What we're about

Q: If you had to declare a manifesto for this group, what would it be?
A: That philosophy is for everybody. That, while it uses abstraction, its value rests on its concrete utility in everyday life. For example, you don't have to know how to program a computer to benefit from one (though of course you can do more with it if you know how it works).

Q: I'm very busy ‐ what preparation is involved?
A: We do not assign reading, because we are interested in your original thinking. As the theme of each meeting is announced in advance, it would be helpful if you would think of a personal story that grounds the theme realistically. Don't worry about it, though: you may think of one on the spot.

Q: I'm too busy preparing my own treatise on topic X to participate in a group discussion.
A: Everyone has to manage their own priorities, but people do underestimate the value of open interaction with their peers. If you find yourself going over the same questions and answers, then maybe it's time to expose yourself to other perspectives. Try proposing a theme relating to topic X and see what you get for two hours of your time.

Q: Where can I get more information?
A: Besides checking out the announcements of previous meetings, you can visit the Message Boards ("Meeting summaries", "What Is Philosophy Cafe?") under the Discussion menu, and the full FAQ in the Pages tab. Or...why not just come chat with us some Tuesday?

Upcoming events (2)

Hypothesis: Means--and the World--Arise from Interrupted Ends

Belatedly, I offer you a Hypothesis on Means and Ends. This meeting has no date (October is long gone), but will be scheduled for some Tuesday if enough people sign up. In the meantime, there is Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49269288).

This essay is intended to be an example of a serious thought experiment. It's not necessary to comprehend the whole thing to profit from a discussion: you might choose to ruminate on a single paragraph, finding alternate examples, adding detail, or drawing implications. (Or spot song references.)

An extreme interpretation of the undebate choice (of which comes first, Ends or Means) is that we accept only one or the other. Okay, what if we say there are only ends? What then arises to fulfill the function of means? (This approach is closely related to histories based on incongruity: means and ends seem opposite and yet inextricable from each other, so we presume one or the other as original and see how the other might have evolved from it.)

It's not difficult to imagine that there might be only Ends: we think something--and it just happens! The mode of Habit suppresses awareness of means; thus animals, supposed to be creatures of habit, might be ends-only beings. Of course it takes time for an intention to be accomplished, so we might visualize this sort of consciousness as occupied mostly by a kind of sleep, or if we don't like blank spots in our awareness, then our interior lives could be imagined as a slide show. (This is a thought experiment, not a mental model, so let's consider just one intention at a time.) We see the world as through a camera shutter, except each static picture is of what is coming to be, rather than of what was last.

Thinking only of ends doesn't guarantee success, however. The picture changes...but sometimes differently. Rather than assume some method or computation of expectations (which would be to jump straight to means), let us merely register that something went awry: the picture now before us isn't the one from last time. While we might feel our will was thwarted, we need not identify with the intention; it may be that each new intention is not "free", any more than is the failure of the intention. All the failed intention yields is an extra snapshot, one marked "Surprise!", which is important because it suggests danger.

This extra snapshot, this different ending to the imagined end, is the first mean. The prototypical westward expedition from Chicago has L.A. as its end, and Joplin, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Gallup, Flagstaff, and the rest would be failures to "wake up" at the desired destination. The picture of "progress" that we call Route 66 is a rationalization of successive failures, of means subordinated to an end. As if mistakenly waking up in Oklahoma City was too horrible to contemplate, so we pretended temporarily that it was our destination all along (after all, it looks mighty pretty!) This will of course be necessary if we again decide to take that California trip, in which case the same series of "accidents" will be repeated. The failure designation becomes an "in progress" indicator: "not there yet, but don't worry."

Reaching the beach is then a matter of persistence, of stubbornly replacing failures with a vision of perfection. We do NOT say that we are going to Barstow today--otherwise, we wouldn't get out of bed! Note how such towns and nameless streets are described as "mean", synonymous with base or low. The route to Shangri-La does not--can not--pass through some place that is better than Shangri-La. Means must be endured, connoting both hardship and duration, the passage of time. The waiting, as they say, is the hardest part; certainly it is the unavoidable part. The family trip is hardest on the kids because they have no duties to distract them (which is why they're happy to be counting blue cars).

Jumping to an historical perspective, it is exactly this persevering intentionality that handsomely rewarded the first farmers. Watching crops grow must have been a psychological trial for former hunters. (Though stalking wild game also requires endurance, the prey absorbs our attention.) Having to maintain intention over long periods of time created a different kind of human being, one significantly constituted by institutions. The nomad, having been forced by the depletion of game to make himself stand in one place, invented means to withstand the inevitable waiting. As kids count cars to distract them from the tedium of being between places, men civilized themselves by inventing the calendar; instead of road trip bingo, adults played endless games in which they accumulate the ultimate intermediary, money; children are kept occupied solving puzzles, whereas their elders problematized life's mysteries as religious stories. The trappings of civilization reliably remind us why we are here, while emphasizing that we aren't yet where we ought to be. Some aspect of the "in progress" indicator reinstates the picture that "failed" to materialize: our day planner has our to-do list; coins were embossed with the image of the ruler to whom taxes were to be paid; the moral of the usual story is that we could do better because others have. As a day planner offers an estimate of the tidiness of a mind, the inventory of in-progress markers might be used to predict reliability or industry.

The world is our memory. Our homes are more than means of mere expression--a home is the medium in which the instructions on how to be ourselves are inscribed. Thus it is vital that we each have some space that can be ordered according to our personal codes. Some people will have more space than others, but their larger territory also serves to order the lives of others (who, it is often argued, could use some guidance); thus helping others to stand increases one's "standing". The more pressing situation, however, is competition for space. After having been partitioned by fences and borders, a region can support still more inhabitants if they yield to one another according to subspace (kitchen, garage) or function (entertainment, bookkeeping). The diversion of attention away from diffuse anxieties and onto mementos that sustain intention allows a greater number of independent agents, each with a narrower gaze, to be efficiently packed into any given space. Thus specialization increases the carrying capacity of a habitat; by keeping our own end in mind, we automatically stay out of one another's way. Historically, more than a few societies have increased their density by stratification into classes: distinct categories of activity are assigned to designated social classes, such as nobles, clerics, warriors, peasants, artisans. The design of a society is a collection of signs: we learn how to pick out those intended for us and then follow them.

The design of a society, or a home, emerges from a long series of tiny adjustments to the environment. Our mental environment consists of habits; the physical, of constructions. The smallest pieces of furniture in either setting require minimal inventiveness: anybody can use a stick to prop open a window; a four-year-old can distract herself from the tempting ice cream, given sufficient motive to do so. The stick is a means of interrupting the fall of the window; a consciously summoned image is a means of interrupting the draw of the sweet tooth. We don't normally think of the window passing through a series of intermediate points, but there was that time it got stuck halfway down; while any number of obstacles have interfered with gorging ourselves on a treat, that time our brother used a decoy to separate us from it is especially irksome because the intermediate point that failed us then (our attention) was inside our own head! That is, innovations must emerge from preventing completions, because incompletion is the only other end we know; we add only the intent to fail, so as to end up in a different place--even though the first time we landed there it was by mistake, we did manage to get out! Ends used as means (gramatically, imperfect) have become pure signs that are obeyed only partially, exploited for direction only: we follow a compass, not intending to reach the North Pole; if a dream leads us on, it has fulfilled its mission to get us off the couch. Our sweet tooth fails us (in the modern world) because we succeed too quickly in satisfying it.

The complexity of civilization requires many, many more incompletions than completions (of the original motivating goal). There are a lot of stops on the way to sunny California, but each one is an end, a destination, to someone. (To allege that there's no "there" there is to dismiss that someone as a nobody.) Completion becomes a dubious memory, a farfetched dream of Heaven, and instead of a solitary thread to navigate the labyrinth there is a fabric that reminds us of other travelers with their other goals. The litany of Route 66 becomes part of the map of an interstate highway system that binds us without itself going anywhere. You can meet me in St. Louis, a place neither of us is from or has an independent desire to visit, but a compromise upon which is based a relationship--a mean between the extremes of disparate identities. As the many roadtrip movies that accompanied the rise of modern transportation attest, community is the ultimate travel diversion, even to the point that some people feel more "at home" on the road (again).

At which point, perhaps, might inveterate gypsies undertake a phenomenology that posits only means?

Site map
Needs a date and time

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• On Dan Dennett's compatibilism, in Free Will (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49106030/0#[masked]).

• I'm about halfway through a high-level recap (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49051991)of our last couple years, emphasizing content rather than process.

• A detailed summary of Atul Gawande's Being Mortal (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49213533#[masked]) is up. (It has been said that all philosophy is ultimately about how to face death.)

• A post on Beauty (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49124993/post/128290497/i/gh_new_reply_tl?hash=128290497), for which we've not yet had a meeting!

• I've started (barely) a Recommended Reading (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49063689) list. The third book, by Jonathan Haidt, is a great primer on experimental psychology.


• Meeting notes for our very first Thought Lounge (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/post/128726493/i/gh_new_reply_tl?hash=128726493) are up.


• The meeting notes are up for all three discussions on Thinking and Feeling, with the last (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/100#[masked])pointing a direction for 2016.

• The discussion board for Thinking and Feeling (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49399112) has been inaugurated by Gary instead of me. Hooray for variety!


• The Means and Ends discussion (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49269288#[masked]) is still open. Despite the lack of interest, I feel it's rather important, so I'm still working on it. I plan to float (that is, without a date) a Hypothesis to see if there's interest in a wrap-up.


• Truth: Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49166768#[masked]) is burgeoning with posts about representation (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49166768/20#[masked]), dreams (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49166768/20#[masked]), with more to come; if you prefer gravitas, I've addressed moral facts (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49166768/30#[masked]) and summarized Graham Harman's essay on the McLuhans (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49166768/30#[masked]). Meeting notes for both Truth Lies Within (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/90#[masked]) and Truth Comes From Out There (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/90#[masked]) are up. In other words, Truth is the topic that won't die!

• Some Ministry (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/34520842/10#[masked]) activity that relates to Truth.


• The meeting notes (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/90#[masked]) for the concluding 'hypothesis' on Free Will are up; the notes for the 'anti-debate' sessions ('for' and 'against') precede it. Be aware that limiting myself to listening has yielded the lengthiest notes ever.

• The first post for Free Will: Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/90#[masked]) contains links to the comprehensive meeting notes for both the pro and con sessions. The second post contains ideas pertinent to the joint hypothesis. Kay and I have a substantial exchange after that. A third post concerns the "as if" philosophy of Wm. James.


• Education was too difficult (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/80#[masked]), but we can't give up--though we can wait. Work can continue in the Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49020594#[masked]) discussion thread, leading up to a (more targeted) reprise in the fall, perhaps.

• Kuhn on science education (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49020594#[masked]); Bergson on curtailment of freedom (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49020594#[masked]) by education (added 7/4); Menand on liberality vs. propaganda (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/49020594#[masked]) (7/6).


• Meeting notes for Measurement (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/80#[masked]) are not a blow-by-blow description but rather a rendering that aims to give a retrospective sense of how our thoughts proceeded. All 3 meetings now included.

• Even though Measurement is done, work will continue in Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/48969030), because it will be useful for Reference! Two posts summarizing Thomas Kuhn's work are up.


• Meeting notes (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/post/127708968/i/gh_new_reply_tl?hash=127708968) for Mind Reading are only one page this time:-)

• Abbreviated meeting notes have been published for Relating Truth and Tact, and for Thought Experiments.


• Meeting notes (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/70#[masked]) for Habit are pretty good--both sessions!

• Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit summarized in Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/48624792#[masked])

• These current posts to What Is Philosophy Cafe? (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/29892742/30#[masked]) are germane to Habit, and William James particularly.


• Meeting notes (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/70#[masked]) for December's first-ever Retrospective meeting.

• 2014 Retrospective: Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/48616520/i/gh_new_discussion_tl) explores the relationships among the various themes we covered, as well as hitting the highlights of our Retrospective meeting.

• Inquiring minds will want to read the semiannual progress report posted to What Is Philosophy Cafe? (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/29892742/30#[masked])Meeting notes for Gifts (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/60#[masked]) posted. See also Gifts: Show Your Work (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/48508476/post/127560343/i/gh_new_reply_tl?hash=127560343).


• The essay, "Metamorphosis Is Substitution" (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/47551862/20#[masked]), has been reworked and I'm quite proud of it (and exhausted).

• An essay on Maxwell's and Laplace's "demons" (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/47551862/20#[masked]).

• The meeting notes (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/30139612/post/127261752/i/gh_new_reply_multi_tl/?hash=127261752) for all the Metamorphosis discussions are up: third time was the charm!

• Show Your Work: Metamorphosis (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/47551862/post/127266462/i/gh_new_reply_tl?hash=127266462) now includes notes from Substitution, and a not-bad thumbnail summary of the essay.


• Prophetic Cycle (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/46709632/post/127670086/i/gh_new_reply_tl?hash=127670086) and commentary (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/46709732/post/127671466/i/gh_new_reply_multi_tl/?hash=127671466) added 2/1/15.

• The Some Histories (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/46709632/post/125185932/i/gh_new_reply_multi_tl/?hash=125185932) and About Some Histories threads have new entries. These are intended to be a repository built over time. See also Show Your Work: History (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/46999812#[masked]).

• Making Histories has been indefinitely postponed; it remains an unscheduled event.

• The History of Philosophy Cafe (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/29892742/20#[masked]) is published.

• Afterword: Life (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/45991452#[masked]) covers all three discussions.


List of all themes (https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/29892742/0#[masked]

Past events (127)


Au Coquelet,

Photos (8)