Saturday, June 21, 2008

Uncertainty as Considered by various philosophers

Sunshine and receding floodwaters in Iowa caused a small dip this week in the price of corn at Chicago's commodity markets, but those same markets await a more accurate estimate of flood damage to crops. Right now, corn is hovering between $7 and $8 per bushel -- a price higher than anyone imagined. You just have to remember that for every buyer there is a seller, and if you're a consumer of corn -- and you are -- you're going to pay more. But if you're selling corn, it's a happy day.

Think of the Iowa farmers who did not get their fields flooded -- they're doing all right. As for the speculators at the commodity exchanges -- they are necessary creatures. Most of them have never seen a cornfield. They inhabit the dark canyons of LaSalle Street in downtown Chicago, screaming frantically at each other day after day, feeding off every rumor of crop failure, government coup in far away countries, or drought in Australia.

We don't know -- we have fear of uncertainty. What is the cost of not knowing what the cost will be? The price of corn, wheat, all foods, oil -- sure, the price is going up, but how high? How can you plan? How much will it cost to fly to Denver at Christmas to see your family? You don't know, and no one can tell you.

In the best of times, prices rise steadily because of our increased productivity and the extra value added. But everything is catterwonkus now. And the weather isn't cooperating either.

So with everything so screwed up, this is an excellent time to consider the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, an important German philosopher of the 19th century. I don't often think of Schopenhauer or Kant or Kierkegaard, but there were several fellows stumbling out of the LaConner Tavern late last night, in their cups, and arguing intensely about the primacy of Will.

"You Hegelian buffoon," George roared at Handsome Jim, who smiled back, knowingly, and smugly.

"Yes, I am a Hegelian," Handsome Jim finally said, "and I can reduce his entire philosophy to one word -- Becoming."

"But the key figure was not Hegel -- his work lacks certainty. There is no ground left to stand on. It was left to Schopenhauer...." George said.

John, the Designated Diviner, intervened at this point and attempted to summarize: "As you know, Schopenhauer was born in the eastern Prussian city of Danzig in 1788, and as he grew up and found his calling to philosophy, he became an ardent follower of Immanuel Kant -- not merely to broadcast Kant's ideas, but to develop them further.

"Schopenhauer believed the function of art to be a meditation on the unity of human nature, and an attempt to demonstrate to the audience a certain existential angst. A wide range of authors, from Thomas Hardy to Woody Allen, have been influenced by this system of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of Schopenhauer's work garnered more attention and praise than any other."

"Oh, horse puckey," George said, and he began weaving down the street, stepping one foot into the gutter and one foot on the sidewalk, chanting "Either, Or, Either, Or, Either, Or."

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