Saturday, August 31, 2019

On Philosophers Who Make History

The philosophies of the past, which provoked a rebellion against the intellectual establishment of their time, have left a mark on mankind. The rebellious philosophers have made history, while the conformist philosophers have been quickly forgotten. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were the rebels in Ancient Greece. Socrates was forced by the Athenians to commit suicide by drinking hemlock after he was convicted by a court for inciting a rebellion against the Athenian establishment. Plato and Aristotle narrowly missed having a “Socratic treatment” from angry Athenians on several occasions in their lifetime. The other important philosophers who continue to be relevant till today — Cicero, Seneca, Boethius, Aquinas, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Kant, and others — too have proposed radical ideas which questioned the knowledge of their time. The philosophies which are provocative have a longer lifespan than the philosophies which are conformist.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Lesson of Protagoras: Virtue Cannot be Taught

In the Platonic dialogue Protagoras, Socrates inquires from the Sophist teacher Protagoras about the best way of educating his young friend Hippocrates. He asks: Where should Hippocrates be schooled? Protagoras suggests that if Hippocrates wants to be a sculptor he should study at Phidias; if he wishes to be a physician, the Aesculapian school is an option. Then Socrates asks, in what subject will Hippocrates become an expert if he becomes a pupil of Protagoras? To this, Protagoras answers, he will teach Hippocrates to become a better man. Socrates asks, in what way will you make him better? Protagoras says that he teaches his students virtue or moral excellence. Socrates then asks him to clarify how virtue is teachable? The rest of the Dialogue explores the nature, scope, and teachability of virtue.

The Dialogue ends without Socrates and Protagoras being able to discover the answers to the fundamental questions concerning virtue: What is virtue? Is virtue many things or one thing? Are qualities like piety, courage, temperance, and justice separate virtues or parts of virtue as a whole—this is an important question because if they are separate then it is possible for a man to be temperate while being unjust. Protagoras is unable to provide convincing answers to these questions. Socrates then asks, can virtue be taught? In the discussion between Socrates and Protagoras, it comes out that virtue cannot be taught. Virtue is linked to a man’s tastes, desires, character, and to the social environment in which he lives—a teacher may teach his pupil some of the principles of virtue, but he can't teach him how he should lead his life. The choices that a man makes will be based on his character and his situation in life. Also, there are people whose souls are corrupted—they cannot be trained into becoming morally better.

Socrates is of the view that there is no point in teaching virtue, because virtue cannot be taught. What the teachers of virtue provide is a sort of training, like the training that a carpenter gets. A virtuous person is virtuous in every context, for him the principles of virtue are universally applicable, and this is a quality that cannot be taught. We can identify the specific instances of virtue, but we can't define the universal principles of virtue, and what we can’t define, we can’t teach.

The Army of Little Socrates

An army of hundreds of Little Socrates is marching down the road in a tight formation threatening to shoot anyone in sight with their guns which are loaded with dialectical arguments.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Philosophy of Reason is a Philosophy of Ignorance

When a philosophy asserts that it’s the “philosophy of reason,” it reveals its ignorance of the role that reason plays in the development of knowledge. The last two words in the phrase “philosophy of reason” are superfluous, because every philosophy has to be a philosophy of reason. Every intellectual effort, rational or irrational, must entail the use of reason. Can you develop a nihilistic system of thought without using reason? Can you come up with a doctrine that denies the existence of the material world without using reason? Even to reject the role that reason plays in the development of knowledge you need reason. Even to lie you must use reason.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On the Nyaya Account of Doubt

In the Nyaya system, doubt is seen as the beginning of philosophy. When man is confronted with doubts which seem unresolvable, then he may resort to philosophy to develop a better understanding of the problem. In his book The Nyaya Theory of Knowledge, Satischandra Chatterjee offers the following perspective on the Nyaya account of doubt:

"Doubt is not valid knowledge (prama). It may sometimes have the character of presentation (anubhava) of an object. But it has neither the mark of being an assured definite cognition (asamdigdha) nor that of a true correspondence with the object (yathartha), and so, does not lead to successful activity. In doubt the oscillation of thought between different ideas has no objective counterpart in the real. Nevertheless doubt is not error (viparyyaya). Doubt as a form of cognition, is neither true nor false. It carries with it no definite assertion of any character with regard to Its object. It makes no claim to be a true judgment of the object and so the question of its falsity or contradiction does not arise. The value of doubt lies in its being a great impetus to study and investigation. It is the starting-point of a critical knowledge of objects. In this sense it may be said to be the beginning of philosophy." (Page 32)

Chatterjee goes on to note that the Nyaya account holds that doubt is different from both belief and disbelief. “It neither affirms or denies anything, but only raises a problem for thought. As such, doubt should also be distinguished from ‘the mere absence of belief.’ There is absence of belief even when we do not think of anything at all. In doubt, however, we think of two or more alternatives in regard to the same thing.” (Page 32-33)

The Theory of Reason is a Vicious Circle

Man derives his knowledge through reason but the theory of reason is a vicious circle, since the knowledge that ‘knowledge is acquired through reason’ comes through the application of reason. In other words, the knowledge that reason is supreme in all matters related to the process by which a man acquires knowledge is a claim made by reason itself. If you have to critique the knowledge that someone claims to have derived through his reason, then to which mental faculty can you appeal? You have to appeal to reason, as there is no higher judge. But can we trust the critique of a mental instrument that has been conducted by that instrument itself?

Monday, August 26, 2019

On the Rise of Atheistic Empires

The term “atheist” is derived from the Greek term “atheistos,” which refers to one who denies the traditional religion of the Athenian establishment. In Ancient Athens denying the existence of the gods was a punishable offense. The Athenians forced Socrates to commit suicide because they believed that he was an atheistos, but Socrates was not an atheist in the modern sense—in the Platonic Dialogues, he does not deny the existence of supernatural entities.

The 18th century Enlightenment philosophes can be seen as the first major propagandizers of modern atheism—disgusted by the corruption of the religious institutions, they made an intellectual and political case for a godless society. They were convinced that society can be liberated through an atheistic revolution. In his book The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, Alister McGarth notes that the fall of the Bastille in 1789 marked the rise of the modern atheism, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to the dawning of the realization that an atheistic nation is, after all, uninhabitable:

"The remarkable rise and subsequent decline of atheism is framed by two pivotal events, separated by precisely two hundred years: the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and that of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Two brutal physical structures, each of which served as a symbol of a worldview, were destroyed, to popular acclaim… The fall of the Bastille became a symbol of the viability and creativity of a godless world, just as the fall of the Berlin Wall later symbolized a growing recognition of the uninhabitability of such a place. They mark neither the beginning nor the end of atheism, simply providing the historian with convenient boundary posts for a discussion of its growth, flowering, and gradual decay."

The French Revolution was the first atheistic revolution and the Soviet revolution was the second. The political wing of atheism achieved great success, and between 1950 and 1990 almost half of the world’s population was living under atheistic regimes.

Free Nation Versus Totalitarian Nation

Freedom and good culture are hard to teach, but statism and bad culture are easy to learn. A free nation that uses its financial and military power to bring democracy and freedom to a totalitarian nation will lose its own democracy and freedom. In a conflict between a free nation and a totalitarian nation, the first wins the military victory and the second wins the ideological victory. People in totalitarian nations have an immense devotion to their culture—instead of learning anything from the free nation, they will succeed in teaching it a whole lot of their own ideas.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Freedom is Not a Universal Solution

Freedom is not a panacea. A few nations are energized by freedom but most are apathetic to it. There are nations where people are incapable of taking charge of their own life; they are habituated to being told what they must do for earning their bare necessities. If there is no one around to give orders, they feel cheated of their way of life. The idea of freedom is of importance in the nations which enjoy a relatively high standard of living and where people have become addicted to luxuries. In places where luxuries are not available, people have no conception of a better life, and they don’t care about freedom.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Voegelin on Herodotus, Thucydides, and Machiavelli

Eric Voegelin ends his book Order and History (Volume 2): The World of the Polis with Chapter 12, “Power and History,” which is an analysis of the political, ethical, and cultural aspects of Herodotus’s The Histories and Thucydides’s the History of the Peloponnesian War. He looks at the two historians as the originators of historical consciousness; in the section on Thucydides, he draws a comparison between Thucydides and Machiavelli:

"At this point we touch the limit of Thucydides’ achievement. It is worthwhile to compare his difficulty with the similar one of Machiavelli. Both thinkers were sensitive to the dilemma of power and morality, both were resigned to the necessity of criminal means for what they considered a desirable end. But Machiavelli was supremely conscious that the Prince could realize no more than external order, while genuine order had to be instilled into the community by a spiritual reformer. Thucydides, while moving on the same level of political action as Machiavelli, apparently had no conception of an alternative to his Periclean prince—for which he can hardly be blamed, since he did not have the experience of prototypical saviors which Machiavelli had. This absence of a spiritual reforming personality not only from the reality of Athens, but even from the imagination of a Thucydides, shows clearly that an age of political culture had irrevocably come to its end. The time of the polis was running out; a new epoch of order began with Socrates and Plato."

Voegelin points out that the critical study of the war between Peloponnesians and Athenians, which we now know as the History of the Peloponnesian War, was inscribed by Thucydides simply as “Syngraphe,” a word that can best be translated by the slang “write-up”.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Herodotus on Athenian Democracy and Warcraft

In his Histories, Herodotus connects the performance of the Athenians in the battle of 506 BCE to their democracy. Here’s an excerpt from The Histories (Book 5, Chapter 78):

"The Athenians at this point became much stronger. So it is clear how worthy an object of attention is equality of public speech not just in one respect but in every sense. Since when they were ruled by tyrants, the Athenians did not stand out from their neighbors in military capability, but after disposing the tyrants, they became overwhelmingly superior.

"This, then, shows what while they were oppressed, they were, as men working for a master, cowardly, but when they were freed, each one was eager to achieve for himself."

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Avogadro Number and Philosophy

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

Modern Man is Anti-Darwinian

The modern man is the Darwinian’s worst nightmare. The Darwinian theory preaches that all forms of life are practical and serious—that the actions of all creatures are motivated by the overarching aim of ensuring the survival of their species. But the modern man is impractical and unserious—he is extravagant and wasteful. To him, the luxuries are more necessary than the necessities. His focus is on movies, music, dancing, painting, fashionable clothes, bigger house, and faster vehicles. Sex for him is an end in itself; procreation, or survival of his species, is the least of his concern. Contraception and termination of unwanted pregnancies is a common feature of the modern way of life—the modern man is the only creature that tries to hinder procreation. He does not mind putting his life at risk by his unhealthy eating and drinking habits. He is playful, superfluous, and frivolous. He is often lazy and avoids exercise. Modern man’s way of life is not in conformity with Darwinian logic. If the Darwinian theory of evolution is correct, then what is the future of an impractical, unserious, extravagant, and wasteful creature like modern man?

A Pessimistic Nation is a Failed Nation

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Origin of Pseudo-Problems

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

On The Philosophy and Science of Atoms

Democritus of Abdera (460 BC — 370 BC) was the first thinker to explain the nature of the universe by noting that everything is composed from constantly moving and unchangeable atoms of different sizes and shapes. He is known to have said, “The only existing things are atoms and empty space; all else is mere opinion.” His atomic theory, however, is not an explanation of the atomic structure of matter in the sense of modern science. His observations were purely philosophical, his aim was to articulate a materialistic doctrine. His atomic theory did not become widely accepted in Ancient Greece; only one school, that of Epicurus, adopted it. Aristotle’s theory that everything in the universe is made out of four elements of fire, earth, air, and water gained more popularity. By the end of the Ancient Roman Empire, Democritus’s theory was forgotten, while Aristotle’s theory remained the accepted explanation for everything in the universe for more than 2000 years.

In the 17th century, the concept of atoms was used by Robert Boyle in his work on chemistry, and by Newton in his work on optics, but the first “scientific” effort to investigate the existence and nature of atoms was made in the 18th century by the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier, who was trying to find out why things burn. During the course of his experiments, Lavoisier discovered several chemical substances (elements) which cannot be separated into other chemical substances and he also came to know that burning is a chemical reaction in which oxygen from the air gets combined to other elements. Building on Lavoisier’s work, John Dalton in the early part of the 19th century noted that all matter in the universe is made out of atoms, which are themselves divisible, and that all atoms in every element are identical and every element has different kinds of atoms.

In 1897, J J Thompson discovered that the atoms have negatively charged electrons and well as something with a positive charge. He imagined an atom to be like a watermelon in which the positive charge is spread across a large sphere and the small electrons carrying negative charge are embedded in the body of the sphere. Ernest Rutherford is responsible for the picture that most people have of atoms—in 1911, he proposed for the atom a structure like the Solar System in which the positive charge remains stationary in the middle while the electrons with negative charge rotate around the positive charge. But Rutherford’s idea of the structure of the atom, like Thompson’s idea, is incorrect. The atom is not shaped like a solar system and the electrons are not moving around the positive charge. Modern scientists believe that the electrons and the positive charge in the atoms are stationary.

On Philosophers Who Know Too Much

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On Four Kinds of Tyrants

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On Intellectuals and the Nation

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

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

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

On The Nature of Philosophy and Science

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

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

All subjects have a beginning in philosophy and they move into the domain of science when it becomes possible to find definite truths in them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What Is Enlightenment?

By Immanuel Kant (1784)

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind--among them the entire fair sex--should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.

Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown to like it, and is at first really incapable of using his own understanding because he has never been permitted to try it. Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use--or rather abuse--of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage. The man who casts them off would make an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such free movement. That is why there are only a few men who walk firmly, and who have emerged from nonage by cultivating their own minds.

It is more nearly possible, however, for the public to enlighten itself; indeed, if it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. There will always be a few independent thinkers, even among the self-appointed guardians of the multitude. Once such men have thrown off the yoke of nonage, they will spread about them the spirit of a reasonable appreciation of man's value and of his duty to think for himself. It is especially to be noted that the public which was earlier brought under the yoke by these men afterwards forces these very guardians to remain in submission, if it is so incited by some of its guardians who are themselves incapable of any enlightenment. That shows how pernicious it is to implant prejudices: they will eventually revenge themselves upon their authors or their authors' descendants. Therefore, a public can achieve enlightenment only slowly. A revolution may bring about the end of a personal despotism or of avaricious tyrannical oppression, but never a true reform of modes of thought. New prejudices will serve, in place of the old, as guide lines for the unthinking multitude.

This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom--and the most innocent of all that may be called "freedom": freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: "Do not argue!" The officer says: "Do not argue--drill!" The tax collector: "Do not argue--pay!" The pastor: "Do not argue--believe!" Only one ruler in the world says: "Argue as much as you please, but obey!" We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one's reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.

On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By "public use of one's reason" I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call "private use" that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community--a world society of citizens--(let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies. A pastor, too, is bound to preach to his congregation in accord with the doctrines of the church which he serves, for he was ordained on that condition. But as a scholar he has full freedom, indeed the obligation, to communicate to his public all his carefully examined and constructive thoughts concerning errors in that doctrine and his proposals concerning improvement of religious dogma and church institutions. This is nothing that could burden his conscience. For what he teaches in pursuance of his office as representative of the church, he represents as something which he is not free to teach as he sees it. He speaks as one who is employed to speak in the name and under the orders of another. He will say: "Our church teaches this or that; these are the proofs which it employs." Thus he will benefit his congregation as much as possible by presenting doctrines to which he may not subscribe with full conviction. He can commit himself to teach them because it is not completely impossible that they may contain hidden truth. In any event, he has found nothing in the doctrines that contradicts the heart of religion. For if he believed that such contradictions existed he would not be able to administer his office with a clear conscience. He would have to resign it. Therefore the use which a scholar makes of his reason before the congregation that employs him is only a private use, for no matter how sizable, this is only a domestic audience. In view of this he, as preacher, is not free and ought not to be free, since he is carrying out the orders of others. On the other hand, as the scholar who speaks to his own public (the world) through his writings, the minister in the public use of his reason enjoys unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to speak for himself. That the spiritual guardians of the people should themselves be treated as minors is an absurdity which would result in perpetuating absurdities.

But should a society of ministers, say a Church Council, . . . have the right to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable doctrine, in order to secure perpetual guardianship over all its members and through them over the people? I say that this is quite impossible. Such a contract, concluded to keep all further enlightenment from humanity, is simply null and void even if it should be confirmed by the sovereign power, by parliaments, and the most solemn treaties. An epoch cannot conclude a pact that will commit succeeding ages, prevent them from increasing their significant insights, purging themselves of errors, and generally progressing in enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature whose proper destiny lies precisely in such progress. Therefore, succeeding ages are fully entitled to repudiate such decisions as unauthorized and outrageous. The touchstone of all those decisions that may be made into law for a people lies in this question: Could a people impose such a law upon itself? Now it might be possible to introduce a certain order for a definite short period of time in expectation of better order. But, while this provisional order continues, each citizen (above all, each pastor acting as a scholar) should be left free to publish his criticisms of the faults of existing institutions. This should continue until public understanding of these matters has gone so far that, by uniting the voices of many (although not necessarily all) scholars, reform proposals could be brought before the sovereign to protect those congregations which had decided according to their best lights upon an altered religious order, without, however, hindering those who want to remain true to the old institutions. But to agree to a perpetual religious constitution which is not publicly questioned by anyone would be, as it were, to annihilate a period of time in the progress of man's improvement. This must be absolutely forbidden.

A man may postpone his own enlightenment, but only for a limited period of time. And to give up enlightenment altogether, either for oneself or one's descendants, is to violate and to trample upon the sacred rights of man. What a people may not decide for itself may even less be decided for it by a monarch, for his reputation as a ruler consists precisely in the way in which he unites the will of the whole people within his own. If he only sees to it that all true or supposed [religious] improvement remains in step with the civic order, he can for the rest leave his subjects alone to do what they find necessary for the salvation of their souls. Salvation is none of his business; it is his business to prevent one man from forcibly keeping another from determining and promoting his salvation to the best of his ability. Indeed, it would be prejudicial to his majesty if he meddled in these matters and supervised the writings in which his subjects seek to bring their [religious] views into the open, even when he does this from his own highest insight, because then he exposes himself to the reproach: Caesar non est supra grammaticos. 2    It is worse when he debases his sovereign power so far as to support the spiritual despotism of a few tyrants in his state over the rest of his subjects.

When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment. As matters now stand it is still far from true that men are already capable of using their own reason in religious matters confidently and correctly without external guidance. Still, we have some obvious indications that the field of working toward the goal [of religious truth] is now opened. What is more, the hindrances against general enlightenment or the emergence from self-imposed nonage are gradually diminishing. In this respect this is the age of the enlightenment and the century of Frederick [the Great].

A prince ought not to deem it beneath his dignity to state that he considers it his duty not to dictate anything to his subjects in religious matters, but to leave them complete freedom. If he repudiates the arrogant word "tolerant", he is himself enlightened; he deserves to be praised by a grateful world and posterity as that man who was the first to liberate mankind from dependence, at least on the government, and let everybody use his own reason in matters of conscience. Under his reign, honorable pastors, acting as scholars and regardless of the duties of their office, can freely and openly publish their ideas to the world for inspection, although they deviate here and there from accepted doctrine. This is even more true of every person not restrained by any oath of office. This spirit of freedom is spreading beyond the boundaries [of Prussia] even where it has to struggle against the external hindrances established by a government that fails to grasp its true interest. [Frederick's Prussia] is a shining example that freedom need not cause the least worry concerning public order or the unity of the community. When one does not deliberately attempt to keep men in barbarism, they will gradually work out of that condition by themselves.

I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment--man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage--primarily in religious matters, because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian to their subjects in the arts and sciences. Above all, nonage in religion is not only the most harmful but the most dishonorable. But the disposition of a sovereign ruler who favors freedom in the arts and sciences goes even further: he knows that there is no danger in permitting his subjects to make public use of their reason and to publish their ideas concerning a better constitution, as well as candid criticism of existing basic laws. We already have a striking example [of such freedom], and no monarch can match the one whom we venerate.

But only the man who is himself enlightened, who is not afraid of shadows, and who commands at the same time a well disciplined and numerous army as guarantor of public peace--only he can say what [the sovereign of] a free state cannot dare to say: "Argue as much as you like, and about what you like, but obey!" Thus we observe here as elsewhere in human affairs, in which almost everything is paradoxical, a surprising and unexpected course of events: a large degree of civic freedom appears to be of advantage to the intellectual freedom of the people, yet at the same time it establishes insurmountable barriers. A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity. Nature, then, has carefully cultivated the seed within the hard core--namely the urge for and the vocation of free thought. And this free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.


1. Translated by Mary C. Smith.

2. [Caesar is not above grammarians.]

Monday, August 12, 2019

Kant on Pure Intuitions and Pure Categories of Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

Hiranyagarbha: The Founder of the Yoga System

Patanjali has compiled the teachings of Yoga in his Yoga Sutras. But he is not the founder of the Yoga system, which is an ancient practice predating him by several millennia. Vācaspati Miśra, the ninth century philosopher of the Advaita Vedanta tradition, notes that, according to the Yajnavalkya Smrti, which has been dated between the third and fifth centuries AD, and belongs to the Dharmasastras tradition, Hiranyagarbha is the original teacher of Yoga. That is why Patanjali begins his Yoga Sutras with the following aphorism:

अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥
(atha yoga-anuśāsanam)

The prefix “anu” indicates that the aphorisms in the Yoga Sutras are a continuation of an earlier activity which is indicated in the suffix “śāsanam” (teachings of Yoga). The term “atha” means now and the entire aphorism can be roughly translated as: “Now, the teachings of Yoga [follow in this treatise]”. 

The Mahabharata too identifies Hiranyagarbha as the founder of Yoga. In Puranic literature (the Bhagavata Purana), Hiranyagarbha is regarded as Brahma, the creator god of Hinduism, who is born on the lotus sprouting from the navel of Vishnu when Vishnu is reclining on the divine serpent Sesa which floats on the cosmic waters pervading the entire universe before creation. (Patanjali is described as the reincarnation of Vishnu’s divine serpent Sesa.) When Hiranyagarbha awakens in the lotus, he is confused and disoriented—he has no means of knowing anything. He manages to calm his mind and entering into a stage of Yoga (samadhi), he attains the divine vision of Vishnu. Thus Hiranyagarbha became the first practitioner of Yoga, and the founder of the Yoga system.

In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, which is embedded in the Yajurveda, Kapila, the founder of the Samkhya system, is identified as Hiranyagarbha. Another interesting portrayal of Hiranyagarbha is found in the account of primary creation of the universe given in the Matsya Puraṇa—here Hiranyagarbha is depicted as the golden womb (cosmic egg) inside which Brahma creates himself. Since he creates himself, this Brahma is called Svayambhu, (the self-manifested).

Sunday, August 11, 2019

On Dogmatic Philosophical Movements

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Strauss on Hobbes and Origins of Modernity

Leo Strauss notes that Thomas Hobbes cannot be ignored because he is the originator of modernity. Here’s an excerpt from his essay, “On the Basis of Hobbes’s Political Philosophy,” (Chapter 7; What is Political Philosophy? by Leo Strauss):

"Nietzsche, who abhorred the modern ideas, saw very clearly that those ideas are of British origin. The admirer of Schopenhauer thought it equitable to look down with contempt on the British philosophers, in particular on Bacon and on Hobbes. Yet Bacon and Hobbes were the first philosophers of power, and Nietzsche’s own philosophy is philosophy of power. Was not “the will to power” so appealing because its true ancestry was ignored? Only Nietzsche’s successors restored the connection, which he had blurred, between the will to power and technology. But this connection is clearly visible in the origins of that philosophic tradition which Nietzsche continued or competed: the British tradition.

"It has become necessary to study Hobbes as the originator of modernity, i.e., to take his claim seriously. That is to say, if we understand ourselves correctly, we see that our perspective is identical with Hobbes’s perspective. Modern philosophy emerged in express opposition to classical philosophy. Only in the light of the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns can modernity be understood. By rediscovering the urgency of this quarrel, we return to the beginnings of modernity. Our perspective becomes identical with that of Hobbes, in so far as his perspective is not limited by his answer, the acceptance of the modern principle, but extends to his question, which is the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns."

Strauss sees Hobbes as a thinker who broke with the pre-modern heritage and ushered in a new type of social doctrine: the doctrine of modernity.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?

In the early section of his 1904 essay, “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?” William James declares that consciousness “is the name of a nonentity… a mere echo, the faint rumor left behind by the disappearing ‘soul’ upon the air of philosophy." He writes: "There is… no aboriginal stuff or quality of being, contrasted with that of which material objects are made, out of which our thoughts of them are made; but there is a function in experience which thoughts perform, and for the performance of which this quality of being is invoked. That function is knowing…if we start with the supposition that there is only one primal stuff or material in the world, a stuff of which everything is composed, and if we call that stuff ’pure experience,’ then knowing can easily be explained as a particular sort of relation towards one another into which portions of pure experience may enter. The relation itself is a part of pure experience; one of its 'terms' becomes the subject or bearer of the knowledge, the knower, the other becomes the object known."

In another passage, he associates consciousness with the act of breathing: "Let the case be what it may in others, I am as confident as I am of anything that, in myself, the stream of thinking (which I recognize emphatically as a phenomenon) is only a careless name for what, when scrutinized, reveals itself to consist chiefly of the stream of my breathing. The 'I think' which Kant said must be able to accompany all my objects, is the 'I breath' which actually does accompany them. There are other internal facts besides breathing (intracephalic muscular adjustments, etc., of which I have said a word in my larger Psychology), and these increase the assets of 'consciousness,' so far as the latter is subject to immediate perception; but breath, which was ever the original of 'spirit,' breath moving outwards, between the glottis and the nostrils, is, I am persuaded, the essence out of which philosophers have constructed the entity known to them as consciousness. That entity is fictitious, while thoughts in the concrete are fully real. But thoughts in the concrete are made of the same stuff as things are."

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On The Narcissistic Libertarians

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

From Plato to Plotinus

Plotinus is probably the most important philosopher in the 700-year period between Aristotle and Augustine of Hippo. Much of what we know about him comes from the biography The Life of Plotinus, written by his disciple Porphyry, who was a major philosopher in his own right. We know that Plotinus was born in Lycopolis, Egypt, in A.D. 205, but it is not clear if he was a Greek or a member of a Hellenized Egyptian family. Plotinus decided to become a philosopher in his 28th year—what he used to do before that is not known. His quest for philosophical knowledge brought him to Alexandria where he studied under a teacher called Ammonius Saccas for eleven years. Little is known about Ammonius own philosophical views, but he encouraged Plotinus to study Plato. In 243, Plotinus, aspiring to study Persian and Indian philosophy, attached himself to the expedition of Emperor Gordian III to Persia. But when the expedition got aborted, with the assassination of Gordian by his troops, Plotinus abandoned his plans and established himself in Rome in 245, where he lived till his death in 270 or 271. According to Porphyry, for ten years Plotinus didn’t write anything—he devoted himself to lecturing on the philosophy that he had learned from his master Ammonius. After that he began setting down his thoughts in a series of "treatises" of various lengths and complexity. Porphyry arranged Plotinus’s treatises into six groups of nine each—which got the title Enneads, because in Greek “enneads” means nine. Porphyry offers one astonishing information about Plotinus—he reveals that due to  poor eyesight, Plotinus never revised anything he wrote. Plotinus thought of himself as a disciple of Plato. Today he is regarded as the founder of "Neoplatonism," but he would have preferred the label "Platonism" for his work. His philosophy was devoted to responding to Plato's critics (this includes Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics, and various lesser figures) and elucidating the wisdom of Plato.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Intellectuals and Politicians Love Bad Ideas

Intellectuals and politicians have one thing in common—they love bad ideas. The more unworkable the idea, the greater is their infatuation with it. They examine other nations to learn about the ideas that have led to the worst catastrophes, and they eagerly bring these failed ideas to their own nation. There can be two reasons for their love affair with bad ideas: first, they think that they are capable of making the bad ideas, which have failed multiple times in different parts of the world, work; second, they harbor a sinister desire for destroying the economy and culture of their own country.

Monday, August 5, 2019

David Stove on Charles Darwin

Those who believe in Darwinian theory—I mean, really believe in it—should read David Stove’s Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution, which is an attack on certain aspects of Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theory. Stove is an atheist—which means he does not have a religious agenda in attacking Darwin. In the book's Preface, he writes: “This is an anti-Darwinism book. It is written both against the Darwinism of Darwin and his 19th century disciples, and against the Darwinism of such influential 20th century Darwinians as G.C. Williams and W.D. Hamilton and their disciples. My object is to show that Darwinism is not true: not true, at any rate, of our species. If it is true, or near enough true, of sponges, snakes, flies, or whatever, I do not mind that. What I do mind is, its being supposed to be true of man.”

Sunday, August 4, 2019

On Capitalist Desire and Socialist Hope

People in capitalist countries are filled with desire and when their desires are not fulfilled, they feel frustrated. People in socialist countries are filled with hope and when their hopes do not materialize, they feel enraged. But those in capitalist countries subconsciously know that their desires are unquenchable, and those in socialist countries subconsciously know that their hopes are never going to be fulfilled. But they keep desiring and feeling frustrated, and hoping and feeling enraged, because that is what their respective cultures have programmed them to do.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fibonacci: Revolution by 10 Numerals

Statue of Fibonacci (1863)
What Leonardo Pisano, who is better known as Fibonacci, did in the thirteenth century with the publication of Liber Abbaci (Book of Calculation) was every bit as revolutionary for the field of mathematics as the revolution that Copernicus brought in the field of astronomy. Pisano’s book introduced the system of 10 numerals to the masses— it took computing from a small group of mathematicians, and made it available to and usable by almost everyone.

When Pisano’s father moved from Pisa to the North African port of Bugia (now in Algeria), in around 1185, to serve as a trade representative and customs official, he took his son with him. It was in Bugia that Pisano mastered the Hindu system of 10 numerals and realized that it was far superior to the system of Roman numerals. Much of what we know about Pisano comes from a small biographical paragraph that he wrote for the 1228 edition of the Liber Abbaci (the book’s first edition was published in 1202).

In his 1973 essay, “The Autobiography of Leonardo Pisano,” Richard E. Grimm provides a literal translation of the autobiographical paragraph:
After my father's appointment by his homeland as state official in the customs house of Bugia for the Pisan merchants who thronged to it, he took charge; and, in view of its future usefulness and convenience, had me in my boyhood come to him and there wanted me to devote myself to and be instructed in the study of calculation for some days. There, following my introduction, as a consequence of marvelous instruction in the art, to the nine digits of the Hindus, the knowledge of the art very much appealed to me before all others, and for it I realized that all its aspects were studied in Egypt, Syria, Greece, Sicily, and Provence, with their varying methods; and at these places thereafter, while on business, I pursued my study in depth and learned the give-and-take of disputation. But all this even, and the algorism, as well as the art of Pythagoras I considered as almost a mistake in respect to the method of the Hindus. Therefore, embracing more stringently that method of the Hindus, and taking stricter pains in its study, while adding certain things from my own understanding and inserting also certain things from the niceties of Euclid’s geometric art, I have striven to compose this book in its entirety as understandably as I could, dividing it into fifteen chapters. Almost everything which I have introduced I have displayed with exact proof, in order that those further seeking this knowledge, with its pre-eminent method, might be instructed, and further, in order that the Latin people might not be discovered to be without it, as they have been up to now. If I have perchance omitted anything more or less proper or necessary, I beg indulgence, since there is no one who is blameless and utterly provident in all things.
Before the thirteenth century, some mathematicians in Europe were aware of the system of 10 numerals; they were using it for their personal calculations. But the population in Europe was dependent on the Roman numerals which were difficult to use. Pisano’s Liber Abbaci made the masses aware that, with the 10 numerals, they could conduct their calculations with ease. The traders of Europe became the first supporters of the system of 10 numerals—they adopted these numerals to keep record of their commercial activity.

On The Myth of Original Philosophy

When a school of philosophy makes the claim that the ideas of its founders are fully original and fully correct, then it's announcing to the world that it's led by immature thinkers and that it's philosophy has very little merit. No one cares whether a philosophy is original or not—what matters is whether the philosophy well argued? No one accepts a philosophy merely because it's original, but they may accept it if they are convinced that they can benefit from it. None of the major philosophers in history — Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Hume, and Kant — have claimed that they are propounding original ideas. In their treatises we find them making efforts to connect their ideas with the work of other eminent thinkers in their own time and from the past. A wise philosopher will always acknowledge the intellectual debt that he owes to the great minds of the past—he will respect his predecessors even when he is disagreeing with them. Aristotle begins every book with a discussion of what the thinkers before him have stated on the subject.

Friday, August 2, 2019

On the First Greek Treatise on Philosophy

Anaximander’s Concerning Nature is regarded as the first treatise on philosophy by a Greek author. The book is lost—a mere dozen words from it have survived, but the book might have been read by Plato and Aristotle and their successors. It seems likely that the book was available in the library of Lyceum during the time of Aristotle and his successor Theophrastus. According to some accounts, in second century BCE, Apollodorus of Athens had discovered a copy of Anaximander’s Concerning Nature, probably in the famous library of Alexandria. In his book The Presocratic Philosophers, Jonathan Barnes comments on the nature and scope of Anaximander’s book:

"It was vast: there was a cosmogony, or account of the original formation of the universe; a history of the earth and the heavenly bodies; an account of the development of living organisms; descriptions of natural phenomena of every sort, and infant studies of astronomy, meteorology and biology; and a geography illustrated by a celebrated mappa mundi. Nature, phusis, embraces every object of experience and every subject of rational inquiry except the productions of human contrivance; and the Presocratic systems of thought were generally spoken of as accounts Concerning Nature (Peri Phuseôs). An account concerning nature would begin with cosmogony, and proceed to a description of the celestial universe. It would investigate the development of the earth, of terrestrial life, and of the human animal; it would describe the clouds, the rains, and the winds, the rocky structure of the land, and the salt sea. It would rise from the inorganic to the organic, treating of topics botanical and zoological; it would look at the typology of species and the anatomy of individuals. It would turn to the mind, and study the psychology of sensation and action; and it would ask about the extent and the nature of human knowledge, and about the proper place of man in the natural world. An account Peri Phuseôs would, in brief, encompass all science and all philosophy.

"Thales, we may imagine, first indicated that vast field of intellectual endeavour. Anaximander was the first to map it out; and his chart, with a few additions and modifications, determined the range and aspirations of almost all subsequent thought. Anaximenes, Xenophanes, and even Heraclitus; Empedocles and Anaxagoras and the Atomists: all worked and wrote in the grand tradition of Anaximander: other men are specialists, their specialism was omniscience."

The fragment from Anaximander’s book, consisting of about a dozen words, that has come down to us, in a text by the Aristotelian scholar Simplicius, who came in the sixth century AD, is probably one of the most discussed phrases in the history of philosophy.

Action Precedes Theory

Morality precedes moral theory; knowledge precedes theory of epistemology; the idea that our senses do not lie, and that the world is real, precedes theory of metaphysics; language precedes theory of grammar; communal living precedes theory of politics; creation of tools precedes theory of physics; agriculture and taming of animals precede theory of biology; creation of oils, chemicals, and metal alloys precede theory of chemistry; the art of counting and making basic calculations precede theory of mathematics; the arts of hunting and fighting the enemies of one’s tribe precede military theory; cave arts and tribal decorations precede theory of aesthetics; capitalism precedes theory of economics. Human beings have been using all kinds of ideas, arts, skills, tools, and knowledge for tens of thousands of years. Some of mankind's greatest innovations happened between 15000 to 70000 years ago. We started developing theories fairly recently, in the last 2500 years.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Anaximander and the Theory of Evolution

In chapter 5, "Anaximander of Miletus," of his book Philosophy Before Socrates, Richard D. McKirahan suggests in a couple of paragraphs that the presocratic philosopher Anaximander can be seen as the father of the theory of evolution:
Particularly striking is Anaximander’s recognition and solution of a problem arising from the helplessness of human infants. The first humans could not have come into this world as babies or they would have died before reaching an age at which they could propagate the race. How, then, did they come into being? This “first generation problem” can be answered by positing a god who creates adult humans or by asserting that the world and the human race have always been in existence. However, both these solutions conflict with basic features of Anaximander’s system. Accordingly he takes an original and ingenious approach, having the first humans nurture in other animals until self-sustaining.  
For his claims that animals arose in the sea before they emerged to live on dry land and that they developed from fish, and for recognizing the need for a different original form for humans and the difficulties of adapting to different habitats (perhaps implicit in the short lives of the animals who first moved onto dry land), Anaximander is sometimes called the father of evolution. This interpretation is wrong, however, since he says nothing about the evolution of species. His problem of how to account for the first generation of each kind of animal, how to get each kind of animal established once and for all, is different from Darwin’s. Moreover, he makes not mention of such Darwinian mechanisms as natural selection. 
Anaximander was the student of Thales and the teacher of Anaximenes—it is possible that Pythagoras too was one of his students. Anaximander’s comprehensive and systematic ideas had a seminal impact on the Greek thinkers (including Plato and Aristotle) who followed him. In Raphael’s painting The School of Athens, Anaximander is represented leaning towards Pythagoras on his left.