Two questions: (1) What is the best government that money can buy? (2) What kind of government would a bunch of devils choose?

My answer to (1). Place all power in the hands of one person. But don’t give this person power for life, and don’t make it hereditary. And don’t make this power last too long — four to six years maximum. And ensure that once out of power this person will be assured a prosperous future, such as a nice pension. It is better to have such a leader under democracy because people will have to acknowledge that they have elected him. But in reality, he will have been elected by money which has paid for the media and advertisement.

My answer to (2). Have a democracy. But by no means give power to one devil in any capacity. If you do, he will kill off all opposition, and enrich himself to the fullest. Minimally, all powers are to be given to at least two devils, with veto power over each other. And perhaps two more devils should monitor all activities of the two in power. Also, the period of their power should be minimal — let’s say six months.


My answer to (2) was not capricious. It was suggested by the ancient Roman Republican practice of having two consuls with veto power over each other, as well as by the ancient Spartan practice of having two kings with veto power over each other. And the idea of having “monitors” was suggested by the existence of lichtors and ephors. We can view the German Gestapo and the Russian Cheka as an extension of this idea of having such “monitors.”

My Political Frustrations with the governments of the U.S. and Ukraine

I live in Chicago. I was born in Poland, but I am an ethnic Ukrainian. Like Noam Chomsky, whom I admire, I am concerned with the state of the world: with the almost certain ecological collapse, with the possibility of nuclear warfare, and with U.S. economic and military imperial hegemony.

And because the U.S. dominates the world militarily (with nearly a thousand military bases around the world), it is difficult to envision any economic or political changes anywhere without some kind of U.S. acquiescence.

I also believe that the world is overpopulated. But, because population expansion is in the interest of capitalism, there is no policy of population control, as there was in China. The result is widespread world poverty, widespread conflicts, and ecological collapses.

I also believe that capitalism has taken total control of the U.S. political machinery, simply because the U.S. Constitution is structurally built for oligarchic control.

Theoretically, the solution is to have a different U.S. Constitution — perhaps one closer to that of Switzerland. But I do not see any prospects for any such radical change; for two reasons. The first is that amending the U.S. Constitution is very difficult — nearly impossible. The second is that the U.S. Constitution is regarded with the same reverence as any Holy Book — so, criticism is like blasphemy.

So, as regards the U.S. I am pessimistic, if not a cynic.

I have more hope for other countries. I regard Switzerland as the best democracy in the world. And my utopian hope is that Ukraine will emulate Switzerland.

But the prospects of this happening in Ukraine are dismal. Situated on the border with Russia, and having a mixed population of bilingual speakers of Ukrainian and Russian, the recent Presidential and Parliamentary elections have given the Russian-speakers total control of the government.

Let me explain. First, Ukraine unlike the U.S. is neither federated nor decentralized. All power is concentrated in the President. He nominates the Prime Minister, the Prosecutor, the Minister of Internal Security (the police), the Minister of Defense (the military), the Minister of foreign affairs, and he appoints all the Governors of the 25 Oblasts and of Kyiv. Second, recent parliamentary elections have given the President’s party, an overwhelming majority. Only a few votes are needed from other parties to make amendments to the Constitution.

The result is that Ukraine has a democratically elected Dictator, who, prior to being elected, was a very successful Russian-speaking comedian on television. (I use the word “dictator” in the sense in which the ancient Roman republic used it, when power was concentrate in the hands of one person, rather than in the hands of two consuls.) How this concentrated power will be used in Ukraine is a total mystery at this stage — with foreboding apprehensions.

What is the relevance of philosophy for ordinary people?

I really know of only a few famous philosophers who dealt with this question. One was Bertrand Russell; another was Mortimer J. Adler.

Adler made an impression on me with the slogan: philosophy is everyone’s business, and with the book “How to Read a Book.” However, he had a particular religious and ethico-political agenda which — in my estimate — was wrong. But I think he was on the right track in espousing Aquinas’s (and Aristotle’s) dialectical method, in which actual and possible objections are raised and answered.

But, it is the views and topics of Bertrand Russell which have impressed me more — mainly because of their secular perspective. [They are not bogged down with a religious or pseudo-religious background.]

In the following essay, Russell distinguishes the problems of technical or academic philosophy, from the practical problems which everyone has, and whose solution calls for wisdom.

Read the second essay “Philosophy for Laymen” in Unpopular Essays, 1921.

Puzzles vs Problems in Philosophy: Karl Popper and the poker of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Below is an excerpt from section 26. “England: At the London School of Economics and Political Science,” in Karl Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography, 1985. This book is a reprint of the “Autobiography of Karl Popper,” in The Philosophy of Karl Popper in The Library of Living Philosophers, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp, 1974.

…………………………………………………………….

Early in the academic year 1946-47 I received an invitation from the Secretary of the Moral Sciences Club at Cambridge to read a paper about some "philosophical puzzle". It was of course clear that this was Wittgenstein’s formulation, and that behind it was Wittgenstein’s philosophical thesis that there are no genuine problems in philosophy, only linguistic puzzles. Since this thesis was among my pet aversions, I decided to speak on "Are there Philosophical Problems?". I began my paper (read on October 26, 1946, in R. B. Braithwaite’s room in King’s College) by expressing my surprise at being invited by the Secretary to read a paper "stating some philosophical puzzle"; and I pointed out that, by implicitly denying that philosophical problems exist, whoever wrote the invitation took sides, perhaps unwittingly, in an issue created by a genuine philosophical problem.

I need hardly say that this was meant merely as a challenging and somewhat lighthearted introduction to my topic. But at this very point, Wittgenstein jumped up and said loudly and, it seemed to me, angrily: "The Secretary did exactly as he was told to do. He acted on my own instruction." I did not take any notice of this and went on; but as it turned out, at least some of Wittgenstein’s admirers in the audience did take notice of it, and as a consequence took my remark, meant as a joke, for a serious complaint against the Secretary. And so did the poor Secretary himself, as emerges from the minutes, in which he reports the incident, adding a footnote: "This is the Club’s form of invitation." [The minutes of the meeting are not quite reliable. For example the title of my paper is given on the printed list of meetings as “Methods in Philosophy” instead of “Are there Philosophical Problems?”, which was the title ultimately chosen by me. Furthermore, the Secretary thought I was complaining that this invitation was a brief paper, to introduce a discussion — which in fact suited me very well. He completely missed my point (puzzle versus problem).]

However, I went on to say that if I thought that there were no genuine philosophical problems, I would certainly not be a philosopher; and that the fact that many people, or perhaps all people, thoughtlessly adopt untenable solutions to many, or perhaps all, philosophical problems provided the only justification for being a philosopher. Wittgenstein jumped up again, interrupting me, and spoke at length about puzzles and the nonexistence of philosophical problems. At a moment which appeared to me appropriate, I interrupted him, giving a list I had prepared of philosophical problems, such as: Do we know things through our senses?, Do we obtain our knowledge by induction? These Wittgenstein dismissed as being logical rather than philosophical. I then referred to the problem whether potential or perhaps even actual infinities exist, a problem he dismissed as mathematical. (This dismissal got into the minutes.) I then mentioned moral problems and the problem of the validity of moral rules. At that point Wittgenstein, who was sitting near the fire and had been nervously playing with the poker, which he sometimes used like a conductor’s baton to emphasize his assertions, challenged me: "Give an example of a moral rule!" I replied: "Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers." Whereupon Wittgenstein, in a rage, threw the poker down and stormed out of the room, banging the door behind him.

I really was very sorry. I admit that I went to Cambridge hoping to provoke Wittgenstein into defending the view that there are no genuine philosophical problems, and to fight him on this issue. But I had never intended to make him angry; and it was a surprise to find him unable to see a joke. I realized only later that he probably did indeed feel that I was joking, and that it was this that offended him. But though I had wanted to treat my problem lightheartedly, I was in earnest — perhaps more so than was Wittgenstein himself, since, after all, he did not believe in genuine philosophical problems.

After Wittgenstein left us we had a very pleasant discussion, in which Bertrand Russell was one of the main speakers. And Braithwaite afterwards paid me a compliment (perhaps a doubtful compliment) by saying that I was the only man who had managed to interrupt Wittgenstein in the way in which Wittgenstein interrupted everyone else.

Next day in the train to London there were, in my compartment, two students sitting opposite each other, a boy reading a book and a girl reading a leftish journal. Suddenly she asked: "Who is this man Karl Popper?" He replied: "Never heard of him." Such is fame. (As I later found out, the journal contained an attack on The Open Society.)

The meeting of the Moral Sciences Club became almost immediately the subject of wild stories. In a surprisingly short time I received a letter from New Zealand asking whether it was true that Wittgenstein and I had come to blows, both armed with pokers. Nearer home the stories were less exaggerated, but not much.

The incident was, in part, attributable to my custom, whenever I am invited to speak in some place, of trying to develop some consequences of my views which I expect to be unacceptable to the particular audience. For I believe that there is only one excuse for a lecture: to challenge. It is the only way in which speech can be better than print This is why I chose my topic as I did. Besides, this controversy with Wittgenstein touched on fundamentals.

I claim that there are philosophical problems; and even that I have solved some. Yet, as I have written elsewhere "nothing seems less wanted than a simple solution to an age-old philosophical problem".[See Conjectures and Refutations [1963], p. 55.] The view of many philosophers and, especially, it seems, of Wittgensteinians, is that if a problem is soluble, it cannot have been philosophical. There are of course other ways of getting over the scandal of a solved problem. One can say that all this is old hat; or that it leaves the real problem untouched. And, after all, surely, this solution must be all wrong, must it not? (I am ready to admit that quite often an attitude like this is more valuable than one of excessive agreement.)

One of the things which in those days I found difficult to understand was the tendency of English philosophers to flirt with nonrealistic epistemologies: phenomenalism, positivism, Berkeleyan or Humean, or Machian idealism ("neutral monism"), sensationalism, pragmatism — these playthings of philosophers were in those days still more popular than realism. After a cruel war lasting for six years this attitude was surprising, and I admit that I felt that it was a bit "out of date" (to use a historicist phrase). Thus, being invited in 1946-47 to read a paper in Oxford, I read one under the title "A Refutation of Phenomenalism, Positivism, Idealism, and Subjectivism". In the discussion, the defence of the views which I had attacked was so feeble that it made little impression. However, the fruits of this victory (if any) were gathered by the philosophers of ordinary language, since language philosophy soon came to support common sense. Indeed, its attempts to adhere to common sense and realism are in my opinion by far the best aspect of ordinary-language philosophy. But common sense, though often right (and especially in its realism), is not always right And things get really interesting just when it is wrong. These are precisely the occasions which show that we are badly in need of enlightenment They are also the occasions on which the usages of ordinary language cannot help us. To put it in another way, ordinary language, and with it the philosophy of ordinary language, is conservative. But in matters of the intellect (as opposed, perhaps, to art, or to politics) nothing is less creative and more commonplace than conservatism.

All this seems to me very well formulated by Gilbert Ryle: "The rationality of man consists not in his being unquestioning in matters of principle but in never being unquestioning; not in cleaving to reputed axioms, but in taking nothing for granted."" [See p. 167 of Ryle’s review of Open Society in Mind, 56 (1947), 167-72.]

—————————————

Commentary: By Popper’s own exhortation never to argue about the meaning of words, this seems to be a case of arguing about the uses of the words “puzzle,” “problem,” and “philosophy.” Wittgenstein too seems to be taking a position inconsistent with his idea that some words are ambiguous, vague, and some have a logic of “family resemblances.”

The central question is what to include under the label “philosophy.”

As it turns out the word “philosophy” — as many other words — is both ambiguous, vague, and has “family resemblances.” Wittgenstein is known for claiming that philosophical problems are due to linguistic confusions. Examples of such confusions are the various paradoxes, which can be treated by a distinction of use and mention of words, and the distinction between a language and a meta-language — as pointed out early by Bertrand Russell. Other sorts of linguistic confusions are category mistakes, made much of by Gilbert Ryle. Wittgenstein added to this tool box, the idea that language has many uses. And I suppose it would be a category mistake to confuse these many uses.

Popper saw philosophy as including other concerns (problems) — which he mentions, and which Wittgenstein readily pigeonholes as logical, mathematical or ethical. As a first take on the situation, the word “puzzle” has the connotation of not being urgent or serious; whereas the word “problem” has the connotation of being something requiring at least some urgency and seriousness.

But, really, is there a clear distinction?

This reminds me of the confrontation between Oedipus and the Sphinx. The Sphinx posed a riddle (a kind of puzzle). If Oedipus could not solve it, he would be killed by the Sphinx. And if he did solve it, the Sphinx would commit suicide. If the mark of a problem is its seriousness, then Oedipus had a problem of solving a puzzle (the riddle).

But perhaps Popper meant by a problem the finding of a peculiar type of explanation — perhaps a “scientific” explanation. In that case, Popper would be saying something to the effect that science and philosophy have no clear demarcation; while Wittgenstein was looking for such a demarcation. In his earlier book, Tractatus, he said metaphorically that philosophy if either above or below science.

In any case, judging by his book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper saw philosophy as also concerned with a normative undertaking for a better society.

My own perspective on philosophy has changed from a minimalist perspective of avoiding contradictions such as found in paradoxes and category mistakes, especially within and between religions. This is a form of a priori criticism, which does not seek the truth, but which avoids error. I have also used a broader critique which assumes the reliability of science as a benchmark for what is plausible, and which then criticizes views as incompatible with science. And in the spirit of Popper, I include a further critique of institutions which centers on giving people the opportunity (freedom) to agree or disagree. In other words, I too seek an “open society.”

Also, people are ignorant, stupid, irresponsible, malicious, and manipulative — prone to bullshitting with all sorts of unsavory speeches and actions. I think the phrase “escaping from bullshit” encapsulates this broader concern and critique.