And Now For Something Completely Different

Some friends and I were making philosophy jokes, as one does, and somehow a t-shirt sprung into being.

This seemed like a crowd that might appreciate a wearable trolleyology joke, so here’s the website where you can get them.  And I’ve stuck a bigger image of the design below.


And then we had one more idea:

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • deiseach

    Those are marvellous!

    Though has anyone ever asked the question “What the hell kind of transport authority routinely runs its trolleys into bystanders, such that you can choose between splatting one person or five by the change of a track? Is this an associate company of EvilOverlord Corp or what?”

    • Ted Seeber

      Sometimes, metaphyiscs problems are as unrealistic as perfectly spherical eggs coming out of cubic chickens in physics problems.

      • deiseach

        Or the eternally-beloved of maths textbooks problem, wherein you go to fill a bath by turning on both taps and then pull out the plug. I never understood the principle at work – who the heck fills a bath like that? – until years later, when I worked in a dairy co-operative where continous processing to make whey powder was used (you need to pump in raw milk and acid and pump out the whey, so you have to work out the flow volume in and out else you either get back-ups in the pipes or half-treated milk flowing out).

        Now, if they’d explained to us the reason you might want to know how fast liquid flows into and out of a vessel with two input and one output line, then I might not have been such a disaster at maths. Or maybe I would still have been, but at least I would have understood why I was so bad.

        As for the trolley problem, I’d love to see a t-shirt reading “On second thought, I’m taking the bus instead” :-)

      • Linebyline

        The first thing that came to mind when I read these comments was Portal 2. I should probably be ashamed of that, but I’m not.

        Anyway, I’d think if you had enough time to analyze the pros and cons of each decision in the trolley problem, you’d probably also have enough time to get the stupid people off the tracks. If not, then there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be entirely culpable for whatever happened in that short time span. But I’m probably being naive.

        • Delphi Psmith

          Yay Portal 2 :)

    • Nick

      If it’s liable to destroy the whole world, you can bet Umbrella Corp. is looking into it.

  • Chris Hallquist

    Oh no, someone put the word “metaphysics” on a t-shirt referencing a debate in applied ethics!

    I’m only half-joking about that, BTW. While I’m perfectly aware that that shouldn’t bug me, it does in fact bug me.

    • leahlibresco

      Talking about applied ethics is a way to check the implications of your metaphysics. I just still want some one to explain to me why “applied ethics” isn’t repetitive.

      • Alex Godofsky

        Because the people who talk about ethics and the people who actually make important ethical decisions are more-or-less disjoint sets that don’t seem to talk to each other?

        • Brandon B

          Objection! Everyone makes important ethical decisions.

      • deiseach

        To understand the distinction between theoretical and applied disciplines, perhaps you should meet the Engineer?

      • Michael H

        As atheist virtue ethicist Leah would have it, what we encounter in daily behavior are two-dimensional conic sections of a three-dimensional cone called virtue. Ethics are abstracted frameworks; behavior is applied and concrete. What we do, what should we do? That’s application based on a more abstracted value “human life is good, m’kay?”

        • Michael H.

          Ha! There is another Michael H!

    • Ted Seeber

      Are you also bugged by the old hacker joke of writing the word “red” on a sheet of white paper with a green marking pen?

    • Steve Schuler

      Lighten up, Chris!

      When I read this post I had a reaction similar to yours, however it then occured to me that Leah could have used “Meta-Aesthetics Transit Authority” instead. Now that would have been a bit more of a head-scratcher perhaps, but a lot more fun to think about!

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  • Niemand

    Off topicish, what do you think of the NYT story about the Coptic fragment referring to “Jesus’ wife”?

    • leahlibresco

      I liked the Smithsonian coverage of it. I don’t have enough data to evaluate the claims, but the woman who discovered seems to think it’s history of sects relevant, not life of Christ relevant.

      • Niemand

        Assuming it is verified, a text written hundreds of years after the events described isn’t necessarily the most reliable. Of course, the same could be said for the gospels. Were any of them written within Jesus’ lifetime? Or the lifetime of any of the apostles or even the Roman officials who condemned them?

        • Dan F.

          Scholars generally hold that the Gospels were in fact written during the lifetimes of the apostles with the first (Mark) written in about 70 A.D. and the Gospel of John written at the end of the 1st century. There are some scholars who have tried to cast doubt on that dating but they generally seem to have an agenda to reduce the Gospel’s reliability as historical documents (Bart Erhman comes to mind).

          • Niemand

            70 years is a long time in that time period. If we take 1 AD as the date of Jesus’ birth, then his death was at about 30 AD and the first gospel was written 40 years after that. Maybe some of the apostles were quite young-15 or so, say-then they would be around 55 when Mark was written…plausible that they could still be alive. But was Mark one of them or did he talk to them or otherwise have first hand knowledge of the events?

          • Dan F.

            Mark was Peter’s companion. Matthew was an Apostle (Levi), Luke got most of his information likely from Mary and John was the youngest disciple (as well as being quite old when he penned his gospel and the Apocalypse).

          • JohnH

            I think it might be important to point out that one of the main reasons scholars place the gospels after 70 A.D. (excluding John) is that they prophecy of the destruction of the temple (but none actually mention it having happened. Now since scholars know there is no such thing as prophecy then anything prophesying the destruction of the temple must have been written down after the event occurred. Hence even though it makes more sense internally for Luke to have been written in the late 50′s A.D. (because it was written as the same time as Acts and Acts doesn’t include the death of Paul) it is dated at the earliest as 72 A.D. so that no prophecy actually ever occurred. Matthew and Mark were written even earlier then Luke possibly in the 40′s A.D or early 50′s A.D., if the internal logic is to be believed and prophecy is possible.

          • Ray

            I guess I’d better argue the other side of this case here. There are plenty of reasons to suspect that Gospels didn’t reach their final form until well into the second century (and by the way, I’m not a mythicist, in case you’re wondering):

            1) Aside from the other gospels, no text that appears to quote any of the Gospels is dated earlier than 95 AD by mainstream scholars (I Clement). And even then, for early 2nd century documents, the quoting isn’t usually exact and there is no claim that it came from a written source of any kind let alone one matching the description of the Gospels we have.

            2) If you’re going to doubt that suspiciously specific prophecies came from before the events they predict, the prophecy in Mark 13 etc. (in particular the stuff about the abomination of desolation and the stuff about false messiahs) fits better with the Bar Kochba revolt in the 130s than with the great revolt of the 70s anyway, and it would explain why the battle is described after the destruction of the temple. see e.g.

            3)The traditional Gospel authorship doesn’t wash for any number of reasons. Why would people so close to the action quote each other’s gospels rather than recounting events in their own words? Why would Paul’s letters, and even forgeries of his letters, become so prominent if there were two highly literate Greek authors (Matthew and John) among Jesus’s first disciples? And then there’s the fact that the source for traditional authorship was a guy in the 4th century (Eusebius), quoting a guy in the 2nd century(Papias) while disparaging Papias for his reliance on hearsay. Also, there’s nothing in the quote from Papias to indicate he’s talking about the same four Gospels that we have today.

            4)The fact that the gospels copy from one another indicates that they were widely known during the period when at least most of them were written. If they were widely known before the temple destruction, you’d expect to hear a lot more gloating from Christians about the prophecy of the destruction of the temple. In any event, it seems unlikely there would have been a big fight over which Gospels to canonize in the mid-2nd century (e.g. the fight over Marcion’s version of Luke in the 140s) had any Gospels been in wide circulation several decades before that date.

            5) The fact that pretty much all New Testament scholarship happens in divinity schools and seminaries should generally make one suspect the consensus is too conservative on dating the gospels rather than too liberal. You mention Ehrman, and my personal opinion is that he is about as conservative as you can get without being an active Christian apologist.

          • Niemand

            The traditional Gospel authorship doesn’t wash for any number of reasons. Why would people so close to the action quote each other’s gospels rather than recounting events in their own words?

            Maybe they were all quoting an earlier source? Maybe one closer to the action? IIRC, John has the least overlap with the other gospels. One could imagine two more or less original sources: John and someone else who got copied by the other three writers later on. Guessing here. I have no evidence to back that hypothesis.

            Also there must be variance introduced by things like copy errors as the Bible was copied by monks working by candle light, people adding their own editorialization, etc. I suppose one could claim that everything that made it in was the divinely inspired bits, but that’s kind of hard to prove objectively.

          • Ray

            “Maybe they were all quoting an earlier source? Maybe one closer to the action? ”
            “One could imagine two more or less original sources: John and someone else.”

            The two sources would have to be John and Matthew in that case, since you can’t get any closer than eyewitnesses. But then you have to explain why Mark (the companion of St. Peter himself) would copy almost 94% of his gospel from Matthew’s gospel rather than relying on Peter’s remembrance of the situation. These are the kind of things you have to consider if you want to believe the Gospels were written by their traditional authors as claimed by Eusebius.

            The mainstream scholarly view is that none of the gospels are by their traditional authors (although that doesn’t make them forgeries, since the earliest copies do not contain an internal claim of authorship.) Usually they think Mark came first, around 70 ad, Matthew and Luke quote Mark and an additional lost source, Q, and John was at least semi-independent (in the sense of not copying passages wholesale) of the other three gospels. As I said before, I suspect this dates the Gospels too early, and is too hopeful in supposing any of the original sources are extant, but it’s a baseline. I suspect a more likely story is that at the end of the first century, most of the Gospel material took the form of oral traditions and rumors passing from Church to Church, and when people started trying to formalize the traditions in writing, the process was far more complex than anything New Testament scholars have in mind. I suspect there were doezens, if not hundreds, of things that looked roughly like the Gospels floating around in the early to mid second century, and it would be a huge coincidence if the earliest attempts at writing things down were the ones that survived until the modern day.

        • Seamus

          Well, given that all four gospels contain accounts of his passion and death, no, I don’t think any of them were written during Jesus’ lifetime.

      • Delphi Psmith

        Was that “history of sects” or “history of sex” ?

    • JohnH

      There is nothing doctrinal that explicitly says that Jesus was married for Latter Day Saints, but there are lots of doctrinal things that imply that He had to have been married and many church leaders have said that he was (perhaps even polygamous) . From our perspective the knowledge of his marriage(s) was suppressed after the life of the apostles because Greek philosophy and Gnosticism both have less then favorable views on the physical, body, sex, marriage, etc.

      That said one fragment doesn’t prove much.

    • deiseach

      I’m only surprised it came out before Hallowe’en, not for Christmas/Easter.

      Oh noes, yet another amazing discovery that will completely overturn all we have hitherto believed about Christianity!

      Let me don my cynic’s hat for a moment (isn’t it pretty?). When I read things about mysterious fragments of papyri popping up from the private collections of anonymous persons with no provenance worth spit, I immediately think “Very likely another stolen artefact, possibly even war booty but you never know, and always the likelihood of being a forgery, given that even in Roman times, the tourist trade in Egypt meant a lot of faked mummies and relics been produced for sale.”

      When we have the historian herself slapping a sexy bestseller title like “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” on a seven-sentence fragment, I expect a work of popular tosh that will appear on the bestseller lists in time for Christmas and then sink back into the morass of Gospel of Judas, ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’, ossuary of Jesus-type seven days’ wonders. Perhaps in six months’ or a year’s time, a much smaller paragraph in the newspapers about “possible fragment of a Gnostic gospel, may be already known, need to cross-check with existing museum collections in case the fragment can be matched up to a roll, etc. etc. etc.”

      I have seen one comment that said the phrase could also be translated as “my bride” and speaking of the Church as the Bride of Christ has a long tradition – Revelation has plenty of that imagery:

      “9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”

      I’ll wait for a translation of all seven lines, not just the half a sentence we’re getting in the headlines.

    • Ted Seeber

      I’m still trying to figure out how they got from a fragment of a pious 4th Century Coptic Legend (even if it is authentic) with no other surrounding tradition, to “OMG, The Pope Needs to Rethink Women Priests” (especially since it’s MARRIED priests that maybe needs to be rethought, not Women ones- the fragment only refers to her as his disciple, not his apostle, and I’d damn well hope that if he was married his wife actually bothered to listen to him enough to be a disciple).

      • deiseach

        They didn’t even get the critique right, since married male clergy is a matter of discipline not doctrine or dogma (and so the celibacy of Jesus, while being an example to be followed, is not the determinant there) and the inability to ordain women also does not depend on the married or single (or in a gay partnership with John, the beloved disciple, or the naked young man in the garden of Gethsemane, or in a polygynous marriage with the sisters of Lazarus, or any of the other theories out there) status of Jesus either.

        It’s just one more opportunity to finger-wag at the Catholic Church for not being Episcopalians/Anglicans and get with being progressive and follow the Spirit of the Age, so I tend to ignore these kinds of side-comments :-)

    • Brian Green

      I just wrote about this “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” Apparently the coptological community is quite skeptical. Plus the timing is just too perfect – just what we would want to find right now.

  • Scott Gay

    The Metaphysical Transit Authority T is in the motif of a peace sign. Rene Girard shows that all of our desires are borrowed, that this is the source of conflict, and that the scapegoat mechanism is the origen of sacrifice and the foundation for its control. To control conflict is at the heart of the trolley dilemma. As part of the movement to denounce the scapegoat mechanism, one also must raise the issues of mimetic desire and its resultant conflict. These are consistently covered up psychologically and in the market place. Symbolically, a broken cross is part of the cover-up, and a cross part of the denunciation.

  • Kristen inDallas

    I like that of the 6 people stupid enough to lay down on a train track… only one of them is a chick! :))

    • deiseach

      So when the Hooded Claw was tying Penelope Pitstop to the railroad (or trolley) tracks, he was really only engaging the Ant Hill Mob in a metaphysical/ethical thought experiment (though with less ‘thought’ and more ‘applied’, it would seem)?


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