This is almost humerous but it rings true what with all the databases out there that have your information. the grocery store has those little VIP Store cards that if you use will allow you to save a percentage on you bill… at the cost of your purchase being added to their database about your buying habits. Not to mention credit card purchases, credit reports, bank statements, HMO records, dentist records, hospital records, military records, police records and the lists go on infinitely, everyday a new list, a new way to catalogue you and your habits. As you read this say hello to the guys and gals in Foggy bottom.

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It is ironic that the very ones who pried open the lid of our Judicial system are the very ones who are now trying to nail it back on.  The natural response to anarchy is totalitarian rule. So it is easy to see how we have gotten to this point from say… the Sixties and Seventies.   Now, it’s hard to see how we can claim to be a democratic republic given we can only choose from only two parties which are running politicians whose image is more important than their character and substance.  There are no more statesmen who hold the best interest of the nation above their own political ambitions.  So, in order for the politicos to retain their power they have to have a victimized society which they can “care” for and pander to.  This is the enevitable result…

Reporting live frome the Village, I’m Number 6.


We’re run by the Pentagon, we’re run by Madison Avenue, we’re run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don’t revolt we’ll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche… As long as we go out and buy stuff, we’re at their mercy. We’re at the mercy of the advertiser and of course there are certain things that we need, but a lot of the stuff that is bought is not needed…   We all live in a little Village… Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.”   Cult TV (UK): “An Interview with Patrick McGoohan”, conducted by Warner Troyer, March 1977

From The Prisoner

“Where am I?”
“In the Village.”
“What do you want?”
“Whose side are you on?”
“That would be telling…. We want information. Information! INFORMATION!”
“You won’t get it.”
“By hook or by crook, we will.”
“Who are you?”
“The new Number Two.” 
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
“I am not a number — I am a free man!”

still_life.jpgThe Bundle Theory (also known as the cluster or collectionist theory) of substance is a theory that states that a substance is, or can be identified with, a collection of non-substantial entities.  It stands in direct contradiction to the independence theory of substance, which states that a substance is distinct from its qualities. The bundle theory states that a substance either is or can be reduced to its underlying qualities.  For example, an orange could be described as a collection of qualities like (i) a certain shade of orange, (ii) a certain pungent odor, (iii) a certain spherical shape, etc.  The two primary ways in which bundle theorists understand substances are eliminativism and reductionism.

An eliminativist bundle theorist (such as David Hume seemed to be) denies the existence of substances altogether.  The eliminativist would say that the things that we refer to as substances are nothing more than collections of qualities.  That is, the very concept of substance is unintelligible.

The reductionist bundle theorist seeks to reduce the concept of substance to an underlying collection of non-substantial entities.  The reductionist does not deny the existence of substances at all.  Rather he defines substances as such:

X is a substance if and only if X is a collection of a proper kind of non-substantial entities.

Reductionist bundle theories will be the focus of this post.

Reasons for Accepting the Bundle Theory of Substance
One of the most enduring arguments in favor of the bundle theory of substance stems from the apparent impossibility of describing or conceiving of a substance without also describing or conceiving of its qualities.  Bundle theorists state that the concept of a “bare particular” (a substance without properties) is incoherent since is impossible to conceive of such a thing.  It should be noted, however, that this is a controversial argument that seems to confuse imagination with conception.  It is possible to conceive of something that cannot be imagined.  For example, it seems entirely possible to conceive of a completely colorless or invisible object, although it does not seem possible to imagine it (picture it within my mind).  It seems ludicrous to assert that because I cannot imagine an invisible object it cannot exist.  Likewise, it does not follow that because I cannot imagine a bare particular, it is impossible for one to exist.

Another common justification for the bundle theory is that it is more ontologically parsimonious than any independence theory of substance.  Ockham’s Razor states that “all things being equal, one should not multiply entities beyond necessity.”  Therefore, it appears to be preferable, if possible, to define a substance by identifying it with a collection of non-substantial entities.  However, this motivation does not necessitate the truth of bundle theory, since the bundle theory of substance may be incoherent itself.

Forms of Bundle Theory
As stated above, the bundle theorist defines a substance as a collection of non-substantial entities.  But what exactly are the non-substantial entities that are being collected?  One reply to this question is that substances are collections of abstract universals.  Therefore an apple is a substance because it is a collection of certain properties like redness, juiciness, sweetness, etc.  However this sort of bundle theory commits a category error which renders it incapable of explaining substances.

If we understand redness and sweetness as universal properties then we also understand them as abstract entities.  Any collection of abstract entities is itself, an abstract entity.  However substances are concrete entities.  Therefore it is impossible to define any substance as a mere collection of abstract properties.

Another form of bundle theory employs the idea of sets.  It is argued that a substance is a set of non-substantial entities.  Sets, however, also seem to be abstract entities.  At least some sets contain only abstract elements, and since sets are an ontological category which would have to fall into either the concrete or abstract division of entities (the most basic and primary ontological division), it seems that sets should be considered as abstract entities.  Therefore, this once again leads to a category error that leaves abstract sets unable to explain the existence of concrete substances.

A final sort of bundle theory states that substances are collections of non-substantial, concrete entities.  Thus, since concrete entities are employed in this definition, a category error is averted.  There can be two ways of understanding this form of bundle theory: Phenomenalistic Collectionism and Trope Collectionism. 

Phenomenalistic Collectionism is a theory that states that a substance is a mereological sum of non-substantial, mind-dependant, concrete qualities.  This theory was championed by the idealist philosopher George Berkeley.  Berkeley (and possibly Hume) believed that substances were a collection of ideas or impressions.  However this theory doesn’t seem to square with everyday, common-sense notions of reality.  Since there appears to be no justifiable reason to reject the nearly ubiquitous understanding of the material world, this paper will focus primarily on Trope Collectionism, which is a theory that defines a substance as a collection of non-substantial, mind-independent, concrete qualities or tropes.

Arguments against the Bundle Theory of Substance
One objection that has been raised against the bundle theory of substance is that it seems to imply a form of mereological essentialism.  If a substance is a collection of non-substantial tropes, then it seems that if any of these tropes were altered in any way, the substance would be destroyed.  Take a particular basketball for example.  The bundle theorist would say that this basketball is a collection of certain qualities, such as a particular shade of orange, a particular shape and circumference, etc.  However, if one were to paint the basketball white, add more air to it, or deflate it; it would cease to be a collection of those original qualities.  Therefore the original substance would have been destroyed.  Mereological essentialism is quite a hefty burden for the bundle theorist to bear.

Another objection to bundle theory is that it appears to confuse qualities with parts.  We do not intuitively consider the color and circumference of a basketball to be parts of the basketball.  We would consider the material constituents of the basketball to be its parts though.  However, each item within a collection is a part of that collection.  Therefore according to a collectionist theory of substance, not only are the material elements of the basketball its parts, but the qualitative aspects as well (shape, color, size, etc.).  The burden of proof as to why the qualitative aspects of an object are indeed parts of an object rests on the shoulders of the bundle theorist.

The arbitrary unity of odd properties poses another problem for the bundle theorist.  It is ludicrous to assert that a collection of the sound of a cat, the feeling of a breeze, the smell of onions, and the particular shade of an eggplant would constitute a substance, but it seems that the bundle theorist would be forced to do so.  Since the bundle theory of substance states that a substance is a collection non-substantial qualities, it seems that any collection of qualities will suffice.  At least it seems that the bundle theorist cannot offer a reason to think otherwise.

This brings us to the final and, perhaps, the most problematic objection to the bundle theory of substance.  If a substance is a collection of non-substantial, concrete qualities, what exactly holds these qualities together?  Why do we not perceive random qualities “floating about”?  Why do they collect into substances?

            The bundle theorist can answer this problem in one of five ways.

  • (1) The parts of a collection are unified by being in the same place at the same time.
  • (2) The parts of a collection are unified due to a causal connection with one another.
  • (3) The parts of a collection are unified through a metaphysically necessary connection.
  • (4) The parts of a collection are unified through a combination of the above.
  • (5) The parts of a collection are unified through some unknown unifying relation.

One problem with (1) is that this explanation denies the possibility of non-physical substances such as souls (or God since he would be considered a soul).  The question of whether or not souls exist is not the issue here.  Any explanation of a substance should account for actual substances and logically possible substances.  The concept of a soul seems to be coherent, therefore this explanation of unity does not allow for the existence of a logically possible substance.

Another problem with (1) is that there is at least one other entity that would fit the definition given.  Events, which are certainly not substances, are composed of qualities that are in the same place at the same time.  Things like hurricanes and lightning bolts are not substances, yet they fit the explanation given in (1).

It can be objected that (2) implies something similar to mereological essentialism, if the bundle theorists insists that all of the elements within the collection are causally dependent on one another.  In this scenario, if one of the elements is destroyed, then all of these elements would be destroyed.  A substance would possess all of its properties essentially.

The bundle theorist can respond by stating that (2) does not apply to all of the tropes within the collection, but rather to certain tropes in a certain situation so that if one of them is destroyed, then all of the tropes within the collection will be destroyed.  However, Professors Hoffman and Rosenkrantz (Substance Among Other Categories) have supplied a counterexample to this by citing the example of a collection of two china cups (c).  In a certain situation, a bull causes one china cup to crash into another, thereby destroying them both.  The first china cup loses the particular quality of being at rest on the table which causes the subsequent destruction of all the qualities within c.  In this situation, c, would qualify as a substance.  Therefore, the revision of (2) does not succeed in explaining how the parts of a collection of qualities are unified.

Objections to (3) would be similar to those of the first form of (2).  If there is a metaphysically necessary connection between the parts of the collection, then a substance cannot survive the loss of any of its qualities.

(4) seeks to explain the unification of qualities within a collection by some sort of combination of the previous three explanations.  However any combination of the previous three will only be subject to the very same objections which the original constituents garnered.  The possibility of souls will always exclude the space and time explanation, the implication of mereological essentialism will crop up in metaphysically necessary connections, and counterexamples like the bull in the china shop used above will defeat the casual interdependence explanations.

A final explanation that can be offered by the bundle theorist is (5), that there is some unknown unifying relation that ties the collection of qualities together.  Whether this unifying relation is referred to as “consubstantiation” (Castaneda) or “compresence” (Russell), it is subject to the same criticism: the fact that nothing is known about it leads to the fact that it is either meaningless or question-begging to talk about it.

In conclusion, it may be stated that while the bundle theory of substance offers an attractive simplicity, it simply cannot stand up to analytical scrutiny.  It appears to confuse tropes with parts, implies mereological essentialism, and cannot explain why certain qualities are bundled together and how exactly this takes place. 

Rene DescartesThere can be no doubt that modern Western thought owes an incredible debt to the work of the French philosopher, Rene Descartes.  His Meditations on First Philosophy revolutionized the method and scope of rational inquiry and has had lasting repercussions into the present day.  Within the Meditations Descartes employs a strict axiomatic method in search of a secure foundation for knowledge; a foundation which he eventually discovers in his famous statement, cogito ergo sum: “I think therefore I am”.  An interesting byproduct of this discovery is Descartes’ consequent assertion that it is easier to know that one has a mind then that one has a body.  Indeed, the title of the second Meditation is, “Of the Nature of the Mind; And That It Is More Easily Known than the Body”.  But is this statement implied by Descartes’ cogito?  I believe that it is not and that Descartes’ reasoning is fallacious in regards to his epistemological distinction between the mind and the body.           

Before investigating the above claim, it is important to review the process of reasoning that led to its assertion.  Descartes begins the Meditations with radical doubt.  Indeed his stated purpose is to “apply [him]self earnestly and freely to the general overthrow of all [his] former opinions.” His criterion for knowledge is strict foundationalism: he will only accept propositions that cannot be doubted or propositions that are built upon other indubitable propositions.  He is quite literally seeking to demolish the structure of his beliefs so that he can reconstruct them upon a certain foundation.  The epistemological wrecking balls that he employs are various arguments that can be traced back to the ancient skeptics.  At the end of the day – after meditating upon insanity, dreams, and evil demons – Descartes has effectively stripped himself of certainty concerning his former beliefs.

A new day provides the second Meditation and the famous discovery of the cogito.

So that it must, in fine, be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully considered, that this proposition I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind.

There has been much debate over what Descartes was exactly trying to communicate by this statement.  Some have insisted that Descartes is presenting an argument here, while others believe that he is simply stating a self-evident truth which he has discovered.  While this debate is both interesting and important, it really makes no difference in regards to this post.  Suffice it to say that Descartes (whether in formal argument or not) is asserting that it is a necessary truth that whenever he thinks, he exists.  This is an impressive feat of reasoning to be sure, but his assumption that the mind is more easily known than the body does not follow from it.

            Descartes’ claim can be expressed in the following argument:

  • 1. I cannot doubt the existence of my mind.
  • 2. I can doubt the existence of my body.
  • 3. Therefore, the mind is more easily known than the body.

The first premise follows from the cogito.  Descartes states that he cannot doubt his own existence because, necessarily, whenever he doubts he is thinking, and whenever he is thinking he exists.  Therefore he exists as a mind, or a “thinking thing”.  In the first Meditation, however, he has already established that he cannot be certain of the existence of his body.  Therefore the knowledge of his mind is more certain than the knowledge of his body. 

            It is important to point out a major assumption that Descartes is making here: he assumes that the mind and body are distinct substances.  It appears that he bases this distinction upon a principle that was later articulated by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz.  This principle, known as Leibniz’s Law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals can be stated thus:

Necessarily, for any X and Y, if X is identical with Y, then for any property, P, X has P iff Y has P.

It follows then from the above principle that, if the mind and body possess different properties, they must be distinct substances.  Descartes appears to hold to something like the following argument:

  • 1. My body possesses the property of being doubted by me.
  • 2. My mind does not possess the property of being doubted by me.
  • 3. Therefore, according to the Indiscernibility of Identicals, my body is distinct from my mind.

It is only after he assumes the distinction above that Descartes can then go on to argue that the mind is more easily known than the body.  However, this argument is based upon the fallacious idea that dubitability implies distinction. 

            Consider the following argument:

  • 1. Samuel Clemens possesses the property of being doubted by me that he is the author of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
  • 2. Mark Twain does not possess the property of being doubted by me that he is the author of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
  • 3. Therefore, according to the Indiscernibility of Identicals, Samuel Clemens is not the same person as Mark Twain.

Of course this argument is clearly absurd since we know that the names “Samuel Clemens” and “Mark Twain” do indeed refer to the same person.  It is this same reasoning, however, that Descartes employs in distinguishing the body from the mind.  Just because he doubts the existence of his body and is certain of the existence of his mind, it does not follow that they are two different substances.

            It appears, therefore, that Descartes was wrong in asserting that the mind is more easily known than the body based upon the cogito.  What he was perceiving as his “body” and as his “mind” may well have been the same substance with two different names.  This is not to imply that the body and mind are the same, however, just that one cannot make this distinction based upon Descartes’ assumption.  And if the mind and body are indeed the same substance, then it makes no sense to say that one is more easily perceived than the other.

Reality Television is King since the writer’s strike has deprived us of our fix of sit-coms and drama this season.  All the reality shows; such as: Smarter than a 5th Grader, Deal or No-deal, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and a host of others; have flooded the cable and airwaves in a rush to fill the void.  

As I sat there this week watching the Biggest Loser I began to think about what I was ingesting, no, I don’t mean foodstuffs, but thoughts and ideas.  What are the bait, hook and tackle? 

The Bait:

One only has to look around at the average waistline and you can see how our lives of ease and/or materialism-induced-stress have weighed on us.   Daily you can find articles, self-help programs and a mountain of books trying to get their collective arms around the problem of obesity.  In fact we have spent so much time gathering this information that we have had little time for anything else, especially such trivial things as exercise, play, and the like.  At some point one has to conclude it is time to stop thinking about it and do something about it. (I haven’t reached this radical point, yet.)


So here is the positive premise, if we see people engaged and succeeding in the attempt it will motivate others to get up off their lazy keesters and do likewise.  So… someone put it on television for the masses to see and hopefully emulate.  This is a good thing. 

The negative premise is that now that it is on television our voyeuristic natures kick in and we watch others play the game instead of engaging in it ourselves.  We’ll just sit here and watch how it’s done.  This is not so good. 

The Hook:

Always hidden in the bait is a hook and this is no different.  The hook is the game, who will go who will stay.  How do they accomplish this?  Ah, here is where psychology sets the hook, “challenges and temptations!”  It would truly be a boring show if all it was, was watching rollie-pollies sweat and work out (no matter how much the trainers rant and rave).   One can stand to watch only so much flabby jiggling and man boobs.  Therefore, there has to be some other angle, the hook is: game-play during temptations and challenges.   

The manipulations, the deceptions, the intrigue; and that’s just the commercials.  Raw human nature is front and center in the reality show.  Wrath, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, lust, and pride are the stars, with the players as supporting cast.  Being the voyeurs we are, we enjoy watching it in others as they stumble and fall below the yellow line.  (Yes, it is a cynical view but I believe an accurate one.  It’s like NASCAR, the reason a huge percentage watch is to see a wreck.)  In short it’s addictive

The Tackle:

All this leaves us with the final two ingredients, the weigh-in and the elimination room.  Who will be the biggest loser this week?  Which team will have the greatest percentage weight loss?  Who will be exempt, who will go home?  Ooooo, I get tingly just thinking about it.  Here is the payoff for watching the sweating and the puking and the jiggling: someone is going home.  Who will it be?   

In summary I have to say that I find these reality shows entertaining on the surface but since my mind is warped and wired differently I find these same shows somewhat disturbing.  I realize it is a game, but it seems to reinforce the idea of situational ethics.  The, “I am going to do what it takes to make sure I come out the winner,” the Zen of (Donald) Trump if you will.  That may be understood to be the “American Way” but it is far from the Biblical Way.    

These shows are the very antithesis of Biblical Christianity.  They promote greed, the Bible says to give; they bank on covetousness, the Bible condemns it; they manipulate and lie to get to the next level, the Scriptures tell us to sacrifice self and put others ahead of ourselves.   Even the Golden Rule has changed from, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” to “do unto others before they do unto you.”  Each week millions tune in to get their weeks fix of existentialistic materialism and we never see that it is not only our waists that are getting thicker.  Think about it.   

Well, just thought I’d weigh in on the matter.

Photo from: 

MoneyI am writing this post to encourage us all to consider what God has to say about money.  A few years ago I found myself in some financial trouble and decided to research each of the Bible references regarding finances.  I discovered the Bible has a lot to say about this subject.  This post is a brief synopsis of some of the Scriptures that have been a help to me as I have sought to honor God with my resources. 

One of the basic principles of Scripture is that God owns everything. (Haggai 2:8; Psalm 50:9-10)  We know as the Creator (Hebrews 11:3) he ultimately has the right to demand our time, talents and resources be spent for His glory.  I Corinthians 6:19-20 teaches that all we are is His.  Should the creation say to the Creator, “I will take what you have made from you and use it only for my pleasure?”   This principle of God’s ownership is basic to understanding how to handle our money God’s way.

Another principle from Scripture that is foundational when it comes to money is that God gives and takes away as He pleases.  (Job 1:21)  God is sovereign in this physical matter just as He is in spiritual matters.   This truth will remind us not to take pride in our monetary successes. (I Corinthians 4:7; Deuteronomy 8:18)  This will also help us not to worry in failure if we’ve done our best. (Matthew 6:26) 

A third Scriptural principle is that God does often entrust wealth to the faithful. (Matthew 25:21, 24-30; I Corinthians 4:2)  A man or woman of God who can have wealth and use it as God would desire, without becoming enslaved by its power, is truly a faithful steward.  We should all strive to be worthy of this honor, not simply to gain God’s material blessing, but so that we might be used to further His kingdom.

A fourth Biblical principle is that God wants us to earn a living.  (I Timothy 5:8)  Proverbs 11:1 teaches that a wise man delights in good business.  Proverbs 28:19 says a wise man delights in hard work and Proverbs 21:20  commends a wise man for delighting in saving his money for the future (Proverbs 30:25).  Also, Proverbs 24:3 says a wise man delights in planning and being prepared. (Proverbs 6:8;22:3)

Here are some guidelines of what to do with God’s money when He gives it to us:

  • Know where you stand by developing a family budget. (Proverbs 27:23)  This will help you know if you are able to save or if you are spending too much.  Also, determine if you have enough of an emergency fund (at least 3 months of aafter-tax income). (Proverbs 6:8)  Christians have often brought reproach on the name of Christ when they are not prepared financially for the unexpected.  Ask yourself, do you have unsecured debt?  Tackle your highest interest rate first and pay down your unsecured debt as soon as possible. (Romans 13:8)  As Christians, we are to be ready to do whatever God commands and be free to follow his lead.  We can’t do this if we have debts that we couldn’t easily pay off.  Finally determine if you are protected against catastrophes?  Do you have adequate health/life insurance, disability insurance, and long-term care insurance?  While these were not available in Bible times, we see principles from Scripture that would lead us to protect our families from these financial “catastrophes”. (Proverbs 22:3)   
  • Realize how much is enough and learn to say “no”. (Philippians 4:12)  You don’tnecessarily need to take that higher paying position or that extra job.  Buying a new car is not always necessary.  But this is not popular in our culture today.  Covetousness is rampant in the 21st century, to deny this is to proverbially hide your head in the sand.  Scripture doesn’t condemn desiring money.  But it does condemn loving money.  Your motives are the key.  (I Timothy 6:10)  
  • Control your spending.  (Galatians 5:22-23) Ask yourself, “Do I really need that thing?” and “Is there something God wants me to do with His money besides buy that thing?” (I Co 10:28)
  • Set up your work before you establish your home. (Proverbs 24:27)  It is better to go on to college and establish your career before you marry and have children.
  • Never cosign a loan you’re not ready to pay! The Bible strictly warns against this.  (Proverbs 17:18)
  • Give generously, freely and sacrificially to those in need (I John 3:17) and give a tithe (tenth) of your income to God’s work at your local church.  The tithe was actually a form of taxation among the Jews during Old Testament times.  (Leviticus 27:30, Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 14:28)  While the tithe was not specifically commanded to the church by the apostles, the principle of giving to God’s work still applies. And 10% is only a starting point.  The early church gave all they had! (I Corinthians 16:1-2; II Corinthians 9:5-7)  They gave until it caused them personal suffering, they gave sacrificially.  (II Corinthians 8:2-3)

In 1744 John Wesley wrote, “When I die if I leave behind me ten pounds… you and all mankind can bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the 30,000 pounds he had earned in his lifetime he had given away. As Wesley said, “I cannot helping leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.”  Wesley believed as one’s income goes up so should his standard of giving, not his standard of living.

I believe if we follow these principles in handling money we will be blessed and bring honor to Christ Jesus.  May we apply these Scriptures to our lives so that we can bring more glory to Him.

 This is my favorite scene from “Fiddler On The Roof”

 I recently discovered – via this post on another blog – that Stephen Pinker (popular, Led Robert Plant would be proud!Zeppelinish hair-styled, psychology prof. from Harvard) has published yet another article arguing for a biology-based morality.  You can read the NY Times article here. 

As some of you already know, I have already posted on Pinker’s pernicious problem of a materialistic morality.  Although his most recent article is somewhat longer than his earlier article in Time magazine, his arguments remain the same.

Rather than rehashing my appraisal of his argument in this post, I invite readers to check out my earlier post, “Stephen Pinker and the Morality of a Meat Machine”.

You gotta love that hair though 🙂


Stephen Pinker (pictured above) is the rockstar of the world of neuroscience.  Not only does this Harvard professor sport a hairstyle that would make Robert Plant proud, his writing also possesses the rare qualities (at least among  professional scientists) of clarity, wit, and humor.  I did not make this post, however, to magnify Pinker’s personal magnetism but rather to critique his staunch materialism as set forth in this Time article.  I will pay particular attention to his materialistic basis for morality.

Pinker’s article, The Mystery of Consciousness, presents humans as being incredibly complex material objects: “meat machines” if you will.  Professor Pinker argues that things like the soul or the concept of a single, controlling “I” (or center of consciousness) are mere illusions.  Indeed, Pinker goes so far as to state that we can practically “read  thoughts” through technological wizardry such as MRI scans (funny, I never knew that thoughts were splotches of color on a doctor’s computer screen).  Although he does concede that phenomenology and qualia present a “hard problem” for contemporary psychology, he practically dismisses the problem by arguing that perhaps evolution did not “wire” our brains to understand these things.  Despite all of this however, I consider his primary philosophical gaffe to reside in a statement that he makes about ethics:

“the conviction that other people can suffer and flourish as each of us does is the essence of empathy and the foundation of morality… the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It’s not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings [which is the] the core of morality.  As every student in Philosophy 101 learns, nothing can force me to believe that anyone except me is conscious. This power to deny that other people have feelings is not just an academic exercise but an all-too-common vice, as we see in the long history of human cruelty.  Yet once we realize that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other people have brains like ours, a denial of other people’s sentience becomes ludicrous. “Hath not a Jew eyes?” asked Shylock. Today the question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew–or an Arab, or an African, or a baby, or a dog–a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to deny our common capacity to suffer.”

Pinker’s ethical argument could be given as follows:

  1. My material structure allows me to experience pain and suffer.
  2. I observe others who have the same material structure as myself.
  3. Therefore, I ought not do things to others which, if such were done to me, would cause me pain. (a materialist form of the golden rule I suppose)

Simple enough, right?  I don’t think so.  Now, as every student in Philosophy 101 learns (to use Pinker’s rhetoric), “is” does not imply “ought”.  In other words, you cannot derive an imperative statement from a declarative statement.  In other, other words, describing the physiological makeup of human beings in no way implies what is morally right for human beings.  Indeed, if we are simply matter in motion, how can there even be a concept of right and wrong?  Do we hold a rock morally responsible for rolling down a hill and crushing someone? 

Pinker never explains why we should not hurt other human beings (although if pressed, he would probably hold to some form of consequentialism).  Sure they will suffer, but what difference does it make?  What if hurting others is what makes me happy?  Professor Pinker and his materialistic ethic can offer no answer to these questions.