“If you need evidence, if you need even existence...”
Provocations on topics for philosophy meetup discussions I hosted monthly over several years in Seattle.
Tweets from Hell
A selection of Bianco Luno’s tweets from when he was still doing them and the 140 character limit was in force. The aphoristic form is most characteristic of his writing. (He has since retreated from Twitter.)
“The poor will die. The rich will wish they were dead.”
Luno’s less restricted, more contemporary fragmentary writing.
Luno’s earlier notes on readings, much of it to do directly or tangentially with Otto Weininger, includes contributions from Iaia Gombrowicz.
Notes towards a long overdue appreciation of Weininger and his importance.
A metaethical picture of normative ethical theories, their relation to each other, and the agents they range over, owing much to Weininger and insights from feminist thinkers. It attempts to explain which are the foundational moral theories and why. Hints: there are exactly two, and they have to do with sex.
Lessons in Darkness
Earlier writings by Jürgen Pessoa Pessoa and Bianco Luno.
I write about philosophy, both in a broad sense encompassing serious thinking about any subject and in the narrower sense that professionals in the field employ to mean asking about fundamental questions. I hesitate to call myself a “philosopher” because I think that term applies strictly to people who have been dead at least a century and whose work is still capable of provoking new thought… you’ll have to wait to see about me.
To be a professional teacher of philosophy is, of course, to betray your allegiance. You have to make a living so can’t very well be dead. I neither make a living from philosophy, nor am I even dead yet. I only have the experience of many years of trying to explain philosophy to students in a university setting and to the curious outside that setting—all by way of explaining it to yourself.
Here you will find links to some of my work and other engagements.
I share an identity with a handful of other writers: Bianco Luno, Jürgen Pessoa, and Iaia Gombrowicz. We share some but not all interests and traits. It’s not true that “I contain multitudes,” as Whitman said. Just a few. And not always even one.
~ Victor Muñoz
Seattle and San Cristobal de las Casas
“Chiapas Racers” — Don Bartletti, 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography
Racing trains in Chiapas, the girl’s face is a rebuke to everything dear to a philosopher.
Writeups for "The Philosophy Club"
(Seattle | 2016 - 2020)
“If you need evidence, if you need even existence...”
There’s a vigorous row within the relatively new area of “experimental philosophy.” “Xphi” promotes exploration and evaluation of philosophical claims using tools similar to those in the sociological, psychological, anthropological, cognitive and biological sciences, e.g., taking surveys, behavioral studies, comparing processes, and other empirical methods. This runs counter to more traditional “armchair” ways of philosophizing.
--- February 2020
The idea of forgiveness has garnered a remarkable amount of attention in recent times by philosophers. In doing the research for this topic, I was surprised at the amount of literature I was bombarded with almost everyday by a service I subscribe to that alerts me to academic writings on topics of interest. Originally, I was only going to focus Derrida’s take on the concept, but this led to Arendt and Beauvoir. All dead Continental thinkers, but, it turns out, analytic philosophers more recently, too, have been busy worrying the idea.
8 January 2020
Lars von Trier’s 2003 film Dogville is one of the greatest philosophical provocations in cinematic history. The topic of forgiveness will be primed with a showing of the three hour allegorical film then followed by a discussion of the concept of forgiveness a week afterward. The discussion will center on what recent and contemporary philosophers have had to say on puzzling aspects surrounding forgiveness, some of which the film introduces... Imagine if God had sent his only begotten daughter to atone for our sins. This is what would happen to her and how she might respond: replace the stylization of a man nailed to a cross decorating church steeples with an iron flywheel and a woman collared and chained to it... Dogville challenges common views of hospitality and hypocrisy, indulgence and vengeance, humility and arrogance, and the film pushes forgiveness to the breaking point. The film is marinated in ethical, political, religious, and aesthetic innuendos... Recall, 9/11 was still then a fresh event.
18 December 2019
The accretion of power in the executive at the expense of other branches of a “democratic” state is what eminent political scientist Nancy Bermeo means by “executive aggrandizement.” It has been a manifest trend for some years before our “bigliest best president in the history of forever” was elected. The conditions making for this eventuality were noted brewing decades earlier. But the seeds for those conditions go back to the inception of the notion of an “electoral representative democracy.” The problem will far outlast the term of the current occupant of the White House.
21 November 2019
More contentious topics than those having to do with sex are hard to find. Sex is deeply bound up with identity, and identity with pretty much everything else that engages our attention in the company of others. This is because identity is bound up with power—with the relative power we have among others. If the degree of your empowerment, relative to that of others, is viewed by you or others as diminished, ethical and political consequences follow... Feminism is fundamentally concerned with addressing unjustified distributions of power between sexual categories. What are the sexual categories? It’s not clear. And that’s why attempting to define “woman” is important. It’s the ontological question we will pursue. It’s critical for the feminist project.
19 September 2019
If you don’t do reductionist physicalism, and you want to maintain an assertive naturalist perspective, there is a fourth option, leaving aside dualism and idealism (for now). Panpsychism is the idea that there is only one kind of thing (so it’s not dualist) and that the mental and the physical both permeate it (so it grants ontological status to the mental equal to that of the physical). It’s not new. Prehistoric versions include animism, the belief that spirits, demons, and gods inhere in everyday material objects. Its revival by some contemporary philosophers such as Thomas Nagel and Galen Strawson a few decades ago caused eyes to roll. However, more recently, it has garnered attention as a viable theory of consciousness in the philosophy of mind from David Chalmers and a younger generation of philosophers including Hedda Hassel Mørch, Michelle Montague, and Philip Goff. What’s the attraction of a panpsychist theory of mind? Why such a “desperate” move?
5 September 2019
There is a puzzle in the way some naturalists, philosophers of science, and many in the educated public think and talk about the relationship between natural causes and human action or behavior... On the one hand, we seem to want to honor our success at unraveling major mysteries of the natural world by offering causal explanations for things where in the past we had only feeling and superstition to guide us. We are progressing toward a better understanding of the natural world, most agree... On the other, it seems, we express, both in action and speech, that we don’t really believe these causal explanations. We don’t believe them because we have a sneaking suspicion that to believe them would rob us of cause to believe in/care about anything at all, and this consequence few—even hard core naturalists—are very eager to believe.
22 August 2019
Imagine a genetically-engineered disease as contagious as measles, as deadly as rabies, and with the incubation period of Kuru disease: It would be easy to contract and years before you knew you had, and it would have sufficient time to infect everyone on earth but the most reclusive—and those, too, likely, in due course... We have no track record of restraint. The likelihood that such weapons, in the context of almost eight billion people, will be used by one individual or a small group of non-state actors with omnicidal intentions is very real. It is a concern of a group of philosophers who are asking what may end our species, either as we know it, or without possibility of our being able to identify with any successor species. (There are multiple ways to become extinct. To evolve very fast is one not often considered.) They are also asking what, if anything, is open to us to do about it.
11 July 2019
A brief introductory overview of (1) the history of anti-Judaism/Jew and anti-Semitism in preparation for (2) a discussion of philosophical reactions to anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism: either contradicting, embracing, or ignoring it—or failing to see its significance.
26 June 2019
It’s not like you are sitting in the back seat of an Uber. If the driver has an accident, it’s not your fault, it is the driver’s. It’s like this car is yours. You chose it. But it was sold to you with a software package that will take over the moment to moment decisions of driving armed with a vast store of procedures to follow in nearly any situation. It was designed to carry them out with a speed, precision, and freedom from distraction, unmatchable by any human like you. There is no doubt that all of us are safer because (highly fallible) you are not driving this car. The decisions the car makes will be preset to accord with a predetermined and vetted “uncontroversial” moral principle—one that sounded good to the car’s makers... Or maybe the car company will give you a choice of algorithm. You opt for software that instantiates values that seem most intuitive to you from among a publicly acceptable set. Suppose you choose a utilitarian car when you could have chosen a deontological car or a virtue or care ethics car. If so, you are still, then, in some sense, responsible for what your car does. But how is this going to work when different people choose different value systems to build into the AI of their cars?... Either way, whether we choose and therefore “own” the algorithm, or we outsource this responsibility to institutions or “experts,” there are questions that need to be answered.
30 May 2019
Some experts and thinkers in climate science, geophysics, ecology, paleontology, leadership and sustainability, social science, public policy research, etc., including philosophy, have expressed concern recently that collective human experience is about to undergo radical transformation. And not in a good way.
10 April 2019
What’s going to happen when—for the first time—a robot says “No” to something a human asks it to do? Are we going to say, “‘No’ does not mean ‘no’ when a robot says it”? What if the thing asked of it is sex?
... Given what we know about the history of human nature, it is more likely that robots will be victimized by us before we will be victimized by them.
14 March 2019
What's reason got to do with it?... If someone can tell you why they love you, that should be a wake up call. You had better be on your P’s and Q’s. A slip up on your part can have dire consequences. If they can’t give you a reason why they love you, you are living in a very special light—that may go out at any moment... There is a mathematical proof for this constructive dilemma, in case you wonder, says Suki Finn. It relies on an intriguing application of Bayesian probability theory—the theory that, if we are rational, our beliefs at any moment in time must be responsive to new information affecting them.
7 February 2019
“There are two kinds of people in the world…” Many ontological jokes start out like that, but this won’t be a joke. The claim will be that there are, indeed, two kinds—not one, not three or more, exactly two. But it’s important to note that this is not a binary mandate. It is not a claim that there should be two kinds, that it would be a better or worse world if there were two kinds. The claim is simply that there are and that it makes a difference to nearly everything.... That’s one claim. Another is that for all moral and political purposes, there is only one kind. That seems to be the majority view (in intellectual circles)—at least, it gets a lot of lip-service. We will entertain the possibility that it is wrong. This idea is neither new nor that strange (if it seems strange, it’s because we have been rather distracted by a very powerful and historically-conditioned illusion).
29 November 2018
They do. Not all of them. Not all of the time. But boys, men, or masculine identity in who- or whatever it inheres break rules with a relish not commonly found in girls, women, or the feminine. Males are always poised for it. Killing others without (or risking the absence of) justification is at one end of the spectrum of rule-breaking. At the other end, you have creative chance-taking (so-called when successful) or inconsideration or incivility (as we call it, among worse things, when it is not), chronic liberty-taking, a preference for forgiveness over permission, etc. But it is all about violating something or other: a person’s right to live, their bodily integrity, their right to property, to expression, to dignity—or to anything else, for that matter, anything that threatens masculine privilege or gets in the way of male domination. The victims (intended or not) of masculine rule-breaking needn’t even be human. It might be fauna and flora, the environment, nature itself. It might be entitlement to rob the universe of its secrets. Even in their quest for knowledge, they have a clear agenda: to know in order to exploit. In order to do what? Exactly?
31 May 2018
The concern: The effort to create artificial intelligence must involve some model of what exactly intelligence is. The most interesting model to most of us would be what is experienced as intelligence in ourselves. There are some potentially disruptive things we know about our own intelligence. Philosopher of mind Thomas Metzinger, we will see, hones in on one of them... If you believe we are products of the development of organic material in response to its environment, that is to say, you think we are products of natural selection, you must be comfortable with the idea that we have and are changing as a type of entity. Our organism and the features it has—including those most distinctive of us: those associated with our cognitive abilities—have and are undergoing adaptations compatible with a biological imperative which can be summed up with the word survival. From a biological perspective, the imperative to survive as a species distinct from others seems to explain why we are here at all. Nothing else... The feature most distinctive of our species, in particular, our facility to model ourselves and our environment in order to gather information to exploit for our survival, i.e., our intelligence, has been the product of this development. It has served us well so far. We are here and clearly the most capable biological species we know... But the capacity to model the world, manipulate the model, and fully exploit it to serve the biological imperative may be in the process of literally out doing itself. The capacity for modeling or theorizing and testing theories in order to get a better handle on the reality we experience has entrained the capacity to abstract away from the narrow interests of ourselves as individuals and as groups. Ultimately, this knack seems to be pointing away from a biological envelope altogether.
25 January 2018
Max Black, a once prominent American ordinary language philosopher, in 1982 published an article called “The Prevalence of Humbug.” Harry G. Frankfurt acknowledges it as a genteel precursor to and influence on his 2005 New York Times bestseller On Bullshit. Frankfurt sought to sharpen the notion of bullshit into a technical term. Dictionaries and Max Black, trailing the vague usage of the concept, had long defined it as near-lie, claptrap, buncombe, guff, piffle, poppycock, twaddle, nonsense, blather, etc. To Frankfurt goes the credit of honing the definition into a pithier, more philosophically tractable, form: Bullshit, n. Speech or behavior expressed without regard to the truth or falsity of its claims or implications. (Contrast with lie: which is expressed with a knowledge of and intent to subvert truth.)... The essential feature of Frankfurtian bullshit, distinguishing it from the lie, is its indifference to truth. Bullshit may be true, false, or confused, but none of that matters to the bullshitter. Some effect other than the enlightenment of its audience is the intended result of such expression. Not so the lie. The liar must know the truth to be properly called a liar and intend to deceive by his lying expression. The liar must have enough respect for truth to fear that someone might learn it. The bullshitter, having other fish to fry, could not care less.
Addendum: Trump: lies, fallacies, and bullshit:
Although Trump is guilty of a lot of communication errors, I don’t think making logical fallacies is his worst. There are at least three classes of communication error we can associate with him (and a lot of other people—it’s just that Trump has made himself a shining example): distinguishing lies, logical fallacies, and bullshit.
9 November 2017
Electing representatives to make grave and consequential decisions for us has ceased to work (if it ever did). Here’s why: it fosters infantilism in the electorate and entrenchment in the proxy, both of which form ripe conditions for the ascendance of a class of oligarchs.
10 February 2017
Elizabeth Anderson, prominent contemporary political philosopher, has recently proposed that we take seriously the notion of private government. Public governments—of the local, state, and federal varieties—are familiar to us. In theory, this public sort is supposed to serve the good of all those governed. A central part of governing is arbitrating between the various interests, rights, and duties of the served. Provided they do this well, governments are given extraordinary powers to mandate and enforce arrangements including legitimizing roles and distributing resources. Again, all on the premise that the governed are served. Public governments do not exist to serve themselves...
Is telling the truth always good? Is lying always bad? Is there something in between, something not quite good but still permissible? Do circumstances matter? Does the relationship between the liar and the lied to matter?... We will ask whether we have a duty not to lie in all circumstances? Kant was especially concerned with this question as were and are his critics. He is, in fact, hardly alone among philosophers in taking this hard line stance. We will take it for granted that generally it is wrong to tell falsehoods—all moral theories agree about that. But some ethical theories allow for principled exceptions and some do not. We will focus on the most influential of the latter theories, Kantianism or deontology, and specifically on one of its most controversial fallouts: that lying is always morally impermissible.
February 2015 at Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club
Books and online resources for getting started with philosophy...