The Absurdity We All Must Live With – Part 2

So what if all of life is absurd? Does a cat care whether he has ultimate meaning in life? Does a dog know that she will die and be no more? Of course, the answer seems to be an overwhelming “no!” So why should we humans even care?

Perhaps my reading of Sellars and Russell are influencing me here, but I have come to realize that objects have no meaning without relations. In the same vein, subjects have no meaning except as objects in relation to other subjects either.

S relates to O — OR simply, aRb where ‘a’ is a subject and ‘b’ is an object or other subject (honestly, we seem to treat all subjects besides our own Self as objects).

It’s idiotic to claim that we “make” our own meaning. That’s like digging yourself out of a hole. It’s the wrong tool and the wrong direction. Meaning is a social belief about objects and how we relate to them. To one woman, her child is the most precious object in the world. To another, her child is to her. The subjective world builds meaning based upon relations.

Take for example my son’s attachment to his blanket. At this time, just before his 3rd birthday, that blanket means the world to him. The subject is Sam and he relates to the object, his blanket, in a variety of ways. The most important relationship is how that blanket holds meaning for him. That relationship is based as much on the facts about the blanket as his personal interaction has been with it.

So what about the “meaning of human life?” Well, there is no “meaning” so get that idea out of your head. Meaning comes as much from others as from ourselves, but neither exceeds the other as far as I can tell. So as we experience relations with other subjects and objects, we maintain meaning in our life. I say maintain because meaning 1) changes and 2) fades. Anyone who has ever had a favorite dish served to him or her repeatedly knows this. This doesn’t mean that the dish never had great meaning for us, only that it lost is grandeur as it was perpetually served. Life may actually require change and new experiences in order to maintain happiness with it. But that’s another topic.

Embracing absurdity also has a positive aspect that is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy: a recognition of the impermanence of all things and the fruitlessness of trying to hold on. I’ll take this up in part 3.

Russell’s Epistemology in Problems of Philosophy – A Brief Introduction to Russell’s “Knowledges”


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This may be the first substantive post I have ever made. At least I can be honest! The rest of the posts read like Nietzschean aphorisms (before or after his sanity left, I’m not sure).

But to Bertrand Russell. He had a wonderful way of explaining philosophical concepts, especially epistemology, to the average person. I’m currently using his Problems of Philosophy, as the basis of a paper and I have to say, it is quite easy to read as far as philosophical works go. But the problem is, Russell’s style and ease may interfere with his ability to do serious philosophy in that book. Hopefully, I can explain.

His epistemology basically is as follows:

He breaks knowledge down into “knowledge about things” and “knowledge about truths” first in chapters 4 and 5.  In chapter 5, he separates “knowledge about things” into “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description.” He states that “we have acquaintance with anything of which we are directly aware, without the intermediary or any process of inference of any knowledge of truths” (Russell, 33). Knowledge by acquaintance is a conscious awareness that the Self is acquainted with a type of sense datum. This sense datum may come from the senses, memory, introspection, self-consciousness, and some universals (like redness or triangularity – these examples of universals have been done to death since Wilfrid Sellars first took the bat to them).

Knowledge by description refers to when “we know that there is one object, and no more, having a certain property” – although I think this definition is too ambiguous. (Russell, 38) An example would be your friend Ted telling you that he saw a red triangle this morning. You use your acquaintance with the idea of redness and a triangle and construct an understanding of what he said. You have a mental picture or at least a sense of understanding what he is saying. You may be slightly wrong – like if you imagine an upright red triangle but then come to see what he witnessed and realize it is upside down instead – but your idea is still composed of elements with which you are acquainted with.

Knowledge of truths likewise faces the same division. The first is intuitive knowledge which is based upon self-evident truths, which are based, in turn, off of acquaintances. Derivative knowledge is based upon intuitive knowledge “validly deduced”. (Russell, 95)

Ian Proops usefully summarizes this information as follows:

“Immediate knowledge of things is ‘acquaintance,’ while derivative knowledge of things is ‘knowledge by description.’ Immediate knowledge of truths, on the other hand, is ‘intuitive knowledge,’ while derivative knowledge of truths is knowledge of claims ‘ deduced from self-evident truths by the use of self-evident principles of deduction.'” (Proops, 795)

In the next post, I’ll look more into knowledge of truths, how they are known, and how they are based upon knowledge by acquaintance.

(1) Russell, Bertrand. Problems of Philosophy. Aberdeen: Watchmaker Publishing, 1927. Print.

(2) Proops, Ian. “Russellian Acquaintance Revisited.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 52:4 (2014): 779-811. ProQuest. Accessed 3 October 2017.

Image of Bertrand Russell courtesy of WikiCommons: By James Francis Horrabin (1884-1962) – (1 August 1917). “Bertrand Russell”. The Masses: 37. (, Public Domain,

The Absurdity We All Must Live With – Part 1

There are many things we must come to call absurd. Not invaluable, mind you, but ultimately absurd because of the impermanence of all things. If we were to start with terms alone, “forever” and “always” would be the first to fall under the categorization of absurd, as well as their opposites. For “forever” and “never” both reside only in conceptual domains, not life and love.

Nostalgia, that feeling of longing for what is past and what will never be again, is the only evidence for the devil that I have ever found. The faces that we loved and longed to see get distorted by that villain time since we last saw them. Even looking back into childhood, those toys we once loved and cherished become nothing but memories latched to plastic commercialism. Value dies with time. Value must die since we must die – otherwise, we’d all be in hell. When we lose a loved one, what could be worse than to never have the sting of their absence subside from time to time? At once, we long to feel that connection that is long gone and at the same time we long to have the chains broken. I once feared memory loss more than any thing that could happen to me. But if I could no longer realize that I forgot something, perhaps I would welcome it.

When I know that I have everything that the average person longs to have in their life, why don’t I feel satisfied by it? It’s not that I feel discontent, but I look at everything and see that it is absurd and pointless and fading, endlessly fading. It’s too much to handle. I am not strong enough to stare into that abyss for longer than a few moments. My heart starts to crumble and tears swell in my eyes. What a terrible fate we all must accept.

But what happens when we do accept it? Will a new strength form within us that edges us on to overcome our fears and tempt our fates?

Why Evangelical Theology Fails

Evangelical theology, as well as most conservative theologies, fails because there is no practical way to maintain its underlying exegesis. The hermeneutical method used is generally called the historical-grammatical method. With this method, the meaning of a biblical passage is interpreted based on the historical context and literary characteristics of the passage.It’s more complex than that, but that is a useful working definition.

The problem with the historical-grammatical method is that the New Testament authors did not use it to interpret the Old Testament. The authors used pesher techniques to understand our Old Testament (as well as additional books that Christians do not how to be inspired). Almost every prophecy mentioned in the New Testament has been reinterpreted. The historical-grammatical method of these same Old Testament passages stands in stark contrast. In fact, that method ends up negating most prophecy about the Messiah. And without a Messiah actually being prophesied about, what of the New Testament’s interpretation of Jesus? He is no longer the Messiah and all of the Pauline, Johanine, Lucan, etc. theologies which proceed from this fall apart. Without a pesher interpretation of the Old Testament, there is no valid case for Jesus being the Messiah.

Thus, there are only a few choices: 1) makes exemptions for the pesher interpretations because those were “inspired by God” or 2) find a new hermeneutic that can encompass all of the biblical passages or 3) admit inconsistencies and fallacies by the biblical authors.

The first choice is the preferred for most evangelicals, but it is inconsistent. It’s simply a blind faith choice that has no logical underpinnings. But if God is not a God of confusion and he is the foundation of all logic, this seems contrary to His supposed nature. The second choice seems difficult to ascertain simply because there have been so many hermenuetical and theological systems that have come and gone. They all (well, most) share the same flaw: the assumption that all of the biblical texts form a logical whole. The third option tastes like filth in the mouth of an evangelical. They cannot consider it without having to rethink their entire worldview.

Overall, the historical-grammatical method is the most logical method and the safest to use. It’s just too bad that the biblical authors didn’t know this.

The Value of Communications

When we speak to someone or we are spoken to, we assign value. We don’t just assign value to what is said or how it is said, but also who says it. If an elderly stranger smiles kindly and tells a young girl that she is beautiful, the girl will smile and say “thank you.” But she will not take it to heart. She will instead interpret the conversation as the man being kind. She will not take the compliment into herself. But say a boy just a year older than her says the exact same thing in the exact same way. He may not even have interest in her but just wants to honestly lift her spirits by the truth. But the girl will interpret the conversation as “he must like me, at least a little.” She may not be interested in him, but the compliment will make her feel beautiful.

Or suppose the girl’s mother says the exact thing in the exact way. The girl will take it as her mother being motherly. She will not experience it as truth. Another situation may be that the boy she has a crush on tells her the same thing in the same way. She will interpret this as a good omen to pursue a relationship with him. But if she has been with a boy for many months and he has said the same thing over and over, she will not believe it as much. It is something that boyfriends say. Or if she catches him cheating of her, she won’t believe the truth of her beauty at all. If she is beautiful, why did he stray? And so the situations keep changing her perspective.

What is happening here? Why does she not experience the truth of her beauty in each situation? She is getting in the way of the truth. She has already assigned value to other people’s words and actions based on assumptions and/or previous experience. 

Don’t we all do this? At one point of our day, a text from a friend lights up our eyes because we are bored and perhaps slightly lonely. The sound of the text makes us hopeful and we seek happiness in having someone to talk to. At another point in the day, when we are frustrated and stressed out, the same ding on our phone will increase our aggregation. We do not wish to speak to anyone. Why does everyone always want just a little more of our time?

When we are ignorant of how we are our biggest hindrances, we suffer. Others suffer as a result of this at times. But if we can be mindful of ourselves, then we can see more clearly the way to approach life.

Our Common Humanity

The most important aspect of any person is that they are a person. They share the same humanity that we all have. Today, Google honors Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Pakistani humanitarian who created an ambulance service in Pakistan. I first learned of his work in the documentary, These Birds Walk. It was probably the second story that opened my heart to Pakistan. The first thing was the book, Wrong Kind of Muslim, which I read about the time of the mass school shooting there. I met the author on Twitter talking about the incident. The third influence was the book, I Am Malala. (The passion that so many people have for that country amazes me.)

But I love something that Abdul Sattar Edhi said: “People have become educated… but have yet to become human.”

That is a great quote. It’s also quite scary because it is true. We let politics and religion get in the way of love and compassion. When you look into the eyes of another person, just see that person. Be completely aware that they are just as flawed and just as perfect as you are. You may not even speak or write the same language, but you are human.

We must always remember our common humanity.


It’s a strange and wonderful thing to have an “Other” in your life. An “Other” is simply someone who is not you. However, without the Other, you are not quite yourself. To be cut off from the Other is almost like cutting off your identity or removing half your blood. Yes, you can survive and, yes, you will get better, but it takes time.

Usually, you can feel yourself to be a whole again. But there are some Others that never fully go away, even if they are no longer present. The Self and the Other are only partially separate. A memory becomes a part of the Self just by the Self experiencing an event. But the Other pushes and pulls on the Self – he/she/it makes us laugh, cry, excited, angry, depressed, joyful, thoughtful. The Other makes us feel alive. The Other might just be essential to survive – or at least it feels like this once removed from your life.

There is no Self without the Other. There is only Inter-being, shared existence.

Some Thoughts On Identity

What makes up identity? Are there any solid facts about the self that indicates a solid self? Or is the self really a non-self as proposed in Buddhist thought? Let’s play with a few ideas: My name is David. I am currently typing this. I enjoy learning.

So here are three simple statements I choose to make about my self. The first is that my name is David. But there are some assumptions that I am making in order to say this. First, I conclude that my identify is tied understandable by simple subject-predicate statements. “I am”, “my name”, etc. are along this line. But even deeper, I see that “I am” is different from “my name”. The former simply states that a subject exists, namely that the one typing this is claiming to be the same thinking the statement. The latter assumes that I am justified in claiming possession of something – I am capable of extension. I have attributes that are more than simply existing. To say that something exist and to be able to distinguish it apart from another something that also exists, there has to be some essence to each existing something to understand this. This is the basic problem of identity though.

Are there some aspects or facts that must be attributed to an object along with existence? I think yes. Reality must have spacial-temporal actuality or logical potentiality. Anything constructed from matter or energy that takes up space and time actually exists. Anything with logical potentiality exists as informational truth that can be actualized in space-time. 2 + 3 = 5 is a logical potentiality. It exists as information. It exists as truth. Take 2 apples and add 3 more apples and you have 5 apples. The apples are the actualized potentiality of the truth of the mathematics. The logical potentiality will always exists as truth. However, it is merely information that can be derived from ontological actuality or that can predict ontological actuality. Numbers do not exist as anything but logical constructs and representations outside of the actualized world.

So what does this say about me? Well, I know that I take up space and time, so I am in the actualized camp. So from this I can say that I take length, width, height, and movement. Is there anything else inside of me that can be said to “define” my essence? I would say that most other attributes are relative to the other persons and objects relative to me.

In essence, there is merely “interbeing”with a little “me” thrown in. I’ll come back again to this, I know.

From Epistemology to Hermeneutics (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature)

Very interesting article on Rorty’s philosophical differences between hermeneutics and epistemology.

Philosophy Masters

Hermeneutics is what follows from the demise of epistemology; it is the ‘expression of hope’ that the space left by its demise will not be filled and that our culture ‘should become one in which the demand for constraint and confrontation is no longer felt’ (315). Whilst epistemology proceeds on the assumption that all contributions in any given discourse are commensurable, hermeneutics struggles against commensurability. By commensurable, Rorty means ‘able to be brought under a set of rules which will tell us how rational agreement can be reached on what would settle the issue on every point where statements seem to conflict’ (316), in other words, the construction of an ideal situation. Outstanding disagreements are characterised as “noncognitive”, temporarily unsolved but ultimately to be resolved by doing something further.
Thus, in epistemology, to be rational is to be able to find agreement with other human beings and ‘to construct an…

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Stein’s Definition of Atheism is Highly Flawed

I’m currently reading “The Great Debate: Does God Exist? Bahnsen v. Stein”. Stein, an atheist defines an atheist one who “says the case [for God’s existence] is unproved not disproved. So an atheist is someone who is without a belief in God, or he does not believe in a God. It is not someone who denies the existence of God, or who says that one does not exist, or that he can prove that one does not exist.”
Is this a fair definition? I certainly do not think so. Why? First, because I personally do not believe that the arguments for God’s existence are all that astounding. The arguments for and against seem to be about equal. I took Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” to heart and existentially chose to believe in God’s existence. So I can shake hands with anyone who says God’s existence is unproven (at least in the logical sense). Second, no one exists without some form of belief in a god – plain and simple. So saying that someone is without a belief in God shows that they do have some type of belief regarding God. The only escape from this would be total ignorance of the question. Third, his definition seems to say that agnosticism is atheism is agnosticism, etc.
Now my third argument matters little to me right now. And the second is important, but not for my current writing. Really all is says is that everyone holds some opinion about any piece of information. I’ll leave that to the epistemologists. They surely can handle that one.
My third point is very important to me right now. It even sparked my current writing. If Stein is correct, then I’m simply an atheist in bad faith. I should have followed his straight path towards atheism and never strayed from the fold if he is correct. But Stein forgot the important element that all evidence has to face: the human will. The will must make a decision for or against knowledge. The subject is confronted by knowledge. The subject must will for or against it. Ignorance is the only escape, which becomes impossible once knowledge confronts the will. (So I guess I strayed onto the second point anyways.) I say that Stein willed against the evidence for and against God’s existence. He chose to disbelieve, based on the evidence. I chose to believe irregardless of the information.
So why did Stein choose this definition of atheism? Stein was more concerned with protecting his tail than intellectual integrity – in my opinion. His definition looks humble yet self-agrandizing. Overall, the definition was far too broad to be practical and I think my criticism of it has reached it’s necessary limits. However, I want to add that Stein did try to make atheists not look like devils and I can applaud him for that. Being an atheist in the not too distant past has taught me a lot. Even with my undisclosed status now, I can still remember people making me feel like a demon or that I had gone crazy. And it’s a gut-wrenching feeling hearing Christians talk about “evil” atheists. People are equally capable of evil as good. They are also as equally capable of hiding behind self-imposed labels as other-imposed.