“Does Moral Philosophy Rest upon a Mistake?” is the name of the 1912 paper by H. A. Prichard. Moral philosophy has assumed the task of providing a reason or justification for holding that something which we value as our duty, but in his paper Prichard tries to prove that the demand for such a reason or justification is untenable. To defend his position, he makes two arguments. In his first argument, he notes that people may try to justify the view that something is their duty by showing that what is their duty is essential to their pleasure, or conducive for some good, but if pleasure and some good are the ultimate goals then people are not treating whatever they assume to be their duty as their duty. In his second point, Prichard appeals to the things of which we are supposed to be conscious and notes that since the apprehension of duty is automatic, it cannot be supported by reason and what is not supported by reason must be amoral.
Monday, August 31, 2020
“A swinish multitude”—by his use of this phrase, Edmund Burke has conveyed his low opinion of the men who become part of mobs and indulge in great violence to force society to accept their political agenda. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke writes: “Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.” Burke’s use of the phrase “a swinish multitude” caused great controversy in his time and the radical politicians and intellectuals saw this as an attack on the underprivileged.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
“But people tell me that these men are simply old, cold, boring frogs, which creep and hop around people as if they were in their own proper element, that is, in a swamp,” writes Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals—he is criticizing the English psychologists (the utilitarians) who were preaching that the word “good” was first applied to altruistic actions since such actions are socially useful. Nietzsche notes that the word “good” was first used in Ancient Greece by the noble, mighty, higher-ranking and higher-thinking people whose way of living was in stark contrast to everything plebeian, low-minded, weak, common, and vulgar. Fundamentally, Nietzsche is in the right.
The great moral philosophers in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were pro-England and they mostly preached in favor of the status quo (Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Smith, Burke, and others), whereas, in France and Germany during the same period, the great moral philosophers were anti-France and anti-Germany (Voltaire, Montesquieu, Kant, Rousseau, and others) and they mostly preached against the status quo. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, England attained great economic and political success—the industrial revolution led to an unprecedented growth in its economy and it became the empire on which the sun never set; France and Germany in this period remained mired in a multitude of political and economic problems. Even in the twentieth century, England has fared better than France and Germany. The lesson to be learned from this is that a nation in which the moral philosophy is dominated by nationalistic philosophers has a better chance of making progress.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Society is not the aggregate of existing individuals, as the individualists claim. The existing individuals are the inheritors of the society which has been created by the struggles and aspirations, achievements and failures of the past generations. Hegel’s entire philosophy is meant to elucidate that history of philosophy is at the core of the moral and political values of a nation—the critique of moral and political theories goes hand in hand with the political and economic struggle to transform society. To a significant extent our life is determined by the moral and political values, and the historical baggage, that we have inherited from the past.
Immanuel Kant is the founder of the modern conception of reason and morality. He can be seen as the supreme representative of the Enlightenment since he believed that through the use of reason, and reform of the political and cultural institutions, a society can be perfected, and he sympathized with the French Revolution. He believed, as did most Enlightenment thinkers, that the French Revolution would lead to the rise of a liberal, peaceful, and just society not just in France but across Europe. He preached that universal moral principles, which do not depend on the social order, are possible. He valued independence of mind and regarded paternalism as the worst form of tyranny—and he thought that reason and universal moral principles were the key to freeing the human mind. He was convinced that there would be perpetual peace among Republican nations founded on rational moral and political principles. But the failure of the French Revolution and the problems that Germany has faced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries suggest that Kant’s view that a good Republican society can be founded on reason and universal moral principles is a mirage—social order and principles of morality are the outcome of a historical, cultural, religious process over which men in any generation have limited control.
Friday, August 28, 2020
Paradoxically, the people with a rational mode of thinking are often the believers in the most outrageous irrationalities. This is because the more rational people are, the more susceptible are they to the irrationalities which come packed in a language that might seem scholarly and profound.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
If a culture does not regularly rebarbarize itself in intervals of five or six decades (the lifespan of a generation), then it usually dies. Rebarbarization is important not only for strengthening the institutions by weeding out the weak and corrupt elements from high positions in society but also for taking the culture to the next level of dominance. In his article, 'Wimps Versus Barbarians,” Thomas Sowell writes: ”Whether on college campuses or among nations on the world stage, if the battle comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are bound to win.” My point is that a culture needs good barbarians to fight the bad barbarians.
Despite the economic and technological progress that we have made, our mindset has not changed much in the last three thousand years. The only change in human beings that I can detect is that the yahoos of the ancient and middle ages have become the houyhnhnms of the modern and postmodern periods.
When water becomes stagnant, the scum rises to the top; the same thing happens when a society becomes stagnant. The advanced nations, which were the drivers of the progress in the world in the last three hundred years, have become stagnant in the twenty-first century, with the result that scum has risen to the top of their society and has throughly corrupted their intellectual, artistic, political, and geopolitical agenda.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
There are several geographical regions where the people are lacking in the intellectual and moral vitality and are utterly incapable of developing a high civilization. Their problem cannot be solved by economic and political reforms, for no amount of democracy, liberty, and free markets can improve the fortunes of a nation that is devoid of vitality. There are very few geographical regions where the vitality to create a high civilization can be found.
“In ancient times it was necessary to be either anvil or hammer,” wrote Theodor Mommsen in the third volume of the History of Rome. But I am a bit more grounded than Mommsen; I believe that what he has said is true for the modern times as well; in fact, it’s true for all times. The clash of civilizations is the fundamental driver of history—this clash is a natural system by which history weeds out the weak civilizations (the anvils) and promotes the ones that are strong (the hammers). Even for human beings, the anvil or hammer analogy is valid—it’s the hammers among men who win, while the anvils among men are generally the losers.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Monday, August 24, 2020
A work of history is an abortion in the womb of the past—a historian does not merely report on the past; he tries to abort other versions of the past, and give birth to his own version. Many historians (mostly liberals and leftists) give birth to versions in which the past is denigrated, because they know that when people learn to denigrate their past, they become lifelong supporters of the liberal and leftist causes. Fortunately, the world has historians in whose works a better version of the past can be discovered.
There are several historians whose works I like; if I am asked to name my top five historians, I will give the following names:
David Hume (The History of England)
Edward Gibbon (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)
Thomas Macaulay (The History of England)
Theodor Mommsen (History of Rome)
Nirad C. Chaudhuri (Thy Hand, Great Anarch!, Clive of India)
Here’s a definition of “axiomism” (a term that I have coined): The conviction that the philosophical opinions that I hold (or my favorite philosopher holds) can never be wrong, because my opinions are axioms which do not need to be established through scientific evidence or defended by philosophical arguments and can be accepted as the ultimate facts which are self-evident. In the twentieth century, several philosophical movements contracted the intellectual disease of axiomism.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Saturday, August 22, 2020
Don Quixote was one of Karl Marx’s favorite books. Marx believed that the important lesson that Quixote had to learn was that not every social order is equally compatible with knight errantry—it is certainly incompatible with the bourgeoise world order in which, Marx saw, the last vestiges of chivalry being ridiculed and shunned. In Capital, Marx writes: “This much, however, is clear, that the Middle Ages could not live on Catholicism, nor the ancient world on politics. On the contrary, it is the mode in which they gained a livelihood that explains why here politics, and there Catholicism, played the chief part. For the rest, it requires but a slight acquaintance with the history of the Roman republic, for example, to be aware that its secret history is the history of its landed property. On the other hand, Don Quixote long ago paid the penalty for wrongly imagining that knight errantry was compatible with all economic forms of society.”
Aristotle defines politics as a practical science, but was he aware of the practical political realities of his time? He was living in Athens, in a time of tumult, but he does not talk about the threat to Athens from Macedon. In his work on political theory, Politics, Aristotle mentions Macedon twice, both times in a non-political context. Where did his loyalties lie: Athens or Macedon? He had lived and worked in Plato’s Athenian Academy for more than twenty years, but left Athens in 343 BC to become a tutor to the prince of Macedon, Alexander. Four years later, in 339 BC, Athens was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon. How did Aristotle feel about the conquest of Athens? Did he support the Macedonian takeover of Athens or did he oppose it? Plato, who is often seen as an idealist, in contrast to Aristotle’s earthiness, displays a better awareness of the political realities in some of his dialogues than Aristotle does in his own works.
Friday, August 21, 2020
Man’s rights, without common power and good constitution, are nothing more than the musings of philosophers, just empty words, which have no strength to secure man’s life and property. Where there is no common power and common constitution, there can be no conception of man’s rights and injustice. The Great Leviathan, when it's founded on a good constitution, is the fountainhead of man’s rights.
As the power of the state grows, the power of moral principles decline because the government enacts new laws and implements new restrictions which impinge upon the alternatives between which the people have to exercise their moral judgement for making their choices. When everything is regulated, nothing is moral.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
The people of the twenty-first century seem convinced that their way of life will survive forever—they don’t know that they have already been “cancelled” by history. I think of a line from Virgil’s Aeneid: “fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens gloria Teucrorum.” (We Trojans are no more, Ilium is no more, nor the great Glory of the Teucrians.) This line occurs in the tragic speech of Panthus, the priest at the temple of Apollo. On learning about the fall of Troy, Aeneas, the son of the Anchises and Aphrodite, and the lieutenant of Hector, picks up his arms and rushes to the battle—on his way, he encounters Panthus who is fleeing with his grandchild. When Aeneas asks why he was fleeing, Panthus delivers his tragic speech. Aeneas was one of the few Trojans to survive the war—he travelled to Italy and settled near Rome, where his descendants, Remus and Romulus, founded an empire; thus, according to this legend, the Romans are the descendants of the Trojans. The Britons too are descendants of the Trojans, since Britain was founded by another descendent of Aeneas, Brutus of Troy, who became Britain’s first king.
The people in a nation have two alternatives: either they can identify themselves by their race and religion, or by their history and nation. If they don’t identify by either of the two alternatives then their community is ripped apart by the forces of pathological liberalism, individualism, and multiculturalism and turned into a heap of dry sand which the wind scatters in all directions. History of the last four hundred years tells us that those nations have made progress where the individualism and liberty of the people was rooted in a common identity: for instance, England in from the middle of the seventeenth century to the middle of the twentieth century; the USA from the nineteenth century to the 1960s; Japan from 1950 till today; South Korea from 1965 till today. Even in China, a communist country, a sense of common identity has led to better outcomes.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
The first requisite to happiness is that a man should be naive and ignorant. A man of intelligence and knowledge has little scope for being happy—because he is aware of too many problems and he thinks too much about the lost opportunities to solve these problems.
They are no man—the socialist sons of Marx;
Proletariat is the best, they say, bourgeoisie the worst;
They have no tails, but it’s marvelous to see,
These creatures swinging from tree to tree,
Preaching that in the Marxist utopia everything is free,
And the monkeys have total equality.
Philosophy lives and dies in abstract thinking. If you have no capacity for abstract thinking, then you cannot make progress in philosophy, but if your entire worldview is founded on abstract thinking, then your philosophy will be rationalistic and utopian. Therefore, while navigating the river of philosophy, a philosopher must keep his feet planted in two boats simultaneously: one foot in the boat of the real world and the other foot in the boat of abstract thought.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
The essence of Platonic politics is that all political systems are flawed; in the Republic, five types of regimes are examined—Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny—and flaws are found in all of them. The essence of Aristotelian politics is that the nature of the regime is inconsequential; as long as the kingdom is stable, and a leisured life of metaphysical contemplation for the intellectual elite is possible, the regime can be tolerated. When Plato becomes the tutor of the tyrant of Syracuse, he makes heroic efforts to get the tyrant to accept his moral and political ideas, but his efforts cannot make a dent in the wall of political reality—Plato’s suspicion of all types of regimes is an outcome of his failure in Syracuse. After Plato’s death, Aristotle is asked by Philip II of Macedon to become Alexander’s tutor, but Aristotle accepts the job without any philosophical and political agenda—there is no evidence that Alexander learned any moral and political theory from Aristotle.
Those who refuse the sword must renounce the sceptre—in ancient times, this principle was widely accepted. But those were the times of simple politics. We live in a complicated age—an age when political movements appear suddenly and unexpectedly and start demanding total power, but the source of their power is never clear: Is sword their source of power? Is it ideology? Is it the size of their mob? Is it the nature of their political agenda? The source of their power, I believe, is a mixture of all four—these movements wield not just the power of the sword, or the power of using their mob to inflict violence on their rivals, but also the power that they derive from their blind devotion to their ideology and their political agenda.
Monday, August 17, 2020
Aristotle defines man as a rational animal—in his essay, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” (Chapter 7, Unpopular Essays), Bertrand Russell responds to the Aristotelian notion by invoking a list of human irrationalities and follies. Russell writes: “Man is a rational animal—so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents. On the contrary, I have seen the world plunging continually further into madness. I have seen great nations, formerly leaders of civilization, led astray by preachers of bombastic nonsense. I have seen cruelty, persecution, and superstition increasing by leaps and bounds, until we have almost reached the point where praise of rationality is held to mark a man as an old fogey regrettably surviving from a bygone age.” Russell is right in calling men irrational because he is judging their actions by rational standards and when Aristotle defines man as a rational being he too is invoking the rational standards. Russell is, therefore, not rejecting the Aristotelian definition of man.
Liberty and free markets are not the magic wand, a wave of which will make a nation prosperous; there are several nations in which there is hardly any economic regulation, primarily because their economy is too meager to be worth regulating—these nations are the world’s most backward places where people live in hellholes inflicted with poverty, disease, and crime. A nation might have liberty and free markets, but the people will not be able to take advantage of these values if they are lacking in intelligence, honesty, knowledge, moral principles, ambition to excel, and work ethic.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Plato is the conservative; Aristotle is the revolutionary. In his dialogues the Gorgias and the Republic, Plato tries to identify and judge the existing ethical and political systems, but in both dialogues, Socrates and his interlocutors are unable to judge which system of ethics and politics is the best. Aristotle’s focus in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics is not on identifying and judging but on creating a society in which people experience eudaimonia (happiness). Plato does not draw a clear connection between ethics and politics, but Aristotle insists that politics follows ethics—in the Aristotelian corpus, the Politics follows the Nicomachean Ethics and both works are concerned with the practical matter of enabling people to live with virtue and happiness. In his theory of forms, Plato says that the good is unhanging and transcendental, but Aristotle rejects this idea—he posits that the good, in the sense that it appears in human language, and, in the sense in which it’s desired by men, cannot be transcendental; it must be of this world, something that can be reached by human efforts. Plato aims to explain the existing system; Aristotle aims to overthrow the existing system and create a better system.
The twenty-first century will be the first century in three thousand years to record a steep decline in human population—perhaps this century will herald the beginning of the end for our species. In this universe, there is no mercy for creatures that have lost their will to survive; the fate of the dinosaurs awaits us if we can’t rediscover that instinct which Nietzsche calls “the barbaric (romanticist) will to power (survival).”
Saturday, August 15, 2020
The religious movements are more influential and long-lasting than the philosophical movements. The appeal of the philosophical movements never extends beyond the intellectual and political circles in one or two nations, and they become obsolete within a generation. But the religious movements like Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and others have survived for several millennia—they have had a massive impact on the culture and politics of not only the nation where they were founded but in many other nations. Since the eighteenth century, powerful atheistic movements have arisen in different parts of the world, but the religious movements continue to be young, energetic, and full of zeal for maintaining their influence.
History is not meant to be read as a story of the past events; it is meant to be read philosophically, in the sense that it offers perspectives on the rise and fall of cultural and political institutions and on the religious and moral thought which once enabled large groups of people to identify with each other and cooperate for establishing and defending political communities (city-states or nations).
Friday, August 14, 2020
The individualists think that they are outside Aristotle’s definition of man; they think that they don’t need to be part of a political community (culture and nation) to survive and thrive.
Revolutions are of two types: first, the revolutions in which the system of government is transformed and a new regime comes to power, but no harm is caused to the cultural institutions and the peoples civil liberties; second, the revolutions which entail not only a fall of the government but also a destruction of the cultural institutions and the peoples civil liberties. The American Revolution of the eighteenth century was of the first type, while the French Revolution of the eighteenth century and the Bolshevik Revolution of the twentieth century were of the second type. The conservatives (from the time of Edmund Burke) support the first type of revolutions and oppose the second type. Burke, for instance, was a supporter of the American Revolution and an opponent of the French Revolution.
Edward Gibbon and Edmund Burke were contemporaries, but they didn’t see eye to eye on political matters. Gibbon, inspired by the atheistic thought of the French philosophes, was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution and the Jacobin cause, whereas Burke stood for a conservative worldview and was a trenchant critic of the French Revolution and the Jacobins. After 1790, when it became clear that the French Revolution was a colossal failure, as Burke had predicted, Gibbon tried to dissociate himself from the French philosophes by claiming that his atheism was inspired by the work of Conyers Middleton and not the philosophy that was driving the French Revolution. He became an admirer of Burke’s work—in a letter to Lord Sheffield (5 February 1791), Gibbon wrote: “Burke's book is a most admirable medication against the French disease, which has made too much progress even in this happy country. I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can even forgive his superstition.”
Thursday, August 13, 2020
History transforms the past, instead of merely explaining it. When a historian writes a work of history, he develops a new view of the past. The most honest account of history is a half breed between what really happened, and what events and situations of the past the historian has considered and what events and situations he has ignored. There are as many versions of the past as there are works of history.
Liberty is a good thing, but the demand for total liberty is a conspiracy to push society into nihilism and lawlessness which are usually a prelude to the establishment of a new tyranny. Those who become part of movements which demand total liberty miss one essential feature of liberty: the concept characterizes freedom within the limits of not only human psychology and human body but also the good cultural and political traditions; it does not characterize freedom from everything. No man can ever be so free that he is free of his mental capacities, skills, just obligations, gender, sexuality, and those traditions of his ancestors and the laws of his society which make his life worth living. To demand freedom from everything is as ridiculous (or vile) as demanding freedom from gravity.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
In Plato’s Symposium, there is the description of a drinking party to celebrate Agathon’s victory in a dramatic competition. The partiers compete with each other in making speeches about the nature of love. A man called Aristophanes presents his theory of love by narrating a myth about the origin of the human race. At first, he says, the humans had four arms, four legs, and so on—they were like two humans of our time fixed to each other, and they possessed enough strength and competence to challenge the hegemony of the gods. To outclass the humans, the gods split them two—thus the “half-creatures,” the humans with two legs, two arms, and so on, came into being. From that point of time, the men, who are transformed into the half-creatures, have been lusting for the other half of their body; they try, ineffectively, to satiate this lust through sexual love of the opposite sex. When man loves a woman, or a woman loves a man, he or she is, at a subconscious level, trying to love the lost half of his or her own body. In his speech, Socrates talks about what he has learned from the priestess Diotima—according to Diotima’s doctrine, love is never satisfied with anything in this world, because nothing in this world can be good—you have to make an ascent from the particulars of this world to the abstractions of the world of Forms to discover the good.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
The Western Roman Empire fell in 476, but the fall did not lead to the end of Roman influence in Europe; under the barbarian rulers, the Roman culture continued to thrive. The Eastern Roman Empire survived till 1453, but soon after it fell, all trace of its culture was eradicated. The culture of the Western Roman Empire survived the barbarian takeover, because the barbarians were devoted to the Roman way of life; the Eastern Roman Empire, on the other hand, was vanquished not by barbarians but by an organized religion—the religion of Islam. The Ottoman Turks (along with the Persians and Arabs), who defeated the Eastern Roman Empire, established an Islamic kingdom, which, in some form, continues till this day. In the sense of culture, the Western Roman Empire never fell, whereas the Eastern Roman Empire’s fall was total.
PS: In volume five of his History of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon says that the Latin Crusaders and the Ottoman Turks led to a “double fall” of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The concept of man’s rights is intelligible only against the background of a certain kind of social order. If there is no social order, the concept of man’s rights is incoherent. The universe does not recognize man’s rights—the existence of a social order or a nation is a necessary condition for the concept of man’s rights to become coherent.
Monday, August 10, 2020
The creatures in this world can be divided into two categories: the hunters and the hunted—this holds true for humans as well. Men are either preying on other men or they are the prey; they are either the wolves or the sheep. The sense of reason that the men possess adds a layer of complexity to their needs—an animal is motivated by the desire for food, sex, and shelter; the interests of men, on the other hand, is fuelled by their lust for power, pleasure, and property. The ultimate avenue for acquiring power, pleasure, and prosperity is politics which is generally dominated by men who have mastered the art of pandering to the vices of the wolves and the fears of the sheep to get what they want.
Creating a nation of liberty and free markets is one thing, and asking and answering philosophical questions about liberty and free markets quite another thing. Philosophy is not politics; it’s not action; it’s essentially an after-the-event activity—it can be used to explain the nature of liberty and free markets, but it cannot be used to create a nation which enjoys the values of liberty and free markets.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Being an amoralist is not the sign of irrationalism; a man of reason can be lacking in moral sense, while a mystic, who is generally regarded as an irrational person, might be a staunch moralist. The choice of moral principles, in most human beings, is pre-rational or pre-reason: people pick up their basic moral ideas between the ages of two and five when they are too young to make use of their faculty of reason. Amoralism, on the other hand, is the conscious choice of a rational adult—to deny the moral ideas that you picked up as a child, you need to use your reason. This is why, nihilism (a social manifestation of amoralism) infects only the intellectualized sections of society; the people who have no exposure to philosophy and art are able to avoid nihilism.
Marcus Aurelius, the stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, stands at the beginning of the middle ages, and Machiavelli, the diplomat and classical realist philosopher and historian, stands at the end of it. The distance between Marcus and Machiavelli, of about 1300 years, is known as the Middle Ages. In history of philosophy, the Middle Ages do not get even a fraction of the attention that is given to Ancient and Modern philosophy, because, when philosophy took an atheistic turn in the eighteenth century, it became obligatory for the philosophers for suppress the achievements of the Middle Ages when religious institutions were the driving force in philosophy, science, art, and politics.
Saturday, August 8, 2020
When people are consumed by fear of the worst and start preparing for it, they are playing a dangerous game, which will inspire their political rivals to redouble their efforts for ensuring that the worst gets unleashed—the nation’s politics becomes a battleground between those who want to preserve political and economic stability and those who want to bring society to its knees. In such a situation, the less extreme elements never have any chance against the more extreme elements; the advantage is with the side that is willing to unleash the worst.
In his review of Sartre's novel Nausea, Camus describes what makes the great novelist: “A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images. And in a good novel, the whole of the philosophy has passed into the images. But if once the philosophy overflows the characters and action, and therefore looks like a label stuck on the work, the plot loses its authenticity and the novel its life. Nevertheless, a work that is to last cannot dispense with profound ideas. And this secret fusion between experiences and ideas, between life and reflection on the meaning of life, is what makes the great novelist.”
Friday, August 7, 2020
History tells us that “expansion” and “expression” march hand in hand. The nations which are successful in “expanding” their frontiers, by military, economic, and diplomatic measures, generally excel in “expression”—they are overflowing with intellectual energy and they “express” themselves in great works of art, literature, history, philosophy, and theology. But the communities which remain confined to their own geographical area, and rarely try to conquer new territories, tend to become intellectually stagnant: they have no art, no history, no literature, no philosophy, and no theology. The ability to conduct brutal military campaigns is conducive for intellectual activities (as long as the military campaigns are successful and the empire is politically stable).