Philosophical Inventory



I wrote this months (and months) ago….

James Michener published an article entitled “The Red Kimono” in the New York Times magazine some time in 1972. I can’t find the article on line, so I am referencing it by memory (which I still have a lot of). Michener based his article on an old Japanese custom according to which “senior” men are eligible to “put on the Red Kimono,” which then authorizes them to “wax wise” (sound off) on anything they wish.

Now, I’ve been a wise-ass for years and years, and today is my __th (!!!) birthday, so I’m putting on the Red Kimono.

Last night, I went to dinner at my favorite restaurant, the Casa di Calabria, in Haledon, NJ. I was re-reading parts of the old intro to philosophy text, Questions that Matter, by Ed. L. Miller. I also had a Grey Goose L’Orange 4.5 ounce Gimlet and an after-dinner B&B. So…. :)

I began to think of “US,” i.e., our department of philosophy and religion at my college, and I wondered whether we might in any sense constitute a “school of thought” in philosophy and perhaps also in religion. That led me to wonder what the results would be were we all to do “inventory lists” of our basic views on philosophical and religious topics. It’s only lists I was thinking of, not arguments, not essays, certainly not treatises. Just inventory lists. So….

On the end-leaf of the Miller book, I began to write out the (at least) beginning of my own inventory. I have now been thinking about, often pondering, and reading on these matters for more than ??  years. What does it all add up to (for me)? Here’s my initial effort:

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is common sense critically examined and expanded (Aristotle, Aquinas, Reid, Adler, others). Classical philosophical realism.

Metaphysics (including philosophical theology and religion)

The foundation and driving concept in my thought (such as it is) is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” i.e., God, Theos, Deus, Ishvara, Brahman, Dieu, Dio, Gott, Allah, etc., etc. This is “the God of classical theism.” I am committed to belief in the reality (existence) of such a Person. It may be (probably is) that all of my other views are infected with or somehow related to this belief.

This is certainly the basis of my “religion.” I am a Christian, Eastern Orthodox variety. I am not a good Christian, just a struggler. As I reported in another email discussion, I cannot even easily manage to perform one “mitzvah” a day. Perhaps I should not say that “I am a Christian.” I should say the Kierkegaardian thing that I am  in the process of “becoming a Christian.”

The “mind-body” problem: I reject all forms of materialism and physicalism. Also functionalism. For a long time, I have been a substance-dualist (or something like it). I believe that humans (and maybe other – maybe all other – animals, perhaps even plants) have substantial and immortal souls. I especially like St. Paul’s “trichotomism” – a human being is composed of three dimensions, body, soul, and spirit. Lately, based on some reading I’ve been doing, I am finding a synthesized Berkelean-Platonic-Pauline idealism attractive. (I acknowledge that there are Christian immortalists-resurrectionists who argue for materialism – e.g., Nancey Murphy, maybe Peter Van Inwagen. So materialism would not necessarily upset my applecart [unless it is a form of materialism that entails the non-existence of God]. I just don’t find materialism plausible for various reasons, which I will not itemize here.)

The free-will/determinism controversy: I am a libertarian, not a determinist, not a compatibilist, and not an indeterminist. Compatibilism (soft determinism) is just (hard) determinism in sheep’s clothing; indeterminism (if true) does not establish freedom and thus not responsibility. Hard determinism might be true (Galen Strawson and others make a strong case for it), but it entails no freedom and no responsibility. So I stick with C.A. Campbell, Roderick Chisholm, et al., and libertarianism. (Here, we are talking about metaphysical, not political, libertarianism.)


Epistemology (including the philosophy of science and mathematics)

Classical philosophical realism; a synthesis of elements of both rationalism and empiricism (with the balance struck in favor of rationalism – Aristotle, Aquinas, Reid, even Kant (?), others). A lot of respect for Humean skepticism (the skepticism that Reason recommends). Acknowledgement of the evidence of intuitionism and even mysticism. Much of what I believe strongly is based on intuitionist and mystical experiences, which I take to be veridical.

Science as the study of nature (including aspects of human nature and human society). Science does not entail philosophical naturalism and thus cannot rule out supernaturalism. Properly, science itself should be understood to be agnostic in the conflicts between naturalism and supernaturalism. Scientists can move beyond that agnosticism, but then they are not doing science – they are then doing philosophy and/or religion.

Mathematics: I side with the mathematical Platonists’s version of mathematical realism. We discover mathematical reality (realities); we don’t invent it (them). That this view is a ground for or an implication of theism does not bother me; it pleases me; but I don’t think that I have come to accept it just because I am a theist. My own (stumbling) studies in mathematics and my reading of such writers as Plato (of course), Brentano, Meinong, Husserl, Frege, Russell (of course), Gödel, Smullyan, even Quine (who I don’t like at all), have led me to the Platonist version of mathematical realism. I also admit that much of this is quite beyond me (at this time).

Side issue: Evolution. Evolutionism vs. Intelligent Design. Evolutionism vs. Theism. Evolutionism vs. religious fundamentalism (mainly a narrow biblical literalism). Of course, as a classical theist and believing Orthodox Christian (but not a fundamentalist or narrow biblical literalist), I deny that evolution (if a fact) rules out theism. I accept evolution as a fact via a non-fallacious argumentum ad verecundiam – i.e., I accept it because the great majority of the experts (scientists) on this matter – the people best positioned to judge – assure us that evolution is a fact. However, I deny that evolutionism entails philosophical naturalism.

[Something on theism entailing Intelligent Design] – TBA

[Why do I call this a “side issue”?  It is a side issue for me. My basic attitude on it is WGAS (“Who gives a shit?”). But that’s just me. I’m sure that I’m missing something in all the bru-ha-ha.]

Another side issue: I don’t think that the “New Atheists” have laid a glove on theism, at least not on my kind of theism (see Swinburne, Plantinga, Pulkinghorne, Mullen, Van Inwagen, Wolterstorff, Kreeft, Alston, many others). The NAs seem to be operating at a low-brow – almost sophomoric – level, attacking Straw Persons instead of the best representatives of theism. See Feser’s recent The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, a dispositive refutation, I might add.



Theological eudaimonism with an admixture of some kind of deontologism. Aristotle, Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, others. I am strongly anti-utilitarian. Definitely not a non-cognitivist of any kind (subjectivist, relativist, etc.). Basic standard that appeals to me is the the following (expansive, trans-human) version of the Principle of Non-Harm: It is always morally wrong to intentionally harm another (and not only a human other) without good cause or sufficient justification. I do think that intentional harm to others is often done for good reasons and is thus often sufficiently justified.

Some issues in applied ethics:

1. Abortion on demand or request. Against it in most cases. Basic principle is that anything that is living has a prima facie right to go on living, and that it is morally wrong for a human being to kill that thing without good cause or sufficient justification. Obviously this principle has applications beyond the abortion context. It means that even killing a cockroach requires [sufficient] justification. I think that there are philosophically sufficient justifications for killing, even for killing human fetuses via abortion. But I don’t think that there are many such justifications for the latter. It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of the millions upon millions of feticides in the past 40+ years have been and are morally wrong.

2. The death penalty. Same basic principle as above. I think that – in the USA – many executions (many more than are actually carried out) are morally justified on retributivist grounds – criminals should be punished for their crimes; only the guilty should be punished for the crimes in question; and the punishment must be at least approximately proportionate to the gravity of the crime. I am strongly opposed to deterrence and rehabilitationist theories of punishment (not only re: the death penalty). Even if one accepts deterrence or rehab theories, such acceptance must have a retributivist foundation [in order to be morally acceptable].

I would also say (perhaps surprisingly) that although the DP is morally justifiable in many, many cases, there might be good reasons why we should not impose it in any cases. I will not say here what such good reasons might be…. (This is Scott Turow’s current position.)

3. War. There are just wars. I will not elaborate. See Augustine. Even statist “liberals” like B. Obama think so.

4. Racial, gender, or age discrimination. All three are justifiable in certain cases. Easy one: A drama company plans a production of Othello. The director insists that the lead role of Othello must be filled by a large, mature, black man, and that the role of Desdemona must be filled by a young (15-18 year old) Italo-Greco type woman. The discriminations involved (e.g., against young, non-large, white men and against old Chinese women) make perfect contextual sense. What one must oppose is invidious and otherwise unjustifiable discrimination. Basic principle: Equals must be treated equally, and unequals must be treated unequally in proportion to their inequality and on the basis of the criterion of relevant difference.

5. Recreational drug (and alcohol) use is morally justifiable (although there are good reasons militating against ab-use of said substances). I think that governmental “wars on drugs” are not justifiable, neither on practical grounds (they make things worse rather than better) nor on the basis of just war theory.

No more on ethics, general-normative or applied….


I am a traditional conservative (a la Burke, Acton, de Jouvenal, Kirk, Oakeshott, MacIntyre, others) with some libertarian inclinations (Rand, Nozick, Rothbard, Hayek, Friedman, others). It is a strange, perhaps incoherent, mixture. In a pinch (e.g., on illegal immigration), I am more conservative than libertarian.

I have been a socialist, a Marxist, a Trotskyist, an anarcho-syndicalist, and – later, after 1970 – a conservative (beginning with Augustine, Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Hegel – the “right” Hegel, that is [the Caporale guys]). As time went by, I gravitated to certain aspects of libertarianism. The 1968 American airing of McGoohan’s “The Prisoner” was a major force in moving me toward libertarianism. (I remain sympathetic to some facets of socialism and “liberalism.”)

I was also once a monarchist, but I gave that (fantasy) up years ago. I now believe in (limited) democracy – democratic republicanism [which definitely does NOT mean that I am a member of the US Republican Party. In party politics, I am a Right-Independent.]

[Add something on constitutionalism – a constitutional democracy, a constitutional republic] – TBA

Hmm…. I notice that I have never been what we in America now call a “liberal.”

I support free-market capitalism, which I do not see as identical with laissez-faire capitalism. I accept limited-regulated free-market capitalism when such limits and regulations are necessary to the common good (Aristotle, W.F. Buckley), but I am very suspicious of most (especially “liberal”) proposals for such limits and regulations. So many such proposals call for restrictions on the market that are NOT necessary to the common good, often very much the contrary. The current US administration’s actions on the economic and health care crises is a case in point.

[Why do I support free-market capitalism? Because it creates more wealth and spreads it around better than any other – possible – system. It is the best available way to improve the economic-material well-being of the human race. But, of course, it is far from perfect and tends to be hard on the “losers.” “Safety nets” are necessary.]

I am anti-utopian and anti-progressive. I am skeptical and pessimistic about social, political, and economic “progress.” (See J. Derbyshire’s recent book, We Are Doomed.) I have a strong preference for political realism (Augustine, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Right-Hegelianism, Hans Morgenthau, Pat Buchanan, others).


Very muddled here. My first job after completing my Ph.D. work was at College Misericordia in Dallas, PA. I was hired to teach aesthetics (philosophy of art), especially from a Marxist and radical point of view. (Yes, I was hired to do that, but it was in 1970, and the “60s” were still much in vogue.) I did not feel very comfortable doing the gig.

We studied Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Burke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Trotsky, Santayana, Dewey, Langer, Cassirer, Bell, Hofstadter, Pepper, Benjamin, and others. I still think that Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty and Dewey’s Art as Experience are great books.

It was interesting but, as stated previously, I did not feel comfortable with it. After my first year at “Miseri,” I moved from teaching aesthetics mainly into philosophical anthropology, Eastern philosophy, and a fascination with a kind of Laingian-Roszakian-Castanedaean “alternative realities” approach to things – assisted by certain hallucinogens. So….

Where am I on aesthetics? Not much of anywhere, I’m afraid. I am, by and large, conservative and traditionalist in my approach to art. However, I am also (maybe wildly) eclectic in my tastes: classical (ancient) art and architecture; classical Indian (India) music; medieval and Renaissance art in general; the Classical, the Baroque, and the Romantic in 18th-19th century art; I like both representationalist and abstract expressionist painting (both Benton and Pollock); I love W. de Kooning; I love Mark Rothko; I once wrote an article on John Cage and the phenomenology of musical sound; I have also written on Kantian aesthetic theory; I dig Charles Ives; in popular music, I love R&B, R&R, and Country & Western; I have viewed many, many films and think that Casablanca – not Citizen Kane – is the greatest; I generally hate (abominate) what passes for Advant-garde these days (noise and unintelligible and annoying visual images); etc., etc.

[Jazz (Pres, Bird, Shearing, Basie, Ellington, the MJQ, Coltrane, Monk); Pop (Sinatra, Torme, Cole, Bennett, Connick, etc.)]

But what does that all have to do with the philosophy of art? Maybe not much. What are my answers to some of the main questions in the P of A?

-What is “art”?
I’m not sure. “‘Tis all in peeces, all cohaerence gone” (Donne).

-Can we distinguish between (1) art & non-art, (2) authentic art & unauthentic art, (3) good & bad art, (4) fine & useful (applied) art? If so, how? If not, why not?
I think that all these things can be done, but I am now too tired to say anything on this.

-What are the standards of aesthetic judgment?
Again, I’m not sure and am, in any case, too tired to comment.

-What is the purpose of art?
Again, I’m not sure and am, in any case, too tired to comment.

-How does art “mean”? Does art “mean”?
Same as my last three answers.

Maybe some other time for aesthetics. I’d like to hear from others on these matters.

Well, I’m finished for now. This has been fun (for me) and also instructive, a useful exercise.

How about you? Do you have the inclination, the energy, the time to write up an “inventory list” of your current philosophical views?

I am now taking off the Red Kimono.

4 thoughts on “Philosophical Inventory

  1. I comment whenever I like a article on a website or if I have
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    Usually it is a result of the passion communicated in the article I browsed.
    And on this article Philosophical Inventory | George Cronk’s Site.
    I was excited enough to write a commenta response :
    -) I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright.
    Is it simply me or does it look like some of these remarks appear like they are
    written by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing at other social sites,
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    • Hello, Isabel.

      Thanks for commenting.

      I don’t know which brain-dead folks you mean. There are so many of them. :)

      I do have Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin accounts. I tweet occasionally; I read and post in FB a lot; but I do very little with Linkedin.

      Thanks again.


  2. I’ve been poking around your site and enjoying it. I hope you continue to maintain it.

    We know each other slightly. I was a student at Bergen a few years back. Non-traditional — I believe I celebrated my 50th birthday on campus. I didn’t have any classes with you (maybe one online class?) because I hung around the English department. But I did win your philosophy trivia challenge one year.

    I like to say that along the way to my degree I exhausted the philosophy curriculums of four colleges. That’s more or less true, though in my case it also means I took Phil 101 three or four times. (That, of course, is how I bested your trivia contest.) I’m mostly an autodidact when it comes to philosophy and my sympathies are existentialist.

    I have, however, struggled with the Critique of Pure Reason on numerous occasions. I read it sentence-by-sentence as a teenager, teasing the meaning out of each clause before allowing myself to move to the next. I was especially interested in epistemology in those days and I believed, as I still do, that you can’t get anywhere in epistemology without going through Kant.

    I read the book straight through at least twice more for recreation. I like the sentence-by-sentence approach, and it has served me well in philosophy. I learned it studying chess games in the newspaper and especially Bobby Fischer’s games as published in paperbacks. Maybe you remember the chess-mania that gripped the U.S. during Fischer’s odd fame. My dad and I played chess in those days, and we worked through Fischer’s games move by move. We didn’t allow ourselves to leave a move until we had considered the alternatives and constructed a theory about the particular move. What was Fischer trying to accomplish? What threats was he guarding against? How did the move fit into an overall plan? No fair moving on until the current move is thoroughly understood.

    It turns out this is also a productive way of reading Kant or Descartes. Or Rushdie, for that matter. You don’t let a word or a comma pass by unexamined. You must read as if you have faith that every sentence is there for a reason, and every sentence must yield up its meaning before you move on to the next.

    When I left Bergen I went to Columbia, where I took a course titled “Kant.” It turned out to be a semester-long study of the Critique of Pure Reason.

    I was commuting to Columbia on Mondays and Wednesdays that semester, and the philosophy course met on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I attended only the first lecture. I regret that — the woman who taught the course seemed to enjoy easy access to Kant’s thoughts. She was able to recall them and plug them into discussions freely, at will, with little effort. There are few texts I know that well, and the Critique of Pure Reason is not one of them!

    Anyway, this most recent reading of the Critique led me to a new theory. While I had previously focused on the details of Kant’s epistemology and the hints of an ethical system, I took a step back, at this reading, and tried to get a glimpse of the big picture. It seems to me that the whole book leads up to that oddly unconvincing proof of God’s existence. I began to view the Critique of Pure Reason as an attempt to evaluate rationality and human knowledge. Could they, would they inevitably lead to intellectual knowledge of God’s existence to mirror the faith that Kant assumed everyone shared? If human senses and thinking led to a logical proof of God’s existence, then the senses and logic itself could be trusted. If not, they were lacking.

    The proof of God’s existence, in my new theory, is not a bolted-on addendum as it first appears, nor a minor example, but the crowning centerpiece of the book, an essential element in proving Kant’s ideas about the nature of existence to be correct. The proof seems to validate Kant’s theories (to Kant’s evident satisfaction, if not to ours).

    I haven’t come across this idea in secondary sources, and I admit it is an offbeat way of thinking of the structure of the Critique. It’s an original idea, and experience has taught me that it is in my original thinking that I am mostly likely to be at fault. And yet…I like the way this resolves the mystery that has always troubled me, why Kant embeds the queer little proof in the Critique’s concluding pages.

    The clarity of your Kant PowerPoint slides have emboldened me to ask your opinion of this matter.

  3. I found Michener’s “The Red Kimono.” You can read the full text here:

    The page says it’s behind the Times paywall, yet I, a lapsed subscriber (the shame!) was able to access it without trouble.

    Here is a PDF version you and your readers can download:

    This article of yours is dangerous. I am tempted to create an inventory of my own. Though I fear it would be of no interest to anyone but myself. I lack the bona fides for my personal list of hunches and hopes to be credible or interesting to anyone, much less instructive.

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