The Philosophy of the Light Switch

As a baby, if you wanted light, you got it by screaming and yelling. "Don't turn the light off," your parents told the sitter, "or the baby will scream and yell." After a few years, that no longer worked. You might have then tried wishing for light. But that did not make light, so you ended up learning to flip the switch that made the light go on. In other words, you began with agitation, progressed to wishing, then got to cause and effect.

If this was your experience, then your theory of getting light was beyond the street-riot stage at the age of three, and beyond the prayer stage at the age of four. If you want to examine the philosophy behind the light switch, you can see that it goes far beyond cause and effect. It implies a metaphysics, an epistemology, and an ethics.

By reaching for that switch, you are making a declaration: reality is there to be touched; it is not illusion. By flipping this switch rather than just any switch, you are affirming the identity of the switch, and the principle behind the switch You are operating in a reality that is specific, orderly, and knowable. That is the metaphysics of the light switch.

You turn on the light for a purpose: to see. You affirm that observation is a method of guiding action. If when you flip the switch, the light does not go on, then you are annoyed. It was supposed to. That is, it operates on known principles, so logic can predict its operation, and one can reasonably expect it to work. That flip of the switch was your acknowledgment—in fact, your insistence on—the efficacy of reason. Reason is the epistemology of the light switch.

But wait! Did you ask permission to flip that switch? If not, why not? Because it belongs to you? Because you do not need permission to turn on your own lights? By what theory? Have you considered the disastrous effect of the light on the moth flying into it? What about the terrorized cockroach hiding from it? Have you considered the power needed to light the light? How many could that power benefit more deserving than you? It seems that you are flipping that switch in defiance of the most fashionable ethical theories of our time.

By turning on that light, you have defied the apostles of darkness in more ways than one. You have affirmed everyday reality, the power of reason, and your right to your own life. If in that light is preached that reality is illusion, that reason is impotent, and that rights are outmoded, then the philosophy of the light switch is not negated, but only ignored.

When you encounter such philosophical phonies, do them a kindness. Offer to turn on the light for them.

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