Ambiguity of the Term “Injustice” and Stoic Ethics Beyond your “Job Description”

You must be wondering if I am some kind of moral-relativist when I suggest an ambiguity of the term “injustice“. But then when you see that I am tying this in to Stoic ethics beyond your “job description”, i.e., suggesting that there is a moral standard we should strive to that supercedes that which Epictetus prescribes in Enchiridion 30-31, it might be clear that I am not advocating moral relativism.

Okay – if there is an ambiguity to the term “injustice”, that must mean that there are two or more possible definitions that the term, and that context can not clarify which definition is used with enough reliability to avoid philosophical confusion. So what philosophical ambiguity am I referring to? And why is it essential to resolve that if we are to come up with a standard of ethics beyond that which is defined by relation?

Epictetus says: “Duties are universally measured by relations. Is a certain man your father? In this are implied, taking care of him; submitting to him in all things; patiently receiving his reproaches, his correction.” This kinda implies that, if you ask Epictetus (and I’m guessing that if you asked any of the ancient Stoics) it’s never okay to go against what your father says to do.

However, what if you happen to live in a Nazi-like regime, and your father happens to be either the Fuhrer, or one of those in the Fuhrer’s inner-circle?

Oh — but you must say that it does not apply in cases like this. Well – let’s see what the very next thing Epictetus says is: “But he is a bad father. Is your natural tie, then, to a good father? No, but to a father.”

Now, of course nobody should expect themselves to do something that is beyond their ability to do — and that includes the fact that no matter how reprehensible the actions of your regime is, you should not expect yourself to oppose it when you are not presented with an opportunity to do so. However, I submit that when an opportunity does arise to oppose an oppressive regime such as the Nazis, it is your obligation to do so — and that should your father happen to be one of the chief-culprits, you should not allow your natural tie to him to stop you.

Of course, at this point, there is still a way to resolve this. You could say that you still have your natural obligation to your father — but due to the principle of cosmopolitanism, you also have your obligation to all humanity. Two conflicting obligations are the definition are the definition of a moral dilemma. For a stoic, it is obvious how to overcome a moral dilemma. You recognize that the option of doing something that is “right” by every account is beyond what has been given to you – and therefore (without losing any sleep over it) select the option which is least-objectionable among those offered to you.

The problem here? For you to invoke cosmopolitanism in such a manner, you have to accept that a such thing as “injustice” exists. This, of course, is something Stoicism has a problem with — because if injustice exists, then it can be unjust for you to have something external taken from you. This would cause Stoicism to unravel from it’s very core.

Unless — unless we recognize that there is an ambiguity to the term “injustice”, and find a way to resolve that ambiguity.

Let’s go away from the extreme example of a Nazi-like regime — and find a scenario a bit less extreme and a bit more commonplace. Someone on another Stoic discussion group elsewhere (not on Facebook) asked why Stoics would make such a big-deal about supporting Universal Healthcare, as there is nothing external which is our inherent right. Not even our lives, our bodies, our very health are truly our own, but on loan to us from the Universe – so surely healthcare isn’t.

My answer was – worrying about ensuring Universal Healthcare, from a Stoic point-of-view, is not our concern as potential recipients of said healthcare, but rather, in our capacity as voters and citizens. As such, our relation to the state requires us to do our part to promote the state doing the morally correct thing. But once again – this requires us to accept that there is an inherent injustice in denying someone healthcare.

Clearly, the only way to resolve this is to come to an understanding that there is more than one definition of “injustice” at play. On one hand, the term “injustice” could refer to something existing in the Universe that we have the obligation, when possible, to oppose. The other definition of the term “injustice” is something that can force distress on us.

We need to resolve this ambiguity surrounding the term “injustice” if we can have a variant of Stoicism that has ethics beyond what is defined by our relations.

Right Conclusion – for a VERY Wrong Reason

Okay — I read a blog-post that really got my goat. It was this blog-post about a supposed revelation that Jenny McCarthy’s son never had autism to begin with. Why am I so opposed to this blog-post? It’s not because of their objection to the myth of autism being caused by vaccines — and it’s certainly not because of their insistence that you shouldn’t get medical advice from Jenny McCarthy — nor the assertion that anyone should have known better than to get medical advice from her. I’m eye-to-eye with them on all those things.

What upset me about this article is the reason they give why (in their view) people should have known better than to get medical advice from her. Not once in this article is it even mentioned that Jenny McCarthy isn’t a medical doctor, nor is she a medical scientist, nor a trained and qualified expert in any other relevant field. To confirm that lack of qualification, I had to look her up on Wikipedia. Instead, they just harped on and on about her history of having posed nude for Playboy in the past.

Seriously, guys — if some other schmoe just as unqualified as McCarthy were to come and give you the same kind of medical advice – would you just accept it, so long as that person never posed nude? And inversely, if someone who is a certified MD, as well as a PhD in a relevant field of medical research were to give you sound medical advice, would you reject that advice if you found out that she paid her way through med-school by (gasp) posing nude for Playboy?

I was thinking the other day about how there needs to be a philosophy requirement added to the High School education curriculum – and how it should include rigorous training in things such as fallacy-recognition. I would have liked to be blogging more about that. Instead, I’m blogging about someone who (based, at least on one blog post) might need the remedial course!!

Beyond the Presumption of Universal Applicability

Instead of letting it reside only in my head and occasionally slipping into casual conversations with others, I have concluded that I should put forth a written description of my logic system. Though it has some similarities with other logic systems, it still varies significantly from any I have been able to find out about, and addresses some pitfalls that I believe have been overlooked by other logicians.

Now, obviously, there is too much to my system of logic to possibly do justice to it in one blog post, so I will instead do it as a series of blog posts that will go on and on for as long as I have more material to add. Today I merely present my first installment in this series.

Though there are other pitfalls in pre-existing logic systems, the one I find most troublesome is what I call the Presumption of Universal Applicability. This is the insistance that, in a truth table, every statement must have an applicable truth-value, no matter what that applicable truth-value is.

In crisp logic, this assumption means that every statement must be either true or false. Even logicians such as Kleene, who acknowledge that we don’t always know if something is true or false don’t really dispute the ultimate notion of everything has to be true or false, even if beyond our scope of in formation. Granted, Kleene claimed to use “unknown” as a third truth-value — but really, if you dissect and analyze it, “unknown” really means nothing more than “This statement is either true or false – but I don’t know which one it is”. (Either that, or he’d have no way, without cheating, to prove that “A ∨ (!A)” is true when “A” is “unknown”.)

Granted, the concept of “unknown” is very important in applying logic to real-live situations – least one succumb to a fallacy that I call “Imposition of the Default”. However, it is not a truth-value in it’s own right. It is not it’s own spot on the truth-table, but merely an acknowledgement that we are not sure where on the truth-table the case-in-point resides.

In fuzzy logic, the Presumption of Universal Applicability means that every statement’s truth-value has only one dimension – it’s degree of truth (or membership) – denying the need of a second dimension to measure the significance, or it’s degree of applicability. Of course, for the duration of this post, I won’t go into how to get past the Presumption of Universal Applicability for fuzzy logic – beyond saying that it needs at some point to be done (which I just have finished doing). Instead, this post will focus on how to move past that notion in the area of crisp logic.

In crisp logic, the way to get past the Presumption of Universal Applicability is to realize that “true” and “false” are not the only possible values for a statement. Rather, one must realize that there is a third possible value, “nonapplicable”. If a statement is “nonapplicable” that doesn’t mean that we just don’t know if it’s true or false. It means that neither “true” nor “false” accurately describes the statement.

I strongly suspect that the reason why previous logicians have overlooked “nonapplicable” as a third possible truth-value, in favor of “unknown” (which as I have already described, isn’t really a truth-value at all, but merely an uncertainty state) may have been that though they were determined to expand the truth-table beyond the scope covered in Aristotelian logic, they were unwilling in any way to alter the portion of the truth-table that Aristotelian logic does cover.

A logic system that contains “nonapplicable” as the third possible truth value will not alter the portion of the truth-table where “and” and “or” statements are concerned. It will do this, however, where “if” statements are concerned.

Take, for example, the following table …

F ? ?

In the row where the premise variable of this “if” statement is true, I have reaffirmed Aristotle’s assertion that the whole statement should have the same value as the assertion variable. However, in the lower row, where the premise variable is “falls”, I have filled the spaces with question-marks to indicate that this is an area of dispute between myself and Aristotle. Aristotle says that when the value of the premise variable is “false”, the value of the whole statement is always “true”. I disagree four a number of reasons. For one thing, this would refuse the usefulness of “a → b” to nothing more than a shorthand for “(!a) ∨ b”. But furthermore, common sense would dictate that the word “if” means that a statement is only concerned with cases where the premise is true. Therefore, if the premise statement is “false”, then that doesn’t make this a case where the whole statement is “true”. Rather, it means that this case is not one of the cases which the statement as a whole is concerned with. Hence, the correct truth-value would be “nonapplicable”.

So here, I present my trinary truth-table for “if then” statements:


I could go on and expand the “and” and “or” tables, as well as discuss another operation needed in this form of logic that I call an “applicability test” – but those are for a future post.

Instant-Runoff Voting Verifiability Challenge

Some time, not too long ago, I was to a social function with a few other families who are friends of my family. At that event, when I was talking with one person I have known for years, the subject of politics came up. As he praised the system they have in many European countries where many elections are followed by runoff elections, I suggested to him that Instant Runoff voting (IRV) may be a better solution to the problems he wanted to solve. However, as much as I like the idea of Instant Runoff Voting, he gave a very strong reason for seeing it as unacceptable – that being that it would be impossible to have both that and another reform that we both agreed was more important – that being vote verification.

Vote verification simply means that the citizenry has a way to be assured that every vote was counted as the one who cast it intended, and that the legitimately-cast votes are the only ones counted. In short, it means that the citizenry doesn’t have to the authority’s word that the election wasn’t rigged – but has a means of verifying this.

As much as I am very much in favor of the advantages that could be gained by IRV, I had to agree that the point he brought up was indeed a valid point – and that if it can not be resolved, is a deal-breaker for IRV. It is folly to push for IRV to be adopted until this issue is resolved. It is very simple why. In traditional voting, vote verification can be implemented as follows: The votes would be tallied and entered under multi-partisan supervision into a computer system at each local precinct. Then, the results from all the local precincts would be combined to form a general tally based on which the results of the election would be declared. If anyone suspects there was any funny business, they could call for a re-count under even greater supervision. It would be simple to do this as long as each ballot contained a reference to one and only one candidate per election.

However, what if each ballot contains not only the voter’s primary pick for the election – but also an alternate in case the primary pick is eliminated, maybe another alternate in case both of those are eliminated, and so-forth? A system of vote verification could get really messy when there is this much data to keep track of. So assuring vote verifiability can be much more difficult when IRV is involved.

But am I about to take it lying down that this dillema is inevitable? Not a chance! I agree that vote verifiability is more important, but I strongly feel that IRV is also very important if freedom is to survive and progress, rather than regress. Hence I lay down the gauntlet of the Instant-Runoff Voting Verifiability Challenge. If you have any suggestions on how to make it logistically feasible to have both vote verification and IRV, please respond with a comment to this blog post explaining how you plan to solve the logistical difficulties.

I pose this this challenge to anyone following this blog – but not just to you. I will extend this challenge to anyone I can inform of the challenge – and anyone whom any of you are willing to inform of the challenge. Even if this challenge solves the problem of the logistics, there will still be the even greater challeneg ahead of pushing the solution past the Powers that Be who’s interest IRV doesn’t necessarily serve — but at least then we will have a sound solution to try to push past them.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out your thinking caps, and try to find a solution to this logistical dillema. :-)

New, Expanded Purpose of the Blog

I started this blog nearly ten months ago because someone suggested I publish my poems in a blog. Content, however, has been sporadic – partly because my poetic muse comes and goes – partly because I’m just not convinced that a WordPress blog should be my primary way of releasing poems to the world.

So am I going to close the blog? Or abandon the blog? No. Instead, I’m going to revitalize this blog by expanding it’s scope.

If I have a poem or short-story that I wish to release via a WordPress blog, it will still go here. But if I have something to say on the matter of news, politics, social concerns, or anything else — why should I create a new blog for that when I already have this blog?

Creating a separate blog for everything I am inclined to blog about will result in me having several blogs – none of which are regularly updated. Instead of spreading myself thin like this, I will just expand the scope of this blog from being a strictly literary-artistic blog to a general-purpose blog.

Wanna read just my poems without being bothered by my prose-style social commentaries? Well – fortunately, WordPress has the feature of allowing me to tag my posts by category – so I can accommodate this. (WARNING: This will only protect you from having to read prose-form non-fiction social commentaries. Poetically-structured commentaries will still go into the “My Poems” section and fictional ones will still go in the “My Fiction” section.)

As for the name of the blog – that I’m not changing. True, the name was initially picked when I thought the only thing I’d be posting here would be poems and short-stories — but after thinking, I decided the name is just as suitable for a general purpose blog.

Anyway – until next time —


Why Can’t Cats Leave Roses

Why can’t cats leave roses to show hat they care?
‘Twould be better than dead birds a rotting out there.
Instead of dead rodents where I have to walk,
Why can’t kitties just gift-wrap a gold plated clock?
Why can’t cats leave roses to show that they care?
Their choices in present’s a mystery in there.

- – Sophia Elizabeth Shapira
- – 2012-07-12

I Can’t Be Concerned ‘Bout your Bone

(Poem by Sophia Shapira)

Melinda came to the meeting,
Stood up in front of the crowd,
Admitted she needed help more than anything,
Baring her weakness out loud.

She relaxed when she saw the plaque showing the words
“Live and Let Live” on the wall,
Till the day that she learned that where she was concerned
That didn’t apply at all.

And they picked apart her identity
Insisting that she would chose
To be the one they’d judge all kinds of ways
Without walking a foot in her shoes.

‘Till one day they gave her a big bowl of nasty
‘Bout answering nature’s call.
This fin’ly caused her to lose it at once
And in a fit she told them all

  Just like you, I came here to recover.
  I’ve got enough junk of my own.
  I can’t take on yours – my hands are all full
  So why don’t you leave me alone?
  I can’t be concerned ’bout your bone.

She then spent a hole in her pocket
Driving to another town
Two or three times a week for a meeting
‘Cos the neighborhood folk shut her down.

She couldn’t arrange no carpool
‘Coz her friends had scattered like mice.
Someone else had a problem with her
And for that she was paying the price.

So while other folks said as much as they had to
‘Bout what made them want to get drunk
She had to keep it as vague as can be
About what had her stuck in this funk.

Some folks would tell her she needed more meetings
And that’s how she’d get down her stuff.
And one day she told one of them straight to her face
Ain’t I commuting enough?

  Just like you, I came here to recover.
  I’ve got enough junk of my own.
  I can’t take on yours – my hands are all full
  So why don’t you leave me alone?
  I can’t be concerned ’bout your bone.

    Give me a break – I just want to recover
    So put down your stick and your stone.
    I’ll hear out your struggles, but can’t take your brunt -
    You’ll have to face that on your own.
    If you can’t, then leave me alone.

  Just like you, I came here to recover.
  I’ve got enough junk of my own.
  I can’t take on yours – my hands are all full
  So why don’t you leave me alone?
  I can’t be concerned ’bout your bone.

- – Sophia Elizabeth Shapira
- – 2012-05-31


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.