The point of learning philosophy is to make oneself, others, and reality comprehensible, as one comes to terms with one’s mortality. A set of philosophical principles—basic truths arrived at empirically and logically—enable one to live effectively and happily. They enable one to make judgments that are in service of one’s life and well being (the ethics of rational self-interest).
Presently, the adult world is floundering in many serious respects on account of an absence of such understanding and lack of integration of timeless fundamental principles. The new intellectuals will be those who not only want a better life for themselves and others, but also use the process of noncontradictory identification to achieve it. Advances in the humanities will bring about even more astounding and enriching changes than advances in the physical sciences (both theoretical and applied) have brought to high-tech fields in recent times. We need to develop an expansive and inspiring vision of what is possible for humans and civilization.
As Ayn Rand noted, philosophy can be divided into five conceptual branches:
In this program discussions and debates will delve extensively into all these branches. Since the branches are interconnected, all will inevitably be covered in detail. An historical overview of philosophy allows us to put modern-day views into coherent perspective. The arguments and counterarguments that have persisted through the centuries need to be inspected. With this in mind, jump to explore some of the many philosophical topics covered (with short descriptions) provided below.
New topics and even learning methods will likely arise both inside and outside group sessions. Additionally, research and writing can certainly assist in becoming more versed, articulate, and critical-minded. Such activities aren’t required, of course. They naturally happen as persons interact and explore subjects and write and speak about them. Each learner will also have the support of everyone involved.
To ensure an exceptional learning process, guides and tutors remain flexible in both subject matter and educational method—all while keeping track of pedagogical (and logical) essentials and maintaining a comprehensible context.
If you have any questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Metaphysics deals with the nature of nature, the underlying aspects of reality. While physics deals with describing and modeling the physical and energetic processes of nature, metaphysics deals with the nature of these processes in relation to an overall understanding of reality. Philosophy picks up where science leaves off in this regard.
An objective metaphysics means that reality exists apart from any consciousness perceiving it. Consciousness is of course a distinctive part of reality, arising from a neural system that identifies and integrates its environment. We call it “consciousness” because it is qualitatively different than what it observes via the senses.
Understanding an objective metaphysics, as opposed to a subjective, relative, social, or mystical (i.e., supernatural) one, enables us to ground ourselves in a realistic view of the world. Identity, Causality, and Non-Contradiction are the axiomatic laws underlying everything. So, one big task for humans (including quantum physicists) is to interpret experiences and observations in light of them.
Epistemology deals with the nature of knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it derived? And how is it validated? These are inarguably the most important questions for our species because, without correct answers to them, we are at best misguided and at worst self-destructive (and other-destructive).
An objective epistemology depends on an objective metaphysics: It is the job of consciousness to grasp its surroundings, as well as the nature of reality, in a non-contradictory way (i.e., develop principles, test hypotheses, formulate theories, derive laws, and so forth). Without a firm and knowable reality containing no contradictions, reason would not be a valid and reliable method of comprehension; in fact, nothing would.
Reason is the process by which we utilize sense data that is combined into perceptions. From there we conceptualize this information. We check it with other ideas and with our experiences. The mental method by which we can vet this process for errors is logic.
Ethics deals with both the theoretical and practical aspects of moral codes and moral systems. Values and virtues are defined and outlined with ethical theory. (Needs and strategies are their psychological counterparts.)
Since ethics does not occur in a vacuum, what is its primary purpose? By grasping an objective metaphysics and epistemology, we can discover the purpose of ethics for conceptual beings such as ourselves.
An ethics of rational self-interest is justified and validated on the basis of its service to each person’s life and well-being. This acknowledges each person’s independent existence, thereby honoring our interdependence without sacrifice. We each think and feel for ourselves; no one else can do these activities for us, though they can empathize and assist us, or they can try to coerce us. By the same token, no one can make our choices of values and virtues for us, though they can provide examples for us (or not), and we can rely on trustworthy others for guidance, or we can surrender our autonomy and conform.
An ethics of rational self-interest does not demand or require sacrifices of any kind—either of self to others or of others to self. By understanding what is objectively in our self-interest as human beings, we can develop win/win relationships based on exchange and appreciation of values and virtues, honoring the universality of human needs. Needless to say, humanity has yet to understand and integrate a non-sacrificial ethics, and we’ve been suffering the many consequences (individual, social, and systemic). We can finally change course.
Politics, the fourth branch of philosophy, deals with human relations on the societal level. Alone in a desolate area, one has no need for politics. Only when we find or place ourselves in a social environment, especially civilization, does politics become an issue.
Plainly, we do not have a right to violate the rights of others. That would be terribly contradictory. Rights are violated by the instruments of force, be they overtly physical, fraud, extortion, or punishment, such as via coercive law-enforcement. When a person’s will is negated by such tactics, an injustice occurs. Rights are violated when we are coerced by others to do or not do things (with or without the backing of the law).
So, we can dispense with the erroneous concept and unjust institution of government. As long as we do not infringe on the person or property of others, we are free to live as we see fit. We can uphold any idea, ideology, behavior, tradition, culture, or custom—so long as they don’t enact instruments of force and negate the rights of others. In this way politics, logically understood, provides the framework to live lives as respectful and peaceful human beings.
Law is arguably the preeminent political concept. Given the sordid history of political laws—e.g., slavery, first and foremost, as well as countless personal and business controls and punishments, from taxation to monetary inflation—does “law” have any place in a voluntary, rights-respecting society? The politics of statism has traditionally maintained a society that violates individual rights with myriad nonobjective laws. Such laws require individuals to conform to institutionalized injustices; they do not uphold the principles of voluntarism. The concept of objective law, therefore, by definition needs to support the inalienable rights of individuals, rights to one’s person, various property, and contracts.
An individual-rights-based politics is one in which people treat each other in a voluntary manner, in support of each person’s dignity. Restorative justice seeks to remedy rights infringements; coercion and force are rejected as a way to enact change or control people.
An individual-rights-based politics requires and presupposes a society that respects and upholds property rights, which are a logical extension of self-ownership. People have rights to the entities they possess or acquire through trade, which they can use and/or dispose of, trade again in the marketplace, or create capital. Of course, the most personal of property in the world is one’s own self.
Esthetics deals with the nature of beauty and artistic expression. Because we are conceptual beings, we can understand reality in a way that other animals cannot. We can be thrilled by human achievement and strength of character, for example. And we can behold and enjoy a wonderful sunset.
In accordance with values and virtues, or needs and strategies, and the subconscious premises we have integrated, we determine various things to be artistic. We of course respond and are moved by many things in our lives. Ultimately, our tastes, what we consider beautiful or not, what inspires us or not, what touches our deepest essence and what does not, depend on our psychological constitution as well as personal, experiential, context.
As we also focus on our psychological evolution, we can embrace a philosophy that serves our well-being and happiness, so our value-judgments of art will be predominantly self-affirming and life-affirming.
Philosophical Topics (definitely not an exhaustive list)
art and beauty
Art and the nature of beauty lie within the realm of esthetics. While myriad forms of art exist presently, just as many motivations for creating it exist too. Most artists are driven by a passion to create and to express their various emotions through this medium. How they feel about themselves, about others, about society, about the world, and about life, all reveal themselves in types of art.
Interestingly, a person can appreciate a work of art (for example, a song) for a very different reason than what the person who created it had in mind. Both the creation and the appreciation of art depend on many factors, both conscious and subconscious. One person may find a particular song energizing, while another may find it repulsive or annoying. Psychological and personal context matters a great deal in this regard.
Art is also an achievement. It normally takes a lot of thought and time to create, though a bucket of paint splashed on a wall requires much less diligence than a multifaceted scenic mural. What we derive from the artistic experience matters. If it serves as “fuel for the soul,” as Ayn Rand championed, we can feel inspired and uplifted, reassured that we live in a comprehensible universe that provides enrichment and wonder. In contrast, if art arises from a self-diminishing or nihilistic realm, perhaps it can offer some visibility or understanding of suffering, in terms of mental confusion and dissonance.
Beauty is another topic that permeates our culture. Models seek to exhibit beautiful characteristics for us, though is there a standard of beauty beyond symmetry and certain proportions? For that matter what is the standard of ugly? Imagine going through life with the label “ugly” etched in the back of one’s mind? In what ways do such global evaluations get propagated?
It’s easy to rely on conventional, socially acceptable notions of beauty (and ugliness) as substitutes for meaningful understanding. As conceptual creatures, how we determine and value beauty has much to do with our level on analysis. Looking deeper into the nature of things involves more pondering of beauty’s standards. Even though very few people find warthogs beautiful (or even not ugly), perhaps some zoologist or scientist sees exquisite qualities about them. So, beauty may be truly in the eyes of the beholder, as it reflects what he or she highly values and desires to experience more of.
Artificial intelligence is a human innovation that will continue to confront us. As we create machines that resemble aspects of human consciousness and perform functions more effectively and faster, many new philosophical issues arise.
Those who have seen movies like The Terminator, The Matrix, I, Robot, Her, and Ex Machina, are aware that, sooner or later, AIs might become as computationally complex as us—and then, much more complex, yielding artificial general intelligence (AGI). AGI will be vastly more intelligent, more competent, and likely self-aware (though some researchers dispute this). A silicon-based “life form,” a self-replicating, self-maintaining—and self-improving—robot that thinks for itself, no doubt presents many serious ethical and existential issues. A couple insightful recent books that explore these profound issues are Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Final_Invention/) and Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_3.0/).
business and productivity
Business and productivity follow from the creation of an economic environment, a place where humans can trade values using money (medium of exchange). In an economy we discover something to trade, be it labor, a service, a product, an idea, etc. The freer the market, the more chance our creativity is rewarded. Any business that is not concerned with making a profit will soon find itself wondering how it can continue without income. As an economy achieves a higher level of productivity, charitable funds and philanthropic ventures can arise.
Any at least semi-capitalistic economy will soon create more capital with which to work. When a business or individual innovates and accomplishes something in less time, more is available to create another innovation, and yet another. This amounts to increases in productivity. For example, machine tools and machinery to fabricate parts save vast amounts of labor, granting more time to use our minds in creative ways and dedicate time to new tasks. Multiply this process many times in all varieties of division of labor and areas of specialization, and enormous amounts of wealth arise.
Now, what to do with this “surplus” of money? People in a free market allocate it as they see fit, according to their desires, values, and needs. Unfortunately, this is not the case today. Government is the largest employer in America, taking annually about two trillion dollars from the market in taxes and many more trillion through fiat currency inflation, deficit spending, and massive debt—all of which remains a huge, unproductive weight around the neck of the economy. We can thank recent innovations in the information technology sectors, among other fields, for giving the economy the strength (via increases in productivity) to stagger forward, or at least stay on its feet—for the time being.
Alas, the more wealth that’s created by businesses and productive individuals, the more is expropriated by the State (via primarily the progressive income tax, following from the sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Again, for individuals and businesses to remain productive, they need to retain and utilized the wealth they created.
Furthermore, organizations in business need to evolve into a way of thinking, being, and operating that honors the invaluable principles of self-management, wholeness, and purpose, instead of hierarchies of distrust, alienation, and command-and-control functioning. This stage of respectful, highly enriching interpersonal functioning is called Teal, as explained by Laloux:
The Future of Management Is Teal by Frederic Laloux
Cognition is one of the two primary functions of consciousness; the other is evaluation. Cognition is the aspect of our mental processes involved in identification. We categorize, distinguish, differentiate. We also form an array of mental maps and memories, and we refer to these when necessary.
Without cognition we could form no conceptions. Our cerebral cortex enables us to accomplish such higher level symbolization. We can thank the frontal lobes of our brain for most of this. Nevertheless, we also can use our cognitive faculty to identify and understand a variety of biases that our minds can engage in, as noted in the book Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus (https://www.amazon.com/Kluge-Haphazard-Construction-Human-Mind/dp/0618879641).
The formation of concepts by a human mind is the lifeblood of our species. Without the ability to conceptualize, none of our distinctive achievements and talents could occur.
We form concepts by isolating particular aspects of reality based on their distinguishing characteristics. What we conceive are, thus, entities and their various properties and relationships. As we more precisely define whatever existent we are talking about, we can more make sense of it. Our concepts have actual referents, which can be actual or even imaginary, external or internal.
We should note that our ability to imagine things does not result in creating things that cannot exist, that defy the nature of reality (a supernatural realm, for example). Yet the possible results of our creativity can be as innovative as we can conjure. (Just attend https://www.comic-con.org (or the multitude of variants across the world) to behold the spectacular possibilities.)
Consciousness is a distinctive attribute of the brain, arguably the most fascinating aspect of the universe. It’s animated and aware star stuff! Studies reveal that lesions or injuries to the brain tend to subtract mental processes and can diminish the normal capabilities of consciousness. And of course, certain shock traumas and disease conditions can lead to unconsciousness—and even death of the brain and, thus, death of one’s mind and life. Without being constantly bathed in glucose (and/or ketones) and oxygen via the bloodstream, the brain cannot function—and correspondingly, neither can its mental processes.
Consciousness is also a primary axiom, in that everything we do and say presupposes minds. Even those who say that consciousness is a fiction obviously are still using it. This is what Ayn Rand called the fallacy of stolen concept.
Scientists are still mapping the contents and characteristics of the human brain, such as the connectome: http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org They are still a long way from the end of their journey (if there is an end), due to the complexity of the system (molecules, neurotransmitters, enzymes and hormones, neuronal activity, etc.).
Culture is a term depicting the customs and practices of a given group of individuals. It represents a set of beliefs about acceptable and unacceptable ideas and behaviors. Our American culture is one of many subcultures, to be sure. Although various cultures can exist in the same society, when we move beyond the superficial distinctions (like dress and mannerisms) we find that most cultures have a lot in common.
For instance, most cultures throughout the world place their main emphasis on groups instead of individuals, which is called collectivism. An example would be the common categorization of people into “minority groups,” or identities, each having a particular (typically unjust) position in a hierarchy in relation to others and in relation to government. Thinking about the self in terms of group identity and making comparisons and contrasts with others, especially other groups, undoubtedly detracts from clear understanding.
When people view themselves as individuals, each to be assessed on their own merit and character rather than as members of a group (race, religion, status, etc.), their true identity can then be honored. As Ayn Rand noted, the smallest minority in the world is the individual.
Shakespeare related through his character Macbeth, grieving the death of his wife, that life is “…but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more…” Macbeth was assuredly expressing immense sadness and heartbreak of loss, but this wrenched him to the point of assessing life itself as tragedy (something Shakespeare was renown for portraying, btw). As his famous quote closes, “…life is a Tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Death of course is the cessation of life, but contrary to Macbeth’s quote above, life can overflow with awesome, profound meaning by and for conceptual and emotional beings. Of course, most people alive today subscribe to age-old mystical beliefs that deny recognition of death as the ultimate tragedy for humans. Following from anthropologist Earnest Becker’s insights in his 1973 book Denial Of Death, an entire field of psychological research called Terror Management Theory has arisen to help explain people’s behaviors when their sense about mortality is triggered.
It could be said that philosophy is primarily about coming to terms with death, which means understanding its nature in relation to life. Life is the standard of our needs and our capacity to think, feel, and flourish gives rise to all its meaning.
Definitions enable us to keep thousands of concepts distinguished from one another, which brings clarity. They are an economical shorthand for the essential nature of identifications. They carve out concepts for aspects of reality, placing them in relation to other concepts.
Although definitions note the distinguishing characteristics of concepts, each concept subsumes a variety of elementary aspects or particular measurements. The specific instances of “horse,” for example, can be quite varied, such as different colors and sizes. A new concept needs to be formed when we cannot ascribe the same distinguishing characteristics to something—for example, a mule, a cross between a donkey and a horse. Isolating the distinguishing characteristics of concepts enables us to avoid confusion, inadequacies, or redundancies.
Economics is a field that arises from the creation of a marketplace. All sorts of trading goes on between individuals and groups in an advanced economy. Such trading, by definition, is voluntary. And if no third party (such as government) interferes, it’s called a free market.
Unfortunately a free market has never really existed. To be sure, some markets are appreciably freer than others, but in all economies throughout the world government and those tied to it interfere with individuals and businesses voluntary commerce; so, they are not free to contract (and free to not contract). In countless instances, they are forced to proceed in a taxed and regulated fashion; these arbitrary constraints and demands impede people from doing what they want to benefit their lives. Be it a sales or income tax, an antitrust law, a price cap, an employment mandate, or a taking of property, all undermine the nature of voluntary interaction and, thus, a free market system.
Taxed and regulated economies foster various advocates of further political and economic “adjustment.” Most notably and detrimentally, centralized control (and creation!) of the money supply is promoted by myriad economists and political theorists. How ironic that the free market and its voluntary operations get maligned by the real culprits of economic problems. Such meddling overlooks the immense costs of coercion in any area of trade between and among consenting adults.
A few times in his writing, Adam Smith made note of the metaphor of “an invisible hand” in the market economy. In all its exhaustive interchanges and transactions, the market allocates goods and services and prices in the most efficient manner possible—beyond the wildest dreams of central planners of Communistic and Fascistic countries. Countless local points of knowledge serve as the market facilitator for trade throughout society. Each person pursuing his or her own interests is offered the fruit of others’ and is able to offer his or her own fruit in the process.
Of course, in order to accurately theorize about this magnificent process, one needs to consider individual rights as its foundation.
Emotions are particular mental and physical responses to something being helpful or unhelpful to ourselves and/or our values. Our emotions reveal our evaluations of things, consciously or subconsciously. Emotions are indicators for us to inspect.
Since emotions are such a large part of who we are, we need to attune to them. Certain contexts might make this process more difficult. For example, we may be immersed in a social context that barely acknowledges our feelings, disconnecting us from ourselves. Emotional awareness remains key.
Ethnicity is a particular set of common characteristics that distinguish a group of individuals based on such things as language, religion, place of origin, historical traditions, and rules of conduct for its members. It is another form of group identification, a form of collectivism. In fact, it is the primary way that individuals can avoid formulating a personal identity—instead opting for a group identity.
While it is interesting and at times helpful to know one’s genetic and familial history, some people hold knowledge of their “people’s history” as their main claim to fame. They tend to lose sight that ethnicity need not determine who they are. After all, differences between groups and their various customs and rituals are mostly superficial differences. Viewing them as essential differences just precludes the personal discovery process.
Ethnic groups typically offer a set of ideas and behaviors, mores, that are deemed needed or acceptable. At the same time people in these groups may frown upon and not participate in what is foreign to them. For all practical purposes, they get caught in an ethnic straightjacket. Their standards of conduct are viewed as best for them, as part of their ethnic identity.
Yet, as soon as one recognizes that one is an individual with unlimited possibilities in life, one begins to shed the nonessential aspects of human behavior that have followed people for centuries. Given this, it is no wonder that Americans have been accused of having no distinctive ethnicity or culture. Becoming “Americanized” and the phenomenon of the “Melting Pot” is the result of a society that offers a relatively greater degree of personal and economic freedom (although still far from ideal), and thus more individualistic options for living.
Evaluation is, like cognition, a fundamental aspect of human consciousness. We assess reality in all its facets. Is something enriching or diminishing for us? Is it irrelevant? Such questions stem from our ability evaluate things, as well as to decide how to evaluate them.
Of course, we possess both conscious and subconscious evaluation. We can explicitly assess a situation, a thing, or a person in comprehensible terms. In addition we can assess in implicit ways, subtly appraising without words, yet with feelings and bodily signals.
The implicit memory system, containing emotional and procedural memories, can be a major factor in our sense of whether something or someone ought to be approached or avoided. Psychologist Peter Levine’s model of psychotherapy, called Somatic Experiencing, enables attuned relating to implicit memories, reconfiguring them, and consolidating their meaning into coherent autobiographical memory, so that we are drawn to that which is enriching and beneficial to us and steer clear of (or change) that which is diminishing or harmful.
Ayn Rand astutely noted that existence is identity, and consciousness is identification. Identification, differentiation, and integration are all processes of the mind. They are aspects of thinking and the process of conceptualization.
Some of our ideas may not be so sharply defined. We may have a vague image or sense of something, and that may be sufficient for a particular context. For example, knowing precisely how your microwave works is not so important as knowing it’s basic function: that it quickly heats up your food. Maybe you have studied the physics of the process in the past, but it escapes you presently. This is an example of how our past integrations may degrade over time, leaving us with approximations that may or may not be accurate, but still functional.
In the realm of ideas, especially philosophical ones, precise definitions enable us to differentiate them among a variety of concepts. When the identifications we make are formed and integrated in a comprehensible conceptual context, we can more adeptly recognize and understand those that immediately relate to them, as well as underlie them.
identity and causality
Identity and causality are fundamental metaphysical concepts. They can be viewed as basic laws of reality. Things are what they are, and they act consistent with their nature.
Anything that exists, any existent, cannot act in contradiction to its nature. This is because of its particular identity. Arising from its identity, an existent has certain properties and attributes and, thus, certain aspects of causality.
Because we are conceptual creatures, we can of course interpret reality in many different ways, many of which appear to violate the law of noncontradiction. In fact humans are legendary for saying and doing contradictory things. Yet these things aren’t in contradiction to identity and causality, or to the nature of conceptual consciousness. They are only in contradiction to such things as professed beliefs, values, and behaviors. Vital needs for stability, consistency, and integrated functioning loom large here.
Additionally, we may find some aspects particularly interesting to isolate and understand, while others may focus on a variety of other things. Regardless of what we isolate with our minds, be it a molecule or a subatomic particle, a rock, a pile of dirt, a mountain, or a valley—i.e., regardless of how we choose to identify aspects of reality—each aspect has a specific identity and causality, which cannot contradict itself. It just so happens that the conceptual characteristics of human beings also include the capacity to sacrifice the need for clarity in such matters.
Ultimately, even though mental and behavioral aspects of the human realm can be quite contradictory, which indicates the importance of healing, growing, and further integration, there are no contradictions in objective reality. A is A, as Aristotle noted over two millennia ago. A is not non-A; and, non-A cannot be A.
Judgment is part of our volitional process, “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions,” as the dictionary notes. However, it can take on a pejorative meaning in our culture, because we’ve been trained in moralistic judgment since childhood—good versus bad, and right versus wrong—instead of needs-based judgment.
While moralistic judgment seems easier to use in quickly determining and expressing what we like and don’t like, it’s steeped in a psychological paradigm of shaming and blaming. Turns out, the volitional process itself tends to be shamed and blamed (both in oneself and in others), so it less accurately and less directly conveys what’s really alive in us in terms of needs. It makes it harder to get needs met as a consequence.
We depend on needs-based judgment in virtually every action. The more we understand the nature of this judgment process, the more we can see how vital it is to accept not only our choices but also our mistakes, rather than to ignore or repudiate them.
We face innumerable opportunities to doubt our judgment (and the judgment of others) in the process of trying to get needs met. We can defer our judgment to others, and we can even force it on others, making demands instead of requests. We can rush to judgment blindly. We can also refuse to acknowledge our errors and volitional weaknesses. Only an appropriate acceptance of the process of judgment can aid in becoming better equipped to deal with challenges and relationships in functional, win/win ways.
Justice is a term that becomes meaningful in the context of political philosophy with an understanding of individual rights. Justice in this context involves the implementation of a process that upholds and protects individual rights.
An injustice occurs when a person or group initiates force against another—the person or group has infringed on individual rights. Retaliatory force, or self-defense, takes the form of ceasing the continuation of the injustice, in addition to repairing the harm done and restoring the victim(s). Restorative justice is the process of getting the need for justice met, so that normalcy can return, amends can be made, and remorse expressed. Ultimately, greater connection and safety can be fostered.
Unfortunately, domination systems are not conducive to a society in which the need for justice gets regularly met. The organization of government is a system that sacrifices justice in the attempt to meet human needs, so understanding these concepts more clearly can finally foster a society that respects the rights of all individuals. Such an informed and integrated society will be highly inclined to promote justice and highly disinclined to promote injustice.
The other idea of justice relates to the notion that “people get what they have coming to them” or “people get what they deserve.” This could be termed metaphysical justice. However, to ascribe such a notion to the actions of volitional beings in an often uncertain world lacks coherence.
Certainly we try to take the facts of reality into account as we proceed in life. The decisions we make have consequences, and various trade-offs can be considered in the process. Yet many people are subjected to injustices and suffer mishaps and natural disasters. In turn, various people sacrifice the needs for integrity and justice in order to achieve things at the expense of others, and they neither get caught in tornados nor make amends for their misconduct.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in life, but we can establish a society that respects individual rights and ensures justice—so that we are not exploited and instead can live in peace. In the event of accidents and natural disasters, we can take precautions, collaborate, and use technologies to protect us from tragedies.
Law is instituted in societies that have a formal structure of resolving disputes and of dealing with criminals. As opposed to tribal organizations, which may have a spoken set of rules to follow and penalties for not following them, law supposedly provides for redress in court and due process.
Or at least this is the common assumption. When laws are developed by attorneys and politicians, we witness governments that wield their powers arbitrarily and in defiance of reason, respect, and justice. Such laws become distinctively nonobjective, not in service to our lives and well-being. By failing to respect and uphold individual rights, such laws become destructive to society and its members. This is what we see throughout civilization’s history and the world today.
Can law be understood as a respectful means to clarify agreements, resolve disputes, and remedy the effects of criminality? Or does the concept itself have too much domination-system baggage at this point? Regardless of the answer, only by firmly understanding individual rights can we advance to a society of cooperation, benevolence, respect, and fairness. The members of such a society then happily take responsibility for their actions and ideas, which have evolved out of the punishment paradigm and into the restorative justice paradigm.
Logic is the essential way we check our premises and concepts against the eternal background of reality. It is the method or process by which we identify things in a noncontradictory manner.
When we define what we mean, we can use logic in a beneficial way. As we trace concepts to their primary meanings and relate them to other concepts, and perhaps hidden assumptions, we can attain more comprehensibility.
Achieving internal consistency, or internal logic, is only a partial contradiction-finding process. The terms used as the basis for argument, the assumptions or premises, need to also be submitted to logical analysis. In other words, we need to check our premises.
Our basis for making logical judgments stems from reasoning and considering empirical evidence. When we are presented with an array of facts and the ideas formulated from them, we can embark on a logical journey that leads to new insights and often more questions.
Money is the key aspect of economies that have advanced beyond bartering methods (though they will always be present). Most of us have seen those signs held by some persons on city street corners that read, “Will work for food.” Essentially, they are asking for a barter agreement—a service in exchange for a good. Needless to say, this is a less common and less convenient way to do business. Money, being a near universal medium of exchange, is much more flexible: We don’t need to trade specifically one service or product for another one; we just provide money for that valued thing, and the seller uses it as he or she sees fit.
While many people are concerned for the seemingly hopeless plight of homeless people, such indigence can be rectified. In a free economy, persons can much more easily take responsibility for their financial lives, because value of money is affected greatly by what government has done to it. In fact this topic is so big that entire books have been written about it, such as political theorist and economist Murray Rothbard’s What Has Government Done To Our Money.
Instead of governmental welfare programs (or even welfare-to-work programs), we need to inspect and remedy the major governmental causes of poverty. Fiscally, governments expropriate wealth from tax-paying citizens and use it to further unproductive programs (the list of boondoggles seems endless). Actual owners of money create and disperse more wealth through new investment and jobs. Even though governmental programs and employment tend to offer people more than the private sector because they’re tax-funded, they still pale in comparison to what a truly free market can offer people; everyone’s need for financial security can get met relatively easily.
Monetarily, the government employs the Treasury, the mint, and the Federal Reserve. It also heavily regulates the entire banking industry. Basically, government prints money ex nihilo (otherwise know as counterfeiting), which has no backing by gold (or other precious metals), and it adjusts interest rates to continually stave off minor and major economic disasters. This is supposedly all done for the general welfare.
Since history is replete with examples of very dire economic straits, as well as ongoing suboptimal ones, caused by governments, we all need to understand the nature of money. We need to uphold the right of each individual to produce and use money without threat of force by governmental imposition. Cryptocurrency adoption (away from statist fiat currencies) might greatly assist in achieving a world that finally respects monetary ownership.
Morality concerns how we should live as humans, since we’re creatures with the distinctive capacity to think and make decisions. Notice the word “should”; our culture is steeped in age-old moralistic judgment, which doubts our ability to use our volitional ability optimally. Objectively, based on our biological, psychological, and sociological nature, we can identify basic principles for flourishing, but it can be difficult to integrate and promote them in a less enlightened world. Various codes of morality found throughout the world tend to run counter to healthy principles for individual and interpersonal living. This is because they ask (or demand) persons to sacrifice their needs, to give in to domination systems, and to never question the strategies that diminish human flourishing. The self-contradictory nature of these doctrines is hardly ever pointed out, so the status quo tends to persist.
An ethics of rational self-interest, which enables dignified human flourishing, certainly does not entail living at the expense of others, asking them to make sacrifices for us. That would be a contradictory ethical system. Each of us is alone in the world, metaphysically, regardless of how interdependent we are with others, personally, organizationally, and economically. Acknowledgment of this fact helps us live for our own sake, our own happiness and, thus, honor that process in others. Taking full responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, actions, and relationships, helps us maintain an optimal life.
Objectivity is the main factor in how philosophy is devised and interpreted. It enables us to establish what we know for certain (and what we don’t have certainty about), ranging from the most trivial to the most profound.
Objectivity entails taking into account all the available facts, evidence, and arguments and then drawing conclusions, be they certain or provisional. We obviously need to be aware that our own potential biases and feelings can be involved in the information gathering process. So, we need to compare and contrast them to the thoughts and feelings of others, as well as to the broader context in which they emerge.
Striving for objectivity is important in many different contexts, both philosophical and ordinary. Even in our most subjectively pleasurable moments we need the integrated knowledge that such pleasure is objectively in service of our life and well-being.
Perception and the nervous system from which is arises concerns our physiological aspects. Invariably, all of our philosophical knowledge can be traced back to our sensory and perceptual faculties. Our ideas and memories are phenomena that stem from the interconnections and activities of our brains. Without sensory input from our environment, our brains would have little to work with, little to build upon, and little to think about. Basically, they would be tabula rasa, a blank slate.
Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and internal, somatic feelings all contribute immensely to our sense of self and our experiences. While some thinkers claim these processes to be untrustworthy in principle, they overlook the insurmountable problem of having to prove how they came to this supposedly correct and trustworthy conclusion. Just because we are sometimes prone to errors doesn’t mean we ought to discount the validity of reason and reality, which would be contradictory.
The nature of reality represents metaphysics. Different worldviews rely on different views of nature. The fact that we live on a planet in the spiral arm of a galaxy filled with hundreds of billions of other stars (and ostensibly hundreds of billions of other planets) in an seemingly endless universe filled with billions of other galaxies is a very important, mind-blowing fact.
To believe that reality is anything other than objective—i.e., distinct from consciousness and noncontradictory—would be contradictory. A “supernatural reality” is a prevalent example. We do not and cannot observe it, because it exists only in the minds of those who believe in it, stemming from the pages of ancient, unscientific texts.
In all the billions of human hours dedicated to scientific study of reality, we find only objective reality, the same reality we all know and hold dear. By understanding this reality more clearly, we further our well-being. Fortunately, exploration of the universe will remain a favorite human endeavor, even if we’ll never be able to venture to other solar systems.
Reason is our tool of survival, the process by which we identify and integrate perceptual material and relate it to the rest of our knowledge. Naturally, we need to check and recheck our perceptions and assumptions. For example, as we see what looks like a body of water in the distance while driving in the desert, further investigation shows us that the “water” is really a mirage. Repeated experiences of this sort lead us to establishing various heuristics; we economize our reasoning process when appropriate.
Nevertheless, we need to check our premises and assumptions when we encounter inconsistent evidence or a credible counter-argument, or when our intuition tells that it might be wise to do so. Our relationship to reality via our reasoning process is fundamental to our lives, so reason is one of our highest values.
Human rights can be defined rights of individuals. They are freedoms we possess by virtue of being conceptual, volitional creatures. Because we engage in reasoning, we enjoy the ability to make choices to guide our lives. Since only individuals make choices, only individuals can devise a valid system that respects individual rights; no group has more rights than the individuals comprising it.
The most basic right is that of property, beginning with one’s own body and life. Property rights are essential to functioning in the world as a conceptual being. They are also essential to an advanced civilization and the prosperity of a free market, for they enable people to have freedom of action and trade. Indeed, no one has the right to grant or take away property rights, only to respect and uphold them. Needless to say, our present society has quite a way to go before rights are fully respected.
Society is a group of individuals in a culture. Historically, the common bond in such a culture, aside from possible ethnic, religious, and customary similarities, has been the form of governmental rule. Governments have an uncanny ability to institute uniformity of beliefs, at least on the societal level. They usually do this through enacting laws (instruments of force) and by providing widespread education for children.
For children in the USA, lip service is still given to the rights of the individual and the virtues of independence. But the importance of the group and self-sacrifice to the group and State are nonetheless instilled. Since government runs the school systems in virtually all countries, the dominant ideas taught relate to duty, conformity, being a good, taxpaying citizen, and the like.
A respectable society, in contrast, is one that upholds the inalienable right of each individual to live his or her life without conflict with others. It implements no tools of force to gain compliance with certain views. It seeks restorative justice when appropriate (i.e., when someone’s rights are violated). Such a society of thoughtful and genuinely confident that people share the common bond of the values of liberty, reason, and peace.
Similar to physical and psychological needs, which are universal to all humans, values are things one acts to gain and/or keep, as Ayn Rand stated. They can be viewed as the driving forces in our lives, which promote our survival. Yet, some values actually lead to death, though they may serve a costly purpose for a time. They may foster ideologies that sacrifice many individual lives while maintaining domination institutions.
The fundamental alternative that always faces each of us is: life or death. If we choose life, our own life, then we can discover values that are healthy for us, reflecting underlying needs that support human flourishing.
Some say that all values are subjective. They cite sundry personal preferences and cannot imagine how such things could, in the wider context, be objective. In truth, a whole array of possible choices can be objective. Some say that we cannot determine objectively what is beneficial for each person, since each person has unique experiences. Clearly, the meaning of objectivity needs to be understood here. The choosing of values is each person’s responsibility, discovering things that are in service to his or her life and well-being. Incontrovertible examples include reason, happiness, self-esteem, logic, purposeful action, and liberty.
Just as strategies are the ways we try to meet needs, virtues can be viewed as the ways we strive for values. Although two people may hold the same values, each may have slightly different ways of achieving them. Some may value compromise over integrity, instead of realizing that we don’t have to sacrifice the need for consistency or integrity in order to meet needs for understanding, mutuality, and belongingness. Obviously, a person can espouse the beneficial nature of a value and decide not to practice it consistently. This is where the need for congruence arises, fostering alignment between what we profess and what we do.
Self-esteem can be seen as both a need and value. We have a need to view our minds as effective and our persons as worthy of happiness. A mix of other important virtues can be involved here, such as responsibility, honesty, and independence, along with benevolence, generosity, and interdependence.
Volition is a natural consequence of our capacity of reason. We are constantly presented with an array of things to think about and things to do. Depending on our level of awareness and motivation, we can decide from a range of choices. We can also modify our behavior by virtue of our abstract awareness of it. In this sense we are navigators of our own destiny, captains of our own ships. And, we are responsible for our actions, able to respond to changes.
Volition is really a sacred part of being human, to be honored and revered. After all, it is the main way we use our minds to think, feel, and act. When our mind is free to express and make choices, it is free to live in accordance with reason and reality—free to live as a human being.