My Earliest Memory — A Critique of Dialectics

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Please excuse my absence from this blog for the past couple of weeks. Been doing some other stuff lately like volunteering as a reading tutor and critiquing Confucius or something. Who knows?

Between anime reviews and Ivory Tower dialogues, it seems that I haven’t written any philosophical editorials inbetween, so I think it’s time to resurface that before I move on to other writing projects.

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Somewhere Atop the Ivory Tower 7

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“Mr. Kant Goes to Elementary School”

(Getting a number of complaints that he knows nothing about human decency, Immanuel Kant has taken it upon himself, or was rather forced by his colleagues, to teach Elementary school for a day. This excerpt is… probably how it went down.)

(About 20 kids are playing around at their desks, goofing off with one another. Enter KANT.)

KANT: Alright, alright, listen up everyone. (Class continues to act rowdy, as Kant grows more irritated. Kant shouts) EVERYONE QUIET DOWN!! (The children settle down in their seats, as they look at the stout male adult in front of them.)

KID 1: Hey Mister, where’s our teacher?

KID 2: Yeah, where’s Mr. Hegel?

KANT: Mr. Hegel had to call out sick this morning. I’ll be your teacher today.

KID 3: Uh huh… and who are you?

KANT: I’m Mr. Kant. And today, we’re going to learn about truth.

KID 1: Truth? you mean that big, ambiguous thing that is really hard yet so simple to grasp? Yeah, we already know it’s Geist.

KANT: Yes, but how do you know when someone is telling the truth?

KID 4: Who cares? Everyone speaks the truth to some varying degree.

KANT: Yes, but–

KID 5: And that means either everything is true or nothing is true!

KANT: NO! THAT STATEMENT IS FALSE, AND YOU KNOW IT! (Kids cower back into their seats) Look, I’m not so much interested in what the truth is, but how you can tell when someone is not telling the truth, and why it’s important to speak the truth at all times, alright?

ALL: Yes, Mr. Kant…

KANT: Good. So here’s the thing: (Kant writes down important words on the blackboard, shown caps here) In order to determine what is good, you must make a RULE, and suppose it as a UNIVERSAL MAXIM. That means that if the rule stands, every person must follow it. If you find that this maxim stands to REASON, then it is good. However, if the rule does not stand to reason, then rule is IMPERMISSIBLE, and thus, you must never do it!

KID 4: Okay, but what if your reasoning is different from somebody else’s?

KANT: Well, that’s why we let just laws solve what is most appropriate for all people, and as good citizens, we are responsible for abiding in those rules.

KID 2: Yeah, but how do we know when those laws are just?

KANT: Listen, the rules that stand the test of time are made by rational adults, and all the rules that are ridiculous are thrown out immediately, as reasonable human beings soon discover that those illogical rules are in fact unjust.

KID 5: Whatever. Adults are full of shit.

KANT: You watch your tongue, kid! (Kid 5 crosses his arms and smirks) Look, it’s an adult’s responsibility to make sure that you children grow up to be rational human beings. That way, you will know how to run a great society, as we have today.

KID 3: Fine then, Mr. Kant. How are adults more rational than kids like us?

KID 6: Will you just shut up and listen? You’re always like this, dude!

KANT: Now, now, there’s nothing wrong with asking those challenging questions. And if you wish to know the short answer, it’s because reasonable adults go through years of experience, studying law, science, and the arts to understand what is good. However, not all adults will become truly rational beings. Those are the ones we have to watch out for.

KID 5: Yeah, like Mr. Hegel. (A handful of kids laugh)

KANT: THAT’S NOT FUNNY! Your teacher is a very nice man to put up with all of you, even if I strongly disagree with him a lot of times.

KID 1: Wait, you know Mr. Hegel?

KID 2: Why do you disagree with him?

KID 3: Do tell.

KID 6: Ugh! All you guys are getting off topic!

KANT: Right. Anyway, let’s get back to the subject about our universal maxim. Let’s start with the maxim for a world where everyone lies. Now what would that look like?

KID 5: What’s the problem? Everyone already lies. (All the kids make a collective “ooooh” sound.)

KANT: That… may be true. Sure, it is possible for any human to not say something that is true. We make mistakes. We’re human. But what about the people who INTENTIONALLY lie to you? Surely they do it for reasons that are not good at all.

KID 3: Well, there goes my argument. We’re all bad.

KANT: I didn’t say that–

KID 1: I guess adults really do know everything that kids don’t.

KID 2: Man, being a kid sucks.

KID 4: Wait, but what if the adult in question has good reason to tell a lie? And how would anyone who believes that lie know that it is a lie in the first place?

KID 5: Adults are stupid! All rules are relative to each individual! The only real rule is to survive, and be the last man standing. So if that means you have to lie your way to get what you want, then so be it! Go ahead, Mister. Say that I’m lying.

KANT: Ah, funny you should say that. (There is a knock at the door) Come in. (Enter HEIDEGGER)

HEIDEGGER: Good morning, Sir. Sorry to interrupt everything.

KANT: Not a problem.

HEIDEGGER: We are told that there is a boy in this class who was caught stealing at the drug store last night. A boy named Friedrich Nietzsche? (KID 4 covers his face)

KANT: Why yes, let me check my role sheet. (Kant scans a sheet of paper) Ah, yep. He’s right over there. (HEIDEGGER restrains KID 4 and cuffs him away)

HEIDEGGER: Thanks for cooperating, Sir.

KID 4: Are you serious? I didn’t do anything, Mr. Kant, honest! This guy is lying to you! Lying!! (HEIDEGGER covers KID 4’s mouth)

KANT: It’s a shame. He’s such a great kid, and asked a lot of really great questions in class. Are you sure it was him?

KID 5: Yeah, it was him! I saw him do it too, Officer. That boy is a troublemaker!

HEIDEGGER: There you go. We have a witness.

KID 4: (comes loose from his grip) LIES! All of you! You adults can’t even tell when your very own egos get in the way! To Hell with all of you!

HEIDEGGER: Yeah yeah, tell that to the judge. (Exit HEIDEGGER and KID 4)

KANT: So, as you can see, you must never tell a lie, not even to save a child. After all, you kids haven’t practiced enough of what it means to be truly rational yet. In fact, we all must practice doing so if we are to let our society flourish for good. (Kids are completely silent in shock of just what happened) So… are there any questions?

KID 5: Oh, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Mr. Kant, for getting rid of Fred. He’s soooo annoying with all those questions he asks. Who would’ve thought that he would have the gall to say all those things and still steal from a department store? I’m so glad you’re my teacher today.

KANT: Right… And remember: always respect others in high authority, for they are doing their best to maintain the just laws from getting in the hands of unjust tyrants.

KID 6: Really, Mr. Kant? That officer just stupidly believed Donald over there!

KANT: Yes, you’re right. And it’s unfortunate that such officers do exist. They are, after all, doing their job, as am I. (bell rings) Well… as of today, I am no longer your teacher. Mr. Hegel will be back soon enough. (KID 5 gets up out of his chair and walks toward the door). Oh, and one more thing.

KID 5: What?

KANT: (punches KID 5 in the face) That’s for letting a child who was trying to learn go to jail over a petty crime! That officer isn’t skilled in thinking rationally, and irrational people like you always take advantage of them! He may not deal with you, but now, you’re dealing with me!

KID 5: You’ll be sorry, Mister! I’m still just a child.

KANT: If I were your teacher, then maybe I would be obligated not to harm you. However, cruel intentions come with vile consequences in the public sphere, where people do and say whatever they want. Remember that the next time you think you can just get away with doing anything you want! This is the nature of humanity.

(Exeunt)

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Somewhere Atop the Ivory Tower 5

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“Battle for All Time’s Sake”

(Ages ago, when the Ivory Tower was still relatively young, a lesser king Parmenides climbed to the top of the Tower and arbitrarily ruled over it. He claimed that his rule was determined for all time, when a youthful warrior named Heraclitus invaded the Tower to challenge him. No, their relative ages to each other don’t matter. This is satire.)

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Somewhere Atop the Ivory Tower 4

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“The Rationalist God”

(Rene Descartes is holding a summit to discuss the implications of God for the modern world. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz challenges him, when other philosophers throw them for a loop.)

Descartes: Listen up, my fellow rationalists. A new world is upon us. One where we can no longer accept what we are told at face value. The empiricists have already taken precedence to wipe away clean of everything they thought they knew, starting from scratch. Like a blank, clean, slate.

Locke: That’s tabula rasa–

Descartes: God damn it, who invited this heathen to the summit?

Leibniz: Never mind him. He’s allowed to listen, and we are obliged to keep him here.

Locke: Thank you.

Leibniz: Besides, it’s not like the empiricists can really challenge anything we have to say. They simply know nothing of how we rationalists do anything anyway.

Descartes: Uhm… Leibniz

Leibniz: Our ideas are higher than theirs. They cannot touch us.

Descartes: He can still hear you…

Leibniz: After all, rationalism is the best of all possible schools of thought.

Locke: Oh. In that case, what do you “rationalists” really think of God? That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? (audience mumbles)

Descartes: Yes, yes, now shut up! (silence) Leibniz, since you’re one to gab, why don’t you remind everyone here what God is?

Leibniz: Of course, Monsieur. God is an omniscient, omnipotent, transcendent being who upholds the infinitude across all time and space. His infinite wisdom ensures that your infinite properties are all contained inside of you, as you are, past, present, and future.

Descartes: Right–

Leibniz: And must I stress, God can do anything. ANYTHING!

Locke: Okay, but if God is omnipotent, can He create an object so heavy, that not even He can lift it?

Descartes and Leibniz: Well that’s simple, (Descartes only) Yes. (Leibniz only) Maybe. (Both men stare at each other awkwardly, as the audience continues to murmur.)

Descartes: Leibniz we went over this. Anything is possible with an omnipotent God. But because He is good and would not deceive us, He would choose in all of his omniscience not to create an object that not even He could lift.

Leibniz: Nonsense! God probably has created an object that not even He could lift in another possible world. But that world fell to illogical chaos, so He destroyed it.

Descartes: How dare you! God wouldn’t do such a thing because He is infinitely wise. Why would He do something that even fallible humans can see would be stupid?

Leibniz: Aye, but where did His infinite wisdom come from? Surely He’s had a couple of test worlds that He has created before He arrived at our perfect world, the best of all possible worlds.

Spinoza: You’re both wrong! The answer is clearly Not at all! (Locke grimaces as he slowly exits the hall)

Descartes: How can you say such a thing about our omniscient, omnipotent, all good God?

Leibniz: Well, that “all good” part is pretty questionable–

Descartes: Only to you.

Spinoza: Look, you guys said it yourself. God ensures that all of infinitude is upheld, even within the parts that make up our finite, material bodies. And why is that? Because God is not a transcendent being in the skies above. That wouldn’t make any sense.

Descartes: Pardon–

Spinoza: So God couldn’t make an object that not even He could lift because everything in this world is a part of Him.

Leibniz: What–

Spinoza: God is literally the only substance that can possibly exist! Right here in this world!

(dead silence)

Descartes: Senhor, are you suggesting that we are all Gods?

Spinoza: Not exactly. Rather, it’s more like all of the infinitesimally small particles that come together to make everything in this world belong to the entire being that is God. After all, only God can last for an infinite time, and those particles that contain all of these universal properties are just as infinite.

Descartes: Oh no.

Leibniz: How could you.

Spinoza: What did I do?

Descartes: Those kind of thoughts are going to ruin God for the modern world! No wonder the empiricists have already moved to making God an arbitrary figure in the universe, because of an imminent God like yours!

Spinoza: Oh come on, lots of civilizations believe in an imminent divine! What do you think your Son of God is?

Descartes: Christ is exceptional! It is through His imminence that God is also good!

Leibniz: Keep telling yourself that. Christ only exists in the best possible world because God wouldn’t even have wanted to live in any others.

Spinoza: Do you guys even hear yourselves? It is exactly this kind of emphasis on an omnipotent, transcendent God that has caused a rift in how we as philosophers relate to the people outside of this tower!

Descartes: I’d rather not hear any more of this heresy. Only a being abstract from this finite world could ever hold such an idea as great as infinitude. It is the only way that I could grasp such an idea as “infinity” without ever truly experiencing it.

Leibniz: Not… really… It is through a transcendent God that everything else in the world can hold an infinite amount of properties. That infinitude had to have been borne beyond anything finite.

Spinoza: (sigh) Perhaps someone else can sort out this whole “God” mess for the modern world. But who could that be?

Kant: (aside) Well I have an idea.

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