Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Unknowability Of Personal Philosophy

A man’s personal philosophy exists only in immanence and its ultimate content is unknown and uncommunicable. Through introspection and by recalling and evaluating the choices that he has made in the past, a man may have a vague idea of what his personal philosophy is like, but since personal philosophy operates at the level of subconsciousness, it cannot be comprehensively understood and described in precise words. Even the philosophers who develop entire systems of philosophy fail to practice what they preach, because the philosophy that they describe is never wholly their own personal philosophy.

On Those Who Submit To Philosophical Doctrines

Whoever accepts a particular philosophy as his ultimate guide in life is intellectually and morally weakened by it. A man’s submission to a philosophy, irrespective of whether that philosophy is brilliant or mediocre, is as good as committing intellectual and moral suicide.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Skepticism: The Fountainhead Of Progress

In the last 3000 years, whenever philosophy has taken a skeptical turn, there has been a great flowering of innovations, inventions, and discoveries. Philosophy in Ancient Greece, from 6th to 1st century BCE, was dominated by the skeptics—Xenophanes and Democritus were major skeptic philosophers of their time, and after them came the Sophists. In the 4th century BCE, Pyrrho founded the skeptic school of Pyrrhonism which continues to be influential till this day. Ancient Greek skepticism became very influential in the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire went into decline in the 4th century, skepticism ceased to be the dominant philosophy, but it got revived in the 15th century through the works of Michel de Montaigne, Pierre Gassendi, and René Descartes. David Hume took skepticism to a new high in the 18th century. The Logical Positivists and the Analytic School, both of which denied the existence of metaphysics, dominated the philosophy of the 20th century.

Politicians, Philosophers, and Adventurers

The best nations are those where the politicians are pessimistic (it hinders them from enforcing utopian policies), the philosophers are skeptic and pragmatic (it hinders them from becoming dogmatic), and the adventurers (artists, businessmen, scientists) are optimistic (it encourages them to make new discoveries and innovations).

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Divisions Of The Political Man

Man is a mythical creature; like the unicorn, he does not exist. What exists is an English man, a French man, an Indian man, an American man, a Chinese man, and so on—or a brown man, white man, black man, yellow man, and so on—or a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, a Moslem, and so on—or a rich man, a poor man, a middle class man and so on. The political man is perpetually divided and politics of mankind is the science of managing the different factions of man.

On History And Philosophy

The purpose of history is to narrate events through which the cultures have evolved. The purpose of philosophy is twofold: first, to make the historical events understandable by demonstrating their inevitability and necessity; second, to reveal the impact of the historical events on the present and their implications for the future. Without history, there can be no philosophy. Without philosophy, history will have no significance.

The Stoic Wise Man

The possibility of the rise of a wise man plays a central role in stoic philosophy. The stoics believe that being wise means being satisfied with what one is. The stoic wise man is not emotional; he desires nothing; he does not aspire to change the world. Since he is not a man of action, he is the man who “is” and who does not “become”. He identifies himself with himself and is satisfied with his identity.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Libertarianism: The Impossible Ideal

Libertarianism is possible only for the gods; if not the gods, then for the beings of an angelic intelligence. It is an impossible ideal for a non-divine intelligence (normal human beings). For normal human beings, time moves from the past to the future by way of the present, but the libertarians believe in the primacy of the future. Disinterested in the past and dissatisfied with the present, they pole-vault directly into the future when their ideal free society is destined to be realized. The libertarian future is perpetually in the future; it has no potential for becoming the present or the past.

John Gray On Isaiah Berlin's Thought

Saturday, February 22, 2020

On The Wise Man Of Philosophy

Much of philosophy is a theology. While theology's god is the god of heaven, philosophy's god is the wise man. Theology's god becomes real through faith, but philosophy's god needs to be discovered. The problem is that the wise man of philosophy is yet to be discovered—perhaps he is yet to arrive.

On The Laws Of Morality

It’s in man’s nature to be skeptical on moral issues with respect to his temporal existence. The man who claims that he has always been moral in life must be lacking in moral standards—he might be a lair. Men cannot be perfectly moral because the human mind is incapable of comprehending the origin and scope of the laws of morality. The moral theories of the world prove the impossibility of people writing them down at any point of time—moral theories explain every action of man except the actions that man may undertake to write the laws of morality.

On Three Types of Progress

Progress in philosophy means theological progress (quest for ultimate truth and certainty). Progress in science means material progress (creation of material things). Progress in politics means anthropological progress (development of modes of human relationships).

Friday, February 21, 2020

Ordinary Intuitions Are Often Wrong

Natural rights is not a naturalistic theory. Individualism is not an individualistic theory. Atheism is not an atheistic theory. Empiricism is not an empirical theory. Liberalism is not a liberal theory. The ordinary intuitions are often wrong.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Why Beauty Matters? Roger Scruton

I just finished reading Roger Scruton’s book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. What I find noteworthy in this book is the idea that the sense of beauty is something that we acquire through our traditions and culture and then pass on. A judgement about beauty is, in essence, a quest for consensus in a community. Scruton’s conservatism is not devoted solely to politics; it has implications for beauty, art, and truth. He has also presented a hour long video titled Why Beauty Matters. However, I found the book to be better than his video:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Implications Of The Meaning Of “The”

The essay whose primary subject matter is the tiny word “the” is perhaps the most famous essay of the first half of the twentieth century. I am talking about Bertrand Russell’s essay, “On Denoting,” in which he talks about the philosophical implications of the meaning of the word “the.” First published in the journal Mind in 1905, this essay inspired the agenda of the Analytic Philosophy movement in the next 50 years. Much of what Russell says has been refuted, and Analytic Philosophy got mired in unresolvable disputes, but the essay is worth reading. In 1950, P. F. Strawson published the essay, “On Referring,” which is a critique of Russell’s essay. Strawson’s essay too is of great interest, though it is not as popular as the Russellian essay that it tried to challenge.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Optimism Of Theism

Atheism, which implies materialism, is the philosophy of pessimism—the atheists believe that one day the sun will turn into a supernova and all the planets in the solar system will be obliterated, with that will vanish all trace of mankind. But theism, which implies spiritualism, is the philosophy of optimism—it gives us the hope that even if the sun is destroyed, by god’s blessings mankind may survive and even if mankind goes out of existence, the memories of our achievements will be somehow preserved, if only in the mind of god.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Irrational Consequences Of Rational Politics

The people, who self-identify as rational, demand the impossible, which is to say, to achieve the ends without the means. In the last 100 years, their politics has been motivated by seven concerns: liberty, global free markets, atheism, individualism, anti-racism, world peace, and small government. They want to radically transform the world, and their notion of these seven concerns is utopian, which ensures that their political agenda is unachievable. Their utopianism drives normal people away from them. Instead of popularizing political values, the people, who self-identify as rational, have succeeded in demonstrating that political values have very little to do with the life of the common man and in some ways are anti-life.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

On The Collectivist Character Of Individualism

Every individualist is an ex-collectivist. To become an individualist a man must cease to be a collectivist, but to cease to be a collectivist, he must have been a collectivist. Individualism may seem antithetical to collectivism, but both have a symbiotic relationship—individualism can arise only in societies where collectivism exists. But once the individualists attain self-realization, they join other individualists to create close-knit communities. Hence, the future, and not just the past, of individualism is collectivism. The journey of the individualists begins with collectivism and ends with collectivism.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Builders of Civilization: Masters And Slaves

There has never been a major civilization that in the beginning, or through the entirety of its existence, has not been divided into two classes: the master class and the slave class. Ancient Greece was a great slave society. Ancient Rome was an even greater slave society. The greatest of all slave societies was the Roman Empire which at its peak had conquered and enslaved much of Europe, and parts of Africa and Asia. The paradox is that while these civilizations were making use of slavery, their master class made significant advancements in developing the ideas of liberty, rationality, and individualism. On the relevance of masters and slaves in society, I can draw three inferences: first, the existence of slaves and their masters is a necessary condition for mankind to create new civilizations; second, the existence of the slave class does not hinder the master class from developing ideas of liberty, rationality, and individualism; third, all of history can be understood as the dialectics of collaboration and conflict between mastery and slavery.

Perfection Implies Imperfection

The man who knows that he a perfect man is the most imperfect man. A perfect man will be aware of his imperfections.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Religion And Philosophy

Religion is never justified by history and science; in advanced civilizations, it’s justified by philosophy, and in primitive civilizations, it is justified by mythology and superstition. The first rationalistic knowledge that was developed by mankind is primitive religion—this happened during the Stone Age. When mankind moved into the Bronze Age and Iron age, their primitive religion had accumulated sufficient knowledge to justify elementary philosophy. With further advancement of civilization, there was a reversal in the roles of philosophy and religion—philosophy gained maturity and thinkers started deploying philosophical theories to justify their religion. An example of this trend is Aquinas’s use of Aristotelian philosophy for making a case for scholasticism. But if philosophy can justify religion, it can also belittle it. The fall of scholasticism paved way for the rise of modern atheistic philosophy.

On Claims Of Universal Validity

There is nothing more illiberal than to claim universal validity for one’s own philosophy. This kind of tendency is generally found in intellectuals and politicians who, consciously or subconsciously, lust for power over others, and are ignorant of the multidimensional complexities in social relationships and human psychology. Even when their ideas are rational, such people do not lead to good outcomes—they poison society with their intolerance, dogmatism, and totalitarianism.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Alexandre Kojève’s Hegelianism And Politics

My interest in Alexandre Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel's philosophy was aroused after I read the essays in which Leo Strauss describes the philosophical differences between Kojève and himself.  Kojève was a Marxist (possibly a Stalinist) and Strauss was a conservative (possibly a neoconservative). Both were close friends. They liked to discuss philosophy and politics, though they disagreed on several issues. 

I am reading Kojève’s lectures on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in a book edited by Alan Bloom: Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. The book contains seven of Kojève’s lectures which were originally compiled by Raymond Queneau. In his Introduction, Bloom offers his assessment of Kojève’s contribution to Hegelian scholarship:

“But looking around us, Kojève, like every other penetrating observer, sees that the completion of the human task may very well coincide with the decay of humanity, the rebarbarization or even reanimalization of man… one wonders whether the citizen of the universal homogeneous state is not identical to Nietzsche's Last Man, and whether Hegel's historicism does not by an inevitable dialectic force us to a somber and more radical historicism which rejects reason. We are led to a confrontation between Hegel and Nietzsche and perhaps, even further, toward a reconsideration of the classical philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, who rejected historicism before the fact and whom Hegel believed he had surpassed. It is the special merit of Kojève to be one of the very few sure guides to the contemplation of the fundamental alternatives.”

Robert Scruton, however, was not as kind to Kojève as Strauss and Bloom were. In his article on Fukuyama, Scruton has described Kojève as a life-hating Russian, a self-declared Stalinist, a dangerous psychopath, and a drummer boy for the end of history. Scruton notes in the article that Fukuyama borrowed his thesis that history has worked towards its end from Kojève.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Unserious Lust For Originality

The unserious man searches for ways of demonstrating that he is an original thinker, but his work is trite, full of falsehoods, and uninspiring; the serious man does not seek to broadcast his originality, but his work inspires because of its imaginativeness, clarity, and passionate pursuit of truth.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Atheism And Irrationality

In the name of atheism any evil can be justified. The history of last three hundred years (in most advanced democracies) does not give us any reason to believe that the atheists are more rational and moral than those who are motivated by religious values. The notion that the atheists are men of reason is not an empirically established fact; it’s merely an opinion that the atheists have of themselves. Atheism is an “ism”—a political ideology—and like all ideologies, it can be corrupted and can be used for subverting culture and justifying the forces of irrationality and evil. Rationality is not the sole prerogative of the atheists. A number of great theologians in the last two thousand five hundred years have defended their philosophical ideas on rational considerations.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Intriguing Question: What Is Reason?

What is reason? The 2500 year old history of reason is a prolonged search for the definition of reason. The 18th century was called the Age of Reason, but it’s not clear even in our times how reason operates, what its limitations are, and what its relationship is to man's emotions, passions, and instinct. The philosophies are incapable of investigating reason because a focus on reason has the paradoxical effect of driving a philosophy towards rationalization and dogmatism. In the last 300 years, the word “reason” has become a sepulcher that holds the remains of the dead philosophies which, during their short lifetime, dared to overreach their aspirations and call themselves the “philosophy of reason."

Thursday, February 6, 2020

On Reason And Instinct

The first knowledge that a man acquires is through instinct—reason enters at a later stage, and its primary role is to analyze and confirm the knowledge that instinct has acquired. The idea of supremacy of reason is a myth. Reason is not superior to instinct; both play an equally important role for acquiring knowledge. Along with being an age of reason, the modern age is also an age of instinct. The proficiency in the use of reason is the mark of a technical man; the proficiency in the use of instinct is the mark of a wise man. Progress happens when technical knowledge and wisdom march hand in hand.

Irrationality Implies Rationality

Irrationality is essential for rationality to exist. Men become rational critical thinkers by learning to identify irrational ideas and coming up with ways of refuting them. The contest between rationality and irrationality is never ending; it will go on for as long as humanity lasts. This contest invigorates our mind and makes us capable of critical thinking, and producing original and fruitful ideas. The civilizations which have been the fountainhead of mankind’s greatest rational ideas have also been the creators of our greatest irrationalities.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Reason, Faith, and Instincts: A Darwinian Case

If the Darwinian theory of evolution is to be believed, then all the species have developed their biological features because the exigencies of survivability demanded it. This means that all the mental tools that humankind is using for making sense of the world are there because they are practicable or conducive for survival. The process of evolution has awarded the same importance to our instincts, faith, emotions, and mystic insights that it has to our intellect and reason. Intellect and reason are not the only tools for gaining knowledge, as many modern thinkers claim; our instincts, faith, emotions, and mystic insights also play a critical role.

On The Essence Of “I”

The ultimate metaphysical problem is the problem of being. One being with whom all of us are intimate is the entity we identify as “I”. What does the word “I” refer to? Does it refer to the body, the soul, or the mind? Those who reject dualism will assert that there is no distinction between the body and mind and that the soul doesn’t exist. Even in a non-dualistic system there is a differentiation between the mind and the body—the mind is regarded as an attribute or function of the brain. I can’t see how one can identify the essence of “I” without accepting some form of dualism. This dualism can be property dualism which envisages a universe composed of just one substance, the physical substance, which exhibits two types of properties: physical and mental.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Utter Individualists

An individualist mindset is, paradoxically, an obstacle to the development of real individualism. The man who is stirred by individualism is driven to join groups with likeminded people whose philosophy and agenda he accepts as the gospel for an individualistic way of life.

The term “individualism” (“individualisme” in French) was being contemptuously used in France in the 19th century, after the bloodbath of the French Revolution, to refer to the anarchists and socially unreliable folks. Subsequently, different forms of individualism became popular with the youth in different countries: in Germany, there was the rise of a romantic notion of individualism; in America “rugged Individualism” was extolled in the early decades of the 20th century.

After the 1950s, individualism morphed into a cultish movement—there was the rise of cults catering to the intellectual and psychological needs of youngsters who claim to be individualistic and require privacy from society. Nowadays, most individualists exist in cult-like formations.

On Moral Authority

Moral authority is external to the self and is derived through the coercive power of the conventions and the religious, social, and intellectual establishments. There is no inner source of morality because all human instruments of knowledge rest on sense perception which lacks the capacity for bridging the gap between the “is” and the “ought.” Our mind might give us a clue about the “is” but to derive an “ought” from it we need to accept theories that we learn through our conventions and institutions. The instruments of political and social power in a society are the fountainhead of all moral beliefs.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Burke’s Case Against Natural Rights

Man’s rights are not natural. They are manmade and hard-earned. The idea of natural rights is an idealistic abstraction which is not relevant to the practical realities of the world. In his Refections on the Revolution in France (1790), Edmund Burke notes that conventions—and not nature—are the basis of the “real” rights for man. Man cannot enjoy the same sort of rights in every nation. Burke argues that since the rights are conventional, they are incapable of rational demonstration. The rights are subjective, not objective. The rights are mostly founded on historical fictions. What matters is that they should be widely accepted and that they should work. Burke warns that if the conventional basis of man’s rights is discarded, then the alternative will be “rule of reason,” but this implies a rule by abstract principle, which always devolves into a tyranny.