May 28, 2015

Attempts at humour

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 28, 2015

Attempts at humour

"A cheerful heart is good medicine." Proverbs 17:2.

Laughter is good for the soul. I hope your soul be blessed with the following attempts at humour. Note/ confession: some of what follows are my own creations, but many are plagiarized, uh, I mean, borrowed.

René Descartes (the philosopher famous for "I think therefore I am"; Latin cogito ergo sum) walks into a bar and drinks a beer. The bartender asks, "Are you going to have another beer?" Descartes answers "I don't think I am" and—poof!—Descartes disappears.

A young philosopher sold his treasured pony to continue his studies, thus showing that he did indeed put Descartes before the horse.

What did the potato say? I think therefore I yam (cogito ergo spud).

What would Captain Highliner study if he were a philosopher? Metaphyshsticks.

What would Captain Highliner's great insight be if he were a philosopher? Codgito ergo filet-o-fish.

(The following joke is intended to humble those arrogant know-it-alls who presume to have god-like knowledge; no offense is intended to those suffering from mental illness.) A man is in an insane asylum, standing at attention, with his hand slipped into his shirt at his chest. A doctor takes notice and asks, "Who do you think you are?" The man with the hand in his shirt looks annoyed and replies, "Napoleon, that's who I am!" At this the doctor asks, "Why do you think this?" The man with the hand in his shirt replies, "God told me!" At this point another man from across the room shouts, "I did not!"

What does a dyslexic agnostic insomniac do? He stays awake all night wondering about the existence of dog.

Did you hear about the dyslexic Rabbi? He walks around saying "Yo."

A dyslexic walks into a bra…. (Badum-tish!)

What is Sacramento? It's the stuffing in a Catholic olive.

What do you get if you cross a cow with an octopus? A sternly worded letter from the Research Ethics Committee.

The problem with German food is that a half hour after you eat, you're hungry for power. The problem with Canadian food is that a half hour after you eat, you want to apologize for telling the joke about the German food.

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting in a Café. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a coffee, no cream please." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry we are out of cream. How about a coffee with no milk?"

Customer in a restaurant: "How do you prepare your chickens?" Cook: "Nothing out of the ordinary, we just tell them they're going to die."

What do you call a carpenter who only works with one kind of wood? Mahoganous 

What do you call a soldier who wears multiple bullet-proof vests? A polyarmourist.

What do you call a man from Utah who has multiple firearms? A polygunist.

Shelfish (adjective): persistent longing for more bookshelves; shelf-centered; hazard for readers in general and for academics in particular.

How much does it cost a pirate to get his ears pierced? A buccaneer.

What do philosophers add to bath water? Epsomology salt.

Question for a toddler: peepee or poopoo? Answer: when the exclusive "or" is used (i.e., "or" means one or the other but not both), this is a false diaperchotomy.

Last night I wondered if I am Jason Bourne and have forgotten that I'm Jason Bourne. And why is this movie about me?

When I was a baby I thought I heard God say, "You will become a comedian." Turns out I misheard. He actually said "Canadian."

Have a happy day, eh!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

For further reading: 
  • Ted Cohen, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
  • Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (New York: Abrams Image, 2007).

May 14, 2015

Philosophical black holes: Internet memes

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 14, 2015

Philosophical black holes: Internet memes

The internet is a breeding ground for memes (a meme is a saying or image that spreads rapidly over the internet as internet users re-post the saying or image). Some memes promote what I call Philosophical Black Holes, i.e., philosophical ideas that, if not carefully considered, suck unsuspecting readers into intellectual darkness.

Let's take a critical look at three popular memes.

Meme 1. Your beliefs don't make you a better person. Your behaviour does.

Pause and think: for these claims to make moral sense depends on what one believes “a better person” is. It also depends on what one believes is good behaviour or what a better person ought to do.

Didn't serial killer Ted Bundy believe that “a better person” was one who is daring and willing to rape and murder? He did.

Surely, then, we should seek out and believe what's right, true, excellent, and good. Not any behaviour will do. In other words, ideas have consequences, so the idea—i.e., what is believed—matters.

We should of course concede that beliefs not acted upon don't amount to much. Nevertheless, for behaviour to amount to something good requires accurate beliefs about what is the good. To paraphrase the Apostle James (and adding a dash of Immanuel Kant): belief without behaviour is dead, but behaviour without belief is blind.

Beliefs do make you a better person, if you believe—and subsequently act upon—whatever is right, true, excellent, and good.

Meme 2. “It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love, or how you love, it matters only that you love.

Here's a criticism that cuts to the chase: “I love you,” said the cannibal to his dinner. “I love you,” said the pedophile to the child. “I love you,” said the Marquis de Sade to his torture victims.

Clearly, love has moral boundaries. Love isn't mere subjectivity/ feeling, contrary to what popular culture tells us. Love—true love—has a defining moral structure.

Meme 3 is a doozey: “We live in a society where people can't survive if they're not judging the next person. If you're proud of who you are and don't give two [cents] what anyone thinks, share [this post].”

This meme seemingly presents an attitude against judging others.

But look carefully at the last sentence.

The last sentence makes the implied judgment—yes, judgment—that if I don't share this post, then either (a) I am not proud of who I am or (b) I give two cents about what others think (or both). So, if I don't share the post, I have a problem.

On the other hand, if I do share the post, then I have a different problem. Contrary to what I'm agreeing to in the post, I obviously do care what people think.

How so? By sharing the post, which claims I don't give two cents about what people think, I show that I do give two cents: I obviously want people to think I don't give two cents about what they think! Also (if I'm honest), I probably won't be proud of myself for pretending not to give two cents when in fact I am giving two cents.

So if I don't share the post, there's something wrong with me; and if I do share the post, there's something wrong with me.

In other words, under the pretense of encouraging people not to judge others, the author of this meme is encouraging people to judge others—as are those who re-post it!

Overall lessons: To avoid letting memes suck you into Philosophical Black Holes, read carefully. And, to help others not get sucked into such holes, read carefully before you re-post.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

April 30, 2015

Questioning same-sex marriage

Photo credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution Newspaper
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 30, 2015

Questioning same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage has had legal status in Canada for a decade and is (at time of writing) being debated in the U.S. supreme court. My question is this: Is granting legal status to same-sex marriage wise?

It seems to me that further thought is needed.

Granting legal status to same-sex marriage is not merely a personal matter between those of the same sex who wish to wed. It is, rather, a public policy matter that affects others in multiple ways.

For example, granting legal status to same-sex marriage changes the public's understanding of the minimal requirement of marriage from (a) the union of a man and woman who can (at least in principle) reproduce sexually via their union and nurture their biological children to (b) a union of two adults regardless of their sexual noncomplementarity, requiring new reproductive methods and new family structures.

According to political philosopher Ryan T. Anderson, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (2012), this change centers marriage on "consenting adult romance" instead of what's best for children. How? By emphasizing adult wants so much so that men and women, mothers and fathers, are made interchangeable when they're not.

Significantly, Anderson argues, reliable studies from the social sciences strongly suggest parenting by married biological parents—i.e., biological mother and biological father—is ideal for the well-being of children.

But same-sex marriage (along with divorce and single parenting) takes society another step away from this ideal.

Also, McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville points out that same-sex marriage abolishes the child's biologically-based moral right to know and be raised by both biological parents.

Significantly, according to Robert Oscar Lopez, president of the International Children's Rights Institute, there are many adults who were raised by gay/ lesbian parents now expressing discontent and concern over same-sex marriage. Lopez and others defend this thesis in Lopez's recent book Jephthah's Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Family 'Equality' (2015).

Moreover, according to Somerville, same-sex marriage may normalize In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and thereby exacerbate IVF's problems. IVF creates leftover frozen human embryos, i.e., human beings; often requires "selective termination," i.e., abortion of unwanted implantations/ fetuses; exploits women as surrogates and egg suppliers; plus threatens to turn children into commodities.

Also, same-sex marriage is conceptually wed to a non-fallacious slippery slope. According to Anderson, once we redefine marriage broadly as committed adult intimacy instead of the union of a heterosexual couple, why not accept a "throuple" (rhymes with "couple" but involves three or more)?

The rationale for "couple" derives from the one-man-one-woman sexual union requirement—but this requirement has been abandoned. So why stop at two? Why not polyamorous or polygamous relationships?

If loving commitment is a sufficient condition for marriage, and if one man and one woman are no longer a necessary condition, then if you love X, you should be able to marry X. But X is a placeholder.

Finally, religious liberty is affected. For deeply held religious/ moral reasons many citizens believe same-sex sexual relations are wrong.

But with same-sex marriage enshrined in law, public institutions must embrace same-sex marriage as a good that's equivalent to heterosexual marriage. As a result, many public school children are taught what their parents believe is immoral. Is this fair?

Problems also result for businesses and private schools that disapprove of same-sex marriage, as wedding florists, bakers, photographers, and Trinity Western University Law School will attest.

Is same-sex marriage wise? Are we being foolish in not thinking this matter through carefully (as some of our grandparents were foolish in not thinking through, say, Canadian Indian residential schools)?

Surely, there are enough reasons at least to question the wisdom of same-sex marriage and thus encourage careful, truth-seeking thought on the matter.

Surely too—whether we end up favouring same-sex marriage or not—we can do this while showing respect to those with whom we disagree.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

For further thought: