Are you in control of yourself?

Like Dobby the house-elf from Harry Potter who was freed from his master and became able to recognize his own power and independence from his master, I am in control of myself and my actions but have been led to believe that I was being controlled by external influences. 

Dobby was never truly controlled by his master. Despite being ordered not to, Dobby disobeys his master and tried to warn Harry not to go to Hogwarts. In addition to this, immediately after being “freed” from the illusion of control, he uses his power to once again protect Harry and even attack his master. As children, we are heavily influenced by our families, friends, culture, and environments. As we grow up, we gain knowledge and experience that leads to us uncovering the truth that we were never really controlled by these factors. While we often choose to conform to these influences, we recognize that we have an equal amount of power to overstep and violate these expectations. 

An objection to this argument is that both Dobby and I are never really outside of the control of our masters and external experiences/influences. While Dobby may have acted in ways that he felt was of his own free will, those actions were largely determined by the experiences he has had, while being under the control of his master. Even when Dobby is “released” and “freed”, he is only acting in ways that he understands and that makes sense to him. He may be defiant and resist previously acceptable behavior, but these new behaviors are a product of those experiences. So, it seems that Dobby is still under the control of his master like the way that I am still the influenced by the beliefs of my parents and culture. This idea implies that we are always being controlled by our past, which would suggest that determinism is true. To counter this objection, however, even though Dobby is influenced by his past experiences, he is still able to change, grow, and act independently. As Dobby grows more mature, he gains independence from his past experiences and is able to act in ways that better suit his own desires.

While events occur around us that suggest the world is deterministic, according to Dennet, this does not necessarily mean we are being controlled. It is true that our environment plays a role in shaping and influencing us, but it does not actively control us. The environment does not have its own desires or intellectual capacity to make decisions or know what will happen next. We are in control of our own actions.

Please note: This writing was discussed and co-written with Erica and Finley for a philosophy assignment at UVic 🙂

Does Epicurus have the cure?

One of my strongest desires is to travel, live abroad, and experience new cultures. Epicurus would argue that this desire is an unnecessary luxury and will not likely lead to a happy and pleasurable life. Epicurus argues that to live a happy life we must learn to be content with as little as possible and not have strong, unnecessary desires. He argues that pursuing unnecessary desires will lead to anxiety, suffering, and disappointment. While I generally agree with this and aim to live accordingly, some desires and pursuits (such as travel and higher education) are worthwhile because they provide long term, consistent happiness and tranquility, that far outweighs any short-term pains and discomforts. In my experience, travel has led to significant pain and discomfort. I worked overtime for many months, did not eat healthy foods to save money, became anxious about traveling to foreign countries, slept in uncomfortable hostels, and got very sick while abroad. Despite this, travel has led to a tremendous amount of personal growth, wisdom, unwavering gratitude for life and opportunities, provided insight into new cultures, philosophies, long term friendships, and helped me learn to enjoy each moment. Effectively, travel has led to wisdom that I could not have developed anywhere else, more comfort in the life that I have, and taught me how to live with more tranquility. The benefits of travel have far outweighed any drawbacks that have come from it. While more tranquility may have been possible without the strong desire and pursuit of travel, following this advice would have led me to live with more ignorance, less wisdom, less empathy, and less curiosity. Additionally, these values may be equally as important as happiness, and long-term tranquility/happiness may not be possible without them. While I agree that it would be wise to eliminate strong, unnecessary desires for material success and most things in life, values such as travel, pursuing philosophy, and learning have benefits that far outweigh the negative consequences. If Epicurus had followed his own advice, he may have pursued his passionate desire to write and educate the world about philosophy.

Do we have an ethical duty to be agnostic about the existence of Zeus?

Clifford would argue that we have an ethical duty to investigate the existence of Zeus because without evidence, believing in Zeus leaves us open to creating mistruth. People should be agnostic (or even go further to be atheist) about Zeus because of the lack of supporting and contradictory evidence to his existence. It is said that Zeus rules and lives on Mount Olympus in Greece. The fact that Mount Olympus is a real mountain means that we should be able to go to verify that he actually lived there. Since we have yet to verify any proof of his existence on Mount Olympus, it raises a question for concern. Zeus is said to control lightning which we know is not the case and is caused by other environmental factors. If we believe in Zeus, then we must also believe in the other gods that he interacts with in the many Greek mythology stories. We should have even more evidence to support the fact that all those gods exist, but we do not. And modern science has disproved many claims of their existence. By being believing Zeus’ existence, it leaves us open to being biased about other aspects of life which opens the door to judging people around us without solid evidence. If we easily believe in claims such as Zeus is real, we easily give people power to fabricate misinformation. We fuel liars to spread fallacious claims because we believe anything that gives reassurance to our immediate comfort. Because there is insufficient evidence to support his existence and we can verifiably deny claims about his abilities, it is our duty to be agnostic about the existence of Zeus.

James would argue that it is not necessarily an ethical duty to be agnostic about the existence of Zeus because there is no concrete evidence against his existence. If there is no evidence that means that we must use our passional nature to decide whether or not to believe in the existence of Zeus. Similar to how we can’t dismiss the existence of a Christian God, and that a person may receive positive upshot from believing, Zeus is no different. If a person receives benefit, whether happiness, sense of direction in life, comfort or community support from this belief, then it is justified. In the case that we do not have solid evidence, then it is up to each individual to decide for themselves. In addition, although Zeus may not currently live on Mount Olympus, that does not mean that he never did and that we don’t have proof. By assuming that evidence does not exist, we are closing ourselves off to possible future evidence.

What is Personal Identity?

Although we often imagine our own identities as our bodies and thoughts, Miller makes a strong case that, despite this, our bodies are not the same as our personal identities. Miller explains that we are able to judge our personal identities without having to examine or judge our bodies. We are able to close our eyes, remain fully conscious, and remain aware of all of our thoughts and everything that exists around our identities. If we can judge our personal identities without examining our bodies, then our personal identities and bodies must exist separately. If they exist separately, then there is no correlation between the two and thus they are not the same. Miller’s argument is valid, because if all of the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true. The soundness of Miller’s argument could come into question by examining whether our bodies and personal identities do in fact exist separately. One could make the case that because our bodies (our brains) are the actors that create our identities, then the two cannot be separated. While this is an interesting point of discussion, we often use our bodies to create things that exist outside of ourselves. We can build houses, write novels, and plant trees. All of those externalities do not become apart of us. Therefore, it is equally possible that our identity exists as a creation of our bodies, and are not our bodies themselves.