Pages

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Philosophy Begins With Wonder

"Aristotle’s view that philosophy begins with wonder, not as in our day with doubt, is a positive point of departure for philosophy. Indeed, the world will no doubt learn that it does not do to begin with the negative, and the reason for success up to the present is that philosophers have never quite surrendered to the negative and thus have never earnestly done what they have said. They merely flirt with doubt." ~ Søren Kierkegaard (The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard)

In Metaphysics, Aristotle says: "For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe." (Metaphysics, Book I, Part II)

On Pre-Moderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns

Here’s a thought from Gertrude Himmelfarb (The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Page 235): "The sociology of virtue, the ideology of reason, the politics of liberty—the ideas still resonate today. But they carry with them the accretions of more than two centuries of historical experiences and memories. And other ideas now compete for our attention: equality, most notably, but also nationality and ethnicity, class and gender, cultural diversity and global homogeneity. If the three Enlightenments ushered in the modernity—or at least a new stage of in modernity, or new variations on modernity—the postmodernists may be justified in calling this a postmodern age. Yet the ideas of virtue, liberty, and reason did not originate in modernity; nor have they been superseded or superannuated by postmodernity. We are, in fact, still floundering in the verities and fallacies, the assumptions and convictions, about human nature, society, and the polity that exercised the British moral philosophers, the French philosophes, and the American Founders."

Paul Guyer's Thoughts On Kant as a Stoic

Immanuel Kant on Space and Time

In his Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, Immanuel Kant denies the realty of time and space and of temporal and spatial form. He writes:

"Time is not something objective and real, neither a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation. It is the subjective condition necessary by the nature of the human mind for coordinating any sensible objects among themselves by a certain law; time is a pure intuition.

"Space is not something objective and real, neither substance, nor accident, nor relation; but subjective and ideal, arising by fixed law from the nature of the mind like an outline for the mutual co-ordination of all external sensations whatsoever."

Kant is not implying that the existence of objects perceived in space and time is dependent on the nature of the human mind; rather, he is saying that the existence of mind-dependent forms like time and space make it possible for the human mind to precisely observe the mind-independent objects.

Who Should Be The Judge?

In Metaphysics, Aristotle summarizes the arguments from his skeptic opponents in a paragraph: "There are, both among those who have these convictions and among those who merely profess these views, some who raise a difficulty by asking, who is to be the judge of the healthy man, and in general who is likely to judge rightly on each class of questions. But such inquiries are like puzzling over the question whether we are now asleep or awake. And all such questions have the same meaning. These people demand that a reason shall be given for everything; for they seek a starting-point, and they seek to get this by demonstration, while it is obvious from their actions that they have no conviction. But their mistake is what we have stated it to be; they seek a reason for things for which no reason can be given; for the starting-point of demonstration is not demonstration."

Marcel Proust’s 960 Word Marathon

In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way (Volume 1, In Search of Lost Time), the longest sentence of 601 words occurs in the opening section of the first chapter, “Overture”:

"But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame: in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained cold — or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder; where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam — or sometimes the Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent loftiness of the ceiling."

But the longest sentence in the 7-volume set is of 960 words. It appears in the Introduction of Volume 4, In Search Of LostSodom and Gomorrah (sometimes translated as Cities of the Plain):

"Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet who one day was feasted at every table, applauded in every theatre in London, and on the next was driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow upon which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson and saying like him: “The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart!”; excluded even, save on the days of general disaster when the majority rally round the victim as the Jews rallied round Dreyfus, from the sympathy — at times from the society — of their fellows, in whom they inspire only disgust at seeing themselves as they are, portrayed in a mirror which, ceasing to flatter them, accentuates every blemish that they have refused to observe in themselves, and makes them understand that what they have been calling their love (a thing to which, playing upon the word, they have by association annexed all that poetry, painting, music, chivalry, asceticism have contrived to add to love) springs not from an ideal of beauty which they have chosen but from an incurable malady; like the Jews again (save some who will associate only with others of their race and have always on their lips ritual words and consecrated pleasantries), shunning one another, seeking out those who are most directly their opposite, who do not desire their company, pardoning their rebuffs, moved to ecstasy by their condescension; but also brought into the company of their own kind by the ostracism that strikes them, the opprobrium under which they have fallen, having finally been invested, by a persecution similar to that of Israel, with the physical and moral characteristics of a race, sometimes beautiful, often hideous, finding (in spite of all the mockery with which he who, more closely blended with, better assimilated to the opposing race, is relatively, in appearance, the least inverted, heaps upon him who has remained more so) a relief in frequenting the society of their kind, and even some corroboration of their own life, so much so that, while steadfastly denying that they are a race (the name of which is the vilest of insults), those who succeed in concealing the fact that they belong to it they readily unmask, with a view less to injuring them, though they have no scruple about that, than to excusing themselves; and, going in search (as a doctor seeks cases of appendicitis) of cases of inversion in history, taking pleasure in recalling that Socrates was one of themselves, as the Israelites claim that Jesus was one of them, without reflecting that there were no abnormals when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before Christ, that the disgrace alone makes the crime because it has allowed to survive only those who remained obdurate to every warning, to every example, to every punishment, by virtue of an innate disposition so peculiar that it is more repugnant to other men (even though it may be accompanied by exalted moral qualities) than certain other vices which exclude those qualities, such as theft, cruelty, breach of faith, vices better understood and so more readily excused by the generality of men; forming a freemasonry far more extensive, more powerful and less suspected than that of the Lodges, for it rests upon an identity of tastes, needs, habits, dangers, apprenticeship, knowledge, traffic, glossary, and one in which the members themselves, who intend not to know one another, recognise one another immediately by natural or conventional, involuntary or deliberate signs which indicate one of his congeners to the beggar in the street, in the great nobleman whose carriage door he is shutting, to the father in the suitor for his daughter’s hand, to him who has sought healing, absolution, defence, in the doctor, the priest, the barrister to whom he has had recourse; all of them obliged to protect their own secret but having their part in a secret shared with the others, which the rest of humanity does not suspect and which means that to them the most wildly improbable tales of adventure seem true, for in this romantic, anachronistic life the ambassador is a bosom friend of the felon, the prince, with a certain independence of action with which his aristocratic breeding has furnished him, and which the trembling little cit would lack, on leaving the duchess’s party goes off to confer in private with the hooligan; a reprobate part of the human whole, but an important part, suspected where it does not exist, flaunting itself, insolent and unpunished, where its existence is never guessed; numbering its adherents everywhere, among the people, in the army, in the church, in the prison, on the throne; living, in short, at least to a great extent, in a playful and perilous intimacy with the men of the other race, provoking them, playing with them by speaking of its vice as of something alien to it; a game that is rendered easy by the blindness or duplicity of the others, a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal, on which these lion-tamers are devoured; until then, obliged to make a secret of their lives, to turn away their eyes from the things on which they would naturally fasten them, to fasten them upon those from which they would naturally turn away, to change the gender of many of the words in their vocabulary, a social constraint, slight in comparison with the inward constraint which their vice, or what is improperly so called, imposes upon them with regard not so much now to others as to themselves, and in such a way that to themselves it does not appear a vice."

Kant On Empirical Concepts

In his First Introduction to Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant talks about the conditions of forming a set of empirical concepts which cohere with each other. Some kind of coherence is necessary to ensure that the concepts that are obtained through comparison are connectable to each other in judgement. Kant writes "One may wonder whether Linnaeus could have hoped to design a system of nature if he had had to worry that a stone which he found, and which he called granite, might differ in its inner character from any other stone even if it looked the same, so that all he could ever hope to find would be single things — isolated, as it were, for the understanding — but never a class of them that could be brought under concepts of genus and species."

Henry E. Allison, in his essay, “Reflective Judgment and the Purposiveness of Nature,” (Chapter 1;  Kant’s Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment), offers the following analysis of the above quoted lines from Kant:

"This note makes “explicit the requirement that a classificatory system reflect an underlying order of nature. Thus, whereas any number of such systems might be possible, the assumption is that there is one (and only one) that, as it were, “carves nature at its joints.” And the goal or regulative idea of a systematizer such as Linnaeus is to provide the system that reflects this order (or at least comes as close as possible to doing so). Moreover, since the classification of phenomena has to be based on observed uniformities and differences, the operative assumption must once again be that outer similarities and differences correspond to inner or intrinsic ones. To use Kant’s own example, objects with the observable features of granite must also be similar in their inner character; for otherwise there would be no basis for inferring from the fact that an object has granite-like features that it will behave similarly to other objects with these features.”

According to Kant, a hierarchical system of concepts (in which every concept is itself both a species of the concepts contained in it and a genus for the concepts falling under it) is a necessary condition for the application of logic to nature, that is, for empirical judgment. (By “logic” Kant does not mean formal logic but rather our discursive, conceptual abilities.)

Kant's Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason

In two letters to Marcus Hertz, Immanuel Kant has given a brief account of the philosophical project that he was working on in the 1770s. His fundamental concern is with metaphysics (or the possibility of metaphysics); he says that his project will be an introduction to metaphysics and to it he has given the title, “The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason.”

Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s June 7, 1771 letter:
Long experience has taught me that one cannot compel or precipitate insight by force in matters of the sort we are considering; rather, it takes quite a long time to gain insight, since one looks at one and the same concept intermittently and regards its possibility in all its relations and contexts, and furthermore, because one must above all awaken the skeptical spirit within, to examine one's conclusions against the strongest possible doubt and see whether they can stand the test. From this point of view I have, I think, made good use of the time that I have allowed myself, risking the danger of offending these scholars with my seeming impoliteness while actually motivated by respect for their judgment. You understand how important it is, for all of philosophy — yes even for the most important ends of humanity in general — to distinguish with certainty and clarity that which depends on the subjective principles of human mental powers (not only sensibility but also the understanding) and that which pertains directly to the facts. If one is not driven by a mania for systematizing, the investigations which one makes concerning one and the same fundamental principle in its widest possible applications even confirm each other. I am therefore now busy on a work which I call "The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason." It will work out in some detail the foundational principles and laws that determine the sensible world together with an outline of what is essential to the Doctrine of Taste, of Metaphysics, and of Moral Philosophy. I have this winter surveyed all the relevant materials for it and have considered, weighed, and harmonized everything, but I have only recently come up with the way to organize the whole work. 
Kant provides further details of his project in his second, much longer letter (dated February 21, 1772):
I had also long ago outlined, to my tolerable satisfaction, the principles of feeling, taste, and power of judgment, with their effects — the pleasant, the beautiful, and the good — and was then making plans for a work that might perhaps have the title, The Limits of Sensibility and Reason. I planned to have it consist of two parts, a theoretical and a practical. The first part would have two sections, (1) general phenomenology and (2) metaphysics, but this only with regard to its nature and method. The second part likewise would have two sections, (1) the universal principles of feeling, taste, and sensuous desire and (2) the first principles of morality.
It's obvious that, in the 1770s, Kant had started grappling with the philosophical problem of taste. In 1781, the work that he had initially thought of calling “The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason,” was published as The Critique of Pure Reason.

Political Norms Are Not Universal

The libertarian view is that political norms are universal and can be justified independent of cultural differences. But this is not correct. The terms “liberty,” “democracy,” “justice,” and “rights,” are political concepts, and their actualization and justification is contingent on the culture of a political community (nation). In order to figure just what liberty, democracy, justice, and rights look like in a given society, we must become acquainted with the local culture. This means that political norms cannot be universal; they have to be contextual—or developed in relation to a political community. In order to give a logical description of liberty, democracy, justice, and rights, the philosopher must begin by describing the political community in context of which he is philosophizing. The political community forms the foundation of all political norms—and the purpose of political norms is to explain the political and moral values of a particular political community.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Unlimited Freedom Leads to Unlimited Despotism

The intellectuals and politicians who propose that the western countries should use their military power to force countries in the Middle East to accept a liberal form of governance are like the deluded revolutionaries that Fyodor Dostoevsky has described in his book The Possessed. These revolutionaries think that they can establish a paradise after overthrowing the existing regime through a violent revolution. Shigalyov, the intellectual character in The Possessed, who is a historian and social theorist, and a key thinker for the revolutionaries, has developed a plan for post-revolution reorganization of mankind. But the realization dawns on him that the reorganization of mankind will entail a huge cost—more than 100 million people will be killed and many more will be enslaved in the attempt to create a paradise. He confesses, "My conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the idea from which I started. Proceeding from unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism.” This has an important lesson for the Middle East: Political liberty and free market cannot be established in most countries in this region. Here the choice is between secular despotism and theocratic regime.

A Perfect Society Cannot Be Conceived

All philosophies which describe a perfect society are utopian and bogus. A perfect society cannot be conceived by the human mind. This is because the structure of any society is based on two types of theories: legal theory and ethical theory. The arguments in both ethical theory and legal theory are interminable. People will never have a consensus on the best constitution and good moral behavior. Since it is not possible to conceive of the final form of legal theory and moral theory, a perfect society is beyond the reach of the human mind. Imagining a perfect society is like imagining the Kingdom of Atlantis. We will never know what a perfect society is, and what we don’t know we can’t create.

Monday, October 28, 2019

On Fukuyama’s Idea of End of History

In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama introduces his readers to his end of history thesis; he says that in future there will not be any conflict about the most legitimate type of government because it is now established that the liberal type of government is the final form. Later he denied that he believed in the end of history, but in his book he has written these lines: “What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs's yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

On Reason and Emotions

Emotions are as innate to man as reason is. A man of reason, who has suppressed or overcome his emotions, is usually a totalitarian and a dogmatist. A good human being is a man of both, reason and emotions. Reason cannot be trusted when it operates without regard for emotions. Likewise, emotions cannot be trusted when they operate without regard for reason. Both reason and emotions are fallible, but when they work together in a man’s mind, then he has a better chance for making the right choices. I often come across philosophers who invoke reason to attack emotions. But an examination of their philosophies will show that their ideas are bogus. Reason is ineffective if it does not have access to the common sense that is reflected in a man’s emotions.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Epicurus’s Concept of Happy Gods

D. S. Hutchinson in his Introduction to The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia, edited by Brad Inwood and  Lloyd P. Gerson:

“Don’t fear god.” The gods are happy and immortal, as the very concept of ‘god’ indicates. But in Epicurus’ view, most people were in a state of confusion about the gods, believing them to be intensely concerned about what human beings were up to and exerting tremendous effort to favor their worshippers and punish their moral enemies. No; it is incompatible with the concept of divinity to suppose that the gods exert themselves or that they have any concerns at all. The most accurate, as well as the most agreeable, conceptions of the gods is to think of them, as the Greeks often did, in a state of bliss, unconcerned about anything, without needs, invulnerable to any harm, and generally living an enviable life. So conceived, they are role models for Epicureans, who emulate the happiness of the gods, within the limits imposed by human nature. “Epicurus said that he was prepared to compete with Zeus in happiness, as long as he had a barley cake and some water.”

"If, however, the gods are as independent as this conception indicates, then they will not observe the sacrifices we make to them, and Epicurus was indeed widely regarded as undermining the foundations of traditional religion. Furthermore, how can Epicurus explain the visions that we receive of the gods, if the gods don’t deliberately send them to us? These visions, replies Epicurus, are material images traveling through the world, like everything else that we see or imagine, and are therefore something real; they travel through the world because of the general laws of atomic motion, not because god sends them. But then what sort of bodies must the gods have, if these images are always steaming off them, and yet they remain strong and invulnerable? Their bodies, replies Epicurus, are continually replenished by images streaming towards them; indeed the ‘body’ of a god may be nothing more than a focus to which the images travel, the images that later travel to us and make up our conception of its nature."

Friday, October 25, 2019

Aristotle’s Truly Happy Man

Frederic Copleston on Aristotle’s eudaemonistic ethic:
Aristotle’s ethic was thus eudaemonistic in character, teleological, and markedly intellectualist, since it is clear that for him contemplation meant philosophical contemplation: he was not referring to a religious phenomenon, such as the ecstasy of Plotinus. Moreover, the end (telos) of moral activity is an end to be acquired in this life: as far as the ethics of Aristotle are concerned there is no hint of any vision of God in the next life, and it is indeed questionable whether he believed in personal immortality at all. Aristotle’s truly happy man is the philosopher, not the saint. 
(Source: History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus by Frederic Copleston; Chapter 29, “St. Thomas Aquinas: Moral Theory”)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

On Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Immanuel Kant has argued for only one categorical imperative which is best known by this formulation: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” The Kantian categorical imperative is a product of reason alone. Kant understood reason as the faculty that discerns and dictates universal laws. He posits that if reason dictates a moral law, then that law will be capable of being universalized—it would necessarily dictate that you must act according to the universal law, or in accordance to the maxims that you can universalize. With his categorical imperative, Kant is not preaching a moral law which may dictate your acts—he is giving you the freedom to make your own choices. He is saying that you can act according to your own reason, and that it is your task to figure out what the rule of your reason is. There is only one caveat—you can act only as you would will all others to.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

On Clausewitz’s Philosophy of War

The wars of ancient and medieval periods were localized conflicts as the nations didn’t have large standing armies. The scope of their wars, fought mainly through mercenaries and aristocrats, used to be constrained by all kinds of rules and the ideas of chivalry. But the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the subsequent rise of nationalist movements led to a transformation in warfare. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, his Grande Armée had a strength of 685,000 men. This was the largest land army that Europe had ever seen.

Carl von Clausewitz was serving as a military officer in Jena when Napoleon invaded Prussia in 1806 and defeated the Prussian army, taking more than 25000 prisoners, including Clausewitz. After being held in France for two years, when Clausewitz returned to Prussia, he participated in several other military campaigns. His book On War (which he wrote between 1816 and 1830) is a systematic and philosophical examination of modern (or nationalist) way of warfare. Along with being an officer in Prussian military, Clausewitz was versed in German philosophy. He takes a Kantian approach to warfare and defines two kinds of wars: a real (empirical) war and a pure (theoretical) war. A real war, he says, is continuation of state policy by other means and is an act of force that compels the enemy to do our will; whereas a pure war is concerned with only the military aspects of war—deployment of troops, topography of the area where the battle is fought, the arms and ammunitions to be used, the strategies, the maintenance of supply lines, and so on.

The two, real war and pure war, he says, have to be analyzed separately because if political considerations behind the war are mixed with the methods used to fight the war then the military analysis may turn out to be faulty. Real war is political, which means it's motivated by political considerations, but a pure war is not concerned with politics—it's focused only on the militaristic considerations that can lead to victory. Clausewitz makes the observation that the success of Napoleon’s war machine in European conflicts is a sign that in future the wars will tend towards being pure wars, because the resources that the nations will pour into the war effort will be much greater than what was possible in the Ancient and Medieval periods. This will lead to the wars become less chivalrous, more violent, and less concerned with political considerations.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Edmund Burke’s Critique of the Social Contract

In his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Edmund Burke predicts with amazing prescience that the French revolutionaries would destroy their country because they were motivated by the idea obliterating the political, social, and theological institutions and redistributing wealth. He also offers a good critique of the Social Contract theory. He points out that society is not an outcome of contract that people enter into at a particular moment. The contract among the people (if there is indeed a contract) is eternal and unstated and it includes the dead and the future generations. According to Burke, a political society is like an organism that exists over a period of time—it gains legitimacy through its traditions. The local loyalties of the people—the collectives like family, neighborhood communities, and the religious institutions—are the glue that hold the organism called society together.

Here’s an excerpt from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure—but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.”

Burke warns against the intellectuals who are backed by men who have acquired new wealth and have little respect for traditions and institutions. He says that these intellectuals are  determined to reform society according to abstract principles of reasoning. But their doctrine of “rule of reason” is actually a kind of despotism.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

On Kant’s Moral Theory

Kant believed that moral theories, such as Aristotle’s eudaimonia, Hume’s notion of utility, and the Stoic principle of apathy, are not sufficiently general, universal, and fundamental. He was questing for a universal, a priori law of moral action that is determined by reason, and he realized that such a moral law can be a priori, only if it’s a law of action free of the desire of achieving any aim or good. In his Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, he 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.” Kant realized 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, Moreover, there is a divide between moral 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 aim of achieving good outcomes like love, happiness, health, or something else cannot dictate our moral ideas. What is morally right is to be understood only in terms of a rule. We have to do what is right, not because it’s expected to lead to a good end, but because it’s 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

In his essay, “No absolute time,” Matias Slavov talks about 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.”

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 think 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. When 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 value more than anything else. 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 often clueless about what is really going on in their country.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

On The Jacobin Religion Of Reason

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.”

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Burke on 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; 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, Burke reminds us, 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: “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.”

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 two hundred and fifty years has tried to found its own earthly religion and develop its own gods. During the French Revolution, the Jacobins 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 communists indulged in an orgy of self-deification—they deified Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and other communist leaders. 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

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 figures from the past.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Isaiah Berlin's Conception of Liberty

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.

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 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.”

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.

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.

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.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

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

Strauss on Nietzsche’s Attack on Socrates

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."

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.

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 will depend on your view of what it means to be modern and pre-modern. If you are convinced that modern philosophy is better than pre-modern philosophy (medieval as well as ancient), then you will loathe the idea of postmodernism. But if you recognize the political and moral problems that are there in the modernist doctrine, then you will empathize with the postmodernist rebellion against modern philosophy. Postmodern means “after the modern” and that is the sense in which philosophers use it. Postmodern philosophy does not necessarily entail the deconstructions of Derrida or the post-pragmatism of Rorty and Foucault--the origin of postmodernism can be traced back to Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Heidegger On The Bondage Of Technology

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 Heidegger), he says that the modern man views of nature and other human beings as a resource for achieving his ends. Due to the normalization of the technological view of the world, people have lost track of myriad ways of experiencing the things as they are—as spiritual, as beautiful, as uplifting, as something of personal value; 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, and 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 can be perfected by using the persuasive powers of the 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's not something that can be achieved. 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.