Category Archives: Damn sophistry

Address to the first empath international

My fellow empaths,

[Editor’s note: no further words were spoken, and the lecturer simply stood very intently for a while after uttering these words, but the general consensus seems to be that some sort of message was conveyed through an undefined means of intuition, vibes and echolocation]

Pater noster

Imagine, if you will, a person who is thrown into a situation without necessarily knowing what it will demand of him. However voluntarily he might have entered into it, the situation will find ways and opportunities to surprise and overwhelm him in ways unsuspected until it happens. Being in the situation, the only option available to him is to deal with it best he can; whatever his skill or proficiency at the time, that will be the extent to which he is successful at coping. This may lead to surprising discoveries of hidden talents, or the slightly more expected realization that the proficiency simply is not there. However, he must go on, come what may; exit is not an option. Thus, he persists, and cracks one dad joke after another. It is, by definition, the best he can do. In this essay, I will

Titillating curves

Today, esteemed friends and colleagues, presents us with the opportunity to revisit an old favorite. I am confident you are all familiar with the Laffer curve, which states that taxes can only be raised so high before the amount of money flowing in actually decreases. I mention this to ensure we are all on board when I say there is a problem with it. You see, its simplicity has caused many an economist – and many more wannabe economists – to employ it freely and with great alacrity. In fact, they use it so often the whole thing is starting to become a buzzword. The curve is recursive, referring to itself as much as anything else, and we are far beyond the point of diminishing returns; the Lafferlaffer curve strongly suggests we stop using this term, and come up with something different. Perhaps – and I know this is controversial – we ought to transition into something which has slightly more empirical backing – –

Straight outta the cave

He had done the reading. He understood it as well as anyone could be expected to understand it under the circumstances. Better, probably, given the very same circumstances. Thus, empowered by the confidence that comes from being well-prepared, he sprung into action and wrote the Plato essay of his life

It took him a while, but he did it

Proud, he turned it in

A while later, the response came. It came in the form of the letter F, and being sent straight to the headmaster’s office, right there and then. Despite the philosophical ethos laid out by Socrates, there was absolutely no room for argument

Slightly later, in the headmaster’s office, a revised response came. It came in the form of the letter A, and a hearty laugh on the part of his bespectacled reader. “Philosophical fan fiction indeed, my boy. You’re going to go far if you keep this up. Carry on”

The wisest of men

“I don’t know but I’ve been told” he began, unwisely. He never got to continue his retelling of whatever fascinating anecdote he had in store, as a philosopher suddenly interjected himself into the situation:

“I must object to this proposed state of things. According the standard model, knowledge consists of true justified belief. Thus, you believing it after being told means that you do, in fact, know it. Yet here you are, maintaining that you do not know the thing, despite evidently being in the know. How do you account for this discrepancy?”

Bewildered, our protagonist stood silent for a moment, until he half-remembered something about togas and drinking parties. Inspired, he proclaimed:

“I don’t know”

The most philosophical arguments

He had a peculiar hobby. He liked to find philosophical disputes and trace them back to their point of origin. The longer and more bitter the dispute, the better

Needless to say, he was not popular among philosophers

Given, however, that these philosophers were on the methodological record as saying that unless something was explicit it did not count, it has to be said

The thing that gave him most enjoyment out of the whole ordeal was that, more often than not, the inciting accident was a minor gaffe that lesser minds would think very little of and promptly forget with ruthless pragmatism. Surprisingly often, these gaffes were translation errors, hastily constructed sentences which could be construed as insults, and other such linguistic unclarities. Once, it had all begun as an offer in jest to take a lift on an escalator, and proceeded from there for decades. Another time, a letter had arrived a day later than expected due to a bank holiday, prompting an all out denouncement of every thing the sender had ever said or implied. Yet another feud had begun when a philosopher took the last bagel without asking if anyone present had dibs on it. And so on. The reasons were very seldom philosophical, yet the disputes proceeded fully dressed up in formal wear

Needless to say, he was never invited to anything even remotely philosophical

The Plato-Industrial Complex

The deadline loomed, and he had no idea what to write. There had to be something, some unexpected angle, some unexplored nook, some unexamined cranny. Something.

His latest idea had turned out to be done already in 1993. His initial thought was to do it anyway, in the hope that no one would notice, but it turned out that someone else already did that too in 2009, and by unspoken agreement this was too recent to politely ignore. It would have to be something else.

At this point, just about every possible take on Plato had been performed. Every surviving scrap of papyrus had a book (some in paperback) about it, and every one of those had an accompanying book detailing how it was problematic. A while back the daring proposition that Plato did not in fact exist had caused sufficient stir to fuel the fires of new publication for a decade or so, but it too could not last forever. Turned out that if Plato did not exist, history would have to invent him in order to make sense.

Hold up. There’s a thought.

And thus, he set to work writing a new lost Platonic dialogue, something to keep his profession alive for a few more years.

Honest fake news

She wrote the kind of newspaper articles tourists stumbled themselves through on their improvised linguistic feet as they tried to get a sense of the place there were almost in.

She made it all up. All of it. It didn’t matter – it was the mood of the piece that mattered, not the facts. Visitors care about facts; tourists want discourse thrown at them with sufficient candor to seem like a real thing.

And she, she could sling bull with the best of them. The fact that very few had caught on attested to that, the one fact in all her articles.

Uncreative writing

This is the opening sentence. This is the second sentence, explaining why the first sentence is relevant. This is the third sentence, essentially repeating the second sentence but in other words. This is the fourth sentence, expounding further on the first sentence. This sentence closes the first paragraph, restating the opening sentence to firmly hook it as an important thing to have said.

This is the opening sentence of the second paragraph, giving some much needed background information regarding the first paragraph. This sentence, and the following sentences, goes through the same motions as their counterparts in the first paragraph, expounding and expanding on the opening sentence. This closing sentence then summarizes this paragraph.

This opening sentence moves things along by formulating some aspect that follows from the first paragraph. The rest of this paragraph follows the established pattern from the two previous paragraphs.

Paragraph four goes through additional implications brought forth by the third paragraph, and follows the pattern.

Paragraph five to how many you need follows the same pattern, opening with a portal sentence and supporting it with additional sentences. One paragraph at a time, gradually adding up to a whole that conveys what the reader needs to know in order to understand the opening sentence of the first paragraph. All the while, the closing sentences summarizes the local paragraph.

The last paragraph is, ideally, nothing but a paraphrase of the first paragraph, but with added language that the reader will pick up on and feel smart for understanding. It will close out with an imperative grounded in the new understanding brought forth by having read the above text. Know when to be creative, and when to be uncreative.

Do not trust the words of philosophers

Really, do not trust them. They are a tricky bunch, and take offense at being taken at face value. Just nodding and saying “aight, you seem to know what you’re on about, I trust you” is the exact opposite of the response they want and respect. They do not want that. They want you to be critical, look deep into what they say (and do not say), and in general engage with their words on a fundamental level. They want you to think “hmm, this could be wrong, but – oh, right, how good of you to point that out, yes, nice”. And not just once, but throughout their wordings and wheelings and dealings. From the introduction to the conclusion. All the way. Philosophy is an activity, and you are included.

You know those elaborate tea ceremonies, which take hours to go through and where every stage is defined precisely in every minute detail by convention, tradition and politeness? It is the same principle. You have not done it right if you just did the first five minutes. Gotta go through all the motions.

It is the polite thing to do.

So be very careful around philosophers. They are a tricky bunch, and they will not take your routine attempts at appeasing them lightly. Do not agree with them, but also do not disagree with them outright. Hem and haw and postpone any particular judgment for as long as possible, and you will be fine – for as much as they like to think they can discourse forever, the constraints of the world will eventually pry them away from you, and then you are free.

Just take a deep breath, and be ready to untrust any philosophers you happen to come across in the future.