On Liberty and Freedom of Speech.

We all value the liberties that America offers to all of us. We value the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly etc.. we believe that these liberties should be preserved and maintained at all cost. We have gone to wars to defend these liberties, and yet, we cannot deny that our government has at times taken our rights away without a sensible rationale behind it. There are many examples of this, like for instance when FDR ordered all citizens of Japanese descend into interment camps, some of whom had fought in WWI and gotten medals for their courage and sacrifice. This is but one of the instances in which our government has abused its powers. We should also mention the irrationality of the Red Scare, during the MacArthur Era, or the erosion of our rights with the Patriot Act, where the government decided to create “Freedom of Speech Zones” violating our right embedded in the first amendment of the Constitution, you know that part that says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion , or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” We have let our government take away our rights under the assumption that it was necessary to ensure our safety, the same government bailed out AIG and many other companies under the excuse that if we do nothing the economy was going to plunge into a deep depression. The same argument was used when our citizens were sent to interment camps, or when Lincoln decided to take away Habeas Corpus during the Civil War.

The rights and liberties contained in the first amendment are the bedrock of our society. What is more intrinsicly valuable than the right to express ourselves? From this right follow many others like freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. I doubt that any of us would be willing to live in a society where you are prohibited from talking to whomever you want, or worshiping to whatever deity you believe in (in my case, deciding not to worship at all) at any rate, we take these liberties as a given. We do not realize the danger that we would be in if our government were to take a more aggressive position, a more intrusive approach to our lives. The founding fathers knew the outlook of a society in which the government was able to do as it pleased. That is why they wrote the Bill of Rights, that is why we the King cannot take you and throw you in a jail without  due process (Guantanamo?) I don’t suspect that any of us thought that we would have to deal with these issues in the twenty first century, and yet we are. We have forgotten our spirit, we have become complacent and unwilling to fight intrusions infringing in our liberties. We need to reconsider our positions regarding our government; dissent cannot, should not, and must not be considered treason, it is through debate that we grow as a nation. Dissent is what keeps the enourmous power wielded by the government in check, which is why the government doesn’t like it. For these reasons, I think that every single square inch of the United States should be made a perpetual “Freedom of Speech” zone.Only good things can come out of that, if only all of us would engaged in a more deep analysis of our government and the way it is taking our liberties little by little we would realize that if we are not willing to fight for our rights, it is as if we don’t have those rights.

Thoughts on Poverty

Our society has a lot of good qualities, sadly, it also has some flaws. None of our flaws can compare to the inhumanity of social indifference towards the less fortunate members of our community: the poor. Poverty is one of the greatest social injustices that have plagued our system. Many of the current problems that we face as a society have their roots in poverty, things like selling and consumption of drugs, theft, violence, and assaults. All of these problems could be improved if we would only realize that we have a duty to give back to our society just as much as our society has given us, when we realize that giving tax breaks to the top 5% of our economic strata is not going to end poverty, that wealth is not going to trickle down to the most deprived members of our economic system. However, something that is even more terrifying is the fact that we have been desensitized to the horrors that poor people have to endure, we see them everyday wandering around in campus asking for spare change as we go on with our lives as if they didn’t exist. Our reaction to them is often one of distrust, as if poverty was a contagious disease, many times we go out of our way to avoid Mr. or Mrs. Homeless’ request for spare change. We seem to forget that they are humans just like us that they feel and breathe just like we do; on top of that we look at them and deem them dangerous while we are listening to our $300 IPod.

One of the things that have always amazed me about our country is its ability to produce massive amounts of wealth. However, one of the things that shock me about our dear county is our indifference to those who are unable to enjoy part of that wealth. Our arrogance has come to the point that we categorize those who are poor as “welfare bums” as Ronald Reagan so kindly put it. I understand the unwillingness of people to help homeless given that we think that opportunity is equal for everyone in America, I also understand the outrage that it causes people when those who are perfectly able to work or sustain themselves decide to live off food stamps and social security benefits, however, as much as I agree with the people in the anti-tax rally that was held last Saturday in front of the court in downtown , I also understand that there are those who have not had the opportunity to take home some of the wealth that our country produces.

We all hold up the Constitution as a sacred document, which if followed literally will ensure that our vision of justice and liberty will prevail. Our Constitution places ownership of private property at the very heart of our system of liberty. We value our libertarian approach to life, and we hold the belief that if one works hard, material rewards will naturally follow. Rather than vilify the rich, we hold them up as role models. This philosophy goes back to John Locke’s ideas of natural rights, which are life, liberty, and property, and our Calvinistic ideals of predestination which states that those who have been chosen by god will be “smiled upon” by god, and he will provide them with material wealth. When Jefferson was drafting the declaration of independence he changed that last part of the natural rights to “pursuit of happiness” so that we wouldn’t sound too materialistic. But what is happiness for us Americans? What is the American dream? This dream may have different meanings for a lot of people, but it usually means financial stability, your own house, a well-paying job, and making sure that your children will do better in life than you ever did, as Ted Turner once said, in America money is how we keep score.

Indeed, money is how we keep score in America, those of us who came to this country with nothing at all, with no knowledge of the language and who are able to pull themselves up from the bottom to a more stable financial situation are the examples that we use as evidence of how great America is. It does not surprise me then that we take our free market system as a given, that it flows naturally from the laws of supply and demand and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Therefore, it is natural to me that we are wary of our government, that we distrust any kind of government intervention, whether it shows itself as a regulator of the market, or a force for social equality makes no difference to us. We believe that we are the ones who should decide what to do with our money not government. Last Saturday at the anti-tax rally held here in downtown in front of the court I witnessed many of these beliefs there were picket signs that read “Capitalism works if you are willing to work” or “I believe in God, not in Congress”. I can pride myself in this: my family and I have never asked anything from the government other than financial aid for my brother’s and my college education, other than that we have worked hard to get to where we are right now. We came to America with nothing; we’ve only had the desire to do better than before and the idea that no job was a bad job. My mother and my dad are college educated people, my mother is a lawyer back in the country that we came from and my dad is a business administrator, they have always placed the value of education above anything else, and for these reasons they have struggled to provide us with the opportunity to get a good education so that later on in live we can do better than them. So, the argument is this: if my family like hundreds of others have been able to pull themselves from their bootstraps so can the homeless who “bums” around in McDonald’s, right?

What is the difference between the homeless and me? Well, none, at least none that is evident in the surface, but we forget that those who are poor most of the times are born in poverty. Even though our free market system has helped people like my family, and many others pull themselves out of utter poverty into productive members of society, our society continues to be marred by poverty and homelessness. A child born to a working class family, let alone to and unwed teenager in an inner city ghetto, has life prospects and possibilities that pale besides those of children born to wealthy, stock-owning parents. This raises the question whether the teenager in the inner city ghetto is responsible for being born into poverty or not. Definitely we cannot blame the girl for being poor, after all it was not her decision to be born in the first place, but, what do we do for her? Should we help her and risk the possibility that she might become another “welfare bum” who will live off our tax money? Or do we do nothing and risk the possibility that she might end up selling drugs and being a danger to society in general? Perhaps the free market will provide her with what she needs to pull herself out of poverty, or perhaps not. I doubt that a person who is only able to get a job as a janitor because he didn’t have the chance to study when he was young because his family was so poor that he or she had to drop out of school to help his or her parents put food on the table is completely responsible for being poor. This kind of thinking will get a lot of people, especially here in Florida, to call you socialist, or communist many times ignoring the differences between the two; add to that a disbelief in god and you have the perfect anti-American, but I digress, the point is that as a community we have been brought up to believe that poor people brought poverty upon themselves, that it is their fault that they are poor, not ours, and definitely not the free market’s fault. This is true to a certain extent, we are not responsible for the financial situation of someone we have no idea exist, but we do have the social responsibility to help those who are having a hard time in their lives, take for instance all the social programs that FDR put in place in the 1930’s , a safety net that lifted almost half of all senior citizens out of poverty, provide unemployment insurance for those who had lost their jobs, and provided modest welfare payments to the disabled and the elderly poor. Many fail to see that what FDR did actually helped capitalism survive, he understood that capitalism in a democracy needs the consent of the people, who would otherwise choose some sort of government managed economy if the dire conditions of the Great Depression had prevailed, as he would explain later in the 1940’s “People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made out of.”

We need to realize that by helping the poor we are helping ourselves. My position can be mistaken very easily for a communistic idea of what society should be like. However it is not, I don’t think that everyone should have an equal amount of wealth, I understand that a doctor will make more money than a janitor, and I agree that those who have worked hard for what they have should be rewarded accordingly to their service to society, a doctor is more valuable than a janitor and that is an axiomatic truth. However, I think that the janitor’s son should have the same opportunity that the doctor’s daughter would have of getting into Law school or Medical School, so that the cycle of poverty will be broken. I understand that poverty will never be completely erased from the face of this earth that would be a utopia; obviously when you look at human nature you realize that bringing about any sort of utopia is nothing but a dream. However, a society without poverty would only point to its greatness, it would show how prosperous the community is and how humane its inhabitants are. This society would be one in which economic disparity would be minimal, there will obviously be rich people and not so rich people, but at least everyone would have better living conditions which will allow the child born in a ghetto to rise up to become a productive member of society.

What is Truth

I don’t know if there is a philosophical question regarding truth, nor do I think many of us think of truth as something that can be questioned. The nature of truth itself eliminates the need to question it, because if something it’s true then it would be useless to question it given that it’s true. However, I think truth is subjective to every human. Take for instance a book review, let’s say that your friend read a book and she/he tells you : “This is a really good book”  this is a simple statement, she assures you that the book is a good read, and she believes this to be true. However, once you read the book you think that the book was awful. Was she lying to you when she told you that the book was good? No, was she telling the truth? Yes, in her mind she thinks that the book is good, and the goodness of the book is a fact. So, is truth subjective?   a definition of truth in a dictionary will tell you that truth is “Conformity with fact or reality;verity.” or “Actuality or actual existence,” and many other definitions along those lines.

But, I think that this makes my theory of the subjectivity of truth real. Reality is relative to each individual, like the example I provided earlier, where your friend thought that the book was good but you didn’t think that the book was good. Given that reality can (and most of the times is) relative to each individual truth can be relative to each person as well. If you tell me that the sky is green, and you were raised thinking that the sky is green you are telling me the truth. The fact that I presume to know that the sky is blue doesn’t make it a reality for you, more specifically, it doesn’t make it a reality for the person who has been raised to think that blue is green, or a daltonic person, who can’t differentiate colors. These are simple things that no one cares about, but imagine a person who believes everything she says (and we know that a lot of the things she says are lies) however, she believes her own lies, is she lying? perhaps, she is lying in our eyes, but in her own mind she thinks that all the things that she is saying are in fact true. Or take for instance a person whose reality differs from ours greatly (like an insane person or something like that) his reality is different for our own, despite that, he believes that everything that he sees and hears is true. So, at the end truth may be nothing more than something that is subjective to each person, just as reality is subjective to each person.  Remember that your senses could be fooled or that all of this is a dream, since you can only know that you were dreaming the moment you wake up (and have you ever had those dreams where you wake up within a dream?) so, if you can’t be sure that what you perceive as reality or that your brain is not in some jar where you senses are being stimulated through a machine, you cannot be sure that what someone is telling you is true or a lie.

At the end truth can only be subjective to each person, since you cannot know what the other person is thinking at the time he or she is making a statement. Reality is something that you can’t be sure of, given that it is also subjective to each individual. which leads me to conclude that truth,reality,and knowledge are things of which none of us can be 100% certain of.

What is the Meaning of Knowledge?

What is the meaning of knowledge? How can we define knowledge? First of all knowledge is a belief. You believe something therefore you think you know it. Christians will tell you that god is real and that they know that for a fact, but in reality they don’t know that, they just believe it to be true.We all know that believing in something doesn’t make it true, right? If I were to tell you that the world is the center of the universe and that I know that to be a fact just because I believe it to be doesn’t make the earth t center of the universe. So, besides a belief what else is knowledge?Well, knowledge is a true belief. If something is true and you believe it then you know it.However, how can you know if something is real or not? you need to have evidence to justify your belief in order for you to have knowledge; which leads us then to define knowledge as a justified true belief. But something can be justified and still not be true.

Take for instance  Gettier’s Job Seekers thought experiment: “Suppose that Smith and Jones have a applied for a certain job. And suppose that Smith has strong evidence for the following conjunctive proposition:

(d) Jone is the man who will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket.

Smith’s evidence for (d) might be that the president of the company assured him that jones would in the end be selected, and the he, Smith, ha counted the coins in Jones’s pocket ten minutes ago. Proposition (d) entails:(e) the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket.

Let us supppose that Smith sees the entailment from (d) to (e), and accepts (e) on the grounds of (d), for which he has strong evidence. In this case, Smith is clearly justified in believing that (e) is true.

But imagine, further, that unkown to Smith, he himself, not Jones, will get the job. And, also , unknown to Smith, he himself has ten coins in his pocket. Proposition (e) is then true, though proposition (d), from which Smith inferred (e) is false. In our  example, then, all of the following are true: (i) (e) is true,(ii) Smith believes that (e) is true,and (iii) Smith is justified in believing that (e) is true.But it is equally clear that Smith does not know that (e) is true; for (e) is true in virtue of the number of coins in in Smith’s pocket, while Smith does not know how many coins are Smith’s pocket, and bases his belief in (e) on a count of the coins in Jone’s pocket, whom he falsely believes to be the man who will get the job.”

Now, what does all of that mean?Well, It means that Smith knows that the person who will get the job is the person who has 10 coins in his pocket, he also knows that Jone’s has 10 coins in his pocket, which leads him to belive that Jones is the one who will get the job. However, he didnt check his pockets, and he has 10 coins, and on top of that HE is the one who gets the job. So, in other words he had a justified belief, but he didnt know because he didnt check his pockets.

So, if knowledge is not a justified true belief then what is it?  is it undefeated justified true belief as the defeasibility theory proposes? No, thre is another thought experiment  by Lehrer and Paxon that trumps that theory. I will not state the whole thought experiment but I will summarize it: Imagine that you go to the library and you see Tom (whom you happen to know very well) and Tom steals a book, so you report that you know that Tom has stolen a book, however, Mrs Garbit (who’s Tom’s mother) claims that that day Tom was not in the library , in fact, Tom was miles away but that his identical twin John was in the library that day.Now, imagine that you dont know that she has made those claims. Now, her claims would defeat any justification you might have for believing that Tom stole the book. Thus it cannot be said that you know that Tom stole the book. However, at the end we find out that Mrs. Garbit is a compulsive liar and that John never existed. So at the end you did know what you knew but, one simple piece of evidence defeated your original observation, the moment you doubt something then you dont know it, which is why this theory cannot define knowledge. There are two other theories of knowledge, but these other two arent what knowledge is either; they are defeated by two other thought experiments that I will not write because I’m not writting a text book I’m writting a blog. However I will define the theories and give you the names of the thought experiment so that you can see it and read them. The casual theory that states that knowledge is suitably caused true belief, and it’s defeated by  Goldman’s Fake Barn thought experiment, and the reliability theory that states that knowledge is reliable produced true belief, and it’s defeated by Lehrer’s Human Thermometer.

So, after all of that boring and long list of theories and defenitions what is knowledge? Well, we have one more theory that explains so far what knowledge is. That theory is the Explanationist theory, which states that knowledge is justified true belief that provides the best explanation for the justifying evidence. This theory defeats all other theories and thought experiments. So there you have it. I never thought I would have to write so much to define knowledge, but this blog tries to make you think about the things that you know (or think you know).  do you really know that the earth is round? have you seen it? have you seen the evidence? no, and yet you believe it and take it as knowledge. (yes, the earth is round and I know that you know that I know it….or do you?).

Atheist Morality

Many times I have heard this question: Where do atheists get their morality from? Without god or religion there is not way that you could behave in a moral fashion. This question is thrown around as if it was the epitome of Christian arguments for the existence of god. However, religion does not equals morality. In fact, there have been many occasions in which religion has been the reason behind many immoral acts (9/11, The Crusades, the inquisition etc…) at any rate, I will answer that question here.

Morality is behavior that has serious consequence for human well being. There are many theories defining the goodness or wrongness of an action. There are two main schools of thought relating to morality; the Consenquentialist, which states that an action is right or wrong depending in the outcome of the action itself,and the Nonconsequentialist, which states that an action is right or wrong depending on the action itself. There are many theories that subscribe to these two schools of thought. For the consequentialist we have the Utilitarian theory, which states that an action is right if it maximizes the happiness of the greatest majority of people. there are many arguments against this theory, but the main ones are these: Different people have different points of view, so in others words different people have different ideas of what make them happy. Second, are some actions that are wrong even if they produce good (like torture, supposing that the information extracted prevents some major tragedy). And the last one is that utilitarianism is unjust in the way happiness is distributed. Now, you may wonder what does all of this have to do with the morality of an atheist? Well, not much, however, this is to show you that there are different ways to determine whether your actions are wrong or right without the intervention of religion.

Now, to talk about my morality. I cannot speak for all atheists, so this is only related to me. Like I said before there is another school of thought regarding morality the Non-consequentialist. The best nonconsequentialist theory is the one by Kant. Kant’s view is that moral principles are categorical , and as a result, his moral theory has come to be known as the “categorical imperative.” A categorical imperative is one that must be obeyed under all conditions, for example: don’t steal, or don’t kill.  Kant’s theory consist of two formulations of the categorical imperative. The first formulation goes as follows, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  this means that you should only act on those principles that you would be willing to have everyone act on it. In other words the first formulation states that an action is right if everyone could act on it and you would be willing to have everyone act on it. The first formulation identifies with two criteria for moral acceptability: universalizability and reversibility. A principle has universalizability  if everyone can act on it. A principle has reversibility if the person acting on it would be willing to have everyone acting on it. The categorical imperative then establishes the existence of perfect duties to oneself and others. A perfect duty is one that has no exceptions. These include the duty not to kill innocent people, not to lie, and not to break one’s promises.

In addition to  perfect duties, there are also imperfect duties to oneself and others. An imperfect duty is one that does have exceptions. These include the duty to develop one’s talents and to help the needy. These don’t always have to be obeyed . It is enough that we sometimes obey them.

The second formulation of Kant’s theory says “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity…never simply as a means,but always at the same time as an end.” so, in other words Kant’s second formulation states that what makes an action right is that it treats people as ends in themselves and not merely as means to an end. That way you don’t use people for your selfish desires, like asking money for preaching or using religion as a cover for hate. However,Kant’s theory has some flaws, like the perfect duties. It may be the case that killing innocent people,lying, stealing,breaking promises, or the like, is always evil, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always wrong. to fix these flaws we have Ross’ theories. His theories are based mainly on  duties. He attempts to deal with the problem of the conflict of duties by distinguishing between actual and prima facie duties. An actual duty is one that we are morally obliged to perform in a particular situation. A prima facie duty is one that we are morally obligated to perform in every situation unless there are extenuating circumstances. So, killing is wrong, but if a criminal threatens your family and killing him is the only way to save them, then it’s  the right thing to do.

So, I have just told you where I get my morality from, without god or religion. Even if you dont agree with me, at least you will be more educated after you read this.

How do you know?

How do you know that the world is real? How do you know if the things that you touch,hear,or smell are real?
Your senses can be fooled, they can be altered and changed, they can be created by machines as well. Or all of this could be a dream ,have you ever had those dreams that you wake up within the dream? and to top it of, you don’t know that is it a dream until you wake up, which could happened within a dream, so how can you be absolutely certain of the world around you? the only thing that you can be certain of is that you exist, because you think. You know “I think therefore I am” the reason why is because your thoughts can’t be controlled by anything (they could be influenced,and guided certain way but not completely controlled). Given that, how do you know that you know? what is knowledge? how do you know that you know?

It is hard to know anything, most of our knowledge comes to us by our senses (reading books, listening to a lecture in class, watching some documentary in Discovery channel or something like that). Like I have said in another post truth  and reality are relative to each individual. We realize that this is real, in a court of law witnesses are the most unreliable evidence there is because flaws in the subjects memory, or his/her insincerity, but most important they are unreliable because of the subjects perception. For these reasons such statements must be subjected to a cross-examination and must be made in front of a jury or a judge. So, if this element of human nature in embedded in our legal system, it should also be considered by everyone of us. This leads me to conclude that what one person is saying maybe true in his reality or perception, but that doesn’t make it real or factual. Therefore, you should consider everything that is said to you, never assume that the things someone tells you are real (not even your parents, and especially not your teachers or professors). I guess that concludes this blog…

We are defined by others

you know, we are defined by others.
in some way or another, as a rejection of what they are or acceptance of what they are. We define ourselves as we define others, we categorize ourselves into groups, and if we dont fit those groups or conventions that society has created then we become rejects, or we are deemed ‘weird” as if the people that are condemning us are “normal” What is normal? what is it the things that we consider to be normal anyway? The things that society dictates that are normal? so to be normal you have to be a mindless drone following the pack and if you dare to be different you become and outcast? Why is it that we have come to depend so much on what people think about you? What do we fear? Do we fear isolation? is it because we need others to define ourselves? is it because our personalities depend on what we see in others? depending on what you see in others and accept or reject of them you become someone else.
so at the end of all what are we? Are we really a process? do we really change constantly, or are we just what others perceive as something that we aren’t anymore? We ourselves don’t realize whether we change or not, however, others do. So, if the self is a process that is always changing then only ones who realize that are others, and because of that we are defined by them.