Contemplation on the Nicene Creed and the Death of Christ

According to the Nicene Creed, Jesus Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate” for our sake. However, according to the Gospel, he was crucified for the sake of punishment for his crimes in the state. This brings up the question of how his execution was for our sake when it was a penalty for a civil crime. If, as the Gospel according to Matthew suggests, he planned his crucifixion, using Pilate and the legal system as ploys in his larger scheme, is his death ultimately a suicide? This then calls for an explanation of how a suicide can be for the sake of another.
According to the next line of the Creed, Jesus “suffered death and buried”. This fits with the purpose of a punishment as generally they entail some sort of suffering. It also fits with a sacrifice, though, as sacrifice entails some sort of loss. If this is the case, Jesus sacrificed himself for our sake, “our” referring to those who endorse the Nicene Creed at least,and possibly others—the Creed does not specify. But this method of sacrifice is very unusual. Animals being sacrificed do not sacrifice themselves, nor are they sacrificed via being convicted criminals executed for their crimes. This detail complicates how Jesus’s death may be a sacrifice as the method has no precedent.
The other possibility, then, if the death itself is not a sacrifice, but the death is for our
sake, is that the actions surrounding it are for our sake. For example, if a soldier were to free a group of prisoners of war but were then executed for doing so, his death could be said to be for their sake. Likewise, Jesus’s acts which led to his execution may then be the actions that are for our sake whilst his death itself is the culmination of those actions and the sacrifice in the sense of personal loss that he endured to be able to have committed such acts.

Agreement Reading List

In researching the question What is Agreement? I came up with the following reading list as a starting point:

J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words
J.L. Austin, Philosophical Papers
J.L. Austin, The Meaning of a Word
J.L. Austin, Performative Utterances
L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
L. Wittgenstein, On Certainty
Daniel Greco and Brian Hedden, Uniqueness and Metaepistemology
Catherine Z. Elgin, Persistent Disagreement
Richard Feldman, Epistemological Puzzles About Disagreement
John Hick, God Has Many Names
John Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism
Hendrik M. Vroom, Do All Religious Traditions Worship the Same God?
Keith E. Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis and the Problem of Conflicting Truth-Claims
John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion
J.F. Lyotard, Differend
W.V.O. Quine, Ontological Relativism

Tips for Intro to Philosophy Students

I sent these tips to my section students, but I think they apply pretty generally.

The readings and lectures give you a great opportunity to take in new ideas. The discussion sections and writing assignments give you the opportunity to try out your ideas. Often, ideas turn out to be harder than expected to put into words. That’s fine. A lot of what we’re doing is practicing the process of putting thoughts into words.

On that point, I suggest being adventurous in discussion. Explore different positions. Take positions. Don’t be afraid to change. Many of the questions we’ll be exploring are difficult to feel very confident in your answers. Nonetheless, taking some position may help you gain more from discussions.

Finally, simplicity and slowness both have plenty of uses in philosophy. Really break things down and work through things slowly so you can clearly see each move being made.

Some Philosophical Questions

A few months ago, prior to picking up researching Transformative Experiences, I made a list of the philosophical questions I had. Here is a list, with a key of abbreviations at the end:

  • How can the study of C improve people’s lives?
  • Why is C so interesting?
  • What is the life of a person?
  • What’s a person?
  • Are all subjects persons?
  • Do all points in spacetime have subjectivity?
  • Do narrative accounts of personal ID/personhood have a good reason for
  • emanding narrative rather than every other kind of story?
  • Can narrative create a coherent diachronic personal ID out of episodic selves?
  • Does ego death annihilate personal ID?
  • What is the RS bw gender and personal ID?
  • Can too much postmodern fiction annihilate personal ID?
  • Can trauma annihilate personal ID?
  • Can trauma non-trivially annihilate C?
  • What’s a story?
  • What is explanation?
  • What are levels of explanation?
  • Are there level-bridging explanations?
  • What are stories made of?
  • What RS do the media and content of stories have?
  • What’s historical?
  • What’s a historical fact?
  • In what sense is evolution true?
  • What do facts about the past acquire truth from?
  • Are there facts about the future?
  • What’s a self?
  • How can we study C?
  • How do we study C?
  • How do we know anything about C?
  • What does it mean to know something about C?
  • What can we learn from ASCs?
  • How do we manage to refer to C?
  • Can all non-observational knowledge be paraphrased as predictions of experiences?
  • What’s compelling about empiricism?
  • What is phen knowledge?
  • How reliable is phen knowledge?
  • What’s the RS bw subject of knowledge and of C?
  • Does C have a function?
  • Is the phen psych?
  • What does psychology study?
  • What is psychiatry?
  • What is medicine?
  • How far should medical paternalism go?
  • Does the psych supervene on the phys?
  • Do the phys, psych, and phen exhaust reality?
  • What does physics study?
  • What is the RS bw physics and outer sense?
  • What does quantum mechanics study?
  • What implications does quantum mechanics have for C?
  • What does chemistry study?
  • Are theoretical entities in physics real?
  • What is physical?
  • What is energy?
  • Is social psychology really part of psychology given its clinical focus?
  • What does phenomenology study?
  • How do the phen and psych relate to mind and body?
  • Does eliminative materialism’s destruction of folk psychology take phil of mind with it?
  • Why is there C?
  • What’s a function?
  • Are biological functions psych?
  • Is psychology teleological?
  • Is phenomenology teleological?
  • What’s a teleological explanation?
  • What is C?
  • What is the RS bw world states and C?
  • What’s the RS bw brains and C?
  • Is the NCC enough for CE?
  • How many Cs are there per brain?
  • How prevalent is dissociation?
  • What is dissociation?What kinds of dissociation are there?
  • When is dissociation good/bad?
  • What is depersonalization?
  • What is derealization?
  • What is neuroscience?
  • What does biology study?
  • What is the RS bw ACh and C?
  • What is the RS bw the locus coeruleus and C?
  • What’s an ASC?
  • How do ASCs affect phen knowledge?
  • What is ego death?
  • Is the exp of ego death egoless?
  • Is ego death subjectless?
  • Is ego death desirable?
  • What is the RS bw phen and social C?
  • What is the RS bw unity of C and of culture?
  • What kinds of unity of C are there?
  • What is unity of C?
  • What is the development of C?
  • How does one raise C?
  • What is class C?
  • How can AP understand S’s theory of C?
  • Is C of x identical with x?
  • What is an object of C?
  • What does it mean to think about mathematical entities?
  • What is S’s RS w/idealism?
  • What is Spinoza’s RS with idealism?
  • What is infinite?
  • What is universal quantification?
  • Is ultrafinitism absolutely true or false?
  • Are thoughts/beliefs kind/s of feelings?
  • How can AP understand S’s claim that man is nothing?
  • What is the RS bw self and C?
  • How does JP’s Zen Buddhism address C?
  • What arguments are there for the existence and prominence of holographic relations?
  • Why does the brain appear holographic? (Or recursive?)
  • What is the RS bw holographic relations and recursion?
  • Is C ideal?
  • Is the mind/body problem real?
  • How does idealism differ f/other monisms?
  • How does Hassidic idealism compare w/other idealisms?
  • Does C require a subject?
  • What’s the difference bw subject and object of C?
  • What’s a subject, in general?
  • What isn’t a subject or object?
  • What’s an object, in general?
  • How does JP incorporate GI?
  • How does not-one not-two handle S?
  • Does the no-self have the agential SP?
  • Does the no-self have practical R?
  • Is the agential SP indispensible?
  • What debates have been had w/in “idealist” Vedic phil?
  • How was the Eleatic school idealist?
  • How does Taoism address C?
  • How do B and K differ in their idealisms?
  • Is anything in-itself not conscious/ness?
  • Why do both rationalism and empiricism lead to idealism?
  • Does N’s attack on idealism in BGE work?
  • What’s a POV?
  • What is the RS bw C and conscience?
  • What is phen C?
  • What is the RS bw phen and phys/psych varieties of C?
  • \What is self-C?
  • Can someone have an exp as someone else?
  • How do K’s C1 categories apply to C?
  • Can universals be conscious?
  • What kinds of things are conscious?
  • Which humans are conscious?
  • Are people conscious while blacked out?
  • Are groups of humans conscious?
  • Is C countable?
  • Is C discrete?
  • Is C finite?
  • Are DID alters unified in their C w/each other?
  • What are the persistence questions for a stream of C?
  • Is DID diachronic dissociation, as opposed to a synchronic variety?
  • Can C be understood both temporally and atemporally?
  • Are synchronous dissociative states multiply conscious?
  • Is C ubiquitous?
  • Is anything not an object of C?
  • In what sense are rocks conscious?
  • What does Amerindian phil say about C?
  • Is C representational?
  • What is C representing?
  • What is representation?
  • What is auto-representation?
  • What is presentation?
  • To whom is C representing?
  • Is C cognitive?
  • What is cognition?
  • What is the RS bw cognition and R?
  • Is willpower a thing?
  • What is addiction?
  • Why is weakness of will impossible?
  • Can the architecture of human cognition be modeled w/out content? E.g. as a weighted digraph?
  • When is a cognitive state subpersonal vs personal?
  • What is the RS bw desires and agitations?
  • Can intentions be reduced to beliefs?
  • Is cognition computable?
  • What are the restraints on cognition?
  • What states can be simulated?
  • Could I temporarily exp what it’s like to be someone else?
  • Which states can be simulated for whom?
  • Are the senses part of C?
  • What does Africana phil say about C?
  • Did Douglass write on C?
  • What are Amo’s views on C?
  • What is?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why are there relations?
  • What is a relation?
  • What’s a grounding relation?
  • What would it be for there to be nothing?
  • What exists?
  • What is reality?
  • What is a truth?
  • Can truths change?
  • Are there real inifinities?
  • What are things?
  • \Can we universally quantify over the domain of things?
  • What does it mean for something to be real?
  • What is being?
  • What is the RS bw being and C?
  • How can using stories aid the study of C and CE?
  • What tools can CE use?
  • What roles do stories play in sciences?
  • What determines the usefulness of a story?
  • What determines the truth of a story?
  • What’s a fact?
  • What is verisimilitude?
  • What makes for verisimilitude of a story?
  • What is the RS bw coherence and verisimilitude?
  • How do race, racism, racialism, etc. affect C and its study?
  • What is racial C?
  • Does racial C require that races exist?
  • Do races exist?
  • What are the practical implications of racial eliminativism?
  • What is a nation?
  • What is a state?
  • What is racism?
  • Is racism a disease?
  • How can racism be treated?
  • Can social/cultural states be understood as diseases?
  • What is a disease?
  • Is nihilism a disease?
  • What is a race?
  • What is ethnicity?
  • What is the RS bw race and ethnicity?
  • What RS do phil of race, phil of gender, etc. have w/each other?
  • How can SC be created?
  • What can SC learn f/other sciences?
  • Is SC continuous w/any other sciences?
  • Which sciences are unified?
  • What topological spaces are relevant to C?
  • How should we model C?\
  • What is it for an interpretation of a model to be true?
  • What is an interpretation?
  • Which interpretation of quantum mechanics is true?
  • How can recursion be used to understand C?
  • What is recursion?
  • Why does recursion seem so powerful?
  • What’s a model?
  • What logics does C follow?
  • What is topology?
  • What are R’s roles in science?
  • What is R?
  • Is every reason a reason for someone?
  • Can external reasons be explained away as reasons for one person for another person to do something?
  • How does time affect R?
  • Is R epiphenomenal?
  • What forms can R take?
  • Is all R practical?
  • What role does faith play in practical R?
  • What is a science?
  • What role should intuitions play in SC?
  • What are the foundations of topology?
  • What decision-making methods are best?
  • How can a framework for CE be created?
  • What would CE entail?
  • What is engineering?
  • What can CE learn from other engineerings?
  • How does engineering use metaphysics?
  • What RS should hold bw SC and CE?
  • What progress has been made in CE?
  • Is VR a protoCE?
  • What would fully immersive VR be like?
  • Can memory be fully simulated?
  • Is full VR necessarily delirious?
  • How prone is each sense modality to hallucination, illusion, and delusion?
  • How common is confusion of imagination and sense-perception?
  • What is imagination?
  • Are virtual exps less valuable?
  • Is reality valuable?
  • Can virtual exps be beautiful?
  • How do we make aesthetic judgements?
  • Why is one painting beautiful and another ugly?
  • Does ugliness have a purpose?
  • Are orgasms beautiful?
  • Should we value truth?
  • Is lying forbidden?
  • Is violence an acceptable response to lying?
  • How we communicate with the uncooperative?
  • What is communication?
  • Does valuing truth require valuing honesty?
  • Are there valuable lies?
  • Is PP a protoCE?
  • What is the RS bw PP and psychology?
  • How have racism, sexism, etc. affected CE so far?
  • Under what conditions is AI conscious?
  • What use does CE have for metaphysics?
  • What implications does idealism have for CE?
  • What are all the idealist positions?
  • What is idealism?
  • What is ideality?
  • Are physicalism and idealism compatible?
  • Is there an important RS bw AP’s group C and GI?\What are potential goals of CE?
  • Which states of C are preferable to others?
  • Why bother with CE?
  • What is valuable?
  • What is valuing?
  • How many metamaxims are possible?
  • How can a human/person’s life be viewed from an atemporal SP? (I.e. as a metamaxim?)
  • What is N’s account of nihilism?
  • What metamaxim does a nihilist follow?
  • How do we value?
  • How do we defeat nihilism?
  • How do we treat nihilism?
  • Is valuing valuable?
  • What good is good?
  • Is valuing reasonable?
  • What should we value?
  • Should we value happiness?
  • Should we value morality?
  • What is moral?
  • What do we owe each other?
  • Should we value greatness?
  • Should we value beauty?
  • What is the RS bw C and beauty?
  • Is C beautiful?
  • Does Wilde’s account of beauty as for-itself work?
  • Should we value phil?
  • What good is phil?
  • What good is learning phil?
  • What determines which phil is good for whom?
  • Can phil be learned via labor/internship?
  • Should we value?
  • Is religion worthwhile?
  • Is coherence valuable?
  • What is coherence?
  • Is anything foundational?
  • Is anything normatively foundational?
  • Is anything epistemically foundational?
  • Are there foundational relations?
  • Are there foundational recurance relations?
  • How are religious disagreements understood?
  • Which religious elements are coherent?
  • Why are orgasms generally liked?
  • What is disvaluable?
  • Why do people generally dislike being on fire?
  • What matters?
  • How would the world be different if different things mattered?
  • Should CE aim for therapy or enhancement?
  • Should PP aim for therapy or enhancement?
  • Why not put academics on stimulants?
  • Why ban steroids for athletes?
  • What distinguishes enhancement f/therapy?
  • Is being a cyborg choiceworthy?
  • What is the RS bw bioengineering and biotechnology?
  • What is the diff bw engineering and technology?
  • Should all these questions about CE be about C technology?
  • Is medicine engineering, technology, or something else?
  • Should CE be used to treat gender dysphoria, if possible?
  • What personality changes can psychiatry ethically produce?
  • What do we owe to DID alters?
  • What is a DID alter
  • Is ego death ever choiceworthy?
  • Could CE make a trans person cis?
  • Can one experience what it’s like to be a different gender?
  • Does gender have a phen aspect?
  • What is gender?
  • How can we model gender?
  • What is possible?
  • What Cs are possible?
  • What is contingency?
  • What is necessity?
  • Are numbers necessaily in the order that they’re in?
  • Why are prime numbers randomly spaced?
  • Is there any regularity to prime numbers?
  • What is it for something to be possible?
  • What are the bounds of human freedom?
  • How does time affect freedom?
  • How could CE be used for evil?
  • How could CE be used disvaluably?
  • What is evil?
  • How could we create/generate kinds of C?
  • How should we value C?
  • What kinds of C are there?
  • What is C a kind of?\
  • Whatt differences correspond with diff kinds of C?
  • What generates kinds of C?
  • How can we create CBs?
  • When in development does C arise?
  • Under what conditions should we make CBs?
  • When is abortion permissible?
  • When is euthanasia permissible?
  • Are CBs or C more basic?
  • Could CE help increase empathy?
  • Is emapthy good?
  • What is empathy?
  • What is love?
  • How does McTaggart understand the intersubjectivity of time?
  • Can time dilation be asymptotic?
  • What is time dilation?
  • What is time?
  • What is C of time?
  • What is C of spacetime?
  • Does time exist?
  • Is time ideal?
  • Is C in time?
  • Is C in space?
  • If time is ideal, then why do we seem to have intersubjective agreement about it?
  • What is spacetime?
  • Would asymptotic time dilation be subjective immortality?
  • Is this kind of immortality good?
  • Under what conditions is immortality good?
  • Can we live past asymptotic time dilation?


  • AP=Analytic phil
  • ASC=altered state of C
  • B=Berkeley
  • C=consciousness
  • CB=conscious being
  • CE=C engineering
  • exp=experience
  • GI=German Idealism
  • JP=Japanese phil
  • K=Kant
  • N=Nietzsche
  • phen=phenomenal
  • phil=philosophy
  • phys=physical
  • PP=psychopharmacology
  • psych=psychological
  • R=Reason
  • RS=relationship
  • S=Sartre
  • SC=science of C
  • SP=standpoint

Don’t Assume Students Don’t Read

One day when I was grading reading responses, I thought over half the class didn’t read. We’re near the end of the term, and this seems to be a common assumption among people in instructional roles in universities anyhow. But, to avoid throwing out accusations without sufficient evidence, I acted instead on the assumption that a lot of students just didn’t understand the reading. Turns out my first assumption was wrong, and we in instructional roles need to slow down our assumptions.

The text was Kate Manne’s “Humanism: A Critique”. I think the piece is fantastic. It’s really clear, to me, and Manne’s arguments completely changed my position. In the article, she responds to the popular belief that cruel behavior can be explained by perpetrators dehumanizing their victims. She labels this view “humanism”, and then proceeds to demonstrate that it’s wrong. Dehumanization rarely, if ever, works as an explanation of cruel behavior. But this isn’t what the reading responses said she said. Instead, they said that she was defending humanism. They took a few quotes and examples to defend their reading, but the examples were those she was using to illustrate the humanist position. That is, they took her to be affirming what she was denying.

Here the laziest explanation is that the students just didn’t read. They probably skimmed the first couple of sections to get enough material to put together a response, and then forewent actually reading the piece. This is a pretty easy assumption to make given both of the following:

  1. The popularity of the assumption that students don’t read, and
  2. The common practice of academics of not reading. By this I don’t mean that we never read, but rather that with the amount of stuff we have to be acquainted with, often enough we pay some attention to the introduction and some selected passages, but seriously engaging with an entire text is often reserved for the more important texts to our own projects.

I think 1 is bad. I think 2 isn’t necessarily bad. I have over fifty books on my desk relevant to my work, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to give all of them a complete read. However, there’s a difference between myself and many of my students: I’ve been training for years in how to do that sort of thing! But moreover, I’ve also been training in how to read complex philosophical texts. It is in fact unusual how philosophers will say things we don’t believe, but rather just want to present to then argue against. So from this understanding, I came up with a second hypothesis: they did read, but the text was just not one that they were equipped to understand yet.

Assuming my second hypothesis was correct (though making sure my plan would still work out if the first were correct), I spent the next section with the text on the projector so we could take apart the structure of the piece. Before class, I highlighted the sentences that to me signposted what Manne is doing. We came up with an outline of the paper from reading the introduction, and then worked out how she started and ended each section. But the moment of revelation for me came when I put this quotation on the screen and asked the class what the first thing she’ll do in the body of the text is:

First, I try to convey the flavor of humanist thought in some of its most interesting and fruitful philosophical applications, over the course of section 1. After that, I will clarify the humanist position (in section 2), criticize it (in section 3), present an alternative, “socially situated” model for explaining the humanist’s target explananda (in section 4), and argue that these alternative explanations will often be superior to those offered by the humanist (in section 5, to close).

To me, and to most of my similarly-trained colleagues, this is obviously an outline of the article to come. To the class, figuring out what Manne would do first took a minute or so. This made it suddenly obvious to me that

  1. This is not a move most people are familiar with, and
  2. The form of the paper is also one people are not usually familiar with.

A couple of students even told me, despite my suggestions to borrow the form of the article (present opposition, then present problems with opposition, then present your own alternative), they find it hard to follow or understand. Which makes sense; what other genres use this? If you read a scientific article, almost every sentence will be in agreement with the thesis. If you read a story, unless it’s some stuff that’s hard to get into, the text of the story is what the narrator believes. We don’t often see several pages of examples the author ultimately is seeking to reject.

From this experience, I take two conclusions, one more specific, and one more general:

  1. Don’t so quickly assume students didn’t read. Designing lesson plans around that assumption when its false at best ignores important learning opportunities, and it’s also fundamentally failing to treat students with respect.
  2. Reading complex texts is hard. It’s a skill that has to be developed before it can be performed. Assigning difficult readings without spending any time teaching the class how to do those readings is just setting the class up for failure.

Social studies

Seems like at some level (high school seems ideal, and also some kind of continuing ed) we should have classes that teach people how to navigate various social spheres and institutions.
I can tell a lot of people coming into college are pretty disoriented navigating academia. Plenty of us inside get disoriented with some more public places. How to interact with hospitals, banks, etc. is unintuitive, and especially given the declining social capital, people would be helped a lot by some instruction.

Some Comments on Psychiatry, Re: Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson has been getting some attention for her rather obscene claims about healthcare. But I think there’s an important discussion to be had here; inability to pay isn’t the only thing harming people in the current system. I present the following four facts:

1. Most psychiatric disorders don’t have well-understood mechanisms. For most conditions, there are several competing hypotheses, some or all of which may be true or varying degrees of close to true.

2. Most psychiatric medications’ functions are also not super well-understood. They range from “Well, we know this drug does this in the brain, and that seems to help for one or more of these six possible reasons, and probably some reasons we don’t have a framework to understand yet,” to “It works sometimes, we don’t know why.”

3. Generally, psychiatric medications have low success rates and often some bad side effect profiles. Rates in the 10-20% chance of working range are common. It’s pretty much expected that a given patient of, say, depression will just have to try several.

4. We’ve seen pretty clearly from the opiod epidemic that a lot of medical doctors and pharmacists are fine with killing people if it means selling more drugs. There are incentives in place to prescribe as much as possible, and precribe certain drugs over others for non-medical reasons.

I’m not saying that nobody should take psychiatric medicine or that everyone just needs to think more positively. Of course not, that’s absurd. I am saying that political and economic factors make it very plausible that a lot of people are suffering needlessly because of unethical but profittable prescription practices. In fact, that’s definitely the case: again, see the opiod crisis. That it extends to antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines isn’t a big stretch. How little is understood about the underlying mechanisms doesn’t help.