Hegel and History

What does philosophy have to do with history? Well, one might argue philosophy is necessary for any interpretation of history to be possible. How can we interpret the raw data of history without a framework for the interpretation of data? How are we to discern what constitutes data in the first place? Is history merely a succession of events, “one thing after another,” or is it a progression? If it is a progression, is it one of peoples, thoughts, ideas, or…?

Hegel argued, rather weirdly, that World History was a progression of the Idea of the World Spirit, the process of God coming to know himself via his expression of himself through the development of history.

Regardless of what one believes about Hegel’s ideas, he had some interesting things to say about the field of history itself. Difficulties arise when we attempt to “learn” form history–to learn moral lessons, or to discern patterns. This is the realm of history, but it is also the realm of philosophy. The very transmission of history involves narration, selection, rationality.

When we have to deal with the Past, and occupy ourselves with a remote world, a Present rises into being for the mind – produced by its own activity, as the reward of its labor. The occurrences are, indeed, various; but the idea which pervades them – their deeper import and connection – is one. This takes the occurrence out of the category of the Past and makes it virtually Present. Pragmatical (didactic) reflections, though in their nature decidedly abstract, are truly and indefeasibly of the Present, and quicken the annals of the dead Past with the life of to-day. Whether, indeed, such reflections are truly interesting and enlivening, depends on the writer’s own spirit. Moral reflections must here be specially noticed – the moral teaching expected from history; which latter has not infrequently been treated with a direct view to the former. It may be allowed that examples of virtue elevate the soul, and are applicable in the moral instruction of children for impressing excellence upon their minds. But the destinies of peoples and states, their interests, relations, and the complicated tissue of their affairs, present quite another field. Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone. Amid the pressure of great events, a general principle gives no help. It is useless to revert to similar circumstances in the Past. The pallid shades of memory struggle in vain with the life and freedom of the Present. Looked at in this light, nothing can be shallower than the oft-repeated appeal to Greek and Roman examples during the French Revolution. Nothing is more diverse than the genius of those nations and that of our times.

Among us, the so-called “higher criticism,” which reigns supreme in the domain of philology, has also taken possession of our historical literature. This “higher criticism” has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest. Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history. The last species of Reflective History announces its fragmentary character on the very face of it. It adopts an abstract position; yet, since it takes general points of view (e.g., as the History of Art, of Law, of Religion), it forms a transition to the Philosophical History of the World. In our time this form of the history of ideas has been more developed and brought into notice. Such branches of national life stand in close relation to the entire complex of a people’s annals; and the question of chief importance in relation to our subject is, whether the connection of the whole is exhibited in its truth and reality, or referred to merely external relations. In the latter case, these important phenomena (Art, Law, Religion, etc.) appear as purely accidental national peculiarities. It must be remarked that, when Reflective History has advanced to the adoption of general points of view, if the position taken is a true one, these are found to constitute – not a merely external thread, a superficial series – but are the inward guiding soul of the occurrences and actions that occupy a nation’s annals.

Even the ordinary, the “impartial” historiographer, who believes and professes that he maintains a simply receptive attitude; surrendering himself only to the data supplied him – is by no means passive as regards the exercise of his thinking powers. He brings his categories with him, and sees the phenomena presented to his mental vision, exclusively through these media. And, especially in all that pretends to the name of science, it is indispensable that Reason should not sleep – that reflection should be in full play. To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual.

From the introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of History

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hi/introduction-lectures.htm

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Flash Apologetics in Mary’s Room

People trickled in slowly today. As such, conversation began with fluidity and not much intentionality. We briefly touched upon the ills of modern technology, the legalization of all drugs, the influence of Puritanism on American society and government, and the contradictions of organized anarchy. All these are fruitful topics, and perhaps they may resurface later.

The real discussion began with Steven introducing the Mary’s Room thought experiment: Mary is a girl who has studied the subject of color, and knows all there is to know about color. However, she has lived her whole life in a black and white room, can’t see herself, reads black and white books, and has a black and white computer screen, and therefore has never personally witnessed any color. Suddenly, one day, her computer screen malfunctions and displays a red apple. The question is: has she learned anything new?

The question seems to turn on epistemology. Is the experience of something different from the thing in itself, and is it distinct from other forms of knowledge, and does it count as “knowledge” to begin with?

Some of us said yes, and some of us said no. It seemed to me that to have something described to you, and then to actually experience that thing, are different. It also seems to me that experience could be classified as a form of knowledge, however subjective it may be. Mary now knows what it is like (for her) to see red.

This led back into our discussion about the forms. The form “red” exists separate from the objects that display it, but it is via those objects that we come to know the form through our senses. As in, when we look at a chair, we understand more about the chair than merely what we see–we have a sense of its structure, etc., we understand parts of the chair, we fill in the blanks of what we cannot see, which is ultimately the totality of our perception of it. Our perception is not limited only to the sensory data that we receive. The same is true of the forms. We cannot witness the forms in and of themselves, but we can come to know them through our perception of them as they are expressed by material objects.

As mentioned before, this flies in the face of the post-Hume empiricism which we’ve all more or less been indoctrinated with culturally. To my knowledge, Hume didn’t have solid “reasons” as such for why he denied transcendence (such as the forms, mind-body dualism), cause and effect, etc.– he just didn’t accept them.

In the midst of this discussion, I “came out” as a Christian, and Aramis pressed me on what the Christian perspective on the death penalty might be. I argued that an “eye for an eye” killing of a killer might be null under the covenant of grace. Additionally, ending a person’s life cuts short the potential, however slight, that they might repent and be redeemed.

This led naturally, if uncomfortably, into a discussion of the truth of Christianity in general, focusing mostly on the existence of God. This makes sense because, of course, if God can be disproved, Christianity crumbles. But the problem is, determining what constitutes “proof” or “evidence” for God is already to begin making statements about who or what God is in the first place. (At this point, I went about explaining what I understand to be the “presuppositional” apologetic. As before, I’m going to try to distill the argument, rather than trace its many twists and turns as they occurred in conversation.)

We all believe many sorts of different things, many of which are justified without the use of what we commonly refer to as “proof” or “evidence.” (And here I borrowed a little bit from Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.) A scientific belief, such as that a certain substance changes from liquid to gas at a certain temperature at a certain air pressure, is one based on evidence. This belief depends on its repeatability, the soundness of the principle of induction, and rests on the assumptions of constancy in the universe and the existence of material causes. Another sort of belief, such as what you had for breakfast this morning, is based not on evidence, but on memory and perception. You don’t open your stomach and examine its contents or return home and examine the remnants on your unwashed plate–you just know, and what’s more, the knowledge is valid. It is a “properly basic” belief. Another sort of belief, for instance, is that the ad hominem fallacy is an invalid form of argument. How might that be proved true? Well, that’s difficult to do, because the classification of the ad hominem as a fallacy is part of the system that we use to determine truth in the first place!

So, there are some types of beliefs that could be said not to require “proof” or “evidence” in the conventional sense, but that are still nonetheless justified. So, saying that the belief in God requires a certain proof is to classify the belief in God into a certain category of beliefs–more along the lines of scientific knowledge. But is this categorization justified? Well, the only way to say so is to say something about God–if belief requires such-and-such, it can only do so on account of something about the nature of God himself. Therefore, since this belief determines what constitutes evidence and how you interpret that evidence, to say that you can’t believe in God because there is no evidence is really to say that you’ve already chosen not to believe in God at the outset.

If the beliefs in God and Christianity are more along the lines of those “properly basic” (as Plantinga argues at great length), not only would it be difficult to frame any sort of argument for them, but such an argument might not be justified. It would not be the case that belief in God could be validated by logical or scientific means, but rather that belief in logic and science are validated by the existence of God.

(As an aside: there are, of course, arguments for Christianity, most famously Aquinas’ proofs. But even those arguments turn on an Aristotelian understanding of metaphysics, something that is mostly in concord with the teachings of Christianity. Since Descartes, I think, Western philosophy no longer subscribes to that sort of metaphysic, which might be why many people find Aquinas’ proofs insufficient.)

There were also some other objections worth noting, including: why would God create some people only to send them to hell, why does he make people sick/sinful, why would he make creation with a plan for salvation that included the killing of his own son, etc. But I would consider these to be “internal” issues–they have to assume the existence of God at the outset in order to be meaningful. Furthermore, if you can’t think of a good reason for God’s doing something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t one. Another question was, if humans are broken and sinful, doesn’t that mean they are worthless? The answer according to Christianity is no–the price paid by Jesus indicates the worth God finds in humanity. If something is broken, but can be restored, it doesn’t lose its worth. If I have a precious, rare vase that I break into a million pieces, it would be said to have lost its worth, but that’s because it can’t ever be restored to its original state. Christianity says that we can, through Jesus, be restored. The original worth can be recovered (and for the Christian, is in the process of being recovered by the sovereignty of God through sanctification).

The next question was, then, if belief is a choice, why should I choose to believe? My response here was sloppy. I tried to say something along these lines: Christianity would argue that its worldview encompasses and explains more than any other worldview. For example, a naturalistic worldview explains physical phenomenon very well, but it is at a loss to explain our sense of morality and justice. A humanistic worldview explains why morality is important, but it fails to provide an adequate response when humanity fails, or when suffering happens.

I used the example of Chesterton’s madman (from Orthodoxy). If Steven is a madman, and he believes that everyone is in a conspiracy against him, and I say to him, “We are not in a conspiracy against you,” Steven will interpret this as confirmation of his theory. “Of course you would deny it,” he will say. “You would never admit that you are in a conspiracy against me! That proves that you are, in fact, in a conspiracy against me!” But if Steven believed that everyone was not, in fact, in a conspiracy against him, this theory would explain the data as well: I am telling the truth. But unfortunately, there is no way to argue him out of it, and there is no way for him to reason himself out of the belief, since his reasoning is determined by the belief, and not the other way around.

All worldviews explain the world in closed, self-justifying systems, and therefore can’t be argued against per se, but some might be said to explain the world more completely than others. Why believe in Christianity? Well, why should the madman choose to stop believing that everyone is in a conspiracy against him?

There is, of course, more to say about why one might choose Christianity, but that was all we covered. The discussion ended there abruptly because we were over time. However, we pledged to continue it at the next meeting (as uncomfortable as I am playing amateur apologist). Perhaps we will look at some of the classical proofs for Christianity (i.e. Aquinas), or maybe we will pursue this presuppositional argument further and discuss the supposed benefits of Christianity as a worldview.

What is it like to be a bat?

Thomas Nagel’s now-famous article about the impossibility of using a reductionist approach to understanding human consciousness.

We appear to be faced with a general difficulty about psychophysical reduction. In other areas the process of reduction is a move in the direction of greater objectivity, toward a more, accurate view of the real nature of things. This is accomplished by reducing our dependence on individual or species-specific points of view toward the object of investigation. We describe it not in terms of the impressions it makes on our senses, but in terms of its more general effects and of properties detectable by means other than the human senses. The less it depends on a specifically human viewpoint, the more objective is our description. It is possible to follow this path because although the concepts and ideas we employ in thinking about the external world are initially applied from a point of view that involves our perceptual apparatus, they are used by us to refer to things beyond themselves—toward which we have the phenomenal point of view. Therefore we can abandon it in favor of another, and still be thinking about the same things.

Experience itself however, does not seem to fit the pattern. The idea of moving from appearance to reality seems to make no sense here. What is the analogue in this case to pursuing a more objective understanding of the same phenomena by abandoning the initial subjective viewpoint toward them in favour of another that is more objective but concerns the same thing? Certainly it appears unlikely that we will get closer to the real nature of human experience by leaving behind the particularity of our human point of view and striving for a description in terms accessible to beings that could not imagine what it was like to be us. If the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one point of view, then any shift to greater objectivity—that is, less attachment to a specific viewpoint—does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it.

http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/nagel-what-is-it-like-to-be-a-bat/

Causal Determinism

Prompted by the group’s discussion, I did some brief reading about determinism and free will. We were trying to remember the various types of determinism, i.e., scientific determinism and theological determinism. So, according to the “Free Will” article at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here is what I’ve found.

First, there are other types of determinism–logical determinism, for instance, maintains that truth being contingent on premises is “determined” in a sense. We mentioned theological determinism, which is the idea that everything is determined by an all-powerful, all-present, all-controlling God. But for the most part, our conversation centered around causal determinism, which posits that in conjunction with certain laws, i.e., the laws of nature, the existence of the past means that the future is entirely determined.

According to the Encyclopedia, most philosophers agree that given what we know, there is no way for us to discover if determinism is necessarily true or false–we don’t know the future.

At the physical level, there is currently a debate in science involving quantum mechanics. At the quantum level, matter seems to behave in a probabilistic manner, not a deterministic one. But larger systems do seem to operate in a predictable, deterministic manner. So we haven’t figured out if the actual stuff of the universe seems to indicate if it’s determined or not. (The encyclopedia did not mention superdeterminism, the idea that while quantum physics generates probabilistic results, all experiments necessarily assume the free will of the experimenter–and if the experimenter is not free, but in fact determined, then the outcomes of the experiments were therefore also deterministic. Obviously, this doesn’t help scientists any to believe this… but it’s one solution to the problem.)

From what I can tell, there are at least three schools of thought on causal determinism:

  1. Compatibilism states that even if determinism is true, free will is still possible.
  2. Incompatibilism denies that determinism and free will can coexist.
    • Hard determinists believe that the universe is determined and deny that any agent in the real world has free will.
    • Libertarians believe that the universe is undetermined, and that some agents could exercise free will.
  3. Pessimism says that even if indeterminism is true, free will is not necessarily true.

Most interesting to me is the pessimistic view. Pessimists point out that if indeterminism is true, it raises the question of where and when the indeterminacy happens, and actually makes the issue more problematic.

But if determinism is false, then there will be indeterminacy at some point prior to her action. Exactly where one locates this indeterminacy will depend on one’s particular view of the nature of free will. Let us assume that that indeterminacy is located in which reasons occur to Allison. It is hard to see, the pessimist argues, how this indeterminacy could enhance Allison’s free will, for the occurrence of her reasons is indeterministic, then having those reasons is not within Allison’s control. But if Allison decides on the basis of whatever reasons she does have, then her volition is based upon something outside of her control. It is based instead on chance. Thus, pessimists think that the addition of indeterminism actually makes agents lack the kind of control needed for free will. … Not only do agents lack free will, there is no way that they could have it [see G. Strawson (1994)]. The only way to preserve moral responsibility, for the pessimist, is thus to deny that free will is a necessary condition for moral responsibility.

I find this last view very compelling. It reminds me of the problems posed by Thomas Nagel in Moral Luck: if the moral outcomes of events are outside of our control, to what extent should we be held responsible?

Plato’s Forms

For further reading on the forms. This seems pretty basic, but there are references to the works where he talks about this idea.

Scholars disagree about the scope of what is often called “the theory of Forms,” and question whether Plato began holding that there are only Forms for a small range of properties, such as tallness, equality, justice, beauty, and so on, and then widened the scope to include Forms corresponding to every term that can be applied to a multiplicity of instances.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/#SH6b

The Wikipedia article goes much more in-depth, and includes criticism of the idea, from Plato himself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Forms

Finally, here is the Wikipedia article for Plato’s theory of knowledge, which I referenced in the last discussion. It contains reference to the Theory of Forms, but it doesn’t necessarily rely on it. I had confused the two during our discussion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonic_epistemology

The Atomic Bomb, Artificial Intelligence, and the Forms

A small group today (only three of us), but a discussion no less lively than usual. We began talking about the atomic bomb in the context of an essay prompt for a history class. The question asks, was dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified? The arguments in favor seem to rely on speculation– specifically, that, had the bomb not been dropped, the body count would have been higher in the event of a more traditional invasion/attack and/or the continuation of the war. Others rely on the assumption that the Japanese would not have responded to a demonstration or a test, and that direct action without prior warning was the only effective way to send the message. The problem with these arguments is that they are wildly probabilistic, and there is no way to really know what “might have happened” in an alternate history. As we discussed last week, these sorts of projections and predictions are seldom justifiable. The unfortunate fact, though, is that these sorts of decisions have to be made. The arguments against the dropping of the bomb appeal more to morality, absolute standards by which a country should or should not act during time of war. These, however, seem arbitrary. Who’s to say which lives are more valuable than others? (Are American lives more valuable than Japanese? Are civilian lives more important than soldiers’?) It is possible to say that warfare in general is immoral, and then anything done in the context of warfare is automatically immoral to begin with, so we can say nothing either way about the dropping of the atomic bomb.

As to possible approaches to a paper, I suggested perhaps beginning with a strong “if”–if a certain premise or set of premises is true, then certain conclusions will necessarily follow, in regards to morality, prediction, or whatever. But in the end, it all depends on our acceptance of the initial premise or set of premises. Or, one might begin by putting the burden of proof on a certain party, and then show how that party has failed to prove its standpoint.

We discussed the nature of debate and argument, noting that some people seem less interested in having a dialogue than merely having a forum to express their own opinion. We can all be violent, aggressive defenders of our own viewpoints, failing to respond reasonably to someone else’s argument. The problem, for me, arises when that person does not really present an argument, nor seem interested in listening to one. We must always remember to be civil with people, even if they disagree with us, and even if they fail to go about argument and debate in a way that we think they should.

From there, the conversation took a turn to talking about artificial intelligence. Apparently, Google has created AI that can hold conversations–conversations that are mostly nonsensical, but that sometimes stumble on something philosophical, such as what constitutes “art,” or if one of them is, in fact, a human. We discussed whether or not AI could be said to be “conscious,” which of course depends on what our definition of consciousness is. Is something conscious if it could be like something to be that thing? (See Nagel’s “What is it to be a bat”)

I posed the question: given the proper amount of time and technological advancement, could an artificial intelligence ever be said to constitute a human consciousness? This raised another question: could an artificial intelligence, given time, learn everything, and therefore know everything, that a human knows? What is it to learn something, and what is it to know something?

From here, the conversation took several convoluted turns, involving an illustration featuring an adopted child living alone in a room painted blue, introduced to another human being (me) for the first time at the age of fifteen. Obviously such experiments are impractical to actually perform, but even as a thought experiment it was difficult to wrap our minds around. How much would this child “know,” beyond what we might say is mere instinct? An AI can be taught to avoid damage to itself, but how does it know what might constitute damage, given the myriad things it could encounter? Might it mistakenly think that a firm handshake is portentous of damage? Whereas a human being already intuitively understands what sorts of things constitute damage, and what don’t (even if they involve injury).

I posed the argument that there are certain things that we “know” that are not “learned” from experience, and that are not also mere instinct. This is what I understand to be part of what Plato talks about when he talks about the forms. I’m not an expert in this, so I may be mistaken. And this argument was lengthy and met many objections, so I will summarize rather than try to trace the actual direction of the discussion. My illustration was that, for example, when we learn the ad hominem fallacy of argument, what we are learning is only the term–the concept is something that we already know. We had likely encountered ad hominem before, so we knew what it was conceptually, and we also knew that it was wrong. But even if we had never encountered it before, we would still know, on the first encounter, that it was wrong, just as we would recognize that 1 + 1 = 3 is wrong (arbitrary mathematical language and symbols aside). We did not have to learn that–in fact, this is part of the construal by which we learn new things: for example, if we are presented with an argument that contains the ad hominem, we know to question its conclusion, and therefore we choose what to “learn” about it, if anything. So in “learning” ad hominem, all we are actually learning is the term for it–like how we learn that the word “blue” denotes the color that we experience as blue. Even if we are taught that the color blue is actually called “orange,” or that the ad hominem is actually called the “gobbledygook,” the knowledge of the thing in itself is something that we already have. So in terms of Plato’s forms, the ad hominem is something we accept as true because we already have an idea of what truth looks like, or is. It fits the “form” of truth, as we understand it, and in order to recognize that, we did not have to learn anything. We already knew it. So this theory of knowledge states that much of what we “learn” is actually just “recovered.”

This all comes into conflict with the notion that we, as human beings, are all just a bundle of organic matter wired with a set of instincts. We could call our sense of forms a kind of “instinct” but that seems to run up against the definition of “instinct” as it is commonly understood, and seems an inadequate explanation. It also runs up against common models of knowledge: we don’t know something, then we learn it, then we know it. It seems like there are certain types of knowledge–such as that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen–that conform to these models, but that there are also types of knowledge (or perhaps better called “beliefs”?) that do not–such as that the ad hominem presents a fallacious argument, an unacceptable means for uncovering truth.

The final word on this, other than suggesting that AI might never be said to achieve a state comparable to human consciousness because it cannot have access to this sense of the “forms”, was that, given the fact that there are things that we can “know” that are not “learned,” at least empirically, might this have some bearing on the field of ethics?

Sara seemed distressed, but I think it was a good exercise in considering another worldview, one that possibly makes better sense of things. Sometimes Philosophy Club is unproductive, but this one felt immensely productive. Except for the fact that there were no snacks. And on that count, it was an utter failure.

Of Human Flourishing and Human Sacrifice

Seven of us total today, with a guest guide dog in training. So naturally the conversation began revolving around the ethics of animal abuse. The conversation took a familiar trajectory. After considering the reasons why abuse is wrong–it causes pain, dogs are sentient, etc.–all reasons were countered by some hypothetical situation. What if one cannot feel pain, and what difference does sentience make?

The question arose if consent makes something ethical when it otherwise wouldn’t be. For instance, human sacrifice–if one consents to being a human sacrifice, does that make it wrong then for those conducting whatever ritual to sacrifice that person? Answers went along the lines of: as long as those who are affected also consent. Those who are affected might include parents, friends, etc. But then that raised the question of the butterfly effect–these effects spread from person to person like ripples in a pond; it is impossible to know who might be affected and how. It is also impossible to know what the world might have been like had the person who consented to ritual sacrifice not been sacrificed. Might they have grown up to be an influential person? (Might they also have grown up to become Hitler?) There are similar arguments against abortion.

This in turn raised the question of to what extent we can use our powers for predicting the future as grounds for making any decision at all. My purpose in raising this question was to try to steer us in a more existential direction, i.e. Sartre, in making the claim that we are enslaved to freedom because, while we have no idea the ramifications of the choices we make, we are enslaved to freedom–we must make choices, and we are responsible for the choices that we make.

I can’t remember the exact transition, but this got us talking about human flourishing–the question being, how can we know that the decisions we make will promote human flourishing. Aramis made the claim–and here I am going from memory and trying not to mangle his intended argument–that we as people can look at history and discern how best to promote human flourishing. I took issue with this at on number of points, and here the conversation took several convoluted turns, so I will attempt to summarize the conclusions rather than follow the conversation as it happened. One primary objection was that human flourishing is a relative term. Different people at different times and places have different definitions of human flourishing. Granted that there seem to be common threads throughout history, but it did not seem conclusive enough to form a concrete definition. Even basic claims like “death=bad for human flourishing” and “happiness=good for human flourishing” met with potential objections. (Japanese samurai performing seppuku was seen as beneficial on the whole in terms of justice, and some versions of radical Islam which value suicide; and the relativity of happiness, as in some people actually find sadness and depression to be a comfort, or find joy in cruelty.) The second major objection was that interpreting history is not an objective exercise–the facts do not present themselves in such a way that we can automatically construct a definition of what human flourishing is or determine a means for achieving it. My argument was that to interpret history, one will necessarily start with some presuppositions. For example, one person may look at the story of Hitler and the holocaust and think, “what an atrocity, millions of lives lost,” while another may look at the same event and think, “how close we came to achieving true human flourishing; if only Hitler had not made such grievous tactical mistakes.” We seemed to agree that determining what parts of history indicated human flourishing and which parts didn’t depended on something other than the mere facts of history themselves. What human flourishing is is not self-evident.

As usual, nothing was solved, and the question still remains: is there a definition of human flourishing, and is there some means for achieving it? How are we to know given the fact that we can’t predict the future, and that we can’t interpret the past without already having some idea of what we’re looking for?

We mused that, in these meetings, it seems that there is always one person making claims and argument, and the rest play the role of the skeptic, shooting them down. Why is it so much easier to be skeptical than to make positive argument? Philosophy Club is not for the thin-skinned. I am grateful for members like Aramis who are up to playing hardball.

The final issue raised was evolution, which we decided we would save for another time. We talked briefly and informally about the nature of Philosophy Club in general, things that should or shouldn’t be discussed during the meetings. Last year, some of the meetings seemed to turn into group therapy sessions. Agreed–not that group therapy is not useful, but it is probably not what Philosophy Club is or should be about.

A lively meeting, though ultimately unproductive. (But aren’t they all?)