Schopenhauer’s Ethics

Schopenhauer’s ethics builds off of Kant’s distinction of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, and their counterparts in the individual, the intelligible and empirical character, while at the same time effectively refuting the Categorical Imperative as a tenable ethical principle.  He instead makes the convincing argument that compassion is the true basis of morality, for all sentient beings, human or otherwise.

Schopenhauer’s philosophy is impossible without Immanuel Kant’s.  Building off of his metaphysics, Kant bases the possibility of his moral system on our “supra-sensible dimension to our conative natures” (Young 202).  The supra-sensible dimension is what Kant calls the noumena, and Schopenhauer calls the Will.  The noumena is independent of the forms of time and space and is outside of the sphere of human cognition.  In this sense we can never directly access the noumena in a conscious manner.   However, we can be aware that it exists.  Since the noumena is outside of the empirical world, and since we also exist as noumena, it is possible to believe that we are free in the noumenal world, and thus morally culpable.  This noumenal half of ourselves is our intelligible character (Koßler 233).

Whereas our empirical character is according to Kant entirely determined by the laws of nature, our actions may at the same time be expressions of our intelligible character.  If our actions are expressions of our intelligible character — Kant acknowledges he cannot prove this — then morality is possible.  While Schopenhauer incorporates the noumenal and phenomenal distinction, as well as the notion of the intelligible character into his own ethical philosophy, Schopenhauer is almost uniformly critical of the rest of Kant’s ethics.

Julian Young quotes H.J. Paton’s summation of Kant’s ethical philosophy which states in very concise form its main tenets,

(1)  If a principle of rational action is valid for any, then it is valid for all rational beings.   (2)  A rational being must think of his practical principles as rational principles.   Therefore,  (3)  A rational being must think of his practical principles as universally valid.  That is,  (4)  A rational being must regard his practical principles as universal laws valid for all rational beings. (Paton qtd. in Young 197)

Paton is essentially describing the Categorical Imperative, which requires all rational agents to only act in a manner which could be universalized as a law for all rational agents.  For instance, I might be able to will that I embezzle money from the government for a private jet to travel in.  Yet, if everyone went about getting a private jet — or some other luxury — by the same means, this would bankrupt the government and ruin the economy. So upon reflection, this is not something I could will as a universal law for all rational beings, as it would end up harming myself.

Schopenhauer strongly criticizes the Categorical Imperative and the Kantian notion that all human beings must be treated as ends.  Schopenhauer questions the Kantian claim that we have duties to ourselves based on the Categorical Imperative and the notion of humans as ends (Schopenhauer 19).  Schopenhauer argues it is preposterous to assume we need to find an a priori law to tell us to do what it is already in our nature to do, which is to act in our own interests (Schopenhauer 19).  He sums it up nicely by saying “but [there is] an amusing effect in cases where people begin to show anxiety about their persons, and talk quite earnestly of the duty of self-preservation; the while it is sufficiently clear that fear will lend them legs soon enough, and that they have no need of any law of duty to help them along” (Schopenhauer 19).  Another issue that Schopenhauer has with the Kantian ethical philosophy is that if sound, there should not be moral dispute about anything, which is clearly not the case.  This is because since Kant bases morality on reason, and believes that everyone has access to it — if they did not have access to the moral law, they could not be blamed for not following it, based on the ought implies can principle — and so, we should assume that there will be no more issue with moral truths as there is with truths of “arithmetic and geometry” (Schopenhauer 38).

Schopenhauer instead anchors his ethical philosophy on the notion of compassion (Fox 376).  Compassion is a much more suitable candidate for an ethical foundation than what Kant is able to propose with his Categorical Imperative.  I strongly agree with Schopenhauer’s position that rationality and morality are distinct (Young 195).  Julian Young describes Schopenhauer’s view of Kant’s position to mean that “failures to choose to perform morally required acts are always failures in rationality, that is, the choices of a fully rational agent are always consonant with the requirements of morality,” yet “all ages have recognised the concepts of rationality and morality to be entirely distinct and that they have been right: Machiavelli’s prince, for example” (195).  Since the two are distinct, we need a non-rational basis for morality.  Not only is compassion non-rational, it can actually serve to motivate action which is necessary for Schopenhauer.

Schopenhauer argues this his ethics is based on metaphysics, for him explanation of how compassion can serve as ethical foundation is impossible without the Will (Koßler 231).  For Schopenhauer a psychological explanation of compassion will always fail or come up short (Fox 377).  The ethical significance of the Will is that we are all one (Fox 378).  While we are individuals in the phenomenal aspect of existence, and thus often look out for our own self-interests, on a certain level we know that this individuation is an illusion (Fox 378).  Hence, when we feel the pain or suffering of another, we are feeling with our being a metaphysical truth, that that creature’s pain is our own.  When we hurt someone, or some animal, we are hurting ourselves.  The notion that we are immune from the pain of others is an illusion, and we can never achieve true morality unless we recognize this.   Importantly, this recognition does not need to be clear in our abstract reasoning.  Hence, many people can be moral and compassionate without having ever read Schopenhauer’s philosophy.  This is a strength of Schopenhauer’s philosophy over Kant’s, since Kant’s seems to require a very strong grasp of philosophy to put morality into effect.

Since Schopenhauer’s ethical philosophy relies on compassion as the understanding that we are all one metaphysically, it would be arbitrary to not apply Schopenhauer’s ethics to animals.  The first main reason for this is that while animals may not have reason, abstract reason and understanding of the noumenal/phenomenal distinction is not necessary.  Our more basic recognition of the pain of others as being in some sense our own pain need not be intellectual.  Many sentient non-human beings regularly display behavior that if found in a human would be described as compassionate.  We may dismiss many of their actions as the result of instinct, but this just means it is inherent in the creature.  Many human actions are instinctual.  For instance, the fact that children appear cute to us makes it more likely we will be caring and loving towards them.  If children had not evolved to appear cute to us, we might not be as compassionate towards them.   This does not mean we are not compassionate because our compassion can be explained in instinctual terms.  Second, since compassion for Schopenhauer is based on the fact that metaphysically we are all one, we must realize that this applies to all existence, not just humans.  Thus, when we harm a dog or a cat, or have a pig slaughtered, we are not just harming those poor creatures, we are in a very real sense harming ourselves.

Michael Allen Fox recognizes this application to animals and credits Schopenhauer for explicitly acknowledging this connection (369).  Fox goes on to criticize Schopenhauer for not being consistent in applying ethical protection to sentient animals.  Fox is critical of Schopenhauer claiming we can eat animals and use them as work-animals, because if we starved ourselves or conducted the labor that work-animals currently do, we would ourselves suffer more than the animals themselves (381).  Schopenhauer is not claiming that we have license to impose suffering on animals as we see fit, but that if the ultimate goal is to reduce suffering as much as possible, in cases where suffering is inevitable — either the animal is slaughtered or we starve to death — we should take the route which promises the least suffering.  Since animals are not as aware of what is going on, they will not suffer as acutely as human beings would.

In my mind, Schopenhauer offers a strong argument on why we can slaughter animals for food to prevent starvation.  Fox however criticizes Schopenhauer saying “many would argue against [this] — also on utilitarian grounds — that the optional (human) gustatory pleasure derived from eating meat does not outweigh the (animal) pleasure thereby denied…” (381).  In isolation, there is nothing wrong with Fox’s criticism.  The issue is that Fox is criticizing Schopenhauer in a manner entirely divorced from his historical context.  Meat and dairy was seen as an essential part of the diet in the Western Europe of Schopenhauer’s time, and Schopenhauer was taking into consideration also people who lived in more northern climates who had a larger dependence on meat.  I grant that Schopenhauer could have in theory lived as a vegan.  There are other cultures in the world that were vegan during Schopenhauer’s life.  However, there is no evidence that Schopenhauer had the nutritional knowledge of how to go about that diet.  There was clearly not the plethora of vegan information and food alternatives that there are today.  It was in this context that Schopenhauer implied we need meat to survive.  I have no doubt that if Schopenhauer was a contemporary of ours, he would not claim it is ethical to slaughter animals for food when we have practical alternatives.

Ultimately, I disagree with Schopenhauer that compassion cannot be explained psychologically.  If compassion is metaphysical in nature, resting on the notion of our unity, then having a brain — psychological processes — should not be necessary.  A rock should be able to feel compassion.  If someone thinks the example of a rock is unfair, I will point to solitary creatures.  The female black widow will never have compassion for her mate, nor for her children which she will eat if given the chance.  The same can be said of certain species of frogs and other more advanced animals who cannibalize each other.  These examples all involve subjects with brains and some level of intelligence, which are entirely devoid of compassion.  There is no way to explain how compassion is entirely lost in some creatures, but present in social creatures, if we do not locate compassion in the psychology of social creatures.  This does not mean I reject Schopenhauer’s philosophy which states we are one metaphysically.  I accept it, and I believe it beautifully illustrates why compassion is a good idea for us; it just does not explain why we have compassion to begin with.

Since compassion is just a psychological feeling — though one I quite admire and encourage — I am ultimately sympathetic to Nietzsche who dispenses with Schopenhauer’s morality, and moral truths altogether.   There is no doubt in my mind that the road to Nietzsche begins with Schopenhauer’s rejection of reason as a basis for morality.

Works Cited

Fox, Michael Allen. ““Boundless Compassion”: The Contemporary Relevance of Schopenhauer’s

Ethics.” The European Legacy 11.4 (2006): 369-87. Web. 08 Oct. 2016.

Koßler, Matthias. “Matthias Koßler, Life Is but a Mirror: On the Connection between Ethics,

Metaphysics and Character in Schopenhauer – PhilPapers.” (2008): 230-50. On the

Connection between Ethics, Metaphysics and Character in Schopenhauer – PhilPapers.

  1. Web. 08 Oct. 2016.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The Basis of Morality. Trans. Arthur Brodrick Bullock. London:

Humanitarian League, 1915. Print.

Young, Julian. “Schopenhauer’s Critique of Kantian Ethics.” Kant-Studien 75.1-4 (1984): Web.

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Determinism Presentation

(originally presented several years ago)



Presented by:

Patrick Jimenez

Determinism: the position that events which happen, happen as necessary effects of causes. All instances of reality then have been caused, as opposed to being spontaneous in any absolute sense.

Causality: “The relation between cause and effect, or the act of bringing about an effect, which may be an event, a state, or an object (say, a statue). The concept of causation has long been recognized as one of fundamental philosophical importance. Hume called it ‘the cement of the universe’: causation is the relation that connects events and objects of this world in significant relationships. The concept of causation seems pervasively present in human discourse.”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Causation by J.K.

Further, causation is intimately related to explanation: to ask for an explanation is, often, to ask for its cause.”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Causation by J.K.

It is certainly not the least charm of a theory that it is refutable; it is precisely thereby that it attracts subtler minds. It seems that the hundred-times-refuted theory of a ‘free will’ owes its persistence to this charm alone; again and again someone comes along who feels he is strong enough to refute it.”

-Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 24-25

                  • To the extent that an event is described as the effect of a cause, it must logically be seen as the necessary effect of a cause. In this sense, they are necessary effects of the cause.
                  • When we label something as cause of an effect, we are stating that this effect follows necessarily.
                  • Some incomplete sets of instances can potentially produce more than one result. For instance a dog barking can cause another dog to fight this dog. Alternatively it could lead the dog’s owner to give it a treat, or cause a baby to begin crying. A dog’s barking then in each of these instances would only be a part of that cause which leads to the different effects of either: a dog fight, being given a treat, a baby crying. When we speak of a cause then it has to be in its totality (state A caused state B as opposed to certain events in state A caused certain events in state B). For instance the cause which results in this specific instance of the baby crying would include not only the dog barking, but the fact that its parents produced the baby, the proximity of the dog and the baby, et cetera.
                  • Determinism does not state (though it also does not state the contrary) that all effects must in turn be causes. It simply states that all effects have necessarily been produced by their specific causes.

Free Will is contrary to Determinism in the context of this discussion. It refers to a belief that effects are not necessary results of their causes, or that there could be uncaused effects.

                  • Free Will is usually extended specifically to human actions. This arbitrary barrier is usually due to the feeling that humans make authentic choices which are not the result of determinism, and more importantly due to religious positions.
                  • If Free Will is negated then it is very hard to justify notions of good and evil as real concepts.
                  • To the extent the good and evil are maintained as existing, it is hard to justify why a just god would allow such evil


                  • Determinism does not assert that we do not make choices, have genuine positions, or desires. It simply states that such choices, genuine positions, and desires are determined, or caused. “The ‘unfree will’ is mythology; in real life it is only a matter of strong and weak wills.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 29)
                  • Concepts such as political freedom (democracy, et cetera) are not contrary to Determinism. Humans can have political positions, views, et cetera as discussed above.
                  • There is no just correlation between Determinism and tyranny, political oppression, or antisocial behaviors.

General Notes:

The philosopher Descartes in his conception of mind-body dualism asserted that the human mind and brain are separate. This is a notion which is utterly rejected by modern science, and which I feel is relevant to our discussion.

                  • Descartes sought to form a boundary between the natural world which he felt belonged to the study of science and the mind which he felt was under the proper sovereignty of the Church.
                  • Alienating the human mind from the natural world is a mistake as science attests. All science assumes Deterministic principles. If we could not rely on Deterministic principles, then the idea of replicating experiments or results would be nonsensical. Neuroscience very explicitly rejects Dualism, and with it the idea that the human mind is somehow apart from the natural world.

The view that every event or state of affairs is brought about by antecedent events or states of affairs in accordance with universal causal laws that govern the world. Thus, the state of the world at any instant determines a unique future, and that knowledge of all the position of things and the prevailing natural forces would permit an intelligence to predict the future state of the world with absolute precision.”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Determinism by B.B.

Some determinists formulate the doctrine somewhat differently: (a) every event has a sufficient cause; (b) at any given time, given the past, only one future is possible; (c) given knowledge of all antecedent conditions and all laws of nature, an agent could predict at any given time the precise subsequent history of the universe. Thus, determinists deny the existence of chance, although they concede that our ignorance of the laws or all relevant antecedent conditions makes certain events unexpected and, therefore, apparently happen ‘by chance.’”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Determinism by B.B.

Presently most arguments for Free Will are of a religious nature, and accept Deterministic principles outside of human actions.

                  • The primary basis of these arguments is: (1) God has granted Free Will to humans (2) humans have Free Will.
                  • This is an attempt to get around the Problem of Evil by placing responsibility for evil in the world with humans as opposed to with God.

Nonreligious Objections to Determinism: Inferences from Quantum Theory

                  • Those who attempt in modern times to assault Determinism from nonreligious grounds commonly draw inferences from Quantum Theory which they feel invalidates Determinism.
                  • In the micro-world, there are thought to be effects which do not become causes, or which terminate any causal change before reaching the threshold of the macro-world. However, Determinism does not state that Effects must become causes themselves. It only states that Effects cannot be uncaused.
                  • To the extent that people believe Quantum Theory presents uncaused Effects, Determinism is seriously undermined. However, I do not believe Quantum Theory does this. There may be causal relationships which we do not understand or which we cannot identify. Determinism insofar as it is a principle for interpreting the empirical world does not necessitate such knowledge.
                  • Those who still believe Quantum Theory undermines Determinism usually make this the basis for their defense of human Free Will, without questioning Deterministic or mechanistic principles outside of human actions. This is utterly inconsistent. If their claim regarding Quantum Theory is to be taken seriously, then no causal chains could be admitted as valid. To the extent that experiments or results could be replicated we would have to admit that we are witnessing nothing more than mere coincidence. Mathematics, and all science, including the science behind Quantum Theory would lose credibility.
                  • An answer to this criticism I have posed is the separation of the macro-world, and micro-world. The distinction between the macro-world and micro-world however is arbitrary. To the extent that it could be given as justified for the sake of argument, why wouldn’t the human mind be a part of the macro world?

Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer

In the discussion of great philosophers, I would like to plead humility. The following is my interpretation of Hume on Determinism and Kant and Schopenhauer on Free Will. I certainly am aware that many might disagree with me. I welcome this criticism. To the extent that I can be proven false in my interpretation, I will certainly make the necessary adjustments.

The Views of David Hume

                  • Hume is famous in philosophy for being a Skeptic. He was skeptical of many things, including claims that humans could have knowledge of the external world.
                  • Specifically, Hume doubted our ability to have any knowledge of causality outside of the imagination. However, Hume never argued for Free Will, and was a Determinist philosopher.
                  • I believe that the current debate on Free Will versus Determinism would sadden Hume. Maybe it would even sadden him as much as it saddens me.
                  • Hume’s position on causality was entirely epistemological in nature. He doubted how much humans had the capacity to know.
                  • His was an honest inquiry. He was not trying to justify the Abrahamic God, or anything of the like. Instead he doubted that we could have knowledge of causal relationships.
                  • The reason being that all we directly perceive (he was an Empiricist) are certain events. We never actually perceive cause and effect, only constant conjunctions.
                  • A rooster crows every morning right before the sun comes up for instance. Does this mean there is a causal connection between the rooster and the sun? Of course not. There is simply a constant conjunction.
                  • According to Hume all events are as far as we know only constant conjunctions. It is by our imagination that we impose a causal relationship.
                  • This does not mean that Hume felt causality was false. In fact he believed in causality. It simply means that Hume did not feel humans could ever prove causality.
                  • In any case, I must point out that the damage Hume did to causality (which Kant repaired) was damage done to determinism writ large. As opposed to Hume being seen as a defender of human Free Will (which he was NOT) Hume has been seen as someone who did violence to the foundations of science.
                  • The problem is that often times when we think of Determinism we are only thinking of it in relation to human actions. Determinism applies to the entire natural world however. Hume casting doubt on causality cast just as much doubt on mathematics, biology, physics, et cetera.
                  • Aside from religious arguments (which are bad arguments) there are no arguments which can even seek to illustrate a scenario where humans have free will yet the rest of the material world does not have free will. If all the natural world had free will, you would of course have unmitigated chaos. We do not have unmitigated chaos because the world acts in accordance with certain laws.
                  • Neither Hume nor Quantum Theory gives even the least comfort to the defender of human Free Will. Anyone who argues that they do must first admit Hume and Quantum Theory also destroyed the scientific method and logic (Quantum Theory is based in science, and Hume was based in logic/philosophy) which would destroy both of the arguments they are trying to use. However, if someone can get beyond that hurdle, I’ll perhaps listen.
                  • Hume also attacked those who argue for Free Will on a practical level. Many people say that we need Free Will for morality (which is true). Thus, if one wants a moral society… therefore Free Will (the bad grammar is intended here).
                  • Aside from the fact that Hume felt it was quite despicable to try to form conclusions based on what one wants to be true, Hume also pointed out that these absurdities can happen with or without Free Will. This is of course a pretty strong blow against morality.
                  • The reason he felt this was that if one had Free Will, that means one has the power to recreate himself. So there are no stable individuals. So to say imprison someone for murder that he committed yesterday would make no sense. Because today he is just as likely to be criminal as a girl scout. If you have Free Will, you cannot use past actions as a guide to present or future behavior. You can only do such within the context of Determinism.

The Views of Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer:

                  • Implicitly our discussion of Determinism thus far has been in relation entirely to the World of Representation, or phenomena.
                  • As humans we can only ever be aware of the phenomenal representations. We can never know the thing-in-itself, or the noumena.
                  • We cannot know the noumena (this is a very short and incomplete explanation, so that we do not veer too far from the main topic) because our only knowledge is mediated by our forms of intuition, time and space, and our senses. Humans cannot experience anything outside of this, so we can never known an object outside of this filter.
                  • There might be a semblance between phenomena and noumena. However, humans can have no knowledge of this. If there is a semblance it is not one in which we are in a position to posit.
                  • Our only knowledge of the noumenal world can be negative.


                  • Kant was acutely aware that Determinism hinders morality.
                  • However, Determinism applies only to the world of phenomena. To the extent that it does apply to the noumenal world, we can have no knowledge of this. However, even though dogmatic assertions are clear violations of reason, we can still have faith, or reasonable assumptions.
                  • Though not in anyway provable, Kant asserted that it is not impossible that our morally good actions or morally bad actions do come from our noumenal nature. That is that they are reflections of ourselves solely as opposed to any causal chain. [Note: According to Kant, Descartes’ ‘I think, therefore I am’ though being true, refers only to our phenomenal selves. So we literally have no knowledge of our noumenal selves. All our conscious and subconscious faculties with which we use to make decisions are entirely phenomenal. Your inner voice is phenomenal, not noumenal.]
                  • However, though these actions might be free on the noumenal level, insofar as we can perceive them in the phenomenal world they must be in the context of causation.
                  • Essentially, Kant argued that our actions might be free actions on our part on the noumenal level, and in that sense moral actions, but that on the phenomenal level, they were necessarily translated into natural, or Deterministic actions.
                  • It is important to understand that this position was a matter of faith rather than fact for Kant. The furthest he would go in defending this position was to state it could not be proved false (even if there it was not at all possible to prove it in a positive sense), and that the man who sought a rational moral system, it was a necessary postulate.


Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer

                  • Schopenhauer believed very strongly in the Principle of Sufficient Reason (which originated with Leibniz).
                  • The Principle of Sufficient Reason essentially states that in order for something to exist, it must have sufficient reason to exist.
                  • An example of this is that, if something exists, it cannot be impossible for this same thing to exist.
                  • The Principle of Sufficient Reason is not necessarily an explicit endorsement of Determinism, however, I would argue Determinism necessarily follows the Principle of Sufficient Reason.


Neuroscience, mentioned above, treats the human mind and brain as one. It seeks to explain human behavior from nonreligious sources. Hence the discipline views human behavior as Deterministic.

                  • If Determinism is not true, then the foundation for psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, et cetera is destroyed.
                  • Neuroscience has been more successful than any nonscientific approach in explaining human behavior. This suggests the validity of Determinism.
                  • The mind is subject to natural and biological laws. It is an evolved entity which has adapted and changed over millions of years just like any other body part or mechanism.
                  • Determinism would have to be invalidated for Descartes Dualism to makes any sense. Beyond this, it is hard to understand why abnormalities in the brain would have an impact on the human organism it belongs to. If Descartes is correct, then why should brain damage impair human actions if human actions are uncaused and willed independently of the physical human organism?
                  • More generally, the identification and systematic description of causal relations that hold in the natural world have been claimed to be the preeminent aim of science.” (-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Causation by J.K.) In other words, science cannot go where causation is not established. What aspects of our phenomenal world would we say is permanently outside the scope of the sciences?

Moral Implications

Evil: morally reprehensible: sinful, wicked. (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary)

What problems does Determinism pose to the idea that there are evil actions committed by humans?

                  • Free Will is necessary in the conception of evil. If an act is committed which could not be otherwise, we do not call it evil. For instance a rock falling on my house is unfortunate. Such an event will have very negative consequences for me, however I will not claim that the rock is evil, or morally responsible.
                  • If human actions are necessary then we lose the foundation with which we assign moral value to their actions. Good and Evil as moral terms lose their validity.

What problems does the existence of Evil pose to those who believe in a just God?

                  • Though I believe Determinism casts doubt on the idea of evil in an absolute sense, there are certainly actions which are commonly considered evil. Such actions includes needless murder, natural disasters, et cetera.
                  • If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then he can stop this evil, or misfortune. The Philosopher Epicurus posed the question this way: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? The he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

Epicurus’s challenge to the theist is deadly if the theist is not able to assert human Free Will as the cause of evil. Of course even if humans did have Free Will, that would not mean that God could not still intervene. This however is outside of our present discussion.

Closing Remarks:

Determinism is an established scientific fact. The claims of science lose their foundation when we deny Determinism. Science has been used in various forms to cast doubt on Determinism, most notably with Quantum Theory. The inferences which must be drawn from Quantum Theory however to justify such an attack on Determinism are groundless, and would have larger implications than simply salvaging human Free Will in a secular context.

Most defenses of Free Will are religious in nature.

Schopenhauer was a Determinist philosopher. Though his primary influence, Kant did maintain a belief in a sort of human Free Will, he admitted it could not be proven in fact. In any case his concept of Free Will applied only to the noumenal. So far as his views of the phenomenal world, he was a determinist. There is nothing in Kant’s philosophy which establishes Free Will. His philosophy actually indicates the contrary.

If religion is a vestige of human thought, I ask those of a secular persuasion, by what justification then can we uphold a pillar of such religious sentiment by clinging to the concept of Free Will?

Does such a concept allow you to view science as credible, or to make sense of an uncaused world?

Is the assertion of evil simply an unfounded judgment which denies we as a society the opportunity of understanding the causes and reasons behind human behavior to the fullest extent? Or is it better to maintain a notion of moral evil which allows us to judge, and not understand, or in other words to pretend that there was not a cause?

I thank you for the opportunity to share my own views on this important matter, and look forward to your challenges. Thank you.

1 President Steven Morales of the Club of Secular Understanding deserves credit for this title.

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Who is being cheated?

We are not equally situated.  Why should that not be taken into account?  

Determining who is the best fit for a university based on their grades or test scores, when I have not taken into account the opportunities and hardships they have faced is absurd.

It would be like if I wanted to admit the fastest runner.  So I say “you all need to start running to my house.  The first person at my front door will be admitted, because that person must be the fastest.”

Now, if they are all equally situated, or in this scenario, starting from the same distance from my house (never mind other factors like hills and such) that makes perfect sense.  If some of them are a mile from my house, and others are twenty miles, and still other thirty miles away… the person who gets to my house first is not necessarily the fastest runner.  If the person from thirty miles away shows up just a few moments later, why should I think that the person from one mile away is the fastest?
Affirmative action recognizes we are not all equally situated.  It is not about making it easier for some people, but recognizing that it already is harder for some people, and that we should perhaps compensate for that a bit as a society.

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He Cannot Speak Spanish

“She knows he cannot speak Spanish.  She did this last year,” I remember my aunt telling my uncle.

I smiled and said “thank you” while paging through the book to imply excitement.  I was confused while doing this.  The whole reason I was pretending to be happy about the book was because my aunt was there, and she always insisted I be grateful for any and all gifts.  Yet, she was not happy about this gift.

Peggy is my aunt’s mother-in-law.  She has never been happy that her son married into a Mexican family.  She also resented that her daughter-in-law broughts nieces and nephews over to her family gatherings.  In this case, we were there for Christmas, and all of our presents were children’s books in Spanish.

My early childhood was spent moving between East Los Angeles and Ontario, California.  All of the neighborhoods were poor and made up of minorities.  My mom would use my aunt’s address to register me for school in the more affluent communities my aunt called home.  As a result, most of my classmates were white and middle class.

Some of my dearest friends as a young child would call me “lazy” “hector” “poor” and so on because I am Mexican.  This never bothered me, as I took it as kidding.  I would joke back.  I never took it that seriously.

Other kids at school would deny that I could be Mexican.  I do not know if this is because my skin is light, or if it is because they did not think I “behaved Mexican.”  It was always rather odd to me to try and prove myself.  If they do not believe I am Mexican, how am I supposed to prove it?  Even as a young child, I had a problem standing by claims I could not prove, so I would just become quiet when pressed.  Perhaps these children took it as an admission that I was just pretending to be Mexican.

In any case, it was the children who doubted my being Mexican who bothered me the most.  Until I moved in with my aunt.  It was an exciting time for me.  I went from an apartment where my best friend’s older brother was shot and killed at my front door, an apartment where I would watch cockroaches run across my mom’s sleeping face at nice, and where we used an old coffee table as a couch because we could not afford a coach, to a beautiful house with an air conditioner, washer, dryer, and many other amenities.  My friends were all impressed by my aunt’s house — the one which had been mine according to school registration forms for several years now — as it was big even by the middle class standards of my school.

After celebrating my birthday party there, kids talked about the house for several days.  It all made me happy and confident.  Until very solemnly one of my best friends who had really liked the house initially asked, “did your family just use welfare to buy that house?”  Now, my friends had joked much worse than this… however before it always sounded like a joke.  This was no joke.  My friend was bothered, and it bothered me.  Years later I would find out that this question came from his older brother who did not like Mexicans when he told him about how I suddenly moved to a new house.  Apparently, vast amounts of welfare money was the only plausible explanation for my not living in poverty anymore.

The aunt who I moved in with was not the only one who had married a white man.  My other aunt married a man of German descent and had children with him.  My cousin from this marriage was one of my primary playmates growing up.  For the most part we would get along, but of course we also fought sometimes.  One time we were arguing in the swimming pool of the house I had moved into about what game to play.  She insisted that she was in charge.  First it was because she was older.  When I refused to do what she said because she was older, she then changed tack and said that Mexicans could not be in charge.  I immediately responded that we were both Mexican.  She said that she is only half-Mexican and hence  better than me,

Today, I do not consider myself Mexican.  It is not a culture I identify with.  This might largely be due to the fact that I do not identify with my biological family at all.  If I am not rooted in my family, why would I pay much attention to its culture?  Giving up my Mexican identity was a slow process.  Several times over the years I have thought to myself, “those kids who used to deny I am Mexican actually were right.”  Yet, I still feel that sense of isolation and anger when I remember the times I have been discriminated against for being Mexican or not Mexican enough.

While I was still struggling with how to identify, my friends Gabriel and Miguel were talking about how white people do not understand Mexicans.  My facial expression prompted Miguel to say, “Patrick, I will accept you as a Mexican when you learn to speak Spanish.”

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I don’t blame the other woman

I blame the one who othered me.

You are just another one who betrayed me.


And I still talk to my mom.

It’s not that I believe in ghosts

It’s that I do not believe

In living people.

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I understood both sides of the story, and let my mother die alone.  Before you start thinking I am a horrible person, let me warn you, I very well may be.  There is frankly something about me and the stands I have taken that bring me joy though.

My family treated my mom as a non-individual.  I know she used to be more.  My mom had an overwhelming desire to express her unconditional love for me.  She had a fierce sense of justice, that was colored by the bigotry which victimized her.   As a young child, she used to tell me that we should love gay people and never judge them, even if gay sex was disgusting and their lifestyle was less than praiseworthy.  This meant something to me as a young child who already knew he was gay.  I was disgusting, but still, worthy of love.  It made me feel more secure in who I was, but also convinced me that part of caring for my mother involved not letting her know too much about me.

I suppose I did not let anyone know too much about me.  My family took this as an opportunity to  assume I was my mom.  Despite her sense of justice, my mother knew  better than to fight battles.  Battles were something she lost.  I remember when my grandma was throwing coffee mugs at her, she ducked.  When my cousins taunted me and I hid behind my mother, she pretended not to notice my cousins.

My mother had a cyst growing in her underarm.  It was huge and leaked.  It humiliated my mom.  My mom was never allowed to feel feminine.  She was told by her family that her lovers were disgusting, and her lovers always ended up leaving her for other women.  After a while she just started obsessing over married men who had no idea they were the object of her attractions.  She was ugly.  She used electrolysis to get ride of her facial hair to no avail.  Her feet were big, and she had bunions and fungus in her nails.  She was morbidly obese.  Her nephews reminded her of this, as their mothers smiled and laughed.  That being said, I really think my mom wanted some sympathy for her cyst that took a while to have removed.  There was a pain looked on my mom’s face when my aunt declared she was not going to be seen with her in public until it was gone.

My mom preached love.  I remember confronting her about this.  She had peace chains hanging from her car and talked about positive vibes in the universe.  I knew she seethed with hate.  It was understandable, but when I tried breaking the wall, she was wrathful.  I think her young son was the one person she hoped not to be dominated by.

I protected my mom.  I slept at the house with her, and put chairs against the door because she was afraid of kidnappers.  It was only years later that I realized she probably had no fear of kidnappers.  Making me think it was my job to protect her from them at the age of six was her way of keeping me with her.  It worked, I thought I could be who she wanted, a strong, loyal person.

My mom had given up on strong and loyal people.  She just wanted to be free from people who could make her feel horrible about herself.  Anyone who was strong was a threat, because in her eyes, they would eventually make her cower.

And so, one day, my my little cousin was getting something from the freezer without asking my mom snapped and yelled at him.  My aunt told her to stop, she was being mean.  This triggered my mom’s wrath, for the first time she stood up for herself.  She quickly forgot any notion of love or positive vibes in the universe.  She told my aunt what she really thought, and she told me what would happen.

My mom would move out, I would move with her.  I would have no choice in the matter, I am her child after all.

At the age of fifteen I had enough a love for politics to understand the role of the Secretary of State.  And so I saw myself as a third party foreign minister who could negotiate.  I began setting the groundwork for negotiations by sitting down with my mom and talking to her about her grievances.  The goal was to then try my hand at shuttle diplomacy and go to my aunt, who only months before, by own mother told me I should see as a second mother.

I thought my mom would be receptive to this, because in the past, I had gotten her to confide with me about my aunt.   My aunt would tell my mother that she had to keep me in check.  My mom did not say anything to my aunt about this, but she was angry enough to tell me.  So I would tell my mom that I would not ever let my aunt bully me.  That if she thought she could threaten me, she was mistaken.

Yet, she was clearly not content to confide in me anymore.  She wanted to be able to act uninhibited, she had wrath to get out, she was not in the mood for conversation.  If she had to speak with her fifteen year old son, how could she expect to take on my aunt who was the most domineering person next to perhaps my grandma, that my mom had ever known?

So my mom told me I was a child, that I had no idea what I was talking about.  That she was my mother and would decide what we do.

The problem is, that my aunt was never the villain I have made her out to be thus far.  My aunt is a co-dependent, manipulative, aggressive person.  My mother was married to her in every substantive sense specifically because she was the other half my mother so desperately needed.  When my mom was unable to function because of all the trauma, including sexual assault and abandonment she had dealt with, it was my aunt who ran her life for her.  My aunt functioned for my mom when my mom could not function for herself.  In her turn, my aunt used this power to control  my mom and use her as a punching bag.  My mom also used her as free babysitting and as a line of credit.

I understood they both were right and wrong.  My aunt saw herself as take charge, as someone who had coaxed my mom in a healthier direction and tried to snap her out of her morass.  She somehow was able to overlook how far out of her way she would go to make my mom feel like less of a person, to make her feel marginalized in her own family.

If both were wrong going into this, my goal was simply to help them both negotiate a relationship which would be mutually exclusive.  My mother’s refusal to work with me, and my aunt’s willingness to treat with me pushed me to my aunt’s side.  It is not that I thought my aunt was now somehow right, but that my aunt was speaking to me.

In my family, I was just as much a non-factor as my mom.  Though I had seen conflict coming, I thought it would involve my mother and I standing up for ourselves, now she was treating me as the non-factor.

My aunt and mother co-parented me.  In the ensuing weeks my mom removed permission for my aunt to pick me up from school, went to my school herself to change the classes I was in without talking to me first, and constantly assured me my time with my aunt, who I had known all my life was coming to an end.

So I decided to stop talking to my mother.  I put forth that I was willing to talk to her when she was willing to talk to me and be respectful.  So long as she continued to belittle me, and be disruptive to my school life, I would have nothing to do with her.

This humiliated her, and she went out of her way to try to be more controlling.  My only path forward was to stand up for myself.  My mother was not letting me stand up for her.  And so, I took the things I knew about my mother, that she was lonely, and insecure, and I used them to make certain she would not be able to threaten me.  Basically, I disempowered her psychologically the way my family did.  I made sure she never had the will to try to have me removed from my aunt’s.

My mother had custody of me, legally, until I was eighteen.  However, once my aunt kicked my mother out of the house, I never had a friendly conversation with her again.  By that time, I had made further demands of her.  She would now have to apologize for making fun of the death of my aunt’s daughter, in addition to having to treat me respectfully.

Instead my mother crafted a narrative in which I was remaining with my aunt because my aunt had money, and I secretly really loathed my aunt.  She told everyone in the family and it got back to my aunt.  In fact, some of the words were true.  I had confided in my mom and tried reassuring her that I would stand up to my aunt for us both if that is what I had to do.  It is simply wrong to assume that that meant I actually did not love my aunt.  I have always loved my aunt, but I was willing to stand up to her.  I have always loved my mom, but I stood up to her.

In the years since, my mom has continued with her narrative.  It grew to include the assertion that I am autistic, belong in a mental hospital, and of course, that I am a “disgusting faggot”.  My mother’s anger never subsided, and so I moved on with my life.

When I found out my mother was dying, I was in no hurry to see her.  I felt a bit bad, for the stranger who was dying.  I knew her once, and I knew she was sad and lonely.  I knew I could have stood up for her, maybe I could have saved her.  That is what I really wanted as a child.  To save my family, which meant saving my aunt and my mom and my grandma.  Ultimately, it meant a promise of happiness and security for me.

I did not go to the hospital though.  In the end, my mom surrounded herself with people who treated her and myself as non-factors.  I would be happy to let them grieve, whatever it is that they wanted to grieve, but I was not going to do it with them.  

When my cousin told me on the phone that my mother was brain dead, he was angry with my response.  I honestly did not anticipate his anger at my response.  My cousin always made fun of my mom.  He made fun of her, of my dad, of me.  Not kidding, he was just expressing his superiority.  A brain dead person is in many ways a non-factor, and that is how my cousin had always treated her.  

He told me to watch my mouth and keep my thoughts to myself.  I told him I could figure out how to manage the expression of my thoughts.  Oddly, while talking to my cousin about my lack of desire to see my mother, I imagined my mother looking at me proud.  My mom died a non-factor.  She failed.

My mom really did love me though.  I have not found the happiness we both wanted so much.  I still expect people to put their dysfunctions above their love for me.  I make connections with people who I assume will abandon me, or who I will have to abandon at some point because they are too toxic.  I think about feeling unconditionally loved, and I try to remember it.  I do not think I will experience it again.

I understand both sides of the story though.  I did experience unconditional love, a love my mom never had at any point in her life.  In the end, I realized I did not even have that unconditional love for her.  I stood up for myself in a way that would make a healthier version of my mother proud.  That brings me joy, it brings me comfort.

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Meow.  Those were not his last words.  Claudius did not have words.  He was a cat.  An amazing one.

When I picked up his ashes, there was enclosed a poem:

Redefined Love

Do not grieve for I’m still here.

I live in memory and not in fear.

I am always with you, night and day,

In memories of when we used to play.


Your kiss was wetter than my nose,

So please dismiss your mournful woes.

And reminisce upon my kiss,

Of you this is what I truly wish.


Remember all the times we shared,

The laughs and moments cannot compre.

And know that life is bittersweet,

But the love we shared was a special treat.


Please dry your tears and lift your head,

Because our relationship isn’t dead.

Our life, a book, has not been closed,

But a new has been exposed.


We will live this new chapter all the way out,

Together, with each other, without a doubt.

Now take a step forward, I’m behind.

For now our love has been redefined.

I found it beautiful, even if a bit cheesy.  Ultimately, it is not true though.  Claudius did not have any conscious wants or desires for my future.  He has no opinion on how I should live my life without him.  Claudius was not a human, and I take nothing from him if I attempt to avoid anthropomorphizing him.

Claudius was more amazing than many human beings I know.  It is not because he somehow had more humanity than them.  It is just a silly prejudice we have, that we think the worth of a creature can be judged by how human or close to human it is.

No, Claudius was a sweet, vibrant, beautiful cat.  He never knew his name.  He never knew the words I spoke.  He did know the sound of my voice.  He did come to me when I hit the mattress with my hand.  He would run to me.

At night, when I tossed and turned with insomnia, he was there next to me, cuddling me.  Other cats were to.  Then I would move, tossing and turning uncomfortably.  The cats would leave, Claudius would remain.

When I turned to another side, I would grab him and pull him with me, so that he would remain sleeping next to me.  Often my face was buried in his fur, and I enjoyed breathing into and out of his fur.

He was warm and soft.  He comforted me.

I knew he was sick before anyone else.  Not because of words.  Because I knew how to read him.  I knew he was sick when he did not have any specific symptoms.  He was just different, I felt it.

A couple days later, and it was easy to notice, something was wrong.  I refused to panic.  Cats get sick just like people do.  I knew I would take him to the veterinarian if he did not get better soon… why rush him to the vet and put him through all of that stress if he is just a bit under the weather though?

Part of me, maybe not all of me, but part of me knew he was dying.  I do not know why.  I suppose the narrative just made sense in my head.  I have lost those I love unexpectedly before.  I have also learned how not to panic.  So I stayed calm.

Luther ended up taking him to the veterinarian for me because I had work.  The veterinarian gave Claudius a shot and antibiotics.  He felt Claudius should be hospitalized, but we did not have the money for that.  I also was not sure if there was a need for that.  Being in a hospital could hurt him.  I knew that being away from me would devastate and scare him.  I did not think that was a great way to make him better.

Also, we do not have much money.

On a Friday night, I changed the blankets and sheets on my bed.  Claudius had peed all over them.  I then took him to a kitty litter tray I had set up just for him.  I assumed he had been peeing because he did not want to be around other cats, because jumping into the cat litter tray was difficult for him in his state, or because he simply was too winded to get to the tray.  So I set up a tray which required no climbing, kept all the other cats away from it, and I carried him there myself.  He just seemed slightly alarmed that I would sit him in cat litter.  He quickly got out and meowed a pained meow.

So I figured he was done peeing for the night.  I took him to bed with me, and he slept.  At about 1:30am I got up to go to the restroom.  When I came back Claudius had moved to where I was sleeping, and he had peed apparently without standing up because he was wet too.  He had such a pained look on his face.

I slept on the other side of the bed.  I had no more clean blankets and I did not have the energy to change them even if I did.  I gently picked Claudius up and took him to the family room.  I sat him down on the futon and said, “I know you are sick baby, if you need to pee on this go ahead, but I need to sleep.”

I then walked to my room and closed the door so he could not come back and pee on me again.  I thought about just sleeping with him.  He might finally be done peeing… or even if he peed on me, who cares?  He is sick, and I can live with it.

I convinced myself that was silly though.  I needed to be able to sleep through the night so that I would have energy in the morning to get up and get him to the hospital.  He could survive one night without sleeping with me.

And so on a Saturday morning I got myself approved for a line of credit through care credit and took him to the hospital.  When I was called in, they immediately asked if they could take him in the back to stabilize him, I said “sure.”  Then a few minutes later they wanted to know if it came to it if I wanted my cat to be resuscitated.  I was a little confused and thought they must ask everyone these questions out of caution.

Then the veterinarian came in to speak with me.  She had to say that Claudius was in critical condition several times before I heard it.

We soon determined he had FIP.  It is not treatable.  And so, I made the decision to have him put to sleep.

They brought him into the room with me.  The vet tech said, “he really hates us, but I am sure he is happy to see you.”  And she was right.  She opened the door of the carrier and he growled at her, then he was put on my lap, and he let me pet him.  He was on pain medication, and seemed a bit like his old self… you know, from a week ago when he was perfectly healthy.

They left me to be alone with him, and I apologized for not letting him sleep with me his last night on earth.  I would have let him pee all over me.  I would have happily walked into that emergency pet clinic drenched in his pee.  

He did not know words.  I do not know what he was feeling.  I just know we had a really strong bond.  I know that my saying “I love you” never meant a thing.  I know petting him and holding him, that meant a lot to him.  So I do not know what he was thinking when he could barely breathe because his lungs were being filled with a disgusting fluid, and he was locked out of the room, locked away from the one person who could comfort him.  You know, the person who was busy sleeping on the side of the bed without pee.

I do not know how much of our bond was shattered by that night.  Or shattered that morning when I gave him over to strangers to poke him with needles and terrify him as we tried to find out what was wrong.

I like to think some of that bond survived.  I suppose I know it did, because he growled at the vet tech, and pliantly curled up in my lap.  He was comfortable.  Then he wanted to get down.  There was a long tube sticking out of his arm though.  I gently placed him on the ground.  I knew he was feeling relatively comfortable because of the medication, and thought he might like exploring a bit.  But he could not walk with the tube.  So I just put him down to trip awkwardly.  I picked him up, and he just wanted to get back down.  After everything else, this beautiful cat could not even walk.

“I guess you just can’t walk kitty.”

Anyone who knows cats knows when they want down, they want down.  He did not put up much of a fight though.  Initially I thought I had comforted him, then I realized that with that much fluid in his lungs, he simply did not have the capacity to put him too much of a fight.  I felt so cruel for letting him down just to fall like that.  

When the vet tech came back in, I asked her to take the tube off so he could walk.  She said sadly, “well, we are going to have to use that tube to…”

“I understand.  I am ready.”

And so my cat did not sleep with me, and he did not walk that morning.  My cat is dead, so my words do not matter.  Not that they mattered when he was alive.  Only actions matter with a cat.  I just cannot stop saying “I am sorry” though.  I want to apologize so badly.

But you know, his ashes are still in a box in my car, because I have not wanted to bring them in.  

I am so sorry.Claudius.jpg

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