Learning philosophy helps make oneself, others, and reality comprehensible, as one comes to terms with one’s mortality. As we proceed in this endeavor, innumerable wonders emerge, since our mortality takes place in the amazingly complex context of evolutionary biology, which takes place in the mind-bogglingly vast universe. Discoveries by Darwin and Wallace about natural selection over a century and a half ago led to further integration of the nature of evolution (and arguable further systemic insights). Latest estimates are that trillions of galaxies exist (each composed of hundreds of billions of solar systems)! Yet, astronomy a century ago considered our enormous Milky Way alone in the cosmos. Behold a picture of a tiny part of the night’s sky taken by the James Webb space telescope, revealing Pandora’s cluster of galaxies (~50,000): https://esawebb.org/images/weic2305a/
A set of philosophical principles—basic truths arrived at empirically and logically—enable us to live effectively and happily. They enable us to make judgments that are in service to our lives and well being (i.e., 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 fundamental principles. The new intellectuals are those who seek better lives for themselves and others, while using the philosophical process of noncontradictory identification and the psychological process of nonviolent communication, which is clear, compassionate, and connected. Advances in the humanities can foster 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. Coherent philosophy is indispensable for developing an expansive and inspiring vision of what’s possible for humans and civilization.
As Ayn Rand noted, philosophy can be divided into five conceptual branches:
In this program discussions will delve extensively into all of them, given their interconnectedness. An historical overview of philosophy allows us to put modern-day views into understandable perspective. The arguments and counterarguments that have persisted for millennia need to be inspected. With this in mind, many philosophical topics will be covered, many of which are noted below with some unconventional descriptions that serve as points for further discussion.
New topics and even learning methods will likely arise as well, both inside and outside group sessions. Of course, reading, research, and writing can assist in becoming more versed, articulate, and more inquisitive. Such activities naturally happen as persons interact and explore topics, and the group supports everyone involved to ensure an exceptional learning process, with the guide keeping track of a comprehensible context.
Again, if you have any questions or comments, please email me at email@example.com.
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. So, philosophy lays a foundation of premises from which science investigates.
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’s qualitatively different than what it observes via the senses.
Understanding an objective metaphysics, as opposed to a subjective, relative, social, or mystical one (i.e., supernatural), enables us to ground ourselves in a realistic view of the world. Identity, Causality, and Non-Contradiction are the metaphysical laws underlying and involved in everything. So, one big task for humans (including quantum physicists) is to interpret experiences and observations in light of these axioms.
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. Consciousness can 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’s been combined into perceptions. From there we conceptualize this information, and we can check it with other ideas and with our experiences. The mental method by which we can vet this process for errors and inconsistencies 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 can be viewed as 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: to flourish and to be happy.
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 relations with others (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 and, tragically, sometimes 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 just conform (psychologically called “sitting on one’s needs”).
An ethics of rational self-interest compassionately 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. Tragically, humanity in general has yet to understand and integrate a non-sacrificial ethics, and we’ve been suffering major consequences on individual, social, and systemic levels. Now, we can finally help our species change course.
Politics, the fourth branch of philosophy, deals with human relations on the societal level. Alone in a desolate place, one has no need for politics. Only when we find or place ourselves in a social environment, especially civilization, does politics become an issue.
To put it plainly, no person or group of people has a right to violate the rights of others. Though claiming such a “right” is terribly contradictory, it’s the costly status quo of present (and past) political systems. 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), as long as it’s not a situation of self-defense (or equitable defense of property).
Because present political and legal systems aren’t respectful of rights, they need to transform—into new systems that finally meet needs for autonomy, choice, and justice. This entails updating the erroneous concept and unjust institution called government. 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.
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—as long as none of them enact instruments of force that negate the rights of others. Politics, logically understood and evolved from Enlightenment ideas, can provide a consistent framework to live lives as respectful, cooperative, and peaceful human beings.
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 any rights infringements, which includes reparations for damages, as perpetrators authentically come to regretful terms with how their actions sacrificed needs, such as for self-respect, respect of others, integrity, empathy, trust, safety, security, peace, order, consideration, equality, fairness, and justice. In stark contrast the statist prison system of retributive justice perpetuates suffering, generating more sacrificed needs, enemy images, and misery for perpetrators and victims alike.
Esthetics deals with the nature of beauty and artistic expression. Because we are conceptual beings, we can understand reality and the meaning of our lives, which non-reasoning creatures cannot. We can be thrilled by human achievement and strength of character, for example. And we can behold an image of thousands of galaxies and enjoy a wonderfully colorful setting of our particular star, the Sun.
In accordance with our metaphysical premises, or worldview, our values and virtues, or needs and strategies, as well as our subconscious premises, we determine various things to be artistic. We of course respond to and are moved by countless 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 and personal, experiential, context.
As we also focus on our psychological evolution, we can embrace an esthetics that honors 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, and with descriptions open to inquiry)
art and beauty
Art and the nature of beauty lie within the realm of esthetics. Many motivations exist for the myriad forms of art. 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, reveal themselves in art.
Interestingly, a person can appreciate a work of art (for example, a song) for a very different reason than what its creator 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 matter.
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 hardly any effort compared to 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 perspective, perhaps it can only offer some visibility or understanding of suffering, in being a reflection 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), no doubt 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, seeks to reflect on, 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 and existential 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 perhaps self-aware (though our experience of consciousness might not be possible in a non-biological process). A silicon-based “life form,” a self-replicating, self-maintaining—and self-improving—robotic system, which “thinks” for itself, no doubt presents many serious ethical and existential issues. A couple insightful books that explore these profound topics 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, the medium of exchange, maximizing efficiency. In an economy we discover and fashion things to trade, be they labor, services, products, ideas, etc. The freer the market, the more opportunities for our creativity to be expressed and valued. Absent statist coercion (which of course has hardly been absent in any economic sector, if only in the use of fiat currency), profit can be a direct indicator of satisfying particular desires and needs. Any business not making a profit will find itself strategizing how to continue, perhaps by using different ideas and employing different methods. An abundance of profit-making (in a free market) reflects a lot of desire and demand being fulfilled in the marketplace. As an economy achieves a higher level of productivity, many charitable funds and philanthropic ventures can also 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 and/or with less effort, more is available to create another innovation, and still another. This amounts to increases in productivity. For example, machine tools and machinery to fabricate parts have saved vast amounts of labor, granting more time to use our minds in other creative ways and dedicate to new tasks. This process happens in countless ways across many areas of specialization in the economy, giving rise to enormous amounts of wealth.
Now, what do people do with all these “surpluses” of money? People in a free market can allocate it as they see fit, according to their needs, values, and desires. To our major misfortune, this is often not the case today. Government is the largest “employer” in America, annually expropriating trillions of dollars from people and businesses via taxation, diverting and destroying untold trillions via regulation and fiat-currency inflation, deficit spending, along with an enormous debt—all of which remains a giant, unproductive weight around the neck of the economy. Recent innovations in the information technology sector (among other fields of innovation), have bolstered the economy via increases in productivity. They have enabled the economy to keep staggering 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 governmental system (via primarily the progressive income tax, following from widespread belief in and obedience to the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Again, for individuals and businesses to be free and, thus, highly productive, they need to retain and utilize all the money they make, reflecting their natural rights. By definition, in a free market no organization will use aggression to “make” money or presume to control the economy—for such a monumental injustice can only happen in a mentally enslaved society, in which centralization of coercive, top-down “authority” holds sway over the public, with hardly anyone mentioning the vast, untold opportunity costs (no doubt such a society is fostered by a widespread “public” schooling system that indoctrinates students more than it educates them).
Furthermore, and this will be just as amazingly beneficial as replacing age-old governmental systems with rights-respecting protection agencies, all organizations in business need to evolve into a healthy and harmonious 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 tactics). This new stage of respectful, highly enriching interpersonal functioning is called Teal, as explained and profiled by author Frederic Laloux, and it will bring about a future of endless flourishing for humans as well as ecosystems around our wondrous planet:
The Future of Management Is Teal
Cognition can be viewed as one of the two primary functions of consciousness (the other being evaluation). In this sense cognition is the aspect of our mental processes involved in identification. We categorize, distinguish, differentiate. Our minds also form an array of mental maps and memories, allowing us to refer to these when necessary.
Without cognition we could form no concepts. Our cerebral cortex enables us to accomplish such higher level symbolization. The frontal lobes of our brains enable most of this, and we also can use our cognitive faculty to identify and understand a variety of biases that our minds can engage in (so skepticism and falsification are needed), 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, selecting mental units based on their distinguishing characteristics. We conceive entities and their various properties and relationships. As we more precisely define whatever we are talking about, we can more make sense of it. Our concepts have referents, which can be actual or even imaginary, external or internal.
Our ability to imagine things allows us to create an endless amount of novelty. 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. Yet, as any engineer has learned, our creativity in the physical world cannot defy the nature of reality and its laws.
Consciousness is a distinctive attribute of the brain, arguably the most fascinating aspect of the known universe. It’s really animated and self-aware star stuff! Studies reveal that lesions or injuries to the brain basically subtract mental processes and diminish 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. Their contradiction 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. They are still a long way from the end of their journey (if there is an end), due to the extreme complexity of the system (ions, molecules, neurotransmitters, enzymes and hormones, neuronal activity, etc., on up the systemic ladder).
Culture is a term depicting the customs and practices of a given group of individuals. It represents a set of beliefs about favored and disfavored, 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 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 governmental recognition and favoritism. Thinking about the self in terms of group identity and making comparisons and contrasts with others, especially other groups, undoubtedly detracts from clear understanding and justice.
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. However, contrary to Macbeth’s quote above, life can overflow with awesome, profound meaning by and for conceptual and emotional beings. Unfortunately, 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 of mortality is triggered.
It could be said that philosophy is primarily about coming to coherent terms with death, which means understanding its nature in relation to life. Life is the standard of value; thus, it’s also the standard of our needs. Our capacity to think, feel, and thrive gives rise to all its meaning.
Definitions enable us to keep thousands of concepts distinguished from each other, which brings clarity. They are an economical shorthand for the essential nature of identifications. They carve out concepts noting 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 another thing—for example, a mule, which is the (usually sterile) offspring of a male donkey and female horse, and a much less common hinny (from male horse and female donkey). Isolating the distinguishing characteristics of concepts enables us to avoid confusion, inadequacies, or redundancies.
Economics is a field that arises from the complexity of a marketplace. Indeed, all sorts of trading goes on between individuals and groups in an advanced economy. While such trading, by definition, is voluntary, the prevailing coercive context of statism interferes with this process in all kinds of seen and unseen ways; it generates multitudes of perverse incentives, thus altering the economic landscape to everyone’s detriment (even the “special interests” who believe they are benefitting). A free market is an economic environment in which traders’ decisions are respected and not diminished and altered by such rights-violating third-parties.
Unfortunately a free market has never really existed. Granted, some markets are appreciably freer than others, but all economies throughout the world have major costs imposed on them by governmental systems (and their highly related banking systems). The adverse affects of these coercive systems on individuals and businesses trying to engage in voluntary commerce have tragically become normalized; most don’t recognize their rights—essentially, the freedom to contract and freedom not to contract. In countless instances, people are expected to proceed in a taxed and regulated fashion, and these arbitrary constraints and demands impede people from doing what they truly want to do, which typically means benefitting each other via trade (non-mutually-beneficial trade typically sacrifices needs, such as for safety and security). Be it a sales or income tax, an antitrust law, a price cap, an employment mandate, or a seizing of property, all undermine the nature of voluntary interaction and, thus, a free market system.
Taxed, regulated, and fiat-currency-infused economies foster various advocates of further political and macroeconomic “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 within individuals and groups serve as the market facilitator for trade throughout society. Each person pursuing his or her own interests is offered the fruits of others’ labor in exchange for payment, and he or she is able to offer his or her own fruits in the process.
Of course, in order to accurately theorize about this magnificent process, one needs to establish individual rights as its foundation.
Emotions are particular mental and physical responses to something being helpful or unhelpful to ourselves and/or our values, or needs. Our emotions reveal our evaluations of things, consciously or subconsciously.
Since emotions are such a large part of who we are, we need to attune to them. They are experiential indicators for us to feel, observe, and inspect. Certain contexts might make this process more difficult. For example, we may be immersed in a social context that barely acknowledges our feelings (having scant “mindsight,” as psychiatrist Dan Siegel would say), which discourages us from connecting with ourselves. Emotional awareness remains key to cultivating emotional intelligence. There is much more to mind than “Cognitive Science” departments study.
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, opting for a such group identity is the primary way that individuals tend to avoid formulating a personal identity.
While it is interesting and at times helpful to know one’s genetic and familial history, holding knowledge of an entire “people’s history” tends to lose sight of the individuals comprising it; ethnicity need not determine one’s own identity. After all, differences between groups and their various customs and rituals are largely superficial differences. Viewing them as essential differences among us often 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, in which their standards of conduct are viewed as best for them as part of their ethnic “identity.” Ethnocentrism then predominates their thinking, overlooking the universality of human rights and needs, which arises from a world-centric—or human-centric—perspective.
By recognizing that one is an individual with unlimited possibilities in life, one can begin to shed the nonessential aspects of human behavior that have accompanied people for millennia. Given this, it is no wonder that Americans have been accused of having no distinctive ethnicity or culture. Becoming “Americanized” and the phenomenon of being in 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. However, the chattel enslavement of so many Americans historically and the collectivism of racism have demonstrated how brutally unjust people in systems of coercive power (namely, statism) can be, as they impose obscene double standards across society.
Evaluation can be viewed, like cognition, as a fundamental aspect of human consciousness. We assess reality in its countless facets, internal and external. Is something enriching or diminishing for oneself? 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, hopefully in comprehensible terms. We tend to assess in implicit ways too, 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 the traumatic ones and consolidating their meaning into coherent autobiographical memory. Then, one becomes more easily drawn to that which is enriching and beneficial and tends to more easily avoid (or transform) 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, or conceptualizing.
Some of our ideas may not be so well 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 as important as knowing it’s basic operation (that it quickly heats up your food). Maybe you have studied the physics of this process in the past, but it escapes you presently (to be remedied by a quick Web search). This is an example of how our past integrations may degrade over time, leaving us with approximations that may or may not be accurate, yet still functional.
In the realm of ideas, especially philosophical ones, precise definitions enable us to differentiate them from 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 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 causal properties.
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, this doesn’t mean that identity and causality are contradictory, nor the nature of conceptual consciousness. Only conceptual consciousness can expose the contradictions of various professed beliefs, values, and behaviors. Then, vital needs for clarity, stability, consistency, and integrated functioning can get met.
Additionally, we may find only some aspects of things, people, etc. particularly interesting to focus on and understand. Regardless of what aspect of physical reality we isolate with our minds, be it a subatomic particle, a molecule or compound, a pile of dirt, a mountain, or a valley—i.e., regardless of what we choose to identify—each has a specific identity and causality, which cannot contradict itself. It just so happens that the conceptual faculty of human beings also includes the capacity to sacrifice the need for clarity in such matters, so this is where the scientific method proves invaluable.
Ultimately, even though various mental and behavioral aspects of the human realm can be quite inconsistent, which indicates the importance of healing and growing for further integration, there are no contradictions in objective reality. Simply put, 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 distrust along with shaming and blaming. In fact the volitional process itself tends to be shamed and blamed (both in oneself and in others), which less accurately and less directly conveys what’s really alive in us in terms of needs. As a consequence, this makes getting needs met more difficult.
Since we depend on needs-based judgment in virtually every action, the more we understand the nature of this process, the more we can accept not only our choices but also our mistakes, rather than ignore or repudiate them.
Also, all of us 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, or we can even impose it on them, making demands instead of requests. We can also rush to judgment blindly and not acknowledge our errors and volitional challenges. An integrated acceptance of the life-giving process of judgment can aid in becoming better equipped to deal with such 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 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 in a wholesome way—victims air grievances, including expressing feelings of rage, terror, and pain in criminal acts and, just as importantly, perpetrators feel and express deep remorse for their rights violations. Thereby, amends can be made and a sense of normalcy can return. Ultimately, greater connection and safety are fostered.
Domination systems are not conducive to a society in which the need for justice gets met. The organization of government is a system that sacrifices justice in its purported attempts to meet it, falling way short because it doesn’t uphold individual rights. 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.
As we try to take the facts of reality into account as we proceed in life, our decisions have consequences, and various trade-offs can be considered in this process. Countless people are subjected to injustices, in addition to suffering 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 make amends for their misconduct nor get caught in tornados. (Some might believe that perpetrators will really pay for their injustices after they die, somehow.)
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in life, including our safety and security. But we can establish a society that respects individual rights and ensures justice—so that we are not exploited and can finally live in peace. In the event of accidents and natural disasters, we can continue to 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 (often the same), 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 (i.e., rights violations)? 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. By evolving out of the punishment paradigm and into the restorative justice paradigm, members of such a society—now, a free society—will happily take responsibility for their ideas and actions. The pervasive lying we know as “politics” will simply become a thing of the unenlightened past, as will the petty criminality it often engenders.
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’re using logic. As we trace concepts to their primary meanings and relate them to—and differentiate them from—other concepts, as well as 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 be submitted to logical analysis too. In other words, we need to check our premises and reason from first principles.
Our basis for making logical judgments stems from reasoning and considering empirical evidence. As 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, very often, many more questions.
Money is the key aspect of economies that have advanced beyond bartering methods, which are nearly always 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—offering a service in exchange for a good (or a good in exchange for another good). Needless to say, this is a less common and less convenient way to transact. Money, being a near universal medium of exchange, is much more convenient and flexible. With it, 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 the money gained as he or she sees fit.
While most people are understandably concerned for the seemingly hopeless plight of homeless people, such indigence and dire living conditions can be rectified. In a free economy, everyone will be able to much more easily take responsibility for their financial lives. The value of money has been and continues to be adversely affected by what the system of government and its highly regulated banking industry have 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 appears 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 (aka, “subsidized”), 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 as economies become freer and freer, and a totally free economy will bestow untold wealth across society. This is simply because people are allowed to trade value for value in all the ways they deem useful and important without any arbitrary, albeit “legal,” coercive hindrances.
Monetarily, the government employs the Treasury, the Mint, and the Federal Reserve. As noted, it also heavily regulates the entire banking industry. Basically, government prints money ex nihilo (otherwise know as fiat currency, a form of counterfeiting), which has no backing by gold or silver (or other precious metals), and it adjusts interest rates and lending and purchasing of bonds and other financial instruments to continually stave off minor and major economic disasters. This is all supposedly done for the general welfare.
Since history is replete with examples of very dire economic straits at the behest of nation-states, as well as ongoing suboptimal ones, all at root caused by governments, we all need to understand the real nature of money. Basically, we need to uphold the right of each individual to produce and use money without threat of force by governmental imposition. Cryptocurrency adoption is a movement away from statist fiat currencies, which might greatly assist in achieving a world that finally respects monetary ownership and free exchange.
Morality concerns descriptive and prescriptive standards of human conduct, since we’re creatures with the distinctive capacity to think and make decisions. Commonly, morality involves pronouncements of right and wrong and good and bad, attempting to delineate what does and does not serve one’s life and well-being. The word “should” is typically part of this prescriptive process too, as in “You should do what’s right” and “You should be good.” Our culture is steeped in such age-old forms moralistic judgment, which seems to doubt our ability to use our volitional faculty from the outset.
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 thriving. This is because they ask (or demand) that persons sacrifice their needs, give in to domination systems, and 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 tragically persist.
An ethics of rational self-interest enables dignified human flourishing, because it rejects sacrificial morality and honors what serves one’s life and well-being. This certainly does not entail living at the expense of others, asking (or demanding) them to make sacrifices for us. That would be a contradictory ethical system. Each of us is alone in the world, metaphysically, yet also highly interdependent with others, personally, organizationally, and economically. Acknowledgment of these facts helps us live for our own sake, our own happiness, which enables us to honor the same process in others. Taking full responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, actions, and relationships, helps us maintain an optimal life, course correcting when necessary.
Objectivity needs to be the main factor in how philosophy is devised and interpreted, lest people lose sight of what they’re talking about along with the nature of reality. 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 logical arguments and then drawing conclusions, be they certain or provisional. We obviously need to be aware that our own potential biases and feelings can affect the information-gathering process. So, we need to compare and contrast them with the thoughts and feelings of others, taking into account differing perspectives, as well as factoring in the broader context, the culture, in which they emerge.
Striving for objectivity is vital 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 lives and well-being. The discounting of objectivity, or the declaration that it’s impossible to attain, by philosophers throughout history has been a most serious con game, which Ayn Rand called the fallacy of stolen concept (“stealing” objectivity—failing to realize that it’s still being used in any attempt to reject it).
Perception and the nervous system from which it arises concerns our physiological processes. 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 in relation to our experiences with the world. Without sensory input from our environment, our brains would whither; they wouldn’t have anything to work with, to build upon, and to think about. Basically, they would be remain tabula rasa, a blank slate.
Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and internal, somatic feelings (interoception) 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; we’re back to the fallacy of stolen concept again. Just because we are sometimes prone to perceptual errors doesn’t invalidate reason and reality (which would be contradictory).
The ultimate base layer is reality itself. The nature of reality represents metaphysics. Different worldviews rely on different views of the cosmos. The irrefutable astronomical fact is that we live on a planet in the spiral arm of a huge galaxy filled with hundreds of billions of other stars (and ostensibly hundreds of billions of other planets) in a seemingly endless universe filled with trillions of other galaxies! Needless to say, this is a very important and absolutely mind-blowing fact that most humans have yet to integrate.
The belief that reality is anything other than objective—i.e., distinct from consciousness and noncontradictory—is tragically contradictory. One major task of our conceptual consciousness is to objectively discern the nature of (objective) reality, to integrate our situation on planet Earth. Postulation of a “supernatural reality” has been a prevalent example of non-objectivity for millennia. We do not and cannot observe such a realm, because it exists only in the minds of those who’ve been convinced to believe in it. Magical thinking and the pages of ancient, unscientific texts will always fall short of coherent integration, as they are born out of earlier non-objective stages of human development (no access to the scientific method and scant use of logic).
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 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 in the Milky Way, let alone other galaxies, due to extreme distances.
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 question our assumptions when we encounter inconsistent evidence or a credible counter-argument, or even when our intuition tells us 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. We can use it to notice magical thinking in ourselves and others, which is distinguished from imagination, our capacity to envision new things and events that may or may not accord strictly with the facts of reality (though they might be greatly useful in wondrous works of fiction).
Human rights can be defined as 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 system, for they honor people having freedom of action and trade.
Indeed, no one has the right to grant or take away property rights, only to respect, uphold, and defend them. Needless to say, our present society has quite a way to go before rights are fully respected, upheld, and defended. Various systems of domination, especially statism, seek to perpetuate master/slave relationships and the punishment paradigm, in which consent is not valued. Contradictions of this magnitude and disrespectful nature are simply not sustainable for us, especially as technologies (and weaponry) continue to advance, so we definitely need to resolve them before it’s too late to save our species and ecosystem!
Society is a large group of individuals in a culture. In the history of civilizations, the common bond, aside from various 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, i.e., instruments of force, and by providing widespread schooling (not to be confused with education) for children.
For children in the USA, lip service is still given to the rights of the individual and the virtues of freedom and independence. But what’s really instilled is the importance of the group and self-sacrifice to the group and, especially, the State. Since the coercive monopoly known as government runs the schools in virtually all countries, the dominant ideas taught relate to duty, conformity, being a good student and, then, taxpaying citizen, and so on. Teaching a non-sacrificial ethics based on everyone’s consent is not on the system’s agenda.
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, but rather for mutual benefit with them. It implements no tools of coercion to gain compliance with certain views (under duress). It seeks restorative justice when appropriate (i.e., when someone’s rights and peace in the community have been violated). Such a society consists of thoughtful, considerate, respectful, and confident people who share the values of reason, liberty, and peaceful coexistence.
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 clarified here; it pertains to aligning with our reasoning and empathetic nature, ensuring our flourishing without contradiction. 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, win/win interactions, 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, with which we can foster 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, or efficacious, 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.
It’s also important to note that the concept “virtue” can carry religious meanings involving “moral perfection,” which tend to deny, distrust, and not healthily integrate natural human fallibility. Trying to live up to such dysfunctional standards can of course lead to suffering, to say the least. The archaic paradigm of centralized authority, known as Amber-stage of development, typically views persons as saints and sinners. Dogmatic pronouncements and sacrificial moral codes prevent healthy psychological integration and, thus, healthy functioning, both personally and interpersonally.
Volition is a natural consequence of our capacity of reason. We are constantly presented with an array of things to think about and reflect on, and things to do. Depending on our level of awareness and motivation, we can decide from a multiplicity of choices. We can also modify our behavior by virtue of our abstract awareness of it, or meta-awareness. In this sense we are navigators of our own destiny, captains of our own ships. And, we are responsible for our actions and 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 and reflect on things, as well as to decide upon action (the opposite of being coerced). It’s also highly involved in attuning to, soothing, and reflecting on feelings (of ourselves and others), which basically entails choosing to honor our inner realm, as well as noting our desires. When our minds are free to express and make choices, we are free to live in accordance with reason and reality—free to live as connected, confident, courageous, compassionate, curious, and creative human beings.