Wednesday, October 16, 2019

On The Political Implications of Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy

Immanuel Kant has not written directly on political issues; much of his work is on epistemology, moral theory, and aesthetics, and since his writing style is highly abstract, it is difficult to connect him to any political movement. Some of the letters that he wrote in the early years of 1790s suggest that the failure of the French Revolution had the effect of awakening him from his “dogmatic political slumbers,” and he was inspired to write a Fourth Critique, which might have focused on political theory. But in the 1790s he could write only a few minor essays.

However, if we see philosophy as a practical implication of ethical philosophy, then we can try to find out how Kant’s deontological ethics informs his politics. One of the versions of his categorical imperative is close to republicanism. This is the version that states that one must act in accord with the idea that every rational will is a universally legislating will, and one must treat every person, including oneself, with the respect owed to someone who is a universal moral legislator.

This version of the categorical imperative implies that Kant (like Locke and Rousseau) believed that people are free while they obeying the laws of society, as long as they have participated in the formation of the laws that they are obeying. We show our moral obligations to all rational beings when we participate in the formulation of laws which we must ourselves obey. According to Kant, freedom is autonomy, which is the rational self giving itself the law. But morality too is the rational self giving itself the law. Therefore, freedom and morality are same for Kant. You are free only when, you are acting morally.

In the 19th century, political theory has become based on ethics—the two dominant ethical theories of this period are John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics and Kant’s deontological ethics. So there are several political theories in the 19th century which acknowledge a debt to Mill’s utilitarianism or to Kant’s deontology.

In his shorter essays, Kant has made some comments on political issues. In his essay on universal history, he notes that the great problem that civil society faces is the “unsocial sociability” of man, which while making us inherently social also puts us in competition and conflict. But this feature of man is conducive for progress. A republican political system is must suited for preserving the freedom of a creature like man. Kant expects republicanism to become universal. In his essay on perpetual peace, he notes that wars between the states can undermine republicanism, and he suggests that a federation of republican states can be created to ensure world peace.

On Kant’s Moral Theory

Immanuel Kant believed that moral theories, such as Aristotle’s eudaimonia, Hume’s notion of utility, or the Stoic principle of apathy, are not sufficiently general, universal, and fundamental. He was looking for a universal, a priori law of moral action that is determined solely by reason. He believed that the ultimate moral law can be a priori, only if it is a law of action free of the desire of achieving any aim or good.

In the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes, “There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, except a good will.”

In this statement, he is positing that there is no state, goal, or object that can be regarded as intrinsically or universally good—everything, including happiness, love, intelligence, or health, is compatible with moral wrong. Kant notes that in moral and political theories there is a divide between theories that are based in the right and those that are based in some ultimate good or value that our actions ought to maximize. The aims for achieving good outcomes like love, happiness, health, or anything else cannot dictate our moral ideas.

What is morally right can be understood only in terms of a rule. We have to do what is right, not because it is expected to lead to a good end, but because it is right. Moral actions are not only according to duty, but also because of and from duty. In judging morality of actions or social policies, consequences are irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hume’s Influence on Einstein

David Hume has had a massive influence on all areas of philosophy and a variety of scientific and economic disciplines. Several prominent philosophers, scientists, and economists have acknowledged that they owe a debt to his philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from Matias Slavov’s essay, “No absolute time,” which is on the influence that Hume has exercised on Albert Einstein’s conception of time and his theory of relativity:

“Einstein learned an empiricist theory of concepts from Hume (and plausibly from Mach and the positivist tradition). He then implemented concept empiricism in his argument for the relativity of simultaneity. The result is that different observers will not agree whether two events are simultaneous or not. Take the openings of two windows, a living room window and a kitchen window. There is no absolute fact to the matter of whether the living room window opens before the kitchen window, or whether they open simultaneously or in reverse order. The temporal order of such events is observer-dependent; it is relative to the designated frame of reference.

“Once the relativity of simultaneity was established, Einstein was able to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his theory, the principle of relativity and the light postulate. This conclusion required abandoning the view that there is such a thing as an unobservable time that grounds temporal order. This is the view that Einstein got from Hume.”

Nationalism is Close to Classical Liberalism

The modern nationalists are the true inheritors of the classical liberal political theory that was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries by philosophers like John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Montesquieu, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Classical liberalism and nationalism are historical in character—they are motivated by the aim of preserving the liberties of the citizens within the context of social and cultural systems which have evolved organically over a period of several centuries. Since they are built on a multitude of political, cultural, and theological philosophies, it seems that both classical liberalism and nationalism have erected a Tower of Babel which continues to grow because new theories keep getting invented.

Monday, October 14, 2019

On The Self-Love Of The Libertarians

Jean-Jacques Rousseau has described two kinds of self-love: amour de soi (self-love based on the desire of preserving the self) and amour propre (love of self as it is seen by others that has the potential for leading to envy, vice, and misery). I am of the opinion that amour propre is the right term for describing the self-love that the libertarian intellectuals feel for themselves.

The libertarians are narcissistic—they are convinced that their solutions for political, economic, and moral problems are always moral and correct. I think that every time they look into the mirror, they imagine a halo of saintliness on their head. Many libertarians seem convinced that others see them as they see themselves, and if there is a person who does not believe in their perfection, then there must be something wrong with him, either he is ignorant or irrational or both.

Every libertarian intellectual yearns for the approval of other libertarians; it is praise of the peers that they most value. They have no time or energy to try to understand the concerns that are driving the political opinions of vast majority of people in their country who are not libertarians. They are clueless about what is really going on in their country—that is why their opinions on the pressing political problems make very little sense.

The Four Political Forces Of Modern World

The four political forces—capitalism, nationalism, socialism, and progressivism—have acquired a pole position in human affairs between 16th century and 19th century. The duel between these political forces dictates the politics of almost every nation today. The nations where capitalism and nationalism are dominant, and socialism and progressivism are subdued, are the successful nations. The nations where socialism and progressivism manage to subdue the forces of capitalism and nationalism are the failed nations. Capitalism is an antidote to socialism; nationalism is an antidote to progressivism. Capitalism and nationalism walk hand in hand, for the same reason for which socialism and progressivism walk hand in hand.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

On The Jacobin Religion Of Reason

Their atheism notwithstanding, the Jacobins were a barbaric cult. The human cost of their atheistic revolution runs into hundreds of thousands. In his 1794 speech, Robespierre declared the Jacobin principle: “Pity is treason.” Alexis de Tocqueville describes the religious passion of the Jacobins in his book The Old Regime and the Revolution. Here’s an excerpt:

“The French Revolution acted, with regard to things of this world, precisely as religious revolutions have acted with regard to things of the other. It dealt with the citizen in the abstract, independent of particular social organizations, just as religions deal with mankind in general, independent of time and place. It inquired, not what were the particular rights of French citizens, but what were the general rights and duties of mankind in reference to political concerns.

“It was by thus divesting itself of all that was peculiar to one race or time, and by reverting to natural principles of social order and government, that it became intelligible to all, and susceptible of simultaneous imitation in a hundred different places.

“By seeming to tend rather to the regeneration of the human race than to the reform of France alone, it roused passions such as the most violent political revolutions had been incapable of awakening. It inspired proselytism, and gave birth to propagandism; and hence assumed that quasi religious character which so terrified those who saw it, or, rather, became a sort of new religion, imperfect, it is true, without God, worship, or future life, but still able, like Islamism, to cover the earth with its soldiers, its apostles, and its martyrs.”

The Jacobins established an atheistic religion called the Cult of Reason, but when it didn’t have the desired impact, they came up with another atheistic religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being. They used to hold religious ceremonies called Feast of Reason throughout the country. They converted the traditional places of worship into the Temples of Reason in which they installed the statue of Goddess of Reason, clothed in Roman style robes.

One thing is clear from this: “Reason” is a word with a bad history.

A Good Politician Does Not Need the Intellectuals

The support of the intellectuals and mainstream media is not necessarily a sign of a government’s popularity, stability, and strength—it can be a sign of weakness and corruption.

When the intellectuals and mainstream media are in their pocket, the members of the government become complacent—they start believing that they can get away with anything. They lose touch with the masses and they fail to see what is going on in the economy. They make all kinds of political blunders and indulge in corrupt practices. All this leads to a decline in their popularity and ensures their loss in elections.

An antagonistic intellectual establishment and mainstream media is better for a government because when the intellectuals and journalists are raving and ranting, the members of the government are likely to do their work carefully and honestly. If the government gives better performance, its popularity will rise. Therefore, a political leader must strive to keep the intellectuals and the journalists infuriated and the masses happy.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Flies of a Summer

Edmund Burke believed that reason alone is not sufficient to keep most men in line—this is because most men do not employ the rational faculty at all, and even those who employ it often do so without sufficient knowledge and experience. He notes that common sense and the wisdom of ancient custom (or traditions) are far more effective instruments for enabling people to come together and live with some kind of peace and harmony.

If men start altering their cultural institutions and their constitution whenever they wanted, then the present generations will lose their connection with the wisdom of the past generations—this is a recipe for tearing down a civilization. In Reflections on The Revolution in France, Burke warns the people of Britain that if, like the French, they get seduced by the ideologies which promise “liberty, equality, fraternity,” then the fire of revolution would consume Britain too as it had consumed France. He coins the phrase “flies of a summer,” to refer to a society that has developed an insatiable appetite for rapid transformations. Here’s an excerpt:

“By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often and as much and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken; no one generation could link with the other; men would become little better than the flies of a summer.”

The idea that rapid change might not be a good thing is something that the modern conservatives have learned from Burke. The conservatives realize that hasty political and cultural innovation can lead to improvement as well as destruction—therefore, they are prudent with changes. They take  a cautious approach to reform. The liberals, on the other hand, can be compared with what Burke has called the “flies of a summer”—they have no connection with the past. They want to overthrow all past traditions and force a new utopian future on the people.

On the Theistic Projects of the Atheists

Modern atheism is a project for manufacturing new earthly religions and gods. Every atheistic movement in the last 250 years has tried to found its own earthly religion and develop its own gods. The French Revolutionaries, once they gained power, first established an atheistic religion called the Cult of Reason, and then its rival religion called the Cult of the Supreme Being. Auguste Comte established a positivist religion of humanity in which he was revered as a godlike figure. In the former Soviet Union, the atheistic communists indulged in an orgy of self-deification—they deified Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and several other communist icons. Despite her claims for being a stickler for reason and logic, Ayn Rand established a cult called objectivism whose followers worship her as the final authority on everything. The present day liberals, who are mostly atheistic, make massive misuse of the mainstream media for self-deification.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Dostoevsky On The Revolutionary Demons

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Demons is an attack on atheistic and nihilistic political movements. The book shows that atheistic and nihilistic philosophy can lead to suicide and murder. This is the story of high-minded intellectuals who are attempting to spark a revolution, even though they are clueless about the consequences of a revolution. But the intellectuals are not the demons that Dostoevsky describes in the novel—the demons are the atheistic and nihilistic ideas by which the intellectuals are possessed. (The book is also known as The Possessed.)

Dostoevsky offers a masterful description of the extent to which Alexei Nilych Kirillov, a character in the novel, is possessed by the revolutionary ideas. Kirillov, an engineer in the small town where the story is set, is deeply influenced by Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin, one of the leaders of the secret revolutionary society. Kirillov is determined to kill himself at the opportune moment when his death will be useful for sparking the revolution. He explains his motivation in these words:
“So at last you understand!” cried Kirillov rapturously. “So it can be understood if even a fellow like you understands. Do you understand now that the salvation for all consists in proving this idea to every one? Who will prove it? I! I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no God and not kill himself on the spot. To recognize that there is no God and not to recognize at the same instant that one is God oneself is an absurdity, else one would certainly kill oneself. If you recognize it you are sovereign, and then you won’t kill yourself but will live in the greatest glory. But one, the first, must kill himself, for else who will begin and prove it? So I must certainly kill myself, to begin and prove it. Now I am only a god against my will and I am unhappy, because I am bound to assert my will. All are unhappy because all are afraid to express their will. Man has hitherto been so unhappy and so poor because he has been afraid to assert his will in the highest point and has shown his self-will only in little things, like a schoolboy. I am awfully unhappy, for I’m awfully afraid. Terror is the curse of man.… But I will assert my will, I am bound to believe that I don’t believe. I will begin and will make an end of it and open the door, and will save. That’s the only thing that will save mankind and will re-create the next generation physically; for with his present physical nature man can’t get on without his former God, I believe. For three years I’ve been seeking for the attribute of my godhead and I’ve found it; the attribute of my godhead is self-will! That’s all I can do to prove in the highest point my independence and my new terrible freedom. For it is very terrible. I am killing myself to prove my independence and my new terrible freedom.” 
Dostoevsky was of the view that atheism is essentially a project for self-deification. When human beings discard the idea of divinity, they pave way for some of them to come forward and make the claim that they are themselves divine. That is why the atheistic revolutions which try to obliterate notion of god in heaven, end up deifying their own leaders as the new gods.

On the Politics of Liberals and Nationalists

In a liberal (progressive) society, politics is stronger than culture and history. In a nationalist (conservative) society, culture and history are stronger than politics. Liberalism seeks to politicize every aspect of life by politicizing culture and history. Nationalism seeks to bring traditional values (rooted in culture and history) to politics. The stability of a liberal regime depends on the power of the political institutions. The stability of a nationalist society depends on the nation’s sense of history and the strength of its culture. The liberals operate by making people contemptuous of their nation’s culture and history. The nationalists operate by energizing their culture and history through a revival of the old legends about the deeds of the heroic and brilliant figures from the past.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Liberty is a Porous Concept

Isaiah Berlin argues in his essay, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” (which is based on the lecture that he gave before the University of Oxford on 31 October 1958), that there are not one but two concepts of liberty—positive and negative. He also notes that liberty is a porous concept “with more than two hundred senses of it recorded by historians of ideas.” Here’s an excerpt:

“To coerce a man is to deprive him of freedom – freedom from what? Almost every moralist in human history has praised freedom. Like happiness and goodness, like nature and reality, the meaning of this term is so porous that there is little interpretation that it seems able to resist. I do not propose to discuss either the history or the more than two hundred senses of this protean word, recorded by historians of ideas.”

Immanuel Kant was probably the first philosopher to distinguish between a negative and positive sense of the term “liberty”. Berlin is essentially defending a Kantian view of liberty in his essay—he shows that positive and negative liberty are not only distinct, they can also be seen as the opposing and incompatible expositions of the same political ideal.

Nationalism is a Reaction to the Failures of Liberalism

Liberalism is the road to serfdom. Nationalism is the reaction to the wounds that the liberal intellectuals and politicians inflict on a nation. The liberals never acknowledge that their policies are ravaging the economy and culture—they keep annoying the people with their condescending attitude. No country is likely to succeed in keeping itself free from the plague of liberalism unless it allies itself to nationalist sentiments.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Tolstoy: The Fox Who Tried to Become a Hedgehog

In his essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divides thinkers into hedgehogs and foxes—the hedgehogs are those who know one big thing, like Aquinas and Dostoevsky, while the foxes are those who know many things, like Hume and Turgenev. Berlin posits that Tolstoy was a natural fox who tried to become a hedgehog. He says that being a natural fox Tolstoy had the capacity to slice through all kinds of illusions and enter the minds of the most unpleasant characters, but he aspired to have a big vision too, and that led to the destruction of his sense of reality. Berlin ends his essay with these devastating lines:

“Tolstoy’s sense of reality was until the end too devastating to be compatible with any moral ideal which he was able to construct out of the fragments into which his intellect shivered the world, and he dedicated all of his vast strength of mind and will to the lifelong denial of this fact. At once insanely proud and filled with self-hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and self-abasing, tormented and detached, surrounded by an adoring family, by devoted followers, by the admiration of the entire civilised world, and yet almost wholly isolated, he is the most tragic of the great writers, a desperate old man, beyond human aid, wandering self-blinded at Colonus.”

On The Conservative New Intellectuals

Nationalistic conservatism is not entirely focused on politics; it also aspires for intellectual influence. Several good intellectuals are identifying with the nationalist conservative cause and are writing books to explain the conservative perspective on contemporary and historical issues. Conservatives have traditionally lagged behind the progressives (liberals) in the intellectual space, but the situation has now changed—nowadays the progressives appear quite dumb, immoral, unhinged, and nihilistic, while the conservatives seem to be sophisticated, moral, and balanced.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

On The Problem of Induction

The problem of induction is a legacy of David Hume even though he never used the word “induction” in his works. In a series of works, the first of which is his A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume offers his arguments against induction. He shows that the truth of the premises of an inductive argument, even if it enjoys a great deal of evidential support, do not necessarily lead to the truth of the argument’s conclusion.

Hume points out that for you to have the reason to believe the result of your inductive inference, you must have the reason to believe that the uniformity principle—which states that unobserved instances resemble observed instances—is true. We can have an inductive argument only when past performances resemble future results in ways that will allow us to make generalizations about those future results. But the reason to believe in the uniformity principle is not self-evident.

Hume divides claims into two categories — “relations-of-ideas claims” and “matter-of-fact claims”. The matter-of-fact claims, he points out, can be either true or false based on the facts in reality that can be observed directly. However, the relations-of-ideas claims are true or false by virtue of the concepts, or ideas, that they involve—to establish the truth or falsehood of such claims you have to go out into the world and verify.

Now the uniformity principle is not a relations-of-ideas claim because there is nothing in the concepts involved in the claim that will guarantee its truth. But if all claims are either relations-of-ideas claims or matter-of-fact claims, and the uniformity principle is not a relations-of-ideas claim, then it must be a matters-of-fact claim.

The uniformity principle is a claim about the unobserved since it talks about unobserved instances resembling observed instances. But since the uniformity principle is itself a matter-of-fact claim about the unobserved, it means that you can have a reason to believe that the uniformity principle is true, only if you already have the reason to believe that the uniformity principle is true.

But this means that the justification for the uniformity principle comes from the uniformity principle—the argument is circular and therefore it is invalid. Thus Hume has reached the conclusion that he wants—he has shown that there cannot be any non-circular logical argument for believing in the answers that we derive from inductive arguments.

There are several ways by which Hume’s argument against induction can be rejected. I am not getting into those arguments in this post—but it is worth noting that while there can be any number of arguments to establish a particular view of induction, there cannot be any ultimate solution to the problem. It is not necessary that there should be a solution to every philosophical problem—the problem of induction is one of those problems for which there is no solution.

A Bird's-eye View of Modern Movements

Here are some troubling facts: The liberals don’t stand for liberty; they are a bunch of control-freaks and totalitarians. The conservatives are unintellectual, weak, and pompous; in the long run, they prove incapable of conserving the economy and culture of their nation. The libertarians are a tiny 100 year old cult led by pontifical academics; they hold an idealistic and unworkable view of liberty, and many of them are out of touch with reality. The anarchists (anarcho-libertarians) assert that they stand for a state-less society (whatever that means), but in their eagerness to overthrow the state, they support all kinds of violent revolutionary groups. The objectivists (Ayn Rand’s tiny group) are cultist and mystic; their political opinions are dumb and their philosophy is absurd. The socialists, instead of empowering the working classes, destroy them.

Monday, October 7, 2019

On the Role of Skeptics in Philosophy

Skeptic thinkers have played a crucial role in the development of philosophy in all ages. Much of the philosophical thought in the world has arisen as response to or in defense of the questions and doubts that they have raised. A skeptic is not necessarily an iconoclast, or a destroyer of knowledge—in many cases, he is the thinker who is extremely concerned about the truth and is not prepared to accept anything less.

Even if he conforms with the prevailing cultural and political norms, truth is of paramount importance for the skeptic. He persists and probes. He asks the tough questions and raises doubts which force the philosopher who is trying to expound a particular view of the world to develop better arguments for defending his position. The attacks of the skeptics often result in identification of the problems in a philosophy, and this gives the philosophers a chance to address the problems and improve the quality of their philosophy.

However, only those skeptics are effective who are good dialecticians, skillful in the art of argumentation.

On the Rise of Nationalist Conservatism

Liberalism became a dominant trend in the conservative movements after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. But now it seems that the conservatives have realized that they cannot implement their political agenda even if they win the electoral battles as long as they continue to act like a clone of the liberals. Therefore, they are moving away from liberalism—they are going back to nationalism. Nationalist conservatism is once again a political force in several democracies.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

On Modern Philosophy’s Misuse of "Reason"

"Reason" is the most misused word in modern philosophy. A large number of modern philosophers, who relentlessly pontificate about the “faculty of reason,” are clueless about the nature of reason. They talk about reason not because they are convinced about reason's efficacy, but because they want to be regarded as “philosophers of reason”—they are after buttressing their own pro-science and pro-objectivity image.

What is this faculty of reason? The modern philosophers who talk about it have no answer to this question. They fail to explain how the faculty of reason comes to know the things it knows. Is the faculty of reason a mechanism or collection of mechanisms in the brain, or is it something else? The philosophers have no answer. For them “faculty of reason” is just a label—they are incapable of providing any detail about what reason might be.

Since they can’t provide a proper explanation of how the“faculty of reason” operates in a man’s mind, their idea that all knowledge is derived through the “faculty of reason” is useless. The idea that all knowledge is derived from the facility of reason can be taken seriously only if it is based on a logical discussion of what the faculty of reason is and how it operates in a man’s mind.

Modern Philosophers Versus Past Philosophers

Among modern philosophers, who are inspired by the Enlightenment doctrine, we find a tendency to depict the classical and medieval thinkers as exotic, obsolete, and tradition-bound creatures who are incapable of looking beyond the concerns of the small city-states in which they existed. But this viewpoint is largely incorrect.

The classical and medieval thinkers, most of them, were rational agents; they had an objective view of the world—they gave birth to the ideas which are the fountainhead of modern science, technology, and politics. The philosophy that we have today is largely classical and medieval philosophy—the moderns have hardly made any contribution.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

On John Galt’s “Arrested Mind”

John Galt, the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged, is a man of “arrested mind.” When he makes an appearance in the novel, he is at the peak of his intellectual abilities. In the novel there is not a single instance of him learning anything new; Rand portrays him as a man who knows everything that is worth knowing—he never changes his mind; he never introspects and never has a doubt. He never confronts a contradiction; every sentence that he speaks is perfect; every choice that he makes is the right one. He represents Rand’s notion of the ideal man.

Rand modeled Galt’s character after her own personality. She had turned into a person of “arrested mind” in the years when she was working on Atlas Shrugged. She was not always like this. During the early phase of her writing career, she learned a lot from a wide variety of resources. A close study of the chaotic and contradictory viewpoints that we find in her early writing (especially in her journals), makes it clear that she did in fact pass through a phase of intense intellectual development. But in the 1950s, her mind stopped growing—she became convinced that she had attained intellectual perfection and there was nothing new that she needed to learn.

It was in a state of “arrested mind” that Rand conceived of John Galt, and after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, along with a band of youngsters whose only qualification was that they worshipped her as the only perfect genius in the history of mankind, she founded a movement called “objectivism” in 1958. This movement, which was a cult from the very beginning, is not an outcome of her literary genius, but of her psychological problems and her failure to emerge from the fictional world of Atlas Shrugged that she had herself created.

A New Era Every Month

In Ancient times, an era would last for at least two or three centuries—the end or the beginning of an era would be marked by tectonic historical events. But in our time, an era is associated with frivolous events and there is a new era almost every month. Whenever anything slightly important happens, we hear on TV that this is “the beginning of a new era,” or “the end of an era.” An important politician loses election, or a celebrity dies, “it’s end of an era”; a new sportsman wins a tournament or a movie of a new actor does well, “it’s the beginning of a new era.”

Friday, October 4, 2019

On Nietzsche’s Political Attack on Socrates

In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche attacks Socrates, and explains the “problem of Socrates.” He disowned this work to a certain extent in this later years, but his later works show that there are many features in The Birth of Tragedy that he continued to maintain till the end of his career. Leo Strauss, in his Introduction to his 1966 book Socrates and Arisophanes, notes that Nietzsche’s attack on Socrates must be understood as primarily a political attack. Here’s an excerpt from Strauss’s Introduction:

"[According to Nietzsche, Socrates] is the prototype of the rationalist and therefore of the optimist, for optimism is not merely the belief that the world is the best possible world, but also the belief that the world can become the best of all imaginable worlds, or that the evils that belong to the best possible world can be rendered harmless by knowledge: thinking can not only fully understand being, but can even correct it; life can be guided by science; the living gods of myth can be replaced by a deus ex machina, i.e., the forces of nature as known and used in the service of "higher egoism." Rationalism is optimism, since it is the belief that reason's power is unlimited and essentially beneficent or that science can solve all riddles and loosen all chains. Rationalism is optimism, since the belief in causes depends on the belief in ends, or since rationalism presupposes the belief in the initial or final supremacy of the good. The full and ultimate consequences of the change effected or represented by Socrates appear only in the contemporary West: in the belief in universal enlightenment and therewith in the earthly happiness of all within a universal state, in utilitarianism, liberalism, democracy, pacifism, and socialism. Both these consequences and the insight into the essential limitation of science have shaken "Socratic culture" to its foundation: "The time of Socratic man has gone." There is then hope for a future beyond the peak of pre-Socratic culture, for a philosophy of the future that is no longer merely theoretical, but knowingly based on acts of the will or on decisions, and for a new kind of politics that includes as a matter of course "the merciless annihilation of everything degenerating and parasitical." Nietzsche himself has said that in order to understand a philosopher one acts soundly by first raising the question of the moral or political meaning of his metaphysical assertions. Hence it would seem that his attack on Socrates must be understood primarily as a political attack."

Nietzsche’s attack is not on the young Socrates that Aristophanes presents in his play The Clouds, but on the Platonic Socrates.

On Political Knowledge

Too many people confuse confusion for political knowledge. The political knowledge that seems obvious is often based on premises that are obscure, even deceptive.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Nationalism and “Noble Lies”

There are two kinds of democracies—those that are dominated by liberals and those that are dominated by nationalists. The first type of democracies are often pushed into enacting utopian policies which devastate their economy and culture; while the second type are mostly able to avoid the pitfall of utopianism. Liberalism is a foolish, even dangerous enterprise. Nationalism too, if the nationalists are lacking in conservative values, can turn out to be unsatisfactory, but it’s a safer option for a nation because it’s fundamentally anti-utopian.

But how can nationalist sentiments be aroused in a country? In Plato’s Republic, Socrates offers an answer to this question. He talks about “noble lies” which the citizens must be told to persuade them into believing that they are the sons and daughters of the soil on which their nation stands. The citizens must believe that no one can question their possession of the land, because they are the children of the land on which they stand. The noble lies have the power to create a natural bond among the citizens—inspire them with feelings of pride in their nation's culture and history.

The noble lies that Socrates is talking about are not outright lies; these lies are not intended to deceive, they are being told with a good intention. They are an elucidatory device for revealing some important political ideas. The noble lies enable people to understand their rich history and culture, and become aware of the moral principles on which their nation is founded. It is noteworthy that the liberals use lies too for cementing their rule over a nation, but the difference is that their lies are ignoble—their lies are not meant to elucidate, they are meant to deceive.

On Theistic Philosophy and Civilization

All philosophical knowledge is founded on pre-philosophical experience. All scientific knowledge is founded on prescientific experience. But pre-philosophical and prescientific experiences owe a significant debt to theistic thought (matters of faith). Therefore theistic thought is the foundation on which the edifice of modern philosophy and science has been built over a period of thousands of years. If you reject theistic philosophy, you reject the foundational experience that has led to the rise of modern philosophy and science.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

On Modern Philosophy’s Misuse of "Reason"

"Reason" is the most misused word in modern philosophy. A large number of modern philosophers, who relentlessly pontificate about the “faculty of reason,” are clueless about the nature of reason. They talk about reason not because they are convinced about reason's efficacy, but because they want to be regarded as “philosophers of reason”—they are after buttressing their own pro-science and pro-objectivity image.

What is this faculty of reason? The modern philosophers who talk about it have no answer to this question. They fail to explain how the faculty of reason comes to know the things it knows. Is the faculty of reason a mechanism or collection of mechanisms in the brain, or is it something else? The philosophers have no answer. For them “faculty of reason” is just a label—they are incapable of providing any detail about what reason might be.

Since they can’t provide a proper explanation of how the“faculty of reason” operates in a man’s mind, their idea that all knowledge is derived through the “faculty of reason” is useless. The idea that all knowledge is derived from the facility of reason can be taken seriously only if it is based on a logical discussion of what the faculty of reason is and how it operates in a man’s mind.

What it Means to be Postmodern?

What it means to be postmodern is dependent on our notion of what it means to be modern and premodern. If you believe that modern philosophy is better than premodern philosophy (medieval as well as ancient), then you will loathe the idea of postmodernism. But if you recognize the political and moral problems that have been caused by the modernist doctrine then you may empathize with the postmodernist rebellion against modern philosophy.

Literally, postmodern means “after the modern” and that is the sense in which philosophers use it. Postmodern philosophy does not necessarily entail the nihilism of Derrida or the skepticism of Rorty. Nietzsche is often seen as the first postmodern philosopher. Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, Alasdair MacIntyre, Deirdre McCloskey, and several others who look at ancient philosophy for discovering solutions to modern problems are also postmodern.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Heidegger On The Bondage Of Technology

Martin Heidegger had a negative view of technology. He thought that technology leads to a decline in our ability to experience the world. His discussion of the problem of technology is an extension of the claim that he has made in his Being and Time that from Plato onward the history of Being has been one of gradual forgetting. We have been forgetting or ignoring what it is meant to be—a phenomena that he describes as the oblivion of Being.

In his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” (Chapter 1; The Question Concerning Technology & Other Essays, by Martin Heidegger), he points out that the modern man’s view of nature and even of other human beings is of a bunch of resources that can be used to achieve certain outcomes. Due to the normalization of the technological view of the world, people have lost track of other ways of experiencing the things as they are—as spiritual, as beautiful, as uplifting, as something of personal value, and they have become convinced that since everything can be transformed by the power of technology, nothing has inherent character and value in itself.

He notes that the capitalist west and the communist east are both in the bondage of technology. But he argues that rejecting technology will not free us from this bondage—only the acknowledgement of the danger of technology will.

On the False Hopes of the Liberals

The liberals are convinced that all men in the world can be perfected by using the persuasive powers of the leftist intellectuals and the coercive powers of the government. But this is not true. Perfection is unachievable because it represents an “ideal state” and an ideal state is always a figment of imagination; it can never be achieved because it is against the laws of nature. The real world is a hard place—and it takes something more than the hopes and rationalizations of the liberals to defend the interests of civilization in a hard world.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Three Waves of Modernity

In his Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss notes that there is much less unity in modern political philosophy than in the philosophy of the ancients (in Classical Greece)—this is because the deficiencies in the modern doctrine have provoked a series of critiques which have carved a number of versions and revisions that cluster together in the form three waves, which Strauss calls  “the three waves of modernity.”

Machiavelli is the architect of the first wave which includes the early modern philosophers like Spinoza, Hobbes, and Locke. According to Strauss, these philosophers reduced the moral and political problems to a technical problem. They emphasized on institutions rather than on moral education. They believed that modernity is necessarily a movement away from nature and into a rational and artificial social environment.

The second wave was launched by Rousseau who questioned the tenets of the first wave doctrine. He emphasized on virtue and discovered the role that history, or the historical process, plays in determining man’s humanity. The second wave includes the great 18th and 19th century philosophers—Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Marx—and goes right up to Nietzsche, even though Nietzsche is not part of the second wave. He is the one who initiates the third wave, according to Strauss.

By his rejection of the conclusions reached by the second wave thinkers, Nietzsche launched the third wave. He rejected Rousseau’s belief that while making men more humane, the historical process effaces in them the naturally good (the sentiment of existence). Nietzsche points out that “the sentiment of existence” is not in agreement with Rousseau’s conception of it, but rather it is an “experience of terror and anguish.”

According to Strauss, the first wave philosophy inspired the rise of liberal democracies (like America); the deficiencies in the first wave provoked the second wave philosophy, which led to the communist regimes (like the Soviet Union); and the failures of the second wave led to the third wave philosophy which climaxed with the fascist regimes.

Reason May Not Lead To Rationality

The Enlightenment of the 18th century has created a class of modern philosophers whose view of man is based on the idea that reason is the only tool by which man can gain knowledge and learn to lead a moral and happy life. But from the study of the life of these philosophers we find that,  in spite of their faith in reason, their philosophical ideas are flawed, and their life has been tainted by unhappiness and episodes of immorality. Therefore, I think, it is logical to draw the conclusion that reason is not always an accurate guide for arriving at accurate information and making rational and moral choices. The philosophers, who worship reason as a “god” of modern man, have clearly underestimated the complications of human mind and psychology.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

On the Origin of Political Philosophy

Politics is as old as humanity itself. Humans have never existed in a state of nature; since the time they evolved (between 300,000 to 200,000 years ago), they have lived in tribes or societies. Some kind of political action would have been necessary to enable the early humans to cooperate with each other for improving their chances for survival.

Political philosophy is different from politics—it came into being tens of thousands of years after the arrival of the first humans. It was discovered in the middle of fourth century BCE by Socrates in Athens. Philosophy predates Socrates by several centuries, but in the Western philosophical tradition, he is often seen as the first political philosopher.

Socrates has had such a massive impact that the philosophy before his time is known as presocratic. The presocratic philosophers made inquiries into the workings of the natural world, and on issues related to ethics, religion, possibility of knowledge, and the nature of societies. Socratic philosophy, in contrast to presocratic philosophy, is primarily political.

On the Gulf Between Reason and Politics

The notion that a government can be established on the foundation of reason is based on the misconception that all human beings are capable of using reason in the correct way. Why would we need a government if all human beings were men of reason, in which case, everyone would be capable of governing themselves and they would not pose a threat to the rights of others? The truth is that between politics and reason, there exists a wide gulf. In the area of politics, passions; prejudices; emotions; rational or irrational fears; attachments based on family, religion, and race, play a far more important role than reason.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

On Plato’s Apology

One who is aware of his own ignorance is a man of wisdom. We learn this from Socrates who, in Plato’s Apology, informs the Athenian jurors that the Oracle of Delphi has judged him to be the wisest because they realize that he knows that he doesn’t know. Being aware of one’s lack of knowledge is not the same as knowing nothing, because such awareness can only come when one knows what is there to know. The only thing that Socrates claims to have learned on the basis of his own experience is that an unexamined life is not worth living.

Here’s an excerpt from the statement that Socrates makes in front of the Athenian jurors (Plato: Complete Works; Edited by John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson; Page 33)

“Perhaps someone might say: But Socrates, if you leave us will you not be able to live quietly, without talking? Now this is the most difficult point on which to convince some of you. If I say that it is impossible for me to keep quiet because that means disobeying the god, you will not believe 
me and will think I am being ironical. On the other hand, if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less.”

On Knowledge and Ignorance

All quest for knowledge culminates in the knowledge of what you don’t know and doubts about the value and nature of what you know. Only a simpleton will make the claim that he has complete knowledge. But I am not sure if being aware of one’s ignorance is a better option than being ignorant of one’s ignorance.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Leo Strauss: A Postmodern Thinker Or Its Critic?

Postmodernism is a popular term these days, but in Leo Strauss’s time, this term was primarily used to categorize some innovations in architecture and literature—it had no, or very little, philosophical implications. However, Strauss’s critique of historicism can be seen as a critique of the philosophy of postmodernism that came into being several years after his demise in 1973.

The postmodernist theory of new historicism, which became popular in the 1980s, aims to develop a factual account of the past so that it includes information on issues and people who, the postmodernists claim, are being repressed in the contemporary history books. Strauss anticipated the rise of this kind of a new historicism which he criticizes in his works.

But Strauss has also criticized the idea of modernism that is a legacy of the Enlightenment. He points out that modernist philosophy is dominated by the historicist notion of progress which is an outcome of the Enlightenment. The postmodernists have a similar view of modernism and the Enlightenment, and therefore Strauss can also be seen as a postmodernist.

“Don’t Tread on Me” is Machiavelli’s Republican Principle

The role that the principle of “don't tread on me” plays in a republican society has been clearly explained by Machiavelli. In the Discourses on Livy, he points out that the citizens of republics dislike being dominated, and if the nobles try to usurp too much power, they will have to face the wrath of the citizens. He advises the nobles to avoid “treading” on the rights of the citizens. He praises the founders of republican nations and the citizens for their goodness and virtue and their love of liberty. He says that in republics, the citizens hold superior moral values and have better judgement than the nobles or the members of the government.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Machiavelli and The Renaissance

It is a liberal view that the Renaissance means the rebirth of something old, but several historians describe it as a beginning of something new that we now see as “modernity.” If the latter view of the Renaissance is accepted, then Machiavelli stands out as the world’s first modern man who as a matter of principle advocates innovation in politics and culture and promotes the idea of new institutions which will keep society stable in times of rapid transformations.

In Italy, the Renaissance was being led by scholars like Petrarch, Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and others. They are seen as humanists because their work was focused on issues related to human life, or the humanities, and not physics, metaphysics, and theology.

Although regarded as the first modern man, Machiavelli was disenchanted by the Renaissance. He was contemptuous of the scholarship, art, and politics of his period. He does not even mention the prominent humanist scholars in the Discourses on Livy. The only modern scholars that mentions are Dante, Lorenzo de' Medici, and Flavio Biondo—while he mentions 19 ancient scholars. He begins the Discourses by criticizing those who ignore the “ancient values” in politics, because they think that they can honor antiquity by buying fragments of ancient statues for their homes.

His antagonism with the Renaissance is palpable in his heavy criticism of Cicero, who was regarded as a towering figure by the humanists. Cicero’s idea of ideal man had enthused the humanists, but Machiavelli notes that Cicero corrupted the Roman Republic by importing Greek philosophy. He says that Greek Philosophy made the Roman Republic weak and decadent. He is sympathetic to Cato’s cause of ridding Rome of the influence of Greek philosophy.

Machiavelli believed that the ancients were superior than the moderns and in the Discourses he notes that to devise a good political system we must relearn ancient virtues. The ancients that he admires are not the Greeks of the Classical Period (when the polis was the model of an ideal state), but the Roman Republic.

On Machiavelli’s Republicanism

Once a republic falls, it’s lost forever. This is because the strength of a republic comes from the morality of its citizens and once the citizens become morally corrupted, it’s impossible for them to be moral again. Niccolò Machiavelli makes this point in his work, the Discourses on Livy. He points out that while a republic is created by the politicians (he uses the word, “Princes”), it’s the citizens who maintain it because they are more moral and trustworthy than the ruling class.

In times of danger, there is greater stability and courage in the citizens than in the ruling class. But once the citizens become morally corrupted, the republic loses its strength and then it faces a stark choice between a violent revolution, which can rip the nation apart, and statism (an Empire), which may keep the nation together but will take away the freedom that the citizens enjoy. In his direct comparisons between the ruling class and the citizens, Machiavelli demonstrates his republicanism.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ancient Athens Versus Sparta

Since the end of the Peloponnesian War, about 2500 years ago, it has been a trend among the intellectuals to condemn Ancient Athens, which was a clamorous democracy, and praise Sparta, a totalitarian state. Most of them are of the view that an Athenian type democracy has no mechanism to prevent passions from taking over its politics—and as it cannot be stable, it will always be lacking in military strength to avoid being conquered by a Sparta type of state.

Plato and Aristotle despised Athenian democracy (probably because Socrates had been condemned to death by an Athenian mob). In Ancient Rome, Cicero and Seneca have criticized Athenian democracy. Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy, rejects the Athenian system on the ground that it is prone to violent revolutions. Even the founders of modern America rejected the Athenian system. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay argue that an Athenian type democracy is not a good model for nations to follow.

In The Federalist, No. LIV, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison note: “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” In The Federalist, No. LXIII, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison note: “Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.”

The idea that the Athenian system was better is a fairly recent innovation—it became acceptable among the intellectuals in the last 200 years.

Is Total Liberty Viable?

Most libertarians see total liberty as a solution to all social problems. But I think their view of society is naive. While liberty may solve one set of problems, those that are an outcome of the nature of the government, it will lead to the rise to new problems by breeding powerful enemies, both inside the nation and outside it.

From the history of the last 2500 years we learn that the free nations are often rocked by violent revolutions, and they are constantly being attacked by the totalitarian nations and barbarians groups. Liberty is relatively easy to attain, but it’s hard to retain.

Only those who are capable of taking responsibility for their own life appreciate liberty—rest of the population may find the idea of being free problematic and cruel, and they may come out in support of political groups which promise to reduce the level of freedom that the citizens enjoy. Over a period of time, the nation will become divided between those who want liberty and those who despise it—this is a recipe for civil war.

A free nation is a natural enemy of nations that aren’t free—therefore it must invest in a strong military to defend its borders. But to maintain a good military you need to raise money, which can only come through taxes and economic regulations.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Vātsyāyana: On Perception and Verbalization

In his Nyayasutra, Vātsyāyana says that while our cognitive states, including the perceptual state, are inextricably connected with an implicit or overt word, the act of attributing a word to an object is not an essential part of our perceptual act. In other words, perception is different form verbalization—we can perceive an object even if we don’t know the linguistic destination of the object. Vātsyāyana gives the example of a child who has concepts before he acquires the corresponding words.

Bimal Krishna Matilal, in his essay, “Perception and Language,” (Chapter 1; Epistemology, Logic, and Grammar in Indian Philosophical Analysis; Edited by J. Ganeri), offers the following explanation of Vātsyāyana's view:

“In the sense perception of a child (who has not yet learned words to designate things) words do not play any significant role. When a person learns the name of a thing and perceives that thing, he says that it is called such-and-such. But, as far as his awareness of that object is concerned, it does not differ very much from the case of a child's perception. This shows that designation by name is not an essential factor in our perceptual process or cognitive act… Vatsyayana acknowledges the fact that we conventionally designate our apprehension of an object by the name of that object. But he also points out that we can, and sometimes do, use artificial means to indi­cate whether our designatum is the object itself or our apprehension of that object.”

Vātsyāyana's interpretation of perception leaves several points unexplained and leads to many other problems. However, according to Matilal, Vātsyāyana can be seen as the first philosopher to make a distinction between conception and its phonological realization—but it is possible that Vātsyāyana was reporting on the ideas developed by an earlier philosopher.

On the Ignorance of Philosophical Movements

Riding on top of a Titanic to catch a few small fish makes no sense. But that is what the philosophical movements in the last 250 years have been doing. They attract a flock of ignorant and dumb devotees by promising a Titanic-sized philosophical experience, but in the end all they deliver is a cult that sustains itself by rationing a few small fish. There has never been a philosophical movement that has captured the imagination of the intelligent and original thinkers—they are enthused only by the good philosophies and, as a rule, they keep away from movements. It is the ignorant and dumb people who waste their time on movements.

Monday, September 23, 2019

On the New Truths and the Old Truths

There are two ways by which knowledge can be acquired: first, by discovering new truths; second, by rediscovering the old truths.

A nation that focuses on solely the new truths will never have peace and stability—it will be rocked by revolutions and counter-revolutions. On the other hand, a nation that is devoted solely to the old truths will also not fare well—its politics will become disconnected from the present as the politicians and the intellectuals will fall into clutches of the genie from the past, or the baggage of history; such a nation will face the risk of being ripped apart by a civil war over historical issues.

A nation must strive to strike a judicious balance between the new truths and the old truths. There is progress and stability when the new truths and the old truths march hand in hand.

Being Fashionable is Bad for a Philosophy

When a philosophy becomes fashionable, it is a sign that it has peaked—at this point, it dies.

This is because a fashionable philosophy is a magnet for dumb people who are bad at philosophizing but are quite good at creating controversies and conflicts which will drive away the good scholars. This leads to a decline in the school’s intellectual and moral standards, and eventually makes it irrelevant. The schools that survive and thrive are those that are backed by a significant body of work dealing with problems which are complicated enough to keep the good scholars enthused while intimidating the dumb people so that they keep away.

My point is that writing in a complicated, or esoteric style, which is accessible only to the competent scholars, is a necessary condition for the survival of a philosophy.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

On The Religious Status of the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover

I have posted a number of times on John Herman Randall, Jr.’s book Aristotle—but here’s one more post, which I think will be my last on this topic. I believe that Randall has written his book with two purposes in mind—first to explicate Aristotle’s philosophy, and second to destroy Thomas Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle (and basically the entire medieval tradition of Aristotelianism). This is especially apparent from his severe attacks on Aquinas for his view that Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover must be identified with the God of religion.

Randall notes that motion is eternal—you can trace a “particular” motion to the one that has caused it, but there was never a time when motion began. Like time itself, motion has no beginning. He sees the Unmoved Mover as both the final and the formal cause of motion. He writes, “The Unmoved Mover has nothing whatever to do with any “creator” of motion, any “beginner” of “initiator” of motion—with any “first cause” in any temporal sense of “first.” It is a logical explanation, not a physical cause, a natural law, not a force.”

He insists that the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover must not be identified with God of any religion. “It is not even the eternal “sustainer of the world, in a Neoplatonic sense; for to Aristotle, the world does not need to be sustained, it needs rather to be explained and understood.” He asserts that Aquinas was indulging in double talk when he identified Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover with the God of religion. But in one passage, he accepts that the early Aristotle did attach a religious significance to the Unmoved Mover: “Of course, it appears that the early, Platonistic Aristotle, who presumably set down Book Lambda, did attach religious feeling to the ultimate postulate of his cosmological theory, to his ultimate principle of explanation for the world of processes.”

Randall goes on to note that the mature Aristotle had no interest in religious thinking. “The one thing the mature Aristotle did not understand and apparently had no interest in investigating, was religion. This makes the use of his thought by the great medieval traditions as a religious apologetic seem a colossal irony.”


On John Herman Randall’s Atheistic Aristotelianism

Randall’s Doubts About Aquinas

Aristotle’s Philosophy Is Not Closed, But Open