If NASA had paid attention to current philosophical thinking on theories of naming and identity, it could have at least avoided a multimillion debacle, even if you feel international humiliation of American academia is not that important.

A Philosophical Approach to Describing Planets
A Philosophical Approach to Describing Planets

If you look on the NASA website about Pluto, you will now see a rather short description saying Pluto is a 'dwarf planet.' What it does not say is how NASA arrived at this decision, and how it got a whole load of egg on its face trying to do so Maybe if NASA had thought philosophy was more important, it would not have appeared so stupid. [1].



Some years ago, NASA actually decided that Pluto was not a planet, because it discovered larger orbital masses that would also have to be planets by its existing definition [2]. So it spent millions of dollars on an education campaign to teach the public that Pluto is not a planet, and to sponsor appropriate discussion in schools so every one would know NASA was right. The NASA site states the argument was only about size. In fact, the debate was not only about Pluto's size, but was also about orbital characteristics; whether the stellar body is heavy enough to form a sphere; and other characteristics. NASA said, due to new findings, there are actually 12 planets instead of 9, or only 8;and it had decided the solution was to stop calling Pluto a planet.

Had they first consulted with any philosophers on the current theory of how objects are named, NASA would have known this endeavour was totally pointless. Its efforts to 'redefine Pluto as a non-planet' remains in line with the naive idealism which formed the United States: that there is some 'ideal version' of all concepts to which we strive to understand;that there is some ideal 'truth;' some ideal 'justice'; and likewise, some ideal 'planet.'

Objections from Modern Philosophy

In modern philosophy, the idea of such 'ideal concepts' is generally considered an extended form of naive realism. In modern thinking, names are attached to the real world by some act of 'baptism' or 'dubbing,' [3] but the objects to which the act of such dubbing is performed is not one ideal object, but only referred to by a collection of abstractions called 'properties.' Some attempt to argue this causes infinite regression, as the properties themselves are ideal concepts (this is a form of naturalism). However logicians avoid the infinite regression by saying that the properties themselves are not concepts, and do not refer to 'a thing in itself' (as ontologists believe). They see no necessity for the connection between a property of an object and some ideal concept. Instead, it is held, in accordance with Wittgenstein's later thought, that the concept of connection of a property to an object is an 'anomalous reference,' formed by mutual agreement in consensus, that does not hold any necessary correlation to a 'thing in itself.'

Well that is very complicated, so what does it mean? Let's put it in layman's terms.

Imagine two people are working on a building site, and agree that a piece of wood is a 'bloppit.' They can talk meaningfully with each other about what to do with the bloppit, without needing for there to be some innate essence of bloppitness. One builder can say to the other, 'hand me a bloppit, please,' and the other builder understands what to do. It is amazing to consider how many people have totally ridiculous but meaningful discussions about the true nature of the bloppitness of some thing. Including Plato. For example, imagine the people are not talking about a piece of wood, but some higher-order concept, such as 'justice.' they can have a very long discussion about the 'true nature' of justice when in fact there was never any such thing.

Now consider the properties of justice. What are they? They are simply other forms of 'bloppits.' The terms they use to describe the bloppitness of something are just other forms of bloppits. So the argument about 'justice' being 'good' or 'forcing equality' or 'enabling punishment' are themselves just other collections of bloppitdnesses.

One may ask then, what is the form of a bloppit itself? If they are all different forms of bloppit, is there some ideal form of a 'bloppit' which is an ideal thing in itself, as Plato wants there to be?

And that goes straight back into formal logic, discussed in previous sections, because a 'bloppit,' in generalized form, is a symbol for a collection of properties which either are themselves other plobbits, or relationships between them which can be defined in a system of logic. If the system of relationships cannot be resolved formally, it is irrational, but still meaningful in later Wittgensteinian thought.It is, in fact, finding the meaningfulness in irrationality, and the ability to name objects anomalously, that is the dual benefit of this perspective, because most logical systems cannot encompass such variation in semantics.

So, back to Pluto

So now, if a 'planet' is simply a collection of properties we ascribe to a stellar body, then obviously, any discussion of 'what REALLY a planet is must be totally ridiculous.

Any number of the properties ascribed to planets could be found not to exist, or to exist, in some new combination, for another stellar-scale object, opening the same debate again.That would result because there is no 'ideal' of a planet towards which our learning attempts to progress.Instead, we had agreed upon a convention as to what a planet is, and then found the definition inadequate, in light of new information. Instead of changing the properties which most people assign to those of planets, NASA tried to force everyone to change their concept of planethood.

And the debate on Pluto, which will make a great thesis one day, ended with NASA being forced to change its opinion back from stating that Pluto was not a planet. Now NASA calls it a 'dwarf planet.'

This was because, in the end, other countries did not want to spend money redesigning all their astronomy displays, and then rewriting all their textbooks, to say that Pluto is not a planet. They met in an international debate to argue with NASA. And in the end, the international community of astronomers accepted three properties of stellar objects that enabled the current definition of the number of planets in the solar system to be kept to 9.

But this was after NASa had already changed all its literature to say Pluto was not a planet, and sponsored a national school forum to teach everyone their idea of a planet was wrong. Then it was forced back to a different convention by the international community of astronomers who did not want to waste so much money, and the USA had to change all its definitions a second time.

If the American government could even get as far as thinking philosophers have something to contribute, let alone epistemologists and logicians, this whole stupid affair of deplanetization, replanetization, and NASA's failure in international repute could have been avoided.

Yet More on the Pluto Planethood Debate

Some time ago I stated rather sardonically that the same arguments used to demote Pluto from planethood would remove Washington DC from the USA, which is actually a scathing condemnation of the quality of philosophical thought even in the scientific communities of this nation. There was a great deal of naive complaint about that statement, so this post explains the problem in detail.

A Representation of Alfred Korzybski's Statement that a Map is Not the Territory
A Representation of Alfred Korzybski's Statement that a Map is Not the Territory

To clarify the problem, consider first the International Bill of Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt founded via the United Nations, requires that all citizens have equal representation. Specifically, this is stated in International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (article 25), which the USA finally approved in 1976. However, Washington DC has no representatives in congress or the senate.

Then consider, NASA removed Pluto from the planetary solar system because it doesn't have all the characteristics necessary to be considered a planet. Washington DC doesn't have all the characteristics necessary to be considered part of the USA. So it appears, by the same argument, NASA should demand than Washington DC be removed from the United States.

This consequence of epistemological stupidity was still not obvious, so here is a full explanation of the parallelism in the conceptions.

The Indeterminate Number of Planets

The precedent was set sometime around 1999, when NASA first decided Pluto should be removed from the planetary solar system. If Pluto is a planet, it argued, then so are other celestial objects which are similar to Pluto, but not similar to other planets.

At first it seemed there may have been one more planet: Ceres, which is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and large enough for gravity to pull it into a spherical planet shape. Later during the debate in 2004-2005, Eris was discovered, which is larger than Pluto, and further out. Therefore, NASA first considered that the number of planets should be increased to 10 or 11. Not doing so would be especially unfair to Ceres, and later, Eris.

But unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Many more such celestial planet-like objects were found in the Kuiper belt, beyond Pluto, and even others. For example, there is Haumea (between Neptune and Pluto) which is not spherical, but which has moons orbiting it. And there is Makemake, the largest planet-shaped object in the Kuiper belt, which is larger than Pluto too. The Kuiper belt also contains many other celestial objects which may be planets, including OR10, Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, MS4 and Salacia; and even more. But the exact number remains indeterminate, as the details are disputed.

Therefore, adding all the planets would be too huge a task. NASA decided it would be better to redefine the characteristics of a planet such that Pluto was not a planet. It was just easier to remove Pluto, because the alternative was far worse! Subsequently, in 1999, the Hayden Planetarium redesigned its solar system display to remove Pluto,which is the first mention of this topic you will find on the Web.

But the global community had other objections.

The International Astronomers Union (IAU) felt the expense of rewriting all the textbooks to say Pluto is not a planet was not justified. for example. But more importantly, people are generally fond of thinking Pluto as a planet, even if it really isn't in the strictest terms. There are Disney characters, institutions, and people named after Pluto. And it has been considered a planet a long time, however wrong that may be.

So the IAU reclassified Pluto back to a planet of the minor kind in 2005, then of a dwarf kind in 2006. And people say NASA was right to lead this change, particularly as high schools across America received millions of dollars in funding for the schoolchildren to argue whether Pluto is a planet or not.

The Indeterminate Number of Stars on the Flag

But now the same logic NASA applied to Pluto applies to the United States. That is, either we add a star to the flag for Washington DC, or remove it from the USA.

But if we don't remove Washington DC from the USA, the alternative would be far worse! For example, Puerto Ricans have US passports. NASA would therefore have to demand that the American flag should have 52 stars, to include Washington DC and Puerto Rico. For which I would say, bravo NASA, let's demand the stars and stripes be hauled down and replace it with a 52-star version, in respect for these ignored minorities! Not doing so would be especially unfair to Puerto Rico.

After all, Puerto Rico has been asking for a star on the flag for quite a long time.

But unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.There are more places which are part of the USA, and which are not on the flag. There are the freely associated states of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau, over which the USA has sovereignty. The USA also governs Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. Hence, the star-spangled banner should have 63 stars.

But NASA would disagree with me, because adding ALL stars would be such a big task. One would have to resolve the territorial disputes over three other land masses: Navassa Island, Bajo Nuevo Bank, and Serranilla Bank. This is because Haiti, Jamaica, Columbia, and other nations also claim sovereignty over these islands So perhaps there should be up to 66 stars. But the exact number remains indeterminate, as the details are disputed.

So the better thing to do, NASA is forced to argue for commensuration with its decision that Pluto is not part of the planetary solar system, is simply to remove Washington DC from the United States. And being scientists, NASA can uphold its right to redefine the USA based on technically correct issues, just like it can redefine the planetary solar system. Whatever astrologists think, for example, they are not really scientific and therefore wrong. So we were all wrong about Washington DC being part of the USA, too.

But the global community may have other objections.

They would feel the expense of rewriting all the textbooks to say Washington DC is not part of the USA is not justified. for example. But more importantly, people are generally fond of thinking Washington DC is part of the USA, even if it really isn't in the strictest terms. There are cartoon characters, institutions, and people named after it. And it has been considered part of the USA a long time, however wrong that may be.

The Philosophical Resolution that Scientists Ignored

Moreover, a few philosophy experts (like me) would like the USA to recognize this is an important educational opportunity for people to understand that this is an epistemological problem, not a scientific problem. The USA, which was founded on platonic ideals of 'liberty' and 'justice,' tends to consider there to be some abstract reality in which there is an 'ideal' planet, just as it naively believes there is some kind of 'ideal justice' and 'ideal liberty' which may be known simply by intuition, resulting in enormous uneducated majorities believing their opinions are correct because they intuitively believe so, and moreover believing their own intellectual superiority requires no study and no humility.

I feel this is a good example of the problem because in the last century, better metaphysical explanations of how such abstract concepts acquire meaning have been proposed. For example: Bertrand Russell's descriptive naming theory is one refutation of the Platonic theory of ideal forms. It suggests we attach descriptive properties to names which may change.

In later Wittgensteinian language games; words exist as tokens without any necessary correlation to a formal description at all.

More recently, Saul Kripke's causal extensions to the theory of property clusters for identity formation may be the best yet, allowing us to name abstractions by dubbing them with an list of properties that may never ultimately be perfectly definable, such that meanings may exist anomonously, and even pop out of existence if we try to nail them down. In fact, Kripke's causal theory of reference is the best epistemological explanation of exactly how Pluto came to be in its current naming predicament: a problem well known for almost a century by other academia, from Alfred Korzybski's statement, "The Map is Not the Territory."

Nonetheless at first, NASA decided, as it is the largest investor in exploration, that it did not need to consult with the international community or consider epistemological issues besides that which most people intuitively believe. Maybe now, it has reason to think others may have some contribution after all; but sadly, the philosophical considerations of ideal forms and object references were not discussed in schools, as philosophy does not have the meritorious status of science in this nation.

The debate is likely to continue for years, and meanwhile, educators may best be instructed to teach that Washington DC was indeed once thought to be part of the United States without doubt; That much is certainly true. What American scientists have discovered has led the world into a better understanding of 'The Truth' as they see it. And that is an objective lesson in how our understanding of the world is sometimes wrong, from which all of us can learn something new. Thank you NASA, for teaching us why Washington DC should be removed from the USA, just like Pluto was from the planetary solar system. It may appear it was a mistake, but we all learned something from it. And from that perspective, your naming predicament is solved.


This article was originally written as a sequel to:American Delusions: the Right to Murder.

I discovered that one in ten Americans NOT ONLY believe they have a right to murder, BUT ALSO will argue extensively that they are entitled to kill on their own discretion, even when presented with reason and actual fact to the contrary. I've presented this to ~600 people online, of whom only two responded with any concern, neither of whom are American citizens. I've also emailed it ~100 journalists and academics, not one of whom responded.

My conclusion was that philosophy should be mandatory in schools, so I thought this would appeal to philosophers. It only led to a deluge of complaints in philosophy forums. First, I thought it was because maybe guns are difficult as a basis for the argument, as about half the respondents to my survey said they wanted to shoot people for intruding their homes. So I wrote an article on a more abstract issue, about Pluto's planethood, mentioned above:the Eclipse of American Intellectualism: NASA can't even Define a Planet.

Almost immediately, the first two philosophy forums on Facebook, banned me as being unAmerican.

I tried sharing it in scientific forums, and I received an endless deluge of insults as to how stupid I am from people who had never studied problems with idealism or Wittgensteinian philosophy.

So I wrote this topic, to clarify the nature of the philosophical error causing my observation as to why the problem exists. I received many criticisms as to my incomplete representation of the planet-naming problem, leading to its current incredible length.No one thinking of themselves a philosopher responded at all about the conclusion of making philosophy mandatory, until explicitly and directly accused of inadequate thought, but instead continued to argue about other facts mentioned in the article as if I had said nothing. Upon indicating my point, instead of considering it at all, they merely criticized me in restricting their right to freedom to think about whatever they want and for interrupting their own more important discussions about, for example, whether an earlier retirement age could instead be justified as a better use for the money raised to pay for better education.

So I joined an independent philosophy forum and wrote a very positive article from the same basis on the route of idealism in American culture. Members posted about 60 responses that the facts were wrong, and again had no interest in the conclusion that philosophy should be mandatory. When I indicated that was the actual point, they complained I had no right to say my point was different than what they wanted to argue, in the same way as others had before. Upon repeating my issue more forcefully, some finally told me I was going about proposing it the wrong way, but had no interest in supporting the idea itself, and merely in telling me what to do, which was essentially to rewrite again the proposal which by now I have written several dozen different ways.

So I filed a petition and asked for signatures. The forum administrators stated I was not allowed to canvas petitions. It also stated my arguments could not be hosted offsite, and I would have to discuss it onsite. So I did. the administrators stated my arguments were too long and deleted them.

After stating I would no longer pursue the objective, one person decided to support my petition.


Somewhere around 300 BC, Plato stated in the Gorgias that humanity is not capable of using pure reason in its own governance, and that people who attempt to do so will be scorned and rejected for trivial reasons. This is my sad conclusion, then, that what Socrates is STILL true, even by philosophers themselves, 2400 years later, in the most affluent and powerful of world nations. Pure reason itself still cannot solve any problem, and by my own experience, those attempting to make arguments for ways to improve the world, if they are based on rationality alone, will fail. As the extent there is any real rationality in that which does influence the choice of people such as Donald Trump as the best alternative to be the most powerful person in the world, I leave that to your own discretion in considering the meaningfulness of it, as my own thought on its explanation is apparently superfluous.

My Real Stupidity

My real stupidity, whatever the mob may choose to select for their condemnations, is believing that philosophers teaching in Universities can be expected to try and do anything about it, because, quite obviously to them, it just is not what their salary pays for. After all, I have only touched on the nature of the inane mind, and look how much stupidity and selfishness was already heaped on me. So how can any academic philosopher be expected to do any more than think about how to reduce their own workload? As a result of which, the academics are certainly not equipped to adjust the mob mind in a more rational way. They already have students who would rather argue about solipsism and justifications for their own salaries. And they are are all too eager to produce an endless tirade of arguments to defend their own egocentrism, and whose students, like it or not, are destined to become the next generation of philosophy teachers.

And that is the end of the nobler society that once I so hoped could become real.


As mentioned, the articles on NASA's own websites regarding the demotion of Pluto prior to 2005 have been deleted. There is one article from 2001 here:http://www.space.com/1925-astronomer-responds-pluto-planet-claim.html.

The other data is not really of direct concern to this article, except the proposed change as to how the problem should be solved, which was to teach Kripke's naming theory, which is here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causal_theory_of_reference".

  1. "why Pluto is no Longer a Planet"
  2. NASA: "What is Pluto?"
  3. "Causal Theory of Reference"