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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

On Einstein’s Formula E = MC2

Albert Einstein (1921)
Albert Einstein’s 1905 paper on the theory of relativity is a great intellectual achievement of all time. The paper contains several landmark ideas, including the famous formula E = MC2, which established for the first time that there is a direct relationship between energy and mass—all the mass in the universe is condensed energy, and all the energy in the universe is potential mass.

But E = MC2 is not a mathematical formula. Einstein did not propose it with the purpose of calculating the exact amount of energy that is released when mass is converted into energy. His aim was limited to asserting that there is a relationship between energy and mass.

In his book E = MC2: The Biography of the World’s Most Famous Formula, David Bodanis describes the origin of E = MC2 and how it has transformed our view of the universe. He notes in several chapters that E = MC2 is not a formula for computation. Here’s an excerpt from page 26:
A good computation is not simply a formula for computation. Nor is it a balance scale confirming that two terms you suspected were nearly equal really are the same. Instead, scientists started using the = symbol as something of a telescope for new ideas—a device for directing attention to fresh, unsuspecting realms. Equations simply happen to be written in symbols instead of words.  
This is how Einstein used the “=“ in his 1905 equation [E = MC2] as well. The Victorians had thought they’d found all possible sources of energy they were: chemical energy, heat energy, magnetic energy, and the rest. But by 1905 Einstein could say, No, there is another place you can look where you’ll find more. His equation was like a telescope to lead there, but the hiding place wasn’t far away in outer space. It was down here—it had been right in front of his professors all along.  
He found this vast energy source in the one place where no one had thought of looking. It was hiding away in solid matter itself. 
E = MC2 is a great intellectual achievement, but the point is that it is not used by people working in the nuclear industry to compute the yield of their nuclear reactors.

A Case Against Philosophical Movements

A philosophical movement that dares to claim that it is the voice of reason, individualism, and liberty only succeeds in offering its followers a range of ways for embracing irrationality, collectivism, and servitude. Where there is an organized movement, there is no possibility of good philosophy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Avogadro Number and Philosophy

Galaxy M81
There are two ways by which we can approach philosophy: the big picture approach and the deep insight approach. The big picture approach takes a holistic view of philosophy—it seeks to draw broad inferences on man’s nature and his place in the universe. The deep insight approach entails a dive into the philosophical treatises to conduct an examination of the philosophical arguments.

To develop a philosophical view of the world it is necessary to have a mixture of both the approaches—a holistic view of philosophy should go hand in hand with the knowledge of the arguments on which the philosophy is built.

The big picture approach and the deep insight approach are also relevant to the world of science. You can look at the universe as a whole, or you can approach it through the smallest entities (the atoms) from which everything in the universe is constituted. One of the big numbers that we encounter while taking the universe as a whole approach is the age of the universe—scientists believe that the universe is around 15 billion years old or 15 X 109 years old. In approaching the universe through the atoms, we encounter the  Avogadro Number which relates to the number of atoms in one mole (one gram) of an element; by definition, it is exactly 6.02214076×1023.

The Avogadro Number (6.02214076×1023) is much greater than the age of the universe (15 X 109 years). Even if we calculate the age of the universe in days, minutes, or even in seconds, we get numbers that are much smaller than the  Avogadro Number. What does this tell us? The possibilities for knowledge when we conduct an examination of the smallest of the small things is as great as the possibilities that are there when we study the universe as a whole. In philosophy the examination of the basic arguments can never end, because the possibilities for finding new implications of these arguments is endless, and the discovery of new answers always leads to the rise of several new questions.

On Lifelong Members of Philosophical Movements

Being the lifelong member of a philosophical movement is not a sign of genuine interest in philosophy—it is a sign of contempt for it. The lifelong members of a philosophical movement are not interested in discovering the philosophical truth; they seldom do any in-depth study of philosophy; their aim is to be the loyal devotees of their movement.

Loyalty to the movement and its leaders, and not to philosophical knowledge and creativity, is for them the highest achievement. To them philosophy starts and ends with the teachings of the leaders of their movement—defending their movement against the attacks of those who are not a part of it is their favorite pastime.

The philosophical views of such people cannot be taken seriously—they are like the bureaucrats who after working for several years in a particular government department become more loyal to their department than to their nation.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Modern Man is Anti-Darwinian

The modern man is the Darwinian’s worst nightmare. The Darwinian theory preaches that all forms of life are practical and serious—that the actions of all creatures are motivated by the overarching aim of ensuring the survival of their species.

But the modern man is impractical and unserious—he is extravagant and wasteful. To him, the luxuries are more necessary than the necessities. His focus is on movies, music, dancing, painting, fashionable clothes, bigger house, and faster vehicles. Sex for him is an end in itself; procreation, or survival of his species, is the least of his concern. Contraception and termination of unwanted pregnancies is a common feature of the modern way of life—the modern man is the only creature that tries to hinder procreation. He does not mind putting his life at risk by his unhealthy eating and drinking habits. He is playful, superfluous, and frivolous. He is often lazy and avoids exercise.

It is evident that modern man’s way of life is not in conformity with Darwinian logic. If the Darwinian theory of evolution is correct (I have some doubts about it), then what is the future of an impractical, unserious, extravagant, and wasteful creature like man?

A Pessimistic Nation is a Failed Nation

When the national discourse becomes focused on the magnitude of the imminent disasters and the sacrifices that must be made to prevent these disasters from happening, then it is certain that the nation has lost the confidence in itself and it is all set to fail. A successful nation is an optimist and confident nation—it is a nation in which the discourse is focused on the great achievements that its people will make in the times to come, and the ease with which they will overcome every problem that they face on their way to a better future.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

On Kant’s Moral Theory

Immanuel Kant’s deontological moral theory is more superior and convincing than the utilitarianism inspired theories which claim that something is right because it achieves good or desirable outcomes, and the virtue ethics theories which emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy. Central to Kant’s moral theory is the idea that there are moral percepts whose imperative is absolute, which means that a given action is right or wrong under all circumstances.

Kant granted only a limited acceptance to the empiricist view of the natural dimensions of human life, because he thought that in addition to being bound by the laws of nature, human beings are also rational beings whose actions are governed by their sense of reason. He posits that in addition to occupying the natural dimension, the human beings occupy, what he calls, the intelligible realm. In this intelligible realm, reason is the guide for action—here we don’t understand events by their physical causes but by examining the reasons.

If our physical nature were the sole determinant of our actions, then our actions would be reactions. By proposing the idea that the will is autonomous, Kant ensures that moral judgements are applicable to actions. There can be no scientific proof of the autonomy of the will, or our freedom, because freedom is a concept that is reached through our intuitive awareness of the moral law. The concept of freedom is based on reason; it is not a scientific proof. We are morally autonomous by virtue of being rational and not because of our physical condition.

In Kant’s philosophy, there are two kinds of reasons for acting in one way or other: hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives. A hypothetical imperative is based on inclination or desire—Kant says that it represents "the practical necessity of a possible action as means to something else that is willed (or at least which one might possibly will).” A categorical imperative is based on reason; not tied to any inclination or desire, it has its own moral authority—Kant says it represents "an action as objectively necessary in itself apart from its relation to a further end.”

The categorical imperative is controversial because several scholars are of the view that it can be misused to commit all kinds of monstrous acts. It has been suggested that a dictator may invoke the categorical imperative to justify the execution of his political opponents. But this view is based on a misunderstanding of the Kantian argument. Any vile end, like that of a dictator ordering the execution of his opponents, is tied to personal inclinations and desires, and hence it cannot be seen as categorical; it should be seen as hypothetical.

There are enough provisions in the Kantian moral theory to rule out vile acts being justified as a categorical imperative or universal law. For instance, Kant posits this version of the categorical imperative, “Man is never merely a means to an end, but always an end unto himself.” This means that Kant’s theory disallows the use of another person as a means or tool for the achievement of any end—to do so would be tantamount to denying that person the moral autonomy on the basis which we pass moral judgements, and it would also mean that you qualify for the same treatment.

On a Philosopher’s Digestive System

To be a good philosopher a man must be omnivorous and he must possess a robust digestive system. This is because for developing a good philosophy, it is necessary to pick up ideas from several present and past resources—a man has to understand the ideas, judge them, examine the context in which they were developed, and finally he must digest them. The domain of philosophy is unsuitable for the snowflakes with a weak digestive system who tend to throw up if they catch a whiff of ideas that are not in line with their view of the world.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Art Predates Written Language

Paleolithic cave painting of bisons
in Altamira cave, Spain
The intriguing thing about mankind is that art has originated tens of thousand of years before the development of written language.

Human beings have been making cave paintings since the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 years ago. Several cave paintings have been discovered in Europe, Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia. The diversity of locations in which these cave paintings have been discovered indicates that artists, who were living in tribal societies in different parts of the world and could not have had any communication with each other, were for unknown reasons struck by a passion for painting in approximately the same period of time and they gave birth to cave art.

The origin of written language, on the other hand, is a relatively recent phenomena. Archeologists have found evidence which indicates that the art of writing was developed between 6000 and 3500 years ago in Ancient Sumer (in Mesopotamia), the Indus Valley Civilization (in the northwestern regions of South Asia), Easter Island, and Central Europe and Southeastern Europe. Some of these ancient writings on clay tablets, which have been deciphered by archaeologists, contain information related to signs, maps, and mathematical data on the transactions of traders or government officials. The kind of written language that can enable writers to compose stories, poems, and philosophical texts came into being only in the last 3000 years.

Why does human art predate human written language by almost 37000 years? The archaeologists and historians are unable to provide a definite answer to this question. But the primordial nature of art proves one important point—man was an artistic animal tens of thousands of years before he became a rational animal. To have rational thoughts a man needs a minimum level of vocabulary; languages with sufficiently large number of words were developed in the last 3000 years—before that man could not have been a rational animal and yet he was an artist.

The Origin of Pseudo-Problems

The problems for which there are no solutions play a greater role in determining the fate of a nation, than the problems for which there are definite solutions. This is because the intellectuals and politicians are not interested in dealing with the problems for which the solutions are readily available; they understand that political power comes from squandering their nation’s resources on problems for which there are no solutions. If such intractable problems do not exist, then they do their best to create imaginary ones—and this is the root cause of all the pseudo-problems that most modern nations are plagued with. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

On The Philosophy and Science of Atoms

Helium atom ground state
In my post, “On The Nature of Philosophy,” I look at the basic difference between the domains of philosophy and science. The difference between the two domains is best elucidated by examining the way in which our knowledge of atoms has evolved in the last 2500 years.

The Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus of Abdera (460 BC — 370 BC) is the first thinker to try to explain the nature of the universe by noting that everything is composed from constantly moving and unchangeable atoms of different sizes and shapes. He wrote, “The only existing things are atoms and empty space; all else is mere opinion.”

However, Democritus’s atomic theory is not an explanation of the atomic structure of matter in the sense of modern science. His observations were purely philosophical—his aim was to articulate a materialistic doctrine. His atomic theory was not popular in Ancient Greece; only one school, that of Epicurus, adopted it. Aristotle’s theory that everything in the universe is made out of four elements of fire, earth, air, and water proved to be a much more popular doctrine. Democritus’s theory was forgotten by the end of the Ancient Roman Empire, while Aristotle’s theory remained the accepted explanation for everything in the universe for more than 2000 years.

In the 17th century, the concept of atoms was used by Robert Boyle, in his work on chemistry, and by Newton, in his work on optics, but the first “scientific” effort to investigate the existence and nature of atoms was made in the 18th century by the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier, who was trying to find out why things burn. During the course of his experiments, Lavoisier discovered several chemical substances (elements) which cannot be separated into other chemical substances and he also came to know that burning is a chemical reaction in which oxygen from the air gets combined to other elements.

Building on Lavoisier’s work, John Dalton in the early part of the 19th century noted that all matter in the universe is made out of atoms, which are themselves divisible, and that all atoms in every element are identical and every element has different kinds of atoms. In 1897, J J Thompson discovered that the atoms have negatively charged electrons and well as something with a positive charge. He imagined an atom to be like a watermelon in which the positive charge is spread across a large sphere and the small electrons carrying negative charge are embedded in the body of the sphere.

Ernest Rutherford is responsible for the picture that most people have of atoms—in 1911, he proposed for the atom a structure like the Solar System in which the positive charge remains stationary in the middle while the electrons with negative charge rotate around the positive charge. But Rutherford’s idea of the structure of the atom, like Thompson’s idea, is incorrect. The atom is not shaped like a solar system and the electrons are not moving around the positive charge. Modern scientists believe that the electrons and the positive charge in the atoms are stationary.

The study of atoms has been moving towards the domain of science since the early part of the 19th century, but there is still lot of philosophizing going on to explain the intricate nature of atoms. It may take a couple of centuries for the study of atoms to become fully scientific.

On Philosophers Who Know Too Much

The man who makes the claim that he has a complete knowledge of philosophy has not understood it—such self-proclaimed knowers of complete philosophical truth are ignorant of the nature and scope of philosophy.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On Four Kinds of Tyrants

The intellectual sees his nation as a university with himself as the university president; the artist sees his nation as an asylum, with himself as the asylum’s chief doctor; the politician sees his nation as a concentration camp with himself as the camp’s commander; the crony capitalist sees his nation as a monopoly with himself as the monopoly’s CEO.

The irony is that all four—society as a university, society as an asylum, society as a concentration camp, society as a monopoly—are tyrannies.

They think that only they can maintain the social, cultural, and economic standards—only they can take care of everyone. They look at themselves as their nation’s keeper, but they are everyone’s jail-keeper. A nation that does not know how to prevent its intellectuals, artists, politicians, and businessmen from forming a clique against the masses is doomed.

Individualism and Dictatorship

Individualism in limited measure can be a good thing, but extreme individualism, which may entail the severance of the individual from all traditional forms of collectivism like family, cultural institutions, and nation as a whole, is a recipe for disaster.

A nation is a collectivist enterprise—it cannot survive if it doesn’t offer its people dynamic methods for coming together and cooperating and collaborating to create a better society. The strength of a nation is linked to the dynamism of its systems for collectivism.

When there is rise of individualism and the traditional forms of collectivism get discarded, then new forms of collectivism germinate to fill the space. As they have arisen in a reaction to the extreme individualistic trends in society, these new forms of collectivism will necessarily be totalitarian in nature—they will be geared to crush the individualists.

Therefore an extreme kind of individualism is not good for a country—it can move the country towards dictatorship.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On Intellectuals and the Nation

On the whole, who has a better opinion of mankind—the intellectuals or the normal people? Is an intellectual less of a barbarian than a man with less or no education? The intellectuals talk about the importance of higher education, but there is little evidence to show that higher education can make a man educated or enable him to develop empathy for mankind. The greatest mistakes in any area are mostly made by the intellectuals who are convinced that they possess a great theory—they ignore the fact that they have very little practical experience.

The intellectuals show a consistent tendency to be fooled by pseudo-scientific theories such as global warming, Ozone depletion, etc. They are masters in the art of turning the urgent problems into taboos and focusing their nation’s attention on all sorts of trivialities and non-problems. When intellectuals take charge, they usually enshrine artists of their own calibre and this leads to a steep downfall in the quality of art. Some of the worst political and economic disasters of the last 100 years have happened in nations where a significant part of the population is educated—and the architects of the disasters are always the intellectuals.

From the history of Ancient Rome, and other past civilizations, it is possible to draw the inference that higher the number of intellectuals, the weaker a nation becomes culturally and politically.

On The Nature of Philosophy

Philosophy will not give you the definite truths, because when a definite truth about anything becomes possible, the subject moves out of the domain of philosophy and becomes a science. The aim of philosophy is limited to developing a systemic view of the knowledge that we derive from the sciences and to analyze the nature of our beliefs regarding morality, limitations of knowledge, and the nature of the universe and our place in it.

In the time of Plato and Aristotle, geometry, astronomy, and biology were included in philosophy. Mathematics was included in philosophy till the time of Newton—his book was called Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). The study of atoms was in the domain of philosophy up to the end of the 19th century, and so was the study of mind and human psychology. Some subjects like Quantum Mechanics and the Darwinian Theory of Evolution are too nebulous to involve empirical testing and span across the domains of philosophy and science.

Every domain of knowledge has its beginning in philosophy and it moves into the domain of science after it becomes possible to find definite truths in it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Look at Peikoff’s Essay, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”

Ayn Rand; Immanuel Kant
Leonard Peikoff’s essay, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, edited by Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff; Page 88-121), cannot be taken seriously because it is too polemical and full of false assertions.

Peikoff opens his essay by making the appalling claim that the tenets of “the analytic-synthetic dichotomy” are penetrating our “intellectual atmosphere like  the germs of an epistemological black plague” which spreads “subjectivism and conceptual devastation in its wake.” He goes on to suggest that “it is deadly.” But what black plague is Peikoff talking about? What conceptual devastation? How is it deadly?

People who are not the devotees of Ayn Rand, if they get to read this essay, will feel appalled by the language that Peikoff is using. In this short essay of 33-pages, he rails against several philosophers of the last 3000 years: Pythagoras, Plato, Hobbes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, A. J. Ayer, and Heidegger. He does not examine the actual sayings of these philosopher—he simply asserts that they are responsible for everything that has gone wrong in the world. And then he lavishes Ayn Rand with a surfeit of praise for coming up with ideas that he thinks will save the world. This essay is an example of "boy scout" philosophy.

Bulk of Peikoff's criticism is focused on the philosopher that Ayn Rand regarded as the greatest monster in the history of mankind—Immanuel Kant. Rand never read Kant, she had no interest in Kantian ideas, and she never made any effort to understand Kant, but she made it her business to hurl one or two line accusations against him every now and then. Peikoff claims that the analytic-synthetic dichotomy has originated in the Platonic theory of universals (theory of forms) and has been endorsed in some form or other by every past philosophical tradition, and that the writings of Kant were responsible for enhancing the pernicious powers of the dichotomy.

He writes, “The moderns represent a logical, consistent development from Kant’s premises. They represent Kant plus choice—a voluntaristic Kantianism, a whim-worshipping Kantianism. Kant marked the cards and made reason an agent of distortion. The moderns are playing with the same deck; their contribution is to play it deuces wild, besides.” These are ridiculous claims. Peikoff is accusing Kant of things that have nothing to do with Kant. In the final sentence of his essay, Peikoff asserts that the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is a death carrier. But who has died by it? What is Peikoff’s essay about: a philosophical idea or a ninja assassin?

The truth is that Kant has never talked about any analytic-synthetic dichotomy in his first Critique. (I don't know of any philosopher who has called it a dichotomy—they use the word “distinction”; only the devotees of Rand call it dichotomy). It is not Kant’s concern to provide a serious and positive account of the analytic statements. His interest is only in the “synthetic statements,” and his argument is that even the most elementary examples, like the mathematical analytic statements, can be proved to be synthetic. For instance, consider the equation, 2 + 3 = 5—Kant says that this equation can be seen as synthetic because the concept “5” is not contained in the concepts “2” and “3”.

Kant was reacting to Hume’s statement that no “synthetic” propositions can be known to be true a priori, only “analytic” ones—Hume believed that synthetic propositions can be proved to be true only through experience. Kant’s objective is to show that Hume’s contention regarding synthetic propositions is incorrect, because synthetic propositions can also be a priori. He refutes Hume by using his theory of pure intuitions and pure categories of experience (which I discussed in my yesterday’s post). Here’s a short account of Kant’s arguments for refuting Hume:

Kant begins by noting that all our experiences are within the intuited framework of space and time. Then he notes that the claims of our knowledge have to match with the pure categories of experience (quality, quantity, etc.). But this means that every empirical statement that we make must have some properties that can be established a priori. This leads us to the conclusion that we can make synthetic statements whose truth is known a priori; for instance, “All our experiences take place in space and time.”

It is clear that Kant is not after creating a dichotomy between the analytic and synthetic statements—he is trying to develop a unity between them. Peikoff’s claim that Kant was the originator of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is without any basis.

On “Chosen People” and Their Utopia

Most cultures are grounded in the ideas of “chosen people” and “utopia,” but from where do these ideas come from? The ancient philosophers and politicians were the inventors of these ideas. They invented the myth of “chosen people” and “utopia” to motivate their people into dedicating their lives to the cause of achieving certain political and cultural goals. Once people are convinced that they are “god’s chosen ones,” and that they are destined to reach the “heavenly utopia,” then they will make great efforts and face all kinds of risks and hardships for the achievement of any goal.

In modern times, the idea of “chosen people” and “utopia” has been used with devastating effect by several “atheistic” political movements. Lenin created his Soviet Empire on back of his followers who were brainwashed into believing that they are the “chosen people” and they will be the first to enter the new Marxist utopia. Mao used a similar strategy in China, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and other communist leaders in their own country. Even philosophical movements like Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism and Ayn Rand’s objectivism have used the ideas of “chosen people” and “utopia” in their own way to motivate followers.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Kant on Pure Intuitions and Pure Categories of Understanding

Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant accepts David Hume’s view that all knowledge arises from experience, but he goes on to note that it is wrong to say that because our knowledge arises from experience, it is grounded in experience. In his theory of causal concepts, Hume posits that we know that X is the cause of Y when from our experience we see that X and Y are together. In Kant’s philosophy, the cognitive holdings that are not the result of experience, or are non-empirical, are referred to as “pure.”

In his A Critique of Pure Reason, Kant conducts a critical examination of the forms of rationality that are non-empirical (or not based on experience) and whose purpose is to create the framework in which all experience can become possible. Kant notes that without the intuitions of “time” and “space” experience is not possible. From here he goes on to develop the concept of pure intuitions of “time” and “space.” In Kantian terminology, an intuition is a necessary precondition for any form of experiential knowledge to develop. It would be illogical to say that this precondition is developed after the experience—it has to be prior to all experience (Kant calls it a priori), or there will be no experience.

To prove his point that knowledge can be said to arise out of experience but may not be grounded in experience, Kant offers a view of the framework of all knowledge (in his “Analytic of Concepts”). He says that every instance of knowledge involves a judgement which is formed within a universal categorical framework that includes entities that could not have come from experience. He offers twelve pure concepts, or “Pure Categories of the Understanding,” which are divided into four categories of three. He says that these categories of understanding could not have come from experience and would admit no exceptions. The categories are:

Quantity: Unity, Plurality, Totality
Quality: Reality, Negation, Limitation
Relation: Inherence and Subsistence, Causality and Dependence, Community
Modality: Possibility, Existence, Necessity

According to Kant, these categories are the necessary conditions for knowledge of anything in the universe. He sees the pure intuitions as the necessary forms of experience, and the pure categories as the necessary forms of knowledge.

On Capitalist Nationalism and Communist Globalism

In capitalist nations there are several movements dedicated to promoting nationalism but they fail to save their culture from being globalized. The communist nations take extreme steps to crush nationalism and promote internationalism but they end up making their nation a hotbed of nationalist sentiments which one day takes centerstage and rips the communist regime apart.

The strongest nationalist movements in Europe can be found in the nations that were once a part of the former Soviet Union: Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Estonia, Bulgaria, and others. The free nations of Europe are mostly globalized; they shun nationalism and have contempt for their own culture: France, England, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and others.

The paradox is that capitalism leads to globalism and communism leads to nationalism. This is because people understand the importance of something only after it has been denied to them. By trying to crush nationalism, the communists inspire a longing for it. The importance of nationalism is best understood by those who have the experience of living under communism.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

On Dogmatic Philosophical Movements

The dogmatic philosophical movements are often lacking in good manners because they see every disagreement and incorrect statement as a sign of a moral failing. Here’s a perspective from Eric Hoffer (from an entry in his diary on June 16, 1958):
Good manners are inconceivable without a degree of objectivity, and the give and take of compromise. He who clings with all his might to an absolute truth fears compromise more than the devil. He throttles the soft amenities which would dovetail him with others, and blur his uncompromising stance. Thus it happens that when a faith loses its potency rudeness often serves as a substitute. 
There is nothing worse than a philosophical movement that is motivated by petty moralism and expects total conformity with its ideas.

The Experts Deliver the Worst Results

If you start a political or philosophical movement, or even a business enterprise, by picking up a team consisting of people who are regarded as the most celebrated and talented experts in a particular field, then your venture is likely to fail. The most celebrated and talented “experts" generally deliver the worst results. History of the successful movements and business enterprises in the last 250 years shows that only those movements and enterprises succeed which are being managed by people of normal talent, great conviction, and capacity for hard work. The road to hell is generally the handiwork of men with great expertise and talent.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

On the Irrationality of “Total Freedom” and “Total Justice”

The libertarians demand “total freedom” and the social justice warriors demand “total justice”. Their demands are based on their flawed view of freedom and justice.

There is nothing called “total freedom” because human beings can have a good life only within the framework of a free society, which must have some form of authority to maintain law and order. The libertarians think that a free society should be free from all forms of authority. They don’t accept that without any authority a society will sink into chaos and anarchy, and that freedom can only exist in a society where there is rule of law.

If you remove all forms of authority and restrictions, then you make freedom an “evil” thing which breeds insecurity, crime, and corruption. One of the reasons why libertarianism does not have any mass appeal is because most people despise the libertarian idea of freedom—they fear that it is a recipe for lawlessness and will lead to a destruction of their way of life.

For the social justice warriors, “total justice” means total equality—they proclaim that everyone must have the same income and opportunities. But their attempts to create an “equal” society has led to multiplication of grievances and a rise in discord between communities. The war on poverty has created more poverty; the war on racial inequality has led to rise in racial tensions.

Since they became active in the 1960s, the libertarians have caused irreparable damage to the idea of “freedom” by propagating their illogical conception of what is “freedom” and how it can be achieved. The campaign for social justice warriors took off during the 1960s and it too has caused grave damage to the idea of justice. I see the libertarians and the social justice warriors not as friends of free society but its wreckers.

In Defense of Nationalism

The intellectuals are debunking and decrying nationalism, but I believe that, in the present state of the world, nationalism is the only force that stands between civilization and chaos. I believe that nationalism will prove to be a decisive factor in cultural and economic revival.

If you take out the nationalist forces, then the political space becomes a monopoly of the corrupt and authoritarian liberals and leftists who want to impose their vision of a perfect society or utopia on everyone. But you can’t create a utopia without having a totalitarian system of governance—you can’t create a utopia without terror. A society dominated by the liberals and leftists will quickly become as bad as the former Soviet Union.

Only the nationalists have the mass-appeal to counter the political propaganda of the liberals and leftists. For the time being, they have to be supported.

Friday, August 9, 2019

What Kind of People Join Cults?

The notion that only the ignorant and foolish join cults is based on the false belief that high intelligence and cultism are antagonistic to each other. The truth is that the intelligent rush in where the ignorant fear to tread.

Look at the modern libertarian movement—this movement has been operating for more than 100 years in most advanced democracies and is being led by very intelligent and educated people. The libertarian movement is unique in the sense that it has always been under the total domination of scholars with high educational qualification, many of them with PhD’s. But a leadership consisting of highly educated scholars has not saved the libertarian groups from being cultish.

Every libertarian group seems to think that it has found the answers to all the big questions of life; they are convinced that only they have the solutions to the world’s problems—they believe that they must keep spreading their gospel of truth to save the world. They look at politics as a religious mission to spread their gospel. Almost all the practices and tendencies of cults apply to the libertarian movements.

Then there is Ayn Rand—in the 1950s, she started objectivism which is billed as the philosophy of reason and individualism. But the objectivists behave like a tiny but noisy religion and regard Rand as the greatest intellect to have ever lived on this planet. Rand and her key disciples preach that her novel Atlas Shrugged (a work of fiction) is the finest philosophical treatise in the history of mankind. The objectivists are educated and intelligent, but they seem convinced that by dedicating themselves to objectivism, they can do something to save the world.

Even the non-libertarian cults have followers with high intelligence. L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology cult has been endorsed by some of the leading intellectuals and celebrities. Scientology counts among its followers top film stars, bestselling authors, popular journalists, politicians, and philosophers, and successful businessmen. Nazism and Bolshevism (Lenin’s Marxist movement) too have all the characteristics of a cult and in the first half of the 20th century they were being supported by a multitude of highly educated people, many of them with PhD’s.

An examination of the cultish movements of the last 120 years shows that it is the so-called "intelligent" sections of the population who tend to become fanatical members of cults.

On the Military and Ideological Battles

The capitalist nations tend to underestimate their military strength and overestimate their ideological strength. The communist and theocratic nations tend to overestimate their military strength and underestimate their ideological strength. When a capitalist nation collides in the battlefield with a communist or theocratic nation, it generally achieves a quick military victory but its culture becomes corrupted with communist or theocratic ideas and in a few years it starts resembling the enemy that it has defeated in the battlefield. The capitalist nations mostly win the military battles, and the communist and theocratic nations mostly win the ideological battles.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On Gorgias the Sophist

The philosopher Gorgias (483—375 B.C.E.) is regarded as one of the founders of the Sophist tradition in Ancient Greece. A native of Leontinoi in Sicily, Gorgias arrived in Athens in 427 B.C.E., when he was around 60 years old, as an ambassador seeking military assistance against the aggression of the Syracusans. He was soon able to win the admiration of the Athenians by his brilliant speeches and upon the completion of mission, he travelled throughout Greece, making a fortune by teaching students the art of speaking persuasively, and applying rhetoric to civic and political life.

In his the Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle notes that Gorgias was the main speaker at the Panhellenic festivals. In his dialogue named after Gorgias, the Gorgias, Plato portrays him as an eminent Greek sophist. Plato attacks Gorgias (through Socrates) by pointing out that the sophists, in practice of their art, ignore the criteria of truth and justice. Socrates says, rhetoric is "designed to produce conviction, but not educate people, about matters of right or wrong.” Gorgias accepts that he is imparting his students the training for speaking persuasively; he is not teaching them virtue. The dialogue ends with Socrates narrating a mythological story which affirms that the soul survives the body after death and is the recipient of the punishment or reward in the afterlife. The sophists regard the story as false, while Socrates regards it as true.

Two of Gorgias’s speeches that have survived—the Encomium of Helen and the Defense of Palamedes—offer examples of his style. The Encomium of Helen is a serious attempt to defend Helen of Troy by arguing against a well-established opinion that she was an adulteress who led to the Trojan war by eloping with Paris. Gorgias argues that Helen cannot be blamed for the choices that she made because she may have succumbed to physical force (Paris may have abducted her), or she may have succumbed to her love for Paris (eros), or she may have been persuaded by arguments (logos). This speech is also seen as a hymn to the power of persuasion.

In the Defense of Palamedes, Gorgias argues against the established opinion of his time by defending Palamedes. In the Odyssey, Odysseus tries to avoid serving in the expedition to Troy by pretending that he has one mad, but Palamedes reveals that Odysseus’s madness is a fiction. Odysseus does not forgive Palamedes for exposing him, and when they reach Troy he accuses Palamedes of treason. Palamedes is found guilty on the basis of the false evidence that Odysseus has planted and is executed by the army. Gorgias uses a set of arguments, all of which depend on probability, to exonerate Palamedes. He notes that Palamedes could not have committed treason because he speaks only Greek and no Greek seeks social power among barbarians.

On The Narcissistic Libertarians

When you love someone you do not notice her or his imperfections, and this applies to self-love or narcissism too. The libertarians are narcissistic—they are in love with their own good looks, good mind, and good theories. That is why they fail to notice the imperfections in their attitude and work.

They want to make history, but they have no sense of history. They want to transform culture, but they have no sense of culture. They want to attain political power, but their understanding of the political situation is abysmal. They claim to stand for liberty, but most libertarian groups are cultist. They clamor for reform, but they don’t understand that the result of reform is often the opposite of what the reformers had in mind. They won’t accept that there are political and cultural problems for which there are no viable solutions.

The only area in which the work of some libertarians can be taken seriously is economic theory, but the world does not move by economics alone.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

From Plato to Plotinus

A bust of Plotinus
Plotinus is probably the most important philosopher in the 700-year period between Aristotle and Augustine of Hippo. Much of what we know about him comes from the biography The Life of Plotinus, written by his disciple Porphyry, who was a major philosopher in his own right. We know that Plotinus was born in Lycopolis, Egypt, in A.D. 205, but it is not clear if he was a Greek or a member of a Hellenized Egyptian family.

Plotinus decided to become a philosopher in his 28th year—what he used to do before that is not known. His quest for philosophical knowledge brought him to Alexandria where he studied under a teacher called Ammonius Saccas for eleven years. Little is known about Ammonius own philosophical views, but he encouraged Plotinus to study Plato. In 243, Plotinus, aspiring to study Persian and Indian philosophy, attached himself to the expedition of Emperor Gordian III to Persia. But when the expedition got aborted, with the assassination of Gordian by his troops, Plotinus abandoned his plans and established himself in Rome in 245, where he lived till his death in 270 or 271.

According to Porphyry, for ten years Plotinus didn’t write anything himself—he devoted himself to lecturing on the philosophy that he had learned from his master Ammonius. After that he began setting down his thoughts in a series of "treatises" of various lengths and complexity. Porphyry arranged Plotinus’s treatises into six groups of nine each—which got the title Enneads, because in Greek “enneads” means nine. Porphyry offers an astonishing information about Plotinus—he notes that due to his poor eyesight, Plotinus never revised anything he wrote.

Plotinus thought of himself as a disciple of Plato. Today he is regarded as the founder of "Neoplatonism," but he would have preferred the label "Platonism" for his work. His philosophy was devoted to responding to Plato's critics (this includes Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics, and various lesser figures) and elucidating the wisdom of Plato.

On The Doctrine of Certain Progress

The idea that progress is certain and the future will be brighter, happier, and more enlightened is the most catastrophic doctrine developed by modern philosophers. The totalitarian movements of the 20th century were fueled by the idea that progress is certain and that a bright and happy utopia or heaven can be created on earth. The progressive movements in our times continue to be inspired by the idea of certain progress.

What kind of place will your country be in 10 years? This question routinely comes to the mind. Here’s one way (the realist way) of answering it: look at the state of society and identify the major problems; now try to visualize how your society will be if all these problems get multiplied by 100—this can be the one possible future. Progress is never certain and no one can predict if the future will be better or worse than the past.

The idea of certain progress is a trap designed to delude people into supporting totalitarian and progressive movements.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

On Philosophers and Their “Best” Students

The most baffling line in Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand comes at the end of his Preface to the book: “To be objective, I identify the status of my work as follows: this book is the definitive statement of Ayn Rand’s philosophy—as interpreted by her best student and chosen heir.” But why did Peikoff have to boast in the Preface that he was Rand’s “best student,” and “chosen heir”? What did he expect to achieve by making such a boast? Did he really believe that people will take him and his book seriously if he declares that he is Rand’s “best student,” and “chosen heir”?

There is no connection between being a best student and a good philosopher. History of philosophy shows that it’s the “rebellious students” (the ones who disagree with their master on several issues) who often go one to prove themselves to be the inheritors of their master’s legacy.

We can consider the example of Plato and Aristotle. In his final years, Plato was disenchanted with Aristotle. He thought that Aristotle had moved away from Platonic teachings. Diogenes Laertius attributes this line to Plato, “Aristotle spurns me, as colts kick the mother who bore them.” When Plato died, Aristotle was denied the position of the scholarch of Plato’s Academy—and he went on to found his own rival school. He refuted many of the key ideas of Plato. But the world today recognizes Aristotle as the “best student” of Plato.

Even Plato, in the final years of his life, turned against his master Socrates. In his last dialogue the Laws, Plato rejects virtually everything that Socrates has preached in the Republic. He presents a version of the ideal state in which there is no Socratic philosopher king.

The schools in Ancient Greece (and in Ancient Ionia) used to encourage students to constructively criticize their master's teachings—they were tolerant of new ideas and logic. The ideas of Thales, the first philosopher of the Greek-Ionian tradition, were comprehensively refuted by his best student, Anaximander. Many ideas of Anaximander were in turn refuted by his own best student Anaximenes. Even in modern times, we find that almost every major philosopher has been refuted by his best students. How many good students of Immanuel Kant remained loyal to all his ideas? None. How many good students of Hegel remained loyal to all his ideas? None.