Welcome To Darwinian Reactionary


I. Introduction:

A.  Dear Progressives: My Path From Left To Right

B.  Teleology and Modern Liberalism


II.  Realism

A. Sex:  Sex Is Not A Social Construct

B.  Sexual Orientation:  The Myth Of Sexual Orientation

C.  Race:  Race (And) Realism.
Part I, Part II, Part III

D.  Ethnicity:  Why The “No True Scotsman” Fallacy Isn’t a Fallacy (And Why It Matters)

E.  Genocide:  The Ultimate Guide to Cultural Marxist Genocide
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7


III.  Teleofunctionalism

A.  Psychological: Biofunctional Psychology and HBD

B.  Social

1.  Teleofunction, Not Tradition

2.  Alienation and Diversity

3.  Why Diversity Destroys Social Capital
Part I, Part II, Part III

4.  Marriage

a. A Darwinian Look at Marriage
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

b. How a Lack of Teleological Thinking Lost The Marriage Debate

5.  The Biosemantics of Self-Representation
Part I, Part II

C.  Ethical:

1.  The Shakers, Deathwish Values, and Autonomy

2.  Restoring a Virtue-Based Ethics For The 21st Century
Part I, Part II, Part III

D.  Political:  Church, State, Civilization

1.  Allow Me To Explain The Darkness Of The Human Soul

2.  Coming Someday


IV.  Conclusion

I apologize for repeating myself so much in these posts. This was done to bring newcomers up to speed.

h/t Wrath of Gnon


Allow Me To Explain The Darkness Of The Human Soul

Church, State, Civilization
Part 1: Allow Me to Explain The Darkness Of The Human Soul

The title of this post is meant to be something of a joke as I took it from this South Park clip:

I want to discuss what I see as some of the implications of the current standard understanding of human psychology as seen through a Darwinian lens. I don’t think I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said in other places, but maybe I’m putting together things that haven’t been put together before.

Current Darwinian theory holds that there have been three great forces shaping human nature. First there is the simple requirement to survive in competition with other organisms. These forces have produced the “selfish genes” which proliferate due to their ability to survive and replicate. These selfish genes produce organisms seeking their own individual survival and reproduction so that they may pass on their genes.

The second force is kin selection which explains the seemingly contradictory fact that many organisms spend a good deal of time and energy not on their own selfish needs, but on their offspring and families. Kin selection shows how a gene may still be interested in its own survival despite having the organism it inhabits acting altruistically since sexually reproducing organisms will share 50% of their genes with their offspring.

Finally, reciprocal altruism shows how an organism might still benefit even if it makes sacrifices that benefit unrelated organisms, as long as the other organism in turn reciprocate and provide a benefit as least as great as the cost of cooperation.

The long working of these forces on our species has molded human psychology, and created the psychological processes that in turn produce behavior. Genes build brains that produce consciousness that produces behavior. You can think of the brain and body as a ship built and outfitted by the genes for a journey on which they are passengers. The genes have provided our expedition with the tools past experience has shown to be needed in dealing with the various contingencies that can be expected on the journey.

Psychological processes are not different in kind from other biological processes. That is to say, our psychological processes have been designed by natural selection and work according to the same principles as other biological processes. Like, say, the heart, lungs, or liver, psychological processes have been selected for their ability to produce some beneficial effect. In the case of psychological processes, they are all designed to ultimately contribute to some successful behavior. As Millikan writes: “The capacity to have desires is maintained in the species, then, only insofar as some desires become goals, then become intentions, and finally are fulfilled. Hence one of the functions of desires too is to guide the organism towards their own fulfillment” (White Queen Psychology, p. 166).

For example, the struggle for individual survival and reproduction has produced our self-interested psychological processes. The subjective feeling of hunger, for instance, is designed to get the organism to procure food, to actually produce food-seeking behavior; sexual attraction is designed to get the organism to pursue sex; fear is designed to get the organism to seek safety, and so on. I need a name for this self-interested aspect of psychology and am going to call it the ego. This should not be confused with any other uses of “ego” such as Freudian accounts, but the word does have the connotation of selfishness, and so it seemed a suitable choice. Hunger, thirst, the sex drive, and fear are mental states that result from the workings of the ego. In addition, there is the drive to procure the means to achieve these ends–power–which mostly takes the form of the desire for material goods, wealth, or status. Finally, there is the desire to achieve these things with the expenditure of as little energy as possible, which you might call efficiency (or laziness if you’re feeling less kind).

The brain gets the organism to act in distinctive ways by producing mental states with imperative content. This just means that certain mental states are designed to produce behavior as hunger is designed to get the organism to go and procure food. Other mental processes such as beliefs do not have imperative content; they are not designed to produce behavior themselves, but they are supposed to be invoked as guides to behavior. The imperative content is encoded in the qualitative nature of consciousness, what philosophers call “qualia.” Appetites and emotions are imperative mental states.

The second force, kin-selection, has produced in us the subjective feeling of love and affection for our family members (but also conflicts between siblings). These emotional states are supposed to get the organism to care for and protect its offspring. Finally, our long history as social animals has produced pro-social feelings such as friendship and camaraderie, or loneliness and fear of ostracism, in order to benefit us through cooperating with others. In “Restoring a Virtue-Based Ethics for the 21-st Century” I argued that virtue is the process whereby these latter social emotions benefit the individual and take precedence over the imperatives of the selfish ego. These social emotions are self-interested, but they differ from the other imperatives of the ego in that they are designed to prevent or impede the workings of the ego in those cases where acting on its imperative would be disadvantageous as compared to producing a beneficial effect on potential cooperators.

It might be an oversimplification to state that the ego motivates with pleasure, kin selection with love, and reciprocal altruism with friendship or camaraderie, but it is pretty close.

If consciousness is produced by the brain, and the brain is produced by the genes in order to serve their ends, consciousness must be designed to further the ends of our genes. (“Serving the ends of” is transitive in this case.) A strong version of this thesis is that consciousness is constantly, in every instance, every single thought, actually serving the interests of the genes. A weaker version would hold that as long as major needs are met, such as hunger, thirst, safety, and sexual satisfaction, the mind is left free to wonder. But soon enough you can be sure that hunger or thirst or even boredom will create imperative states to get the organism up and moving and following the genetic imperatives.

One might be tempted to reply that psychological processes are independent of genetic influence. For example, in The Blank Slate Pinker writes:

The genes have metaphorical motives–making copies of themselves–and the organisms they design have real motives. But they are not the same motives. Sometimes the most selfish thing a gene can do is wire unselfish motives into the human brain–heartfelt, unstinting, deep-in-the-marrow unselfishness.

Combine this with the common misconception that the genes are a kind of essence or core of the person, and you get a mongrel of Dawkins and Freud: the idea that the metaphorical motives of the genes are the deep, unconscious, ulterior motives of the person. That is an error.

It would be easy to misinterpret a quote such as this as showing that our psychological processes aren’t serving genetic interests. Pinker thinks there is a line, a dualism, somewhere between genes and consciousness, and on one side of this line you have morality and on the other side you have value-free biological processes. When evaluating the morality of someone’s actions you should not consider the genetic ends these actions are serving. I’m not here arguing that this isn’t true or that there isn’t such a line (although if it does exist it must have been itself designed by the genes for their motives (or by God)), I am just claiming that even if there is such a line it doesn’t show that consciousness isn’t designed to further genetic ends. Pinker rightly claims that there are two senses of “motive”: motive-g(ene), and motive-h(human). But motive-h is indeed designed to further motive-g. Pinker urges us to pay no mind to that man behind the curtain when discussing morality, but he is there. If we switch from talk of motives to biological functions it must be that the brain structures that have the function to produce consciousness are serving genetic ends in doing so.

The imperatives of the ego are causal processes, like all biological processes, and considered by itself, in isolation from other psychological influences, the ego will produce its designed behavior as a matter of causal law unless something causally blocks them. (I will discuss the forces that block the workings of ego-imperatives below and in future posts) This is nothing more than saying thirst will produce drinking behavior unless, for instance, there is nothing around in the environment to drink and the organism knows this. Consider a photocopying machine. If the machine is in working condition, plugged in, filled with toner, loaded with paper, and a piece of paper with an image in placed in it, and the Copy button is pushed (Normal conditions in Millikan’s lingo), the machine will create a copy as a matter of the working of physical law. Likewise, unless impeded by other psychological states, mental or physical illness, or by the environment itself (as when the object of a desire is unavailable) the electro/chemical nervous system will succeed in producing its designed behavior as a matter of causal law.

Like all biological processes, the ego is designed to produce an effect–in this case fulfillment of its imperatives–and if these imperatives are not fulfilled it never stops working at it anymore than the lungs, heart, or liver cease at their work Normally. Just as the heart is always pumping blood, when unfulfilled the ego is always working out how to remove obstacles to its fulfillment. If left unfulfilled the appetites can increase their intensity until the organism complies; our feelings of hunger will grow stronger and stronger and make it harder and harder to resist acting on its imperative. If it feels stymied or has no idea how to proceed it will produce frustration or dissatisfaction, the purpose of which is to get the organism to work on fulfilling its imperatives.

In perusing its ends the ego employs practical reason. (In Millikan’s terms, the proper function of practical reason is producing Normal conditions for the desires.) This is just to say that if someone is hungry they will need to employ means/end reasoning in figuring out how procure food; they will have to go in the other room, open the refrigerator door, take out the food, etc.. Thus the ego is designed to do what it has to do to get around or remove obstacles that stand in the way of achieving its ends. As I mentioned before, the ego despises going unfulfilled, and will produce pain–hunger, thirst, fear, lust– as a means of getting the organism to fulfill its imperatives, and will keep employing practical reason to work on the problem. Imagine the ego as a machine for overcoming obstacles to the fulfillment of its imperatives. This is no different from Hume’s “reason is the servant of the passions” with the added biofunctionalism.

The ego creates self-interested imperative states and then works out how to fulfill them. That’s all it does. It doesn’t have conscience, sympathy, shame, or anything like that. These mental processes may exist and may serve to limit acting on the ego, but their nature and purpose, and the forces that created them, are quite different from that of the ego. Of course I am not claiming that the ego always succeeds in getting the organism to act on its imperatives, or succeeds in attaining them even if it does, or that the individual has no control over its behavior. I am only saying that imperative psychological states have the function of producing their fulfillment, whether or not they are acted upon or are fulfilled. There are many factors that can impede the ego from fulfilling its imperatives. First, there is the environment itself where the object of our appetites–food, drink, wealth, sex, power– simply might not be currently available, or there are no known means to attain them. Second, other mental states are designed to prevent the ego from producing behavior. As the ancients knew, the soul is often in conflict with itself. Just because the ego may be pushing for a behavior doesn’t mean the that whole organism is (see Millikan’s “The Bundle of Biological Purposes Which is Us.”). Hunger might be pushing us to engage in some course of action while fear is serving its function by telling us to seek safety. This has necessitated higher-order mental processes–the Will–to adjudicate between opposing urges. For one thing, the pursuit of our appetites might negatively affect other people such that they withdraw the benefits of reciprocation and cooperation. The benefits accrued by producing a beneficial effect on other people might outweigh the benefits of acting on our appetites. In this case, social emotions–fear of negative social consequences such as ostracism–will prove stronger that the imperatives of the ego. Simply put, you might crave a hot fudge sundae, but don’t want to get fat, and so resist the urges of the appetite. Or you might have a strong urge to be violent towards someone who has angered you but fear either their retribution, prison, or the consequences of gaining a reputation for being untrustworthy.

The ego is thus the source of the urge to defect and free-ride. That is to say, the psychological drive to cooperate produced by reciprocal altruism is in conflict with the ego-imperative to not have to suppress itself or expend excess energy. Imagine a group of cooperators working to gather food. If the selfish ego can receive the benefits of others’ labor without expending energy itself, it will happily do so. It is the psychological fear of punishment/ostracism and the withdrawal by the group of the benefits of reciprocal altruism that motivates cooperation. There is a dilemma playing out between conflicting psychological forces as representation of the real world consequences. The ego despises being repressed, and is designed to look for a way to enjoy the benefits of cooperation without having to repress its own desires.

Let’s now take an ego’s-eye view and look at how it can be expected to act if unimpeded by other factors. The ego would view internal impediments as just another obstacle to be overcome, in no way different from external obstacles. Even if it is the job of the social emotions to prevent the workings of the ego, it’s also part of the ego’s job to overcome these obstacles. Rationalization is the ego employing practical reason in order to get around these inner psychological obstacles to its fulfillment. It is not different in kind from figuring out how to open a door to get the food inside. If you need some particular belief to get around an impediment, the ego will happily provide it. The ego’s ability to employ both practical reason and self-deception/rationalization is a powerful combination. Almost anything can be justified through this means; any impediment to the fulfillment of the appetites can be removed. You can rationalize, say, breaking your diet (“I walked up a flight of stairs today so I now can have a hot fudge sundae”), stealing a neighbors property (“they didn’t need it anyway”). Murderers can justify murdering their victims; rapists can justify rape (“she was asking for it”).

In addition to these internal impediments to the ego there are the three great human institutions designed to limit the ego: marriage, church, and state. When these institutions are powerful in a society, most people will lack the power to overcome the pressure they exert. But the powerful, the clever, the devious, the alienated, or the resentful have the means to pursue their ego-imperatives by dismantling social and institutional obstacles.  It might take decades or centuries to dismantle such institutions.

At the highest levels, practical reasoning combined with rationalization becomes theorization.  In pre-civilization, if you wanted something you would simply try to take it and it didn’t require any special justification. But civilization prevents violence unless it is justifiable; it demands that we justify our actions under an abstract theory of justice. When theories of justice, or even metaphysics, compete in a marketplace, the ego will purchase its favorite. When a libertarian says ” sorry, on my theory taxation is theft therefore we can not redistribute wealth” the response will siply be to get another theory to justify redistributing wealth. If there aren’t any currently on offer, practical reason will get to work creating one; the ego will produce a theory in order to get around any restrictions placed on it (unless the society possesses strong protections against such subversion). Marxists can give their theory to justify mass murder in the taking of people’s property, and since there are always plenty of people all looking for rationalizations to have restrictions on their appetites lifted, they will seize upon the justifications offered by such theories and become passionate followers. If you need a theory in order to get around social restrictions, the ego will provide them. Post-structuralism/post-modernism are just the realization that in order to justify leftist politics you need to deny the existence of reality. If that’s what is required, so be it.

The existentialists and their intellectual descendants claimed that once all religious, social, and institutional determinants of the will were removed the individual would possess radical autonomy and be able to spontaneously create their own values. But you can not design yourself; we have already been designed. Radical autonomy can’t generate imperative content, only our evolved brain does that. The promise of radical autonomy was just a smoke screen, a fiction to explain why it wouldn’t just end up in hedonism once societal impediments to the will had been lifted. But this is exactly what happened. Existentialism didn’t usher in a golden age of self-created individuals, it just handed the will over to the same old sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll hedonism.

Marriage requires the repression of one’s ego-imperatives in a cooperate/cooperate equilibrium (discussed here and here) and so has been a prime target for liberalism. The ego’s ideal would be–instead of having to actively and constantly put in the effort to seek the happiness of your spouse–to not have to put in any effort and still be rewarded despite constant defection. Liberalism/feminism has sold marriage as an institution where one gets to defect endlessly yet still be loved unconditionally: the ego’s fondest desire. What an attractive prospect! You are supposed to be loved “for who you are” and actually putting in effort to make your spouse happy would be to violate one’s sacred autonomy/authenticity. Once the ego has “reformed” marriage it would mean you don’t have to expend any energy on the happiness of your spouse–in fact any expectation that you owe your spouse any effort is evil!–and yet can expect unconditional love. However, when both partners expect to be able to defect and yet be loved unconditionally dissatisfaction will set in as neither will put in any effort and yet expects the other to do so.  Successful marriage takes constant effort on behalf of the happiness of your spouse.

Church and state will be the topics of parts 2 and 3, but I can say here that religion, being the primary obstacle to the pursuit of the appetites, will always be a primary target for removal. Once having successfully destroyed religion’s power to get people to repress their appetites, the main impediment to the fulfillment of the ego-imperatives is the preferences of other people. If their preferences can be altered or removed, the ego will happily do so. If finding overweight people unattractive can be done away with through a campaign against “fat phobia” (or “slut shaming”) the ego will try it. (I don’t think it can be so overcome as I don’t believe that that finding overweight people unattractive is a mere social convention.) Perhaps the ultimate endgame of mankind’s long struggle is to be surrounded by automatons who satisfy our every desire and indulge our every whim no matter how depraved without complaint; where no one ever has to limit their desires out of concern for its effect on other people.

Imagine an individual who lives a life of successfully fulfilling ego-imperatives. A mild version of this is the rock star life: sex with a different groupie each night, getting paid millions of dollars without having a grinding real job. This is an incredibly attractive prospect to a young man. (An aside: young men love the rock star life for the prospect of getting sex, wealth, and not having to do tedious work. But I think there is a different attraction for young girls. I don’t really think Katy Perry or Taylor Swift or their legions of young female fans are attracted to their glamorous life by the prospect of getting laid. For women, the attraction is being up on stage receiving adoration from millions of admirers. Oh, infinite validation! The female equivalent to infinite sex with groupies.) At the extreme, a rock star acting only upon the ego-imperatives will result in fat Elvis: eating whatever you want without concern for social effects, endless drugs, groupies, and blowing away TVs that annoy you.

A step up from the rock star is Tony Soprano or followers of the “Thug Life”–the gangster who feels entitled to murder whomever angers them. The “stop snitching” movement is a manifestation of this process. Here, even the ego-imperative for violence towards antagonists gets acted upon. (The Sopranos was a show about the conflicts between ego, kin and clan vs. church and state.)  To many, this is what “the pursuit of happiness” would ideally entail.

Now consider the end-game of the ego-imperatives. The ultimate end of the ego would be an environment where all the restrictions on ego-imperatives has been lifted. And so the ego will always be hostile to the state as it imposes restrictions upon the working of anger to produce violence, rape, and the desire for power in the form of other people’s property. As the ego is a machine for overcoming obstacles to the fulfillment of its imperatives, and the state’s purpose is to do just that, there will always be those who are working to undo civilization and get back to kin and clan alone. You see this in the inner city, as the “stop snitching” movement seeks removal of the state’s impediment to murder. The gangs that rule in parts of Western cities mark the return to the “natural” state of kin and clan alone being the rule.

I will discuss the state in more detail in part 3.

This doesn’t mean that the ego would be unconditionally against the state. The ideal end of the ego would an American inner city or European “no-go” zone where all artificial restrictions on the ego have been lifted and we are back to kin and clan alone. The state no longer has any ability to enforce the law/restrict the working of the ego, but is still useful as a way to actively fulfill the ego-imperatives with minimal effort on the part of its beneficiaries by providing welfare payments, food, housing, and medical care. The best of both worlds: the state no longer enforces the law, but actively satisfies ego-imperatives.

On the other hand is the rich liberal. The rich liberal has the power to fulfill his desires and would view repressive social arrangements as restricting and in need of dismantling. They are the primary force looking to undermine moralistic social conventions in order to avoid social consequences from pursuing the imperatives of the ego. To the rich liberal the state is useful to protect his wealth. The poor liberal however doesn’t have any wealth to protect, doesn’t fear becoming poor as they already are poor, doesn’t have a wonderful job and lifestyle to preserve. To the poor the state isn’t a protector of their wealth since they don’t have any. To them the state is an impediment to the possession of property, just another obstacle to be removed. When the poor pursue the life of the ego you get the sad disaster you see in many poor communities. But the rich are willing to sacrifice the poor to their fate as long as it frees them to pursue their appetites.

Thus, Leftism is the biological strategy of removing all obstacles to the fulfillment of ego-imperatives, and exploiting the apparatus of the state to fulfill them. Rightism is the belief that there need to be institutional restraints against the functioning of the ego. Church, state, marriage, family, virtue, self-responsibility, all have the function of placing impediments in the way of the functioning of the ego (to a lesser extent business and military place limits on the ego through the expectations that one has duties to fulfill) and so will always be a target of Leftism.

I can’t decide what to call the opposite to a life of the ego: the life of virtue, the civilized life, the formal life. None quite capture what I am looking for so I am going to follow Aristotle in calling it “the good life” (although what I mean by that is different from what Aristotle means).

I am not saying that the ego is always bad and social emotions are always good. No one enjoys indulging their appetites more than I do, and cults can put intense social pressure on people to act against their own best interests. The issue is whether the behavior is leading towards living the form of a good human life. Rightism is the claim that in civilization the good human life involves the restraint of the ego to one’s parents, friends, family, spouse, God, and law. I discuss in more detail how virtue is the repression of the ego to produce a beneficial effect on other individuals in “Restoring a Virtue-Based Ethics For the 21st Century.” In parts two and three I will be discussing the role of church and state.

To give away the conclusion, civilization is, well, it’s an endless war of good vs. evil. It is not a set of universally agreed upon rational axioms as Rawls holds; it is the endless battle of partisans of the good life against the ego’s attempts to remove all impediments and return to kin and clan.
We will discuss the role of the church in this battle in part 2.

The Reader’s Digest Guide To Cultural Marxist Genocide


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A while back I wrote a series of posts called “The Ultimate Guide to Cultural Marxist Genocide.”  This was a long, 7-part series detailing the nature of genocide, and in hindsight it was too much to expect a casual reader to stick with the whole thing.  So this is a condensed version of that series putting the main argument in one post.  Please check out the original series for important details of the argument.
The first step in the argument is to present the account of genocide given in the United Nations Convention on Genocide:
[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as:
(a) killing members of the group;
(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) forcible transferring children of the group to another group.

The three things to take from this is 1) that national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups are the genocide-susceptible kinds, and 2) that genocide isn’t just the result of mass murder, it is the intentional destruction of a genocide-susceptible kind by murder or other means, including 3) “inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
The second step in the argument is Raphael Lemkin’s description of genocide.  Lemkin is the father of the notion of genocide, and he fought tirelessly to get it adopted as a crime against humanity.  See his Wikipedia entry here.  Lemkin said:
“Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings [emphasis mine], religion, and the economic existence of national groups and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.” (Lemkin quoted in Stephen L. Jacobs, “Indicting Henry Kissinger: The Response of Raphael Lemkin,” in Adam Jones, ed., Genocide, War Crimes, and the West, p. 80.)

As I have said before, I’m not a fan of the phrase “Cultural Marxism,” but it has caught on and the phenomenon it captures needs a name.  If I was asked to define Cultural Marxism I would recite this quote from Lemkin verbatim.  According to Lemkin, genocide involves “disintegration” and “the destruction of essential foundations” of genocide-susceptible kinds.  This is exactly what Cultural Marxism aka modern multicultural/cosmopolitan liberalism aims to do.

The third step is to better understand “the essential foundations” of genocide-susceptible kinds Lemkin is referring to.  Here we need to understand Millikan’s claim that:
“Many kinds of interest to social scientists, such as ethnic, social, economic, and vocational groups are historical kinds” (On Clear and Confused Ideas, p 22).

I have discussed Millikan’s notions of historical kinds in detail here, here, and here.  See those posts for the details, but since I’m trying to keep this post short you can think of historical kinds as a group of individuals who have a property in common as the result of natural forces that caused that property to be there.  “English-speakers” is an example of an historical kind as the language is copied from individual to individual as each user learns the language.  “Baseball players” is another historical kind as the rules for playing baseball are copied to new players.  Historical kinds persist through time due to the continuing work of these natural forces, aka the essential foundations, the sustaining force of the kind.  If they are prevented from working, as Cultural Marxism, endeavors to do, the group will cease to exist.

There are four such forces when it comes to ethnic groups.  I discussed these forces in detail in the full series:
From part 2:  Reproduction.  Groups must produce new members at least as fast as old members are lost.
From part 3:  Homeostatic Compatibility:  Shared cultural practices are cooperative conventions that form much of the distinctiveness of groups, and mutually reinforce members to persist in their use.
From part 4:  Stable Environment, Territory, or Homeland:  The continuance of the historic territory of a group produces cultural adaptations that contribute to the persistence of the group.
From part 5:  Emotional Value:  Members of a group need to feel an affection or emotional attachment in order to see its value and put in the effort to see to it that group continues to exist

Cultural Marxism is genocidal in that it attacks and prevents the working of these forces that allow ethnic and other genocide-susceptible kinds to persist.

The crux of my argument is this: ethnic and other genocide-susceptible kinds require the working of these forces in order to persist.  The prevention of the working of these forces by individuals, society, or the state through laws, sanctions, violence, or social pressure, would result in the destruction, in whole or in part, of the genocide-susceptible kind, i.e., would be genocide. Cultural Marxism advocates and facilitates the prevention of the working of these forces. Therefore, Cultural Marxism advocates genocide.

Thus, the forces I discussed in parts 2 – 5 must be allowed to do their job of sustaining ethnic and other genocide-susceptible kinds. Specifically, from part 2, ethnic groups can not be prevented or censored from the reproduction of their distinctive traditions, or from advocating the creation of new members of the kind, i.e, advocating against miscegenation is not in any way morally objectionable.
From part 3: members of an ethnic group can not be hindered or censured for seeking to live among members of their own kind, i.e., “white flight” or any other kind of ethnic clustering is not immoral or objectionable, although introducing the factors that cause it is.
From part 4: an ethnic group has a right to reserve its territory to itself, i.e, borders, immigration controls, or housing discrimination are in no way morally objectionable.
From part 5: an ethnic group has the right to inculcate affection for the group in its members in order to urge them to perpetuate the kind and defend its territory, i.e., patriotic celebrations and displays of ethnic pride, ethnocentrism, or attempts to inculcate group affection among a people, are in no way morally objectionable.

In short, it is perfectly acceptable and unobjectionable, and in no way unjust discrimination, to favor members of your own kind when it comes to a whole host of behaviors and social functions. On the contrary, efforts to weaken and destroy these forces, known as Cultural Marxism, are immoral and unjust and may or must be resisted.

The original series ends in Part 7 with a discussion of the long-abused ancient virtue of loyalty, and discusses and rejects the reasons loyalty is today considered verboten.

Dear Progressives: My Path From Left To Right

I was a liberal;  a latte-sipping, NPR-listening, Salon-reading, organic food-eating, SWPL.  I worked for the Clinton and Kerry campaigns.  I gave to Greenpeace and the ACLU.  I’m the nicest guy you could ever meet.  How did I end up as one of the world’s top shitlords?  In some ways I feel like I haven’t changed at all, and just by standing still while the left moved into loony land I ended up on the far right.  In another time I might have been a classic working class, patriotic, pro-union, pro-family Democrat.
Primarily I was, and still am, an environmentalist.  But if you’re an environmentalist that means you’re a Democrat, and once in the Democratic circle you pick up all of the other leftist viewpoints.  But even at my most leftist, I was always disappointed in many liberal views and always thought it was counterproductive for us leftists to hold these views.  For example, I always disagreed with radical feminist beliefs, and was frustrated by their insistence that men and women be psychologically identical, or that sexual attraction was learned, or that beauty standards were entirely conventional.  I never believed that the difference between a beautiful girl and an ugly one was entirely the result of media images and other examples of feminist dogma.


These differences weren’t enough for me to abandon my leftism.  But as time went on, the left progressively, spectacularly, went straight into the loony bin.  They just kept adding more and more insane claims until I couldn’t abide it any longer.  When the left went from saying you should not harm homosexuals to attacking “heteronormativity,” that was a straw.  It was just insane to me to claim that heterosexuality wasn’t the biological norm.  (See “The Myth of Sexual Orientation” for details.)  When racism went from the belief that you should not treat someone badly because of their race, to an impersonal, omnipresent, invisible, malevolent force against which you must guard every stray thought lest you be lead astray–when it became witchcraft–that was a straw.  When the Sierra Club sold out the environment over immigration, that was a straw.  The way leftists obviously expanded the definition of emotionally charged words like rape, racist, hate, and oppression for political gain was a straw.  The slogan “diversity is our strength” was a big straw.  I think I first heard this phrase during the Clinton administration.  I laughed because it was so obviously not true, and Clinton said it with his characteristic practiced liar’s sincerity.  How in the world could someone after Rwanda, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland say with a straight face that diversity was a strength?  It was clearly a marketing slogan for how to sell what was going to be pushed whether it was a strength or not.  It was far more obvious that diversity increased alienation, suspicion, resentment, hostility, and conflict.  Throughout history nations have struggled to foster unity and have been torn apart by factionalism.  Even though it was clearly untrue it was brilliant politics.  Let the Republicans deny it!  This is a clear case of how democratic politics forces us to believe falsehoods for political expediency.  See “Alienation and Diversity” and “Why Diversity Destroys Social Capital.”

Despite the massive numbers of straws on this camel’s back I still was a leftist because the Republicans were so horrible.  Despite their rhetoric, the Republicans have only one principle:  corporate interests.  They will abandon their professed respect for the rule of law if immigration favors corporate interests.  They bail out Wall Street and abandon their talk of free markets or family values if it is against corporate interests, and so on.

But by and by I came to hate feeling like I had to believe things I didn’t really believe just because it helped “our side”:  that I had to root for Clinton when he was clearly a scumbag; that I had to be gleeful at Bush’s latest disaster since it helped our side; that I had to root for demagogues like Al Sharpton since he was on our side; that I had to subscribe to the entire leftist menu of affirmative action, government unions, centralized Federal power, etc..  I was long gone by 2008 but to see Obama’s sickening recitation of platitudes and empty promises, to see the Democrats bail out W all Street, to see leftists rage against the deficit when Bush was president but love it when Obama is, to be against war when Bush is president but ignore Obama’s undeclared and disastrous war in Libya, all reinforced my decision.

These hypocrisies on the left are endlessly pointed out by the right with no effect whatsoever on leftists because leftism has become not about principles and entirely about who? whom?  If it benefits our side it is acceptable, or we will create a principle on this occasion to justify the actions of our side.  On another occasion will will adopt a different principle if it benefits our side.  We’ll be for centralized power on one occasion, localization on another; for democracy on one occasion, fine with undemocratic mandates on another; anti-corporate on one occasion, pro-corporate on another.  Maybe there is something admirable to this win at any cost ethos, it has been incredibly successful after all, but my philosophic desire for consistency cringed at every reversal.  Of course the right does this too, but it was a blow to that we good liberals were just as bad if not worse since it was just so egregious.

At some point, I think Bush had caused yet another disaster, and I searched out some conservative blogs to bathe in schadenfreude.  What I found astonished me.  It turned out that conservatives weren’t the evil monsters that liberals had painted them.  It’s embarrassing to reflect on how naive I was but it was a shock to me to discover just how badly the left misrepresented the views of the right.   The left would always claim things like conservatives want women to be chained to the kitchen and die in coathanger back alley abortions!  The right hate the poor and want them to die from starvation!  The right hates African-Americans and wants a return to Jim Crow!   To discover that the right actually had reasoned positions and that the left was just out-and-out lying about what the right believed shattered my illusions.  We were the intellectual, reality-based community!  (Remember that phrase?)  We didn’t go for superstition unlike those theocracy-loving Republithugs!  We listened to NPR and NPR is what we smart informed people listen to, unlike that FOX News that lies and distorts!

Furthermore, important events that were discussed on right-wing sites were completely ignored by the left-wing (the right does this too, of course).  I realized I was being fed a worldview and any events that clashed with this worldview were ignored.  Leftist media wasn’t about informing its audience, it was about keeping them ignorant and in the fold.  So to discover that NPR/Slate/Salon/New York Times were just a propaganda operation was a shock to me.  Again, I was incredibly naive.

It is so difficult to break from being a leftist because it is the entirely of your identity.  White leftists believe themselves to be entirely self-created individuals and have no ethnic, racial, or religious identity.  It is an amazing coincidence how these purely self-created individuals all happen to end up with the same tastes, styles, opinions, and political views.  This is beginning to change as white liberals have come under attack and are starting to dimly perceive that they are a type, and live in homogenous enclaves like any other.  Even then it really angered me that despite all being white, having all their friends be white, living in white neighborhoods, listening to music made by white people, having the organic, fair-trade, localist values that only whites have, they had the smug clear conscience that they weren’t racist because they had learned the right things to say in the right situations to throw off suspicion.

Eventually I couldn’t stand professed tolerance that tolerated less and less deviation, inclusiveness that kept excluding more and more people, and diversity where every place had to be the same.  But the straw that broke the camel’s back was coming across the writings of Ruth Millikan.  Millikan is a philosopher’s philosopher: a member of The Academy of Arts and Sciences, awarded the Jean Nicod Prize, and one of the few philosophers honored with a volume in the Philosophers and Their Critics series.   I first was assigned her famous article “Biosemantics” as an undergrad, and was instantly hooked.  Millikan combined philosophy and Darwinism like no one had before and it hit me right between the eyes.   Over the years I devoured everything by her I could get my hands on, and have never stopped thinking about its implications.  Everything I write here is just an exercise in applied Millikanism.

Now, Millikan herself has never, as far as I know, written anything on moral or political topics.  So don’t blame her for my evil ways!  But the subtitle to Millikan’s groundbreaking Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories is New Grounds for Realism, and she has been described as a crusader for “industrial strength Realism” (Millikan and Her Critics, p. 211.)  Once you come to understand these grounds for realism you can’t help but see how many leftist arguments rely on anti-realist positions. Furthermore, I came to see the entire leftist package of anti-realist positions–sexism, racism, multiculturalism, Marxism–require the denial of reality.  Posmodernism/Post-structurlism are just the realization that you have to deny the existence of reality in order to justify leftist positions.    For example, see my “The Myth of Sexual Orientation,” “Race (And) Realism,”  “Why The No-True-Scotsman Fallacy is Not a Fallacy,” and “Sex is Not a Social Construct.”

Now, Millikan’s interest is how language and thought manages to represent reality.  And so one thing she needs to explain is how the world can be stable enough to be represented in language and thought.  As part of this project she discusses what she calls “historical kinds.”  Historical kinds are things like biological species; they don’t have an essence but are kept relatively constant in form over time by the acting of natural forces the way a child will resemble its parents in many respects because their genes are copied into their offspring.   Millikan writes:
“Many kinds of interest to social scientists, such as ethnic, social, economic, and vocational groups are historical kinds” (On Clear and Confused Ideas, p 22)
This passage is almost an aside,  just throwing out that, oh, by the way, these forces apply to ethnic groups as well.  But for me this passage had dramatic consequences because it caused me to ask of what historical kinds am I?  This shattered my pretensions and caused me to see just how much about me is inherited:  my genes, my language, my values, and all the productions of culture were transmitted to me by my parents and/or education.  You see, SWPL liberals see themselves as purely original self-created existentialist heroes.  We are individuals, not conformists!  Our values are based on pure reason!  We don’t go for superstition like those conservatives!  All these pretensions were destroyed by this passage.  I came to see how much of what I am is due to inheritance, heritage, tradition.  Furthermore, I came to see that the members of a kind must do certain things in order for their kind to continue to persist through time.  I had to be honest with myself that I actually like my European-American/WASP-y ethnicity and that if it is to persist it must be preserved and transmitted.

This was the final straw, to see that all of the things that a kind must do in order to continue to persist are exactly what liberalism condemns.  That if you have two groups, one of which refuses to do what it must in order to persist through time, and another group which does, the latter will inherit the Earth.  In fact, the Earth will always be inherited by those groups who take the effort to persist.   These considerations are detailed in “The Ultimate Guide to Cultural Marxist Genocide.”    I wrestled with these implications for a long time, for over a year actually.  But in the end I could not get over the conclusion that, whatever moral or political theory you prefer, it can’t, like the Shakers, lead to the extinction of those who practice it.  Values have survival value.  On the other hand, liberal values are “Deathwish Values,” they lead to the extinction of those who live by them, and can not endure through time.  If you adopt liberalism, you go extinct (see “The Shakers, Deathwish Values, and Autonomy“).  This is what is currently happening to all the ancient people’s of Europe due to their adoption of liberalism.  The world will always be inherited by those who live by values that ensure the survival of their kind.

That was it for me.  Seeing that liberalism ultimately destroys whomever practices it was the end.  My goal really became the preservation of my kind and the defeat of the liberalism which rots and destroys.  When I finally broke with the left it was quite a liberating feeling.  I was neither on the right nor the left.  I was free to believe what I truly believed, free to observe both sides from the outside.  Over the course of a couple of years I discovered Rod Dreher and his “Crunchy Cons.”  I liked it and it resonated with my small scale, environmentalist sensibilities.  From there it was Front Porch Republic and The American Conservative.  To find a branch of conservatism that was for decentralized political and economic power, anti-war, and an favor of supporting local businesses and communities over transnational corporatism was like coming home.  You see, the left was always talking about localization, but with the same breath was in favor of centralized political power in the Federal government.  (Remember the Seattle anti-globalism riots?  It looks like now the Democratic party is full-on the party of globalization.  How can the leftists not notice this?)  This “paleo-con” branch of conservatism contained the things I liked about leftism without the freaks.

From there I discovered Steve Sailer.  It was incredibly refreshing to come across someone who wasn’t afraid to notice the things that you’ve always known but couldn’t say.  So much of leftist discourse is about convincing you think that you aren’t really noticing what you are noticing.  Here was someone who actually said the things you notice but force yourself to ignore.  It is an odd experience to hear the boy point out that the emperor has no clothes when you were one of the people in the crowd admiring his finery.  On the one hand, you always knew he was naked, but on the other hand you wanted him to be clothed so badly you actually could see it.

I think it was from Steve Sailer that I came across Scharlach’s map.  The nodes on the map were the topics I was truly interested in.   Here was a group that took Darwin seriously.  Here was a group that took sex differences seriously.  Here was a group that was allowed to discuss demographics.  Here was a group that could discuss the drawbacks to multiculturalism.  Here was a group that was tied to neither side of the war of attrition between the left and right.  Here was a place where nothing was taboo and all cards were on the table.  I had found the sandbox in which I wanted to play.

To any Leftists reading:  the Left is evil.  The Left is building an ugly, alienating, dystopia.  Leftist values aren’t written into the structure of the universe–they aren’t a priori moral axioms–they are purely matters of political power tactics.  Leftist elites always play the same game of promising equality in exchange for granting power to a new set of elites, but equality never comes, and you simply get a new group of elites.
If nothing else, get out of your information bubble of NPR/Salon/New York Times and seek out opposing viewpoints.

You aren’t the individual you think you are.  Your style, tastes, politics, genes, psychology, and values are all inherited.  Even your views of individuality aren’t original, they are inherited from  existentialism.  You cling to your cherished self-image as a pure individual because it is the source of your sense of superiority when all such sources are denied you by your stated egalitarianism.  It’s OK to be just another normal white person.  Give up your pretensions and resentments.  Be normal.  Get your self-esteem from your family, friends, and successes like  a normal person, not in public displays of holiness, showing how much you can deny and punish yourself.

You don’t have to believe what you know is false:  that men and women are psychologically identical, that racial disparities are always caused by racism, that heterosexuality isn’t nature’s norm, that multiculturalism doesn’t increase inter-ethnic conflict, and on and on.  Political Correctness is just a set of mandatory lies in the service of political power.  It’s all bullshit; you don’t have to believe any of it.  It’s OK to admit that you prefer people like yourself.  That is normal human nature.  It doesn’t make you x-phobic.  It’s OK.  It isn’t scary for long.  You can join the truly reality-based community.

The Biosemantics of Self-Representation: Part 2



Part 1 is here.
With all that theory out of the way we can address our current topic: self-representation, the way we represent ourselves to others. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly giving off information about ourselves to the world. This article is about how to control the way you represent yourself in order to help in our interactions with other people. There seem to me to be five ways we represent ourselves to the world: our vocal tonality, body language, facial expressions, emotional displays, and attire. I covered vocal tonality in Part 1.

Section 5: Body Language
One way we produce self-representation is in our body language. What we are representing in the case of body language is our current inner state. We don’t have direct access to another person’s inner state, or a way to grant access to our own inner state. We can only do this by producing representations of this inner state for our audience to interpret. Saying “I am hungry” is one way we have to representing an inner state to our audience. Likewise with body language, we all know that someone who is afraid to make eye contact, slouching, or fidgeting is doing so because they are nervous or scared. The inner-state of nervousness and fear is represented by slouching, fidgeting, stammering, and the like.

These outward behaviors map onto and represent one’s inner emotional state and anyone perceiving this behavior will be interpreting it that way. We are all aware of body language because it is literally a language in that its representations have meaning; they map onto some state of the environment, in this case one’s inner emotional state, just as a bee dance maps the location of nectar. On the other hand, think of the way artists draw Superman with his legs apart, fists on hips, chest out, ready for bullets to bounce off his chest. We know without having been specifically told that this indicates a mocking confidence, fearlessness.

But what’s more, body language is a pushmi-pullyu. The indicative side represents our current inner state, so then what is the imperative side? Imagine someone approaching you with open arms. We know that this gesture is supposed to get the intended audience to hug back. Holding out your hand is supposed to produce a handshake. Thugs produce threat displays designed to get their antagonists to back down in a fight, and so on. Why would evolution allow us to slouch, hang our heads, and mumble if these behaviors represent us negatively? You may think that evolution would produce a creature that could only produce signs of confidence if this is so advantageous, and see to it that one could never produce signs of weakness such as that one is frightened or unsure. The answer must be that presenting yourself as weak can aid us in certain situations. Remember, external representations are designed for their effect on the perceiver. Slumping and bowing one’s head is likewise designed to produce a behavior in the perceiver. It is designed to say “I am not a threat to you.” It is designed to benefit the producer so as to get the perceiver to not harm it.

In general, confidence/self-esteem is the most attractive thing a man can project (see The Moral Animal, p. 85). We know that a man who stands up to his full height, chin up, eyes forward, is expressing confidence. But just as a bee dance may fail to represent the actual location of nectar if the swivels and turns of the dance don’t map onto the location by the rules of the dance, we mail fail to accurately represent ourselves in our body language. Someone who is arrogant might be trying to convey confidence in their walk and posture, but overshoot the mark in an exaggerated way and come across as “try-hard” and needy. Real confidence is relaxed, non-needy; Cary Grant being the epitome of relaxed confidence.

Section 6: Facial Expressions
Facial expressions are probably just a subset of body language, but I wanted to give them their own section. Smiles, frowns, surprise are all representations of one’s inner emotional state. Women typically show more facial expressions than men. My wife constantly expresses herself through facial expressions whereas I’m more typically stony faced. I used to just assume that was just the way we naturally were and that’s that. But if public representations are designed to produce an effect in the perceiver, what effect are facial expressions supposed to produce? Like in the infomercial example from Part I, facial expressions are emotional expressions. They are ways of emotionally pinging off of people looking to produce a reply sign that they have created a corresponding emotion in the perceiver. I now make sure to reply to facial expressions with my own as a sign that the expression has been received and effective.

Section 7: Emotional Displays
Putting this all together, emotional displays are a combination of vocal tonality, facial expressions, and body language. Observe in this video the use of emotional displays and how vocal tonality, facial expression, and body language are all employed.

It worked and had the effect intended as the President of Yale caved in to the student demands. Just as we instinctually believe what we are told, we instinctually and viscerally react to emotional displays. It takes an extra effort of will to not act as the emotional display dictates, to realize that they are just representations, just as there is evidence that people naturally believe what they are told. We seem to instinctually believe that if someone is producing an emotional display they must have good reason to do so, and we take it at face value and react accordingly. Of course manipulators will use that fact to their advantage. Here’s Humphrey Bogart remaining unaffected by the display and seeing through the representations to the reality:


7a: A Lengthy Aside about Why Women Cry More Than Men
There has been a mini debate in our corner of the internet concerning the nature of crying (see here  and here ). I think the key to understanding why women cry more than men lies in understanding that emotional displays are pushmi-pullyus. In crying an individual is communicating an inner state of sorrow, and trying to produce behavior in the perceiver. Nature would have kept emotions purely internal if they weren’t meant for public consumption. But what behavior is supposed to be produced by crying? That depends on who is the particular audience at the time. If we see someone crying we are of course supposed to comfort and console them, and usually it is appropriate to do so. That is the behavior crying is designed to produce in the perceiver. There can be lots of reasons for doing this. Perhaps it will invoke pity and forgiveness, or get someone to give in and let them have their way. Sometimes it is an admission of powerlessness or defeat and a plea for assistance or protection. If she is crying to her girlfriends it is probably to invoke sympathy and rally allies.

So why do women cry more than men? I’ve got to think that for most of human history, women had very limited ability to influence men’s behavior. If a man didn’t want to do what a woman wanted him to do, he wouldn’t, and being physically weaker she had no way to influence him. Crying, nagging, and emotional displays became ways of influencing men in the absence of physical strength. This seems to me to be the best explanation if you accept that women cry more easily than men, and that crying is a pushmi-pullyu, and so designed to produce behavior in the perceiver. Why else would women need to influence behavior through crying more than men do?

Section 8: The Meaning of Attire
Styles of attire replicate. First, some fashion designer might draw a sketch. For example, these shoes I’m wearing were designed by some designer. This design probably had to compete with other designs in a conference room where Timberland was deciding which models to send to manufacturing. This particular design probably had some features that were selected for over the competing designs presented by other designers. That sketch survived the selection process and was probably copied into a computer and then copied over and over again as it rolled off the assembly line. When you’re a Darwinist and you notice something replicates, you naturally wonder what effect it is producing that is being selected for replication. It’s whatcha do. The answer is extremely complicated and involves issues of sex, class, culture, climate, and who knows what else. I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I can make a few easy points.

Artistic genres such as architectural, musical, clothing, and literary styles are what Millikan calls “historical kinds.” See here. Preppies, goths, punks, hippies, cowboys, samurai, et al., are all historical kinds. I’ve always been a jeans and t-shirt kinda guy, but after thinking about how style represents oneself I’ve tried to class it up a bit. We are familiar with the idea that people dress a certain way because of what it “says” about us. Thus clothing becomes a way of self-representation. To take a couple of examples, there are certain places in the Islamic world where if a woman goes into public without wearing her hijab she will be stoned to death. In such places the hijab possesses extremely strong imperative and indicative force: it indicates that a woman is contemptible, and carries the prescriptive force to produce stoning it its perceivers. Another example would be the stripes that are worn as a sign of rank in the military. The stripes are a pushmi-pullyu; they indicate who bears what rank and so proscribe appropriate duties to perceivers.

Now, most attire does not possess descriptive and prescriptive force to the extent of these examples, but it does still have it to a degree. We all know that dressing as a punk or hippie means that the wearer is expressing certain social attitudes. Even something as seemingly bland as “business casual” is chock full of meanings. To see this, check out a description of a business casual dress code from here (http://humanresources.about.com/od/workrelationships/a/dress_code.htm) :
–Clothing that reveals too much cleavage, your back, your chest, your feet, your stomach or your underwear is not appropriate…
Translation: I am of no sexual interest; do not behave in a sexual way towards me.
— Torn, dirty, or frayed clothing is unacceptable. All seams must be finished. Any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive to other employees is unacceptable. Clothing that has the company logo is encouraged.
Translation: I am inoffensive; do not react emotionally to me
— Inappropriate slacks or pants include jeans, sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, shorts, bib overalls, leggings, and any spandex or other form-fitting pants such as people wear for biking.
Translation: I have no relative class status; do not behave towards me as such
— Casual dresses and skirts, and skirts that are split at or below the knee are acceptable. Dress and skirt length should be at a length at which you can sit comfortably in public. Short, tight skirts that ride halfway up the thigh are inappropriate for work. Mini-skirts, skorts, sun dresses, beach dresses, and spaghetti-strap dresses are inappropriate for the office.
It is interesting that so much of business casual is about controlling how women dress. My guess is that this is to not produce jealousy among other women by showing oneself to have a higher SMV than the other women as well as producing attraction in men.

All of these mandatory imperatives in the dress code are there for a reason, to prevent some interpersonal problem in the office, and so the clothing then acquires the imperative content to get perceivers to not behave in the way the policy is designed to prevent. (Business casual is what the raceless, sexless, classless, history-less, disembodied souls in Rawls’ original position wear.) Although I am poking fun it is a good idea to create a conflict-free working environment (even though it is as much of a uniform as someone working at McDonalds). But I still have enough of an old punk in me to want to rebel. When I look around my city and see the male office workers in their emasculated baby blue shirts and khakis it is clear they are dressing to do the minimum to please the HR Department.

In body language, and facial and emotional expressions, we are representing our current inner emotional state. But since clothing can’t transform moment-to-moment with changes in our inner state the way these other ways of self-representation can, in clothing we represent relatively unchanging things about ourselves such as sex, class, age, status, and character. I say “relatively” unchanging because as we change through life, as we move up or down in class, age, wealth, or culture our style does transform as a reflection. Often the content can be purely negative as in “I’m not an X, don’t treat me the way you treat Xs.”

It is interesting how attire very quickly changes from conveying natural information to being reproduced because it conveys this information and thus becomes a representation. For example, if gold corresponds with wealth, then gold jewelry may be reproduced and displayed because it corresponds with wealth, and so become a representation of wealth. Baggy pants in the African-American community might have started in prisons, and so conveyed the information that one was tough, but then they stared to be replicated because of this association, and so became representations.

In order for attire’s meaning function to succeed producer and consumer need to be co-adapted by learning in order to react to the representation in the appropriate way. This can produce alienation and destroy social capital when they are not co-adapted. See “Alienation and Diversity” and “Why Diversity Destroys Social Capital” for details.

It can make for interesting people watching to wonder why a particular style has been replicated, what it is trying to convey. For the most part, what the man on the street is conveying isn’t all that interesting. Most people are just displaying a kind of camouflage saying “I am of no interest, do not pay any attention to me.” This is a wise policy as almost always unasked-for attention is going to be negative. I once saw a stunning fashion model in a mall dressed to the nines. She was there to promote some product or other. I felt bad for her as she was being trailed by a mob of leering Mexicans. Why we can’t have nice things. Thus, the rich and beautiful have always had to insulate themselves from the riff-raff in displays of status. When the man on the street expresses “I am of no interest” it is usually an accurate representation. High fashion is almost always the domain of the rich and famous who represent their higher status truthfully.

There was a progressive movement in the early part of the 20th century to extend the trappings of the wealthy to the middle classes. And for a few decades the middle classes would get gussied up to go ballroom dancing and the like. But the middle class quickly decided it didn’t enjoy it and now getting decked out for balls and Oscar parties is once again the domain of the elites. Even though expressing “I am of no interest, do not pay attention to me” may be useful in many situations, it might also be useful in some situations to convey more about oneself. For example, young people still do get dressed up when going out to bars and clubs as they advertise their mating value.

Section 8a: A Lengthy Aside Concerning Asking For It.
Feminists have long railed against any claim that a women dressing a certain way is “asking for it.” This is because they subscribe to a subjectivist semantics where an individual’s intentions determine meaning. They do not understand, and which biosemantics explains, that the clothes themselves have meaning aside from any intentions of the wearer. Biosemantics explains how bee dances, stop signs, smoke signals, body language, and yes, attire can have meaning themselves. Remember, on biosemantics, an item’s public meaning has to due with the reasons for its past reproduction, and this is entirely independent from any current individual’s intentions. (Dear Millikan nerds, yes, clothing can have a derived proper function from the wearer’s intentions as well as a direct.) And so maybe a woman dressing provocatively isn’t “asking for it,” but the clothes themselves are (“it” being to be approached by a man with the intentions of short term sexual activity, not, obviously, to be raped.)

Furthermore, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that someone brought up in a culture knows the public meaning of its styles of attire, and so it is entirely reasonable to suppose that a woman dressed provocatively is interested in short term sexual activity with a man she desires. Again, this does not mean she is asking to be raped, only that she is producing signs indicating the possibility of near-term sexual activity, producing sexual desire in perceiving males, with said desire having the function to produce behavior in the pursuit of sex. This does not excuse any males for violating her consent, but it is perfectly reasonable for males interested in short term mating to approach her to see if she is attracted to them, and it is likewise perfectly reasonable to expect a women who is not interested in attracting sexual attention to not produce signs that indicate that she is interested in such attention.

On the other hand, it is also possible to indicate that one is a good long-term mating prospect. Here is a portrait of a Regency woman.


Upper-class women during the Regency were famously on the hunt for rich husbands, and everything in this portrait is designed to represent a good long-term mating prospect. The white dress clearly is a sign of virginal purity, and yet it is not a burka. Even though the dress isn’t particularly provocative, the neckline is still low cut revealing the outline of her bust, and the waist is drawn in revealing her figure. It reveals that she is physically attractive, rather than concealing everything as in the case of a burka, and will make an attractive mate long term. Her body language and facial expression is all relaxation and calm, representing an inner feminine serenity in order to convey that her inner state is not an emotional maelstrom, and so will be not be an annoying harridan as a wife.

Unless you are a total fashionista, I can pretty much guarantee that in their heart of hearts your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife wishes you dressed better. Make them happy. We are always dressing from some audience so it might as well be the person you care most about. The feminist view that if a women dresses to please her man she has somehow violated her sacred autonomy is ridiculous and toxic to relationships. There is a prisoner’s dilemma in relationships where both parties wish they were with someone who dressed more attractively, but neither wants to cooperate, leaving both parties dissatisfied. As always in prisoner’s dilemmas, we wish to defect and have the benefit of cooperation. Feminists urge defect/defect. This is what defect/defect looks like:

Isn’t it wonderful that they were supportive, non-judgmental, tolerant, and respectful of each other’s autonomy? I have to believe that somewhere deep down in their souls there still smolders a dying ember of youthful romantic optimism that they would end up with a dashing or jolí mate. That this isn’t how they imagined things would turn out. Switch to cooperate/cooperate so as to both produce and receive greater satisfaction in your relationship.

Section 9: Phonies
Just as in the case of body language and emotional displays, it is possible to misrepresent oneself through attire. Imagine a poor or working-class neighborhood where someone decides to don the style of the upper class. Very frequently this person will be set upon by the people in their neighborhood and mocked. They know this person and so can see the misrepresentation taking place. They know how style represents status and rightfully see the misrepresentation as a slap in the face.

It is a universal experience that people feel awkward and alienated when wearing styles that “just ain’t me.” A blue collar worker might feel awkward in a suit, a nerd might feel awkward wearing football gear, an urbanite might feel awkward dressing like a cowboy, and so on. This subjective feeling has been designed to alert us that we are misrepresenting ourselves, that representation does not equal reality. It is usually a good idea to listen to this feeling as perceivers might detect the misrepresentation with negative social consequences as in the working-class neighborhood example.

On the other hand, there are of course phonies and con artists who specifically misrepresent themselves so as to gain the benefits from portraying themselves in a certain way. Here is Woody Allen:

The comedy comes from the disconnection between the representation as suave and that the audience knows the reality is quite different.

Here is another phony:

Why does one of the richest men on the planet dress like a college slob? Because of the imperative content: “I am not a billionaire, do not think or act towards me as such.” But of course he is a billionaire but is seeking the advantages of not being thought of as one. These phonies aren’t the phonies from Cather in the Rye. Cather in the Rye is all seething resentment at people who are actually experts at accurately controlling their self-representation. Trump at least unapologetically accurately represents himself as a billionaire nouveau riche huckster.

Section 10: Conclusion
When it all comes together, when members of society learn to be sensitive to the meanings of vocal tonality, body language, facial expression, and attire, and come to master the art of controlling their self-representations to produce a positive effect on their audience, the result can be sublime:


The Biosemantics of Self-Representation: Part 1



And now for something completely different. This post isn’t about arguing for some specific thesis, it is more about presenting a way of looking at the world, other people, and yourself. Even though the post is a bit lighter in subject matter, it is still something I find informative so I hope readers will find it interesting as well. It’s just an exercise in looking at social phenomenon from a Darwinian standpoint. A lot of the conclusions are common sense, but I think readers will like coming to understand the mechanisms at work behind common sense.


Section 1: Problem of Intentionality

Franz Brentano is credited with reintroducing the Scholastic notion of intentionality to philosophy. Simply put, intentionality is “aboutness.” This mountain, this river, this rock isn’t about anything, but I can think and talk about a whole range of things. To possess intentionality is to possess meaning–words mean things, thoughts mean things—but mountains, rivers, and rocks don’t mean anything. Brentano’s claim was that intentionality was the “mark of the mental,” that intentionality could not be reduced to natural non-mental processes. This, of course, set off many philosophers to do just that. If you watch this video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaasITFDQdg), the host (I’m not sure who it is) says:

It is sometimes said that philosophy of mind has two major problems: one of them is the problem of consciousness, the other is the problem of intentionality. I don’t know about democracy, but I think that if you were to take a vote among analytic philosophers today about the latter question, intentionality, the consensus view would be that Ruth Millikan basically solved this problem around 1984 [with the publication of Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories].”


Section 2: Biosemantics

Millikan’s solution to the problem of intentionality is known as biosemantics or teleosemantics. Biosemantics in general refers to the study of natural meaning, as when we say that a rabbit thumping its paws on the ground means that there is a predator around, and for listening rabbits to seek cover. But specifically, biosemantics is synonymous with the theory of natural meaning put forward by Millikan. (An article on biosemantics” is available here. I am going to try to present her theory in an easy-to-understand manner, so my apologies to any Millikan purists.)


Millikan’s theory is that a sign or representation has meaning (what philosophers call intentional content or just content, for short) when several requirements are met. First, there must be a device that has been designed for its ability to produce signs. By “design” I mean that the item’s ancestors were selected for reproduction because they produced some effect. This effect is what we can say is their function to bring about, or what they were designed to do. Second, the sign that is produced must be designed by the producer to vary in accord with changes in the environment. Honeybees, for example, when they have located a source of nectar return to the hive and do a dance for the waiting bees. The mechanisms in the bee that produce this dance are designed to produce dances that correspond to the location of nectar. The wiggles and turns of the bee dance correspond to the location of the nectar relative to the sun and the hive by the semantic rules of this “language”. If the nectar had been in a different location the dance would have varied in accordance with the mapping rules of the dance. The bee dance is about the location of nectar—it possesses intentionality–and the semantics of the bee dance are capable of representing changes in its location; changes in the location of nectar can be represented by changes in the form of the dance. Finally, there must be a co-adapted audience for the sign, which Millikan calls the “consumer,” which is designed to interpret the structure of the sign for use, say, as a guide for action in retrieving the nectar. In the bee dance the perceiving bees are the consumers.


In spoken human languages the producer is the speaker, the sign is what is spoken, the consumer is the listener. The producer and consumer are adapted to one another by learning such as to understand that the spoken sound we associate with, say, the word “dog” refers to dogs. Human languages are extremely flexible in representing changes in the environment–incredibly more so that the mere bee dances that can only vary with changes in the location of nectar and the sun, and can respond to no other environmental factors.


Section 3: Pushmi-Pullyus

According to Millikan, there are three kinds of intentional signs. First, indicative signs are designed to communicate a fact about the word such as that there is a cat on the mat, that hydrogen atoms have one electron, or that Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system. Secondly, imperative signs are directions to produce some state of affairs, such as close the door, or take out the trash. Whereas creating true beliefs is the purpose of indicative communication, creating a behavior that alters the world in some way is the purpose of imperative. Finally, there are signs that are both imperative and indicative at the same time. Millikan colorfully calls these “pushmi-pullyus” after the two-headed fictional animal from Dr. Doolittle. When a bee does a bee dance it is both an indicative indicating the location of nectar, and an imperative to perceiving bees to go get it and bring it back to the hive.


Pushmi-pullyus are the most primitive kinds of representations; more advanced representational systems (perhaps only human communication systems have evolved to split the two faces) can communicate the indicative and imperative content independently. But often human communication systems are still pushmi-pullyus. Consider, “the house is on fire.” On its face it is an indicative sign stating a fact about the world, but when actually spoken the imperative content will be encoded in the pattern of stress, emphasis, and volume of the utterance. “The house is on fire!” The urgency with which it is spoken conveys that the utterance also has imperative content: call the fire department, get a bucket of water, or get out of the house, perhaps. The imperative face works by creating a desire or emotion in the listener—fear or alarm in this case–and then having the emotion perform its function of producing an intention and then behavior.


Section 3a: A Lengthy Aside Concerning Men and Women’s Communication Styles

I was in a doctor’s office one day and there was an infomercial on the TV for a hair curler. The conversation between the female hosts went something like this:

Your hair looks awesome!

No, your hair looks awesome!

Mary’s hair looks more awesome than my hair!

No way! Your hair looks way more awesome!

This kind of inane blather makes a guy want to blow his brains out, but that is because men are more attuned to the indicative than to the emotional/imperative face of language. A perfectly acceptable male conversation can go like this:

Here comes the curveball.


Here comes the slider.


Here comes the fastball.


Millikan seems to claim that human language is either imperative or indicative, but it seems to me that human spoken language is always done via pushmi-pullyus. In “The house is on fire!” it seems pretty clear that there is both indicative and imperative content. In spoken language the urgency of the imperative content can be dialed up and down in degree with the amount of stress we put on what we are saying. In a totally flat affect, the imperative content is dialed all the way down, indicating that no behavior is required. But “and don’t do anything about it” is still an imperative.


Men take female-female communication of the sort in the infomercial I mentioned, to be inane, but that is only because we are more attuned to the indicative side. By being so attuned we are missing out that 99% of the conversation is happening on the emotional/imperative side. In speaking with such heightened emotional affect, the purpose of the conversation is to create emotions in the hearer. In saying “your hair looks awesome!” with great emotional emphasis, the purpose is to create a good feeling in the listener. (Remember, truth is the purpose of indicative language, emotion and behavior is the purpose of imperative.) The women are all emotionally pinging off of each other in an extremely complex network until they are all on the same emotional page. The words are largely just strings on which to hang the emotional content. I would guess that if of one of the hosts still thought that their hair didn’t look awesome the rest of the group would redouble their efforts to convince them that it did (truth not being the purpose of the conversation) until the whole group was on the same page. I speculate that the purpose of getting everyone on the same emotional page is to then engage in some communal behavior. It is interesting that men dial up the emotional content of their speech when communicating with women, and women dial it down when speaking to men, to meet somewhere in the middle. (Informal social situations and arguments are about 99% emotion, 1% factual J.)


Section 4: Natural Information

There is one last piece of theory I need to get out of that way, and that is the difference between natural information and representations. The best way to explain this is by example. The possession of muscles might contain the information that the bearer is strong, but muscles aren’t representations of strength; the form of muscles is designed for moving things, not to be perceived by consumers so as to indicate the location of strength. Again, smoke might contain the information that there is fire, but smoke isn’t a representation of fire because smoke isn’t produced so as to be used by a consumer to indicate the presence of fire. Smoke signals, on the other hand, are representations because the patterns of smoke produced by the signalers have been reproduced historically for use by consumers so as to communicate the content of the signal. Representations are a subset of natural information. There are causal regularities in natural information that we exploit in navigating the world, and this goes for the relationship between representation and represented as well.


We will put all this theory to work explaining self-representation in Part 2.

Sex Is Not A Social Construct


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This post is a reply to EvolutionistX’s article “Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one: Sex is biological; gender is a social construct.” Located here:


In that post EvolutionistX defends the claim that sex is a social construct, a claim I wish to respectfully dispute. EvoX begins her article with the claim:

“X is a social construct does not mean “X is totally made up.” It means, “The word is defined however the hell people feel like using it.” This is true of all language.”

Right from the beginning you can see that the source of her error comes from being lead astray by certain outmoded semantic and conceptual issues. I discuss these same issues concerning the word “race” here. If I feel like using the word “dog” to refer to elephants it does not affect the meaning of “dog”, it just means I am using it incorrectly. Language consists of a mass of public conventions, each which is reproduced for their ability to often enough meet speaker and hearer common interests. That “dog” refers to dogs in English is a fact about these public conventions, and if I idiosyncratically decide to use “dog” to refer to elephants it does not affect the meaning of “dog.” That terms have their history and proliferate and survive because they successfully facilitate communication about specific things in the world is a fact about the world.

But there is something else mistaken here. Social constructs are usually contrasted with natural kinds. To say that X is a social construct is in part to say that there are no natural kinds X. For example, to say that race is a social construct is to say that race is not a natural kind, that there are no mind or social-practice independent kinds that are races. And so to say that “x is a social construct” means “The word is defined however the hell people feel like using it” is mistaken about the nature of social constructs. That something is a social construct is primarily an ontological claim, not a claim about language (although it might then require an account of how language for constructs works if it is not being used to refer to natural kinds).

EvoX goes on to state:

“200 years ago, people did not define “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes,” because no one knew about chromosomes, and yet they still had this concept of “biological sex.””

Notice the unstated premise here: there is a single concept of each thing that is shared by all individuals who understand a term and it must be the same through all time periods. Since people had a concept of biological sex 200 years ago, before they had a concept of chromosomes, the concept of biological sex can have nothing to do with chromosomes.

EvoX is here being lead to her conclusion by an old-fashioned view of concepts. The traditional view, descended from Kant, is that concepts are ways of organizing experience, or “carving up reality.” Her unspoken premise is that there is one concept of X, that all individuals who speak a language share this same concept, and that it doesn’t change across time. On the other hand, the contemporary view is that concepts are not classification schemes. Instead, concepts are mental abilities to reidentify what is objectively the same on disparate occasions and under disparate conditions. So 200 years ago people might have identified an individual’s sex by, say, checking for the presence of male or female genitalia, and today we might use genetic testing, but these are just different ways of identifying the same real (that is, not socially constructed) natural phenomenon. It in no way calls into the question the reality of the phenomena.

EvoX then goes into a long discussion of different sexual conditions, abnormalities, and syndromes. Her examples are supposed to loosen up our intuition that essence of sex is the possession of XX or XY chromosomes. The lesson EvoX wants us to draw from these cases is that the existence of these conditions calls into question the reality of sex. How is this supposed to work? The problem is that EvoX is working on the essentialist view that a sex is a class of individuals with some common essential property. If you define being a male as possession of male genitalia, EvoX will show you a male who lacks male genitalia; if you define it as the possession of XY chromosomes, EvoX will show you someone who possesses an XY chromosome but did not develop as a normal male; if you think male is XY and female is XX, EvoX will show you individuals who are neither XY nor XX.

The problem is that biology does not work on this essentialist basis; it works on the basis of function/malfunction, normal/abnormal. The real lesson to draw from examples such as those presented by EvoX is that sex is a functional biological norm, and individuals can deviate from this norm in many different ways. “Biologically normal” means working as designed by natural selection, or being in the condition it is supposed to be in, where “design” and “supposed to” means that the item is in the condition its ancestors were in on those occasions where they actually were selected for by natural selection. I will use “design” and “supposed to” since they are more intuitive to grasp and easier than writing out “as happened historically when the mechanism was selected for” each time.

For instance, take the nectar retrieval system of the honeybee. When a bee finds a source of nectar it flies back to the hive and does a squiggle dance. The turns and pace of the dance indicate to watching bees the location of the nectar relative to the sun and hive. The perceiving bees then fly off to the location indicated by the dance and retrieve the nectar. That is how the retrieval system is supposed to work, how it is designed to work.

Lots can go wrong however. For one, perhaps the bee misidentifies something as a source of nectar that isn’t one. Maybe it is a plastic flower and not a real one. Or perhaps this bee has a brain parasite and its internal mapping system miscalculates the location of the nectar. Or perhaps the system that translates the bee’s inner directions into dance moves suffers from brain damage so that the bee does a malformed dance. Or perhaps the viewing bees have visual impairment and perceive the dance incorrectly and so fly off in the wrong direction. Or maybe environmental conditions are unfavorable and the bees are blown off course by a tornado. All of these are abnormalities that prevent the dance from performing its function as it was designed to. But none of this shows that the dance wasn’t supposed to map the location of nectar, or that a sperm which doesn’t fertilize an egg wasn’t supposed to, or a heart that can’t pump blood wasn’t supposed to, or camouflage that fails to make an animal invisible to predators wasn’t supposed to.  This is how it can be said that camouflage might fail, or that a heart might be deformed, or that there is a right dance for the bee to do given the location of nectar, or that a thalidomide baby developed abnormally.

Thus, that each previous step has been done as designed is a biologically normal condition of each subsequent step functioning normally. That the bee’s internal system of translating the mental map or directions it has in mind is working as designed is a biologically normal condition for the perceiving bee’s mental system of translating squiggles and loops into a mental map. If the dance isn’t performed as designed, the perceiving bee’s translation system can’t work as designed—what is biologically normal for the perceiving system is that the dance actually corresponds to the location of nectar. All of these steps are supposed to line up and work as designed for the entire system to work as designed.

To take another example, when light enters the eye it is focused on the retina. The rods and cones fire depending on the quality of the light and send a signal up the optic nerve to the brain where the information is processed into a mental image of the world. That is how the vision system works when it is working normally. But things can be abnormal at every step. A cataract might prevent the light from passing through the lens undistorted, nearsightedness might make the image out of focus, the rods and cones might be damaged and not fire, the optic nerve might be severed, brain damage might prevent the production of an accurate image. Each of these steps requires the others to be working correctly for the system to work as designed.

And so, being a human male isn’t whether you are XY, it is whether you are supposed to be XY; it is whether this is what would have been the biologically normal result had the process that determines sex worked as designed. Like the bee dance example, when a fertilized egg ends up XY this is supposed to kick off a whole series of events that are supposed to line up. If you are XY you are supposed to develop male genitalia, your body is supposed to develop a certain way (with greater upper body strength, for example), and when your brain develops you are supposed to psychologically identify as a male, and are supposed to be attracted to females. All of these steps are designed to line up in this way in order for one to develop as a normal male.

But also like the bee dance, each step in the developing and functioning of the human sexual system can go wrong. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, for a few moments the chromosomes fight it out to see which ones are going to be expressed. The system is designed to produce either XX or XY, but things can go abnormally and the system fail to produce its selected effect. During these short moments where sex actually hangs in the balance, it might truly be indeterminate what sex the individual is supposed to be. However, none of EvoX’s examples are cases where you can’t determine what sex the individual is supposed to be (I suspect that any individuals whose chromosomes develop so abnormally that it is truly indeterminate whether they are supposed to be male or female, where the recombination of chromosomes truly failed, prove unviable and do not reach birth). As with everything in the biological world, things don’t always go as designed and the process might occur abnormally where we end up with individuals who are neither XX nor XY. But this does not effect whether they are supposed to be XX or XY. The system works correctly close to 99% of the time, which is pretty good for the biological world, and not unexpected given that everything is riding on whether the individual develops in a sexually normal way.

To take some of EvoX’s examples:

Klinefelter Syndrome: person is born XXY instead of XX or XY. People with KS have tiny genitals. The Y chromosome triggers male development, but the two Xs cause an over-production of female hormones. Most people with KS are infertile. KS occurs in 1:500 to 1:1000 live male births.”

This is the case of abnormal male development. The very phrase “over-production of female hormones” and “male births” indicates that there are supposed to be fewer female hormones, that the presence of this many female hormones is abnormal in males.

“Some other obscure conditions with similar names are XYY, XXXX, and XXYY Syndrome. People with only one X chromosome and nothing else have Turner Syndrome. TS affects about 1 in 2000 to 1 in 5000 females, or about 75,ooo to 30,000 Americans.”

Evox X says right in the text that “TS affects about 1 in 2000 to 1 in 5000 females [my emphasis]” as in, we know they are females with an abnormality.

Androgen insensitivity syndrome “is a condition that results in the partial or complete inability of the cell to respond to androgens. The unresponsiveness of the cell to the presence of androgenic hormones can impair or prevent the masculinization of male genitalia in the developing fetus, as well as the development of male secondary sexual characteristics at puberty, … these individuals range from a normal male habitus with mild spermatogenic defect or reduced secondary terminal hair, to a full female habitus, despite the presence of a Y-chromosome.””

This passage is full of normative terms such as “inability,” “unresponsiveness,” “impair,” “prevent,” “defect,” “reduced.” All of this shows that these individuals are not developing the way that is biologically normal. If this condition “can impair or prevent the masculinization of male genitalia” the presupposition is that male genitalia are what are supposed to develop.

“Kallmann syndrome is a genetic disorder in which, “the hypothalamic neurons that are responsible for releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH neurons) fail to migrate into the hypothalamus during embryonic development.”

The most prominent symptom is a failure to start puberty; oddly, one of the other common symptoms is an inability to smell. It affects both men and women.”

Just by saying “It affects both men and women” shows that we can tell what sex the individual is.

These kinds of disorders do not only affect physical development, they are present in psychological development as well. Transsexuals are those whose sense of sexual identity does not align with their biological sex as is normal. I suspect that nature gives us an inborn sense of sexual identity so that we go on to behave as our sex in order to aid us in attracting a mate and passing on our genes. (Many transsexuals go on to produce offspring despite their disorder as other compensating factors such as social pressure come into play.) In homosexuals the psychological mechanism that determines the object of sexual attraction is working abnormally and hooking the individual up with the wrong object. Biological sex and object of sexual attraction are supposed to line up, but in homosexuals this isn’t happening. See my “The Myth of Sexual Orientation.”

In conclusion, sex is real, it can’t be changed, and there are only two of them. The cases that are presented to show otherwise all rely on an unwarranted essentialism, and ignore the fact that biological phenomena are functional in nature. Caitlyn Jenner is still a dude.

Update:  So what is male and female?

The original post was not intended to provide an account of male and female, it was just to show that examples such as those presented by EvoX did not call into question the reality of sex.  I said that sex is a functional norm where “function” is to be understood as what something is selected for, or what effect the item produced that provided a reproductive advantage and so was selected for replication.  And so what we need is an account of why sexual reproduction occurs at all and why it takes the form it does.  There is as of right now no universally accepted theory of why sexual reproduction started hundreds of millions of years ago and what advantage it bestowed over asexual reproduction.  A popular theory is the Red Queen hypothesis which holds that the recombination of alleles during sexual reproduction occurs so as to keep a step ahead of parasites evolving to attack the organism.  When sexual reproduction does occur one of the organisms does not contribute organelles so as to prevent competition within the organism to pass on its own organelles.

And so, if sexual reproduction produces an organism that is not supposed to contribute organelles so as to prevent the negative effects of intra-organism competition it is male.  If it is supposed to pass on its organelles, it is female.  This works for odd species such as crocodilians which don’t possess the xx/xy sexual chromosomes just as well as for those that do.

Whether this is the theory that is ultimately accepted is unimportant.  It is just an example of how a theory of what the sexes were selected for tells us what it is to be male or female.

Restoring a Virtue-Based Ethics for the 21st Century: Part III


Part I is here.

Part II is here.

Some Virtues and Vices

Even with all of our increased scientific knowledge and technology, doing a good job at living out the form of a human life is not easy for most of us: school is not easy, getting a good job is not easy, attracting the best mate you can is not easy, marriage is not easy, raising children is not easy.  The virtues are the states of character that aid us in living well. What follows is a list of some of the virtues that aid us in doing so. This is not a complete list; it is just the ones I think are especially important or neglected today.

Excellences of the body:

The organs of the human body all possess etiological functions and the excellences of the human body are those features which allow the body to function properly; what we call health and fitness. Without a healthy body we are severely impaired in living a human life well. Plus, physical attractiveness is important in other relationships such as attracting the best possible mate, and keeping a mate satisfied with one’s appearance. So hit the gym.

Institutional virtues:

We spend almost all of our lives as part of functional institutions such as the family, school, marriage, and our profession. Institutions possess etiological functions (I defend this claim here). What allows institutions to achieve their functions are its members performing their obligations or duties. The degree to which an individual can perform their duties excellently–how good they are as a student, worker, husband/wife, mother/father—goes a long way towards the ability to live a good human life.

I discuss the duties of marriage in more detail here but I wish to make one additional point. The existentialist view of authenticity as resistance to outside determinants over the will is toxic to marriage. We are pounded with the message that marriage is about respecting autonomy and individuality, and that any sacrifice in order to make your spouse happy is a violation of autonomy. Hogwash. Marriage ought to be about making each other happy, and we need to revive the notion that you have duties to your spouse.  So actually put in effort at making your spouse happy and forget all the destructive nonsense.

Social Virtues:

As discussed in part II, the social virtues are a subset of virtues that aid us in producing good relationships with other people, such relationships being crucial in living a good human life. Social virtue results when the will resists the push of the appetites and emotions and instead favors the working of the social emotions in producing their characteristic selected effect. In this section I am going to illustrate how this works for some of the virtues.

The way to analyze a virtue is to ask what behavior an appetite or emotion is designed to produce, look at what negative effect this may have on other people, and ask what social emotion may motivate us to resist our appetites.


Appetite/emotion: hunger.

Function: to get the organism to procure food.

There is nothing wrong with letting hunger do its job in getting us to procure food. But excessive eating leads to obesity. Obesity may be immediately disadvantageous to an individual in producing poor health, but obesity also has negative social effects in that it is unattractive. When I am perfectly honest to myself about why it is I work to stay in shape, the answer is that I don’t want to be seen as repulsive and unattractive by others. I don’t want my wife, friends, and co-workers to see me and react to me in that way. (I also work out in order to stay healthy.) And it is the strength of this social emotion to avoid these negative social consequences that motivates me to resist cravings for unhealthy foods and to burn calories at the gym. It is not easy! I really do crave fattening foods, but my social emotions have the function to prevent behavior that would produce negative social consequences, and this gets me to resist the working of these cravings.


Appetite/emotion: sexual attraction.

Function: As with all the appetites, the appetite for sex is designed to get us to perform a certain behavior; in this case it is to get us to have sex with the object of our attraction.

It is probably best for society if sex if confined to marriage (an argument for another occasion), but as with hunger, I really don’t have a problem with someone allowing sexual desire to do its job of getting the organism to have (consensual) sex. But if the individual is in a committed relationship, fidelity demands suppressing sexual desire in favor of the social emotion of concern for the effects on one’s committed girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife, and children. In marriage one has taken on an institutional duty to one’s spouse to remain faithful, and the desire not to hurt one’s spouse or one’s children through divorce needs to get you to resist the impulses of sexual attraction.  In a healthy society, fear of social ostracism provides an extra incentive not to violate one’s wedding vows.


Appetite/emotion: Anger.

Function: Anger is designed to get us to be violent towards the object of our anger.

The most obvious reason to resist giving in to anger is that violence will end you up in jail. But there is something more than this in modern society. The British, for instance, delight in “taking the piss,” intentionally trying to make someone angry and then mocking them if they do. I confess I don’t really get it, but since those who are good at resisting anger gain status, and those that become angry are marked out for increased mockery, there must be something else going on. Nisbett and Cohen (Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists, 1996) claim that resistance to anger demonstrates that you can be trusted in cooperative endeavors. And since cooperation with others is important in social society, fear of ostracism motivates one to resist anger. As with all other virtues, emotions like anger have been selected for their ability to benefit us, and so in certain situations it is perfectly acceptable to let your anger produce violence, as in self-defense of in defense of one’s people, friends, or family.


Appetite/emotion: laziness

Function: We are actually designed to not expend energy unless it is necessary.

It is very difficult to resist the impulse to not expend energy unnecessarily. Perhaps in humanity’s long history as hunter-gatherers this impulse was very useful. But in order to live a good life in social society we are required to get up, go to work, do homework, hit the gym, work on that project, meet that client, do housework, mow the lawn, and so on.


Appetite/emotion: pride

Function: To keep us from being exploited by others

Pride can motivate us to neglect our obligations and damage our relationships.  I’m a fan of old movies and what comes to mind, of all things, is this old movie called The Women (1939). In it, a man cheats on his wife. Her mother councils that she swallow her pride for the sake of the family. Instead she destroys her family out of pride. In the end though, she decides to forgive her husband and save her family. (Tellingly, in the horrible remake with Meg Ryan the lesson is to never forgive and to destroy your family in order to serve your ego). When pride would cause us to destroy our relationships with others, humility is called for. On the other hand, pride is fine to keep us from being repeatedly exploited by others. It is only where humility would benefit us and our families, and where pride would harm us or our children, where pride should be swallowed.


Appetite/emotion: desire for material goods

Function: to acquire resources

For the most part, people only become angry at another person’s greed if their desire for material resources is impinging on another’s ability to acquire resources. Letting your acquisitiveness harm others will produce a negative reaction from them. This can take many different forms from social exclusion, refusal to trade, or even violence.

Masculinity and femininity:

Masculinity and femininity are signs that you would make a good mate. It may well be that the historical environmental conditions that produced masculinity and femininity no longer exist in much of our modern technological society. But we are still designed by our long evolutionary history to find these traits attractive. So the social emotion that ought to motivate masculinity and femininity is the desire to be attractive to the opposite sex, in order to satisfy our desire for companionship in attracting a wife/husband, and then, once in a relationship, these traits will keep our spouse happy, and will hopefully motivate them to be attractive in kind.


I discuss the virtue of loyalty here.

Tactics Going Forward

This series has merely been the first word, not the last. I haven’t discussed many virtues such as Hume’s “qualities useful to ourselves”: intelligence, benevolence, discretion, frugality, honesty. I haven’t discussed envy, spite, resentment, or jealousy. I haven’t discussed the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. I view these later virtues as socially beneficial as they prevent social problems.

In fully functioning virtue-based societies such as depicted in Pride and Prejudice, everyone has been educated in the virtues and seems aware of their vices (even if they continue to act on them) so there is no reason to belabor the point.  But we do not live in such a society. Instead, our current public morality is the unapologetic dedication to acting on one’s appetites and the shaming of anyone who dares suggest we not do so.   But tolerance and non-judgmentalism aren’t really doing anyone any good.  To a great extent it is social pressure that produces the social emotions which motivate us to resist our appetites.  All tolerance and non-judgmentalism do is give the appetites free reign to destroy the quality of our life and relationships with others.

In order to kill our current public morality and restore a virtue-bases ethics, I would suggest two courses of action. First, we will need to once again point out and criticize the vices of others. As I mentioned, in a healthy virtue based society, people are aware of their virtues and vices, and they are mostly left to them. But to get us to this point we need to be more critical. People need to once again be educated in the virtues, and until this is done people’s vices need to–gently, if possible, more harshly if not—be criticized. Notice when people are merely acting under the influence of their appetites and what effect it has. Call them out on it whenever possible. Rationalizing acting on our appetites is our national pastime. If someone is flaunting their vices do not hesitate to use a withering comment.

–You were hungry and you ate. Do you want a reward?

–You didn’t go to the gym because you’re a lazy bastard.

–Desiring another person’s stuff isn’t a grand political statement.

–Don’t be so beta.

–Know what would actually be impressive? If you were horny and didn’t have sex.

If you can get away with it, criticize someone’s vices. Be more judgmental. My male friends used to constantly jokingly criticize each others flaws as a way of keeping each other in line. But you should leave strangers and co-workers alone (except on the internet where you can openly criticize someone who is flaunting their vices.)

For women it seems more complicated. Women don’t “take the piss out of” (to use a British expression) each other the way men do (at least not to their faces). Traditionally, girls learned virtue from their mothers and through their religious moral education.

Secondly, do not let people receive the characteristic beneficial effect of virtue without displaying the virtue itself. On the account given in this series, virtue has a selected effect, so if someone is not producing that effect, don’t give them the benefits of acting virtuously. If someone in your military unit or police department is a coward, do not reinforce this vice by giving them the good opinion that is deserved of the brave. The military needs to punish cowardice, and squadmates should not let the coward enjoy the same reputation as a brave man. Do not act like someone who is obese is actually attractive (unless you are married to them 🙂 ). Do not forgive cheaters. Don’t flatter a women’s vanity. Do not continue to do business with an unjust man, and so on.

Most of all, work to inculcate the virtues in yourself. Remember, the virtues are designed to aid you in producing successful, rewarding, beneficial relationships with others. Pay attention to the effect you produce on others and learn to control it. Even though resisting our appetites and emotions may be momentarily unpleasant, the exercise of virtue is designed to ultimately produce a good human life.

Restoring a Virtue-Based Ethics for the 21st Century: Part II

Part I is here.

The Revival of Teleology: Functions as Selected Effects

Virtue ethics went out of favor when modern philosophy eschewed the teleology upon which it rested (see my “Teleology and the Dark Enlightenment”). But teleology has undergone remarkable comeback in recent decades in philosophy, sparked by the publication of Millikan’s Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories, in 1984. (Find an article called “The Modern Philosophical Resurrection of Teleology” by Mark Perlman for a nice history of this revival and an overview of the various positions on the issue.) The main issue was that it seems clear that biological items such as hearts do in fact have functions. This is as much a natural phenomena as the things studied by physics. Biology is focused on understanding the functions of the kidneys, the liver, mitochondria, etc., and how these things go about performing them, as well as the reasons why they sometimes fail to perform them. There still remained the problem of understanding which of all the things something can do is its function? Hearts do lots of things: they squish when stepped on, they freeze when put in liquid nitrogen, they take up space in the chest, they have a mass, they make “lub-dub” sound, they pump blood. Of all the things hearts do, what is special about pumping blood?

The modern approach to functions is called the “selected effects,” or etiological, or teleofunctional approach. According to Millikan, to have a “proper function” requires that the features of an item were copied from previous ancestors (the way our genes are copied from our parents’ genes for example, or that manufactured items are copies of a prototype or blueprint) and that they were selected as opposed to objects lacking this feature because it did this thing. And so a hammer has driving nails as a function because it was its ability of previous hammers to drive nails by possessing some particular shape and hardness that caused this hammer get its shape and hardness through our copying these features in manufacture. Similarly, hearts have pumping blood as their function because it is due to that fact that its ancestors pumped blood–not that they squish when stepped on, or make a “lub-dub” sound–that has helped account for proliferation of the genes responsible for making hearts. The possession of a proper function is a purely natural fact of the matter as to whether an item possesses such a history.

To understand something’s function then is to understand what effect its ancestors produced that explained why these features keep getting copied or reproduced. To put it more simply, you can think of an item’s teleofunction as what it was selected for. This approach has the additional benefit in that it allows us to understand where classical teleology went wrong. Atoms, rocks, fire, chemical compounds, planets, and the like do not possess a history of selection and copying and so do not have functions.

As Plato and Aristotle said, the virtues or excellences are the features of a thing that allow it to perform its function. The same account can be given of the etiological functions we have been discussing. Having naturalized function, we have also naturalized virtue. As I mentioned, the etiological account of function focuses on certain features that are reproduced because they historically produce some effect. The structure of the heart is reproduced each generation because this structure has historically been selected for their ability to produce the effect of pump blood. The features of computers are reproduced as they roll off the assembly line because these features can process information. Shoes possess the features they do because these features are good for hiking, or running, or look fashionable (whatever the function of this particular kind of shoe is.) These features selected for reproduction because they historically produced their selected effect are the virtues or excellences of the item in question. Thus, the possession of virtues is just as objective a fact as any other natural fact. (There are philosophical arguments that something normative like a virtue can not be natural properties, but they are wrong. See John Post’s important book From Nature to Norm.)

Strangely, although both teleology and virtue ethics have made a comeback in recent decades, no one to my knowledge has managed to put the two of them together. (Fillippa Foot comes close in Natural Goodness, but chickens out.)  That is the aim of this current series of posts.

Biofunctional psychology

What we now need to do is apply the etiological framework to understanding psychology. I said in Part I that I agree with Plato that virtue involves controlling the appetites and emotions, but I have also agreed with Hume that reason can not produce any action. How can a make these two views compatible? The first step is to present a modern, biological view of psychology which profits from the contemporary view of teleology I just outlined.

Biofunctional psychology looks to understand psychological states—beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings—the way a biologist looks at hearts, livers, and kidneys. That is, it looks to understand what it is these mental processes do (or better yet, what their ancestors did) that has proven to be evolutionarily advantageous.

The same approach I outlined above when discussing the function of hearts can be given to the understanding of psychological states. For example, take hunger. What does the subjective feeling of hunger do for the organism that benefits it? The answer is that the function of appetites like hunger is to get the organism to perform a certain behavior–food procurement in this case. Other psychological processes can be given a likewise functional understanding. The function of emotions such as fear, for example, is to produce certain behavior; to seek safety in this case. The function of beliefs is to be combined with other true beliefs in order to form new true beliefs in the process of inference, and ultimately to be invoked by desires in guiding them in successful actions. The function of desires is to produce the conditions of their own fulfillment. Notice that the function of all psychological states is ultimately to contribute to successful behavior; beliefs are supposed to be true because it is by being true and representing the world in an accurate way that they may invoked by desires as useful guides for behavior. (Those interested in biofunctional psychology should read Millikan’s White Queen Psychology and Other Essays for Alice.)

Even though it is the function of psychological states is to produce certain behaviors, we do have the ability to resist, to some degree, the behaviors that our appetites and emotions are designed to produce. I can resist acting on my hunger, at least for a while, and someone like Ghandi who is fiercely dedicated to a cause can resist it for much longer periods. What allows us to do this?

Social emotions:

There is another class of emotions that we can call the social emotions. For example, does a solitary animal like a bear feel loneliness? I doubt it. They at least don’t display any behavior that would indicate they are distressed by their solitary life. But herd animals like sheep or goats become very agitated when isolated. Humans are similar in that we experience social emotions like loneliness, anxiety, and fear of exclusion. Our long evolutionary history as social creatures has built into our psychology a wide range of social emotions. These emotions are designed to benefit us in our relations with other people.

Take bravery, for example. Soldiers almost universally report that what motivates their bravery is their regard for the opinion of men in their unit. It is not some rational calculation as to whether they are in a situation that ought to be feared, as Plato says. They do not want to let down their squadmates and bear the social consequences. This regard for the opinion of their squadmates allows them to overcome the urging of their fear in acts of bravery. (Sometimes the fear proves to be too much and they neglect their duty. This is why the military always must punish deserters. If their fear of danger proves stronger than their fear of ostracism, then fear of the firing squad will have to be even stronger.)

So this is the function of the social emotions, to produce behavior that is beneficial in our relationships with other people. But what’s more is that the social emotions are designed to resist the appetites. In the soldier example above, the fear the individual felt was resisted by the concern for the good opinion of his squadmates. Our long history as social animals has shown that our relationships with others is often (though not always) more important that the immediate satisfaction of our appetites and emotions. Nature has given us the social emotions in order allow us to restrain the emotions and appetites in social situations where it is beneficial to do so.

And so this is the way to square Plato and Hume. Virtue is indeed the controlling of the appetites and emotions, but it is not the reason that does the controlling. Hume is right that reason alone can not produce or prevent a behavior. But he ignores the necessity to control our appetites in order for virtue to flourish. What controls the appetites in the case of social virtues is not reason but the social emotions which are designed to control the appetites and emotions in order to produce mutually-beneficial cooperative effects on others.

Social virtues:

Putting these threads together allows us to produce an account of the social virtues. There are virtues other than the social virtues, but I will be emphasizing the latter. For example, take someone who resists his fear to make a risky business decision. I don’t wish to enter into a semantic discussion as to whether this really counts as bravery or whether some other term such as “nerve” is more suitable. There are a whole host of these immediately useful virtues such as practical wisdom, intelligence, frugality, determination, and so on. I am going to restrict myself to discussing the social virtues.

Social virtues are the resistance to an appetite or emotion in favor of producing an advantageous effect on other people driven by the social emotions. So social bravery is the resistance to acting on one’s fear driven by the desire to produce a favorable, or avoid an unfavorable, reaction in other people. Our concern for our reputation and fear of the harmful consequences of developing a negative reputation–ostracism, alienation, enemies, and the like–drive us to resist doing what fear is prodding us to do.

We will apply this framework to additional virtues in part III

Restoring a Virtue-Based Ethics For The 21st Century: Part I


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There are three main traditions in Western moral philosophy. Deontological ethics stresses the primacy of more or less inviolable rules such as “do not kill” or “do not lie” or “do not steal.” Consequentialism holds that behavior is evaluated to the extent that it leads to good consequences; good consequences variously described as pleasure, happiness, or preference satisfaction. The third is virtue ethics which emphasizes the cultivation of certain states of character such as bravery, moderation, wisdom, and justice.

Despite these being considered the three main moral traditions in Western philosophy, I don’t think anyone has ever actually lived their lives according to deontological or consequentialist principles, whereas virtue ethics actually has been the foundation of both Western and Eastern moral systems.

For example, take this passage from Pride and Prejudice:

“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth—“there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, so divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can—But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”

“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”

“Such as vanity and pride.”

“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”

The characters of Pride and Prejudice are constantly discussing each others virtues and vices (even in the title). (I don’t know if Pride and Prejudice is an accurate description of life during the Regency, but it at least shows that someone trying to describe life in the Regency has its characters concerned with each others virtues and vices.)

In my experience, people today similarly discuss each other’s character, only that our vocabulary and understanding of the virtues is sadly crude and impoverished. (I am not advocating a return to Regency mores; it is only an example of a society where virtue plays a central role. I could have chosen just about any time period or civilization as examples of virtue-based public morality such as traditional Japan and China, Greece, Rome, etc.).

On the other hand, our current post-1960s public morality practices none of the Western traditions. The current popular ethics is a toxic waste dump of existentialism, Freudianism, post-structuralism, and “critical theory.” It is as if we have gone through a selection process for justifications for doing what our appetites direct.  When The West has gone from this:

to this:

in a century it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there has been a concerted effort to promote degradation.

The public morality of 2015 has it origins in the dispute between two models of autonomy. For Plato and Kant, one is self-ruled when you rule yourself. For Plato this happens when the reason rules over the appetites and emotions; for Kant it is when the reason controls one’s inclinations. The opposing view of autonomy has its origins in existentialism in claiming that self-rule is opposed to other-rule. The existentialists believed one needed to be free from all outside influences of church, tradition, parental influence, and social norms if one is to be “authentic.” Instead, one ought to freely choose one’s own principles by which to live. (Predictably, Sartre didn’t really want people to actually be able to choose their principles; he wrestled with the consequence of his theory that one could, say, choose to be a Nazi. He could not abide that on his theory there could be an authentic Nazi. Sartre really wanted everyone to choose the principles he wanted them to choose.)

As Plato (or Darwin) could have predicted, the existentialist rejection of any outside influence on the will didn’t usher in a golden age of existentialist heroes, it simply resulted in giving free reign to the appetites. And so today’s attack on “fat-shaming” or “slut-shaming” marches under the flag of freedom from societal pressure, but really just hands the will over to the appetites. Whenever you hear advice such as “do what you want,” “don’t care what anyone else thinks,” “listen to your heart,” “be true to yourself,” “respect my freedom of choice,” or “people ought to be empowered to resist societal pressure to follow their own path” you are being instructed in public morality c. 2015. These imperatives almost always ultimately reduce to “do what your appetites and feelings dictate.” They likewise produce corresponding public duties such as “you may not criticize someone for pursuing their desires” or “do not judge anyone for doing what they want.”

These two views of autonomy remain in conflict. Although the message to “don’t care what anybody thinks, follow your heart” is blasted at us through popular culture, as I mentioned above, people continue to criticize each others character, and many people continue to cultivate excellences in themselves (although their official non-judgementalism prevents them from actually acknowledging that this is what they are doing). I am going to ask readers to wipe their mind clean of all the rules they have absorbed from popular culture over the course of your life and approach the issue from a fresh perspective. It is quite liberating to throw out all the garbage and declare that you will not live by these rules any longer.

The aim of this series of posts is to begin the work of producing an ethical system to replace the current debauched public morality which leaves destroyed lives and relationships in its wake. As I mentioned, virtue ethics was the dominant ethical system for most of the history of Western civilization, but it was all but dead for much of the 20th century where deontological, consequentialist, and relativistic theories battled it out to mutual exhaustion. Deontological and consequentialist theories have their place; for example, the law probably needs to be deontological. But neither of these is suitable for being a basis on which one may live their life.

Although virtue ethics was all but dead in moral philosophy, there has been a revival of interest in virtue ethics in the last 30 – 40 years. There is now an immense literature dedicated to the topic. In order to produce a modern approach I will begin with a quick overview of classical virtue ethics. Then I will introduce some modern elements in order to overcome the objections to classical virtue ethics in order to emerge with a contemporary model.

Classical Virtue Ethics:

Classical virtue ethics was based around three teleological notions: an item’s end (also called a final cause or telos), its function, and its virtues or excellences.

Here is Plato’s presentation of these concepts:

Tell me, do you think there is such a thing as the function of a horse?

I do.

And would you define the function of a horse or anything else as that which one can do only with it or best with it?

I don’t understand.

Let me put it this way: Is it possible to see with anything other than eyes?

Certainly not.

Or to hear with anything other than ears?


Then, we are right to say that seeing and hearing are the functions of eyes and ears?

Of course.

Now, I think you’ll understand what I was asking earlier when I asked whether the function of each thing is what it alone can do or what it does better than anything else.

I understand, and I think that this is the function of each.

All right. Does each thing to which a particular function is assigned also have a virtue? Let us go over the same ground again. We say that eyes have some function?

They do.

So there is also a virtue of eyes?

There is.

And ears have a function?


So there is also a virtue of ears?

There is.

And all other things are the same, aren’t they?

They are.

And could eyes perform their function well if they lacked their peculiar virtue and had the vice instead?

How could they, for don’t you mean if they had blindness instead of sight?

Whatever their virtue is, for I’m not now asking about that but about whether anything that has a function performs it well by means of its own peculiar virtue and badly by means of its vice?

That’s true, it does. (Republic, 352d – 353d)


In other words, where something has a function it also has a virtue. The function of the heart, for example, is to pump blood so that it may fulfill its end of providing nutrients to the body. Furthermore, where a thing has a function it has certain features that allow it to perform its function. These are the distinctive virtues or excellences of the thing and it is the possession of the excellences or virtues that make an item a good one of its kind. A good heart is one that possesses the features of hearts–the muscle tissue, four chambers, a way to mix oxygen with blood, and so on—that allow it to pump blood.

For Plato, virtue resulted when reason performed its function of controlling the other parts of the soul. When the reason controlled the appetites, the individual possessed the virtue of moderation. When reason controlled the spirit, it possessed courage. This image, that the reason ought to control the appetites and emotions in order to be good and live a good life, is the foundational model for Western ethics. But this has been overturned by our current public morality which celebrates acting on our immediate appetites and emotions.

The great enemy of Plato’s view that reason ought to control the appetites is Hume who held that reason can not produce behavior and always serves the passions or sentiment. Reason can be inductive or deductive, but neither can produce behavior (today we would probably call Hume’s “passions” internal imperative representations). I agree with Plato that virtue involves controlling the appetites and emotions, but I also agree with Hume that reason can not produce behavior. Squaring these two views will be the topic of part II.

Let’s switch now to Aristotle’s presentation of these concepts:

“Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is is still desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man. For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or any artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity, the good and the ‘well’ is thought to reside in the function so it would seem to be for man, if he has a function. Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none? Is he born without a function? Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently has a function, may one lay it down that man similarly has a function apart from all these?” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1097b25)

“We must, however, not only describe virtue as a state of character, but also say what sort of state it is. We may remark, then, that every virtue or excellence both brings into good condition the thing of which it is the excellence and makes the work of the thing be done well; e.g. the excellence of the eye makes both the eye and its work good; for it is by the excellence of the eye that we see well. Similarly the excellence of the horse makes a horse both good in itself and good at running and at carrying its rider and at awaiting the attack of the enemy. Therefore, if this is true in every case, the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well.” (1106a17).

So for Plato and Aristotle, evaluating the goodness of a person is a lot like evaluating the goodness of a car, computer, or other manufactured device. The first thing you do is figure out what the things function is; then you figure out if it possesses the features that allow it to perform this function. Take something like a computer. Its end it to produce information for its users, its function is to take input, process it, and produce output. A good computer is one which possesses the features which allow it to do this: a fast processor, fast and sufficient memory, input devices, and so on. These features are the excellences or virtues—the good-making qualities—of computers.

For Aristotle, the end of humans is happiness, its function is reason, and the virtues are the properties of reason that allow it to achieve our ends. Traits like practical and theoretical wisdom, justice, moderation, and bravery are how reason works to produce happiness.

It is potentially misleading to claim that the end for humans is happiness. It threatens to conflate our subjective end with the end of our kind. If humans are designed to seek happiness it is only a means to nature’s further end of survival and reproduction. Darwin would therefore agree with Aquinas that preserving life and having offspring are the precepts of Natural Law, and that the subjective pursuit of happiness must not be the final end for humans, but a means to these more fundamental ends.

Human lives have a form determined by nature: to grow and learn as children, to find a mate, to bear children, to work to support them as adults. In order to increase the chances of doing this successfully, humans work cooperatively with others and form institutions to further shared interests. Striving to live out the natural form of a human life as excellently as possible is the end for humans. Luckily, nature has also designed us to find happiness in successfully reaching these milestones: marriage, childbirth, friendship, and successful labor are pretty much universally celebrated sources of happiness in human cultures. On the other hand, behavior that takes you away from doing a good job at successfully living a human life—excessive drug use, promiscuity, childlessness, laziness–ought to be shunned.

I can hear people shouting “naturalistic fallacy!” Just because human life has a form doesn’t mean we ought to live it! We reactionary types have an answer to objections like this: we allow you to go against nature, if you want, but such values can never endure, the world is always inherited by those who live by enduring, survivable, principles and live by nature’s rules. (We sometimes colorfully put this as allowing “gnon” to devour those who would leap into his jaws.) We are only interested in reaching those who wish to subscribe to enduring values and happily allow others to take the path of extinction, as long as they don’t take us with them.

This teleological framework of virtue ethics all came crumbling down with the advent of modern philosophy. Part of the problem was that Plato’s definition of a function as “that which one can do only with it or best with it” is severely inadequate. The function of sperm is to fertilize an egg, but that is not what they only do or do best, seeing as most fail. Furthermore, Aristotle tried to apply teleology to physics, and so his explanation for why, say, fire rises, was that it was the end, or final cause, of fire to go up. His explanation for why stones move downward when you drop them was that it was the final cause for stones to move downward. In other words, it was not much of an explanation.

Rejection of final causes paved the way for the magnificent success of atomism and Newtonian physics as they swept away the teleological approach which had dominated for millennia. The movement of objects could now be explained by natural forces and laws without having to refer to final causes at all. As Hume writes: “all causes are of the same kind, and that in particular there is no foundation for that distinction, which we sometimes make betwixt efficient causes, and causes sine qua non; or betwixt efficient causes, and formal, and material, and exemplary, and final causes.”

We will see how virtue ethics may avoid these problems in part II.