Saturday, March 31, 2018

John Locke on the Pursuit of Happiness

Portrait of John Locke 
John Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, says that the greatest good for man is to realize himself as an intelligent being. He relates happiness with the “highest perfection of the intellectual nature” and “our greatest good.” He says that by being good and happy we establish the “necessary foundation of our liberty.” His idea is clearly reminiscent of the Epicurean philosophers.

Here’s an excerpt from Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Chapter 21: “Of Power”):
"The necessity of pursuing true happiness [is] the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action, and from a necessary compliance with our desire, set upon any particular, and then appearing preferable good, till we have duly examined whether it has a tendency to, or be inconsistent with, our real happiness: and therefore, till we are as much informed upon this inquiry as the weight of the matter, and the nature of the case demands, we are, by the necessity of preferring and pursuing true happiness as our greatest good, obliged to suspend the satisfaction of our desires in particular cases.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Epicurus and The Pursuit of Happiness

Marble bust of Epicurus
Matthew Stewart in Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic argues that Epicurean philosophy is the fountainhead of the idea that virtue is happiness and that a man is free to pursue happiness. Here's an excerpt from the book (Chapter 6: “The Pursuit of Happiness”):
Virtue is happiness in this world. The pursuit of happiness is the animating force of the Epicurean philosophy, just as it is the animating force of Epicurean humankind. Every other doctrine that Epicurus produced, from theology to the philosophy of mind, is provisional and in a way unserious, inasmuch as all ultimately answer to the teachings of his ethics, that happiness is the only point of life. Behind the lifestyle teachings that glosses its surface, nonetheless, Epicurean ethics is at bottom an attempt to apply the guiding principle of philosophy to the question of how one may live.  
Epicurean ethics begins in a formal sense with the doctrine that pleasure is the only true good and pain is the only true evil. This claim generally goes under the name of “hedonism” — from the Greek word “hedon,” meaning pleasure—though that label is often the source of more misunderstanding than insight. The common view, abetted by Epicurus’s enemies in the early Christian church, falsely construes Epicurus’s hedonism as the claim that we should gratify our immediate sensual desires at the expense of all other goods. It is on this account that the term “epicurean” remains even today a synonym for “sybaritic,” “decadent,” or just “scrumptious.” Yet those who trouble themselves to look beyond his unearned reputation—as Diderot, for example, did—soon discover that Epicurus’s  idea of the good life is one of moderate, sociable, and rather ascetic virtue. While Epicureanism is everywhere associated with fine wines and fatty foods, its founding philosopher lived on a diet of plain salads and fruits. “A man’s great wealth is to live sparingly with a tranquil mind,” says Lucretius; “for there is never a shortage of little.” While hedonism is usually thought to be a selfish creed, Epicurus was famous for the value he played on friendship. “You should be more concerned about whom you eat and drink with than what you eat and drink,” says Epicurus. It is “more pleasurable to confer a benefit than to receive one.”  
The point of Epicurus’s hedonism is not that pleasure is the highest or best good, but that it is the only conceivable good. The distinctive feature of Epicurean ethics is not that it rejects those dispositions of character that we typically unite in the idea of virtue—prudence, fortitude, charity, honesty, and so forth—but that it explains and defends them as expressions of pleasure and pain.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Hume on Happiness Through Sharing of Life’s Experiences

An engraving of Hume from the
first volume of his The History of England (1754) 
David Hume believed that human beings have a natural urge to share their feelings, especially their good experiences, with each other. A life in the company of friends is more conducive to happiness than a lonely existence, according to Hume.

Here’s an excerpt from Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature:
In all creatures, that prey not upon others, and are not agitated with violent passions, there appears a remarkable desire of company, which associates them together, without any advantages they can ever propose to reap from their union. This is still more conspicuous in man, as being the creature of the universe, who has the most ardent desire of society, and is fitted for it by the most advantages. We can form no wish, which has not a reference to society. A perfect solitude is, perhaps, the greatest punishment we can suffer. Every pleasure languishes when enjoy’d a-part from company, and every pain becomes more cruel and intolerable. Whatever other passions we may be actuated by; pride, ambition, avarice, curiosity, revenge or lust; the soul or animating principle of them all is sympathy, nor wou’d they have any force, were we to abstract entirely from the thoughts and sentiments of others. Let all the powers and elements of nature conspire to serve and obey one man: Let the sun rise and set at his command: The sea and rivers roll as he pleases, and the earth furnish spontaneously whatever may be useful or agreeable to him: He will still be miserable, till you give him some one person at least, with whom he may share his happiness, and whose esteem and friendship he may enjoy.
In his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume states even more forcefully that a solitary life can be devoid enjoyment:
Reduce a person to solitude, and he loses all enjoyment, except either of the sensual or speculative kind; and that because the movements of his heart are not forwarded by correspondent movements in his fellow-creatures. The signs of sorrow and mourning, though arbitrary, affect us with melancholy; but the natural symptoms, tears and cries and groans, never fail to infuse compassion and uneasiness.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

John Dewey on Aristotle’s Naturalism

John Herman Randall, in his book Aristotle (Chapter: “Science as Right Talking: The Analysis of Discourse”), says that “the relations of the syllogistic instrument of science to the conception of science itself, and to the kind of world in which that instrument functions, are summed up in the following statement” from John Dewey’s article:
Aristotle was above all a naturalist. He asserted that the universal is united with particular existences, binding them together into a permanent whole (the species) and keeping within definite and fixed limits the changes which occur in each particular existence. The species is the true whole of which the particular individuals are the parts, and the essence is the characteristic form. Species fall within a graded order of genera as particular individuals fall within the species. Thinking is the correlate of these relations in nature. It unites and differentiates in judgement as species are united and separated in reality. Valid knowledge or demonstration necessarily takes the form of the syllogism because the syllogism merely expresses the system in which, by means of an intervening essence, individuals are included in species. Definition is the grasp of the essence which marks one species off from another. Classification and division are counterparts of the intrinsic order of nature.
The above text is from John Dewey’s article on “Logic” (published in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, IX, 599). In a footnote on the same page of Aristotle where he offers the excerpt from Dewey’s article, Randall says that he sees a problem in Dewey’s view. Randall writes: “It is doubtful whether Aristotle thought of the universal as “keeping within definite and fixed limits the changes which occur in each particular existence.””

Friday, March 23, 2018

What is Final Causality or Teleology?

Edward Feser, in his book Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (Chapter 2, “Metaphysics”), offers the following explanation for teleology:
“for the Aristotelian, final causation or teleology…is evident wherever some natural object or process has a tendency to produce some particular effect or range of effects. A match, for example, reliably generates heat and flame when struck. and never (say) frost and cold, or the smell of lilacs, or thunder. It inherently “points to” or is “directed towards” this range of effects specifically, and in that way manifests just the sort of end- or goal-directedness characteristic of final causality, even though the match does not (unlike a heart or a carburetor) function as an organic part of a larger system. The same directedness towards a specific effect or range of effects is evident in all causes operative in the natural world. When Aristotelians say that final causality pervades the natural order, then, they are not making the implausible claim that everything has a function of the sort biological organs have, including piles of dirt, iron filings and balls of lint. Rather, they are saying that goal-directedness exists wherever regular cause and effect patterns do.”

Thursday, March 22, 2018

John Locke’s Debt to Spinoza

Spinoza; Locke
When he was accused by the Bishop of Worcester of being a follower of Spinoza, John Locke replied, “I am not so well read in Hobbes or Spinoza to be able to say what were their opinions in this matter.”

But there is evidence to show that Locke, Spinoza’s exact contemporary, acquired Spinoza’s works immediately after their publication and thoroughly studied them. The philosophy that Locke developed was built almost entirely on the foundations of Spinozism.

Locke did not want to acknowledge his debt to Spinoza, because, during those days, Spinozism was seen as a threat to the traditional way of religious and philosophical thinking. The political and intellectual establishment regarded Spinoza with horror; his works were forbidden in Holland, England and several other countries in Europe. Locke knew about the controversies surrounding Spinoza, and for his own safety he wanted to downplay his connection with Spinozism. In fact, Locke published his own political writings anonymously to avoid any personal risk.

Matthew Stewart, in his book Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, devotes several chapters to making the case that the foundational concepts in Locke’s philosophy are in essence a reproduction of Spinoza’s work. He writes: “So-called Lockean liberalism is really just Spinozistic radicalism adapted to the limitations of the common understanding of things.” In another book, The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God in the Modern World, Stewart points out that Leibniz regarded Locke as a feeble imitation of Spinoza.

Stewart can be accused of being too unkind to Locke—in some of the passages it seems he is not taking into account Locke’s full context, and is giving too much credit to Spinoza. But in his two books (the ones that I am mentioning in this post), Stewart offers several sentences from Locke’s writing which closely mirror what Spinoza has written.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nature’s God

Matthew Stewart, in Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, offers an interesting perspective on the religious and philosophical origins of the American revolution. He finds ample evidence of the influence of philosophers like Epicurus, Spinoza and Locke in the writings of Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Paine and other intellectuals.

Considerable attention is given in the book to the work of the two revolutionaries who were also outspoken deists, Ethan Allen and Thomas Young. Stewart’s thesis is that deism, which is a kind of "secular natural religion” inspired by the teachings of Epicurus, Spinoza and Locke, has played a critical role in the birth of America.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 5, “Self-Evident Truths,” in which Stewart is describing the influence of Spinoza and Locke on the development of the concept of freedom:
Spinoza captures most of the implications of these forbiddingly abstract and very counterintuitive ideas with a distinction between “active” and “passive” power. When a physical body acts in a manner that can be entirely employed through internal causes, it is active. When its actions are determined by outside forces (which is to say, when its actions are really reactions), it is passive. An active body is “free” in the sense of being determined to act through its own nature, while a passive body is not self-determined… The next step in Spinoza’s argument amounts to applying this same distinction between active and passive to minds as well as bodies. When the mind acts through ideas that adequately explain itself and its place in the world, it is active. When it acts through inadequate ideas, it is passive. Freedom in this sense is obviously not a binary, take-it-or-leave-it thing like the imaginary “free will”; it necessarily comes in degrees—degrees that match the adequacy of our ideas and range of our consciousness. Locke repeats the distinction between “active” and “passive” and then applies it to “actions of both motion and thinking” in language close enough to Spinoza to raise suspicion of direct borrowing.  
From the analysis that Locke and Spinoza share to this point, it follows that the freedom of mind, properly understood, does not consist in the ability to affirm propositions without reason or cause, as the common view supposes. Rather, freedom is just the power of the understanding itself. To be free it is necessary first to know oneself; and to know oneself it is necessary to first know the world. The absence of freedom, conversely, is just the lack of understanding. There is no such thing as an unfree mind according to this view; there are unfree individuals, but what they lack is a mind. In a formula, radical freedom is rational self-determination. Or, to use the phrase that Jefferson inserted into the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the mind is “created… free.”

Monday, March 19, 2018

Immanuel Kant and The Origins of Modern Aesthetics

The philosophical discipline of aesthetics got its name in 1735 when twenty-one year old German student Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten used the term in his master's dissertation to refer to “a science of how things are to be known by means of the senses.” Baumgarten elaborated his definition of aesthetics in his Metaphysica (1739), and then in Aesthetica (1750).

Immanuel Kant was acquainted with Baumgarten's work. In his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant says that Baumgarten’s aesthetics can never contain objective rules, laws, or principles of natural or artistic beauty. Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s Critique: “The Germans are the only people who presently have come to use the word aesthetic[s] to designate what others call the critique of taste. They are doing so on the basis of a false hope conceived by that superb analyst Baumgarten. He hoped to bring our critical judging of the beautiful under rational principles, and to raise the rules for such judging to the level of a lawful science. That endeavor is futile.”

Kant conformed to Baumgarten's usage of the word “aesthetic” in his Critique of Judgment (1790). With his analysis of aesthetic experience, aesthetic creativity, freedom of imagination, and the connections between the aesthetic and the moral, Kant enriched the field of aesthetics. His work contributed to a rise in importance of aesthetics in the academic practice of philosophy.

Paul Guyer, in his essay, “The Origins of Modern Aesthetics,” (Chapter I, Visions of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics) conducts a review of developments in aesthetics in the 18th century. He holds that the figure of Kant is central to our understanding of aesthetics. Here’s a paragraph from Guyer’s essay in which he is explaining the significant contributions that Kant has made to the modern conception of aesthetics:
Kant’s complex and delicate interpretation of the freedom of the imagination in the experience of beauty can be seen as the summation and synthesis of ideas set forth at the outset of the flowering of modern aesthetics in the first decades of the eighteenth century. Kant transformed the idea of the autonomy of aesthetic response that Hutcheson derived from Shaftesury’s much more limited conception of the disinterestedness of judgements of taste into his basic conception of the free play of the imagination. At the same time, he developed Baumgarten’s conception of the complexity of aesthetic representation into an elaborate conception of the content of art and the symbolic significance of aesthetic response itself into a structure that could make room for Du Bos’s conception of the engagement of the emotions through the imagination and Addison’s idea of our love for images of liberty without sacrificing his guiding ideas of the free play of the imagination. 
According to Guyer, in the post-Kant period several threads in Kant’s fabric of aesthetics became unraveled, and this lead to a dilution in the Kantian aesthetic vision.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Immanuel Kant’s View of Genius

Paul Guyer, in his essay, “Exemplary Originality: Genius, Universality, and Individuality” (Chapter 10, Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics, edited by Paul Guyer) talks about a subject that was of great interest to Immanuel Kant and to Kant’s predecessors and successors, namely genius. Kant’s conception of genius as an instance of exemplary originality is markedly different from that of most other philosophers.

Here’s an excerpt from Guyer’s essay:
At the outset of the eighteenth century, genius was characterized simply as exceptional facility in perception and representation, where the latter is the object of artistic production and the former its precondition. As the century progressed, and as long into the nineteenth century as genius remained a lively topic, it came to be characterized as a gift for invention, leading to originality in artistic representation. But only by a few, whom we might for this reason call philosophical geniuses, were the implications of the new conception of genius fully embraced. Immanuel Kant was the first to recognize that genius, as exemplary originality, would be a stimulus and provocation to continuing revolution in the history of art…
Guyer points out that Kant in his Critique of the Power Judgement defines genius as “the talent (natural gift)” or “inborn productive faculty” “that gives the rule to art,” or more precisely “through which nature gives the rule to art.” Further in the essay, Guyer says:
Analysis of artistic beauty entails that truly successful art must always possess what Kant calls “exemplary originality”: originality, because the successful work of art can never appear to have produced contingency or novelty; yet exemplary, because it must at the same time strike us as pleasing in a way that should be valid for all. Originality by itself, to be sure, is easy to achieve: just make something that departs from all known rules and models. Of course, in this way a lot of nonsense will be produced, so what Kant calls “original nonsense” is easy to come by. The trick is to produce exemplary originality, objects which, “while not themselves the result of imitation… must yet serve others in that way, i.e., as a standard for judging,” or objects that strike us as original in appearing to depart from known rules and models but which can themselves be pleasing to all or a rule for all. Thus, in Kant’s view, all truly successful art must be the work of genius. 
Guyer’s essay also offers an interesting comparison between the views of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. But on that I will comment in a different blog. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity

In his essay, “Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity,” David S. Oderberg answers the objections that have been raised against the Identity thesis, the claim that the zygote and the embryo are individual human beings. He concentrates on the cluster of objections that are based on certain biological phenomenal and appeal to the modal properties of the zygote and the embryo—to what could happen to the immature human being in certain circumstances.

Here’s Oderberg’s explanation of the embryological terms:
The term 'embryo' comes from the Greek for 'to grow,' and simply means 'growing human being'; and 'foetus' comes from the Latin for 'young offspring.' Hence either term could properly be used to denote the human being at any stage of development. 'Zygote,' 'morula,' and 'blastocyst,' on the other hand, denote specifically cellular aspects of the early human-the first coming from the Greek for 'yoke,' and signifying the coming together of the gametes, the second from the Latin for 'mulberry' and signifying the shape of the cellular matter, and the third from the Greek for 'sprout' and 'bladder,' signifying the hollowing out of the cellular matter constituting the human being at this early stage. 
According to Oderberg, the status of the zygote and the embryo can only be understood when there is a proper grasp of the metaphysics of human identity and there is a determination to keep morality at the top of the scientific agenda. He argues that life starts at the stage of conception itself. Here’s an excerpt:
Conception is that event, typically involving the union of sperm and egg, which consists in a change in the intrinsic nature of a cell or group of cells, where that change confers on the cell (or its descendants in the case of division) the intrinsic potential to develop, given the right extrinsic factors, into a mature human being. Note that the concept of intrinsic potential employed here is not the same as that rejected earlier when discussing whether the zygote is a potential human being. It was claimed that the zygote is an actual human being, but the definition of conception just given appeals to the idea that it is an actual human being with the potential to develop into a mature member of its kind, as long as circumstances permit it. The intrinsic potential mentioned in the definition is, therefore, a property of its actual humanity. We can see that this definition excludes the possibility that the egg is a human being, since its nature would have to change; without that change, it does not have the intrinsic potential to develop into a mature human being. The definition includes the union of sperm and egg, however, since there is an intrinsic change of nature. Whether this change is in the sperm or the egg is irrelevant for metaphysical purposes—it could be the egg which is changed by the sperm, or vice versa. As a matter of brute biological fact, however, the sperm-egg union is best conceived of as a change in the egg: the sperm enters it from outside, disintegrates, and the nucleus in its head merges with the nucleus of the egg. The definition also includes parthenogenetic cells and cloned cells, both of which have undergone an intrinsic change of nature from mere gametes, somatic cells or whatever, to cells with the intrinsic potential, given the right environment, to develop into mature human beings. If one of these cells only develops for, say a few days and the embryo then dies, this is not because the cell lacks the intrinsic potential to develop into a baby, child, or adult, but because certain extrinsic factors are not present, such as important nutrients; and this is indeed the currently proposed biological explanation of why full development fails in the case of cloned or parthenogenetically generated nonhuman animals. 
Oderberg defines conception as the coming into existence of a human being and if that is the case then the zygote is a human being, the same human being as the adult into which it will develop. Therefore, according to Oderberg, a zygote has the moral status of a human being. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Locke and Leibniz on Exotic Rational Animals

Locke; Leibniz
John Locke believed that a rational parrot would be a person but not a human being.

In his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke declares that rational parrots “have passed for a race of rational animals,” but they are still parrots and not human beings, “for I presume it is not the idea of a thinking or rational being alone that makes the idea of a man in most people’s sense: but of a body, so and so shaped, joined to it: and if that be the idea of a man, the same successive body not shifted all at once, must, as well as the same immaterial spirit, go to the making of the same man.”

Further, Locke says: “Since I think I may be confident, that, whoever should see a creature of his own shape or make, though it had no more reason all its life than a cat or a parrot, would call him still a man; or whoever should hear a cat or a parrot discourse, reason, and philosophize, would call or think it nothing but a cat or a parrot; and say, the one was a dull irrational man, and the other a very intelligent rational parrot. A relation we have in an author of great note, is sufficient to countenance the supposition of a rational parrot."

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is in agreement with Locke on this issue. In his New Essays on Human Understanding, Leibniz says, “there is no obstacle to there being rational animals of some other species than ours… Indeed it does seem that the definition of ‘man’ as ‘rational animal’ needs to be amplified by something about the shape and anatomy of the body; otherwise, according to my views, Spirits would also be men.”

In an earlier paragraph, Leibniz says: “I think I may be confident that anyone who saw a creature with a human shape and anatomy would call it ‘a man’, even if throughout its life it gave no more appearance of reason than a cat or a parrot does; and that anyone who heard a parrot talk and reason and philosophize wouldn’t describe it or think of it as anything but a parrot. We would all say that the first of these animals was a dull irrational man, and the second a very intelligent rational parrot.”

Like Locke, Leibniz believed that being a rational animal is not a sufficient condition for a creature to be classified as a human being—it is more important for the creature to look like a human being. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Power of Books

Matthew Stewart in Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (Chapter: “The Dirty Little Screw of the American Revolution”):

“DO BOOKS MATTER? Do they change minds—or do we just read into them whatever we want to know? We live in the most literate age in human history, yet many people today find few things less useful than books, and no books as useless as those of the philosophers. Many scholars today take for granted that philosophy is a technical discipline concerned with questions that can make sense only to a cadre of professionals trained to a perfection of irrelevance. The wider public, meanwhile, tends to think of philosophy as a place to stash all the questions that well up wherever our knowledge runs completely dry: the meaning of life, why there is something rather than nothing, the existence of the supernatural, and all that. Of the many attributes that seem to mark America’s founders as residents of a foreign time and place, probably none is more astonishing today than their unapologetic confidence in the power of books—and in particular the books of the philosophers.”

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Diffusion and Diminution of Stoicism

Artistic impression of Epictetus
with his crutch
A. A. Long, in his essay, “Stoicism in the Philosophical Tradition: Spinoza, Lipsius, Butler” (Chapter 15; The Cambridge Companion to The Stoic Ethics, Edited by Brad Inwood), says stoicism has never been fashioned as a systematic philosophy.

One of the reasons for this, Long says, is that the work of ancient Stoics is far less accessible in its original and comprehensive form than the work of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Sextus Empericus. Only a few fragments of the work of the pre-Roman stoics is extant. It is the treatments of Stoic ethics by Roman scholars like Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius that became influential during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and are responsible for the traces of Stoic ideas that we find in Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Rousseau, Grotius, Shaftesbury, Adam Smith, and Kant.

The development of Stoicism as a systematic philosophy was also hindered because of its core ideas getting assimilated in popular religious and philosophical movements.

Here’s an excerpt from Long’s essay:
In addition to the fragmentary state of the ancient sources, Stoicism was easily conflated or assimilated, on casual acquaintance, to ideas associated with the much more familiar names of Platonism and Aristotelianism. The conflation is not, of course, wholly mistaken. Outside metaphysics and technical logic, the three philosophies do have much in common, as the Academic Antiochus, Cicero’s friend and teacher, recognized. How easily they could be eclectically synthesized is particularly evident in the works of Philo of Alexandria, and even in Plotinus. This assimilation becomes still more complex in the writings of such early Christian thinkers as Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Calcidius. Some Stoic doctrines, such as the identification of God with fire and the denial of the soul’s immortality, were anathema to the early Fathers of the Church – which helps to explain why no complete texts by any early Stoic philosophers have survived. But early Christianity appropriated a great deal of Stoic ethics without acknowledgment. 
Unlike Epicureanism, Stoicism has never been a monolithic church. Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius were creative in their own way—they disagreed with each other on many issues, and they developed their own opinions on various aspects their version of Stoic philosophy. Long points out that despite there being several major differences between Stoicism and Christianity, Stoic ethics and Christian ethics have been fully assimilated. So to a large extent Stoicism is now an unacknowledged part of the Christian tradition.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Aristotelian and Epicurean Tyrants of Athens

A vital landmark in history of philosophy are the years 88–86 B.C., when first a Peripatetic philosopher, Athenion, and then an Epicurean, Aristion, briefly gained absolute power in Athens, both siding with Mithridates against the Roman army led by Sulla. Ironically during the reign of the two philosophers Athens lost its status as world’s center of philosophy.

Athenion was reigning when Sulla laid a crippling siege on Athens. At the end of the siege the Roman troops sacked the city, and Aristion, who was then in power, was executed on Sulla’s command.

There is considerable difference of opinion among historians on whether Athenion and Aristion were same person or two different tyrants who acquired power in quick succession. According to Posidonius, the tyrant’s name was Athenion and he was a Peripatetic philosopher. But Pausanias, Appian, and Plutarch, call him Aristion, and Appian says that Aristion was an Epicurean.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why Did Early Stoicism Ignore Aristotle?

Zeno of Citium came to Athens around 300 BC and founded the School of Stoicism which formed a deep bond with the philosophical culture in ancient Greece. But we don’t find any sign of engagement between Zeno's Stoicism and Aristotle’s philosophy. David Sedley offers an answer in his essay, “The School, from Zeno to Arius Didymus” (Chapter 1; The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, edited by Brad Inwood). Here’s an excerpt:
One apparent feature of early Stoicism that has caused controversy is the surprising rarity of engagement with the philosophy of Aristotle. Even some of the most basic and widely valued tools of Aristotelian philosophy, such as the distinction between potentiality and actuality, play virtually no part in Stoic thought. Although there is little consensus about this, the majority of scholars would probably accept that, at the very least, considerably less direct response to Aristotelianism is detectable in early Stoicism than to the various voices of the Socratic-Platonic tradition. It is not until the period of Middle Stoicism (see Section 7) that appreciation of Aristotle’s importance finally becomes unmistakable. Yet Aristotle and his school were among the truly seminal thinkers of late-fourth-century Athens and, in the eyes of many, Aristotle himself remains the outstanding philosopher of the entire Western tradition. How can a system created immediately in his wake show so little consciousness of his cardinal importance? One suggested explanation is that Aristotle’s school treatises, the brilliant but often very difficult texts by which we know him today, were not at this date as widely disseminated and studied as his more popularising works. But an alternative or perhaps complementary explanation lies in Zeno’s positive commitment to Socratic philosophy, of which the Peripatetics did not present themselves as voices. Either way, we must avoid the unhistorical assumption that Aristotle’s unique importance was as obvious to his near-contemporaries as it is to us.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Intellectuals Hate Progress

In Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, the Chapter 4, “Progressophobia,” begins with the following lines:

"Intellectuals hate progress. Intellectuals who call themselves “progressive” really hate progress. It’s not that they hate the fruits of progress, mind you: most pundits, critics, and their bien-pensant readers use computers rather than quills and inkwells, and they prefer to have their surgery with anesthesia rather than without it. It’s the idea of progress that rankles the chattering class—the Enlightenment belief that by understanding the world we can improve the human condition."

Milton Friedman on Free Trade and the Steel Industry

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Immanuel Kant and The French Revolution

Immanuel Kant enthusiastically endorsed the French Revolution. He defended the Revolution in public and in his private dealings, and openly proclaimed that he was a republican. Here’s an excerpt from Manfred Kuhen’s Kant: A Biography (Chapter: “Problems with Religion and Politics”):
Some major intellectual figures in Germany, such as Goethe and Moser, were opposed to the Revolution from the beginning. Still, most — at least at the beginning — supported it enthusiastically. Older writers such as Klopstock and Wieland endorsed its goals. Younger authors — such as Herder, Schiller, and Fichte (all three of whom were influenced by Kant) wrote enthusiastically for the cause of the Revolution. Kant himself was just as inspired by it as were his students. As one of his acquaintances said, trying to correct Fichte's mistaken view that Kant took no notice of the French Revolution, “He lived and moved in it; and, in spite of all the terror, he held on to his hopes so much that when he heard of the declaration of the republic he called out with excitement: ‘Now let your servant go in peace to his grave, for I have seen the glory of the world.’” 
The politics of the French Revolution was a favorite topic of conversation for Kant. He showed great interest for news on how the Revolution was progressing. In his political writings, Kant has asserted that there is no right to rebellion. But he saw no contradiction between his enthusiasm for the French Revolution and his rejection of the right to rebellion, because he believed that Louis XVI had in effect abdicated when he called the Estates-General (a general assembly representing the French estates of the realm) in 1789. So, legally speaking, the French Revolution was not rebellion.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cicero Versus Machiavelli

Machiavelli; Cicero
During the Renaissance, the humanist philosophers preached that the princes ought to keep their word and eschew force and fraud. They ritualistically repeated Cicero’s injunction in De officiis: ‘‘wrong may be done in either of two ways, that is, by force or by fraud; both are bestial: fraud seems to belong to the cunning fox, force to the lion; both are wholly unworthy of man.’’

But Renaissance scholar Niccolò Machiavelli countered Cicero's philosophy with his own dictum which he presented in The Prince: ‘‘rulers who have done great things have set little store by keeping their word, being skillful rather in cunningly deceiving men.’’ Machiavelli concludes with biting satire that a ruler must, after all, ‘‘know well how to imitate beasts . . . he should imitate both the fox and the lion.’’

The humanists used to preach that it is better to be loved than feared, and that cruelty can never profit a prince. But Machiavelli preferred the governance model of Cesare Borgia. He said that Borgia ‘‘was considered cruel,’’ but that his ‘‘harsh measures restored order to the Romagna, unifying it and rendering it peaceful and loyal." He asserts in The Prince that for a prince it is ‘‘it is much safer to be feared than loved..."

(Based on Eric Nelson’s essay, “The Problem of The Prince”; Chapter 17; The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy)