Saturday, December 9, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

As this is one of my last blog posts of 2017, it is fitting to talk about the new year and new year's resolutions. Do you guys have any new year's resolutions? I don't as of right now, but you never know. Have you guys had new year's resolutions in the past? Were you successful in achieving your goals? I have never really set a strict new year's resolution in the past, but of course, there are things I would like to improve every year. Now some interesting facts about new year's resolutions. On average around 45% of Americans make a new year's resolution each year, but only 38% of Americans claim to never have made a new year's resolution. It is also estimated that around 37% of the new year's resolutions made each year are about exercising more. Around 22% of resolutions fail after the first week, 40% after the first month, 50% after three months, and 60% in total after 6 months. So if you ever made a resolution and fail, you know that you're not the only one. Lastly, of those who completed their goal, 40% were successful on their first try. Around 17%, however, took over 6 tries to complete their goals.

Three Interesting Voltaire Facts

1. The origins of his pen name are unclear. Voltaire had a bad relationship with his father, who discouraged his aspirations and tried to force him into a legal career. Possibly to show his rejection of his father's vales, he dropped his family name and adopted the pen name "Voltaire" after finishing his first play in 1718.

2. Voltaire set up a successful watchmaking business in his old age. While living in Ferney, Switzerland, in the 1770s, Voltaire joined a group of Swiss horologists and started a watchmaking business.

3. Voltaire was a follow of Isaac Newton. He never actually met the English physicist, but he helped popularize his works. After reading "Principia Mathematica" by Newton, Voltaire knelt down before the book in awe allegedly. He also supposedly help spread the tale of Sir Isaac Newton and the apple.

Last Blog Post of 2017

As time's winged chariot brings us to the end of 2017 and mid-term exams, I think it is a good time to look back on the literary works that we have learned.

1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A very interesting novel, we discussed about motifs such as lightness vs weight, sexuality, surface vs. substance, politics, an animal's life, kitsch (individuality vs uniformity), independence vs uniformity, body/soul, seeing vs darkness, privacy, women, and fate vs chance. We learned about Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence and the German proverb einmal ist keinmal ("once doesn't count") in relation to the idea that we can't compare lives and decisions. I think we can connect this idea to Pangloss's teaching that "this is the best of all worlds." Since we don't live multiple times in different worlds, we can't possibly know what world is the best.

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
In this work of magical realism, cyclical time coexists with linear time. We talked about fatalism (the fates of Macondo and the Buendias are pretty much predetermined), the role of women, foreign influence/intervention, incest, and futility.

3. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
The impulsive Oedipus, who is blindfolded of his fate, fulfills the prophecy from Delphi. We see tension between free will and fate, and fate proves stronger. We learned about Aristotle's definition of a tragic protagonist: highly renowned and prosperous, not preeminent in virtue or justice, downfall stems not from vice or depravity but from a tragic mistake or lapse in judgment (hamartia).

4. Medea by Euripides
We discussed whether Medea fits Aristotle's definition of a tragic protagonist and also had an intense debate on whether Medea was right to do what she did.

5. Inferno by Dante
I think it's really creative how Dante designed Hell. It's also funny how he uses his work as a platform to criticize people that he didn't like.

6. Hamlet by Shakespeare
In a play that starts with a question and ends with more questions, Hamlet delays his revenge and is set in many traps. Major themes were rotting and death as a great equalizer. The scene where Hamlet and Laertes argue about whose grief is greater is similar to many parts of Candide, in which many characters argue that they themselves are the most unfortunate beings on earth.

7. Candide by Voltaire
The discussions about moral evil and physical evil are interesting.

Overall, it has been an absorbing first semester because we can find connections between each literary piece and the others. It also has been insightful to learn about the background history in which the works were published.

Why do we always want more?

If Candide and other characters in the novella had followed the ways of Buddhism, they would not have experienced so many tragedies. Buddhism works on the Four Noble Truths, the first two of which are that "there is suffering in the world," and that "all suffering is caused by desire." Nirvana, the Buddhist word for enlightenment, means extinguishing the flames of desire. Buddha's answer to the pain of wanting is to let go of the future and focus on things that are right here, right now.

Candide certainly has many desires, among which his desire for regaining Cunégonde is the most detrimental to him. Candide's misery is a testament to the truth of Buddha's teachings about suffering and desire. Although El Dorado might be boring and lack the ingredients for improvement (since there is no evil), we can conclude that there is no suffering because desire does not exist there. Another important scene regarding desire is when Candide and Martin visit Lord Pococurante, a Venetian nobleman. Pococurante is rich and has many works of great poets, writers, and artists, but he does not like the paintings and books that he has. He says, "Fools admire everything in a well-known author. I read only for my own pleasure." Candide thinks that Pococurante is the happiest of all men because there is "pleasure in having no pleasure."

Wanting is something hard to handle and difficult to understand. Many people go shopping not because of their desire for a particular thing, but their desire for the relief that comes from having acquired the item and thus no longer having to want. So is extinguishing all desire within us the simple solution to our world's woes? Probably not, since this world is the most complex of all possible worlds, but it is certainly important to know how to control our desires to be content.

Hamleton (A Hamlet Playlist Inspired by Lin Manuel Miranda)

The themes of Hamlet are universal, and that’s why Shakespeare and his works have endured.  As I was reading the final lines of Hamlet a couple weeks ago, I was reminded of a song from the musical Hamilton.  As a testament to the enduring themes of Shakespeare’s works, I decided to compile some lyrics from songs that have the same themes expressed in Hamlet.  (And I admit I looked up "songs with [X] theme" to find some of these.)

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story by Lin Manuel Miranda
A song about legacy and how’s it’s viewed from the eyes of history, which I think relates to Hamlet’s begging Horatio to carry on and tell everyone what has happened
    But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
    Who keeps your flame?
    Who tells your story?

Who Tells Your Story by The Roots
Same theme of legacy and perception, but I wanted to share these lyrics too:
Who lives
And who dies
Who holds on to all our lives
Time and time and time again
Will they tell your story in the end
(Who lives who dies who tells your story?)

Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan
Betrayal, which relates to the relationship between Claudius and Hamlet Sr.
You've got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend
When I was down you just stood there grinnin'
You've got a lotta nerve to say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on the side that's winnin’

False Pretense by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Also a theme of betrayal.  The last two lines remind me of how all the traps in Hamlet end up backfiring:
So play the game until you run out
And play the game into my hand

Smiling Faces Sometimes by The Undisputed Truth
Theme of betrayal and playacting, both of which surface many times in Hamlet.  The “playacting” is putting on a smile, instead of the airs of grief as in Hamlet.
Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes
They don't tell the truth

I'm a-tellin' you beware of the pat on the back
It just might hold you back
Jealousy, (jealousy) misery (misery) envy (envy)
I tell you you can't see behind
Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes
Hey, they don't tell the truth

My Immortal by Evanescence
I think the overall message of pain would resonate with Hamlet; a couple lyrics that I thought relate to the play:
I'm so tired of being here
Suppressed by all my childish fears

These wounds won't seem to heal, this pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase

Viva la Vida by Coldplay
This song expresses a turn of fortunes, which I thought related to the Hamlet speeches about death being the great equalizer and putting everyone on the same level.
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

(Can)Did(e) He Really Just Do That?

I just wanted to share my opinion on Candide himself.  I do not like that guy.  I just don’t think he’s a good person; my problem isn’t even his passivity and that he won’t question Pangloss (which I guess he ends up doing, although he really goes back and forth on optimism), it’s that he’s pretty self-centered and seems to only honestly care about himself while also claiming that he's the "best man" out there.  Even though some of his actions can be considered good taken at face value, Candide is truly motivated by selfishness.

For example, when Jacques gets tossed overboard.  Candide just sits there and nods along to Pangloss’ blabbering.  Okay, what?!?  You’re really going to do that to the guy who just saved you?!?  Maybe Candide’s passivity has been ingrained into him, but I don’t think that makes up for his inaction.  I think we can all agree to cross the line when Candide’s passivity starts wandering into actually allowing other people to be hurt.  It’s simply immoral, and it doesn’t matter that Pangloss has talked his ear off about optimism; at some point Candide needs to take responsibility for his own actions.

Then, there’s that time Candide comes across the slave.  “And he shed bitter tears as he looked at this [slave], and he was still weeping as he entered Surinam.”  Wow, Candide, here’s a pat on the back for crying over this poor guy who’s been tortured and enslaved!  Good job.  See, this kind of thing makes me angry, because Candide is over here pretending to be a good man, but he’s really not.  He’s just a guy who has some capacity for human emotion but doesn’t actually stick up for what’s right.  Why does he just walk away from the slave, when he himself has gotten so much help from other people?  Oh wait, I guess we already knew Jacques’ kindness didn’t really  have that much of an impact on him, because HE LET JACQUES DIE.  If Candide really cared, he would have used his newly acquired wealth to actually affect some change in the world, starting with buying this slave’s freedom and getting him some serious medical treatment.

Finally, there’s his treatment of Cunegonde.  Candide doesn’t really care about this woman.  He sees her as an object for him to admire.  When he sees that she has lost her former beauty, “The tender lover Candide, seeing his lovely Cunegonde […] then advanced only out of politeness” (Voltaire 243).  And then he sends Cunegonde’s brother back to the Levantine captain who was whipping him!  Candide is just so disgusting and spineless.  He doesn’t care about right or wrong, and he’s shallow.  If he had the chance to become one of those creepy monks, he would probably do it!  The fact that he claims to be such a great guy makes me roll my eyes.

I guess my opinion of Candide is kind of harsh given that he’s never really had the opportunity to challenge Pangloss’ teachings, but I still thinks he acts in a way that just isn’t moral, even when he does start to question Pangloss.  I find Candide very frustrating because he doesn’t seem to care about what’s right or wrong, he just wants to follow along and get what he wants.  That makes it very hard to have compassion for him, or to admire him as a protagonist.

Candide: The 18th Century Forrest Gump

Ms. King brought up a really interesting comparison a few days ago in class between the 1994 film Forrest Gump and Voltaire's Candide. Both works follow the lives, from birth to middle/old age, of two main characters who somehow witness the major events of their time periods. Forrest Gump encounters key people and occurrences of the 19th century such as Elvis Presley, Vietnam War, the hippie movement, JFK, the Watergate scandal, the birth of Apple, the AIDS crisis, and so much more. Likewise, Candide is involved with notable events from the 18th century such as the Lisbon Earthquake, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the Jesuit Wars, colonialism, and slavery. I think it's interesting how both works are able to display important themes and messages while simultaneously providing a summary of the events that shaped history. Another similarity is that, despite the constant trials Forrest and Candide face, they never fail to keep an optimistic outlook on life. Furthermore, both Forrest and Candide are motivated to keep moving forward and not give in to their misfortunes for a love interest. Forrest is constantly trying to seek the love and approval of his childhood best friend, Jenny; Candide is constantly trying to find and marry his childhood best friend, Cunegonde. Image result for forrest gump

A Treatise of Human Nature and Cognitive Science

David Hume, the author of A Treatise of Human Nature, is often thought to be a father of cognitive science. The Treatise, which describes Hume's views on human understanding, is split into three main parts, understanding, passion, and morals. 

The first book, "Of the Understanding," goes into Hume's idea that all of human knowledge is based off of our senses and experiences. Within this book, he claims that fact is something that does not come about from an instinct, but is instead experienced, that abstract ideas like the soul of God can not be proven via metaphysics because they cannot be experienced, and talks about how experience is used to infer math and space, which consist of a plethora of related ideas. He then goes into his various methods of philosophical exploration, such as the "fork," which divides truth into two categories: the connection of ideas, and the the necessary truths, and the "microscope" and the "razor," in which the microscope is the understanding of a concept by understanding it in its simplest terms, and the razor, which is the principle that is something cannot be broken into a simpler element, it has no meaning. 

The second book, "Of the Passions," he discusses passions as an element of "secondary" impressions. Secondary impressions are those that arise from reflection, rather than original impressions which arise from the senses. Hume then distinguishes between direct and indirect passions, in which direct consist of feelings such as desire, joy, hope, and fear, and indirect consist of love, hate, and pride. After these explanations, he states that human actions are driven by passions, rather than reasoning, and therefore our actions cannot be deemed "reasonable" or "unreasonable."

The third book, "Of Morals," goes into Hume's thoughts on vice and virtue in relation to the concepts deliberated on in the first two books. He states that vice and virtue are not solid ideas, but rather impressions. He says that vice can be deduced when pain is felt, and virtue through feeling pleasure. Hume then says that inanimate objects and animals cannot be the cause for our impressions on morality. Lastly, he says that morality is not something that can be inferred through introspection, but rather through the impact our actions have on others. 

So, what does this all have to do with cognitive science? Well, this piece was one of the first to describe a coherent argument of the connection between human perception, emotion, and reasoning, which are all cornerstone objects of cognitive science, along with the more modern incorporations of memory and attention. Hume also makes a natural, psychological examination of human's relationship with math and science, which today has evolved into the studies of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Many of Hume's ideas ultimately serve to stand as part of the philosophical aspect to cognitive science, which now, after being combined with linguistics, neuroscience, anthropology, and artificial intelligence, has become one of the most comprehensive fields concerning human behavior. 

Optimism vs. Pessimism

As we all know, Voltaire heavily criticized optimism because it leads to passivity. In particular, Voltaire satirized Leibniz's "the best of all possible worlds" concept and Pope's "whatever is, is right" concept. These two mindsets, according to Voltaire, convince people that their situations, however difficult and miserable, are as good as they can be and cannot be changed. In result, it persuades people to become satisfied with their lives and causes them to believe that they cannot and should not work towards fixing their situations.

I think Voltaire does bring up a good point about optimism. Everyone needs to be somewhat unsatisfied with their present situations or else no one will strive to reach any goals and further themselves. However, I think the same consequence applies to the opposite of optimism, pessimism, as well. If people believe that their lives are terrible and can never be changed, they will remain passive. I think it's interesting to consider the mix of optimism and pessimism people must hold in order to further themselves. You have to be unsatisfied with your current situation but still have hope in your ability to change your future.

Image result for leibniz

Image result for alex pope

Candide's infeno

I think we can all obviously draw parallels between Dante Alighieri's Inferno and Voltaire's Candide, but there are some similarities that are nearly exact in both pieces. Let's start with the plot itself, both narratives have the troupe of exploration of new territory. Virgil takes Dante through the different circles of hell, and Candide finds himself in countless different places. In terms of characters, Candide and Dante share a similar attitude towards exploration.  Dante is curious and, at times, scared to go forwards; and Candide has the blissful ignorance that gives him a need to travel. Also, Cuengonde and Beatrice have similar purposes in both plots. Candide travels around the world because he wants to be reunited with his love Cuenegonde, and Dante goes on his great journey because he has been asked to go by Beatrice. Two other characters that share similarities are Pangloss and Virgil. Though Virgil is more of a permanent character in Inferno, both Pangloss and Virgil share a teacher-student dynamic with the main hero. Pangloss instills in Candideattitudeattidue that puts him in the most troubling situations, and Virgil holds leads the way for Dante in Inferno.  Henceforth, both "epics" share similar characteristics.

Friday, December 8, 2017

El Dorado and the Farm

So Bryce's post and our class discussions really got me thinking.  El Dorado, of course, is a utopia.  But Candide and his friends also find peace working on their farm at the end of Candide.  Like Adam and Eve, they tend the garden or otherwise work, and they seem to be in harmony.  They don't even really argue that much anymore; whenever Pangloss attempts to engage them in philosophical discussions, Candide simply replies that they must cultivate the garden and implies that it's time to put away the philosophy.  They seem content with what they have, as simple a life as it may be.

But what was Voltaire's point?  Not just to their being in the Ottoman Empire, but also in finally having them settle down?  Is it more satire?

When Candide left El Dorado, he kind of squandered his money, and not much good came out of it.  But this time, he doesn't leave the "paradise" that he's found.  Would it be reading too much into it to wonder if Voltaire is again criticizing Candide?

We know that Voltaire despised complacency and criticized the idea of optimism partly for that reason.  In response to one of Bryce's posts, I mentioned that one of the reasons I personally would not want to remain in El Dorado is that it seems too much like a life of complacency and comfort, and I mentioned that Candide totally could have used all his gems and gold to actually help some people out who really needed help.  This time, he shows complacency not by leaving his paradise and yet still not correcting societal evils, but by remaining in his paradise and doing nothing to help the "outside" world.  It's kind of like he's just ignoring the problems that are still out there.

I'm sure there are multiple interpretations of the ending of Candide, so this isn't necessarily the right one of course, and I haven't decided yet what exactly I think either; I just think it's a possible one.

Marquez and Voltaire

When reading the chapters of Candide in which Candide encounters the indigenous peoples in Paraguay, I was reminded of the stories Marquez's characters recount in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

In One Hundred Years, Marquez describes the introduction of religion and technology as a kind of corruption of the eden of Macondo. Similarly, Voltaire portray's the Jesuit's initiatives in Paraguay as an instance of debasement as well. Voltaire in a way describes the effects of what Marquez is being wary of. Macondo, in its cyclic being, is an element of history that will occur over and over to no ultimate avail. Voltaire describes the colonies and reductions that are the result of this cycle.

One moment that came to mind when I was thinking of these two pieces is when the Aurelianos have the cross of ashes of their foreheads. The mark, which magically becomes permanent, ultimately leads to all of their deaths. The Jesuits, by staying ardently loyal to their religion, were often the victims of persecution, such as their various expulsions.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Leaving El Dorado

To me, one of the most interesting things we discussed in class about Candide was when we discussed Candide and Cacambo's choice to leave El Dorado despite it being basically a paradise. Ms. King specifically asked whether we think we would personally be content to remain in El Dorado or if we would rather leave like Candide does, and most of the class agreed that life in El Dorado would be lacking and boring, so that they would rather leave. Obviously there's no right answer to this hypothetical, but I found this question interesting and wanted to discuss it more.

For one, I think it's important to look at the specific reasons cited by Candide for wanting to leave: Cunégonde and the prospect of wealth in the wider world. So basically, for Candide the decision came down to desire for money and sex, which I think is pretty noteworthy. This is especially interesting considering all of the benefits of wealth would be present for Candide if he stayed and El Dorado, and while I don't think Voltaire specifically mentions it, there's not much reason to believe that there aren't relationships and love to be found in El Dorado. Another dimension to this conundrum is added when upon leaving El Dorado, one of the first people encountered by Candide is a slave, in the particularly poignant scene condemning both the institution slavery and the colonial consumerism that fuels it. To me, this is particularly important as the luxury and wealth that Candide desires to gain with his precious metals when he leaves El Dorado is the sort of opulent lifestyle that necessitates the institution of slavery or the broader subjugation of people who support the lavish lives of the super rich. Many of the horrors of the world encountered by Candide are not mere side effects of his and others' pursuit for wealth and power, rather they are the direct result of the subjugation of other people that such displays of wealth and power demand. 

These complications that are presented by the decision to leave El Dorado really fascinated me especially as they relate to our discussion if we ourselves would want to stay there for life. Some people said they felt like life in El Dorado would be missing some of the fundamental parts of humanity that give life some of its meaning and importance. While I see this argument and my initial, unchecked reaction was similar, I'm not convinced that the desire for wealth and power are a necessary condition for a society where we can find meaningful lives. The fundamental and obvious condition of El Dorado is that wealth is so abundant that such competition would be ultimately futile. From Voltaire's point of view, such a desire for power and wealth seems to be an inescapable part of human nature. The fact that most of us felt like life in El Dorado would be missing something is testament to the fact that such desire for wealth and power has become so ingrained that it seems like a necessary part of the human condition. The discussion really intrigued me in light of the fact that Candide desires to leave basically, again, for wealth and sex. While it is in some ways problematic to apply the same current cultural context to Voltaire who wrote centuries ago and before some institutions of modern society were made, I think in many ways the desire for these two desires are central to many aspects of the current Western culture that is steeped in capitalism and patriarchy. (Note that it does seem ambiguously presented to me whether Candide's love for Cunégonde is a more lustful sexual desire or a deep emotional relationship of human connection, but I think there is less evidence of the latter). Perhaps the response that life would be incomplete in an essential way in El Dorado is based in our skepticism that meaning could be found in a society so fundamentally differently organized than our own. But perhaps in El Dorado, either because of or despite the lack of wealth, consumerism, and subjugation, there would still be sufficient meaning to be found. After all, on several occasions Candide expresses his regret for leaving El Dorado, so maybe we would too.

Bridge of San Luis Rey and the Problem of Evil

The discussion of the Lisbon earthquake as it relates to the problem of evil, or the idea of how the seemingly random evil and cruel nature of the world can be reconciled with the idea of a benevolent God, reminded me of the book The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which is closely related with this philosophical question. The book is by American writer Thornton Wilder, who is best known for this novel and his play Our Town. The book is set in colonial South American, and concerns a monk named Brother Juniper who investigates a tragedy that occurred when an old Incan bridge over a gorge broke and killed 5 people who were crossing it. Juniper investigates the incident to determine why God might have chosen to make the bridge break at that moment and kill these seemingly innocent people. Most of the book is concerned with details of the lives of the various characters who died on the bridge. The lives of the characters are found to be interrelated through various coincidences throughout their lives. The random deaths of these people weaves an interesting interesting narrative that Juniper unravels, but fails to provide obvious reasons for their deaths. The monk even attempts to quantify their various virtues and vices to determine why they were killed, but the results seem inconclusive. At the end of the novel, it is revealed that the Church banned and burned Brother Juniper's book for its heretical exploration and killed Juniper himself. This adds an additional similarity to Candide in its criticism of the Church. I thought it was interesting to compare this work to Candide and how they both deal with the problem of evil. If anyone is looking for something to read and finds this theme of the problem of evil interesting, I'd recommend the Bridge of San Luis Rey for a quick, interesting read.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rousseau's Letter to Voltaire Regarding the Poem on the Lisbon Earthquake

In Monday's presentation I talked about Voltaire's "Poem on the Lisbon Disaster," which is regarded as an introduction to Candide and his view on the problem of evil. Here's an excerpt:

Oh, miserable mortals! Oh wretched earth!
Oh, dreadful assembly of all mankind!
Eternal sermon of useless sufferings!
Deluded philosophers who cry, "All is well,"
Hasten, contemplate these frightful ruins,
This wreck, these shreds, these wretched ashes of the dead;
These women and children heaped on one another,
These scattered members under broken marble;
One-hundred thousand unfortunates devoured by the earth,
Who, bleeding, lacerated, and still alive,
Buried under their roofs without aid in their anguish,
End their sad days!
In answer to the half-formed cries of their dying voices,
At the frightful sight of their smoking ashes,
Will you say: "This is the result of eternal laws
Directing the acts of a free and good God!"
Will you say, in seeing this mass of victims:
"God is revenged, their death is the price for their crimes?"
What crime, what error did these children,
Crushed and bloody on their mothers' breasts, commit?
Did Lisbon, which is no more, have more vices
Than London and Paris immersed in their pleasures?
Lisbon is destroyed, and they dance in Paris!

Rousseau didn't like this poem, so he responded to Voltaire in the form of a letter. When he wrote his letter in 1755, however, Rousseau was as yet relatively unknown. His letter to Voltaire, who was already an internationally known thinker, was thus rather audacious.

In the letter, Rousseau says that optimism consoles him while Voltaire's poem shatters his hopes:

     "Have patience, man," Pope and Leibniz tell me, "your woes are a necessary effect of your nature and of the constitution of the universe. The eternal and beneficent Being who governs the universe wished to protect you. Of all the possible plans, he chose that combining the minimum evil and the maximum good. If it is necessary to say the same thing more bluntly, God has done no better for mankind because (He) can do no better."
     Now what does your poem tell me? "Suffer forever unfortunate one. If a God created you, He is doubtlessly all powerful and could have prevented all you woes. Don't every hope that your woes will end, because you would never know why you exist, if it is not to suffer and die . . ."

Rousseau writes that the misfortunes nature imposes upon us are less cruel than those which people create. For example, he believed that the earthquake's severity was due to too many people living within the close quarters of the city and also because of people trying to carry as many of their belongings out of buildings. While Voltaire emphasizes the cruelty of the victims' deaths in the earthquake, Rousseau offers another viewpoint by saying that for some people an early death can be better than having to suffer through life's agonies until a natural death.

Hume and the Problem of Induction

One interesting idea from Enlightenment philosophy that I've read about is the problem of induction as discussed by Hume. As we discussed in class, Hume was an interesting and somewhat radical philosopher who in many ways was less optimistic than other thinkers of his time. He often faced criticism for what was seen as his lack of religion.

The problem of induction is basically the idea that it is impossible to logically justify the process of induction. For a review from math class, induction is using past examples of an event to make statements about future events. In math this is done with a rigorous basis by proving a statement is true for a number n + 1 if it's true for n, and then by proving the statement true for some number, you have also proven it's validity for all greater numbers. In logic, though, induction is making decisions based on past examples. For example, if every day you see that a traffic light follows the same pattern, after many days you will likely conclude that it always follows this pattern at this time. But to use induction, you have made an assumption that it will continue to happen the same way. Hume saw this important as basically all of what we think about the world is based on induction in some way. We learn how to do basic things by doing them repeatedly and knowing the result of different actions. We can say that if you drop something it will fall to the floor only because we know from experience that everything has previously fallen. Even when we can model an event like this with physics to describe its behavior, there is no true proof that the universe will continue to act like this.

Hume argues that there is no way to justify induction using only deductive reasoning. We feel comfortable assuming things using induction because of previous action. Hume argues that we fell comfortable using induction because we repeatedly use induction about things that act consistently. But using induction as a basis for why induction works introduces a circular argument that renders this argument flawed. I think this is an interesting philosophical discussion and serves as an example of Hume's system of philosophy.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Voltaire and Freedom of Speech

“I disapprove of what you say, but will defend t the death your right to say it.” 

This is probably one of Voltaire’s most renowned quotes, probably because it is so accurate today. Many people today are questioning how far the freedom of speech should span. The skepticism doesn’t go without merit, we have a president who uses twitter as a platform to accuse a fellow leader of being a “little rocket man,” we have people who preach and swear by hate, and we have people giving their opinions on all of it.

These things are concerning, scary, and to some people, irritating, so why would Voltaire go out of his way to stand by our right to say it? I think it is because, without people being able to expose their opinions in the public sphere, a society cannot choose what it wants to stand by on its own, therein forming a genuine movement. If you take into account Trump’s tweeting habits, and everything that that implies, there is one redeeming fact of the tweets, that the majority of society would unite over the fact that we do not want a leader who tweets hate, and poorly worded hate at that. With that knowledge, progress is possible in knowing what we do not want in our future.

So, why would Voltaire advocate so much for freedom of speech, other than sparing himself some jail time? Because he was a progressive, and for progress to occur, people have to hear one another out.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


I'd like to apologize STM Humaniteers, as I'd like to do another blog post tonight, but my monads are not allowing me to do so. I would have liked to write my third and final blog post tonight, but I simply cannot. I am a follower of Leibniz's worldview and simply cannot control my monads from choosing to not blog again. Sadly you will have to wait until next week for another blog post from Bruce the Loose Goose.

A monad refers to the first being of substances in cosmology, the study of creation. The idea of monads was reportedly first brought up by Pythagoreans. The Pythagoreans were the followers of the teachings and philosophy of Pythagoras, who you might know from the Pythagorean Theorem that we used constantly in Trigonometry last year. Pythagoreans referred to the monad as a single source acting alone. Of course, we know that this belief in the monads was later adopted by Leibniz. The Pythagoreans had a concept that a dyad evolved from a monad. Then the dyad evolved into numbers then points then lines the two-dimensional entities then three-dimensional entities, then evolving into the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air, which make up the rest of the world. This theory would be seen as pretty out there by today's standards but was pretty credible according to the Pythagoreans.