"Let's Get Philosophical" Part I

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This is an archive of a topic from the 2001 season of Mighty Big TV. It appeared in the Buffy forum's General Gabbery section, and was horked in the great Glarkathon of January 2002. This section was 2/17/01-2/21/01.

February 17,2001 4:25:47 PM EST

I thought that rather than clog up the Crush thread with all the philosophical talk of good and evil, we could post it here.

Ace and Sep, I searched the archives for the old philosophical thread, but it got horfed. Feel free to close this if need be, I wouldn't mind.

February 17,2001 9:43:57 PM EST

So if a Vamp is dusted in the woods with no one to stake it, does it make a sound?

Alright, here's my problem with classifying Good and Evil as perception of actions. Doing so eliminates the notion that there can be anything beyond an individual view of the world.

Once you accept that there aren't, if not absolutes, than basic guidelines to morality, you pave the way for the ruin of ANY belief system. By taking away the fundemental notion that a system of thought is valid even if it is not universally shared.

Good needs to be something all groups can identify. That identification doesn't have to come easily, but without a common ground than there potential for harmony between disparate viewpoints becomes impossible.

Therefore- without moral guidelines that can be shared by all, there cannot be unity, or even tolerance, between groups. I couldn't live in a world like that, and therefore my belief is there are Moral Certainties, even if they can't be codified.

February 17,2001 10:49:42 PM EST

The trouble, Lejo, is this.

From whence is this "foundation" drawn, precisely? I realize that living in a world with no universally recognizable guidelines for "good" and "evil" is difficult...but I suspect that the evidence that we live in exactly that sort of world is pretty strong. Logically speaking, I'm not sure it is possible to come up with a moral code that doesn't rely upon itself for justification. Hence, philosophical outlooks like cultural relativism. The point is...if you have some worldview, and you want to judge another worldview, what do you use to make that judgement, other than the worldview you started with? Morality is horribly tricky that way.

So far as Buffy goes...since it's a T.V. show they can make it a world with moral absolutes and that's fine. But to me, taking those absolutes away makes the show more real. And more real = mo' better, in my mind. Hence, ambiguity rules. That's all.

February 18,2001 12:06:36 AM EST

Here's where I think the philosophical problems of Buffy arise from. The show is attemping, I think, trangress the usual narrative of Good versus Evil. But, in order to subvert the norms, it needs to acknowledge them, right? So we're left with a show that, I think, is trying to subvert the morally absolute "hero" story, but is completely immersed in it at the same time. Hence the multiple interpretations.

But that's just my take.

February 18,2001 08:54:51 AM EST

But see, it doesn't HAVE to be moral relativism. More like perspectivism, where you acknowledge the fact that any given society's moral beliefs ARE conventional - and not based on objective, absolute notions of right and wrong (which would require the existence of something like Plato's Forms and, ultimately, the One. The Good. In other words, God) - but nevertheless consider them valid and necessary.

The generally accepted moral codes and rules are what they are because that's what works in the given context. That's what allows that society to survive, develop and flourish. And, therefore, from the POV of that society, they ARE good and valid and necessary. It doesn't mean that vampires, who are by definition outsiders (They're [un]dead. Society doesn't even acknowledge their existence anymore), can be reasonably expected to accept and live by these rules. Nor does it mean that Buffy should care in the least that *her* rules do not, technically, apply to vampires and that rejecting them does not make them inherently and irrevocably Eeeevil. She still has every right to kill them, precisely because they're a threat to the society of which she's a part and to the rules which are indispensible to its survival. But only as long as they're a threat, which, interestingly enough, she seems to have acknowledged (subconsciously, at least) by not killing chipped-Spike, even though she still thinks him Eeevil.

The problem is she still DOES believe that what she's doing is right in an absolute sense and not just in a pragmatic, utilitarian sense. And the realization that things are not that simple would shake her to the core. Which is something that I would really, REALLY like to see and why I instantly became a S/B shipper.

Does what we've been SHOWN (I still choose to ignore most of what we've been *told* as expressing the beliefs of the characters and in no way the incontrovertible truth) on BtVS so far support this way of looking at the moral Jossverse? Probably not. But I still feel that there's been a lot more subtextual ambiguity than the orthodox reading of the text would suggest. Until now.

Maybe we should start a "Moral ambiguity, YAY!" thread.

February 18,2001 10:32:43 AM EST

Oddly enough, I think part of why I would prefer the Buffyverse to have absolute rights and wrongs is because in the real world I come down pretty hard on the side of morality being subjective. (Which isn't to say I won't support mine until the cows come home; I just don't believe the universe is backing me...)

February 18,2001 1:43:06 PM EST

Word to you, Manu. There was nary a word I disagreed with in that post.

I do wonder, however, if the demon population is aware of this complexity. I mean, you do have to be careful with this kind of stuff, because it would be very easy to turn demonkind into an angry, oppressed minority group, and that isn't what we want this show to be about, is it? On the other hand, it definitely seems like certain characters, like Spike, the Master, and the Mayor, are keenly aware of the different ways of looking at things.

To quote the mayor "There's more than one way to skin a cat...and I happen to know that from personal experience."

February 18,2001 2:06:01 PM EST

Manu: Great post, especially because "moral relativism" (even though I don't mind the term) has really negative connotations in our culture. I think you're right, it's a matter of "standpoint," that what is "right" and what is "wrong" all depends on who is doing the looking.

Thanks for clarifying.

Fool IV
February 18,2001 5:25:29 PM EST

Hmm. I'm going to try to keep this simple, because I got about two paragraphs into an elaborate exegesis when I got distracted and ended up writing sappy haiku until 3:30 in the morning. First of all, absolute moral relativism and pragmatic relativism are not the same thing. Pragmatic relativism is based on Plato's cave, with the supposition that it is impossible to leave the cave.

Incidentally, some recent stuff I've been hearing third-hand from the quantum superstring theorists seems to suggest that Plato's Ideal Forms are about to make a major comeback, at least in that some theorists are postulating that the "strings" in superstring theory are mediations between the physical world and a lower, primal order; that physicality - quarks, leptons, all the various particles - are expressions of underlying structure.

Anyways, the argument is that it's not possible to leave the cave and experience the absolute directly. Thus we interact via perception, theory, and ideas - mediated ethics, rather than primal morality. And even if you feel that there is a primal morality, can you accept that all ethical systems are models or maps? One shouldn't confuse the map for the terrain.

February 18,2001 5:37:30 PM EST


Super-string theory and moral pragmatism.

I love this place.

February 18,2001 5:47:35 PM EST

Okay, fool IV, that all sounds really cool...but I'm really, really confused how that would end up getting applied to the buffyverse.

Are Spike and Buffy using different maps for the same terrain?

Or are they using pretty similar maps and going in different dicrections?

And does this metaphor make any sense?

Fool IV
February 18,2001 6:15:09 PM EST

Oh, it's only marginally applicable to the S/B thing. Was only really addressing moral relativism and moral pragmatism. However... I would say that _Crush_ made it pretty clear that Spike's operating with an ethical map published by some demonic Rand-McNally Corp, and he's trying his best to get out of Buffyville. Buffy is navigating with a Soviet-era map, created by stalinists on the Watchers Council less interested in getting travelers from point A to point B than keeping unauthorized personnel out of sensitive areas.

Did you know that commercial map-makers deliberately leave a couple tiny towns out of their products, so that they can identify stolen work when it appears in a rival's publication?

February 18,2001 6:37:39 PM EST

Well, I used both "pragmatism" and "utilitarianism" in a loose, non-philosophical, ordinary language kinda' way. Which I probably shouldn't have. Something like "practical" would've done just as well.

But, to me, both "relativism" and "perspectivism" are about there NOT BEING an absolute, objective standard relative to which we can evaluate our judgments, not just about it being inaccessible to us. After all, if we can't access it, what reason do we have to think it exists? The whole point of Plato's cave allegory was that we COULD achieve noesis, if only we tried hard enough. And that the shadowy reflections of the Forms and, ultimately, the One, led us to such imperfect standards as we do have. Is that what you mean by pragmatic relativism? 'Cause I'm not familiar with it and that doesn't strike me as relativist at all.

And don't even get me started on the implicit rationalism which still pervades most science (physics in particular), even though philosophers have largely given up on justifying it.

Still... this shit is fun and I'd really like to hear more about it. Since atomic theories already imply an underlying structure, which is already not quite matter, I assume you're talking about this structure being meta-physical in a stronger sense than that. Which kinda' makes sense what with superstrings not even existing in four-dimensional space.

Fool IV
February 18,2001 6:51:22 PM EST

In regards to Plato's Cave as a call to break out of the cave... that's why Plato is a poopyhead. I'm generally leery of taking him seriously - you could argue that _the Republic_ is partially to blame for Stalinism. But, like him or loathe him, he's the font of western organized philosophy. The elephant in the room, so to speak.

As for philosophers abandoning rationalism - bah! Quitters, the lot of them.

I'm pretty weak on modern philosophy, tell the truth. I'm still working on Kierkegaard, let alone anybody in the twentieth century. My exposure to anything after Neitzsche is pretty much at an abbreviated college-survey course level. This is what you get at your modern state-college liberal arts school: an education that can't be reliably distinguished from the results of autodidactism. :/

February 18,2001 6:52:58 PM EST

Oh, you people should not be allowing a philosophy major in mid-thesis to philosophize about pet obsessions instead of self-delusion (which is my topic). But you are, so...

I think there's some middle ground to be found in the writings of Immanuel Kant. Kant felt that the foundation for epistemology (and ethics too, I think) could be found not in some metaphysical entity, but rather in the way human beings perceive the world. According to him, human beings are built with certain kinds of perceptions; color, smell, pleasure, soforth. These things, he felt, were universal, at least to humans, but also subjective in the sense that they literally represent the interaction between individuals and the world.

So if ethics are the same way, the existence of "true" moral values does not stem from something as ontologically shaky as Plato's forms. Rather, to use the cave analogy, we understand ourselves by *the way we perceive the cave*, rather than by what we perceive within it.

And if that's true, you have a real break between, for example, Buffy and Spike.

Buffy is human. There are ethics for her which are real and true and she does her best to stand by them...but the ones that exist for Spike are different because he's not human. Only, in his case, because his world has been messed with significantly, it might be that his moral compass, such as it is, has shifted. The trouble, of course, is that if Kant is right, Spike can never do what Buffy thinks of as good for what Buffy thinks of as good reasons. There will always be a tension between how he acts and how he sees the world. But of course, that sort of moral confusion is in no way a turnoff for me.

Also, the Republic is a distopia, as indicated by Plato/Socrates repeatedly saying "You're going to hate this", and is therefore not responsible for communism.

February 18,2001 7:37:40 PM EST

alkibiadhs, don't tell me you're a philosophy major too?

I'm just as leery of Kant's categorical imperatives as I am of Plato's cave (I'm talking about "The Critique of Pure Reason" too. Never read the "Practical" one). They are based on very tenous inferences about our basic space/time intuitions and he was largely motivated by his desire to justify our tendency to make "universally valid" statements like Newton's laws (and, ultimately, our moral beliefs). Which, surprise, surprise, are now considered essentially invalid, although the math still stands for situations where relativistic effects don't come into play. Not to mention that his whole argument for synthetic a priori propositions strikes me as nonsense (mathematical propositions are sooo NOT synthetic) and the analytic/synthetic and a prior/a posteriori distinction's been re-hashed a thousand times since (notably by Kripke, who IS also a rationalist, but has a better point, IMO, than Kant. If you're into rationalism, Fool IV, give him a try. Of course, to me, Wittgenstein is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century).

Not to say that Kant doesn't have a point. It's entirely possible that there IS something some fundamental similarity in the way our brains are wired and that it will inevitably lead us all to see the world, morality included, in a certain way. But he hasn't proved it to my satisfaction and the fact that we can question our morality, as well as all our perceptions, leads me to wonder whether Nietzsche was right when he believed that we could transcend them too (the übermensch).

At any rate, I'm not sure this changes any of what I was already saying where B/S is concerned. There's little difference to me between standards being *universal* only in human terms and their not being *universal* at all. They're still a matter of perspective, albeit it's a species thing, not an individual thing. I already admitted that, from a practical point of view, such standards as are generally accepted, are what they are for a good reason and we are very much entitled to adhere to them. It's just that, in this case, they're not really a matter of convention, but a fact of our (ever-changing, let us not forget) physiology. Which is immaterial for most intents and purposes.

And I'm not sure "The Republic" was a dystopia to Plato. I think he sincerely believed that that was the way to go and that he DID encourage other people to firmly believe that they KNEW what was best for everyone. Which is kinda' like the necessary, if not sufficient, condition for all totalitarianism.


February 18,2001 8:01:43 PM EST

I'm very, very pleased by the people in this thread, can I say that?

However, Manu, while I agree with everything you've said (except the thing about math being non-synthetic--if you want proof, look at Kurt Godel's proof that mathematics cannnot be derived from logic), I think that the morality as convention/morality as universal truth/morality as species-indexed truth is *exactly* the center of this particular debate.

As I understand it, the point of working out where ethics come from is, in this case, to figure out if it makes sense that Spike could go from a villain to a hero despite being a vampire. As I understand it, it works like this:

If morality is pure convention and subjectivity, Spike can do whatever the heck he wants. If he wants to take on Buffy's view of the world and become heroic, of course he can.

If morality is platonic, fixed, and utterly universal, then the morality of both Buffy and Spike is on a sliding scale of their participation in the "form" of the good or whatever. Spike can reform, but it's going to be bizarre, because the path from where he started to "the good" is pretty twisty.

If morality is a species-based thing, dependent upon the wiring of the brain, or the construction of the mind (if you're a dualist, which I am), then there's a big honkin' problem for Spike, because, as a demon, human morality will *never* quite make sense to him.

As for Nietzsche and the Ubermensch...you will notice that Nietzsche does not really know what an Ubermensch is like, although he hints at it. I am very skeptical of the supposed ability to "transcend" the human condition. But you know, if that's really what it is, then maybe Spike/Angelus/any sufficiently thoughtful vampire *is* the Ubermensch. Scary thought, eh?

February 18,2001 8:44:17 PM EST

alkibiadhs, I'll give you the Godel's proof thing. Math is definitely NOT my strongest point. Or a point at all. But that still doesn't convince me that either math or logic can have anything resembling true empirical content, much less that propositions which DO possess empirical content can be a priori. Maybe I just don't understand what the proof really entails. I've heard of it, but I still don't get it. What with math not being my strong point. Or a point at all. Heh.

Anyway, while I completely agree with your analysis (except for the brain/mind duality. I'm still not entirely sure where I stand on that. But that's not an issue here), I'm not actually a Spike redemptionista. I don't really think that he can simply go back to believing in right and wrong the way humans do. You can't just go back to something you've already *transcended*, for lack of a better word, even if it is just a matter of convention. More importantly, I don't want him to. I'd much rather have Buffy et al recognize the fact that there's no reason why he should (since he's NOT human anymore) and that it's enough that he's willing to act as though he believes. Which he should be able to, because he used to be human and must still remember how it felt. Although it seems like the writers are trying to tell us otherwise.

And, believe me, I have sooo thought of vampires as the ubermensch. They actually fit in pretty well with Nietzsche's admittedly vague idea. They're all about the will to power and amorality and exploring the irrational side of the human psyche. I mean, Alcibiades and Cesare Borgia are examples he used to indicate the ideal he had in mind. And I think we've already agreed on the similarities between Spike and Alcibiades. Maybe Cesare can be Angelus? He was certainly way nastier than Alcibiades.

As for the possibility of transcending what we now call "the human condition"... Maybe not by sheer power of the will, but wouldn't evolution eventually take us there anyway? How can we assume that what is "universal" about us now (assuming there is such a thing) will always be the same?

Oh, and, I know that there's nothing manicheist about the platonic ideal, but wouldn't the Buffy version have to modify it to include absolute Evil, not just the Good? So that Spike could be inherently Evil, like I keep hearing that he is?

February 19,2001 03:35:47 AM EST

Okay- but here's my problem with all of the above arguments.

Philosophy is not truth. Nor is it free of the same bias you lampoon morality for. Philosophic schools are built on an individual or group's perception and interpretation of what exists. Not vice versa.

As such- all the Nietzche, (I can't be bothered to spell his name correctly) Kant, Plato and Popeye in the world doesn't change anything. They simply provide terminology and jargon.

In the end, I have to go with my gut. Just like everyone does. And my gut tells me that you can't sideline or trivialize the notion that there are some actions, situations or events which contain an element of genuine Goodness or genuine Evil. It's my gut and I'm sticking to it.

Fool IV
February 19,2001 08:05:37 AM EST

Heh, I'm going to take my pathetic history major carcass out of the way of the dueling philosophy boffins, but for one observation: The early episodes of Buffy give a lot of evidence for an absolute morality. There's the "no earthly paradise" mythology, the various chaos goddesses, first evils, and the whole Lovecraftian Elder Ones pressing on the borders of reality. The problem for applying conventional moral absolutism is that if the Buffyverse Mark 1 possessed a moral absolute, it's demonic, not divine. There's a greater morality, and human nature is absolutely antithetical to it. Under such a reading, Buffy circa "Becoming pt 2" would be the uebermensch, transcending morality through a will to power. Of course, the post-graduation seasons and the whole Angel thing has tossed most of that in the dustbin - after all, the writers don't need hell anymore now that they blew up the high school sets.

BTW, I've tried to read Kant. Man writes like a grocer taking night classes to become an accountant. I guess I could dig out Critique of Pure Reason from the bottom of that box & try again. I've read a lot about his categorical imperatives, but I'd always dismissed it as an Enlightenment attempt to have God & avoid theology at the same time.

February 19,2001 11:02:00 AM EST

lejo, you are quite right. The problem, of course, is that my gut has always told me something quite different from yours.

At any rate, philosophy IS just a way for people to rationalize their gut instincts, to try and justify their beliefs (or lack thereof). But I honestly feel that there is some merit in trying to clarify and articulate to yourself WHY you believe (or don't believe) something, beyond simply saying that your gut tells you to. Sometimes you can find that you were wrong. I know I have.

Fool IV... That is just TOO fucking funny! WORD on Kant's non-writing non-style! That is, without any doubt, the perfect description. Hehehe. See, this is why I luuurve Nietzsche so much: the clarity, the incisiveness is almost blinding sometimes. Ummm, I am, naturally, talking about the stuff he wrote BEFORE he went completely psycho. Heh. Still, Kant is definitely worth plowing through.

I am VERY intrigued by the observation that we've never seen much evidence of a divine absolute to be contrasted to the demonic absolute on BtVS. I knew that, but I never really stopped to think about it. So then, logically, the antithesis to Evil is something that is not absolute at all: humanity. This takes me right back to my interpretation of the show in terms of the eternal struggle between order and chaos, Being and Nothingness, rather than Good and Evil (whatever that is). Nothingness is only absolute if it *wins*, and Being can never be absolute, because it'll always have to fight and change to survive. In fact, I should probably call it Becoming (I've always thought of that ep title as, like, a major Nietzsche shout-out. Although I still can't quite see Buffy as the uebermensch. I mean, how exactly did she transcend human morality?) to avoid the absolute connotations of Being.

The only thing that still bothers me is the determinism hinted at by the prophecies. It kinda' reeks of a God, a sub specie aeternitatis POV, and a "plan". Of course, the plan here seems to be morally neutral, since W&H think that the final outcome could very well be the end of the world. I kinda' like the irony of that: Buffy and Angel fighting the "good" fight when, all along, they were MEANT to lose. Heh.

Have to think about this some more. Mid-terms, schmid-terms.

Fool IV
February 19,2001 1:33:29 PM EST

Although I still can't quite see Buffy as the uebermensch. I mean, how exactly did she transcend human morality?

If you postulate that the Slayer is not an aspect of the Divine absolute (and Restless certainly danced around the subject, if never actually coming out square one way or the other) but rather a corrupted or divided aspect of a demonic absolute, then the Slayer in her full power and awareness is certainly a being of demonic morality. As such, a knowing renunciation of said morality would definitely be a demonstration of will to power. Eugh. Kind of weak, now that I see it laid out. If Spike manages some kind of significant internal adoption of human ethics, then that would fit the Nietzschean "will to power" much better.
The only thing that still bothers me is the determinism hinted at by the prophecies. It kinda' reeks of a God, a sub specie aeternitatis POV, and a "plan". Of course, the plan here seems to be morally neutral, since W&H think that the final outcome could very well be the end of the world

I don't think that prophecy requires direction, really. If you postulate a Dao, a natural ubiquitous pattern in which the universe moves, then the first cause doesn't need to be conscious, directed, or possessing of intention. If you conceive of prophecy as divination rather than receipt of divine instruction, at least.
And I did say that the early seasons support a malign demonic absolute more than the later seasons & Angel do.

February 19,2001 5:20:21 PM EST

Wow. You guys frighten me. :)

February 19,2001 5:22:14 PM EST

Word on Nietchze's writting, I've found it to be like a written speedball. Almost hypnotic when someone first reads it- so I'm always amused when someone goes through their Nietzche phase.

I kinda like the notion of Order and Nothing. Like The Neverending Story- Either it ceases to be or it stuggles to redefine itself. Never perfected, never complete- always in transistion.

But I have to disagree- Whistler was introduced as an agent of balance. And lately we've heard tell of TPTB. (I like to think of that as a self-referential nod) So clearly there is a counterpoint- it's simply not as blatant, or obvious in it's mechinations.

The snow storm in Amends is clearly an illustration of a greater act to preserve balance. Angel mustn't die, says TPTB, send the snow.

I agree that it's good to analyze and understand why and how a person's 'gut' directs them. I also understand instincts are often wrong. But I find the mistakes I make when I follow my instincts never haunt me whereas the mistakes I make by ignoring it do.

February 19,2001 6:04:05 PM EST


Buffy the Uebermensch! Critiques of the Critique of Pure Reason! On a Buffy Board. This has to be the most wonderful thing there has ever been.

Um...I would say that Kant is very boring, but that you should read the Prolegammena instead of the Critique, on the grounds that it makes more sense, faster.

And word on the Spike-Redemption = Spike Will-to-Power. That'd be kind of the ultimate transcendence; he's still a demon, it's just that his will constructs his essence, rather than the other way around. I so love existentialism. Let's go with it, WB Writers!

And just so I can slip another name in here for the sake of being pretentious...I would like to comment that it's also worth thinking about Buffyverse morality in terms of Hegelian dialectic. As in: the Watcher's Council has one view, Buffy has another, the Vampires have another...and of course, the "true" morality of the show is a synthesis of these conflicting views (and whichever other ones may be lying around). This way, the vamps wouldn't be seen as completely wrong, but since they have kind of an extreme view on the subject of good and evil, they might be further from the "Synthesis Truth" of the matter than, say, Buffy is. So the moral ambiguity of a character like Spike could be preserved, AND there could be absolute right and wrong. Cool, no?

Fool IV
February 19,2001 6:36:26 PM EST

lejo - damn, I forgot about Whistler. The fly in my ointment, the burr in my saddle, the PCBs in my wellwater. That blows the last prop out from under the "Buffy von Uebermenschen" theory. :)

akli: Being pretentious is what it's all about. :)
Have you read Hegel? Everything I know about Hegel I learned from the Marxists. Sounds like a sophomore dorm-room poster. And I started reading an online copy of Critique of Pure Reason this afternoon while waiting for a hanging process to shake itself loose. Finally saw what people meant by "a priori" & Kant. It's been made nonsense by Einstein's relativity theories, hasn't it? All this bosh about time and space not being derived from sensory perception but rather the fact of perception?

Oh, one other thing: I really must recommend Kierkegaard's second Problem in _Fear and Trembling_ for it's critical discussion of the tension between ethical and aesthetic (seems to be a uniquely German use of the term) criteria in this Merman & the Maiden poem. It's frighteningly close to the Buffy/Spike thing. He talks about redemption by demonic means, among other things. Kierkegaard is another of the "fun" philosophers.

posted February 19,2001 7:49:48 PM EST

Oh, nothing better than a spot of pretentiousness in the evening. Puts things in perspective, ya' know.

And I am all over the Hegel dialectic thing. I just think that we have to clean it up a little, keep it simple. Whistler, the oracles, TPTB (duh! How could I have forgotten about them?) are the thesis, the senior partners and what have you are the antithesis and the synthesis is... Wait, the only thing Absolute in Hegel is the whole, isn't it? So how exactly is there both absolute right and absolute wrong? Decreasing degrees of rightness would make more sense to me.

Aaargh, I'm actually very weak on both Hegel and Kierkegaard (in fact, I skipped most of the 19th century, except for Nietzsche and a bit of Schopenhauer), so please set me straight. I'm not sure which scares me most: the phrase "monistic idealism" or religious existentialists (I had a really bad experience with Jaspers. Ugh). But now my interest is piqued by that second problem. Where the hell is my copy of "Fear and Trembling"?

Oh, actually, the Kant/Einstein thing is not that simple. Because Kant's space/time intuitions are empirical, not intellectual. We may be able to conceptualize time and space in a way he never envisioned, but that doesn't mean we can actually perceive or experience them differently than we already do. The only way to definitively disprove his argument would be for someone to actually travel at relativistic speeds and tell us whether his perceptions were significantly different.

So how would divination work in the absence of divine inspiration? Hey, see, the two words are even etymologically related.

BTW,lejo, I went through my serious Nietzsche phase quite a while ago. And, OK, I'm still not entirely over it. Because the more I read 20th century philosophy, the more I realize he foreshadowed it all. The man was a genius. He was also a bit hysterical and a nut, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary.

February 19,2001 8:20:42 PM EST

Oh, no Manu I wasn't implying you were going through that phase. My film partner is, and he keeps wanting to fuck with the conventions of storytelling to exact a philosophical agenda. I keep telling him- tv commercials don't usually carry nihilistic sensibilities. At least, not on the surface.

I digress, I think I really like the notion of a Moral Synthesis. Partly because it allows for freedom of individualism and still holds true to my grander perception of conflict in drama.

Also, I've always believed that TPTB aren't entirely good folks. I mean, there's something slightly fucked about asking a teenage girl to forgo any kind of existance beyond slaughter and an early death.

And also, if you look at "Blood Money", that shelter was still gonna get a helluva lot more money than it started with- and attention and publicity to boot. So W&H aren't necessarily excluded from doing good as well. (I hate using that as an example- it was *such* as shit ep)

Fool IV
posted February 19,2001 8:24:08 PM EST
Oh, nothing better than a spot of pretentiousness in the evening. Puts things in perspective, ya' know.And I am all over the Hegel dialectic thing. I just think that we have to clean it up a little, keep it simple. Whistler, the oracles, TPTB (duh! How could I have forgotten about them?) are the thesis, the senior partners and what have you are the antithesis and the synthesis is... Wait, the only thing Absolute in Hegel is the whole, isn't it? So how exactly is there both absolute right and absolute wrong? Decreasing degrees of rightness would make more sense to me.

The dialectic doesn't apply very well to matters of absolute morality. It presupposes imperfect ethical constructs converging towards an absolute good, or rather, a positive moral vanishing point. It expects violent disagreement, but not renunciation of the goal. At least as I understand it - my Hegel is all third-hand. As I understand the dialectic, it would apply to a CoW thesis and a Scooby antithesis with some final compromise being the synthesis.
Aaargh, I'm actually very weak on both Hegel and Kierkegaard ….But now my interest is piqued by that second problem. Where the hell is my copy of "Fear and Trembling"?

Ack, my mistake. I should have said the Third Problem, not the Second. The Second Problem is a little tedious, with lots of obscure beardmutterings about "knights of faith.
Oh, actually, the Kant/Einstein thing is not that simple. Because Kant's space/time intuitions are empirical, not intellectual. We may be able to conceptualize time and space in a way he never envisioned, but that doesn't mean we can actually perceive or experience them differently than we already do. The only way to definitively disprove his argument would be for someone to actually travel at relativistic speeds and tell us whether his perceptions were significantly different.

Hmm. I took his description of time and space as conditions of perception to distinguish them from actual empirical evidence, or the products of perception. He insists that time and space must be prior conditions for the act of perception to occur. If both time and space can be intuited from empirical evidence in a manner contradictory to surface appearance (as the Mercury measurements and a whole raft of secondary Relativistic experiments have done), then the idea that time and space are transcendental is bunk. It's roughly equivalent to privileging our human perception, isn't it? Although I've seen some of the crazier quantum theorists and hard-SF writers pull that very trick on a neo-Heisenburgian basis - the argument that conscious perception literally collapses the universe into a determinate state.
So how would divination work in the absence of divine inspiration? Hey, see, the two words are even etymologically related.

Yes, but a few threads back, someone decided that just because good is obviously derived from god, it doesn't necessarily follow. Call it etymological anti-determinism. As for divination in the absence of divine inspiration or will - call it an act of supernatural or preternatural perception. The sage observes the fall of a leaf, and in that pattern sees the greater pattern of the fall of man, or some such thing. Of course, everybody insists that Cordelia's visions are Divinely inspired, but they're a different order of divination from the long-haul Sam's Club size prophecy that I'm talking about.

February 19,2001 9:29:29 PM EST

One way to interpret the space/time intuitions (without getting too technical) is as a filter for sensory experience which effectively constitutes a "perceptual prison" (to paraphrase Lakatos' reference to the categories as a "conceptual prison". Or was it Popper? Whatever). In other words, we can only experience space and time (through our senses, that is) as we do now, regardless of how they truly are. Or whether they exist at all, since we are kinda' talking idealism with Kant. Now, there's no question that Kant intended for his argument to mean more than this (for example, that Newtonian space was a priori), and I agree that relativity makes bunk of all of that. But this is the part that still stands for me. Until such time when someone actually perceives (sensorially - oh, look, I coined another word!) space/time differently.

Ach, the act of perception collapsing the wave function...

Sounds like we're saying more or less the same thing about Hegel, though. Of course, since neither of us really knows what we're talking about... where's alkibiadhs?

And that must be some helluva pattern for someone to see it in such detail hundreds of years ahead. Exactly how old were those prophecies anyway?

February 19,2001 9:41:36 PM EST

Wow. I'm having trouble understanding half of what you guys are saying. And me with a Philosophy for Dummies book.

February 19,2001 10:38:01 PM EST

Oops, I must've missed your post earlier.

quote: I mean, there's something slightly fucked about asking a teenage girl to forgo any kind of existance beyond slaughter and an early death.
Yeah, but what if it's for the greater Good? Hmm, I'm not sure about free-will in the Hegelian context, if that's what you meant by "freedom of individualism". I seem to remember something about the individual will necessarily coinciding with the rational principles and laws governing the universe.

That's it, between this and mid-terms, I'm brain-dead. Thanks for the laugh: TV commercials with nihilistic sensibilities, indeed!

February 20,2001 01:29:57 AM EST

Butterfly- I agree with you. I see now why I majored in Math instead of Philosophy. I think well, I just like a world where there is only one right answer. Ask 100 people what they think of the nature of evil, and you'll get 100 answers.

I think I'll go play with my calculator now.

Fool IV
February 20,2001 08:11:47 AM EST

Yeah, we're in agreement on the time & space "perceptual prison" angle - it follows naturally from the Kantian proposal, once you decipher it from the jargon. "Sensorially", heh. Almost as funny as this online translation of Critique of Pure Reason where the translator insists on using the term "sensibility" to mean "perception". It makes me a) think of Jane Austen and b) confuse it with aesthetic sense, which I'm pretty sure Kant didn't mean.

Ach, the act of perception collapsing the wave function...

yup, favored widget of hard-SF fantasists since 1983, at least. Hmm, I was warned to not use ellipses for rhetorical purposes, which is annoying because they're one of my favorite punctuations - ever so much evocative than a vanilla dash.

And that must be some helluva pattern for someone to see it in such detail hundreds of years ahead.
Exactly how old were those prophecies anyway?

Written over a couple hundred years, starting some thousand years ago, if I remember correctly. And that's the neat thing about a discernable Dao. It would mean that Enlightenment would naturally result in omniscience. Of course, it would also follow that the Enlightened one would have absolutely no inclination to do anything about everything s/he saw, which kind of negates the possibility of transmitted prophecy, but I guess you could postulate an imperfect samsara from which a less-than-perfect sage could take away some distorted inkling of the future.

February 20,2001 11:42:31 AM EST

Okay, my computer was being a bee-otch all day yesterday, so let's respond to some of this confusion.

Hegel I have read. But he is bloody impenetrable. Germans learn him translated into English, I'm not kidding. He doesn't use things like punctuation and his phrases are full of big words that don't mean anything except to him. That said, I *think* that his dialectic, while it probably doesn't work for morality as we want it to, can be *made* to do so by giving it the right spin. The spin I'm talking about: since morality is just whatever the answer to "how should we live?" is, anyone living is by default attempting to answer this question. Here I count vampires as being alive because, come on, they move and talk and stuff. So various beings have various takes on it, some of which are in violent disagreement. However, it is the synthesis which results (or could result) from these varying perspectives, which makes up that "moral vanishing point". But the thing is, none of the beings involved have to actually be trying to make moral progress. The synthesis will exist even if they don't think about it and/or don't want it to. That's why trying to make Hegel be wrong is such a bitch.

As for Kant...Manu I think got this point right. I want to stress the point a little; what's important isn't the specifics of what Kant thought the Categories of Reason were, but rather the *concept* of an a priori existing because of the uniformity of human subjectivity. And I don't think Einstein really challenges that; relativity is still a description of the way *every human being* would experience the world under certain conditions. So in my mind it really doesn't matter, although I've heard that objection before.

And I think all T.V. Commercials are inherently nihilistic, but that's just me.

Fool IV
February 20,2001 12:16:19 PM EST

alkibiadhs: I guess the whole Kant-subjectivity question comes down to whether vampires share the perceptual kinks that make human reason essentially universal. The perceptive criteria seem to be essentially alike - there's no textual evidence that Buffyverse vampires perceive time or space in any sort of esoteric fashion. There are comments made by new vampires to indicate either heightened senses or some sort of extrasensory perception. Recently, Angel has been hinting that this heightened perception is scent-based. Spike certainly needs to be able to sense humanity or demonic nature (consciously or unconsciously) for the chip to work as demonstrated. In talking about perceptive differentiation between vampires and humans, it either has to be this extrahuman acuteness, or else no difference whatsoever. Slayers are supposed to sense vampires in much the same way - if there's a perceptive divide between human and demonic, the Slayer's on the demonic side of the divide.

I guess what I'm saying is that the perceptive difference is a dry hole. The distinction has to be the particular interests driving the two species - inherent needs rather than perceptive matrix.

February 20,2001 12:53:24 PM EST

I am at once thrilled and terrified by this thread.

February 20,2001 2:06:40 PM EST

Fool IV:

This gets back to my original point about what Kant does to the Buffyverse. Kant's theory would mean that in order to become a good guy, Spike would have to be acting in ways that his particular form of sentience doesn't really allow him to make sense of. In other words, he would have to do some wacky existential puzzling to wear a white hat. If, on the other hand, Hegel is right (and I think that works better for this), all Spike would have to do is work out the synthesis between Buffy's morality and his old one, and start a new moral dialectic based on that. Wow, who knew this was so complicated, eh?

February 20,2001 2:26:35 PM EST

Fire bad. Tree pretty.

Fool IV
February 20,2001 4:50:41 PM EST

Ngh! Is there something about Kant's imperatives that I'm not grasping? We've been arguing the a priori aspects of perception, as described by Kant. I pointed out that there doesn't seem to be any particularly significant perceptual differences between vampires and humans that a Slayer wouldn't share in (ie, preternaturally acute sense). You mentioned "sapience". Vampiric thought-processes don't appear to be particularly divergent from humans. They can logic, reason, and recognize a dangerous situation and avoid it in much the same way as a human. They seem to share a common sense of humor.

The basic existential difference seems to boil down to animal drives rather than cognition. Y'all are better versed in Kant than I: where does animal nature come into his scheme of categorical imperatives?

I think where this is going is somewhere in the vicinity of a rationalized moral scheme that makes sense of a sentient predator that can prey on other sentients with absolutely zero moral compunction. Given that this description covers both Slayers and vampires, I think there's a clue in there somewhere.

Edited to add: this topic just makes me want to collate the ideas, translate them into German, and publish them as a paper entitled "Gedankenexperiment von das Nosferatu und die Schachterin". Hey, if the Germans are going to study Hegel in an English translation...

February 21,2001 12:30:32 AM EST

VERY nice point, Fool. I consider myself scathed by your reasoning.

However, I'm still going to argue with you because that's what I do. I thinkt he Kant thing boils down to "is the vampiric contempt for humans intrinsic to them?" because if it is, then it strikes me that it would be awfully hard for a Vampire to make friends with people; it would be somehow against their species-being, to use more 19-century terminology. But if vampires are basically a bunch of bigots, it makes sense to me that one (like Spike) who had repeated contact with people might lose this contempt and therefore stop being so "evil". That's all I'm saying.

Fool IV
February 21,2001 09:21:30 AM EST

Sorry about the tone of frustration in the last post. Yes, it boils down to "intrinsic structural difference" or species bigotry. The recent episode suggests the latter - there's this whole underclass wanting to eat the rich vibe right now. I'm not sure if it's real, or I'm just bitter and hallucinatory. :)

February 21,2001 12:09:50 PM EST

In an attempt to redirect so you guys don't get shut down:

Yes, one person's life for the greater good. But *Why?* a teen girl who already has so much to deal with in simply growing up?

Why can't TPTB call upon Officer Gary or Sargeant Slaughter? Why not Mr Kent from Smallville? Why is it one girl in every generation? Why not one woman?

Is the inherent innocence to a teen girl the necessary component? Is the struggle necessary because she IS so sensitive and vulnerable?

Buffy Philosophy Part II