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Philosopher Stefan Molyneux interviews a sea captain about the collapse of international shipping under COVID-19!

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What else you may like…
Live Streamed on June 7, 2023 7:02 PM ET

Come on babyyyy, let's do the think!

Stefan Molyneux Speaks at the European Union!

The speech that got me deplatformed...

My daughter did a portrait of me - she can draw you as well!

It's a timelapse video. If you upload a picture, she would be happy to draw you too!

StefBOT AI responses....


StefBOT AI responses....
ESSENTIAL SHOW: The Ethos of Demons

Why is the story of selling your soul for fame so common in all cultures?

The answer will shock and enlighten you.

ESSENTIAL SHOW: The Ethos of Demons
Izzy and Stef AMA!

Philosopher Stefan Molyneux takes questions with his 14 year old daughter Izzy!

Izzy and Stef AMA!
Izzy drew a robin
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All who banned me have something to hide...
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The donkey said to the tiger:

  • "The grass is blue".

The tiger replied:

  • "No, the grass is green."

The discussion heated up, and the two decided to submit him to arbitration, and for this they went before the lion, the King of the Jungle.

Already before reaching the forest clearing, where the lion was sitting on his throne, the donkey began to shout:

  • "His Highness, is it true that the grass is blue?".

The lion replied:

  • "True, the grass is blue."

The donkey hurried and continued:

  • "The tiger disagrees with me and contradicts and annoys me, please punish him."

The king then declared:

  • "The tiger will be punished with 5 years of silence."

The donkey jumped cheerfully and went on his way, content and repeating:

  • "The Grass Is Blue"...

The tiger accepted his punishment, but before he asked the lion:

  • "Your Majesty, why have you punished me?, after all, the grass is green."

The lion replied:

  • "In fact, the grass is green."

The tiger asked:

  • "So why are you punishing me?".

The lion...

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9 April 2023

"Write a table of contents for a book on how to parent without aggression."


Table of Contents








Chapter 1: Understanding the Effects of Aggression on Children


1.1 The Harmful Impact of Aggressive Parenting


1.2 Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Consequences


1.3 Long-term Effects of Aggression in Parenting


Chapter 2: Building a Foundation of Love and Respect


2.1 The Importance of Empathy and Compassion


2.2 Creating a Safe and Nurturing Environment


2.3 Building Trust and Connection with Your Child


Chapter 3: Effective Communication Strategies


3.1 Active Listening and Empathetic Responses


3.2 Nonviolent Communication Techniques


3.3 Assertiveness and Boundary Setting


Chapter 4: Positive Discipline Approaches


4.1 The Benefits of Positive Discipline


4.2 Setting Clear Expectations and Consequences


4.3 Encouraging Self-regulation and Responsibility


Chapter 5: Teaching Emotional Intelligence


5.1 Understanding Emotions and Their Impact


5.2 Cultivating Emotional Awareness in Children


5.3 Helping Children Develop Emotional Regulation Skills


Chapter 6: Managing Parental Stress and Emotions


6.1 Recognizing and Addressing Parental Burnout


6.2 Mindfulness and Self-compassion Practices


6.3 Building a Support Network


Chapter 7: Resolving Conflicts without Aggression


7.1 Identifying the Root Causes of Conflict


7.2 Problem-solving Strategies for Families


7.3 Repairing and Strengthening Relationships


Chapter 8: Fostering Healthy Sibling Relationships


8.1 Preventing Sibling Rivalry


8.2 Encouraging Cooperation and Empathy


8.3 Celebrating Individuality and Differences


Chapter 9: Raising Resilient and Empowered Children


9.1 Building Self-esteem and Confidence


9.2 Nurturing Independence and Problem-solving Skills


9.3 Preparing Children for Life Challenges




Resources and Recommended Reading


About the Author



"Write the first chapter of a book promoting parenting without aggression"


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Essential Philosophy - Part 9
A book by Stefan Molyneux

Afterward: Inevitable Criticisms

In professional wrestling, mullet-haired monster men often snarl at each other before matches, engaging in the time-honoured tradition of trash talking. The purpose of this is to build anticipation for the match.

It would be a very odd thing if, after weeks of trash talking, only one of the wrestlers showed up for the fight.

It would be considered an act of supreme cowardice to trash-talk an opposing athlete while refusing to show up for the actual event.

The same process often occurs in philosophy, wherein an opponent slanders you, insults you, surrounds you with a fiery moat of negative adjectives, while never actually addressing the content of your arguments.

The actual fight is about the reason and evidence presented – everything else is just a distraction. Albert Einstein, remarking on a group of scientists who had signed a document stating he was wrong, said that one scientist proving him wrong would suffice.

If you have the capacity to actually prove someone wrong, you do not need to be hostile or insulting. You do not need to imagine malevolent motives on the part of your opponent, you do not need to insult their intelligence, education, writing skills or appearance – you just need to clearly show where he or she is wrong.

We all know this, but many people seem to constantly forget it at the same time.

I have been reasoning, reading, debating, writing and arguing in the realm of philosophy for over 35 years. I have an Ivy League education at the master’s level, and my dissertation was a deep thesis on the history of Western philosophy, for which I received top marks. For many years, I have had the privilege of hosting the world’s largest and most popular philosophy show, with over half a billion views and downloads. I have interviewed hundreds of subject-matter experts in a wide variety of fields, debated both professionals and laypeople on many complex topics, written half a dozen books, and been interviewed myself by friends and foes alike.

None of this means my arguments are correct, of course – I could have achieved all of this and still be spectacularly wrong. There are many thinkers with greater credentials than I have, whom I consider to be spectacularly wrong. Neither credentials nor experience fundamentally matter in terms of the argument. I bring all of this up because no doubt I will be attacked and scorned with regards to experience or credentials or what have you. I am wrong, some will say, because I do not hold a PhD in philosophy from Harvard or Yale.

This is a fascinating position – I really cannot call it an argument – because the entire history of philosophy is the history of rejecting authority in favour of reason and evidence. Academic philosophers with doctorates worship Socrates; Socrates had no doctorate and scorned arguments from authority. As the saying goes, all science is founded on scepticism of authority. With philosophy, it goes even further. All philosophy is founded on hostility toward authority.

Philosophy is the ultimate democratic discipline. Rational philosophy holds that individuals are

entirely capable of processing reality, of reasoning effectively, and of coming to the right conclusions. Philosophy empowers individuals with the capacity to push back against irrational or anti-rational authority using their own individual capacity for thought.

Generally, a refusal to rebut the content of an argument is a confession of cowardice, incompetence or malevolence. Insulting your opponent – at least, absent clear rebuttals to arguments – is a betrayal of philosophy, not its fulfilment.

This is not to say that philosophers must engage with every person who makes a mistake. We do not want to become like the hapless husband in a famous cartoon, who says to his wife that he cannot possibly come to bed yet, because someone is wrong on the internet. However, when someone of prominence and influence is publicly making bad arguments, philosophers are honour-bound to push back against these errors. We do not have to argue with a crazy man on the street corner who is waving a Wingdings pamphlet at rain clouds, but egregious errors from a prominent person tend to stand unless and until we correct them.

If you refuse to engage in such a necessary debate, clearly that is because you fear losing, or you fear anyone coming into contact with your opponent’s ideas. However, if you can effectively rebut bad arguments, why on earth would you fear their increased exposure?

You might fear the exposure of bad arguments because you imagine that the majority of people cannot think and will end up buried under the verbal dexterity and sophistry of a well- credentialed street preacher.

I accept that as a possible position – but then your job should be to instruct the masses on how to think, or at least how to think better, instead of engaging with a sophist who cannot be distinguished from the philosopher by the untutored multitude. Maybe you cannot stop all the sugary commercials aimed at your children, but you can at least educate your children about the dangers of sugar.

If you call your wrestling opponent a coward, but then refuse to show up to the fight, your criticism is utterly exposed as projection – it is you who are the coward.

If you call your intellectual opponent wrong, but then refuse to show up to the debate, your attack is utterly exposed as projection – it is you who are wrong.

The more extravagant your trash talking of your opponent, the more your cowardice is revealed when you refuse to fight him.

The more hysterical your abuse of your intellectual opponent, the more your cowardice is revealed when you avoid debating him.

A number of words and phrases show up as distinct “tells” for intellectual cowardice. I am sure I will receive some of them, so it is worth going over them briefly. As I said above, for philosophy, prevention is by far the better part of cure.

Generic Pejoratives

Calling someone’s argument “reductionist,” or “simplistic,” or “amateurish,” or “unconvincing” is a boring way of saying that you are too cowardly or stupid to engage in a debate. If someone’s ideas are worth insulting, then surely they are worth rationally rebutting first.

Calling someone a misogynist, a cult leader, a racist – we all understand that none of these are arguments; they are confessions of intellectual cowardice and impotence. If you show up to an oncologist to have him remove a deadly tumour, and he spends half an hour verbally insulting it, would you consider yourself cured? If you go to an optometrist to get help with blurry vision, is your problem solved if your optometrist merely rails against the greed of the eyeglass industry, or says that all vision is merely subjective, so how do you really know that your vision is blurry?

Another trick is to call someone “overambitious” or “grandiose,” or to imply that the problem is far more complex than he assumes – without addressing the content of his arguments. I am fully aware that I have taken on enormous philosophical problems in this book and claimed to have solved them. This is an ambitious project to be sure – calling it “overambitious” is not an argument.

Another trick is to call an argument “incomplete,” which is a variation of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. All arguments are “incomplete,” because language has limitations, we are mortal, readers have lives to live, and all resources are finite. I may not have read arguments for determinism written in ancient Aramaic, or I may have failed to address the ethical arguments of a particular Indian philosopher – and I may not have rebutted some article against me – but so what? If the definition of “complete” is pretty much synonymous with “omniscient,” it can be safely discarded as a ridiculous standard. Dragging thinkers off to continually research and respond to everyone else’s thoughts is just a silly way of ensuring that thinkers remain cripplingly unoriginal. If you cannot paint a picture of a boat until you have lived at sea, studied the history of boating, and learned the details of every other picture of a boat, then clearly the purpose of all those restrictions is to stop you from painting your own picture of a boat.

It’s a trap!

Let us say that a man named David comes up with an argument called X. Let us say that you wish to oppose argument X, but without actually engaging with the content of the argument – here is another silly trick. Find some other argument that David has made that is generally unpopular – we can call this Y. Now, instead of engaging with argument X, you can instead wave around the red flag of argument Y, and hope – usually correctly – that the resulting howls of mob outrage about argument Y drown out your lack of rational rebuttal to argument X.

Another approach is to create a fiery language moat of ostracism around David, to the point where no one feels safe engaging with him. If you can portray David as so crazy, so evil, so malevolent and so ridiculous that to even engage with him is to give him more credibility than he deserves, then you can sink original thought in the foggy canyons of social aversion. This is not always an incorrect position – since such crazy people certainly exist – but it is invalid in the face of significant popularity. I do not spend any time rebutting the personal paranoias of inconsequential individuals – but when someone like Karl Marx remains so popular, he is prominent enough to deserve exposure and rebuttal.

Here is another way you can avoid getting into the ring with a strong thinker – find the least popular person who likes that thinker’s arguments, and then promote that unpopular person as a “guilt by association” representative. If David Duke retweeted you once, that means that you and David Duke are pretty much the same person! The beauty of this cowardly move is that you never have to apply it to the thinkers that you like – such as Barack Obama and his association with Louis Farrakhan.

Exposing the personal hypocrisies of your opponents can also be a rich vein of avoidance- mining. If Albert rails against government subsidies, but once had a job at a company that took government subsidies, you can just point out that fact and think you have done something to dismantle Albert’s arguments against government subsidies. As before, the beauty of this is that you never have to apply it to those you like. Karl Marx, while simultaneously railing against the exploitation of workers by bosses, impregnated his maid, then tossed her out into the street.

This is not brought up by Marxists, of course, but any remote inconsistency on the part of their opponents is shot into peoples’ eyeballs like reddish fireworks.

Pointing out that someone has been wrong in the past can also be a good way of getting out of a potentially humiliating debate. Being wrong is a natural consequence of making arguments – to wait for perfection is to stagnate in perpetuity. Could we have gotten to Einsteinian physics without going through Newtonian physics? It is doubtful. Saying that someone is wrong now because he has been wrong in the past is like saying you can easily beat a world champion boxer because he once lost a fight in the past.

Perhaps your intellectual opponent has an esoteric area of interest that has nothing to do with his current argument, which you can highlight with the goal of insulting his general competence. Sir Isaac Newton was obsessed with alchemy and mysticism. Is it not far easier to point that out than to learn and rebut his general mathematical and physical theories? Christopher Hitchens was ridiculously enamored of the child murderer Che Guevara, but that has little relevance to Hitchens’s argument against the existence of God. If Hitchens claims to be a good judge of character, this can certainly be brought up as a counterexample, but its scope should be limited to the argument at hand.

Pointing out that a moralist has done something immoral does not necessarily invalidate that moralist’s ethical theories. If a televangelist who rails against infidelity has an affair, this does not automatically invalidate all of his prior arguments against infidelity – especially since Christianity itself states that everyone is a sinner and temptation is everywhere. Dr. Benjamin Spock’s grandson committed suicide – I have heard this fact used to support spanking, since Dr. Spock disapproved of the practice.

Not an argument.

At an even baser level, you can use flattering photographs of intellectuals you like, while using unflattering photographs of those you dislike. You can use positive adjectives to describe those who agree with you, while using negative adjectives to describe those who oppose you. For example, I have been described in the mainstream media as “a former IT worker.” I co-founded and grew a successful software company, like Steve Jobs, but I have never seen Steve Jobs referred to as “a former IT worker.”

If you like a thinker, you can quote his admirers – if you dislike a thinker, you can quote his detractors.

If you dislike a group of thinkers, you can create a label to describe them, and then infuse that label with as many pejoratives as possible. For instance, you can call people part of the “far right,” “extreme right,” or “alt-right,” and then hope – usually successfully – that people’s internal autocorrect transforms those labels into the ideologically required “fascist” or “Nazi.” You can label anyone who wishes to preserve his country’s culture as “far right/Nazi,” and then hope no one notices that Israel has a very strong desire to preserve its own culture, which means that, in this insane formulation, Jews are in fact Nazis.

You can also deride everyone on the left as a “snowflake,” even when leftists have powerful and legitimate criticisms of Western imperialism, traditional Republican warmongering and the military-industrial complex.

You can also divide a group of thinkers into “acceptable” and “unacceptable,” and woo those you deem acceptable with favourable articles and attractive photographs, in the hope – usually successful – that they will then start avoiding those you deem unacceptable. Bribing selected people with positive coverage is a great way of splitting a movement and turning it against itself.

Another way to deplatform a thinker is to manufacture a hysterical controversy and then continually refer to that controversy in the future. Repetition sinks reputation, and actual arguments are never addressed. This also serves as a standing threat against anyone who even dreams of taking a similar position.

Inevitably, you will hear that my arguments are reductionist, or simplistic, or incomplete, or that I have not addressed so-and-so’s argument, or that I have a bad reputation, or that I am not a philosopher, or that I avoid legitimate debates, or I am disliked, or I am grandiose, or that I was wrong about something sometime, or someone bad liked something I said once. You name it – the mud is thrown, while only hitting the gullible and ignorant.

Do not fall for the silly tricks. Do what I do – just skim the article, or speed up the audio, and see whether any actual arguments are addressed.

If not, just understand that the words are a foolish moat around a necessary treasure – and that the writer or the speaker is a mere fool, full of sound and fury, whose life signifies nothing but cowardice.

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Essential Philosophy - Part 8
A book by Stefan Molyneux



“The Senses Are Invalid”

●        I wish to take issue with the naïve notion that we have some kind of direct conduit to reality through the mechanism of the senses. Everything that comes to our mind through the senses is narrow, incomplete and fragmentary – and people who imagine they can assemble some universal and coherent view of the universe through the tiny windows of the senses are delusional.

●        I have noticed that those who oppose universals always start off with insults – pairing negative emotional terms with the arguments of their opponents. For instance, you have referred to arguments for the validity of the senses as “naïve notions” and to those who hold such beliefs as “delusional.” I am generally suspicious of people who begin a debate with subtle – and not-so-subtle – insults, because if you have really good arguments, I do not see the need to start by insulting your opponents. When I teach my child that two and two make four, I do not need to be insulting; that is the mark of bad faith – or suspect reasoning, to be more precise.

●        I am sorry if you were offended by my argument.

●        And now you heap further offense upon me by implying that I could be offended by a mere argument, removing any causality for offense from you, by stating that any offense is my subjective perception only. But we shall never get anywhere this way. I merely wish to express a certain frustration that I have with people who start by being offensive, who then pretend the offense is only the subjective perception of their victim. Let me start by asking you on what grounds you find the senses deficient. Are our eyes deficient because they do not see X-rays or infrared, and so on – and are our ears faulty because they hear less than a dog’s ears?

●        The senses are deficient, my friend, because they promote limited, fragmentary information, which often does more to misinform than to enlighten the mind.

●        All right, let us start here. Are the senses deficient in what they process, or what they do not process? In other words, I certainly accept that our eyes do not see everything that could be perceived in the universe – that is a limitation, of course. My question is: Are the eyes also deficient in what they do see?

●        I do not follow.

●        When I look at a tree, I see the outside of the tree on the side I am facing. I do not see the heat signal of the tree, I do not see the history of the tree, I do not see inside the tree, and so on. My eyes and perspective are certainly limited. My question is: Are the senses faulty because they are incomplete, or because they are inaccurate even in what they can process? In other words, I cannot see inside the tree, but do I accurately perceive the bark on the outside of the tree that I am facing?

●        I believe that the senses are incomplete, and also that they are inaccurate in what they do perceive.

●        All right, thank you. Since we both agree that the senses are incomplete, we will put that aside for now. Can you tell me in what way the senses are inaccurate in what they do perceive?

●        Well, when you look at a tree, you only see what the light reveals, at your particular angle, and in the level of detail your eyes allow.

●        Yes, I certainly accept that the eyes are limited. They do not see at the atomic level, and they do not operate in the absence of light – but is what they do perceive accurate?

●        I am not sure what you mean by the word “accurate.”

●        Excellent, let us define our terms. In this context, “accurate” means the eyes provide a true portrayal of things in the world, given the limitations of detail and spectrum and so on.

●        So, your big value-add to the definition is to provide a synonym?

●        Now it is I who do not follow.

●        Well, you say that the word “accurate” is defined by the word “true,” which does not seem to add much to the conversation.

●        A good point. Here, let me grab a cup and draw a circle by tracing the top turned over on the table. Now, when you look at what I have drawn, do you see it as a circle?

●        That is actually quite a complicated question.

●        I agree.

●        It is certainly not a perfect circle, would you agree?

●        I would agree. A perfect circle cannot be delineated in the world, using material objects, since there will always be ragged edges and imperfect rotations, and so on. A perfect circle can only be described mathematically, not manifested materially. In that, I quite agree with you that the senses are imperfect relative to concepts – however, just because something is imperfect does not mean that it is the same as everything else.

●        Continue?

●        Well, is there such a thing as perfectly clean water?

●        No.

●        Of course – perfectly clean water is expressed in science as two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Water does exist in the world in this form, of course – it is the essence of water, so to speak – but it is always mixed with other materials to one degree or another. However, the fact that there is no such thing as perfectly clean water does not mean that all imperfections are the same. If I hand you two glasses of water – one from the tap, the other from a muddy puddle – which would you drink?

●        I would drink the tap water.

●        Good. Accuracy, in other words, is not a binary proposition – the senses are not either valid or invalid, but inhabit a kind of continuum, wherein they can approach accuracy, or move further away. An archer can never hit the exact centre of a bull’s-eye with his arrow, but that does not mean there is no difference between an archer who hits the red and an archer who misses the target completely.

●        That makes sense to me. However, the senses can easily fool us, in the case of optical illusions, mirages and so on.

●        Let me ask you something. Have you ever tried to take a picture, but then realized you left the lens cap on the camera?

●        Of course, although these days it is more of a thumb on the cell phone camera instead.

●        Would you say that the camera is not working if you leave the lens cap on?

●        No, I would not say that.

●        I would not either, for the same reason that I do not complain of blindness every time I close my eyes. My eyes are functioning; they are just covered by my eyelids. In the same way, when we stand on a set of train tracks, the rails look like they are joining together in the distance, when we know they are actually running parallel, because they would be unusable if they merged together.

●        Exactly, the senses are faulty.

●        Are they? Do the eyes inform me directly that the train tracks merge together?

●        I am not sure what you mean.

●        Let us suppose I am hiking in some distant woods, and I think I hear the growl of a bear. My heart starts pounding and my palms become sweaty – but then it turns out I am just hungry and it is my stomach that is growling.

●        That is quite an appetite!

●        Is it the fault of my ears that I thought a bear was approaching?

●        Certainly.

●        But my ears are just organs of receptivity – they do not know anything about bears or the woods or anything like that – because these are all concepts, which only really exist in my mind.

●        Well, without entering into the truly thorny woods of concept formation, I agree.

●        So, it is not in my ears that the idea of “bear” arises, but rather in my mind. In the same way, if I am sitting in a hotel room and think it has started to thunder outside, but it turns out it is just guests in the upstairs room moving furniture around, the concept of “thunder” and “furniture” do not exist in my ears, but rather in my mind.

●        Are you saying that the senses can never make mistakes?

●        My, my – you really are a big fan of binary absolutes, aren’t you? The question here is: Which organ is making the mistake? In the above examples, it is not the senses, but the brain that is making the mistake – thinking that the stomach’s growl is a bear’s growl, and that the moving furniture is thunder in the sky. This is not the fault of the ears, which are accurately transmitting vibrations in the air – this is the fault of the mind, which is drawing erroneous conclusions from the raw data provided by the senses.

●        Yes, but listen – a man who is colour-blind sees only shades of grey, when there are in fact vibrant colours – this is not the fault of his brain, but rather of his eyes.

●        Certainly, I agree – and the reason that we have the word “colour-blind” is because it is a deficiency in the eyes relative to the capacity of eyes in general. We do not really have the concept of “X-ray blind,” because human beings do not have the capacity to see X- rays directly. The fact that certain senses are faulty does not invalidate the senses as a whole – we know they are faulty because they do not possess the capacities of senses in general. A man in a wheelchair does not invalidate the fact that men in general walk.

●        Yes, I can see that.

●        Now, I am not saying that the senses are always perfectly accurate or that they can see everything – but I am saying there is reliability in what the senses can perceive. Your argument would be much stronger if we had only one sense to work with. However, we can walk down the abandoned train tracks and see that the rails never do in fact touch together. In this way, we understand a rational limitation of our senses – our eyes, in this case – and that our idea that the rails come closer together is false.

●        Wait a moment – what do you mean by saying “rational limitation”? Are you saying that the eyes are designed for some rational purpose, by some rational being?

●        Not at all. In our evolution, it was highly advantageous for our eyes to focus on that which was closer, rather than further away. Picking apples was more important to us than seeing a distant tree, and so the fact that the apple appears bigger to us makes perfect sense.

●        And that is my point – you have put it precisely! Our sense organs are designed to serve our survival, rather than the truth.

●        This seems to posit the idea that our survival has nothing to do with an accurate perception of things in the world, such as food and shelter and predators – is that what you mean to say?

●        Well, almost all organisms have some capacity to perceive the world. That does not mean they are in possession of the truth.

●        Very true. The relationship between concepts and the senses – conceptualization being a unique human capacity, as far as we know – is rich and complicated, but is not directly necessary for the resolution of this discussion. The question before us is: Are the senses valid? If the standard of validity is a perfect perception of every aspect of matter and energy in the universe, then we have an impossible standard to achieve. It is like asking if a man is intelligent relative to omniscience. Referring back to the circle I drew earlier, it is certainly not a perfect circle – in that we completely agree – but would you ever look at it and say that it is a square, or a spiral, or a dodecahedron?

●        No, assuming the conventions of language.

●        Is it closer to a perfect circle than a square or a spiral?

●        Yes, I suppose so.

●        You are hedging, which defies what you just said, which is that you would never look at my circle and say that it was a square or a spiral. But let that pass. Now, if you and I are standing in a field, and I point at a boulder and call it a “tree,” am I correct?

●        What if it is a boulder that has been carved into the shape of a tree?

●        That is clever, but that would still not be a tree, which is why you had to refer to it as “a boulder that has been carved into the shape of a tree.” Again, assuming the conventions of language, would I be correct to call a boulder a tree?

●        No, you would not be correct.

●        There are things I can say about a tree that are on a continuum. If I say a particular tree is “tall,” that is a somewhat relative statement. It could be a tall bonsai, or a short redwood. However, there is no continuum between a boulder and a tree – that, I grant you, is binary. Something is either a boulder, or a tree, or something else – it is never half-and-half.

●        I am going to say nothing about petrified wood.

●        I appreciate that. When I talk about a tree or a boulder, I am talking about the atomic structure of such objects. Even though I cannot see the atoms directly, they form the basis of the aggregation of matter that impacts on my eyeballs through light waves. Different atoms result in different objects. Just as there is no continuum between a carbon atom and a hydrogen atom, there is no continuum between a boulder and a tree, correct?

●        There could be, if you measure weight or mass or height – these are characteristics that they would both possess.

●        That is true, but incomplete.

●        How so?

●        Well, height or weight or mass are measures common to all aggregations of matter. They would not be on a continuum between a boulder and a tree, but would rather be characteristics of all mass.

●        Fair enough.

●        So, in their capacity to accurately provide the information necessary for my brain to distinguish between a boulder and a tree, is it fair to say that my eyes are accurate?

●        They are accurate, I think you are correct, but they are still incomplete.

●        Incomplete – relative to what?

●        Relative to all the available information in the world.

●        I do not see how it is rational to use a yardstick entirely out of range of the capacities of what you are measuring. Do I call a man illiterate because he has not read every printed word in human history? Do I call a man deaf because he cannot hear a dog whistle or Roger Taylor’s falsetto? More importantly, do I call a man blind because he cannot see infrared? This seems like a silly and irresponsible standard, to hold everything finite as inconsequential according to a yardstick of infinity. A man who lives for only one-fifth of a natural human lifespan dies young. Saying everyone dies young because they should all live to be a thousand does not really add much to human knowledge or wisdom, would you say?

●        The senses are still limited, though.

●        Well, something is limited around here. All right, let me ask you this, so we can devolve from abstractions to the immediate. You say that the senses are faulty, correct?

●        Correct.

●        Now, in the sentence “The senses are faulty,” which word falls short of perfection?

●        I do not understand.

●        In order to communicate your argument that the senses are faulty, you must use my hearing to process your words. What is the perfect form of the sentence “The senses are faulty,” and in what way does that sentence, when communicated through the senses, fall short of that perfection?

●        Still not following, sorry.

●        If you write down on a piece of paper the sentence “The senses are faulty,” then each word would not be perfect, each letter would not be perfect, but in what way are the concepts that are communicated imperfect or faulty? In other words, when I drew the circle, the circle was imperfect – in what way is the concept that the circle represents faulty?

●        I do not see that it is.

●        Exactly. If I put two ping-pong balls in front of you and use them to illustrate that one and one make two, the ping-pong balls are not perfect – they are slightly different sizes and shapes and weights and colours and so on – but they transfer the concept that one and one make two perfectly, would you not say so?

●        I think so, but I am still trying to follow.

●        I understand. You rely on the senses to transfer concepts and arguments to me – in this case, my hearing – in other examples, my sight. All the senses are incomplete, you say, or imperfect – but that is not the real issue. The real issue is whether perfect concepts can be transmitted through an imperfect medium. If we are talking over a bad phone connection and I tell you it is raining where I am, this does not tell you how hard it is raining, or which way the wind is blowing, but you do perfectly comprehend the concept of rain, despite the poor communication and limited information. And the reason I am talking about all of this is because if we cannot communicate concepts using our imperfect and incomplete senses, then we cannot engage in debates at all. In other words, by engaging in a debate with me, you are assuming that incomplete senses can accurately transmit concepts. You are telling me that my senses are faulty – this requires that my senses be accurate enough for you to transmit your argument to me. Now, if my senses are actually faulty, you should not use them to transmit your argument, any more than I should drive confidently across a bridge I know has half- collapsed. If you do rely on the accuracy of my senses to communicate an argument about the senses, then denying their validity is self-contradictory.

●        I think I see your point.

●        If there is no better medium for communicating arguments than the senses, then the senses are good enough. If there is a better medium, I await your psychic conversation.


“Ethics Are Subjective”

●        The idea that ethics are scientific or objective is a laughable notion, only sustainable through a back-alley ignorance of the proliferation of ethical theories throughout the world, not to mention throughout history. Every tribe has its own gods, its own moral absolutes and its own superstitions.

●        I see – and is it your perspective that every ethical statement is subjective?

●        Of course, that is what I just said.

●        Then are the statements you are making about ethics also subjective?

●        Excuse me?

●        Arguing that ethics are subjective is making an objective statement about ethics.

●        Not true at all – if I say artistic taste is subjective, I am not making an objective statement about artistic taste – I am confining it to the category called “subjective.”

●        You are making an objective statement about artistic taste – you are saying all artistic taste is subjective. In other words, you are not saying that only some artistic taste is subjective. Let me ask it another way – is it your subjective opinion that ethics are always subjective, or is it an objective fact?

●        It is an objective fact.

●        Excellent – now is it better or worse to have opinions that are true, as opposed to opinions that are false?

●        Well, if they are true, they are not really opinions, are they?

●        Well said. Is it better to believe things that are true?

●        Yes, of course.

●        In other words, it is universally preferable to believe true things, rather than false things.

●        I am churning my brain trying to think of exceptions to that rule, since I have a deep aversion to universality, because it is so easily broken with a single exception. Yes, I can think of one – if a man is dying from a car crash and his wife and child have been killed, is it better to tell him the truth before he dies, or to pretend that they have been saved?

●        I do not think it matters what happens in the last moments of life.

●        That is not an argument.

●        Tell me, do you think it is important to eat in a healthy manner?

●        Yes.

●        Do you think it is important for a prisoner condemned to execution to have a healthy last meal?

●        I see your point.

●        I assume you would not also suggest he spend his last few minutes on this earth exercising, although I am sure that you would agree that exercise is important in life. We can all think of exceptions – or at least what seem like exceptions – to general rules, but this does not necessarily invalidate the rules completely. It is a bad idea to drive significantly over the speed limit, unless you are being chased by criminals or fleeing a tsunami, or are bleeding out from a bad cut. I think we can safely say it is generally better to believe true things, rather than false things, would you agree?

●        Let us say that I grant you conditional agreement.

●        I will take that for now. If it is better to believe true things, then those who tell you true things – who are honest – are acting in a better manner, are they not?

●        Let me think about that for a moment.

●        There is not much need, I think. If believing true things is better, then liars lead people away from believing true things, which is worse behaviour. If truth is universally preferable to falsehood, then those who serve truth are universally preferable to those who serve lies. We cannot propose a universally preferable state – truth – and then be indifferent to those who facilitate that state, or who interfere with it. I cannot argue that health is better than sickness, and then be indifferent to a poisoner. If health is better than sickness, then those who serve health are better than those who serve sickness.

●        That would seem to follow.

●        Thank you – now, what is your definition of ethics?

●        What people believe they should do.

●        I am not sure that is complete enough – or perhaps it is too broad. If you talk to people, they believe they should floss and brush their teeth, wouldn’t you say?

●        Yes, they do.

●        Would you say that flossing and brushing your teeth falls under the category of ethics?

●        I would not say that, although I could not say exactly why.

●        It does seem different than knocking someone else’s teeth out, right?

●        Yes, it does.

●        I am not inflicting injury on someone else if I fail to brush my teeth, but I am if I knock their teeth out.

●        Yes, but this is my problem with most ethical discussions. This difference may feel right, and it may be hard to imagine society operating without this distinction, but none of these are actual arguments – they are appeals to feelings and sentimentality and history and culture and momentum.

●        I agree – the fact that brushing versus hitting feels different is not an argument, but we should not be indifferent to our instincts about this difference. Our instincts can have important ramifications for rational arguments – they are not proof, but they can spur our ambition to understand deep and complex questions.

●        All right, I appreciate that admission – it is rare, when speaking of these issues.

●        I am not going to pretend at all that these questions are easy to answer – and also, I am not going to pretend that there is necessarily an answer.

●        Good.

●        Now, do ethics in general speak about what people do, or what they think?

●        Ethics generally deal with actions, not thoughts.

●        I agree. Now, the actions that ethics deal with, are they words, or deeds?

●        Ethics generally deal with deeds, not words. There are exceptions, such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

●        That is true, but if you shout “fire” in an empty theatre, no one has any problem with that – it is not the word “fire” that is the issue, but rather the resulting panic and flight and destruction, if there is in fact no fire.

●        Agreed.

●        I think it is fair to say that the word “good” refers to deeds, whereas the word “right” refers to thoughts or words or arguments. We think of good and evil deeds, and right and wrong thoughts or arguments.

●        That is the common conception. I agree with that as well.

●        I will use the word “behaviour” when talking about ethics since the word “deed” has more than one meaning.

●        Fine.

●        Now, if we define ethics as “universally preferable behaviour,” then we have a starting point for our examination.

●        I do not mind the convention at all, as long as you recognize that definitions are not proof.

●        Totally true and understood. Now, we must first ask the question: Is universally preferable behaviour a valid concept or proposition? In other words, is there any such thing as “universally preferable behaviour”? It certainly does not exist in the world in the way that a tree or a cloud does, so UPB must exist within the mind only.

●        I agree with that as well.

●        Now, the fact that it exists only in the mind does not necessarily make it subjective or invalid. A mathematical equation exists only in the mind – the scientific method itself exists only in the mind, not in empirical reality – but this does not mean that mathematics and science are subjective or invalid. A blueprint is not a bridge, but this does not mean that a blueprint is a purely subjective or invalid or irrelevant document. Would you agree?

●        Again, conditionally yes.

●        So, first we must ask: Are there any behaviours that could possibly be universally preferable? Please note this does not mean universally preferred – preferable means “able to be chosen,” not “always chosen.”

●        I cannot think of any behaviours that could be universally preferable.

●        Does this mean you wish to argue against the validity of universally preferable behaviours?

●        You know, I really think I do. Wait a minute – I am just thinking… I am trying to find a way to argue against UPB without requiring UPB.

●        That is quite a challenge, I admit.

●        If I tell you there is no such thing as UPB…

●        Exactly. You require UPB in order to deny UPB.

●        Can you break that out for me a little bit please?

●        Of course. If you tell me there is no such thing as UPB, you are making a universal statement that no one should enact the behaviour of advocating for UPB. In other words, you are saying that it is universally preferable behaviour to reject the validity of universally preferable behaviour.

●        That is remarkable! I – I am having trouble formulating an argument against what you are saying.

●        Now, you are beginning to see the power of UPB. It is impossible to argue against it without saying that truth is universally preferable to error, and that it is universally preferable to speak the truth, rather than speak falsehood. This dovetails nicely into what we were talking about earlier. Actually, this is very good news. Now that we have established that UPB is a valid concept – or at least, we have established that it is impossible to argue against it without invoking it – we have crossed a major hurdle, and now all we need to do is figure out which behaviours can be universally preferred.

●        That is quite a Rubicon – I feel that I am in uncharted territory, very radical uncharted territory.

●        It is a terrible thing, when you think about it, how radical mere consistency actually is in the world. Nothing is more revolutionary than consistency. Shall we continue?

●        I am quite excited – I had meant to oppose you tooth and nail, but I find myself swept up in this idea.

●        Thus we must remember to be cautious, since enthusiasm is quite often more a friend to ideology than to truth. Shall we begin?

●        Yes please.

●        To take the concept of UPB one word at a time, the first word is “universally” – which is not an accident. If no behaviours are in fact universally preferable, then we have no right to ever correct another human being, or to use accurate words to describe objects or concepts, or to reply directly to the person who has made an argument, or to do anything that makes any kind of sense. The power of universality is the power to correct. Without universality, a “debate” is the mere imposition of manipulative will. Anyone who tells you that you are wrong and attempts to correct your viewpoint, accepts UPB entirely.

●        I certainly follow that.

●        The second word is “preferable,” which in itself does not primarily refer to behaviours that should be chosen, but rather those that can be chosen. If a behaviour cannot be universally preferable to human beings, then it cannot fall under the umbrella of UPB. “Universally preferable” must refer to something that can be chosen by everyone, at all times, and under all circumstances. Do you agree?

●        I do agree. If I say that something is universally preferable, that is either my opinion, or it is an objective argument. If it is my opinion, then it cannot be universal. If it is an objective argument, then I cannot reject either objectivity or universality. If I say that I like dogs, this is a statement of personal preference, not an objective argument about the nature of dogs. If I personally prefer dogs, it is not incumbent or binding upon you to prefer dogs as well. However, if I say that dogs are warm-blooded, that is a statement of objective fact.

●        Right. And if we say that it is universally preferable to reject objective facts, we are saying that it is an objective fact that it is universally preferable to reject objective facts, which is a self-contradictory statement. Shall I go on?

●        Please do.

●        The third word is “behaviour.” This refers to measurable actions that occur within empirical and objective reality – a definition that is entirely to be expected, since UPB refers to objective universals. Thoughts cannot be objectively measured or ascertained in the absence of the objective behaviour that transmits those thoughts in empirical reality. We cannot read minds, but we can read a book. When I speak or write – or hand gesture – I am converting my thoughts into an objective medium. Please note that this does not mean that all my thoughts are objective – I could say, for instance, that I like ice cream, which is not an objective claim. However, the words I use to express my preference for ice cream do exist in the objective world.

●        I see.

●        Also, there is another important reason to talk about behaviours rather than thoughts, which is that we have almost infinitely more control over our behaviours than our thoughts.

●        I am reminded of the old story about the man who is commanded to sit on a mountaintop all night and to not think of an elephant.

●        Exactly. Ethics require at least a minimal level of self-control. If a man accidentally strikes another man while in the throes of an unforeseen epileptic fit, we do not blame the first man morally or charge him with assault. We treat it as an unfortunate accident, since he does not have control over his limbs in that moment.

●        I agree.

●        So, when we talk about UPB, we are really talking about behaviours that are possible for all human beings to choose simultaneously. This is why, in UPB, positive action cannot be a requirement for ethical behaviour, since it is impossible for all human beings to perform a positive action all the time, everywhere. If we say that it is universally moral to give to the poor, this cannot pass the test of UPB, since it requires both gift givers and gift takers, which are not the same category at all. Also, it is impossible to give to the poor while one is sleeping or in a coma – and if we give everything to the poor, we then become poor, and we are then in need of the opposite action, which is not to give, but to receive.

●        Are you saying that it is immoral to give to the poor?

●        Certainly not – there are positive behaviours that are preferable, just not universally preferable. It is preferable to be on time, but it is not universally preferable to be on time, since we are not all perpetually arriving at an appointment. We can certainly make the case that it is preferable to give to the poor, but it cannot be universally preferable to give to the poor, for the reasons described above.

●        I see. Do all behaviours fall into the category of preferable or universally preferable?

●        No. While it is true that every action taken by a human being is an action he or she prefers, it is not the case that individual preferences can be extrapolated to generally preferable, or universally preferable. I prefer to listen to a particular piece of music while I write – this does not mean that listening to music, or a particular piece of music, is generally preferable while writing – or even that writing is generally preferable. When you are reading, you are not writing – and there would be little point writing if there were no readers.

●        Is there a consistent way to delineate between personally preferable, generally preferable, and universally preferable?

●        Once we understand that ethics are a relationship, rather than a commandment, these differences become much easier to understand.

●        What do you mean?

●        Can a man be evil if he is alone on a desert island?

●        I don’t know. Foolish perhaps. Lazy. But not evil. No.

●        I agree. Evil is done unto others, not to nature, and not to oneself alone.

●        Suicide?

●        That is not evil. Tragic, destructive to the happiness of others, but not evil. If a man destroys a stranger’s car, that is the destruction of property and it is immoral. If he destroys his own car, we do not call him evil and he is not prosecuted. The same is true of a human life.

●        So – is there a consistent way to delineate between personally preferable, generally preferable, and universally preferable?

●        Since ethics only manifest in relationships, we need to look at the question of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the extension of personally preferable actions to mutually preferable actions. It is more of an obligation than a commandment.

●        I do not follow.

●        Tell me – are you obligated to lend money to a stranger?

●        No.

●        Are you obligated to lend money to a friend who has himself lent you money in the past?

●        Certainly more so than a stranger.

●        Right – if you have a rule called “friends lend each other money” – and you have taken advantage of this rule in the past by borrowing from your friend, then refusing to lend your friend money is breaking the rule. It is not a contract, so not enforceable, but it is a mutually preferable action, in that it is not a universal rule, but a privilege earned between friends.

●        I see.

●        Personally preferable actions do not involve reciprocity. Mutually preferable actions imply local reciprocity, and universally preferable behaviours are commandments that enforce universal reciprocity, such as: I respect your property and person, while you respect mine. For example, flossing my teeth does not involve reciprocity, while punching someone else’s teeth out rejects reciprocity. I want to punch someone; my victim does not want to be punched. I can see by your face that this is not a proof, and I quite agree with you.

●        I am glad I did not have to say it.

●        If I wake up and choose to listen to a piece of music, this is my personally preferable action. If you and I agree to meet for lunch at noon, we have created a mutual expectation of reciprocity, which is that we will both meet at noon or close to it. If I help you move to a new house, it is with a reasonable expectation that you might perform a similar favour for me one day. We choose to interact with each other, and neither of us is imposing our behaviours on the other.

●        But if I am late for our lunchtime meeting, I am forcing you to wait.

●        I do not agree – you aren’t forcing me to do anything, because I can stay or leave as I see fit. Also, I have voluntarily entered into the arrangement to meet you at noon.

●        So, no direct coercion is involved.

●        Exactly. If you are repeatedly late for our appointments, I can stop being your friend, or at least stop arranging to meet you at a certain time. If I keep doing you favours, but you keep rejecting my request for favours, I can just stop doing you favours – no one has coerced me into anything.

●        However, if someone robs you…

●        Then we are in an entirely different situation. There is neither an implicit nor explicit contract, and I am not free to do as I choose. By pointing a gun at me and demanding my wallet, the thief is imposing his violent will upon me.

●        Theoretically, though, could not stealing be universally preferable behaviour?

●        No, because stealing is taking someone’s property against his will. If stealing is universally preferable behaviour, then I want the thief to take my wallet. However, if I want the thief to take my wallet, he is not stealing from me. If I put a table on my front lawn, by the road, with a sign that says “Take Me,” then I cannot reasonably call someone a thief for taking the table. In other words, it is not theft if I want my property to be removed. If you rip my jacket from my shoulders and run away, I could call you a thief. However, if my jacket is on fire and I beg you to rip it off me, the same standard can scarcely be applied. When you think about it, the same holds true for rape, assault and murder. None of these can be universally preferable behaviours, because they only occur when one person wishes an activity to happen, while the other person strenuously does not wish for that activity to happen, as in the case of rape. “Consensual rape” is an oxymoron, because rape only occurs when sexual activity is not wanted by the victim. When you think about ethics, they always exist at the coercive intersection of opposing desires.

●        Again, theoretically, we could say that imposing desires could be UPB.

●        We cannot, though. If all human beings have the right to impose their desires on other human beings, then each imposition cancels out the other impositions. If I have a desire to take $10,000 from you, while you have the desire to keep your $10,000 – but it is universally preferable behaviour to impose desires on others – then my desire to take your money collides with your desire to keep your money, and the principle cannot be universally achieved.

●        I am astounded – could it really be that simple?

●        Outside of propaganda, you would really be surprised how simple virtue really is.

●        Thank you.

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