Tag Archives: poetry

Ten sonnets

I asked for people to tell me some philosophical positions which I’d then write sonnets in favor of, because taking requests is much more fun than just writing. Here’s every sonnet I’ve written so far, in more or less chronological order.

Request: Dualism.

If my beliefs were wholely chemical,
I’d have no reason to suppose them true.
I cannot hold that process credible
Which need not tell me one and one is two.
A physicalist’s brain cannot include
Such abstracts as “emotion,” “reason,” “fact.”
But merely microscopic clockwork. Who’d
Believe a theory where belief was lacked?
As anyone who’s been a human knows,
Your mind-states have subjective qualities.
Though physics’ scope has been far overblown,
Mere atoms have no mental properties.
If you can disagree with all of that,
Then tell me what it’s like to be a bat!

Request: Deontology

Morality comes from obeying rules
Of duty, obligation, and good will.
To treat another person as a tool
And not an end cannot their ends fulfill.
The proper rules are universalized:
If everyone obeyed it, would you keep
Consistently the maxim you devised?
If not, irrationality runs deep.
The acts of moral worth are only those
For which the agent freely does decide
To trust their reason when it duty shows.
And use that reasoned duty as their guide.
To make exceptions from the rules you want?
The only answer then is no you Kant.

Extra sonnet: Regular Utilitarianism.

Morality must live in this our world
And work to help as much as can be done
By satisfying preference in full
And sacrificing those of few or none.
The trolley problem’s switch, proponents say
Will save the most from underneath the wheels.
To those who will not press it shall I say
The four lives saved can far outweigh your feels.
Though cold and calculating it may seem
To weigh the good of one and find it small,
To implement such average-helping scheme
O’er iterations benefits us all.
Though fiction’s villains cite “the greater good,”
So too the volunteer who donates blood.

Request: Rule Utilitarianism.

As all utilitarians agree
Utility, not duty, we fulfill.
To help more people, as I’m sure you’ll see,
Is more important than the mind’s “good will.”
Yet if you think, you’ll find rules have their place.
Since human reason biases infest
If we ran calculations case by case
Utility would be far from its best.
We’d all rob banks to give to AMF
And murder organ donors right and left.
But since to Rules we aren’t completely deaf
We stick to strong heuristics like “no theft.”
The rightness of an act comes from the rule
From which it came. Thus spoke John Stuart Mill!

Request: Whether 1+1=2. (This request was itself a sonnet, which is awesome. But I didn’t ask if I could copy it here, so I didn’t.)

There’s no one claims that in arithmetic
The sum in question’s not precisely two.
The problem’s whether we would be too quick
In saying that it’s absolutely true.
But if the universe itself obeys
The rules that we derive math’s statements from,
Our theorems, from Hairy Balls to Bayes’,
Must all still follow from those axioms.
It cannot be shown true beyond all doubt.
No argument is infinitely strong.
But if it’s only false in worlds without
Noncontradiction, I’ll not say it’s wrong.
Unless you can contest Peano’s tools,
Then all the cosmos bows before math’s rules.

Request: Transhumanism.

The human lot is not immutable.
There was a time when humans lived in caves.
That we’ve progressed is indisputable
With words we read, and medicine that saves.
And we ourselves have capabilities
Beyond the things innate to humankind.
Eyeglasses, and external memories
In books or hard drives. From the human mind
Come more and more improvements on the state
Of nature. As we heal the sick and blind
And seize control of our own human fate
Why should we stop improving our own lot
By the techniques that humankind has wrought?

Request: Immortalism

By all the tenets of the humanists
We value humans’ goals and agency.
Transhumanism says that that persists
Beyond the normal contexts that we see.
As one case, over decades we lose health:
A fatal curse we can at best delay.
But we oppose all mandatory death:
No minds and bodies should be forced to fade.
Our life span might increase with no fixed end
As our technology advances on.
If you’d endorse the limits nature penned
Then tell it to the ghost of smallpox gone!
And know that in the past few centuries
We’ve more than doubled life expectancies.

Request: Is science socially constructed?

To be constructed means that science could,
(Contrary to perception) possibly
Have not existed in some other world
With very different books of history.
The scientific method just describes
A way of learning facts empirical.
But many different nations, tongues, and tribes
Have known things with no tests statistical.
While Thales, Bacon, Ibn al-Haytham may
Have helped the world by starting science on,
It could have also not been made that way.
But that in no way makes our science wrong.
A world deprived of science would be one
Where knowledge and accomplishments are gone.

Request: Solipsism

It seems to me I think therefore I am.
I can’t imagine that might not be true.
But I can’t know if all the rest’s a sham.
Most possibles of me don’t have a you.
Consider then the famous Boltzmann brain.
He pops into existence, has a thought,
And then he dies. But ere he wanes
He thinks he all of history was taught.
I’ve seen the Matrix—I know that he could
In that brief instant think himself on Earth.
But by a quirk of physics, I conclude
Of brains that aren’t like Boltzmann’s there’s a dearth.
Once I decide my sense can be misled
I’m probably a brain without a head.

Request: Italian sonnet, theory of forms.
Request: Should we keep helping pandas mate even though they are too lazy to reproduce just because they’re enormous cute fuzzballs?

We say that we have knowledge; it is true
That we can comprehend particulars.
Instantiations are familiar.
But universals—Can we look on through
The sky or sea and see the Form of Blue?
Or something that, though thought inferior,
Is the Platonic perfect lump of fur
Perfection that most likely knows kung fu?
The answer’s that our knowledge is informed
When things to Forms are somewhat similar.
Not many things on earth are absolute.
But pandas are ideal! It’s been confirmed:
We ought to help them mate because they are
The Form of The Enormous Fuzzballs Cute!