Archive for the ‘Classical philosophy’ Category

A brief argument for dualism

dualism-2Athanasius proposes the following cosmological argument in The Incarnation:

If everything has its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it follows that everything would only exist, so as to be alike and not distinct.

And, given that body is homogeneous, it would follow that everything must be sun or moon, or that a man would be only a hand, or eye, or foot.

But as it is this is not so; rather, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head.

Now, such arrangement of separate things as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shows that a cause preceded them; namely God, the one who makes and orders all.

I thought it would be interesting to adapt this very unique argument into a syllogism for dualism (a less lofty conclusion than Athanasius’).

1) Matter is differentiated in various ways.

For example, an oxygen atom or a carbon atom and etc.

2) This differentiation is contingent and therefore requires a principle of its being.

There is a plurality of material things – that they are one way but they could be another.

3) The principle of differentiation cannot be physical because a physical principle of differentiation would require a physical explanation ad infinitum.

I have argued elsewhere that an essentially ordered series cannot proceed infinitely.

4) The principle of differentiation is therefore not physical.

Therefore dualism is true.


The trial of Socrates as an example of the sophistical trial of philosophy in general

Chodowiecki_Socrates-e1338025232963In the previous post, I discussed how the ugliness of Socrates can be considered as a metaphor for the destitution of the human intellect. In a similar way, the trial of Socrates is an example of the timeless and continual trial of philosophy in toto.

According to Plato, Socrates faced trial in Athens charged with two acts of impiety. These acts are described as failing to acknowledge the gods of Athens and attempting the introduction of new gods. Interestingly, Plato writes that Socrates not only offers a justification of his actions to the group of Athenians judging him, but also to a second group – a group that have been accusing him for many years.

Broadly speaking, their accusations tend to focus into three types: i) that Socrates does not believe in the Gods of Athens, ii) that he disregards (and is perhaps disdainful of) the affairs of earthly life and iii) that he uses clever tricks to make the weaker argument appear the stronger.

In the general sense, the tendency of philosophy is to demythologise the religious. In this way, the philosopher is always placed on a collision course with the religious institutions of his time. In regards to ii), the charge of philosophy being “useless” is ubiquitous throughout history and certainly persists in our current intellectual climate. It is typically argued that the achievements of philosophy are ultimately without value in everyday life. Finally, the third attack is an attempt to reduce the content of philosophy to nothing more than bloviation.

Socrates’ concise response offers an answer to all three accusations simultaneously. He says that his mission is the most pious and most useful because he seeks after the knowledge that when lacked renders everything meaningless and valueless. As the story goes, the jury was unconvinced.

Socrates’ ugliness as metaphor for the human condition

VatsocIn origin, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebs. We know, we can still see for ourselves, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is often enough the expression of a development that has been crossed, thwarted by crossing. Or it appears as declining development. The anthropologists among the criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. [“monster in face, monster in soul”] But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates a typical criminal? At least that would not be contradicted by the famous judgment of the physiognomist which sounded so offensive to the friends of Socrates. A foreigner who knew about faces once passed through Athens and told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the bad vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: “You know me, sir!”

– Nietzsche, Twilight of the Gods

As the story goes in Plato’s Apology, Socrates’ career began after his friend asked the Delphic Oracle if there was anyone wiser than Socrates – with the Oracle replying that indeed there was nobody wiser. Socrates’ initial response involved several attempts at proving the Oracle incorrect, taking the form of interrogations of the supposed wise men of Athens. Socrates was ultimately frustrated, finding that while these men claimed to know a great deal the reality was the opposite.

However, as the Apology progresses Socrates comes to the realisation that the Oracle was indeed correct, but in an ironic way. Socrates’ mission then changes from refutation to vindication. He comes to understand his wisdom as a paradox: while the so-called wise men of Athens claimed to have knowledge but did not, Socrates was keenly aware of his own intellectual destitution. Socrates’ final conclusion was that the purpose of the oracle was not to exalt him, but rather to bring the proud men of Athens down to his level.

In this way, the unattractiveness of Socrates’ physical appearance acts as a metaphor for the scholarly indigence of man.

Aristotle on the fine art of persuasion

Have you ever wondered why people are compelled to buy a beauty product after viewing a commercial advertisement? What about when people listen to a drug addled musician talk about a topic they have not studied beyond even the most superficial degree and nod sagely in agreement?

Luckily, in classical Greece Aristotle compiled a book on the art of rhetoric, aptly called On Rhetoric. This tome served as the standard text on the subject of rhetoric at universities for over two thousand years.

In On Rhetoric, Aristotle outlines the three primary modes of persuasion:

Ethos: refers to the persuasive potential derived from the character of the speaker, “We believe good men more fully and more readily than others.” Aristotle also says that “ethos is not a thing or quality, but rather a dynamic that results from the interaction between speaker and audience.”

Aristotle argued that ethos was the most powerful mode of persuasion, and this has been supported by scientific research. This is why companies pay celebrities millions of dollars to endorse products, rather than trying to improve the products themselves. This also explains the influential power of our musician friend from the introduction.

Pathos: is the psychological state of the audience. Aristotle says that “our judgment when we are pleased is not the same as when we are hostile.” Pathos works when the persuader understands the audiences current feelings about themselves or a certain subject and their desired feelings about themselves or a certain subject.

This is how cosmetic companies sell beauty products. They understand that women feel bad about themselves and they sell them a way to become their idealised version of themselves.

Logos: is an appeal to the reasonable and logical faculties of the audience. When a persuader speaks of facts and figures, they are using logos to enhance the appeal of their contention. Logos is closely linked with ethos, for when one appears knowledgeable their credibility is naturally increased.

Augustine on evil as banality

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it.

– S&M

Thus spake the modern dualist philosopher Rihanna, for all and none. In modern times evil is commonly glamourised, this can be seen everywhere from popular music to the rise of the anti-hero in literature and film.

In his ideas regarding the will and evil, Augustine is clearly influenced by Plotinus and Neoplatonism. Plotinus taught that while evil is certainly real it is not something that exists ontologically, but rather that it is privative or a type of parasitic unreality. In other words, evil is a lack of good like darkness is a lack of light.

If Augustine is correct, then to glamourise evil is akin to glamourising the ultimate banality of nothingness. One cannot be good at being evil any more than one could good at existing by not existing, simply because evil is not being and good is being.

It could be argued that Augustine’s acceptance of Plotinus’ thesis was largely psychological. Like Plotinus, Augustine was wrestling with the problem of evil (the problem of how a perfect god could create a world where evil exists). Augustine’s answer to this vexing question is simply that God did not create evil because evil has no being and therefore cannot be created.

Augustine on the will

Augustine’s familiarity and opposition to the Manicheans forced him to contemplate the nature of human will. The eastern dualism of Manichaeism taught that in the original creation there were two separate worlds of good and evil. Thus, the Manicheans taught that the choice of the will between good and evil was a choice between two separate and homogenous objects – and following that, that the power of the will was just as perfect in a choice of evil as a choice of good.

As with Augustine and his use of cogito ergo sumagainst the skeptics, the evolution of his ideas about the action of the will can be traced back to Plato. Plato saw that the choice between good and evil is not a preference between two separate objects; rather Plato radically eliminated the possibility of a choice for evil arguing that a man could only decide for evil in ignorance.

Augustine knew that Plato’s theory could not be true, after all the robber commits thievery from his own providence. It is from Augustine that the theory of the defective will first comes. For Augustine, the choice between good and evil is not like the choice between speaking and singing, but rather is similar to singing with a classically trained voice or singing on scarred vocal chords. Likewise, the man who walks on fit legs perfects his power to walk; the man who walks on broken legs further injures his power to walk.

According to Augustine, the man who consistently chooses vice destroys his power to choose other than evil – and this degradation ultimately culminates in debilitating addiction,  slavery and loss of identity. Conversely, the man who chooses virtuously experiences freedom.

Augustine and cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)

Descartes is famous for his philosophical conclusion cogito ergo sum, or in English “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes, who believed that the mind and body were separate substances, asserted that the cogito ergo sum proved most certainly the existence of any mind who thought it – but not the mind’s body or the things the mind is perceiving.

Descartes was not the first philosopher to outline the ideas behind his cogito ergo sum. Plato speaks of having knowledge of knowledge or “justified true belief”. Aristotle, in his Nimochean Ethics, says that whenever a thinker, seer or perceiver is conscious of their experience of thinking, seeing or believing they must be conscious of their own existence.

During Augustine’s era Plato’s Academy had undertaken a radical turn towards skepticism. Augustine dabbled in academic skepticism for a time, but turned from it following his conversion to Christianity. Later he would argue against the Academics, and the cornerstone of his argument is a thesis almost identical to Descartes’ (which would follow some thousand years later).

The skeptical claim at its heart was that one could not be certain of anything. Using argumentum ad hominem, Augustine accepts their premise of uncertainty and refutes it by pointing to the fact that one cannot be mistaken and not be at the same time – “If I am mistaken, I am”. He goes further in the Enchiridon:

By not positively affirming that they are alive, the skeptics ward off the appearance of error in themselves, yet they do make errors simply by showing themselves alive; one cannot err who is not alive. That we live is therefore not only true, but it is altogether certain as well.

Chapter 7 section 20