelly, “Dana Loesch explains why the NRA didn’t defend Philando Castile” Washington Post, August 10, 2017, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/dana-loesch-explains-why-the-nra-didnt-defend-philando-castile

Khan, Amina, “Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men

Washington Post, “Fatal Force” Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/

Why Existentialism?

Existentialism is arguably one of the most prevailing schools of philosophy in our day and age. What makes it so appealing? Existentialism is a wonderful way of finding one’s place or purpose in the universe (or lack thereof), especially when you are disconnected from a faith or religion. Not saying that faith and existentialism are mutually exclusive. An example of this is Søren Kierkegaard, who was a Christian existentialist. Kierkegaard is credited with establishing much of the preliminary thought when it comes to existentialism. Existentialism has been defined in many ways but the consensus lies in the idea that humans may shape their own life without definite knowledge of good or bad. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as follows:

“A philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”

Existentialism often contends the fact that the universe has coherent agency or more simply put the idea that the universe has some level of control over our lives. Some philosophers put this idea into separate lenses. Oxford’s Dictionary of Philosophy points this out with their more detailed definition, “Different writers who united in stressing the importance of these themes nevertheless developed very different ethical and metaphysical systems as a consequence. In Heidegger existentialism turns into scholastic ontology; in Sartre into a dramatic exploration of moments of choice and stress; in the theologians Barth, Tillich and Bultmann it becomes a device for reinventing the relationships between people and God.” This theme has become diluted in definition by its many European forefathers but the consistency in all of them is recognizing the self and the insignificance we have.

Some questions that are faced by existentialists are regarding “The Human Condition”. This is more easily conceptualized as (1) Why are we here? (2) What or where is my identity? (3) What does it mean to be human? Existential philosophers reject systems in these answers, such as religion, God, or something else that is a timeless absolute. Especially when these systems claim they have the answers definitive to all human experience.

Many instances in which contemporary society uses the term existentialism in any context is in the term “existential crisis” or “existential dread”. Existentialism can be an unsettling awareness of how insignificant we are. Part of it is realizing how vast the universe is and how, at that level, humans are insignificant. It’s the thoughts you hear from a stoner or the ones you have at three in the morning. More often than not, these thoughts provoke some level of anxiety. It is when you learn to face the disillusion of grandeur that you are at peace.

Existentialism is the answer to the much older philosophy of essentialism. This is the idea that humans have an inherent purpose given by a higher being or the universe. Essentialism was and is common in religion, especially Christianity. Nietzsche and Sartre pushed against this quite a bit. One of Sartre’s most influential and quoted sentences is from a lecture (later novelized in 1946) that summarizes this contention in three words “Existence precedes essence.” 1 This means that we don’t have a personality or essence that predates our existence. This argues against the idea of human nature or design and claims that we determine that throughout our life.

With this elementary explanation of existentialism established, we can finally ask ourselves why we gravitate towards it so much in the 21st century when it couldn’t prevail at its inception. This is not uncommon in any philosophy or new thought process. These types of thought generally don’t catch traction until after the pioneers of said thoughts have died. The pressing question I have is, is the nature of existentialism the reason it is so prevalent in today’s political and socio economic climate?

Whenever I start up on a new essay, I search my planned title on Google (Why Existentialism? if you forgot). I do this to avoid copying someone else. On the first page of results, there were four different articles2 vouching for the relevance of existentialism. Each article argued their own reason (obviously there is and will be overlap), but their existence and first page placement argue that existentialism is still very much an important school in philosophy (among nihilism, hedonism, Epicureanism and others). Existentialism was relatively popular in France during World War 2 and after it moved into jazz bars and cafes. It took a firm hold in the civil rights movements in the United States because leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. read Sartre and Kierkegaard.

It is curious that this ideology emerges as a sort of intellectual fad in times of distress and crisis. By that line of logic, we need to analyze the material realities that the human condition is facing in 2019. If this philosophy emerged during the Nazi occupation of France and as a revolutionary force for civil rights, why is it resurfacing now?

One reason may be the accessibility of the it in the Age of Information. Existentialism hasn’t been obscured or censored, this may be due to the fact that this “awareness” has the potential to lead towards inaction. My point is that it has been taught in school, colleges and it is open to common dialogue (unlike Marxism for example). We can go online without worrying about being surveilled for looking up Simone de Beauvoir or Friedrich Nietzsche and study their ideas or download a .pdf of their collections. All that is to say, this philosophy is not some secret or lost knowledge, it is rather recent and accessible. With the internet, however, most philosophy is accessible, so why would this apparent emergence be existentialism and not something like Confucianism or pragmatism?

While existentialism is hard to define, the philosophy itself may be the reason it has caught traction. The nature of existentialism lends itself to be a great coping mechanism and equally a fuel for rebellious tendencies. One could argue that we are in a time that this reasoning is valuable. If we recognize that there is still (at least to some degree) injustice in this world, that alone is enough for a gravitation to existentialism. Rather this oppression or injustice has roots in misogynist patriarchy, racism, homophobia or whatever else it may be, existentialism can be a way to cope with this. This is because existentialists believe that they are in control of their own life.

Sure there are very real and substantial forces enacting systematic oppression towards marginalized people, that should not be trivialized, but how do we respond to that? We should take control of our own lives and enact autonomy. Existentialism can be a call to action against those who would try to impose on our livelihood or pursuit of happiness. Whether it be traditional gender roles, climate change, white supremacy or any of the issues plaguing our society, we are responsible in challenging the arbitrary limitations set by “the powers that be”. It is our responsibility to shape the face of humanity since there is no meaning or purpose set by something outside of humanity.

In a society that has nearly rejected God we face the idea that without a higher purpose we are left with a dread (anxiety) that is overwhelming. Pair this with existential crises like that of climate catastrophe and other things then it may be only rational to resort to some belief that embraces and accepts our condition. To answer the titular question (why existentialism?), as beings with critical thinking we have moved past divine explanation and into a sickening awareness of our reality, material or otherwise. Existentialism is a reassuring answer to this daunting problem.

Works Cited:

1.)      Sartre, Jean-Paul, Existentialism Is A Humanism, 1946

2.) https://medium.com/the-philosophers-stone/why-existentialism-is-the-only-philosophy-that-makes-any-sense-86beca9e8c48

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/04/ten-reasons-to-be-an-existentialist

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/why-existentialism-is-so-important

Why existentialism continues to matter today

This blog is pretty simple

I started enjoying philosophy when one of my friends said I looked like Søren Kierkegaard. He then continued on about how I would enjoy existentialism and from there I started dipping my toes into philosophy. I started with Albert Camus and then Friedrich Nietzsche and before long I took a college class; Intro to Philosophy.

I am in no way a philosopher, I’m an evolutionary biology student and a dishwasher but I enjoy philosophy. This is a side project and I plan on writing as I want, about what I want.

The premise of this blog is to deliver my unsolicited philosophical thought on ethics, metaphysics, ontology and whatever else I decide. The difference, however is that this will be in relatively simple terms.

Most academic philosophers flex large vocabularies and add unnecessary, convoluted and overall pretentious language to try and seem really smart. That’s not to say that they aren’t intelligent but it’s not accessible. I shouldn’t get a headache from reading a piece on the concept of free will. So I will be avoiding this barricade of “intellectual” language and bs.

The majority of my writings here will be argumentative or ramblings on a particular topic (like the aforementioned concept of free will). If I find myself wondering, it’s my blog…oh well.

Thank you for visiting the blog and I hope you like what you find or hate it so much that you want to respectfully argue your point, nevertheless, enjoy.

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