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G Klempner

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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 178
11th September 2013


I. On the 12th Anniversary of 9/11

II. Ask a Philosopher!

III. GVKlempner on YouTube



This the first issue of Philosophy Pathways to go out in 2013. I
decided to wait until the new academic year before sending out this
update, with a couple of items of Pathways news. It seemed
appropriate to choose the anniversary of 9/11 as I would also like to
add my voice those commemorating the events of that day.

As I explained to the authors who have recently submitted articles
for publication, I have resigned as Editor in order to have more time
for my own work. I am still fully involved with running the Pathways
School of Philosophy as well as mentoring a fairly large proportion
of Pathways students.

For the record, under my Editorship 177 issues of Philosophy Pathways
have previously been sent out since January 2001 when the e-journal
was launched. In addition 75 issues of Philosophy for Business have
been sent out since its launch in November 2003, including two issues
(53 and 63) edited by Guest Editor Dena Hurst.

During the interregnum, issues of Philosophy Pathways will continue
to appear as and when the need or opportunity arises.

If you have a graduate degree in philosophy and would be willing to
consider taking on the role of permanent Editor of either, or both,
e-journals please email me at klempner@fastmail.net. 

Geoffrey Klempner



Convention dictates that a piece of writing commemorating the events
of 9/11 should be focused on the victims who lost their lives, and
their bereaved family and friends. The majority of those who died
believed, not just that 'this can never happen to me' but that such
an event was simply unthinkable, the stuff of science fiction. The
truth, as we now know, is that there is no limit to how bad things
can get. To be realistically optimistic about the future requires
that we accept the ever-present possibility of catastrophe. There is
no way to insure, one hundred per cent, that 9/11 could not happen
again, or indeed, that 'our' side would not this time be the ones
perpetrating the atrocity.

On the Facebook ISFP Open Group discussion page[1], one of the
regular contributors recently posted the question, 'Were we truly
philosopher-kings in the Platonic style what would action should we
take over the events in Syria? If philosophy has any worth it should
be able to sort out this little problem -- yes?' My answer is that
there is a role for philosophers, but only if they are willing to
'know a lot of things besides philosophy'.[2] Plato would have been
aghast at the narrowness and specialization of present-day academic

For what it's worth, here is my contribution to the debate. I am
conscious that it would take a book to untangle all the threads of
ethics, psychology, politics, game theory of threats and
counter-threats. At the end of the day, if you are an member of
Parliament or Congress and you are asked to vote, you vote, Yes or
No. Sometimes the margin between these two alternatives can seem
vanishingly small. All that one can hope is that, through some
guiding hand, an almost magical principle, the process of democracy
will lead to the best, or at any rate the least worst decision under
the circumstances. It can do, sometimes.

It is an irony that will not be lost on the US Congressmen and women
who will be returning this week, that amongst the rebels fighting for
the Syrian opposition against Assad is a sizeable contingent from
Al-Qaeda. If anyone had predicted just a short while ago that the US
would be planning a military strike against those fighting against
Al-Qaeda, no-one would have believed it. 'The enemy of my enemy is my
friend?' is what many unconvinced members of Congress will be

Like many, I hope that the vote does go through, not because I want
to see Syria attacked by the US but because the threat of force
appears to be needed in this case. There is a persuasive argument
that nothing less could induce Assad and Russians to agree to put
chemical weapons under UN control, as now seems to be the case. It is
a lesson learned from the ancient game of chess that 'a threat is more
powerful than its execution.'[3] It is hard to resist the temptation
to use force when it looks as if it would solve your problem, but
once you've done your worst, shot your bolt, it's your opponent's
turn to take his shot.

At the time of Kissinger and Nixon, the US Administration toyed with
the 'madman theory'.[4] From a game theoretic standpoint, there is a
case that the best strategy against an opponent who has shown
adeptness in predicting your every move is one that convinces your
opponent that you are insane and willing to employ any means to
achieve your objective. According to Kissinger, this was the
rationale behind the bombing of Cambodia with fleets of giant B-52s,
something barely conceivable in our present enlightened times -- or
so we would like to think.

I would be willing to wager that both Assad and Obama have closely
studied 'Unrestricted Warfare' by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui
(Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House 1999)[5], as no
doubt did the leadership of Al-Qaeda at the time of 9/11, and most
other terrorist organizations around the world. In a standoff between
a superior and inferior military power, the inferior power who is
prepared to forego ethical principles that the superior power is
unwilling to give up can gain the upper hand. Qiao Liang and Wang
Xiangsui go into alarming detail over the options available to the
sufficiently ruthless.

Unrestricted warfare and the madman theory almost seem like two sides
of the same bent coin. Both promote irrationality -- in the first case
ethical, in the second case prudential -- as the most rational means
of attaining one's end. That's not such a paradox as it may seem.

The cynical will say that in the present situation, all talk of
'ethics' is merely strategic, merely game theory. It's not for real.
As Ghandi demonstrated in his fearless resistance to British colonial
rule, the only truly ethical alternative is to offer yourself up for
slaughter. Failing that, there is no political leader in the East or
West or in between who has the luxury of keeping his or her hands

True ethics begins with this thought. There is still a difference. A
difference between using chemical weapons and choosing other weapons
that would be less effective in the circumstances, for no other
reason than the intuitive gut feeling that this 'crosses a red line';
between using violence to hijack planes and fly them into civilian
buildings, or using violence to hijack planes and surrender in order
to make a protest; between bombing to death innocent men, women and
children and choosing other, more precisely targeted but still
horrific means of engaging an enemy.

A wise leader understands ethics and also understands the full
implications of game theory, and what that means in practice for
one's ethical principles. One has to be prepared to countenance
inconsistency, while inconsistently and hypocritically proclaiming --
when the need arises, which happens frequently -- that one will never
compromise on ethics. 


1. ISFP Facebook Open Group

2. PhiloSophos web site:
    'Philosophy is for everyone and not just philosophers.
     Philosophers should know lots of things besides philosophy.'

3. German: 'Eine Drohung ist starker als eine Ausfuhrung.'

4. Haldeman, H. R. (1978). The Ends of Power. Times Books. p. 122
    Referenced in Wikipedia:

5. Unrestricted Warfare by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2013

Email: klempner@fastmail.net



Launched in 1999, 'Ask a Philosopher' started, like many of the now
permanent features of the Pathways site, as a few scribbled notes on
a jotting pad. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Unlike the
present, when we have a panel of up to a dozen or more contributors
responding to questions on a regular basis, I answered all the
questions submitted -- admittedly, not that many in the beginning.

But things soon picked up. The first page of the 1st series,
August-September 1999, has 16 questions and answers.[1] By the time
we reached page 9, December 2000-January 2001, the number had risen
to 95. The first panel members were recruited for page 6, June-July
2000. They were Dona Warren, Michael Bavidge, Steven Bullock, Matthew
Del Nevo, and Brian Tee, to whom I am grateful for helping to get the
ball rolling.

The length of pages continued to increase over the years, as the
frequency of questions increased, as well as the average length of
answers given. The 49th page, 2nd series, had 139 questions and
answers and ran to over 100,000 words, the length of a sizeable book.

Typically, I would edit and HTML code a page of questions and answers
in a day, or two days at the most, which was all I had time for in
between my other duties. By any standard, editing a book in a day is
requires heroic singleness of purpose, not to mention willingness to
take ruthless decisions. (I am still occasionally correcting errors
that sharp-eyed visitors to the site point out to me.)

Things all changed in July 2011 when a new site for Ask a Philosopher
was launched at Wordpress.com.[2] Instead of gathering questions and
answers over a period of months, it was decided to limit the number
of questions and answers on a page to just six, leading to a much
faster turnaround time. Apart from myself, none of the panel members
answering questions on recent pages is included in the original
June-July 2000 list.

We are now actively recruiting for more panel members from students
taking the University of London BA (Hons) degree in Philosophy via
Pathways.[3] In our view, anyone who has passed one or more of the
twelve modules that comprise the BA degree is sufficiently qualified
to answer questions that fall within the area or areas that they have
studied. An answer does not need to be final or authoritative,
arguably, in philosophy it is rarely so. It is sufficient that you
make a case for the view you adopt -- which is exactly what I tell my
students submitting essays to me for review on a regular basis.

If you are one of my BA students, please do consider joining the
panel. I'd rather issue the invitation this way than embarrass you by
asking you individually!

I know that as part-time students who in many cases have full-time
jobs, there is not a lot of time to spare for extra-curricular
activity. But in this case, as BA students who have joined the panel
such as NHS Senior Consultant Craig Skinner[4] would attest,
answering questions on Ask a Philosopher is a great way to explore
and deepen one's understanding of philosophical issues.

Joining the panel to Ask a Philosopher couldn't be easier. Just send
an email to klempner@fastmail.net and I will add you to the 'Ask a
Philosopher' e-list, which is distributed by the Sheffield University
list server alongside the Philosophy Pathways and Philosophy for
Business e-lists. (For the record, this is the only connection
Pathways has to Sheffield University!) A new list of questions is
sent out by email every week or two weeks. There is no obligation to
answer any of the questions, but if you see a question that takes
your fancy, email your answer to me and I will include it on the next
page of questions and answers. If your answer requires revision, I
will tell you, but it is comparatively rare for that to happen.

Under each submitted answer there is a short bio note that says who
you are, which can also be linked to a web page if you have one. If
you don't have a web page, I can make one for you at philosophos.org.

I look forward to hearing from you!


1. Ask a Philosopher:  Page 1, 1st Series

2. Ask a Philosopher at Wordpress.com

3. University of London Diploma and BA via Pathways

4. Craig Skinner at philosophos.org

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2013

Email: klempner@fastmail.net



It's a fair question to ask what 'work' was so important that it
required my giving up the Editorship of the Pathways e-journals. The
fact is, I don't know for sure what exactly I want to do at this
point in my philosophical life. Writing another book would be one
option, but the question that has always brought me to a halt is, who
would be the intended audience?

Despite my admiration for a number of contemporary philosophers, I am
not really interested in engaging with the world of academic
philosophy. Rightly or wrongly, I don't believe that that is the best
way to the truth about the philosophical questions -- primarily
questions in metaphysics -- that happen to grip me. Even if one
doesn't engage, however, one still needs to keep half an eye on what
the opposition is doing: 'Those ignorant of the history of philosophy
are doomed to repeat it,' goes the saying, and that saying is no less
valid when applied to knowledge of contemporary debates.

So, what to do? In a flash of inspiration I decided that while I am
waiting for a better idea to come along, I could try my hand at
YouTube. To date, I have made five videos. My username on YouTube is
'GVKlempner'. The reaction has been encouraging, and I hope to make

For the record:

1. http://youtu.be/exVSSpQPi88
    Why am I here?
    11 May 2013

2. http://youtu.be/bzWbN40zB9A
    What is death?
    20 May 2013

3. http://youtu.be/lX_Tb3muB_w
    Reality: the locked corridor
    20 July 2013

4. http://youtu.be/7BuGu_fSR4Y
    Reality of the past
    7 August 2013

5. http://youtu.be/tQUh9I2ckys
    What is truth?
    25 August 2013

The challenge I set myself was to do philosophy and not just talk
about things I know. By that criterion, the exercise has been a
success. In the course of making the videos, new ideas did come.
Although each video could be improved by a second or third 'take', it
seemed right to stick to the first attempt, because it is in a way the
most truthful, even when I find myself saying things which I would now
disagree with, or which I now feel could be better expressed.

Do you have any ideas for topics I could tackle? Contact me at
klempner@fastmail.net to let me know your thoughts.

Or if you have a response to any of the points made or thoughts
expressed, post your comment on YouTube and I will do my best to

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2013

Email: klempner@fastmail.net

Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

The views expressed in this journal do not necessarily
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comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net

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