William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Caring Is Killing Us: What’s Wrong With Benevolence by David Stove

This review ran last August, but because of pressures of work and the relevance this important book has to our upcoming elections, it’s time for another look. Regular posts resume soon.

What’s Wrong With Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment by David Stove

Edited by Andrew Irvine
Forward by Roger Kimball

Half the harm that is done in the world
Is due to people who want to feel important.
They don’t mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them.
Or they do not see it, or they justify it
Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle
To think well of themselves. ——T.S. Eliot (The Cocktail Party)


This will not be a book your progressive friend will buy for himself. Thus in the true spirit of benevolence, you must buy it for him and, as an additional service to humanity, circle all the naughty bits so that they are easier to find. And there are plenty of them. Your progressive friend may think this is the smuttiest book since Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Benevolence is a virtue, one that has been riding at the top of the progressive charts since the eighteenth century. The idea that all that matters is the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” triumphed

partly by the elimination of rival candidates. It laughed or shamed almost every other virtue out of court. The “monkish virtues,” as it called such things as humility, chastity, and obedience, were the principal victims. But the military virtues (such as courage), the feudal virtues (such as loyalty), the patriarchal virtues, the feminine virtues, and others all suffered the same fate.

Benevolence is the attitude of deep caring and smug self-satisfaction that allowed, for one example from a near infinite number, marketer Kenneth Cole to issue the advertisement “What’s wrong with shoeing the homeless?” and think it a rhetorical question.

What’s wrong with it is that if you give “relief” to those that are poor, by programmatically and coercively taking from those that are not, and thus also creating an administration to store and allocate these confiscations, you do one (temporary) benevolent thing, but at least three harmful things.

The benevolent thing is easily seen: the poor person who receives the shoes, bread, house, video games, car, shopping cart, clean needles, etc., etc. is obviously immediately better off than before he had these things. It is that immediate and visible change of circumstance with which the benevoloent credit themselves and which fills them with pride and self congratulation.

But the harm that is caused, which as Eliot says the benevolent do not see or in which they are not interested, is far greater. First, it encourages those that are not poor to think that they needn’t work as hard as they otherwise would, because they have a “safety net” waiting to catch them. Those that are receiving “relief” are scarcely have the impetus to better themselves. “Widespread poverty cannot be relieved from the outside and, therefore, can relieved (if at all) only by industry, self-reliance, and prudence of the poor themselves.”

Of course, it is sickening to modern ears, in fact absolutely intolerable, to hear talk of “industry,” “improvidence,” “idleness,” or the like. In 1989, not one person in fifty can hear such words without shame and indignation.

Second, the money that is taken from those that earned it are worse off (but, we are told, they can “afford it”). Except that the money that was theirs is now in the hands of the government and not allowed to circulate in the hands of citizens. This always and necessarily contributes to economic stagnation.

And not all the “rich” are rich. The taxes taken from those who are just above poor (but not officially poor) necessarily make these marginal people poorer (by taking money from them and from reducing the amount that could have been given to them by the richer job creators), and thus they are likely to become officially poor, which a good many of them do. These new people added to the welfare rolls were caused to be put there by benevolence. And there many of them will stay. The “gap” between the rich and poor necessarily increases under the welfare state (these are not necessarily the same people as under the welfare state). These are outcomes which “could easily have been predicted in advance by anyone who possessed elementary knowledge of human nature, and who was not blinded by benevolence.”

This negative feedback was first identified by Thomas Malthus in his argument against the Poor Laws, a form of official government benevolence not unlike our current welfare policy and corporate “bailouts.” Malthus insisted that the fraction of the populace on the poor roles must increase and that the taxes paid by those not yet there must also increase. All this came to pass, exactly as predicted. But even though it was perfectly obvious that it must happen, it mystified the benevolent, who sought (and still seek) to pin the blame everywhere but on themselves. For them, it is axiomatic to them that possessing a love for humanity (but rarely individual humans) could not cause harm.

Which brings us to the third consequence of benevolence: an increase in government, coercion, control, mindless bureaucracy. Which, we now know, when unchecked leads to death camps, broken families and loneliness, mass starvations, gulags, coercion, firing squads, and glowing reports in the New York Times. Community or equality of property is ever promised to lead a betterment of mankind, but which in fact always leads to a worsen-ment of actual people.


Given that, in democracies, people tend to elect those who promise them the most, and given the experience of government growth in Europe and the United States, we can ask how likely is it that terror governments like those that arose in China and Russia will occur in the West.

Francis Fukuyama famously predicted that we are at the “End of History”, in the sense that all Enlightened people agree that liberal democracy is the last word in governance, that no superior system exists or can exist. But how can that belief be reconciled with the observation that the West is sliding towards “enforced” (a redundant term) socialism? Why are our intellectuals not frightened by this?

All of us Enlightened (or so near to all of us as to make no difference) still share the Enlightenment’s estimate of benevolence as the highest virtue. We are all enthusiasts for the relief of poverty and the equalization of wealth. We are all still, on balance, enemies of the bourgeois family. In addition, we all know that the communists, at bottom, are impelled by benevolence, and are even firmer friends to equality of wealth than we are, and firmer enemies of the bourgeois family. How, then, could communism not be an object of indestructible goodwill among us Enlightened?

Yet the Chinese willingly gave up a fraction of power when they allowed ordinary citizens to run their own businesses. All within narrowly proscribed limits, of course, and limits which are sometimes tightened and sometimes loosened in a whimsical fashion. But it remains true that some power was ceded.

The Soviet Union collapsed, Vietnam saw the light of freedom, and the feeling in Cuba is that once old man Castro dies “change we can believe in” will finally occur.

Stove sees these as “wobbles” in the inexorable course towards totalitarianism. The Soviet Union did collapse, but because it was exhausted in its battle with countries that were still free and not because the nomenklatura saw the folly of benevolence. So what happens when the enemies of totalitarianism cease to be enemies and embrace it? Stove says, “I do not think the welfare state will be dismantled, and still less that communism will be. Indeed, I think that both communism and the welfare state will continue to grow.”

Further, the welfare governments of the West

are elected by universal adult franchise; but an electorally decisive proportion of the voters—in some countries, approaching a quarter—either is employed by government or is dependent to a significant extent on some welfare program. In these circumstances it is merely childish to expect the welfare state to be reduced, at least while there is universal suffrage. A government that did away with free education, for example, or socialized medicine simply could not be re-elected. Indeed, it would be lucky to see out its term of office.

The only things holding up back from falling over the cliff immediately are two things: innovation, which must slow the more control government assumes, and birth control (abortion and contraceptives), which slows the growth of number of the poor. But only to a point: many of those unborn would have contributed to innovation and to the taxes which pay for the services to the elderly. A demographic crunch point is coming to countries like Italy, Japan, Ireland, and the remaining PIGS where there will be too many people to be taken care of and not enough people to do the caring.

What should we, the non-benevolent, do? Stove recounts finally the story of a solitary Indian in a canoe fishing miles upstream from Niagra Falls.

Despite all his local knowledge, he makes some slight misjudgment of time, or wind, or water, and finds himself surprised by the current. For hours he puts forth all his strength in trying to reach the shore, but long before the fatal event itself, he passes a point at which his diminishing strength, and the increasing strength of the current, make further resistance vain. He then ships his paddle, lights his pipe, and folds his arms.

In the circumstances, those are the actions of a rational man. Similarly, in my opinion, the world-current of Enlightenment benevolence is now so strong, and we have been launched upon it for so many years, that we passed the point of no return a long time ago, and will, if we are rational, emulate the Indian in the story.

Stove was an old man when he wrote that, while your author is (relatively) young. So I say fight the current.


Stove did not finish this essay before his death. Readers familiar with his other work will notice the lack of polish, and even a few rough spots in his argument, flaws which Stove never allowed. If this review convinces you to buy and read the book, consider that real treasure awaits you in Stove’s other writings. I cannot recommend strongly enough that any scholar of statistics, probability, and philosophy of science should buy immediately The Rationality of Induction (the second half of that book is about probability and logic). General readers will want to grab at least On Enlightenment and Against the Idols of the Age (edited by Kimball); both are collections of essays.

Fully half the current book is taken up by an extensive bibliography of Stove’s writing. What a tremendous boon for Stove scholars! (I’m thrilled to have this.) But how off-putting to those who have never heard of the man. Let’s hope that Mr Kimball and Encounter Books consider bringing out Stove’s essay in a broadside, a format re-embraced by that company, after sales of the hardcover flag.

Read Stove while you are still allowed.

A Priest And A Reporter Walk Into A Bar — A Mini Play In One Act

PLAYERS: Father Quinn, in uniform. A Bartender, Murphy, in uniform. A reporter, Bradford, looking hip. Other patrons may be added as set dressing, but who are not necessary.

SCENE: A bar in midtown Gotham. A bartender hovers while a priest sits sipping the water of life. A reporter from the newspaper of eminence walks in. The reporter recognizes the priest.

Bartender Murphy Runnin’ low there, Father? Let’s top ‘er off.

Father Quinn I think, no, Mr Murphy, sir, no. I’ve overstayed my welcome I believe.

Murphy continues to pour.

Quinn Perhaps just a small one. Evening mass is still many minutes distant.

Murphy On the house.

Quinn God bless you. I—

Bradford (sidling up; talking over Quinn) It’s Father Quinn, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. Jim Bradford. Reporter from the paper? We met when I covered that, uh, unfortunate…business.

Quinn (shaking hands) Ah, Mr Bradform, yes. Of course I remember.

Bradford I thought I’d recognized you. And it’s Bradford, sir.

Quinn So you recognized me. My mother always did say I had the face of angel. Bradford, did you say? Yes, I remember you well. What was that you wrote? “This scandal surely spells the doom of the Catholic church”?

Bradford Well, uh, yes. Something like that.

Quinn In a hurry, are you? Sit down, Mr Bradford. Have a stool.

Bradford (sitting, glancing at his watch) I was to meet someone here for an interview. But he didn’t show.

Quinn Mr Murphy, sir. Three swallows for the gentleman.

Murphy splashes out a generous measure.

Bradford And what brings you here, Father?

Quinn I was commiserating with a brother brother, in a manner of speaking. The minister of St. Mundus’s Episcopal church, may she rest is pieces.

Bradford St. Mundus? Over on 44th? Didn’t I read that they’d turned it into a suite of apartments?

Quinn And so they will. With no possibility of a reprieve. No. This was their last week. After this, they are no more.

Bradford Well—no surprise. No, uh, disrespect, father. You know what I mean.

Quinn As to the fact of the matter, Mr Bradford, I do not know what you mean.

Bradford Hadn’t they lost all their parishioners? It’s not exactly a rare complaint these days, is it? Not cheap to keep a building like that going when no one’s putting envelopes in the Sunday baskets.

Quinn Ah, but it’s why the seats go empty. They needn’t have done.

Bradford Well, Father, no disrespect. But it’s happening all over. I mean, this is just one more example of many. If this trend continues every church will be turned into a boutique or apartment. I’ll tell you, though: I agree that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Quinn Is that so? And what suggestions have you for us?

Bradford It’s not my place, really.

Quinn Your shyness does not become you, sir. Come, we are all men here—are we not Mr Murphy?

Murphy I wouldn’t know, Father. My wife doesn’t let me talk about those things in public.

Murphy tips out more for Bradford; Quinn blocks his glass with his hand.

Bradford If you wouldn’t be so resistant to change. Take women priests.

Quinn Don’t tempt me with obvious retorts, sir. They aren’t becoming in a man of the cloth.

Bradford And it isn’t just your stance toward choice, which I grant you is a difficult position to overcome. But you don’t have to change it, you see. It’s more a matter of understanding that your own members don’t—and won’t; that’s the key—share the views of hierarchy. You can’t turn back the clock by holding onto the past. Not only choice, but even something as basic as contraception. Everybody uses it, yet you try to ban it.

Quinn Now we are getting somewhere. Let’s don’t stop here; let’s have it all.

Bradford No disrespect, of course.

Quinn Heaven forfend!

Bradford Well, I don’t think you see the contradiction in your stance toward marriage rights. You can’t be for social justice and against equality. People have the right to marry whomever they wish. It’s the same thing with openly gay and lesbian priests. If only you’d—

Quinn —And isn’t that how we first met?

Bradford What’s that?

Quinn Never you mind. Mr Murphy!

Murphy does his deed.

Bradford Sexuality in general is problematic. We have learned so much these last fifty years. We can’t go back to the way it was. I mean we, the public. But not the Church. They speak of sexual matters like ill-informed school boys. That’s what comes of a celibate priesthood! Um…no disrespect intended.

Quinn Of course not.

Bradford And this is all on top of your official stance towards science. Anti-science. It just isn’t on, you see. Science already answers the big questions. Dogmatism is of no use in explaining the big band. Big bag, I mean. Bang! Evolution describes the human condition. People won’t tolerate talk of miracles in the Twenty-First Century. Loaves and fishing, indeed.

Murphy eyes Bradford suspiciously, considers, then pours again, but only a half measure.

Quinn The count is up to twenty-one, is it?

Bradford What’s that?

Quinn Skip it. Time for a recapitulation. You think that if the Church were to ordain women priests, allow male priests to marry, embrace homosexuality and bless anybody who wants to marry, that we’d be more attractive?

Bradford Well, yes.

Quinn That if we’d loosen up and cease lecturing people about sleeping with whomever they would, give the nod to contraception since we can’t stop them anyway, and admit that abortion is sometimes superior to the burden of having a child, then people would look upon us with a kinder eye?

Bradford Something like that, yes.

Quinn And if we’d concentrate on social justice—see to it that everybody had a free cellphone and the like—instead of harping on miracles, sin, and eternity, that we might even see a glowing article on How The Church Has Grown appear in your paper?

Bradford Father, this is it. You would appeal to a much broader audience, one who would find your message acceptable.

Quinn Then what would be left of the Church? Except for the candles, how could anybody tell us apart from, to pick an example, your favorite political party?

Bradford Well, some people still find ritual—

Quinn —But we don’t have to guess, do we? No, sir. For all these changes you advocate, and more; all have been tried, each has been embraced, and warmly. The experiment has already been run.

Bradford And where’s that, Father?

Quinn Why, at St. Mundus’s, of course.

Bradford (rising) I need to find the men’s room.

Murphy (stepping over, invoking the cliché of polishing a glass) Who is that guy, Father?

Quinn I fear, Mr Murphy, that he is our future. If we aren’t careful.


Debate Thread: “Where Was This Romney Before?” Always There

Al Sharpton reacts to last night’s debate

Chris Matthews looked as though he saw the men with the nets coming for him, the tingles evidently having traveled from his leg and lodging in his frontal cortex. An astonished Bill Maher tweeted that, gee, this Obama fellow appears to need a teleprompter to speak coherently.

On MSNBC, Al Sharpton’s noggin resembled Thunder, the third Fury, who at the end of Big Trouble in Little China just realized his master Lo Pan lay dead. Rachel Maddow could do no better than echo the fans of the team that just lost the World Series, when she said Mr Obama should have won because he is the better man.

Mr Obama himself was reduced to pulling out a preprepared joke on Donald Trump—-Donald Trump!, for all love—a quip so bad that it landed with a squish and which everybody immediately pretended never happened.

Yes, overall it went well for the forces of Good.

But here’s the curious thing. This morning we hear voices aplenty saying, “Where was this Romney hiding?”, “Who is this guy?”, “Why hasn’t he acted like this before?” and the like.

My dears, the Romney of last night was the Romney of last week, and of last week, and the Romney we will have next debate. So why the widespread misperception? The only change was last night we saw him without his ever-present media filter.

Strike that: no. Without most of his media filter.

Did you, like everybody else, feel that Romney ran away with the microphone and dominated the airtime? That he went way over his alloted time? Not so. In fact, Mr Obama held the floor four to six more minutes than Romney, a substantial margin. How could this be?

Jim Lehrer did his best to interrupt Romney several times, pestering him with small questions, an act he tried only once with Obama.

In this debate, the mainstream media was forced to watch from the sidelines, and silently, too—although from watching Twitter you formed the idea that one of them was going to be like that guy in the crowd who saw an opposing player running unimpeded for a touchdown and who burst forth onto the field to tackle the ball carrier.

We weren’t bothered by Lehrer’s standard technique because he was one lone man, and a feeble one, too. If this debate would have been structured so that a panel of media sat in magisterial judgment (their usual pose), they would have peppered Romney with questions like, “Why is Mr Obama the best president we’ve ever had?” and then cut him off before he could finish a sentence.

This was the real Romney. This is the man the public were finally allowed to see. What will be the effect?

Update More proof of the conjecture: journalists of the left are pummeling Lehrer for not “controlling” the debate better, i.e. shutting Romney down and bolstering Obama.

Update Corrected time spent by Obama talking; there are various estimates. All say Obama had more minutes.


Also see this.

Scientists: GOP Women More Feminine Than Dems

Science! Unadulterated, peer-reviewed, glorious science! What else but science could have provided this picture, which was taken whole from the University of California press release on the shocking new scientific, peer-reviewed, wee-p-valued paper The GOP has a feminine face? I’ll tell you: nothing.

Here are the main “findings”, which “are forthcoming online in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Social Psychology”:

“Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker’s voting record,” said lead author Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.

What’s worse—it makes you weep, but this is science—is this:

Female politicians with less stereotypically feminine facial features were more likely to be Democrats, and the more liberal their voting record, the greater the distance the politician’s appearance strayed from stereotypical gender norms [emphasis mine].

The study worked like this: participants rated pictures of both Right women and those women Not Right from the House of Representatives, and found that Right women matched “stereotypical gender norms” while Not Right women appeared to take their makeup cues from Rosie O’Donnell. Indeed, “the relationship is so strong that politically uninformed undergraduates were able to determine the political affiliation of the representatives with an overall accuracy rate that exceeded chance, and the accuracy of those predications increased in direct relation to the lawmaker’s proximity to feminine norms.”

Wait. Politically uninformed undergraduates? Never mind.

Since this is science, peer-reviewed science, published in a leading journal, and evincing small p-values, the findings are indisputable. They are true. They cannot be questioned. There must be a consensus. Nevertheless, I, being by nature untrusting and rebellious, decided to test the theory on new data.

A Republican Rosa DeLauro?

Using a sophisticated computer algorithm1, I therefore reconstructed Ms Rosa DeLauro’s image, assuming she first registered as a Republican and not a Democrat. Although the sample size is small, those polled rated this simulation as more “stereotypically feminine” than Ms DeLauro’s original image.

With this independent experiment providing the verification, I am therefore convinced the original findings are true.

Said study co-author Kerri Johnson, “[A]ssessing how much a face reflects gender norms may be one way of guessing political affiliations.” But just what are the keys to gender norms? Such things as “the shape of the jaw, the location of eyebrows, the placement of cheek bones, the shape of eyes, the contour of the forehead, the fullness of the lips.” Compare for example each of these dimensions between the original and the converted Rosa DeLauro.

The big question is of course why Not Right women are so radically distant from feminine norms.

“The Democratic Party is associated with social liberal policies that aim to diminish gender disparities, whereas the Republican Party is associated with socially conservative policy issues that tend to bolster traditional sex roles,” Johnson said. “These policy platforms are manifest in each party’s image — apparently also in the physical characteristics exhibited by politicians.”

I think we can agree that the woman in the image presented by the scientists as their exemplar for a Democrat has indeed diminished gender disparity to the fullest extent possible. Further evidence is easy to have. Simply compare, for example, females in sympathy with pro-abortion causes versus pro-life women (examples here and here). Or women who are for Mr Obama versus those for Mr Romney (here and here).

Now, as is somewhat well known, most men, crude creatures that they are, prefer to mate with females with stereotypically feminine features. Whether our universities can correct this obvious bias is a separate question. For now we are left with its consequences, which are that Republican women, because they possess what men want in greater proportion than Democrat women, have an easier time marrying and reproducing.

Therefore, if there is anything to this genetics business, we should in time see many more Republicans than Democrats. It’s science!


1Modified from a coupled GCM kindly supplied by my pal Gav Schmidt.

Thanks to Juan Ramirez who alerted me to this most important topic.

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve—Update: Solved!

Surfing the internet is the wrong metaphor. Surfing is to skillfully ride a wave for thrills towards a destination. Aimlessly clicking enticing headlines in an effort to avoid responsibility and delay labor is better called drifting, to keep the watery theme.

Anyway, drifting the ‘net as I was, I came across i09 and their piece 8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve. It is important to note that this article was written on 24 September of this year.

I can report to you that in the week since its publication, the questions have been solved. Here are the questions, i09’s head-scratchings, and the correct answers.

1. Why is there something rather than nothing?

Why is there all this stuff in the universe, and why is it governed by such exquisitely precise laws? And why should anything exist at all…as Sean Carroll notes, “Nothing about modern physics explains why we have these laws rather than some totally different laws, although physicists sometimes talk that way — a mistake they might be able to avoid if they took philosophers more seriously.” And as for the philosophers, the best that they can come up with is the anthropic principle — the notion that our particular universe appears the way it does by virtue of our presence as observers within it — a suggestion that has an uncomfortably tautological ring to it.?

Funnily enough, i09 had the answer embedded right in their question. It’s obvious why the missed it, too. The answer is uncomfortable for us Enlighteneds.

Now we can say that God created everything, which is true and which answers the question, but we cannot saw why He did so. To suggests God loves us, while correct, is not to answer the question, but to push it back one level further, for why would God love creatures who drift the ‘net in search of argument? I don’t know and neither do you.

2. Is our universe real?

More recently, the question has been reframed as the “brain in a vat” problem, or the Simulation Argument. And it could very well be that we’re the products of an elaborate simulation. A deeper question to ask, therefore, is whether the civilization running the simulation is also in a simulation — a kind of supercomputer regression (or simulationception).

The “simulation argument”, and its many Matrixy variants, is solipsism removed to a computer. Nothing exists except for me; the entire universe is simulated just for my benefit. I am that special. The comments you’re leaving in the box below to dispute this conclusion? Clever simulacra to keep me from awakening and realizing how very important I am.

And then there’s idealism, which David Stove called a Victorian horror story. Time to let these go.

3. Do we have free will?

Also called the dilemma of determinism, we do not know if our actions are controlled by a causal chain of preceding events (or by some other external influence), or if we’re truly free agents making decisions of our own volition.

Dilemma forsooth! Man must have his theories. If any observation violates the theory, well, so much the worse for the observation, for theories are beautiful, compact, sensible, and most of all understandable. Observations are free, while theories come at a dear cost and must therefore be protected.

Take a random NPR listener and fly her from point A to point B in an aeroplane. Ask her at A, “Are you at A?” and she will say, “Yes.” And when she is at B, ask her, “Are we at B, which is separate from A?” and she will say, “Yes.”

Then ask her how aeroplanes work. She will say something like, “The government provides taxes for their operation.” She will not understand how the aeroplane worked, but the evidence that it flew her from A to B will not be denied. But because she does not know how does not mean she did not travel. What could be more obvious than that?

It’s the same with arguments over free will. Everybody knows we have free will because of observation. However, certain theories are incompatible with these observations. Result? Toss out the observations. And then award tenure to the garbageman.

4. Does God exist?

Simply put, we cannot know if God exists or not. Both the atheists and believers are wrong in their proclamations, and the agnostics are right.

To make that claim implies a proof exists which shows knowledge of God’s existence is always indefinite. No such proof exists. The claim is pure bluster. Question 4 can be, and has been, answered affirmatively many times. Sure, people dispute the paths to Yes, but they never try to offer a path to No. Are you an atheist feeling your oats? Then do the yeoman’s of proving God does not exist.

5. Is there life after death?

Materialists assume that there’s no life after death, but it’s just that — an assumption that cannot necessarily be proven…This is highly speculative stuff, but like the God problem, is one that science cannot yet tackle, leaving it to the philosophers.

This is true: materialism implies real death, which is why, as the gentleman who wrote this article suggests, you should not turn to scientists for philosophy.

Quite simple proofs for the non-materialism of our intellects abound (here is one). Thus the question is answered easily: yes. So get ready for it.

6. Can you really experience anything objectively?

There’s a difference between understanding the world objectively…and experiencing it through an exclusively objective framework. This is essentially the problem of qualia — the notion that our surroundings can only be observed through the filter of our senses and the cogitations of our minds. Everything you know, everything you’ve touched, seen, and smelled, has been filtered through any number of physiological and cognitive processes. Subsequently, your subjective experience of the world is unique.

If the question means do we need our physical senses, which can only be our own, to sense the world, then nothing is “objective”. But if it means “Can we know things as they are in themselves?” then we have come to the winner of the Worst Argument in the World contest.

Worst, because it hasn’t an intelligible answer. But it is also the Best, because it gives employment to more academic philosophers than to any other argument.

7. What is the best moral system?

Essentially, we’ll never truly be able to distinguish between “right” and “wrong” actions…Who has more moral worth: a human baby or a full-grown great ape? And as neuroscientists have shown, morality is not only a culturally-ingrained thing…

To answer authoritatively and finally the question in the quotation: the human baby. There: we have our first of many universals, a moral fact true for everybody.

It is true that action X may be right at one time and wrong another, but that is because the facts that condition the action change between these two times. It may even be that we cannot delineate all the conditions which make X right and those that make it wrong. But we can sometimes.

8. What are numbers?

…are they real objects, or do they simply describe relationships that necessarily exist in all structures? Plato argued that numbers were real…but formalists insisted that they were merely formal systems (well-defined constructions of abstract thought based on math). This is essentially an ontological problem, where we’re left baffled about the true nature of the universe and which aspects of it are human constructs and which are truly tangible.

This question smells like an editor said, “Nobody wants to read an article about ‘7 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve’. Make it 8. That number always works for Cracked.”

Numbers are real, but are not physical. Physical objects can be counted using numbers. Ta da.

Update For non-regular readers: there are of course many truths which cannot be proved, but which we know innately are true. E.g. the axioms of mathematics—and morals!

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