The Practical Ontologist

I’ve launched a new website called The Practical Ontologist. From its about page:

Every few hours a computer at a datacenter scans the web for new philosophical content. It then analyzes, processes, and formats the information. This creates an always updating website for easy perusal.

I built this site to highlight all the public philosophy that is posted every single day online and as a way for people to discover philosophically oriented websites. While there are already many excellent websites that post links to philosophical content, *The Practical Ontologist* is focused on staying fresh and not being a Balkanizing social network. It is the Google News of philosophy blogs.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Posted in internet, news, philosophy.

public philosophy stories 3: Red Hook

pork chop sandwichesThis happened at the end of last winter, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Normally I am nowhere near Red Hook, first because it is near nothing else and also because it is turning more hipster by the day, if not minute. But I was grumpy, so I went and did something out of the ordinary.

Now, there were two days that were unseasonably warm, just gorgeous, at the end of winter. This caught us New Yorkers unaware, which is the theme for this story. No one was out on the streets enjoying the day, as they would normally be if there was any reason to believe that the weather would cooperate. It was a ghost town, in broad daylight, which makes for an unusual scene in New York City.

As I walk down the street I hear someone calling after me and a young woman starts explaining how she is canvassing for some cause. Perhaps others are different, but I have negative levels of patience for people soliciting for my time. There are just too many causes and too many liars canvassing on the streets. But I am stuck, as there is no one else around, as the sole focus of her attention.

She starts to explain that she has never canvassed before, which basically makes me lose any sympathy that I at least hold for my fellow human. If you are going to canvass, do not waste my time and especially do not make me your guinea pig. So I excuse myself and say I’ll be on my way. But she asks if she can walk with me. I agree to this and she starts telling me her story.

She’s nervous, she rambles, and spends the next few minutes patching together one of the craziest New York stories I’ve ever heard. Apparently she has ventured the few blocks that separates the Red Hook projects, where she lives and is one of the forgotten hellish places in the city, to the hipster waterfront, full of 20-somethings from Ohio roasting coffee and distilling craft whiskey. She made this trip of only a few blocks, but of a huge cultural divide, as a last ditch attempt to save the last community center, already slated for closure, in her neighborhood.

It is not just the huge jump in random shootings, but the targeted drive-by where her friend lost her pregnancy and the complete neglect of the city and police that has forced her to make this trip. She has no idea what she is doing and I am the absolute first person that she has run into: there is exactly one name on her canvassing sheet, her own. For a few seconds, when I realize the gravity of the situation that I am in, I am completely flabbergasted. This is someone that really needs help, who has been failed systemically, and is asking me to do something about it.

Now I have neither the money nor political clout necessary to do anything at all. I can’t even sign her paper as I am not a Brooklyn resident. But I may actually be the single best person she could have ran into.

I tell her, after she has poured her heart out over the last few minutes, that she has to get her story down to about 30 seconds or else no one will listen to her. Her face drops to the pavement, but I continue, “and here is exactly what you say… ” and hit her with a distillation of all her main points in about 20 seconds. I even add a little rhetorical flare, giving her the core of what she needs in order to talk to anyone in the city. She goes from completely crestfallen to incredulous as I speak, and unconsciously starts to back away from me (really – she looked almost scared at that point). As I finish I say “Good luck, now you know what to do,” and leave her, eyes wide, mouth agape, and possibly with a chance.

Posted in NYC, pps.

Calendar Fall 2016 Update


A few weeks into the semester and the calendar is packed with events (but no one seems to have told the admin of Rutgers Philosophy Dept. webpage). Traffic to the calendar has continued its slow and steadily rise, with a corresponding rise in repeat visitors, that is, people who come back to check for updates. So, hello to all you new and return users. Feedback is welcome, as are event submissions.

I finally got around to looking into the issue where every event had a button to buy tickets, whether or not the event actually required them. If any of you checked the website this afternoon (16 September) you would have noticed that the entire site was down. Only “Error connecting to database” when loading the site. Yep, clicked on the wrong thing in the database and ruined the entire site. Took me a few hours to restore everything, but, hey, no useless ticket buttons anymore. The loss of data do to this crash is also why there are minor changes to how the site looks. Backup your data, people.

I’ve also started relying on a program to check websites for changes. This has been very helpful as my list of different philosophy-related groups has grown. So thank you to urlwatch by Thomas Perl.

image credit:

Posted in news, NYC. Tagged with , .

public philosophy stories 2: Hitting Nirvana

screenshot-media oglaf com 2016-05-29 15-45-56A few weeks ago I was at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, at Grand Army Plaza. Like many such institutions, it is littered with lecterns holding massive dictionaries. There was one next to a help desk open to a random page. As I walk up, the staff member looks at me expectantly, but I randomly drop my finger down on the dictionary. I look down at where my finger landed, blink in surprise, and say, “I hit Nirvana, I guess that’s it for today.” The staff member laughed, and I left the library.

Posted in NYC, pps, random idiocy, religion.

public philosophy stories, issue 1: Free Muffin

You only have so many skills when you’re 20. I was a few years past that when this happened, but didn’t look it.

The cashier at the Brooklyn coffee shop was 20, though, and was caught in a spot of trouble. Some guy in his late 40s took issue with her SNITCH tattoo — Harry Potter, not gangster. He was over-educated and enjoying himself denigrating the book series. She couldn’t abandon her post, less her skin, and while she was no fool, like I said, there’s only so much one can do at 20.

Harry Potter, of course, doesn’t need my help. But I do take issue with getting your jollies at the expense of someone who can’t defend themself. So I interjected a small remark that lead to his arguments stumbling. When he realized he had been stalled he quickly changed tack. Again the cashier had to give ground.

So I gently sharpened my previous comment. He kept up the pressure, but this time when he stumbled, his argument got impaled. He eyed me in silence.

‘I knew what I was doing when I opened my mouth,’ I smiled at him.

My coffee and muffin were free that day.

Posted in argumentation, NYC, pps, random idiocy.

winter/ spring 2016 calendar update


As per usual, lots of great philosophy talks. I’m still waiting on CUNY to update [updated Feb 1], which is unusual, since they are often first to publish their speaker list. Many departments and groups have been modernizing their websites, too, which is a step forward. Most are not quite there yet, and some departments, apparently, do not even control what goes on their webpage.

In this, the 9th(!) year of the NYC Philosophy Calendar, it seems that there has been greater professional interest in public philosophy: There has been talk about how to engage the public through the internet and new public philosophy awards. (Is the ivory tower starting to shake a little? Or just being dragged into the future?) I’d settle for a little more interdepartmental communication in terms of scheduling. We could have a mini-conference each week if we wanted to, and it could serve as a focus of outreach and community building.

Speaking of outreach — not that I’m actually an academic — traffic to the calendar has steadily risen over the last year. Manhattan has beaten out Brooklyn in calendar pageviews in the last few weeks, which is rare. I’ve even met people who found talks through my calendar. (No beer donations, sadly.) Also, for the first time ever, I rejected a request to be on the calendar: don’t write me a cloying email saying how insightful my blog has been in the last few months (when I hadn’t actually posted anything, and not that it has ever been insightful) and then ask to get your cult leader/ dvd seller/ pyramid scheme talk on the calendar.

One idea I had was to become a degree granting institution. That’s right, a NYC Philosophy Calendar Degree in philosophy!  I’ve been developing a way to register which talks you’ve been attending, and when you take enough talks, you get credit towards a degree. Enough credits equals a minor, then major, eventually all the way up to PhD. Yes, this will all be based off fake internet points, and you will have to self-report your attendence, but, hey, people love tracking progress and getting awards for it.

Have a great semester, all.

[image credit: Often gleefully NSFW.]


Posted in news, NYC, philosophy.

Things I Have Been Told by Professors of Philosophy

  1. People like you shouldn’t be philosophers.
  2. You’re not clever enough to have written this.
  3. You are a psychoneural freak.
  4. You’re a cheap drunk.
  5. You’re really weird. I’m weird, but you’re really weird. [added 10 Feb. 2016]

These are are direct quotes, with one professor being responsible for items 2 and 3.

Posted in philosophy.

Update Fall 2015

It has been an interesting 2015 for me philosophically. I’ve been writing feverishly because I had something published — to my great surprise — in Analysis. Figure I need something to follow up with. The paper is a modified version of my post Punny Logic, from back in January, and was the top download of both June and July. If you have institutional access, you can click here, else click here for the preprint. Hopefully I’ll have some new posts and papers to show soon.

As per usual the philosophy calendar is going strong. Lots of philosophy talks, workshops and conferences are scheduled for the coming semester in and around New York City. Even more will be posted as websites and departments update.

My only regret is that I don’t have plans to get to England in the next few weeks to witness the glory of Dismaland:


Posted in news.

XKCD on the Ontological Argument

Posted in fun, internet.

The Tortoise and the HareLoon


Achilles glanced up from his writing atop the Tortoise[1] and exclaimed, “Look! The Hare has caught up.”

“No,” said the Tortoise apprehensively, “that isn’t the Hare, but the Hare’s all too clever cousin, the HareLoon.”

“A real HareLoon! I’ve only ever seen them in pictures.”

“Don’t get so worked up. She is always in a hurry but I can never tell if she is coming or going.”

“Ah, but you should know the HareLoon coming and the HareLoon going are one and the same,” said the HareLoon. She then faced Achilles, “I heard that Tortoise had you write many logical steps after starting with a mere three.”

With a wan smile Achilles murmured, “We’ve moved on from that now…”

“Yes” said the Tortoise firmly. “Have you heard of Moore’s Proof of the External World? It is just as short as the three lines of Euclid:

(A) Here is a Hand.
(B) Hands are external things.

(Z) The external world exists.

Achilles said, “We are now in agreement that Z follows logically from A and B. But…”

“But only if we accept A and B, does Z follow,” the Tortoise interjected. “However, I’m skeptical that hands are real at all.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked the HareLoon, looking rather concerned for Achilles.

“Well, I might just be dreaming that there is a Hand in front of me. Or I could have eaten something disagreeable that is making me imagine things. Or someone is playing a trick on me.” The Tortoise continued, “I need a further statement to guarantee A:

(C) I am not being fooled into thinking a Hand is here.

Achilles cringed, palm to face.

“Fair enough, and I think I know where you are going with this,” said the HareLoon. “But before we worry about the External world, have you a proof of the Internal World?”

“What do you mean: Proof of the Internal World?” asked Achilles.

The HareLoon queried, “Let me ask you first: Would you know a HareLoon if you saw one? If so, please tell me how.”

In an official sounding voice the Tortoise recited: “The chief characteristic of a HareLoon is that it appears to be a Hare at some times, and appears to be a Loon at others.”

“Excellent,” replied the HareLoon. “Would you agree that the HareLoon does not itself change when it takes on these different guises? That is: the appearance of the Loon and the appearance of the Hare are in the thoughts of the beholder.”

“I suppose… The change is in the onlooker,” agreed the Tortoise.

“Then,” continued the HareLoon,

(A’) Here is a HareLoon.
(B’) HareLoons are internal things.

(Z’) The internal world exists.

“I distinctly remember Moore talking about hands and not HareLoons,” grumbled the Tortoise.

“Perhaps, but unlike hands you cannot be fooled into thinking HareLoons exist! We exist when, without change, we can appear to be a Hare or a Loon. Since we have agreed that this change is in your head, you can’t be mistaken about us switching in appearance between Hare or Loon. Hence when you think you see a HareLoon, you do see a HareLoon!

“Very Clever!” returned the Tortoise. “But what we want is the external — not internal — world. You’ve just argued yourself into my head and out of external existence. If you are only in my thoughts, it is a quick matter of logic to say that you aren’t anywhere eles.”

“Why Tortoise, that is the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me! To think, you’ve kept me in mind and maintained my existence, all these years. I should be flattered — or flattened, like you. I would take this paper thin existence (Cogito me papyrum esse, ergo sum)[2] but I don’t think I need to any longer.

“Answer me this: Who lives in this internal world? I’m here, and so are you! We have just agreed that I exist by you thinking, Cogito Ergo Es, and this is just the same as you existing by you thinking, Cogito Ergo Sum. So if I am a figment of your imagination, then so are you.”

“I am most certainly not a figment of my own imagination! You always were Loony, using Hairy reasoning.” said the indignant Tortoise.

“I don’t want to deny my existence any more than you yours, but if, as a quick matter of logic, you exclude others from existing, it loses its sense to say that you exist, either[3]. The only other thing that could have gone wrong is B’, that HareLoons are internal things. So we now have:

(A’) Here is a HareLoon.
(B’’) HareLoons are external things.

(Z) The external world exists.

Achilles shook his head, “You should have known, Tortoise… you can be in your house, but you’re still outside. If only your cousin were here, the Mock-Turtle would say: that while Achilles skill kills and the Tortoise disorders us (what tsuris!), the HareLoon’s Hume’s heir.”

[1] Carroll, Lewis. (1895) What the Tortoise Said to Achilles. Mind 4, No. 14: 278-280.

[2] Bouwsma, O. K. (1949). Descartes’ evil genius. Philosophical Review 58 (2):141-151.

[3] Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953/2003). Philosophical Investigations: The German Text, with a Revised English Translation. Malden, Ma, Blackwell Pub.
Relevant section §398 quoted below.

Philosophical Investigations §398

(Bold Added)

“But when I imagine something, or even actually see objects, I have got something which my neighbour has not.” — I understand you. You want to look about you and say: “At any rate only I have got THIS.” — What are these words for? They serve no purpose. — Can one not add: “There is here no question of a ‘seeing’ — and therefore none of a ‘having’ — nor of a subject, nor therefore of T either”? Might I not ask: In what sense have you got what you are talking about and saying that only you have got it? Do you possess it? You do not even see it. Must you not really say that no one has got it? And this too is clear: if as a matter of logic you exclude other people’s having something, it loses its sense to say that you have it.

But what is the thing you are speaking of? It is true I said that I knew within myself what you meant. But that meant that I knew how one thinks to conceive this object, to see it, to make one’s looking and pointing mean it. I know how one stares ahead and looks about one in this case — and the rest. I think we can say: you are talking (if, for example, you are sitting in a room) of the ‘visual room’. The ‘visual room’ is the one that has no owner. I can as little own it as I can walk about it, or look at it, or point to it. Inasmuch as it cannot be any one else’s it is not mine either. In other words, it does not belong to me because I want to use the same form of expression about it as about the material room in which I sit. The description of the latter need not mention an owner, in fact it need not have any owner. But then the visual room cannot have any owner. “For” — one might say — “it has no master, outside or in.”

Think of a picture of a landscape, an imaginary landscape with a house in it. — Someone asks “Whose house is that?” — The answer, by the way, might be “It belongs to the farmer who is sitting on the bench in front of it”. But then he cannot for example enter his house.

You’ve tossed the grin out with the cat.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy.