Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Father the Philosopher

This essay by the daughter of philosopher Jonathan Adler is quite humorous.  Some of Jonathan Adler's views are a bit depressing--and I disagree about some of the implicit views of philosophy--but I invite the reader to read the whole thing.  Excerpt:

If the bed was here, if I touched it, lay down in it, walked away and came back, then it existed.
If it existed, then when I left for school and came back, it would still be there. If it was there today, then it would be there tomorrow. Right, Dad?
I touched the objects in the house. The bed and the Mickey Mouse light switch and the crumbling flower wallpaper. The Garbage Pail stickers. What about the office up in the attic? The porch? The sidewalk? I dashed over the slats, avoided the cracks.
My father smiled, pleased. “Well how can you know for sure? It's just like Descartes’s bad dream. What proves we’re not all living in a dream?”
Descartes's bad dream. What a lie. I bet Descartes loved his dream.
“Think about your first premise.”
“My first what?”
“Your first premise. Does it follow? If x, then p. Does touching something mean it exists? Are the conditions necessary and sufficient?”
* * *
If your father is a philosopher, then you should expect to lose many arguments. You will never lose “because life isn’t fair,” or because your dad “says so.” You will always lose on strict logical grounds.
For my friends and me, the best seats in my family’s station wagon were in the way-back. Sitting in the way-back, no parents could see us in the rearview mirror. When driving with friends, the absolute worst seat was in the front next to my dad. If I had to sit up there, then it was totally not OK for my friends to get the way-back.
But Adrianne and Christy widened their eyes when they asked him. "Can we sit in the way-back?"

I hated those faces. I knew what happened in the way-back. All the way at the other end of the station wagon, you make faces that are So Funny. You tell stories no one else is allowed to hear. By the time the car has stopped and you've piled out through the hatch, you two in the way-back are best friends and can forget about your friend who got stuck sitting in the way-front.
"Of course," my father said when they asked.
"NO Way!" I said. "That’s not fair. I can't sit back there, so they can't either."
"Who's going to sit back there if they don't?" my father asked.
"And where are you going to sit no matter where they sit?"
"In the front."
"So how is it not fair? The improvement of their situation in no one way worsens your situation. It is fair."
But my situation would be worsened. By the time we all got out of the car, I would be a blip in their collective, best friend memory.
"Adrianne. Christy. Get in the way-back. We're leaving."
And so I learned utilitarianism. The greatest good for the greatest number. The way-back for some, not for all.

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