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ISSUE 117 DECEMBER 2016/JANUARY 2017 UK 3.75 USA $7.99 CANADA$8.


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Ideas Exist,
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Philosophy Now ISSUE 117 Dec 16/Jan 17
Philosophy Now, EDITORIAL & NEWS
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6 Berkeleys Suitcase
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Editorial Beyond Physics No More?
ets get meta-physical! Metaphysics is philosophys theories and debates down the ages were in one way or
oldest and most central strand. When Greek another part of metaphysics. Metaphysics is about the deep
philosophy first kicked off in the port of Miletus on the structure of the universe, about how things really are, as
coast of Anatolia 2,500 years ago, the biggest question opposed to how they look. But this question directly connects
pondered by the likes of Thales and Anaximander was this: with others which are part of metaphysics too. Does God
what is the underlying reality of the universe, beneath the exist, and if so, whats He (or She) like? How many angels can
surface appearances of our everyday world? Thales thought dance on the head of a pin? How does the mind or soul
that everything was, deep down, made of water. Squeeze connect with the body? Free will is another perennial problem
something hard enough and juice runs out see? in metaphysics, and should not be confused with Free Willy,
Anaximander disagreed; the underlying reality, he said, was an which was a movie about a whale.
unobservable element called apeiron. And so Western Relatively recently, in the last three centuries or so, the
philosophy began, with speculations that could not be directly invention of new scientific instruments has revealed things
checked but which might with greater or lesser success explain about the universe which were previously hidden from our
those phenomena that we can directly observe. Democritus perceptions by scale or distance. Philosophers used to hypoth-
(460-370BC) hypothesised that simplicity of explanation could esise about everything being made of atoms a recurring
be combined with the diversity of the observed world if we subject of discussion in metaphysics for two thousand years.
assume everything to be made up of arrangements of tiny Yet over the last one hundred years the structure of atoms has
indivisible articles he called atoms. Epicurus a century later become very well understood through both theoretical and
agreed but added that rather than just bouncing around in a experimental physics and we can even take photographs of
mathematically predicatable fashion, sometimes the atoms them, using powerful electron microscopes. Does this mean
swerve unpredictably as they fall through the void and this that the whole discussion of atomic theory has moved from
swerve (called a clinamen), by defeating determinism, is the the realm of metaphysics into the realm of physics? If so,
source of our free will. You can read much more in this issue might other discussions in metaphysics follow suit in the
about Epicurus and his theories and we have a great cartoon future? The mind-body problem has already done so, if you
strip about him too. believe physicalists like Daniel Dennett, but very much hasnt
Such speculations didnt have a specific label until if you agree with dualists like David Chalmers. The jury is
Aristotles editors gathered together his notes about them into still out on that one, but perhaps there are other metaphysical
a volume they called Metaphysics, meaning Beyond Physics, questions which can be solved by science. So, might
perhaps because Physics was the title of the previous volume. metaphysics soon become a quaint historical footnote like
Our metaphysics articles in this issue includes a feature on alchemy?
Bishop Berkeley; so you can find out why he believed in ideas, Clearly some metaphysical questions like the existence of
but not in matter, and also why he made the surprising claim atoms have indeed crossed into the realm of experimental
that his colourful ideas were a philosophy of common sense. science, into a space where they can actually, finally be
Berkeleys idealism is well known, but its often forgotten he answered. But there may be movement in the other direction
too, like Democritus and Epicurus, believed in atoms too. Some philosophers have recently been scrapping with
though naturally he had his own unique take on what they scientists like Stephen Hawking about whether the world still
were. The article on Spinoza explores his reasons for thinking needs philosophy. Hawking claimed that philosophy is dead,
that God and Nature were one and the same but the author as physics now does all the work that philosophy used to do.
goes on to argue that in the process, Spinoza gives us valuable Yes, retort philosophys defenders that is because you astro-
clues as to how to understand some perplexing puzzles in physicists have all become amateur metaphysicians yourselves,
science today. Nick Inman asks about the nature of human theorising about supersymmetric strings and dark energy and
identity and asks where, exactly, it is located, and Jon David parallel universes and other matters way beyond the reach of
wonders whether rocks have awareness. And there you see a your telescopes! So from that perspective, metaphysics is not
sample of the themes that have preoccupied metaphysicians old-fashioned on the contrary, it is the new black. And as we
for centuries. stare out into the blackness still seeking answers about the
For a couple of thousand years, metaphysics was such a nature of the cosmos and the place of consciousness within it,
central, essential part of philosophy that for many people, it mere labels, such as scientist and philosopher may come to
was the real story. The majority of the great philosophical seem less important than the questions themselves.

4 Philosophy Now  December 2016 / January 2017

Peter Singer wins Philosophy Now Award
Philosophers and the US Election
Animal Welfare: Good News & Bad News?
News reports by Anja Steinbauer. News
Animal Welfare Ups and Downs I ical problems, but many did comment on Free Discussion vs Safe Spaces?
This first of two reports on morally the recent US presidential election, Surely universities are bastions of free
ambiguous animal welfare developments including Brian Leiter, well known for his speech, where proponents of opposing
concerns male chicks, who owe their short widely-read Leiter Reports blog about opinions on moral, political, philosophical
existences to the breeding industry for egg- academic philosophy. The great majority and social matters can test out the viability
laying hens. Since they dont have suffi- of philosophers quoted online opposed the of their views in fierce but reasoned verbal
cient body mass to justify raising them election of Donald Trump. Prof. Harry battle? Increasingly, student unions in the
commercially for meat, millions of male Frankfurt, for instance, called Trump a UK and US declare safe spaces and
chicks are killed every year. This is done by master of bullshit, a form of dishonesty demand that controversial speakers be no
gassing, suffocation in plastic bags, or distinct from lying and characterised by platformed. The idea is that the expression
maceration, i.e. being mechanically ground the speakers utter indifference to whether of certain views might make members of
up, none of which are likely to be painless. what they say is true or not. No, Trump is one or other minority group feel unsafe and
TeraEgg is a new technology which can a pragmatist in the tradition of C.S. Peirce, should therefore be prevented. This
examine eggs and sex the foetus through a said Oxford moral philosopher Daniel happened to Iranian secularist and feminist
non-invasive process known as terahertz Robinson to Quartz magazine. A tiny Maryam Namazie, a well-known intellec-
spectroscopy. This will mean that the eggs handful of other philosophers also backed tual and critic of the position of women in
containing male fetuses can be destroyed Trump. In an interview posted on his Islam; her 2015 lecture at Goldsmiths
weeks before hatching occurs. While this website, the post-Marxist provocateur University was aggressively disrupted with
seems a step in the right direction in that it Slavoj Zizek shocked many (maybe that repeated references to safe spaces. Most
does reduce animal suffering, animal was the point?) by declaring that he would recently, when one of Britains best-known
welfare supporters have argued that it is a have voted for Trump despite being philosophers, Sir Roger Scruton was invited
figleaf masking the bitter reality of horrified at him. Zizek said: Listen, to Bristol University the student union tried
continued animal exploitation. America is still not a dictatorial state; he to no-platform him due to the fact that
will not introduce fascism. But it will be a although he defends gay relationships on
Animal Welfare Ups and Downs II kind of big awakening. New political the grounds of personal choice, he opposes
Our second piece of contentious animal processes will be set in motion. gay marriage.
welfare news takes us into the world of
animal use for human medical research and Philosophy Now Award 2016 reasoned ethical stance to the difficult deci-
training purposes. Washington Universitys Won by Peter Singer sions that face us all in our everyday lives.
medical school has announced that it will The 2016 Philosophy Now Award for Contribu- Secondly, in trying to prove that we have
cease to use cats in medical training after tions in the Fight Against Stupidity has been given duties to help strangers, his books and argu-
finding that technological advances in simu- to Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer. ments have set out to disturb the comfort-
lators and mannequins mean that they can Singer was nominated not for his work in able complacency with which many of us
now adequately replace live animals. The general but for two very specific reasons. habitually ignore the desperate needs of
anatomy of a cats windpipe closely resem- Firstly, for embodying the idea of a practical others, and that certainly counts as fighting
bles that of a newborn infant, so cats philosopher who doesnt only analyze ethical stupidity. The Award is particularly for this
provided the best training ground for problems but who also strives to apply a work as it relates to the Effective Altruism
medical students. Animal welfare activists movement, an attempt to use research and
had put serious pressure on medical schools comparative analysis to organize the chari-
to stop using live animals, causing some table efforts of people in the directions in
schools to change to technological replicas which it will do the most good.
before experts deemed them to be viable The (transatlantic) award ceremony was
alternatives, or to even be secretive about held at Londons Conway Hall on 31 October.
their continued use of live animals. There is After a brief acceptance speech via video by
now a new call for general ethics guidelines Peter Singer, Samuel Hilton spoke to the audi-
on the use of animals in medical contexts. ence about the Effective Altruism movement
inspired by Singers work. The 2014 Award was
Philosophers and the US Election Peter Singer
given to Noam Chomsky and last years award
Philosophers rarely take the plunge into receives the award went to childrens author Cressida Cowell.
the mud bath of real-life moral and polit-

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 5

Berkeleys Suitcase
Hugh Hunter unpacks the sources of Berkeleys idealism.

ou will be familiar, in these days of inelegant travel, ever it is that we have in mind, it cannot be a material tree, nor
with the exercise of trying to fit everything you might is anything clarified by saying that we have in mind an aspect
plausibly need into a very small suitcase. It sometimes of the act of perceiving a tree. Rather, ideas must be entities
happens that there is one thing which frustrates the such that (a) we may have them in mind, and (b) they convey to
process, an object with awkward contours that ensure it cannot us the properties we associate with trees.
be packed along with the other necessities. It is of some value But consider now how this view isolates us, the perceivers.
to identify the troublesome object. Would it not be a small tri- Take the case of colours. Since the early modern period it has
umph if you not only identified it, but realized that you didnt been widely thought that colours are not in bodies. Instead,
need it after all? colours are the result of interactions between the surface prop-
It was a similar realization in the realm of metaphysics that erties of bodies and our sensory organs; and the same is true of
led the young unpublished George Berkeley (1685-1753) to smells, tastes, and sounds. As Galileo wrote in 1623, I think
breathlessly write in his private philosophical journal, I won- that tastes, odors, colours, and so on are no more than mere
der not at my sagacity in discovering the obvious tho amazing names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned,
truth, I rather wonder at my stupid inadvertency in not finding and that they reside only in the consciousness. Hence if the liv-
it out before. tis no witchcraft to see. (Notebooks, in The Works ing creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped
of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne eds A.A. Luce, T.E. Jessop, away and annihilated (The Assayer, p.274). Following the way
n.279.) Berkeley had been trying to fit together a number of of ideas, then, colours and other sensations are features of
beliefs, and he found that he could not do it. Then, in a single ideas, not of bodies. The world of our experience is a carnival
insight, he saw that one belief frustrated his project, and that of smells and tastes and sounds and colour, but we carry it
he could do without it. about in our minds through a reality that is in itself silent, dark,
The problem lay in fitting together a belief in perception by flavourless. That is what I mean when I say that the way of
means of ideas in immaterial minds, a belief in atoms, a trust in ideas leads the perceiver into isolation.
common sense, and a belief in matter. It was the last belief Moreover, this isolated state of man invites the sceptic to
Berkeley suddenly recognized that he had never needed and ask: How can you be sure that every property of ideas is not like
that by discarding it he could make the others fit together. colours, and just in the mind? How can you be sure there really
This freed him from a double puzzle of being isolated from is a material world at all? On this point the sceptic Pierre Bayle
the physical world in two separate, if related, ways. joked in his philosophical Dictionaire Historique et Critique
(1697) that the way of ideas had produced a stronger sceptical
Travelling The Perilous Way of Ideas challenge than was known even in antiquity.
Let us begin with the sort of isolation caused by a belief in
material things plus a belief in ideas. Today the new philosophy takes a stronger line [than classical
Looking back on early modern philosophy [that is, from the Pyrrhonian skepticism]: heat, smell, colours, etc, are not in the
early seventeenth century on], Thomas Reid (1710-96) objects of our senses; these are modifications of my soul; I know that
observed that his predecessors had followed the way of ideas. bodies are not those that appear to me. Some wanted to exclude
In this observation he was certainly correct. The reason was extension and movement, but it wasnt possible, for if the objects of
that early modern philosophers could see no way for material sense seem coloured to us, or hot, cold, or odorous, while they are
bodies to be present in immaterial minds: how could a material not these things, why cant they seem extended and figured, at rest
tree be in the mind of a man? Instead there must be some and in motion, while being none of these? (My translation.)
intermediate entity, an idea. Ideas tie together the material
world of bodies and the immaterial plane of minds, for ideas Bayle wrote toward the end of the seventeenth century, and
can represent bodies but are present in minds. Some interac- even then his argument was hardly new. The father of early
tion between someones sense organs and the tree causes the modern philosophy, Ren Descartes (1596-1650), had consid-
idea to come into being with properties so as to represent the ered the question of the trustworthiness, or not, of our percep-
tree, enabling the person to perceive it. tion of an external world as the very origin of his philosophy,
There was, of course, a great deal of dispute as to how ideas and the power of the sceptical threat can be seen in just how far
ought to be understood. Antoine Arnauld (1612-94) thought that great man and his successors were from answering it. In the
of ideas as aspects of the act of perception. Berkeley found this end, Descartes argued that it would be inconsistent with the
view implausible. It seemed to him that a more robust under- goodness of God for Him to deceive us by presenting us with
standing of ideas was needed, and he found it in the works of ideas of a material world with no material world corresponding
Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) and John Locke (1632- to them. The empiricist Locke argued that a certain sensitive
1704). Both men took ideas to be not the perceptual acts knowledge answered scepticism this being knowledge of the
themselves. With this Berkeley was in full agreement: what- existence of particular external objects, [gained] by that percep-

6 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017


George Berkeley
by Darren McAndrew 2016

tion and consciousness we have of the actual entrance of ideas Does Scripture say that God created a material heaven and earth?
from them (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 4.2.12, The sceptic shows how deep the isolation of early modern
1689). Malebranche appealed to Scripture: God is said to have man is with regard to bodies and his perception of them. It is
created heaven and earth, after all. here the conflict arises with Berkeleys trust in common sense.
These arguments are all, and in the same way, question-beg- He wrote:
ging. The sceptics question is whether ideas do in fact reveal a
material world. To say that God would be a deceiver if they did- Upon the common principles of philosophers, we are not assured
nt, or that our awareness of ideas goes even a whit toward show- of the existence of things from their being perceived. And we are
ing that they do, is to assume what is to be established. And in taught to distinguish their real nature from that which falls under
order to deflate Malebranches reply, the sceptic need only ask, our senses. Hence arise scepticism and paradoxes. It is not enough,

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 7

that we see and feel, that we taste and smell a thing. Its true nature, So appealing was the atomic picture that philosophers were
its absolute external entity, is still concealed. For, though it be the willing to struggle to make sense of atoms most puzzling prop-
fiction of our own brain, we have made it inaccessible to all our fac- erty: indivisibility. It was crucial that atoms be indivisible, for if
ulties. Sense is fallacious, reason defective. We spend our lives in they were not, their changes must be explained by some even
doubting of those things which other men evidently know, and more basic kinds. Locke thought it might be a brute fact that the
believing those things which they laugh at, and despise. smallest things are indivisible. But why should they be? If they
(Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous, Preface, 1713.) take up space, why could God not separate their left and right
halves? And if some things have this brute property of indivisi-
Berkeleys closing words express his own sympathies with bility, why must they be small, as all early moderns, including
common sense. It does seem to him both laughable and con- Locke, supposed? Faced with this question, Democritus, one of
temptible to suppose that the real world cannot be known the ancient Greek originators of the idea of atoms, admitted that
through the rich world of experience. there might be atoms as big as houses. And early modern man is
It is important to note here that an appeal to common sense is again isolated by atomism, because all that he knows or under-
not an appeal to everything that is common. There are many stands is vastly larger than the scale on which the workings of
people who do not understand Shakespeare, but so much the the world proceed. Once more, early modern man is like a Chi-
worse for them. Nor is it the claim that any belief thats held by nese emperor who is born, lives, and dies in a Forbidden City of
virtually everybody is therefore true. It is rather the claim that the mind. What happens beyond its walls he does not know. As
there are things that people cannot help but knowing (which is David Hume (1711-1776) wrote in another context:
why they are common), and that this inescapable knowledge
should bear some weight in our philosophical reflection. And We learn from anatomy, that the immediate object of power in vol-
two things that we cannot help knowing, according to Berkeley, untary motion, is not the member itself which is moved, but certain
are that we directly perceive bodies, and that we see them as they muscles, and nerves, and animal spirits, and, perhaps, something still
are. The way of ideas leaves us isolated, when common sense more minute and more unknown, through which the motion is suc-
tells us that we are crowded about with readily accessible things. cessively propagated, ere it reach the member itself whose motion is
the immediate object of volition. Can there be a more certain proof,
Atomic Confusion that the power, by which this whole operation is performed, so far
The second type of isolation of perceivers from the material from being directly and fully known by an inward sentiment or con-
world is caused by a belief in material atoms. Already by the mid- sciousness is, to the last degree, mysterious and unintelligible?
dle of the seventeenth century it was observed that, All the (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 7.1, 1748.)
Learnedest Philosophers have acknowledged that there are such
Atomes, not to speak of Empedocles, Democritus, Epicurus And This mystery and unintelligibility, let us note, is in our own
Galen makes mention of them And indeed every where bodies. But these are the bodies that are closest to us. Early
amongst Philosophers and Physitians both Ancient and Modern, modern philosophy hoped to explain all bodily changes as vari-
mention is made of these little Bodikies or Atomes, that I won- ations of atomic motions. But even if such an explanation could
der the Doctrine of Atomes should be traduced as a Novelty. be given (and that still seems as unlikely today as it did in
(Daniel Sennert, Epitome Philosophiae Naturalis, 1618). These lit- Berkeleys day), it would not free man from his walled citadel
tle bodikies about which everyone was talking, were understood anymore than an Emperor walks among his people because his
to be tiny, indivisible fragments of matter. Tables and chairs, our economic advisor explains their condition to him.
bodies and animal bodies, all these are just assemblages, or as Another way to put the puzzle is this. If changes in bodies
contemporary philosophers tended to think of them, mecha- are produced at the level of atomic motion, then the bodies
nisms, made up ultimately of material atoms. In Berkeleys time, themselves seem to be reduced to a secondary explanatory
the English called this view corpuscularianism. state. Material bodies are like political bodies in this sense: we
By the time Berkeley was writing, atomism had lost none of may generalize about the actions of some political party, but
its appeal. That is because, as the distinctive philosophy of the we recognize that the party itself is really an amalgam of many
early modern period grew in confidence, so too it grew confi- individuals, and that to generalize about them all is to say
dent of its judgment of the medieval period as obscurantist, something that will not do justice to any one of them.
authoritarian, and confused. To do without atoms seemed to Locke was duly troubled. He wondered whether it is consis-
risk a return to a medieval Aristotelian account, in which living tent with the goodness of God that He reserved for Himself the
bodies were understood as more primary than their parts, since true atomic knowledge of things, and gave us only the sort of
on that view organisms consisted of indeterminate matter tak- knowledge we get from our senses. Locke concludes that
ing the determinate forms of the organisms. Much better, although a man with microscopical eyes might see things
thought Berkeleys contemporaries, to have determinate matter more truly, he would see things less usefully, for with our every-
atoms producing all other kinds of entities through their day vision we can discern things on the scale which is necessary
arrangements. Then, instead of a multiplication of kinds of for us to live our lives (see his Essay 2.18.12). Our creator had to
explanations of things (cat kinds, tree kinds, kinds of humans) choose on our behalf between the true and the useful, and He
as the Aristotelian account required, the early modern intellec- chose the second. This is not very satisfying justification for
tual project became one of reducing explanations to combina- Gods activities theodicy for surely God Himself sees both
tions of a few basic atomic kinds. the small and the large together; but Locke does not consider

8 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

why God did not make us so as to see that way too. As we will Berkeley redefines the atom, then. On this view, God has
shortly appreciate, Berkeleys suggestion is that God created us given us simultaneously micro- and macroscopical eyes, inso-
in precisely this fashion. far as perception reveals large-scale bodies, and simultane-
ously (though we may have to narrow our attention), their
The Doubts & Beliefs of Bishop Berkeley sensory minima. So his redefinition is just what Locke implic-
I hope its become clear why the recognition that there were itly takes to be impossible even for a good God to create.
problems to be solved was something for which Berkeley took Berkeleys account also provides an elegant answer to the
no credit. Galileo, Descartes, Bayle, Malebranche, Locke, and question of why atoms are indivisible. They are indivisible
(eventually) Hume all noticed many of the same things. Dou- because they are atoms of sensation; so a limit on their divisibil-
ble isolation, on account of both his means of perception and ity is also a limit on what can be sensed by us. Another conse-
the scale of his perception, is the sad lot of early modern man. quence of this approach is that research into atoms is likely to
But Berkeleys insight was that this depressing picture hung on be restricted to those fields which study sensory phenomena,
a single shaky nail: the belief in matter. for example optics. And although ideas are composed of sen-
Consider first the isolation brought on by following the way sory atoms, there seems to be no reason to look to the atoms
of ideas. The suggestion that bodies (things that cannot be in rather than to complex ideas for explanations. In other words,
minds) must be perceived indirectly by means of ideas (things the truth about the body of a cat is as likely to lie at the
that can be in minds) hinges on the belief that bodies cannot be macro- as at the micro-level of perception. This is a conse-
in minds. Now, the reason for thinking that bodies cannot be in quence of occupying the divine adjustable point of view
minds is that bodies are supposed to be of a nature incompatible Berkeley opens up to us. And so Berkeley has supplied us with
with being in a mind: they are material. But if their materiality is the tiny, indivisible composing parts of bodies, and can also
put in doubt, there would be no reason to think that bodies can- give bodies a sort of explanatory priority without following
not be in minds. And then the first sort of isolation would be the path back to Aristotelianism.
unnecessary: man could directly perceive the world he inhabits.
Doubting that there are material bodies does not entail Berkeley Being Realistic
doubting that there are bodies. It is rather a question of reevalu- With the need for material atoms or material bodies removed,
ating the status of ideas. For most early modern philosophers, the double isolation that so troubled Berkeley and early mod-
ideas are intermediaries which bring us information about ern philosophy is removed. On this view the true natures of
material things. But perhaps this is like one of those fairy tales bodies, along with their atomic structures, are completely
where the messenger is really the prince in disguise; and as in manifest to us in perception. It is in this sense that Berkeley
the tale, once the onlookers know, they can clearly discern the can rightly be called a direct realist.
princely features that had been there all along, for the ideas We can also see why Berkeleys reaction to his discovery was
that were considered mere intermediaries have all the features humility, remarking that the wonder was that he had not seen
of the bodies we always supposed they represented. All the it sooner. Berkeley understands his role as that of the boy who
colours and smells and sounds and tastes which early modern first saw the emperor as naked. As in the story, pretension is
philosophy had banished to the mind are as common sense punctured, but this merely enables daily life to go on as before.
have always supposed they are characteristics of the thing The Philosophers lose their Matter... as for bodies &c we
itself. We can therefore state Berkeleys suggestion that ideas have them still (Notebooks, n.391). Descartes recommended to
are bodies in the sense that a combination of shape, colour, smell, his readers a process of meditation that would provide their
taste and so on is a cake, and another combination is an apple. beliefs with a fresh firm foundation. The Berkeleian medita-
What Berkeley discovered is that doubting the existence of tion could hardly be more different. The meditator discovers
material bodies actually removes a great many other doubts. how unshakeable are the foundations of the beliefs he gained
And so what seemed to Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke a at mothers knee. Nothing changes: the horse is in the stable,
sceptical attack, is to Berkeley merely a purgative. Of course our the Books are in the study as before (Ibid. n.429).
ideas do not point to anything beyond themselves, any more But a very great deal is changed, the physicist and the math-
than bodies point to anything beyond themselves! Or in Philo- ematician might object. Are all of our fruitful theories con-
nous final words in Berkeleys Three Dialogues, the same prin- cerning unobserved particles about nothing at all? What of our
ciples which at first view lead to scepticism, pursued to a certain mathematical models of material objects? These are good
point, bring men back to common sense. We find ourselves questions, to which there are, I believe, good Berkeleian
once again believing what Berkeley was so ashamed to doubt replies, according to which mathematics and science are
that the world is rich with colours, odours, sounds and tastes. understood as instruments for the dissection of the world of
Without matter, the second isolation, which is brought perception. But that discussion will have to wait. Let me just
about by scale, can also be resolved. Bodies are made of ideas; respond now with a Berkeleian question: Which is more cer-
but on Berkeleys account, the ideas are composed of atoms. tain, that the table is a cloud of atoms and has some indepen-
Consider what you see before you. Berkeleys argument is that dent mathematical shape, or that is it solid, brown, scratched,
if you choose an object and narrow your vision, and then and smelling faintly of varnished wood?
repeat this process, you will soon encounter a limit beyond HUGH HUNTER 2016
which you cannot gain any more clarity. You have reached a Hugh Hunter lives in Ottawa, where he teaches philosophy at the
sensory minimum. The sensory minimum is Berkeleys atom. Dominican University College. Please visit

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 9

Nowhere Men
Nick Inman wants to know where youre at.

re you ready for the ultimate trick question? Here it procedure by stripping the complexity down into its compo-
is: Am I me, and are you? That is: do I and you exist? nents, and you will see that theres no deus ex machina involved.
Only a yes/no answer is allowed. It wouldnt be good The whole was only ever a sum of its parts, even if it seemed to
philosophy to say that you sort of exist, nor that our minds to acquire a quality of being more than that.
you are a working assumption pending further investigation. It Its the same with the brain, the materialists argue. Really
is also essential that we dont just wriggle out of this question complex complexity can even convince itself (ie, me) that it is
by playing with words and definitions. someone, a self, an entity which feels real and substantial and
The easiest way forward would be to defer to the great minds of intrinsic worth. Yet my innermost self is not a pearl an
that have been wrestling with this problem over the last few enduring thing of substance but a bundle of properties that
decades. Consensus among them, reached by reasoning based on temporarily come together to make a person. Whatever my
the evidence of brain science, is steadily hardening. Im going to beliefs about God and the soul, I am nothing more than a (per-
attempt to show why this consensus is not only wrong because haps gloriously deluded) biological automaton. Daniel Dennett
it is based on a dodgy premise but dangerously misguided. has described the self as a Center of Narrative Gravity, by
which he means that I am no different to a fictional character
The Materialist Orthodoxy which I and the world make up, and that my sense of self is
Many contemporary philosophers begin by ruling out the similar to my centre of gravity: I have to have one, although I
question Who are you? as only of interest to an anthropolo- cant locate it precisely. However, I wouldnt be able to func-
gist: who defines a person by his relationship to other people tion if I knew that I was merely a coalition of my members, so
it doesnt shed any light on human nature. The crunch ques- nature pulls a confidence trick. In effect, it lies to me through
tion, which is the only one a physical scientist would allow, is my brain. In order to live well in society and to be motivated in
What am I? pursuit of its own interests, the organism needs to have the
Now were dealing with stuff. What else is there to deal illusion of separateness, autonomy, and significance. Therefore,
with? If everything that exists is stuff matter then it is obvi- I need to believe in a self that is substantial, coherent and sus-
ous that if I am, I must be something too. It would also help to tainable; above all, a self which matters. That I only think I
say where I am because, as Eccles in The Goon Show put it, exist has been called the self illusion by Bruce Hood (in The
Everybodys got to be somewhere. Self Illusion: Why There is No You Inside Your Head, 2012).
Well, theres only one place I can be. Whatever my self is, it When this is understood, I can begin to see myself in an
must be me the animal, the biological organism, or part thereof. entirely different way: I am better thought of as not a noun but
So I am inseparable from my body: I move around with it, I rely a verb. What I call my self is really my brain braining.
on it for input and output. When my body dies I will disappear. An intellectual consensus is coalescing around this materialist
The search for me can be narrowed down further. Although (or physicalist) view. Many of our greatest contemporary thinkers
I have a foot, I would not say that I am a foot. Rather, the part are quite happy to announce in public, without any irony, that
of me that perceives and thinks is behind my eyes. Logically, they do not really exist. It has almost become a badge of macho
says neurobiologist Dick Swaab, you are your brain (We Are pride (theyre mostly men, as it happens). It is as if we are in the
Our Brains, 2014). grip of a new fashion for personal nihilism. The theme around the
End of mystery. I am found and explained. All that is left is year 1000 AD was the end of the world; in the twenty-first century
to sort out the neuroscience of why I feel who I feel. I may still we have gone one better and declared the end of ourselves.
believe that theres more to me than one and a half kilos of elec-
trically active meat that my rich inner life is more than bio- I Confess To Heresy
logical. I dream, I create, I engage in abstract thought. Above It is not respectable any more to speak up for dualism, the notion
all, unlike any other species I know of, I am self-conscious and that there are two kinds of stuff, the material and the immaterial,
able to tell another being about myself. There must be some- body and mind. But I would like to point out that the materialists
thing more going on, surely? argument as I have set it out above does not run smoothly from
Not necessarily. Experiments with computers have shown premise to conclusion, and that dualism is not just a theoretical
that if you start with simple building materials (basically, stuff possibility. It is quite literally inescapable. You are living proof.
capable of binary logic functions) arrange them into complex Half of me does not exist; or at least, I cannot prove to you
patterns, then pile complexity on complexity and let the sys- that it exists isnt that the same thing? And I assume its the
tem run by itself, adding to its knowledge by learning, then same for you. I can give you independent confirmation of my
you can get extraordinary manifestations of artificial intelli- name, occupation, address, passport number; but I find it hard,
gence that can fool an observer into thinking its conscious. if not impossible, to convey to your senses anything about what
The resultant being appears uncanny, as if it must have been I think of as the real me the invisible, intangible, internal sen-
instituted by a supernatural creator. But not at all: reverse the sations of which only I am aware, and which are wholly beyond

10 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017


words and demonstration. ine objectively, in the sense of carrying out an experiment free
The point Im making is that the materialist argument as set of bias and error.
out above only works in as far as we must speak objectively I am experienced differently from the outside and the inside,
about the universe, and specifically, about human beings, with no join between the two perspectives.
including when you speak about someone else. You, to me, are I am the only possible expert on this aspect of myself.
an object like any other physical thing. I have no direct access I am unique. For all I know, I may not even be like you.
to what goes on in your mind. From outside it is quite clear to
me that you are an animal, and that everything about you can I literally cannot put my finger on myself. I dont have mass
be expressed in terms of zoology. If you say you are a con- or volume. I am not solid, liquid, gas, or even another kind of
scious, thinking being, I may give you the benefit of the doubt, physical substance. Some may think I am merely my brain
but I am not going to accept it as demonstrated fact in the same braining, and so conclude that my believing in my conscious
way that I know your hand can hold things. self is an ego trick, but I have good reason to believe that my
However, if I turn my attention inward, everything changes. doing so is not a trick: I am proof to myself (but not to you)
Unlike all the phenomenon I have experienced through my that there is more to me than matter. I know it, because I am
senses (including reading about them), I have certain unusual it. This is more than I think, therefore I am. Trite as this
properties: may sound, I know I am because I am.

I am the only substance in the universe of which I have inti- The Nothing Beyond Words
mate direct knowledge. I immediately crash into an insurmountable problem in talking
I am the only substance I can experience that I cannot exam- about this to you. How do I describe this self that I know to

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 11

exist? What word can I use for such a non-thing which is not ble. But without starting from the fact of consciousness, explain-
nothing? Something and substance will probably only mis- ing anything is like drawing conclusions from the results pro-
lead you. To call me sensation may make you assume that my duced by an uncalibrated machine, or, if we are to be brutally
being is reducible to what can be sensed, and then you will fall honest, using an optical instrument of mysterious hidden work-
into line with David Hume, who wrote, when I enter most ings to examine itself. For an immaterial entity to insist that all
intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some must be matter, then the self must be matter; and so, since the
particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, so-called self has none of the properties of matter, it does not
love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any exist. This is about irrational as you can get. I exist. Moreover, it
time without a perception, and never can observe anything but is only logical for me, an immaterial presence, to suppose that I
the perception (A Treatise of Human Nature, Book 1, Part 4, am not alone. There must be more immateriality in the uni-
Section 6, 1738) and so denied the existence of the self. To verse. You, for instance, behind your eyes and beyond whatever
call myself a concept would assume that I am an abstract phe- words you say, if you exist, must be immaterial like me.
nomenon, a construct even. In order not to mislead ourselves,
perhaps wed do better to adopt a symbol which has no defini- The Pay-Off For Not Existing
tion or potential mistranslation: it stands for what it stands for. So why do so many very intelligent, well-educated people in
If language is one trap we continually fall into when dis- high-status academic positions claim the opposite? I can only
cussing human identity, another is false analogy. It is, for exam- suppose there is a pay off for the Nowhere Men that makes
ple, erroneous to suppose that a brain is a glorified input-output them hurry through the premises of their argument includ-
computer running a program supplied by an organisms DNA. ing the dodgy ideas that the world is only what exists objec-
The organic is radically different from the inorganic, and fur- tively, or in other words, that there is only material stuff to
thermore human awareness and thought, as far as we can tell, get to the conclusion of their non-existence.
are radically different from anything else in organic nature. There are several important victories to be gained by deny-
So what am I, this symbol that was formerly known as Nick ing your own existence if you are a modern philosopher or sci-
Inman? I am a meaning-maker. The meaning that I apply to entist. Some of them are to do with shying away from the fear
the universe comes from me, even the meaning that I allocate of not knowing and the unknowable. The most prominent of
to logic, reason, and the evidence gained through the senses. these is that it gets around the thorny problem of conscious-
Without me nothing means anything, or to put it another way, ness, releasing science from an impossible bind, since if con-
without this immaterial sensation of awareness I have, the uni- sciousness is merely the brain functioning, we dont need to
verse might as well not exist. It is gobbledygook to talk, for consider an immaterial aspect to the universe. We also dont
instance, about the laws of science as separate from the con- need to talk anymore about the mind, or the spirit or soul.
scious creatures who codified them. One easy illustration of This delivers a knock-out blow to religion, which now
this idea is to look at any object, remove its name and forget becomes a form of culture akin to art: indulge if you want to,
everything else you remember about it: what is left has no but dont claim to be making a contribution to knowledge. At
meaning. Anyone who doubts this must imagine an undiscov- the same time, any objection to materialism is pre-empted:
ered, uninhabited planet somewhere in the cosmos on which altered states dreams, drugs, meditation, visions, and what
meaning exists independent of thought. How? And how would are merely called mental illnesses can be accounted for in
we ever know? We would need to imagine that such a world is purely materialist terms, that is, in purely neuroscientific
verified by a computer not build by human beings, and that terms. The emotions are downgraded, love now being defined
does not report its findings back to anyone. as one brain process communicating with another brain
process. Moreover, all competing views of reality, and all
You Need To Know Yourself To Know Anything Else weirdnesses, such as complementary medicine and true self-
Scientists and philosophers, including the most eminent, fre- sacrifice (as opposed to the bowdlerized versions of altruism
quently gloss over an unjustified assumption: that they, the per- accepted by neoDarwinists) are ruled absurd. Intuition, and
son reporting their results to us, are an objective instrument. But personal mystical knowledge are automatically derided. With
however much I may claim to be peddling objective truths, ulti- all the alternatives out of the way, the Nowhere Men can now
mately, what I am doing is reporting my subjective experiences. stake a monopoly on truth. Evidence becomes everything.
A few years ago, the British philosopher Galen Strawson Eventually there will be nothing that does not fit into a model
wrote a long, erudite piece for the London Review of Books (26 or formula. If man is nothing but a mechanical animal, all his
September 2013) which began: Im a naturalist, an out-and- affairs become predictable and calculable. Political affairs will
out naturalist, a philosophical or metaphysical naturalist, a nat- be judged by science, as will be ethics.
uralist about concrete reality. I dont think anything supernat- An even bigger prize would be to finally end the argument
ural or otherwise non-natural exists. I tried to read his argu- concerning whether humans are special or not. The material-
ments but I got lost on the first half of the first word. Anyone ists would rather make us subhuman than superhuman. If the
who is going to make confident statements about the nature of self is illusory, if there is only biology, then the human being is
reality should first define him- or herself. just an animal. This gets us off a really painful hook: our moral
The entire project of human knowledge is back to front. The responsibility to other species and the planet. More insidiously,
ambition of science is to explain the universe, which means get- to deny the human mind and the complementary moral
ting around to explaining human consciousness whenever feasi- responsibility of free will is, perhaps unconsciously (if you will

12 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

Philosophical Haiku
forgive the pun) to promote the modern project of rampant,
selfish, immoral consumerism. The modern values of
ephemerality and you-only-get-one-life-so-you-may-as-well-
do-what-you-want hedonism are triumphant.
So this kind of thinking has a very distasteful endgame,
which can play out in two different ways. One way is that
because we are nothing special, in fact dont even really exist, it
doesnt really matter what happens to us, or what we do to the
world. Who cares which dystopia we end up with when there
is no we to live with its effects? The other way forward is,
that if we trust in science completely it will take over the role
of development once allocated to God, and ensure that we
evolve into successful sentient robots. Key to the modern
notion of progress is a belief that technology can and will solve
all problems. More than that, it will improve us. And if the self
is no more than the output of the machine if consciousness is
just a sequence of brain code a bit more sophisticated than (17701831)
Microsoft Office it follows without any insuperable moral or
Unfolding Reason
other difficulties that to upload a human being to something
As Mind seeks to know itself
better than a human body, is a desirable end. Freedom is Rational.

Negating The Self-Negation

I suspect that many of the Nowhere Men see the absurdity of egels philosophical influence is out of all proportion to the
the position they have chosen, although they dont know how actual value of his work, which just goes to show that writing a
to get out of it. Significantly, when David Hume absented great deal of impenetrable prose can get you a long way.
himself from existence, he left a door of hope open behind As a young man, Hegel was initially an enthusiastic supporter of the
him: If anyone, upon serious and unprejudiced reflection, French Revolution. Disillusioned by the failure of the revolution, Hegel
thinks he has a different notion of himself he may be in the determined to signal his profound sadness by never again writing in a
right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this way anyone could understand (okay, Im speculating here, but there
particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and has to be some reason for his incomprehensible style).
continued, which he calls himself; though I am certain there is History, Hegel taught, is the unfolding of the Absolute Idea or World
no such principle in me. Spirit/Mind. Through a series of contradictions in social structures,
If we are to paddle our way out of the whirlpool of oblivion Reason gradually but inevitably works itself out as human history, so
to which the materialists would apparently consign us, we must that the history of the world is none other than the progress of the
start by accepting that we are subjective creatures, and that consciousness of freedom. With me so far? Hegel believed that by fol-
reductionism in the case of consciousness only leads to misun- lowing his thinking we would one day come to know the world as it
derstanding. If you think you are observing reality objectively, really is. This moment, in turn, would represent the historically transcen-
not subjectively, you should not forget that you are in it, way dental stage when Mind the active force driving history along comes
above your neck. to know itself. Only now would we live in perfect freedom. Freedom, in
We shouldnt place all our trust only in branches of human other words, is attained by living rationally in a rationally ordered politi-
knowledge prefixed neuro. To do so takes us into an endless cal state, which means living in accordance with Mind. . . To sum up, if
loop of the human self exorcising the human self. On the con- you choose not to live in accordance with Reason, you are living irra-
trary, quantum physics suggests that we must allow there to be tionally, and History will simply flatten you as it rolls on by. Hegel also
different levels of explanation to any given phenomena and modestly believed that he had discerned the underlying structure of
that sometimes you just have to accept apparent strangeness reality, which is the Idea as manifest across space. Our minds are simply
for what it is. So could I be both a pearl of self and a bundle part of Mind working itself out through time and space. As part of his
of perceptions, depending on which direction I look at myself self-contained, self-referential philosophical system, he also has a lot to
from, and at which moment? say about politics, logic, religion, art and more besides.
True intellectual courage lies not in declaring yourself pub- As today, people in the Nineteenth Century loved this kind of thing,
lically to be nothing, and your person a mere animal brain and crowds flocked to hear Hegel speak. He was, alas, stopped dead in
whirring away in the service of genes. It consists in accepting his historical tracks in 1831 by cholera. Perhaps this was Historys way
that you are something more than that, even if you cant say of flattening an irritating, if not irrational, philosopher.
exactly what. TERENCE GREEN 2016
NICK INMAN 2016 Terence is a peripatetic (though not Peripatetic) writer, historian and
Nick Inmans most recent book is A Guide To Mystical France: lecturer. He holds a PhD in the history of political thought from
Secrets, Mysteries, Sacred Sites, published by Findhorn Press. He is Columbia University, NYC, and lives with his wife and their dog in
also the author of Who On Earth Are You?, which began as a letter Wellington, NZ. He blogs at
to his bank apologizing for not being able to confirm his true identity. (For more about the immortal Hegel see p.56 and future issues...)

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 13

The Private Lives Of Rocks
Jon David thinks about the view that everything has awareness.

o rocks have minds? A minority of modern philoso- to have experienced union with the anima mundi through ecsta-
phers are prepared (but only, perhaps, after some tic meditation. Another Neoplatonist, Iamblichus, believed not
prodding) to admit they believe the answer is yes only that the universe was conscious, but that it was packed with
or at least, sort of. In the past decade, a number spirits along the lines of The Tempests Ariel, who could, through
of bona fide academics, such as Australias Freya Mathews, the appropriate rites, be called upon to do our bidding including
USAs David Skrbina, and the UKs Galen Strawson, have by animating (literally ensouling) stone statues.
emerged as champions of panpsychism: the view that not only The Christian church tried to stamp out such flagrant
rocks, but everything in the universe is in some sense, and to paganism, but it was never entirely successful, and by the Six-
some extent conscious. teenth Century the Renaissances interest in ancient spirituality
was all over Europe. For instance, the alchemist Paracelsus,
The Roots of Universal Consciousness along with originating the bacterial theory of disease, believed
The idea that inanimate objects have some kind of conscious- that the elements of earth, air, fire and water each had animat-
ness isnt entirely new. Alfred North Whitehead promoted it ing spirits, elementals, who could be invoked for magic ritu-
early in the Twentieth Century. Going even further back, early als. In the case of earth and for our purpose, rocks the ele-
societies apparently believed that the natural world is popu- mentals are gnomes. Meanwhile, the Hermetic philosopher
lated by intelligent spirits who could control the environment Giordano Bruno claimed there is nothing that does not pos-
think of the naiads and driads of Greek myth, for example. sess a soul. Even the comparatively level-headed English nat-
By the historical period, such animism was on the wane but ural philosopher William Gilbert, in his treatise On the Magnet
it wasnt dead. In the Sixth Century BCE, the earliest recorded (1600), argued that magnets had souls, and that compasses
Greek philosopher, Thales, famously wrote All things are full pointed north because they were attracted by the earths soul.
of gods. Aristotle reported that Thales said this because he Thales and Plato would have nodded approvingly.
noticed that a certain kind of rock, lodestone, has a mysterious
power of attracting iron. So individual gods dwelt in the individ- The Matter with Modern Minds
ual lodestones, and were able to reach out and drag iron nails But why would modern philosophers, raised on the type of
towards them. If such spirits lived in magnetic rocks, Thales view bequeathed by Newton that the universe is essentially a
reasoned, why shouldnt they also inhabit other objects? vast mechanism, ever flirt with the claim that inanimate objects
It didnt stop with Thales. Plato, writing in the Fourth Cen- are conscious? The answer is in the question. The universe-as-
tury BCE, believed that the universe as a whole was a conscious, machine metaphor so beloved of early modern scientists
living entity, with an anima mundi or world soul (anima is Latin implies that the universe has analysable working parts and that
for soul, and later writers used it to translate the Greek word we can learn to predict its clock-like behaviour. But clocks do
Plato used, psyche, which can mean either soul or mind). Platos not, most would say, have minds. Yet the universe includes
mystically-inclined later followers, the Neoplatonists, went even minds. We know it does, because we have some of them. But
further. In the third century CE, one of them, Plotinus, claimed how can our minds possibly be related to the matter that makes
up our machine-like bodies and the rest of this clockwork uni-
verse? How for example can my mind not my brain, but my
consciousness move my hand just by thinking?
This problem has haunted philosophers for centuries. The
Eighteenth Century Anglo-Irish bishop George Berkeley tried
to exorcise it by abolishing the mysterious mind-matter rela-
tion through his audacious claim that theres no such thing as
matter. There are only minds, and ideas in minds. Allegedly
material objects, such as rocks or even brains are really just
ideas in the minds of perceivers looking at them, or in Gods
mind, if theres no one else looking [see elsewhere this issue for
Berkeley, Ed]. But this mental-only solution to the problem of
minds interaction with matter, called idealism, never caught on.
Samuel Johnson certainly wasnt impressed. I refute it thus,
he said, kicking a pebble. In his eyes, he thought he could
prove that the pebble was a chunk of matter by kicking it.
The Twentieth Century English philosopher Gilbert Ryle
went in the opposite direction. He insisted theres no such
thing as mind, if by mind we mean some separate ghostly
entity that inhabits the body until death severs the connection.

14 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

to believe bats have some kind of consciousness. Unlike bats,
rocks dont have brains or sense organs. But panpsychism isnt
the claim that inanimate matter has thoughts or perceptions in
the way that our brains enable us to have thoughts or percep-
tions just that its conscious. This consciousness might be
unimaginably simple and feeble compared with the conscious-
ness of complex organisms, but its consciousness nonetheless.
In fact, Strawson is reluctant to say rocks are conscious as
rocks rather, its the fundamental particles of which they are
composed that enjoy a feeling-hum of existence. But for David
Skrbina, the alleged absurdity of rock-psychology just boils down
to anthropomorphic bias. Why shouldnt rocks be conscious?
Panpsychists are generally keen to shut down talk of mysti-
cism or woo woo (Strawsons term) in connection with their
ideas. Although understandable from the point of view of want-
ing to maintain academic credibility, this is a shame. Panpsy-
chism is consistent with spiritual and philosophical traditions
that span cultures and centuries from Platos world soul to the
claim that everything has a Buddha nature. The idea that all
things have at least rudimentary consciousness is also a staple of
Romanticism see Wordsworths nature worship and, through
Mind, he claimed, is nothing more than the bodys disposition the work of palaeontologist and philosopher Father Pierre Teil-
to react in certain ways to certain stimuli. There is no ghost hard de Chardin, has even found a home in Christian theology.
in the machine, to use Ryles own phrase. But this solution, Also, like Plotinus, people throughout history have had momen-
physicalism, is also hard to swallow. How could we think theres tary experiences of the cosmic consciousness glimpses of reality as
no such thing as mind? What would we be thinking it with? an ordered, living whole that complements panpsychist claims.
Theres also the question of where mind, or consciousness, Such experiences arent proof, but they are, perhaps, evidence,
came from. If the rest of the universe is unthinking, unfeeling and surely have a role to play in the case for panpsychism.
matter, then what happened to give our ancestors their spark
of awareness? Some people might be content to say that the The Point of Panpsychism
fact mind and matter interact, and the fact there are minds at Speculation on the private lives of geological formations might
all in an otherwise material universe, are miracles, and leave it seem a sterile intellectual game, but it has profound implica-
at that. But for atheists and agnostics, as well as believers who tions. The mechanistic worldview inherited from the Enlight-
dont want to sweep mysteries under the carpet, this wont do. enment distorts our self-image. As minds in an otherwise mind-
less cosmos, we cannot make ourselves at home. It also means
The Panpsychic World were liable to see everything around us minerals, plants, ani-
This is where panpsychism comes in. For if mind is matter in mals, even people as just raw material to be exploited. Theres
the form of brains, then equally, matter in the form of brains, is a direct link between metaphysical materialism (the idea that
mind. But panpsychism doesnt just restrict this thinking to matter is all that exists), economic materialism (the assumption
brains. Why suppose there are two different kinds of matter in that material possessions are all that matters), and full-blown
the universe, the insensate kind that makes up most things, and ecological crisis. But economic materialism isnt inevitable.
the special kind that somehow ends up in our heads? I would Panpsychism can help open our eyes to the reality of pressing
bet a lot against there being such radical heterogeneity [differ- environmental concerns. When the world is understood in
ence] at the bottom of things, Galen Strawson says. For him, panpsychist terms, says Freya Mathews, the whole spectrum
its easier to believe that consciousness is part of the fundamen- of Western thought undergoes a profound shift, a shift away
tal nature of matter of all matter. So for panpsychists, the best from the direction in which it has been drifting since the time
explanation for how evolution managed to turn primordial of the scientific revolution.
sludge into conscious grey matter, is that the sludge was already So, panpsychism offers a way to understand how mind and
conscious, albeit in some lowly, sludge-like way. In other words, body interact. It puts us in touch with rich spiritual traditions.
panpsychists say that the best explanation for how mind and It points the way to a healthier environmental ethic. All so
matter work together, is that all matter already has some degree long as were prepared to rub shoulders with sentient stones.
of consciousness.The consciousness then becomes more com- For some, this price is too high. But for others it isnt much
plex as the organisation of the matter becomes more complex. more extravagant than supposing that the offal in our skulls is
Whats it like to be a rock, then? Without inside informa- sentient. Conscious rocks might be better than the hard place
tion (perhaps from magically possessed statues) we have no of a materialistic universe.
idea. But panpsychists say this lack of knowledge isnt a prob- JON DAVID 2016
lem. They point out we also have no idea what its like to be a Jon, a philosophy post-grad in Britain, sent us this article, then disap-
bat (what must it be like to see using sonar?), yet were happy peared. If you know the author, please ask him to contact us!

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 15

Spinozas Metaphysics
& Its Relevance For Science Today
Zoran Vukadinovic thinks Spinoza could help us with our enquiries.

aruch Spinoza was a Seventeenth Century Dutch from the successes of modern science, which is itself largely a
philosopher of Portuguese Jewish descent, and a lens reductionist enterprise meaning that it tends to explain the
grinder by trade. Though mild-mannered and agree- complex world in terms of layers of increasingly basic con-
able, he was excommunicated by his community for stituents. Mathematical idealism is inspired in particular by the
his abominable heresies. His most important book Ethics successes of computer science in generating mathematically-
(1677) is concerned with presenting the implications of Gods based models of worlds; in fact, so successfully that the idea that
nature for human happiness. It might surprise you if I said that our universe is itself a computer simulation produced by an
this work is quite relevant for our time, and that it may even advanced civilization has entered the mainstream in philosophy
help us understand some perplexing issues in contemporary sci- (see Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?, Philosophical
ence, but this is precisely what I will argue in this article. Quarterly, 53(211), Nick Bostrom, 2003).
Specifically, I will try to show that Spinozas metaphysics, as However, both positions are ultimately unsatisfactory. For
well as being a good system through which to understand the example, its not clear that the qualities of our experiences can
behavior of elementary particles as described by quantum be entirely reduced to or expressed in terms of physical things.
mechanics, also allows us to demystify the mind-body problem And if the world is composed from mathematical truths, the
in cognitive science. question then arises, how we can have any knowledge of these
truths, given that they are outside space and time? Further-
more, if we suppose that these mathematical objects are mental
in nature, we could end up with a circular argument: if, as the
reductionists suppose, the mind can be reduced to the activity
in the brain; and the activity of the brain can be reduced to
interactions between nerve cells; these cellular processes to
interactions between molecules; molecules to atoms; atoms to
subatomic particles; subatomic particles to space-time points;
space-time points to sets of numbers; and finally, sets of num-
bers to the mathematical laws relating them which some
would argue are essentially mental entities this then loops us
right back to where we started (see Reality: A Very Short Intro-
duction, by Jan Westerhoff, 2011).
Spinoza Spinozas Metaphysics: An Outline
(1632-1677) Yet before we abandon the metaphysical enterprise to the skep-
tical view that what underlies the world we experience is essen-
Two Modern Metaphysical Positions tially unknowable (or worse, uninteresting), let us consider
The branch of philosophy known as metaphysics is not easy to Spinozas thought, which, as you will see, is surprisingly com-
define, but we can say that generally it is concerned with the patible with modern science.
basic categories or ideas that underpin reality. It deals, for Spinoza held that nature which he equated with God is
instance, with substances, causality, identity and emergence, and absolutely perfect, determined, infinite, and timeless. This infi-
it relies on our ability to reason about things that cannot be nite God or Nature (Deus sive Natura) is all-encompassing. We
directly observed or measured. In modern science there is a great are all part of it and there is nothing outside of it. We human
emphasis on observation and measurement, which unfortunately beings have access to two attributes of this infinite Being exten-
tends to obscure the importance of theory in science. The disci- sion and thought both of which express its infinite essence, and
pline of metaphysics can help us make our worldview more com- they correspond with each other, because they are expressions
prehensible by integrating insights from science into our overall of the same reality. Besides thought and extension there are
understanding of reality, which cannot rely on observation alone. infinitely many other attributes of the infinite Being, to which
Two influential contemporary metaphysical views are scientific we do not have access but which are nonetheless expressions of
reductionism, which is essentially a materialist position, and math- the same Being, which is, moreover, unconstrained by time.
ematical idealism, which holds that the basis of space and time is To appreciate how novel this thinking was, it is worth
not subatomic particles, but rather, certain mathematical truths. remembering that during Spinozas time the predominant view
Both positions derive from long traditions in Western thought, of the universe in Europe was still the medieval notion inher-
and both have merits. Scientific reductionism derives its force ited from Aristotle and Ptolemy of a finite cosmos. As Joseph

16 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

mined by an entity greater than ourselves. Spinoza then gener-

alizes this observation to postulate that if there are multiple

individuals of a type of thing, then the cause of their existence
cannot be within them, and therefore that their essence does
not involve existence. In other words, it is generally not part of
the definition and essence of things that exist that they necessar-
ily exist. This then invites the question: What is the ultimate
cause of all the diversity and complexity that we encounter in
nature, if it is not those things themselves? Spinozas response is
that the ultimate source of all existing things which contains
all the other existing things, and without which they would not
exist must be something whose essence does involve existence.
And because the definition of this entity therefore involves nec-
essary existence (because it is of its essence to exist), not only does
it necessarily exist, it cannot involve any negation to being.
This means that this Being is unconstrained, all-encompassing,
infinite and eternal. These are the defining characteristics of
the cause of all that exists.
Ratner points out in The Philosophy of Spinoza (2014), Spinozas This leads to Spinozas definition of substance as that
vision of the universe not only surpasses this pent in medieval which is in itself and is conceived through itself (Ethics Part 1,
universe, but also the predominant contemporary view of the Definition 3). Put another way, substance is that part or aspect
universe as a purely physical system. So let me elaborate a little of nature that is self-creating (Spinoza and Spinozism, Stuart
on Spinozas metaphysics and present some examples that illus- Hampshire, 2005). To use Spinozas terminology, substance is
trate why it may be inspiring to anyone who is perplexed by active nature, or Natura naturans (the nurturing nature, or per-
our relation to the universe. haps, nature naturing) which he thus equates with God.
Moreover, as its very definition involves necessary existence, we
Spinozas Monism cannot deny that this entity exists. And because it is infinite and
Spinozas Ethics is divided into five parts. The first two concern all-encompassing, there can only be one substance.
metaphysics, and discuss God and the mind-body relationship Proposing that there is a self-creating aspect to nature is not
respectively. In Part One, Spinoza equates God with the one infi- foreign to the modern mind familiar with Big Bang theory, and
nite and unique substance that underlies all of reality. Please note we might even say, with the theory of evolution. However,
that what is meant here by the philosophical term substance is accepting that there is only one such self-creating process (which
an integrated whole that cannot be directly experienced by us. by reason of its uniqueness we can call God) is more difficult.
Some of Spinozas contemporaries and near contemporaries Moreover, because this entity is absolutely perfect and unique,
held that there are several substances. Most famously, Ren the term process to describe it is not entirely appropriate, since
Descartes (1596-1650) argued that there are two substances, that term entails something thats developing. Substance is a
mind and matter, which have the distinguishing qualities of more appropriate term to describe an entity that is not lacking
thought and extension respectively. He further claimed that each in anything, and thus whose very nature is unchanging.
individual person is a somehow-interacting union of these two The human intellect grasps Spinozas substance through its
substances. In contrast, Spinoza held that there is only one sub- two attributes of extension and thought. That is, we can appreci-
stance, because it is infinite and all-encompassing, and that, ate substance either by contemplating the infinitely-extended
because it is not only infinite and all-encompassing but also cre- physical universe, or else by considering the infinity of ideas
ative, is to be equated with God. In the rest of Ethics, Spinoza
unfolds the implications of this view for understanding the rela-
tionship between the mind and body, and subsequently for our
understanding of emotions, knowledge, and ethics.
One of the aims that Spinoza outlines in the opening pages
of Ethics is to provide an explanation for the very existence of
things. For example, one might ask whether the cause for the
existence of existing things is within them or outside them.
Spinoza begins to answer this question by stating that the
definitions of entities usually do not include the specific num-
ber of individuals of that type that exist. For example, there is
nothing within human nature, or in the definition of human,
that specifies that there must currently be seven billion of us.
This suggests that the definition of human, and so our
essence, does not determine how many individual humans there
will be. Therefore, our existence as individual entities is deter-

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 17

possible within it. Reality is for Spinoza both a system of objects, else that exists. The next question is, why is God/nature, as
and a system of ideas or representations. Human beings, for defined by Spinoza, relevant to us today? The answer is that this
example, are bodies composed of physical parts, but are also rep- idea provides a view of the world that is surprisingly consistent
resentations, which constitute human minds. As I mentioned, with contemporary science, which still lacks a metaphysics that
for Spinoza substance also includes an infinite number of other, can accommodate its perplexing discoveries.
unknowable, attributes in addition to the two we can know. In a The first example of its perplexing discoveries is quantum
way, these attributes are what makes something real, distinct mechanics. It has become a clich that no one understands the
they are the means through which one finite entity may be dis- strange behavior of the elementary particles that quantum
tinguished from another. In Spinozas terminology, each individ- mechanics describes. For example, how can an unobserved elec-
ual in nature is a mode of the one substance. tron be in an infinite number of places at the same time? Or
For Spinoza, thought and extension are conceptually and how can a particle of light a photon sample all of space to
causally independent of each other, but at the same time corre- select the fastest path between two points in space, as Richard
spond to each other, or are mapped onto one another. This Feynmans interpretation of quantum mechanics would say?
correspondence of causally and conceptually distinct attributes One common theme in quantum mechanics is precisely this
is known as parallelism, and will be important when we con- unconstrained behavior of particles. This is consistent with the
sider the mind-body relationship. notion that there is a boundless or infinite aspect in nature
Please note that for Spinoza mind is not the cause of the underlying the reality we experience which is precisely Spin-
physical universe, nor is the physical universe the cause of ozas view of substance.
mind. Rather, Spinoza holds that the force behind the exis- Another theme in quantum mechanics is that the answer
tence of corporeal nature and behind the workings of the mind supplied by an experiment often depends on the question the
is the same unique and all-encompassing substance, which has experiment is asking. For example, elementary wave-particles
both attributes equally. can be seen to behave as either waves or particles depending
on how an experiment is set up. Furthermore, it seems that
Substance & Science observation is required to give quantum entities a determinate
So God is an entity that exists necessarily, or by definition. It is form. These two features of quantum mechanics suggest that
the self-creating aspect of nature, and is the cause of everything there is a very close relationship between intelligence and cor-
poreal nature in the universe, just as Spinoza supposed. To put
it in Spinozas terms, intelligence and the material quantum
events that intelligence observes are inseparable because they
are two aspects of the same unique and boundless substance.
The anthropic principle in cosmology refers to the striking
observation that the cosmos in which we live appears as if
specifically fine-tuned to allow life to exist. A number of very
basic facts about the Universe, such as the strengths of certain
forces (for example, the nuclear forces inside atomic nuclei),
and the masses and charges of certain subatomic particles, are
of the precise values required for the development of intelligent
observers such as us. As the physicist John A. Wheeler summa-
rized in 1986, it appears that a life-giving factor lies at the center
of the whole machinery and design of the world (see Wheelers
foreword in The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by J.D. Barrow
and F.J. Tipler, 1986). That description could aptly apply to
Spinozas conception of Natura naturans, nurturing nature.

In summary, modern science provides support for Spinozas

monism by indicating that there is an unbounded and creative
aspect in nature, and also that intelligence and corporeality are
intimately bound and inseparable.

Mind-Body Correspondence

Next, lets turn to one of the most important logical conse-

quences of Spinozas monism, namely, the doctrine of mind-
body correspondence.
In the first paragraph of Part 2 of Ethics, dealing with the
mind, Spinoza makes clear that his conclusions about the mind
emanate from his view of God: I pass now to an explanation
of those things that necessarily had to follow from the essence
of God, or, an eternal and infinite entity. As we have seen,
God or substance is the self-creating aspect of nature which,

18 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

because it necessarily exists, cannot be limited by anything, and SPINOZAS WORK
is, therefore, infinite.
For Spinoza, a human body has the attribute of extension, Half-light and the calm hands
and a human mind the attribute of thought, or representation. of a man polishing glass,
Moreover, the mind and the body are parallel expressions of though outside the day is harsh
the one underlying reality; or we could say that the mind and with persecution, words that damn
the body are the same thing (substance) considered under dif- for the smallest deviation.
ferent attributes. In language that Spinoza inherits from In the synagogue they recite the cherem,
Descartes, an idea is a representation of the thing of which it is denouncing a heretic
an idea. This leads Spinoza to his famous conclusion that the to be deported from the House of Israel.
human mind is equivalent to the idea of the human body. Spinozas
parallelism also means that every change in the human body Yet here in this alcove of instruments,
has to be accompanied by a change in the human mind: of curvatures plotted to decimal points,
Whatever happens in the object of the idea constituting the theres clarity of intellect.
human mind must be perceived by the human mind That is, Nothings opaque. Through the clean eye
if the object of the idea constituting the human mind is a body, of a telescope, an objective world
nothing can happen in that body which is not perceived by the with objective grace.
mind (Part 2, Proposition 12). Theres no rush for eminence
This doctrine of mind-body correspondence is relevant to he rejects honours as one declines
contemporary cognitive science, where there is increasing bruised fruit
recognition of how intimately cognition and embodiment are or last nights beer.
related. We might say that Spinozas argument, put in modern On his signet ring
neurological terms, implies that the total representation that (below the hermetic rose)
constitutes each individual human mind is equivalent to the theres a Latin word:
total activity of that individuals nervous system, and each caute with caution, taking care.
operates or functions in parallel with the other. So Spinozas
metaphysics shows how mind and the nervous system relate. He hides his writing for fear
This approach to the mind-body problem is appealing also of being burnt alive.
because it suggests that the mind is not extrinsic to nature, but
is one part of an integrated whole. For Spinoza, the double As shadows stain the cobbled streets
aspect of things (that is, the parallelism) applies to everything he jots down:
in nature, and therefore, everything in nature has a mind of Focal length, refractive index,
sorts. Human beings do not occupy a metaphysically special magnifying power
place, except in so far as the human body is the most complex bringing closer the grammar of blood,
thing in nature, and therefore, its representation, or the human the Euclidian matrix of the stars.
mind, is the most sophisticated mind in all of nature. Or as
Spinoza says: to the extent that some body is more capable PETER ABBS 2016
than others of doing several things at the same time, or of Peter Abbs is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the
being acted on (that is, suffer) at the same time, to that extent University of Sussex. Books include The Flowering of
its mind is more capable than others of perceiving several Flint: New and Selected Poems (Salt) and Against the
things at the same time (Part 2, Proposition 13, Scolium). In Flow: Education, the Arts and Postmodern Culture
other words, the sophistication of the human mind corre- (Routledge). Please visit
sponds to the complexity of the human body.
gence within it are ultimately expressions of the one substance.
Conclusion The attributes of thought and of extension cannot be reduced
According to the contemporary spin on Spinozas theories that to one or the other, but both point to the same infinite and
I have attempted to articulate here, the infinite self-creating eternal Being. The same boundless power expressed by the
aspect of nature underlies (1) the unconstrained behavior of complexity of the human body is also expressed by the powers
particles in quantum mechanics; (2) the very existence of a of the human mind. The same power that is behind the uncon-
world that supports intelligence; (3) the emergence of life strained behavior of particles in quantum mechanics, and
forms through evolution. Moreover, all these phenomena that expressed by the sheer vastness of the cosmos, also underlies
emerge from the one substance are interrelated: there is no the continual development of human knowledge. There can-
intelligence without embodiment; there is no increasing com- not be anything more life-affirming than this. This is what
plexity of embodiment without evolution; there is no evolution makes Spinoza most relevant to contemporary thought.
without a unique universe that allows life to emerge; and DR ZORAN VUKADINOVIC 2016
finally, as both quantum mechanics and the anthropic principle Zoran is an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Colorado,
teach us, there is no observed material universe without intelli- where he works as a medical director of a substance abuse treatment
gence within it. The existence of the universe and of intelli- clinic. He and his wife Marina have two children, Andrey and Mila.

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 19

A Golden Manifesto, Part II
Mary Midgley continues her recollection of a golden age of female philosophy.

R.M. Hares formula of Prescriptivism, which described moral

judgments not as isolated feelings but as comprehensive
orders, directions or prescriptions which ones feelings might
lead one to impose systematically on the rest of the world.
People were, of course, somewhat puzzled about how these
various individual orders or directions were to be brought into
harmony, but Hare replied that, in general, these rulings would
not disagree much with one another because they would all
flow from a basic Utilitarianism. Apart from that, people
would just have to be sensible. Because these were matters of
individual feeling, no general rules could be imposed about
what these judgments would require. Moral freedom had to be
So can just anything be a moral principle then? It some-
times looks as if it can. Hare at one point mentions someone
who believes that torturing is morally permissible, but Philippa
Foot pointed out in response that for this to be possible, we

need to know how it can be done. Is this man supposed to have

answered the objection that to inflict torture is to do harm? It
is not enough (she says) just to proclaim that in principle any-
thing can be called good. Calling it good has to be made intel-
ligible. And this requires an appropriate context a back-
ground against which the claim makes sense.
Mary Midgley For instance, can it be good can it be a matter for pride
to clasp one of your hands on top of the other three times in an
hour? If we want to make sense of such claims, we have to try

n the first part of this essay (in Issue 116), I suggested to find plausible ways of filling in the background: Perhaps he
that philosophers have been wrong in thinking that they is ill, and it is an achievement even to do this; perhaps this ges-
were engaged in a hunt for a single and infallible answer ture has some religious or political significance and he is a
to moral questions. They can hope to get nearer to right brave man who will defy the gods or the rulers.
answers, to get further from some demonstrably wrong ones, But these stories must still be made plausible, and without
and to get a better grasp of the kind of wrongness that is caus- that plausibility the claim is still unintelligible. In fact, it turns
ing most trouble here. But none of this will be final. out that emotivism cannot provide any escape from that
In his book of 1739, A Treatise of Human Nature, David requirement. In this way, says Philippa, even feelings are
Hume famously claimed that it was impossible to logically vulnerable to facts. As she points out, there are many aspects
derive judgments about values, about what ought to be the involved here:
case, solely from facts about the world. Here Hume showed no
interest in the detailed meaning of the value-judgments them- How exactly the concepts of harm, advantage, benefit, importance are
selves, simply treating them as solid, ultimate units. His point related to the different moral concepts such as rightness, obligation,
was only that they were matters of feeling, not of reason. goodness, duty and virtue is something that needs the most patient
When I and my Oxford friends Elizabeth Anscombe, investigation. But that they are so related seems undeniable, and it fol-
Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch began to look into ethics in the lows that a man cannot make his own personal decision about the con-
early 1940s this was still the prevailing view. It had just been siderations which are to count as evidence in morals.
reinforced in 1936 by the publication of A.J. Ayers best-selling (Philippa Foot, Virtues and Vices, 1978, p.106)
book Language, Truth and Logic, which outdid Hume in preach-
ing an extreme emotivism, a reduction of all moral matters to So the background by which moral judgments are explained
various kinds of feeling. Philosophers in general tried to accept cannot just take human feelings for granted. It cannot treat
this message of Ayers in spite of its alarming implications. them as separate, ultimate units. If we say, for instance, that
They were still convinced by Humes account of the matter. Iago resented Othello because he thought his dignity was not
But there was a good deal of uneasiness about its details. being well enough appreciated, we are supplying a familiar
When we were first on the scene, the newest variant was explanation from human nature and we will naturally go on to

20 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

give details. But, at the time that we are talking about, in the in the vast blank spaces that have been allowed to accumulate
mid twentieth century, there was not supposed to be any such around the narrow ranges of our own experience. In fact, we all
thing as human nature at all. Behaviourism tabooed this whole need to do some serious philosophizing here. And we ourselves
concept because it insisted that behaviour was entirely reactive have tried to suggest ways in which this could be done.
caused only by previous behaviour and any reference to On the matter of animals, I think this last half-century has
motives was therefore merely an irrational excuse given for indeed seen some real progress, as people have learnt to think
ignoring that causality. Existentialism tabooed it too, though differently about them. Better-informed prophets, from Jane
for a quite different reason because the Existentialists Goodall to David Attenborough, began to be heard above the
insisted that we are entirely free to act on our own decisions, clamour of those straightforward admirers of the human race
so our claims to be blocked by natural emotions can (again) who merely told us how extraordinarily intelligent we were.
only be bad excuses (bad faith). Marxists, meanwhile, consid- On this topic, as on many others, what has brought about the
ered all real causes of action to be essentially economic, so they change has not been a persistent concentration on standard
too outlawed all talk of human nature. puzzles about borrowed books or choices involving trolleys,
Today, it may seem strange that so many quite bright people but a careful attention to the complexity of the actual facts an
should, for so long, have resolutely refused to use such an examination of them which shows the need for new concepts.
obviously indispensable floorboard in the whole structure of And here again, the choice of everyday examples such as
our motives. But I have lived through too many examples of ones involving potatoes makes it clear that facts are indeed
this kind of thing in my time to be much surprised at it now. I relevant to the understanding of principles. Thus, David
do, however, remember that I knew I was in for trouble when I Humes declaration that there could be no reasoning from facts
set out to defend the notion of Human Nature including its to values had been confidently accepted as a general truth. It
close connection with the natures of other species in my first was expressed, in our time, by dismissing these arguments as
book, Beast and Man. I began the book boldly like this: resting on a naturalistic fallacy. All right then, said Elizabeth
Anscombe, if I cant use facts to prove that something is my
We are not just rather like animals; we are animals. Our differences duty, what sort of evidence can you use to prove that I owe a
from other species may be striking, but comparisons with them have debt? Suppose, for instance, that I ordered potatoes, you sup-
always been, and must be, crucial to our view of ourselves... People plied them, and you sent me a bill, that surely constitutes a
have a lot of obvious and important things that other species do not debt. But the whole point about debts is, of course, that the
speech, rationality, culture, and the rest. I have tried to discuss some of debtor has a duty to pay them; indeed, that is just what the
the most important of them, not attempting at all to deny their unique- word debt means. So it seems that truths about facts can
ness, but merely to grasp how they can occur in what is, after all, a pri- indeed be a proper basis for truths about values. (See On Brute
mate species, not a brand of machine or a type of disembodied spirit. Facts by G.E.M. Anscombe, Analysis 18, 1958)
This attempt must invade the territory of a dozen subjects, but the pro- This must, I think, be the end of my Bovrilesque attempt to
ject still belongs to philosophy, because finding how the basic concepts boil down the main points of our philosophical message, and to
of any subject work is a philosophical problem... Philosophy, like explain why it has created a certain stir. I am conscious that, in
speaking prose, is something we have to do all our lives, well or badly, trying to explain this, I have laid more emphasis on its destruc-
whether we notice it or not. What usually forces us to notice it is con- tive side on our protest against existing attitudes than on
flict. And on the matter of our animal nature a pretty mess of conflicts clarifying what ought now to be done to replace them. This is,
has arisen between different elements in the common sense tradition, I think, partly because the whole issue is simply too large to
between common-sense and various learned studies, between those allow of summarising any new proposal here.
learned studies themselves, and between all these and the remarkable Positive ideas can, of course, be found elsewhere in our
facts turned up by those who, in the last few decades, have taken the writings, but I cant reduce them all to Bovril form here. What
trouble to observe dispassionately the behaviour of other species. we need now is not just a matter of replacing crows with jack-
daws or apples with bananas. We need a real change of
The mid to late Twentieth Century saw important shifts in approach. We need to stop splitting philosophical ideas up into
the way we humans perceive our relation to the rest of cre- separate items and setting them to compete against each other.
ation, including the protests of moralists like Peter Singer The best tool for this may be the logic of question and answer
against the blank insensibility of our whole civilization towards developed by philosopher of history R.G. Collingwood. This is
other animals. Awareness of issues about climate-change has a way of treating awkward proposals not as isolated proposi-
been much slower than this to reach the public indeed it still tions, but as answers to questions, searching out the particular
seems to have difficulty in reaching the kind of people who question which has arisen to require just this answer, and
could do something about it. But about animals there has been thereby finding the wider pattern of further questions behind
a real change. it. As Collingwood himself explained, this idea originally grew
Readers will notice that on these matters, as with the other out of his interest in the nature of historical enquiry:
topics that we four discussed, I and my friends did not try to
claim credit for introducing any beautiful new simplicity. Far History did not mean knowing what events followed what. It meant
from that, we rather emphasized that these matters are really getting inside peoples heads, looking at their situation with their eyes,
difficult and complicated that we do indeed seriously need to and thinking for yourself whether the way in which they tackled it was
think harder about them, so as to evolve concepts that will fill the right way... It was a doctrine of [the contemporary creed called]

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 21

Not so different from ourselves?

realism ... that in this sense of the word there is no history of philosophy. At first sight you cannot tell what he is trying to say. But if you will
The realists thought that the problems with which philosophy is con- think carefully about the passage you will see that he is answering a
cerned were unchanging... they thought that the same problems which question which he has taken the trouble to formulate in his mind with
were discussed in modern ethical theory were discussed in Platos great precision. What you are reading is his answer. Now tell me what
Republic and Aristotles Ethics, and that it was a mans duty to ask himself the question was? ...
whether Aristotle or Kant was right on the points over which they For me, then, there were not two separate sets of questions to be asked,
differ. (Collingwood, An Autobiography, 1939 pp.58-9) one historical and one philosophical, about a given passage in a given
philosophical author. There was one set only; historical. (pp.71-2)
In short, they believed that philosophy dealt in doctrines
which were fixed units like tiles or tablets of stone, each Someone who has grasped this approach is not likely to
inscribed with its own permanent message. Instead of this, shift to, for instance, the combative style in which Colin
Collingwood was suggesting that we may need to find out in McGinn was taught to philosophize (see part 1). But the temp-
our search a question which is quite unexpected, perhaps a tation to tidy everything up into a fixed set of stone tablets is
question that has never actually been formulated before as, evidently still a strong one. And the heirs of the realists still
for instance, clearly happened when people began to think continue to haunt us in the orthodoxies that reign today.
about quanta. And this new question will itself have come from This suggestion of ours this sweeping (or comprehen-
the answers to further questions, so that we need to look round sive) call for an end to the artificial separation between values
to find the whole structure which is the source of the trouble. and facts may seem a bit drastic. It is not, of course, usual for
When somebodys thought puzzles you (says Collingwood): philosophers, or for scholars generally, to call for destructive

22 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

changes on this scale. Doing so always invites reprisals. And I that most widely-discussed of topics, Free Will. Yet it is hard
probably would not now be dipping my computer in this pot to see how anybody could follow this reasoning at all unless
of acid if I were not already old enough to more-or-less ignore they were already deeply dipped in the background of that par-
my own future career, or if I did not feel that my duty to my ticular controversy. And, though this particular example is
friends and colleagues actually demands it. from a book rather than a journal, this is the sort of style that
There is, indeed, one fact about the present state of our cul- journals increasingly adopt and editors increasingly expect
ture which does, I think, anyway call for a protest of this kind. their contributors to use. It seems to me that the natural result
This is the immense increase in specialization which has fol- of this can only be that soon nobody will read these journals at
lowed on the sheer increase in student numbers. As universi- all except the people who hope to contribute to them, since
ties proliferate and departments subdivide themselves into nobody else can understand them. And once the contributors
institutes and centres, this naturally produces a tendency to realise this, the journal itself will surely evaporate.
classify and standardize philosophical methods, so as to keep We may surely ask, then, why this style of writing has
everybody telling the same story. Thus I now find that people become so prevalent? John Cottingham rightly explains that it
to whom I have mentioned some quite ordinary topic murmur is used in order to imitate the approach of the natural sciences.
apologetically, Oh dear, Im afraid thats not my area... as if I This, however, is not going to work:
had started to talk Chinese.
I think something will need to be done about this runaway It would be sheer self-deception to suppose that such definitional and
specialisation before we all become mutually incomprehensi- conceptual work could offer the kind of explanatory enlightenment
ble. On the other hand, this enlargement and subdivision of that scientific research into a given phenomenon can provide.
the field may, of course, make possible all sorts of fertile devel- The basic disparity between the scientific case and the conceptual case
opments of different approaches. If each separate university is this. In the scientific case, the aim is to find some inner constitution,
and institute managed to go its own way, thinking out its own mechanism, or micro-structure whose workings will account for the
problems independently but sharing its results with its neigh- phenomenon to be explained... [Then] we can see that a certain key
bours, possibilities could light up indeed. The scene could also will open a certain lock... But if we wish to understand meaning-involv-
surely be enlarged outside the current system of universities ing activities or states like consciousness, belief, knowledge, intention,
and graduate schools by twittering and making use of other desire, goal, purpose... there is not even in principle the possibility of
social media and related networks. this kind of explanation. We may break the concepts down into their
I also suspect that this modern hope of standardizing the conceptual components, but, however deep we go, we shall never (as
whole subject of philosophy must be the source of a quite we may hope to do in the scientific case) discover a simple explanatory
alarming change that has gradually taken place in the nature of key that make us say, ah, thats how it operates. (p.5).
philosophical journals. During the last century, these journals
have become steadily more influential and more technical. Thoughts, in fact, are not machines. Pseudo-science will get
They used to be regarded chiefly as steps on the way to Real us nowhere. In fact, everything mentioned in this manifesto
Books. Now, however, philosophers longing to achieve career urges us to look at philosophical issues on a larger, more
success do not expect to do it by writing an interesting book. appropriate scale than is used in current orthodoxies, perhaps
They know that their route to glory is to get an article pub- starting by asking why the ghost of that old, divisive mind-
lished in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. And they know versus-matter dualism, with its insoluble hard problem of
that the article will, of course need to deal with some topic consciousness, still haunts and distorts philosophical orthodoxy
with which that journal has lately been concerned, because that today. And is my idea of shifting to a wider perspective itself
is what interests its current editors. entangled with the other interesting question that still awaits
So in what style can our ambitious young prophet hope to us, namely How much does it matter that we four revolution-
write this important article? How can philosophy best express aries all happened to be female?
itself today? John Cottingham took up this painful question in But these puzzles will, I fear, have to wait for another time.
a disturbing article called What Is Humane Philosophy and
Why Is It At Risk? By way of illustration he supplied an
extract from a recent book: DR MARY MIDGLEY 2016
Mary Midgley lectured at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Let us define what it is for a proposition to be (practically) realizable until 1980. Her best known books include Beast and Man;
by A at t, that is, realizable by means of As intentional behaviour at t. To Wickedness; The Ethical Primate; Science and Poetry and a
say that a proposition p is practically realizable by A at t is to say that memoir, The Owl of Minerva. She was given Philosophy Nows
there is some way of behaving, W, such that there are possible worlds 2011 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity.
in which all the actual truths that are causally independent of what A
might do or think at t hold, and A intentionally behaves in way W at t. Clare MacCumhaill, Rachael Wiseman and Luna Dolezal, from
and in all those worlds p is true. Durham University, and Liza Thompson of Bloomsbury Publishing,
(Ralph Wedgewood, The Nature of Normativity, 2007) are working with Mary Midgley to recover the Golden Age of female
philosophy. They will be publishing a series of companions to these
This passage is not intended as a contribution to some womens work, starting in 2017 with Human Nature. Find out more
highly technical branch of logic. It comes from a discussion of at or @parenthesis_in

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 23

Epicurus For Today
Luke Slattery argues that the ancient philosophy of the Garden offers an
attractive answer to some of the challenges of the modern world.

n elaborate faux Roman villa, replete with coffered nomic connoisseurship. In antiquity it was the exact opposite.
ceilings and a lavish Vesuvian color scheme, rises Epicurus (341-270 BC) abandoned the city of Athens for a
above the Pacific coast at Malibu. Why location house and garden outside its walls. The communards who fol-
scouts didnt seize upon it for the Coen brothers lowed him adopted the pleasure principle as their guide: the
comedy Hail, Caesar is anyones guess. But its best thought of as purpose of life is to maximise pleasure. But they understood
another kind of prop. Built by John Paul Getty to house his art pleasure not as the fulfillment of desire so much as its rational
collection, the Getty Villa connects the contemporary world mastery. The richest pleasure of all, Epicurus believed, was
with an ancient philosophy that could change the world for the freedom from suffering. By pleasure, he insisted, we mean
better; or, at least, make a difference. Getty modelled his villa the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul.
on a partially buried seaside mansion at Roman Herculaneum, A troubled soul, Epicurus believed, had two main causes: fear
a victim of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is known as of death, and runaway desire. He tried to banish the first by
the Villa of the Papyri because it housed a vast collection of pushing back against superstition. There is nothing to fear in
papyrus manuscripts. Most of these are on Epicurean themes. death, he taught, because when youre alive death is elsewhere,
Epicureanism was the worlds first green philosophy. When and when youre dead you wont be there or words to that
people turn to the ancient therapeutic philosophies, or arts of effect. Then, once irrational fears of the afterlife are swept
life, they tend to look to resolute Stoicism for succor. But Epi- aside, the Epicurean can attend to this one finite life. And as for
cureanism, which insists that we learn to be happy with less, is a desire, Epicurus counseled a disposition very close to Eastern
better fit with the anxieties du jour. ascetic simplicity: we are to shun the pursuit of unnecessary
The reason Epicureanism is not often mentioned in this con- pleasures of new sensations, more possessions and instead
text is that for more than two thousand years it has been misun- take deep pleasure in simple things. As some of the few surviv-
derstood. Today Epicureanism is regarded as a form of gastro- ing fragments of writings by Epicurus explain, he aimed to live

Getty Villa, Malibu

24 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

frugally at peace amid natures wealth. So there were no anti-
quarian cook-offs in the Epicurean garden, no tastings of the A Dazzling Book!
finest Retsina (if there ever was such a thing as fine resinated
ALA Booklist
wine). Meals were shared, although property was not. Epicurus
declared himself content with water, bread, weak wine, and a
pot of cheese. During a siege of Athens he kept his commu-
nity going with a store of beans, which must have been both a A delightful
culinary and an olfactory challenge for all concerned. journey
An inscription placed at the entrance to the Epicurean gar- -- Washington Post
den conveyed something of its presiding spirit:

The host and keeper of this place, where you will find the pleasure
of the highest good, will offer you freely cakes of barley and fresh
spring water. This garden will not tease your appetite with the dain- "Lyrical and deft.
ties of art but satisfy it with the bounties of nature. Will you not be a [LIGHT] is an eye-catching display,
happy guest?
reflecting and refracting like a gemstone.
-- Nature
The Epicurean Cosmos
Attempting to explain the movement of the worlds con-
stituents, Epicurus held that although its atoms tend to fall in a
straight line, they are liable now and then to deviate, or swerve.
This primitive version of the particle theory of matter has pro-
found psychological and ethical implications, since the swerve
in nature allows for human freedom. By imbuing the basic
stuff of matter with an erratic, unpredictable quality, a free
movement, Epicurus hoped to release mankind from the
chains of predestination. Without this swerve, none of us are
responsible for our actions, since they would have then been
determined, as a second-century AD Epicurean, Diogenes of
Oinoanda, explained. The end result of a deterministic world
is that all admonition and censure are nullified and not even
the wicked can be justly punished.
Our planet is one among many, Epicurus argues. But Epi-
curuss philosophy resolutely denies the existence of a spiritual
or abstract, supernatural world such as was offered by the
Platonic, then Christian traditions, and even Stoic cosmology,
which insists on a determined universe infused with the breath
of a cosmic god. Epicureanism, most importantly, rejects all
thought of a postponement of happiness to a paradise in the
heavens. At the point of death, Epicurus believed, we simply Light
dissolve into the basic constituents of the universe, the atoms. begins in myth and ends in mastery.
It was this courageous questioning of received ideas about
religion that encouraged his followers to picture Epicurus as a
Between lies a 3,000 year journey of
liberator, a breaker of shackles, a champion of humanity a
saviour. Therefore Superstition is now in her turn cast down philosophy, scripture, painting,
and trampled underfoot, writes Lucretius in celebration of his photography, and more.
masters atheism, whilst we by the victory are exalted high as
heaven. Lucretius views Epicurus as a philosophical freedom From the Ancient Greeks to the Romantic
fighter who has turned religion on its head so as to exalt man Poets, from the sunrise at Stonehenge to
an image that was to exert a formative influence many cen- the latest LEDs, from the oldest creation
turies later on the young Karl Marx. There is much of Epicu- stories to the newest lasers,
rus who was the subject of Marxs doctoral dissertation in
the young revolutionarys early thinking. The Marxist notion
of the philosopher as change-agent takes its heroic colours
from Lucretius celebration of Epicurus the liberator. And A Radiant History... shines.
Marxs vision of the Communist utopia, in which a man might
hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the
evening, criticize after dinner has a distinct Epicurean cast.
Happy Simplicity hand, it is remarkable just how directly the Epicurean ideal
The Epicurean message, stripped to its essence, really is a call speaks to many contemporary needs. In antiquity this ideal was
to liberation from a superstitious fear of death, and from distilled to a quatrain of spare yet beautiful phrases:
destructive desire. Its less-is-more ethos is remarkably, improb-
ably, providentially relevant, twenty-three centuries after it was Nothing to fear in God;
first articulated. As the late College de France scholar of Nothing to feel in Death;
antique philosophy, Pierre Hadot, explained, it enjoins us to Good can be attained;
learn to be content with what satisfies fundamental needs, Evil can be endured.
while renouncing what is superfluous. A simple formula, but
one that cannot but imply a radical upheaval of our lives. This tetrapharmakos, or fourfold remedy, shows us how to
If translated into contemporary terms, this thinking might achieve the Epicurean ideal of being happy in this moment, to
compel us to temper our mania for consumption; for more stop postponing our joy to, in the famous formulation of the
cars, more gadgets more stuff. What gives Epicureanism its Roman Epicurean poet Horace, Seize the day!
contemporary usefulness is that it talks not of an angst and
guilt-ridden need to make do with less the dilemma, broadly Epicurean Economics
speaking, of eco-minded people but of the rich pleasure to be Just how practical for contemporary people is the radical
had from doing so. Its essentially an egoistic or selfish philoso- upheaval (in Hadots phrase) implied by Epicureanism?
phy with altruistic consequences. So the philosophy of the gar- Chicago University philosopher Martha Nussbaum, a world
den addresses an urgent ethical question: how do we manage authority on Hellenistic philosophy, argues, The whole world
the threat of global warming caused by human over-industrial- cannot organize into little Epicurean communities; such com-
isation, and the crisis of environmental degradation that ulti- munities are always parasitic upon the economic and political
mately follows? Epicurus answered this question long before it life of the larger world. And yet I would counsel against a too-
was a question by invoking the idea of natural limits as a guide ready association of the Epicurean spirit of retreat with a bare,
to action: He who understands the limits of life knows how primitive, passive, parasitical existence. The nineteenth cen-
easy it is to procure enough to remove the pain of want and tury French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau little known out-
make the whole of life complete and perfect, he wrote. side his native land, although he was the first to coin what
Hence he has no longer any need of things which are not to would become the Durkheimian notion of anomie wrote a
be won save by labour and conflict. Time and again Epicurus beautiful work of Epicurean advocacy and analysis titled La
and his followers return to the theme of limits: One must Morale dEpicure. In it he points out that the lines with which
regard wealth beyond what is natural as of no more use than Lucretius ends Book Five of his magisterial poem De Rerum
water to a container that is full to overflowing. Natura amount to a doctrine du progress intellectual et moral de
It might seem to make no sense to airlift a philosophy of lhomme and are a passionate hymn to creativity and social
deep antiquity twenty-three centuries on from its origin and dynamism achieved by building upon simplicity:
expect it to precisely dovetail with contemporary needs, and
yet it is eerily prophetic. Robert and Edward Skidelskys 2013 Seafaring and farming, city walls and laws
treatise, How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life, is a cri- And arms, roads, clothing, and all such other things,
tique of exponential economic growth that opens with a quote All the rewards and delights of life,
from Epicurus: Nothing is enough for the man for whom Songs, pictures, statues curiously wrought,
enough is too little. And a few lines from the Epicurean poet All these they learnt by practice gradually
Lucretius, penned at the height of paganism, also strike home And by experiments of eager minds
in the age of the smartphone: As step by step they made their forward way.
So each thing in its turn by slow degrees
While we cant get what we want, that seems Time doth bring forward to the lives of men,
Of all things most desirable, And reason lifts it to the light of day.
Once got, For as one concept followed on another
We must have something else. Men saw it form and brighten in their minds
Till by their arts they scaled the highest peak.
It should be remembered, however, that the philosophy of
Epicurus is very old, and despite its contemporary resonance, is In ancient statuary, Socrates is invariably pug-nosed and
now and then rather strange. For example, believing in the ugly. Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Emperor, looks like a guy you
absolute authority of the senses, Epicurus considered the sun can trust. Epicurus, eyes set deeply behind a furrowed brow, is
no bigger than an orange because it seemed that size to the permanently cranky. Hes no voluptuary, no gastronomic bore.
naked eye. Even in the domain of ethics, where Epicureanism is Hes a radical with a burning idea. It burns fiercely still.
at its most attractive, its various dictates mix the reasonable LUKE SLATTERY 2016
There are three motives to injurious acts among men hatred, Luke Slattery is a Sydney-based writer, and an honorary associate in
envy and contempt; and these the wise man will overcome with the University of Sydneys department of Classics and Ancient His-
reason with the ludicrous: The wise man will not make fine tory. He is the author of four books, including Reclaiming Epicurus
speechesNor will he dribble when drunk. On the other (Penguin, 2012).

26 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

anguish of living a brief life in an absurd world.
A comic by Corey Mohler about the inevitable

Each week, Corey Mohler draws a new Existential Comics strip and posts it at
The Epicureans, despite being avowed hedonists and the modern connota- hangovers), but simple pleasures that fulfill basic desires (hungry, sleep,
tions of the word, weren't really interested in the sort of sensual pleasure etc). Likewise you should avoid excess or unnecessary desires such as
that we think of as hedonism. They believed that the most pleasurable life greed, lust, and domination over others. Their prescribed path might be
mostly consisted of avoiding pain and unpleasantness by leading a simple, viewed as boring by many modern and ancient readers: doing gardening,
tranquil life free of worries and suffering. The best kinds of pleasures were meditating, and avoid politics and conflict. Epicurus said that he could be
not excessive ones that could lead to displeasure down the line (such as satisfied with merely water, bread, weak wine and a pot of cheese.

28 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

Philosophy For The Brave
Dahlian Kirby on the benefits of existentialist counselling.

ccording to Epicurus, The discourse of the philoso- Now according to Emmy Van Deurzen, psychotherapists,
pher that wouldnt cure any human affectation is psychologists or psychiatrists often have considerable difficulties
indeed an empty one. So in a society where cut- in recognizing the validity of philosophical questioning. They
backs are destroying education, where money is con- are reluctant to engage in theoretical discussions with clients and
sidered the main blessing and intelligence an embarrassment, patients who are seemingly disturbed, but who actually may be
what is the point of philosophy? I believe it is to keep us well. in search of meaning (Existentialism And Existential Psy-
Whilst working in a semi-open prison as a counsellor, I chotherapy, 1999). When people are distressed and questioning
came across several men who were nearing the end of very we often shut them up, either with pills or platitudes. But why
long sentences. They had all committed violent crimes, and shut them up, when what they really need is to think through
some of them had spent their entire adult lives in prison, hav- what has happened and who they are? I think the modern clich
ing entered the system at sixteen or seventeen. They had spent I most dislike, posing as a piece of philosophy (but which is really
a long time being institutionalised; but had also been able to a form of shutting people up) is Everything happens for a rea-
spend a long time thinking. Where else do you get the oppor- son. Okay, explain sudden cot death. Or suicide bombing. Or
tunity to reflect so long on life, morality, and individual worth? my cat getting run over. Or domestic violence.
The problem for these men was that as the end of their Philosophy doesnt shut us up, it opens us up. We dont need
time inside drew near, they began to feel very distressed. It a university education to question, to wonder, to find meaning
wasnt just the thought of sorting out housing and money. It we just need space to reflect, and perhaps, to debate. We need to
wasnt always about lost relationships or the world having tell our story, and in telling it find out who we are. We can do
moved on. It was a question of not knowing who they were: this alone, in our heads or on paper. However, to do it in the
about not having a purpose. company of another human is both challenging and reassuring.
A lot of prisoners are physically and mentally unwell and rely We can piece together ideas between us. And why stop at two? A
on medication to get through. Some of them go to counselling. host of questioning human beings can be a fine thing.
In counselling they are able to discuss the meaning of life. Anxi-
ety and depression cause a person to feel isolated. We tend to Choose Meaning
start questioning our existence when we are in crisis or have suf- Psychiatrist and philosopher Viktor Frankl, imprisoned in the
fered great loss. Philosophy can help us feel connected. As a Auschwitz concentration camp, asked himself why some prison-
counsellor with a doctorate in philosophy, I have found some of ers survived and some did not. What made the difference? He
my most memorable conversations have
occurred with a prisoner in a small room


trying to make sense of human existence.
By philosophy, I mean the sharing of
ideas from the unique perception of the
individual who has come to a point in
their life when they need to know more
or go deeper. It involves an acknowledg-
ment that we are alone, but also together.
In discussion with another questioning
person, we can feel that we are not alone
in our search for answers. Enter the
philosopher, armed only with questions.
Is that enough? In some situations, an
encounter with a person willing to enter
into a philosophical dialogue about lifes
meanings, free will, and intention, may be
enough to let someone know that life is
both more complex and more beautiful
than they have previously imagined. This
can set the frail but curious individual on
to the road to wisdom, and finding a way
of coping with being a thinking, feeling I have an existential dread of falling off your couch.

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 29

found that those who found the will to endure the horrific con- be encouraged to reflect on one or all of the following: freedom
ditions did so because they felt they had meaning in their lives. and responsibility, isolation and meaninglessness, and the
Frankls conclusion invites us all to find meaning. Some- inevitability of death. This may sound negative, but the
times this is easy, but when were in crisis it is painful. Long approach is positive. It depends on the theory that people can
bouts of depression can leave us so isolated and exhausted that find meaning and can come to terms with the past now, and are
any suggestion of finding meaning seems beyond possibility. therefore able to have a worthwhile future. With support from
Frankl suggests that the final human freedom is to choose the counsellor the individual can face up to their fears and take
ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones responsibility. They can learn about their strengths and limita-
own way (Mans Search for Meaning, 1946). I believe that tions. Existential therapy celebrates authenticity, and also
Frankls focus on choice of acknowledges how damned
attitude is the greatest wis- hard life can be. Van Deurzen-

dom he could give us. He Smith (same person, different

isnt suggesting we can over- year this time 1997) suggests
come death or disaster, but in her book Existential Coun-
merely that we can decide our selling in Practice that through
attitude towards it. We dont existentialist counselling, people
have to rely on the govern- can become truly alive, and that
ment/the priest/the weather, only when they begin to be
etc etc. We ourselves can ready for the recurrent chal-
begin to change how we feel. lenges, crises and troubles, do
We can take comfort from they start to be open to the
the possibility that life isnt depth of experience and reality
something that is done to us; that comes with a true commit-
then we can decide to explore ment to existence.
the hows and whys, and of The truly liberating thing about
course, the all-consuming existential counselling possi-
Why me? bly about any philosophical dis-
Asking the question Is my cussion on human existence is
life worthwhile? suggests we that it doesnt rely on diagnos-
are looking for meaning. The tic labels or on the medicaliza-
question might occur to us tion of behaviour. A person
because we are emotionally or isnt bipolar or depressive or
psychologically tired from a borderline; they are a unique
life that seems to be only about paying bills and answering to human being reacting to a difficult world. The symptoms of,
the whims of an unreasonable boss. Or it may come when we for example, borderline personality disorder, can be viewed as
have a serious illness, or are about to be released from prison the results of rational responses in someone who has been sex-
after serving ten years for murder. When we ask this question, ually abused since childhood. She may feel she also would like
we are perhaps hoping that our life should be worthwhile. Or the support of a medical doctor, and possibly medication; but for
we may be asking why it used to be but isnt now. Alternatively, someone with such a history to have a serious, intimate, honest
we may feel it never was, and never can be. conversation, as equals, with another person about their choices,
their abilities, their possibilities, is to give them the chance to
Counselling Through Philosophy take control of a life that may have seemed forever out of con-
People who have suffered serious abuse may need formal dis- trol. The journey wont be easy, and the conversations will be
cussion to make sense of their lives. This can come in the painful. I am not talking about a quick fix self-help afternoon.
shape of existential counselling, which is therapy through We are looking at facing our fears head on, working out what
philosophical discussion provided by a trained counsellor. If we must take responsibility for, and what we must accept that
drugs block out the thoughts and feelings caused by abuse or we cant change. Its about giving up our victim status, and
other trauma, existential therapy does the opposite: it enables a becoming powerful. Its exciting, its challenging. Its philosophy
person to think through what has happened, how it happened, for grow ups! Its philosophy for the brave.
and why it happened. Through existential counselling,
depressed people can become aware that they are now respon- An Antidote To Junk Culture
sible for themselves, and use this knowledge positively. The We live in a culture where rather than ask our grandma for the
relationship between the client and the counsellor reflects all old family Christmas pudding recipe, people look online to see
good relationships: we learn what it means to say that there is what famous people put in theirs. To train our dogs, choose a
another who can listen and debate with us, but also that we are book, live a healthy life, we look to celebrities who are making
ultimately responsible for our own thoughts and feelings. Also, money by telling us what to do, think and eat. We seek the
like other relationships, it is finite, which makes it bittersweet. answers to how to live life and how to be happy from the rich
In existential therapy in particular, the client will most likely and famous, although they themselves are often also struggling

30 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

to find their authentic selves. Through existential ther-
apy we can explore who we really are and find out what
we really want. Existential philosophy and existential
counselling can both be considered antidotes to this
celebrity culture. Through philosophical discussion
with a friend, a philosopher, or with an existential
counsellor we can begin to answer the questions
What would make life worthwhile? and How do I get by Melissa Felder
to that place? We can look back to what used to satisfy
us and see if that still works, and if not, find new
sources of meaning. We can also look at responsibility
a very important issue for people who have been
It may be thought that counselling in general, and
existential counselling in particular, is only suitable for
articulate, confident people. I strongly disagree. My
work with people in prison is the evidence. In fact, the
quirkier mind the better, and prison survivors often have
a particularly individualistic, thinking-on-your-feet kind
of way of looking at life. And as I said, they have had a
long time to contemplate lifes meanings. One of my
most successful therapeutic relationships was with a pris-
oner who was a traveller, or pikey, as she enjoyed
describing herself. We looked at abuse and the meaning
of life mostly through metaphor. Her aim was to make
her life worthwhile. She learned what she could change
and what she had to accept. Our starting point was both
staring at the brick wall just outside the window.
Sometimes those who can talk and think well hide
their fears behind their talking and thinking. I believe
very few of us are without anxiety. Instead of putting up
armour, we can bring down our barriers in discussion
(please enjoy the almost mixed metaphor!). We can start
to look at questions in a new way, rather than trotting
out the glib answers we have become familiar and com-
fortable with. We can take time away from looking at
the constructs of our society, and look instead at our
self-constructs. Instead of debating international poli-
tics, we can look instead at our internal politics. This is
not self-indulgence, rather it is self-knowledge. We can
look at the way we react to situations and people, and
decide that from now on, we will respond in a here-and-
now way. We can dump any aspect of our public per-
sona at any time. This can only be liberating.
If there is a meaning to life, shouldnt we learn to
understand it? If we are not choosing suicide, we are
choosing existence. Existence is confusing and fright-
ening. We need to reflect, and to talk to each other; to
be humble and brave, and always question those plati-
tudes handed to us which are announced as truths.
Through philosophy, and in particular through existen-
tial discussion and existential counselling, we can learn
to be good at life. Philosopher, heal thyself.
Dahlian Kirby obtained her PhD in Philosophy from Cardiff
University. She works as a counsellor, and teaches counselling SIMON + FINN CARTOON MELISSA FELDER 2016 PLEASE VISIT SIMONANDFINN.COM
at Redcar and Cleveland College. She also runs therapeutic
writing courses.

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 31

Question of the Month
To Be Or Not To Be, What Is The Answer?
The following responses to Hamlets big question each win a random book.
made bearable by the gain of some other good; for example, by
T here is only one philosophical problem which is really
serious: suicide. To decide whether life is or is not
worth living. So opined Albert Camus, and he proffered an
becoming a more grateful person, or a more charitable human
being, through overcoming the adversity. I think few would
answer too. Yes, life is worth it if lived with lucidity, conscious argue that the evil was required in order to gain these goods.
of lifes absurdities, but rebelling against them. Scorn its arbi- Rather, the evil was merely the occasion of these intangible
trariness and commit to being happy. Carry on Sisyphus! goods, which could be acquired by anyone at any time.
The question is topical. The single biggest cause of death There still sometimes occurs the feeling that life is unbear-
among men under forty-five in the UK is suicide, and thats able, that the sum total of good experiences surely cannot out-
typical for the whole Western world. Is that a philosophical weigh the bad ones. Or perhaps the crushing weight of adver-
issue? Being authentic true to who you are, and exercising sity and sorrow has made its presence felt too keenly upon a
your freedom to choose is easier said than done in a modern soul. To know that another has suffered more than me and has
world thats so coercive. Social media invites us to create a kind endured it admirably Jesus is a good example may be a
of living autobiography that is not necessarily about the person small comfort. But perhaps all that is needed to revive hope is
we are. And how do you exist authentically with the pressures a change in perspective; to have a little more courage, a little
of modern life, which tend to bear us along on a tide of preoc- more strength, and the grace to bear that which is passing, for
cupations? Understanding our human condition goes some way this earthly life is indeed passing, lasting but a moment, while
to inuring us against its absurdities. eternity is forever. With a perspective such as this, and the
Where does suicide fit in a cost/benefit calculation of lifes examples of countless others who endure suffering with forti-
trials and tribulations which is what Hamlets soliloquy is tude, who wouldnt be inspired to work not for what perishes,
largely concerned with? It is only if you exist that you can have but for eternal life?
pleasure, joy and satisfaction. As long as these outweigh the EFREN PIZANO, CHATSWORTH, CALIFORNIA
pain and the suffering, then being is worth it. But there is
arguably an asymmetry in this argument. If you no longer exist
then there is a complete absence of pain, which is a good, but
also an absence of pleasure. Yet the latter is not in itself bad,
T o be or not to be? That is the question that arises when
one faces up to the feelings of anguish, despair, and
insignificance that can overcome us during times of deep
because there isnt a person who is being deprived. For the liv- reflection. Such feelings can lead us to wonder if it would be
ing, however, the calculus is different: pleasure involves a good, easier to end it all now and be done with the fluctuating emo-
yes but you experience pain too, which is an outright bad. Bad tions that never seem to settle or straighten themselves out
seems to outweigh the good when you compare the latter with with time. They linger on our horizon alongside another cause
the former, so that if we had the choice whether to come into for concern: the certainty of death. When we reflect on the
being in the first place, we might well answer, no thanks. likelihood that a century from now we will be erased from the
Eastern philosophical traditions argue that we confuse historical memory, a dark shadow of meaninglessness can be
being with egotistic thought and emotion; break free from cast over our every decision and action. We feel like a Kafka
these and you become aware, present, attentive to the present character, who has been summoned to this world without a
moment and non-reactive. This emergent self enjoys a different reason but living in hope that one day, before death, it will all
sense of being. It isnt just what we feel and experience that become clear. I personally do not hold my breath.
matters to us, it is also what we are and how we live in contact Instead of looking for answers in the works of existentialist
with reality; and being in contact with reality requires us to be. philosophers or in the texts of the worlds religions, perhaps a
MIKE DE VAL, NANT-Y-DERRY, ABERGAVENNY reason to be can be found by observing nature. While walking
my dog one afternoon, I noticed a cherry blossom tree in full

T o be is a good. Unless existence is a good, then nothing is

good. Yet we all desire good: the will is naturally drawn to
the good, and recoils from harm. What is not good is evil,
bloom. It was strikingly beautiful, and I made a point of walk-
ing the same route every time I took the dog out, so that I
could bear witness to the pink leaves that had left such an
meaning that evil is the privation of good. So evil only exists rel- impression on me. A week or so passed, and I headed out on
ative to some good. We all participate in goodness, which can be the same route: only this time, the tree stood bare. I was later
perfect only in God. Yet weve all also experienced evil at some to find out that these blossoms are very short-lived. Ever since
point, because we all exist. Weve also had experience of good, I became aware of the cherry blossom trees evanescent nature,
whether simple or complex; the pleasant feeling of sunshine on I have felt a deep affection towards it. I believe that while the
ones skin, or the pleasures of friendship or romance. These are colour of the petals is pleasing on the eye, it is their transience
goods which we especially recognize when theyre missing, in that provides the special aesthetic quality.
the bitter cold, or loneliness, or heartbreak. No one who loses a Like the blossoming of a Sakura tree, our lives are unendur-
limb reckons life better by the loss itself. Rather, the loss is only ing. This does not render them pointless. Instead, it provides the

32 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017 To Be or Not To Be?

beauty and significance that makes them worthwhile. If we can So Hamlet seems not to understand what he is asking. He,
learn to embrace our impermanent and absurd condition, we like everyone else, cannot proceed to properly answer To be or
may, like Albert Camus, find within us an eternal summer. not to be? without having performed the necessary first step of
KEVIN HATTIE, KIRKINTILLOCH, GLASGOW making a positive identification of, and commitment to, why he
is here. And then the so-called question, like the dense fogs of

T he reference in the question is undoubtedly to Hamlets

soliloquy where, considering suicide, he realises he and
others are deterred by fear of what may happen after death.
Elsinore which so mystified him, should clear.

But to me the question also suggests the Greek myth where,

when questioned by King Midas as to what is the best and most
desirable thing for human beings, the satyr Silenus replies:
T he human heart recognizes heroes by the choices they
make when they are faced with adversity or responsibility.
None of us ever knows for sure what we are made of until we
Not to have been born but the next best is to die soon. are tested. In The Tragedy of Hamlet, the protagonist falls short
Some may say that philosophies which claim that life is not of being a hero by virtue of his character, or lack thereof.
worth living, or that only a fear of death deters us from taking According to the gravediggers reckoning (Act 5: Scene 1),
our lives, cheapen and degrade life. But, in regards to Hamlet, Hamlet was thirty years old when he fell into his pit of despair.
much of his soliloquy appears to ring true. He is surely right to To be fair, Hamlets future was pretty bleak. His father, the
say that life is full of tribulations the thousand natural shocks old King of Denmark, had been dead only a month when his
and that we are often unable to avoid them. We may, for exam- mothers scandalous marriage turned his world upside down.
ple, be oppressed minorities living under a dictatorship; or, like Hamlet knew that his mothers self-centered happiness had cost
Ophelia, we may be scorned in love. By ending our lives, it may, him the throne, but he felt helpless to stand up for himself.
strangely, seem that we are taking control over matters and And what can a king stand for if he cant stand up for himself?
deciding how to live (to not). However, although many may hate Poor Hamlet! He was a prince: that much was true. He
their lives sometimes, few actually take their lives. Hamlet seems knew full well who he was, but what he was, he hadnt a clue.
right when he says, conscience makes cowards of us all. In this modern age of blended families and accumulated cul-
Silenus, however, seems to be saying that its never worth living tures, we struggle more than ever to know who we truly are.
at all. Yet surely many things do make life worth living: the beau- Companies such as AncestryDNA and lend their
ties of nature, art, science, the capacity for reason and self- shovels to help us dig up our roots; but the deeper we go, the
awareness which allows us to appreciate these things. Although more we know that we are digging in the wrong place. Our true
we know some of our life-experiences will be painful, and are identity does not reside in the dry dusty bones of our family
aware that love affairs and friendships end, and the people we trees, but rather in the sum total of our own individual actions.
love most may die in the course of our life, there is, arguably, still The beloved Russian author Leo Tolstoy believed that
much to appreciate. Furthermore, there is perhaps a certain dig- untangling who we are from what we are is one of lifes greatest
nity gained by living through personal adversity. Consider pursuits. His philosophy was that our station in life merely
Camus telling of the myth of Sisyphus: Sisyphus adheres to his describes us, whereas our actions define us. In his book, The
pointless labour in Hades despite the endlessness and ignominy Gospel in Brief, Tolstoy concludes that our true identity comes
of it, deriving some nobility from his absurd condition. down to one thing: our choices.
And irrespective of the rights and wrongs of suicide, should We have no control over who we have been made into. That
we really fear death and what comes afterwards? Perhaps we is a fact of circumstances beyond our control. Yet to become or
should instead view it with anticipation. In the words of Peter not to become what we are meant to be is for us to decide.
Pan, death is an awfully big adventure. Therein, dear Hamlet, lies our true identity, and our strength
JONATHAN TIPTON, PRESTON, LANCASHIRE to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I s that the one real philosophical question whether to live?

(Camus.) But yet it is not really a question; it is a choice (or are
we merely bewitching ourselves with language here? Wittgen- C amus wrongly reasons that the fundamental question of
philosophy is whether or not life is worth living. No one
stein). But what is the purpose of this real philosophical ques- seriously raises that question except in uncommon, particular
tion? Purpose itself goes far beyond the idea of to be: the real cases. Why should I continue to live? The nearly universal
answer is to be sought in how to be for someone (Levinas). answer is, Because I want to. Its the way nature made us.
In fact, there is no answer available to us, only a choice; Camus should have consulted Mother Nature. To be or not to
and this choice is contingent on whether the to be can attain be? The empirical evidence is clear. It is to be.
(realise, etc) its purpose whether understood as that revealed There is a survival instinct. It is visibly operating in, for
in scripture, as the final cause in Aristotles sense, as some per- instance, conditions of slavery, where a continued existence in a
sonal construction, or the ideal of a thinking subject, and so on. degrading state of injustice, no liberty, scant pursuit of happi-
Hamlets trouble in asking his question is also an admission ness, brutal punishment, and back-breaking labor, is still pre-
of having missed a particular life-purpose. That is, Hamlet is ferred to death. It is manifest in the clinging to life of the old
without an answer to the primary pair of questions: What is and infirm whose time is short; and in the same clinging to life
man and why are we here? (Cassirer). I mean, it is difficult to of the young and infirm whose time to suffer is long. Many
imagine the What am I? before knowing the Why am I? with terminal illness who plan suicide find they cannot will
This alone can inform us about Who am I?; and only from themselves to do it. The survival instinct is not something we
answering that can one have any idea about how to answer reason out. It is in us as a result of aeons of evolution. It clearly
What should I do? contributes to the survival of ones species. To be or not to be?

To Be or Not To Be? December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 33

?? Nature answered that question for us.
Neither suicide nor deliberately sacrificing ones life for
another is evidence against the survival instinct. Both are rare,
and their rarity is itself evidence that to be is generally pre-
ferred to not to be. War might be the chief evidence to the
contrary. However, most have to be conscripted or pressured
to fight. And when people do march off to war, they do so not
to give their lives for their country, but, as General Patton said,
T.S. Eliot said in The Hollow Men: Between the potency and
the existence/Between the essence and the descent/Falls the
Shadow. All who meditate upon these koan-like recursive
mysteries become ensnared in this speculative penumbra of
potential solutions, not unlike the superposition of the photon
before the wavefunction collapse.
In one sense, we will always be a part of this great flux of
matter-and-energy existence; but the conscious decision to give
to make the other poor dumb bastard die for his. place to being and/or non-being is one of preference not of
I might question my continued existence in the face of ter- certitude, for we cannot experience death amidst living aware-
minal illness. I would never question it just because someone ness. The possible implications of quantum entanglement, uni-
suggested that life seems absurd. Even if it were proved to be versal sentience, parallel worlds, and a myriad other rabbits,
so, we still are driven to live, and so we will. And if we need beg to be chased. My preference is to shimmer in the probabil-
meaning in our lives, somehow, almost all of us will find it. ities, blink from one to another without settling, without col-
JOHN TALLEY, lapsing. I will continue this relentless run to touch the horizon
RUTHERFORDTON, NORTH CAROLINA of human knowledge until I am enlightened by hidden vari-
ables, by inevitable natural death, or never, by nothing. Until

C onscious thoughts are due to complex electrochemical

reactions in the brain, which, when deconstructed, are
essentially interactions of matter and energy. Einsteins equation
then, the only significance any of us can give to these primeval
yearnings for absolute identity are personal morality tales of
ideology and imagination.
E = mc2 says that matter and energy are interconvertible. And CHRISTINE ROUSSEAU,
one of sciences most secure maxims is that energy can never FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA
disappear, it merely changes form. This means that nothing is
absolved from this immortality, because everything has energy-
identity. Therefore, to be is the only answer.
But will we still experience a sense of life after death espe-
I n practice, suicide is rarely the result of a process or reason-
ing, but rather of a loss of reason. It is an outcome of depres-
sion, of schizophrenia, of alcohol or other drug abuse. It is esti-
cially since our sense organs will no longer have the capacity to mated that 80% to 90% of suicides occur in people with men-
work as we anthropocentrically perceive them to? Aye, theres tal disorders. Two-thirds of suicides visit a doctor in the month
the rub! Emerson says in The Poet, Here we find ourselves, before their final act. (A depressed young friend of mine tried
suddenly, not in a critical speculation, but in a holy place, and to admit himself to hospital the day before he killed himself,
should go very warily and reverently. and was turned away.) So suicide is usually the consequence of
To conceptualize post-death consciousness is to plunge into an untreated illness; an illness that leads as surely to death as
a conjectural dreamscape. Yet, many pundits have taken this untreated cancer.
dive and fashioned innumerable answers. In his Myth of Sisy- Every year, across the world a million people kill them-
phus, Camus calls this leap to belief in an afterlife a hope that selves, and fifteen times as many try. In the developed world it
transcends human understanding, an escape from reality that is is a leading cause of death in the unreasonable young. The old,
akin to philosophical (that is, intellectual) suicide. He finds and sometimes wiser, having still a little reason, eschew it, for
integrity only in the state before the jump: in Shakespearean reason cannot drive us to suicide. Roquentin in Sartres novel
terms, an ego-teetering between being a paragon of animals Nausea confronts a world in which all action is pointless, and
and quintessence of dust. He counsels living with the absur- quickly deduces that suicide would be pointless by the same
dity of the life we perceive. Absurdity bursts forth from con- token. Camus writes The Myth of Sisyphus towards much the
flicting contemplations of self: body and/or consciousness, same conclusion, encouraging us to battle on in an absurd
meaningful and/or meaningless, particle and/or wave, etc. As world. Thomas Nagel agrees that if all life is pointless, then
suicide is as pointless as anything else. It will be neither justi-

fied nor condemned by reason.

However, David Hume long ago taught us about the limits
of reason for motivating action. Reason cannot prove that
night follows day, nor that the world exists, nor that I have a
self. And yet I daily preen myself, and in the day that follows
night, I go out into the world. I may also kill my unreasonable
and unjustified self.
We are not perfectly rational beings, like angels or gods. We
are apes, and if we kill ourselves it is not because reason has
shown us the way, but because we have become temporarily
wonky. The brain that highly irrational organ that struggles

to convert sensation into something bearable, has given up try-

ing for a moment. And in that moment and it only takes a
moment, it does not take thought we do the non-undoable.
As for Hamlet, he was all words, words, words, and he was dri-

ven to murder and suicide because he had seen a ghost.


34 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017 To Be or Not To Be?

T hought over the act of self-killing has persisted for millen-
nia alongside entrenched religious anathema against it, as
well as certain religions which require it on occasion, for exam-
ple, in the immolation of widowed Hindus. Attitudes in West-
ern civilization started to shift from the Seventeenth Century:
John Donnes defense of suicide and David Humes critique of
the Thomistic view of suicide were notable treatises. Hume
argued that circumstances that lead to a human being living in
great duty. Let Schopenhauers Pessimism then be taken as a
challenge and a reminder to us: a challenge to build a better
world for future generations to inhabit, and a reminder that
children do not choose their existences. And on a broader scale,
if society supports childbirth to sustain its own existence, then
education and other investments in the future should be priori-
tised as a debt owed to the life that has been created. If new life
is to be created, then we must take care that it is not a curse, by
constant pain and suffering mean that that person is leading an accepting the challenge of Schopenhauers Pessimism.
existence worse than death. KENNETH THOMSON-DUNCAN
Hume thought that the our natural fear of death ensured ABERDEEN
that the person who chooses to commit suicide would only do
so after substantial deliberation. However, a person embroiled
in dreadful circumstances may not be in the optimal frame of
mind to make the choice. Giving the choice to someone else, a
T o be or not to be? Let me try to answer the question by
recounting a harrowing episode from three years ago.
Facebook is a strange place to try to talk someone out of
close relative, for example, appears to be a better alternative. suicide. But through an instant message I checked in with a
However, the threat of extraneous factors affecting the decision young friend, who I knew outside of Facebook. She was not
always remains. For example, the person chosen to choose doing well and threatened to end her life. I am a philosopher,
might abandon her duty to prevent an impulsive suicide in not a counsellor, so I was not trained for this. Nevertheless, I
order to advance her own interests. Regardless of the checks had to keep typing.
which we might presume operate, a set of practices has yet to I told Nancy (not her name) that she needed to stay in the
be devised that prevents manipulation and abuses of the poten- world, that her presence, no matter how miserable for her, was
tial victim. Advances in medicine have enabled us, through psy- nevertheless good and significant. I asked her to remember her
chiatric testing, to determine a persons rationality in moments place in the hearts of her family and friends. I added that her
of extreme anguish, for instance, when a patient chooses life might get better unexpectedly. I gave her links to articles
euthanasia. But are such tests able to reveal a difference that might awaken her desire to live. (All the while, I was fran-
between a soldier laying her life down for her county and a sui- tically Facebooking to try to get through to her family.) I had a
cide bomber at the end of her life? Without testing capabilities significant problem, though: Nancy is an atheist, who thinks
at such junctures, the answer to To Be or Not To Be? would that life has no objective meaning. But I did not counsel her to
appear to lie within the moral compass of the beholder. Yet as commit suicide if that was her desire since everything is mean-
Schopenhauer puts it, suicide is a clumsy experiment to make; ingless anyway, neither I did not invoke Camus response to
for it involves the destruction of the very consciousness which suicide, since I find these worldviews unconvincing. But since
puts the question and awaits the answer. even nihilists cannot escape the truth that some things have
ISH SAHAI, MUMBAI meaning to some people, I tried to remind her of value outside
of her own suffering. Ultimately, and however clichd it
sounds, that value, that meaning, is love. Love could hold her
W hether life is inherently positive, negative, or neutral is
an issue faced by many philosophers, but few confronted
it with such force as Arthur Schopenhauer. For Schopenhauer,
back and lead her on. I also implored her as a loving friend.
Nancy did not try to die that night. I had gotten through to
all organisms are all driven by a Will to survive that often drives her mother, who lived locally and she rushed to Nancys apart-
them into conflict, meaning that life is essentially suffering. ment. Perhaps I stalled her long enough to make that possible.
Even in the brief respites when Will is not pushing us forward, Sadly, Nancy did attempt to take her own life twice not long
there is little more than boredom. Life is therefore overall neg- after. She failed both times. I visited her in the psychiatric
ative in nature. This is the philosophical stance of Pessimism. ward, because she asked to see me. It was a kind-of pastoral
This Pessimistic stance leads Schopenhauer to another visit to an atheist. Our philosophical discussion about God and
rather shocking conclusion that human reproduction is meaning didnt get too far during those visits. But why did she
morally reprehensible, and cannot be justified through reason. call me, a Christian philosopher, to meet her in the aftermath
If life is suffering and negative, then it follows that to create life of her darkness? I think it was love. If love is real, suicide is
is a cruel act, as it condemns a new being to a life of suffering. It wrong. As I departed, I said, Love is real, please stay.
is no wonder then that, in both fiction and reality, suffering sen- DR DOUGLAS GROOTHUIS,
tient beings often curse their creators, who have damned them LITTLETON, COLORADO
to an unfair existence as exemplified in Shelleys Frankenstein.
Even if we do not go so far as Schopenhauers Pessimism, nor
accept his conclusion that human reproduction cannot be justi- The next question is: What is the Future of Humanity?
fied, his argument should highlight to us the significance of Please give and justify your predictions in fewer than 400
childbirth and parenthood. Creating another being is not some- words. The prize is a semi-random book from our book
thing that should be undertaken lightly, and our reasons for mountain. Subject lines should be marked Question of the
doing so should be carefully considered, perhaps more than for Month, and must be received by 13th February 2017. If you
any other act. For while we may not accept that life is inherently want a chance of getting a book, please include your physi-
or simply negative, it is evident that our world is one with a great cal address. Submission is permission to reproduce your
deal of suffering. With the awareness that one is bringing inno-
answer physically and electronically. Thanks.
cent life into an at times hostile world, parenthood is then a

To Be or Not To Be? December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 35

In her 1982 book Child Abuse and to time, and sometimes it became an
Neglect: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, excuse for the father to behave in an
the anthropologist Jill Korbin wrote that in unfatherly way, but according to the
classical China children, according to the rules of behavior (we call it regulatory
ethic of filial piety, were considered the sole behavior), the whole idea of property
property of their parents. As such, they could itself is, again, quite distorted. However,

be dealt with in whatever manner their there are limits. For example, if the son
parents chose, with little or no interference kills the father, then normally the son
from outsiders. Severe beatings, infanticide, would not be excused! The most impor-
child slavery, the selling of young girls as tant value in Confucianism is self-actu-
prostitutes, child betrothal, and foot-binding alization, so the son cultivating the
were not uncommon. Is it true that Confu- father is part of the game. The son
cian ideas of filial piety say children are the should not be rebellious, but the father,
property of their parents? Doesnt the Clas- like the son, has to improve. So in that
sic of Filial Piety teach that the basis of fil- connection, the reciprocal relationship
ial piety is love? is very much emphasized.
Korbins view is distorted, and I would
say erroneous, for a number of reasons. The Confucian philosopher Mencius once
In the Classic of Filial Piety, Confucius explained that its not a good idea for a
makes filial piety the root of all virtue, junzi [Confucian gentleman displaying
starting with the piety of the Emperor moral nobility] to teach his son, because if the

towards his parents and the good conse- student doesnt do his work, the teacher may
quences of that for all his decisions. A become angry, which a father shouldnt do.
disciple asks the Master (Confucius) Do we know why this is the case?
whether simple obedience to a father This is a very famous, yet sometimes

can be called filial piety. Confucius overlooked, aspect of the Confucian tra-
reacts strongly (What words are dition. The father-son relationship
these?) and replies that the Emperor should always be cordial. Well, thats not
who had ministers willing to argue with the right term. Loving and caring. So,
is a philosophy professor him would not lose his state and the for example, I would teach my friends
father who had a son that would remon- children and my friend teaches my chil-
at Harvard University strate with him would not sink into the dren. This is because the discipline of
gulf of unrighteous deeds. Therefore the teacher is incompatible with the car-
and Chair of the Institute when a case of unrighteous conduct is ing of the father. A teacher-student rela-
for Advanced Humanistic concerned, a son must by no means tionship should be able to endure a
keep from remonstrating with his father, great deal of pressure because of the dis-
Studies at Peking nor a minister from remonstrating with cipline involved. But this is not desirable
his ruler. So the sons responsibility is in the father-son relationship. Its all
University. He is an to help the father to become more right for the teacher to have indignation
ethicist and is one of the fatherly. The father disciplines the son, if the student doesnt obey the rules, but
of course, but the son is obligated to see between a father and son, anger is coun-
leading lights of to it that the father acts according to the terproductive.
fatherly principle.
New Confucianism. According to Confucius approach to In the Analects, Mang Wubo asks Confucius
David Volodzko asked the Rectification of Names [ie Chinese about filial piety, and Confucius talks about
philosophy of language] if you occupy parents who worry if their children are sick.
him about the relevance the position of father, then that very Can you talk about this?
concept implies that you act in certain There are 109 references to humanity,
of Confucius today. ways. The father acts fatherly so that the or ren, in the Analects, so in this one
son will be able to act in filial reverence. case, Confucius says that in filial piety
So the notion of obeying an abusive its difficult to have the right attitude.
father is totally distorted and, I would Amy Chua, the tiger mother [author of
say, against basic Confucian principles. the bestselling book Battle Hymn of the
The principle of reciprocity, shu, is Tiger Mother], who teaches at Yale, made
important in governing this relation- a few comments, after she became a
ship. The abuse of authoritarian power celebrity, that her older daughter is very
[in Chinese politics] occurred from time amenable to this kind of pressure, while

36 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017 Interview

her second daughter is diametrically thats considered a higher level of filial time again, though it
opposed to it, so sometimes she would piety. The highest level is, that because continued to be devel-
have to compromise. So even though on of your own merit, your own achieve- oped in Taiwan, Hong
the surface, the emphasis is on imposing ment, your parents will be remembered. Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea.
ones will, I think there are underlying For example, Mencius mother is But this has all changed now, and were
issues that need to be explored. If youre remembered as an ideal of motherhood. entering a new era where many of the
very stringent, and the child is aware Both Mencius and Confucius were positive Confucian values can be under-
that this is for their own good, and the raised by their mothers, so the role of scored. Right now, theres this new view
learning time is appreciated, it turns out the mother is extremely critical in Con- that China is going through a kind of
to be efficacious for the relationship. On fucianism. A soldier who shows bravery Confucian revival. A revival is a double-
the other hand, I think many parents in on the battlefield can also be a demon- edged sword that can very easily be
China misunderstand this, and overex- stration of filial piety. So it has much politicized by the government as a
ercise their parental power, and we broader significance than simply a fam- method of political control, but it also
dont need to discuss the psychology of ily ethic. It has to be cultivated publicly. has much broader implications as well.
it, but quite often the children rebel. One thing that I just learned is that in
The parents willingness to sacrifice Singapore, which is not necessarily a Why do some people think Confucianism is
their own self-interest for the well- Confucian society, theres been a survey incompatible with progress?
being of their children, and not the out- run for the last 30 years or more of the That is a tradition that started in 1919,
moded idea that they will rely upon the views of different generations, and dif- with the New Cultural Movement, and
children to take care of them, has now ferent sectors, businesspeople, acade- what I call all these Enlightenment val-
become a civil religion in China. Espe- mics, and so forth. And the single value ues of the West, even though theres a
cially the education of the children. As mentioned most often is always filial lot of debate about the abusive use of
soon as a child is born, the parents piety. This is probably not true in China some of these values. We have Christ-
begin to work extremely hard in order now. I dont know whether its true in ian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Confucian
to save some money so that the child Taiwan. values, and the argument was that reli-
will have a proper education. Especially gious forms are not compatible. But I
when they themselves never had a Why isnt it true in China now? think that phase is already over, and
chance to go to school. Of course, there In China, Confucianism was devastated people today have more sophisticated
are benefits for them: they feel proud; by the Cultural Revolution, which was ideas about human development, that
they can be praised if their children very much anti-Confucian, even though its not just a matter of having a higher
excel. Thats certainly part of the story. now they try to restore some Confucian GDP. So right now in China, very few
But its extraordinary in many cases, I values. I dont think xiao [filial piety] is insist that the Confucian tradition is
noticed, that parents in China or even in included in socialist core values. But it is incompatible with progress. As properly
Taiwan decide to leave an adequate job coming back in civil society in terms of understood and properly practiced,
at home in order to eke out a living in, parental relationships. Confucian values become even more
for example the United States, by run- congenial to human development.
ning a coffee shop, so that their children In your view then, its not a case of Orien- Some narrow and nationalistic ideas
can go to a better school. That happens talist thinking to attribute Chinese behavior have also surfaced based on this. My
quite a lot. Even in my own personal to Confucianism? view is that Confucianism must adapt
experience, I have encountered quite a If we look at the world in terms of value itself to human values, and that the abu-
few stories like this, and I think it has do orientations, then not only China but sive use of power by neoliberal
with the culture and ethos of the people. also the rest of that region has been economies could be corrected by a
Filial piety is not just to ones parents, characterized as the Confucian world. much broader vision of human flourish-
but to ones clan. And also, in the Great Although in Japan, the idea of loyalty is ing. Issues of proper governance, moral
Learning, they say self-cultivation has to much more pronounced than that of fil- order, and the financial regulatory sys-
be extended to the family, and to the ial piety. tem are all a part of the story. The role
nation, and eventually, heaven. That is Precisely because China was obsessed of government, for example, the role of
each persons role in the network of self- with the idea of being overwhelmed by leadership, all these are relevant issues.
cultivation. Japan aggressiveness, China wanted to Thank you for your time.
become wealthy and powerful, and
What do you mean by ones clan? many believed that getting rid of Con- David Volodzko is the national editor of
Not just ones parents, but ones rela- fucian tradition was a precondition for the Korea JoongAng Daily, the sister
tives. Its patriarchal, but its also quite becoming powerful. The discourse was paper of The New York Times in South
broad. To support your parents, thats that Confucianism is incompatible with Korea, and a contributing author for the
good, but thats a minimum. Even ani- modern ideas of ethics or the dignity of South China Morning Post and The
mals can do that. But to make your par- individuals. And the revolutionary Red Diplomat, where he writes about Chinese
ents happy, respected in the community, Guards attacked Confucianism time and politics and society.

Interview December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 37

When inspiration strikes, dont bottle it up!
Write to me at: Philosophy Now
43a Jerningham Road London SE14 5NQ U.K.
or email
Keep them short and keep them coming!

Voting For Self-Destruction Contractual Obligations For Life But suppose B and C make the addi-
DEAR EDITOR: Your Editorial in Issue DEAR EDITOR: In Issue 116, Stephen tional demand that A furnish them with
116 concluded that in the long term, the Faison argues that adherents of a social food, clothing and shelter as part of the
communal view of ordinary people contract must provide the means to contract. At best, this looks like a bad
should be trusted. I wouldnt disagree food, clothing and shelter, since the deal for A, one he would never accept
with that. But this is not the Five Year contract recognizes that the individual without coercion. At worst, it seems like
Democracy model of politics we and possesses a natural right to survive. Yet B and C are extorting A by agreeing not
other so-called democratic countries how can a contract, a literal or figurative to attack him so long as he provides
have adopted. Take, for example, the piece of paper, recognize anything? Fai- them food, clothing and shelter.
environment. The very future of our son must mean that individuals recog- There are arguments for equitable
world depends on our solving a host of nize that each individual possesses a nat- distribution of basic goods, including
environmental issues. One of those is ural right to survive. But from where John Rawls social contract theory incor-
overuse of the worlds resources. If does this recognition arrive? In a state of porating a veil of ignorance; but Im not
resource consumption continues at cur- nature, individuals are concerned only convinced that Faison is on the right
rent rates the Earth will finally become a with their own self-interests and will do track with his license to steal.
barren desert and a poisoned sea. Con- whatever necessary to advance those GREG HICKEY
certed international action to stop this is interests, including attacking others. If CHICAGO
needed now. And Now means Now! individuals recognize the natural rights
But the good sense of the general of other individuals, they wouldnt DEAR EDITOR: Ive recently discovered
population will take a lot longer than attack one another and wouldnt be in a Philosophy Now and I love it. But I am
five years to show. What politician, state of nature in the first place. Rather, struggling with Faisons article, The
knowing they must go to the polls individuals in a hypothetical state of Social Contract: A License to Steal: I am
within that time-scale, is going to tell nature would agree to a social contract constantly distracted by the use of the
people that they must stop using their simply because that contract would terms he and man in contexts that are
cars, buying things they dont need, and advance their interests by allowing them clearly intended to be gender-neutral. Its
switching the heating on, instead of to live without constant threat of attack. particularly galling given that the article
wearing more jumpers? Our economy is Any claims about natural rights are addresses the states responsibility to pro-
based on a capitalist system which needs unnecessary. tect citizens, yet it is so often women (and
ever-increasing use of the worlds Faison goes on to explain that the their children) whom the state fails to
resources to generate growth, jobs and state must furnish food, clothing and protect. Surely authors could be advised
profits. What politicians are going to tell shelter for all its individuals as though that sexist language is unacceptable in
companies more powerful than their the state were some nebulous entity Philosophy Now; and that if a submitted
governments that they must stop pro- external to the contractors. But the state manuscript includes sexist language, its
ducing junk and over-packaging it, chop- is merely the legal arrangement to author will be asked to correct it?
ping down forests to produce burgers which individuals agree when they enter VIRGINIA SIMPSON-YOUNG
and oil, and turning mineral-rich coun- into a social contract. Its nothing more NEW SOUTH WALES
tries into big holes in the ground? than a collection of individuals, so Fai-
Im usually quite an optimistic soul, sons claim amounts to saying that some More Unfeasible Election Conditions
but not in this case. Our politicians can individuals must furnish food, clothing DEAR EDITOR: Id like to address how
make a few of the right noises and sit and shelter for other individuals. Lorenzo Capitani wants to count votes in
through conferences at Kyoto and Consider a hypothetical state of his article Informed Voting in Issue 116.
Copenhagen. But any of them who seri- nature where A is in a position of advan- Capitani argues that those with particular
ously suggested to the voters that they tage relative to B and C by virtue of As experience within a specific topic should
must stop consuming resources at any- superior natural abilities or material have their vote on that topic count more
thing like the level we do now would possessions. A could kill or steal from B than a layperson. For example, a police-
not get a sniff of the benches at West- or C, but B and C are strong enough mans vote would count more than mine
minster or seats at the Senate in Wash- together to kill or steal from A. A, B and concerning issue of criminal justice.
ington. C all have reason to enter into a social This sounds reasonable, but why
MEURIG PARRI, contract in which each of them agrees to should we take working within a profes-
CAERDYDD refrain from attacking any other party. sion to be a guarantee of the quality of

38 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

that persons vote? It is false to think that more in renewable energy and spend less Capitani stresses the importance of
policemen automatically have a better on oil. If enough factories follow this knowledge in political decision-making.
understanding of racial discrimination plan, there would then be a surplus of Knowledge is essential to that purpose,
being committed by police officers. An oil, driving the price down. The but knowledge cannot be sufficient: the
officer can ignore these issues, even after economies of oil-exporting countries facts require interpretation. Politics differs
being thoroughly educated about them. may shrink due to this devaluation. It is from subjects such as physics or driving
They may say they dont believe its hap- not impossible (it has already happened) theory, where answers can be assessed as
pening and carry on their job in wanton that such a declining economy would being correct or incorrect. Certainly facts
ignorance. This can be said of any profes- seek to divert attention away from the underpin political decisions; but the facts
sional who decides that a particular prob- poor economy by focusing on showcas- themselves must be augmented by inter-
lem doesnt exist within their profession, ing its foreign policy strength... As can pretation. The ability to interpret facts in
e.g. mine safety, or medical malpractice. be seen, a snowball effect is created. a rational manner is essential when mak-
In addition, the idea that votes should Also, what constitutes knowledge of ing any decision, political or not. Skill in
be counted according to the theme does the issue? Does being a businessman, this could be assessed. However, a further
not sound feasible. There is too much investor, or economist suffice to have step is required: the facts have to be
known overlay among different issues, enough knowledge of the above exam- weighted. Some people will arrive at
not to mention the unknown overlay. ple? How deep would the knowledge weightings consistent with their synthesis
Voters, and those who will calculate have to be in order for it to be sufficient? of the facts; but others will not. The latter
their votes, may not realize that a partic- Is a one week course enough to vote on will be dominated by prejudice, possibly
ular issue will have further-reaching X? Or perhaps a doctorate is needed to arising from political allegiance. Capitani
aspects, in which others who have vital truly grasp a complex situation. If the does not explain how his system would
knowledge should have been part of the vote was whether or not to make Shake- overcome the influence of propaganda,
calculation process. For example, if the speare mandatory for schoolchildren, nor does he inform us whether he would
issue is overfishing, it would be obvious who would get a say in that? seek to assess the weightings a potential
to have the votes of fishermen count In theory it seems logical that the voter gives to the facts.
more than others, but it may not be best-informed should govern society. How, and importantly, by whom, are
obvious that local psychiatrists should Yet a single-subject test might danger- examiners to be chosen? One concern
have their votes enhanced too, since less ously narrow political debate and muffle here is over the possibility of political
work for the fisherman may lead to a the expression of genuine concerns. Mis- patronage. A second is, to what extent
diminished sense of worth, affecting guided though the uninformed vote may would assessors allow those with political
their families. be, it is still a better indicator of the gen- views different to their own to reach the
Lastly, in most representative sys- eral will of the people. Take Brexit; the required standard? Unless these two
tems, we do not vote directly on issues, leave side won, in spite of economists issues are addressed, Capitanis examina-
but rather vote to elect those to make warning that it would have a negative tion system will work in favour of the
those decisions. For this idea of Capi- impact on the British economy. If only establishment and exclude divergent
tanis to work, each representative would people who had passed a politics and thinking.
need to be a jack-of-all-trades to be able economics test could vote then Brexit Further, what level of ability does
to vote rightly and fairly. would have been rejected. Yet it is likely Capitani require of those permitted to
K.C. WARBLE III that leave voters had other concerns on vote? As someone interested in many
SOUTH CAROLINA their minds that, for them, outweighed political fields, my knowledge is not to a
the likely economic damage. The world consistent level across all, but I would not
DEAR EDITOR: I read with great interest isnt split into different and separate wish to be excluded from any decision
Lorenzo Capitanis idea of voting rights compartments, where a certain thing can which affects my country, region, or
based on merit. I have been thinking this be done and then one can move on to town. For some topics, my interest only
very idea for quite some time, and seeing the next; it is human nature to want to develops when that field enters political
your article allowed me to look at the idea give order to the world, but in reality debate. Would I have the time to acquire
from a different perspective. I was initially everything is interrelated, whether obvi- the necessary level of knowledge in time
in favour of a test for a vote, but now Id ous or not. For this reason, and the rea- to pass the examination required to par-
like to argue against the proposal. son previously stated, I dont think that ticipate in the decision-making?
Humans are naturally self-serving, it is in the interest of society to impose a MICHAEL SHAW
and politics is no different. If only those test in order to be eligible to vote. HUDDERSFIELD
with a direct, active interest in the topic DAVID CONROY, BY EMAIL
under debate may vote, votes will largely Co-operative Disagreement
be driven by self-interest, to the detri- DEAR EDITOR: I find Lorenzo Capitanis DEAR EDITOR: I wanted to thank you for
ment of those more indirectly affected suggested methods for enhancing political publishing Mary Midgleys article A
by the issue. Take the example of a vote decision-making disturbing on two Golden Manifesto in Issue 116 [and
on whether factories should be forced to counts. First, his proposals are elitist and 117, Ed]. I am a young woman whos
reduce carbon emissions. Factories so anti-democratic. Second, there are recently returned to university to under-
would have to find better ways of reduc- serious issues about the delivery of his take a Masters degree and the article
ing fuel consumption. They might invest suggestion. Ill concentrate on the second. really resonated with me. I found it very

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 39

valuable to read Midgleys account of track with one person; tails, the trolley sight of a possible future. This cannot be
being in classes during the war where the continues on the track with five. The rea- gained medically, it can only be lived.
men were invalids or conscientious soning here is that each of the six people And I think that with psychological (exis-
objectors and less competitive than usual. has an equal right to life. By flipping a tential) strengthening, a depressed
This reminded me of undergraduate phi- coin to decide which track the trolley will brain can achieve great things.
losophy classes where the male students roll down, the coin flip gives each of PAMELA WHITE
would be highly involved in discussions, them a 50/50 chance of surviving, thus NOTTINGHAM
whereas there were some female students giving equal respect to the right to life of
who wouldnt say anything at all, with all six. For a discussion of this way of Eternal Fact-Straightening
little to no encouragement from tutors. thinking, see: John M. Taurek, Should DEAR EDITOR: In his interview with
As a woman I feel I have had to adopt a the Numbers Count?, Philosophy & Public Stanley Fish (Issue 116), Scott Parker
particularly aggressive discursive style to Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1977). was in error in inserting that in Kansas,
make myself heard. The article helped DON E. SCHEID, J.D., PH.D. creationism is taught in schools as an
solidify some concerns Ive been having WINONA STATE UNIVERSITY, MN alternative theory to evolution. He was
about this. I hope to let myself be influ- presumably thinking of actions taken by
enced by Midgley and her friends in DEAR EDITOR: Ethical matters aside, a the state board of education in 1999 and
adopting a more co-operative approach. consideration relating to the Trolley again in 2005 to compromise the treat-
ANA HINE Problem (Issue 116) is the question of ment of evolution in the state science
DUNDEE legal liability. The relatives of the one standards. Both actions were subse-
worker you kill might well sue you for quently reversed; moreover, neither
The Trolley Trundles On loss of earnings, perhaps more. The five involved requiring or even allowing
DEAR EDITOR: Let us call the person workers on the other track would be teachers in the states public schools to
who comes upon the situation in Omid unlikely to testify in your defence since present creationism as scientifically cred-
Panahis very good article, Could There they are apparently deaf and unaware ible. Such a requirement or allowance
Be A Solution To The Trolley Prob- that they have been saved. would be unconstitutional, as established
lem? ( Issue 116) the Accidental Visi- DERRICK GROVER by the Supreme Court in its decision in
tor. In the original version, Visitor can- WEST SUSSEX Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). To be sure,
not stop the trolley, but she can control creationists have not been idle in their
the switching mechanism of the tracks, In Sight Of The Self attempts to undermine the teaching of
thus enabling her to direct the trolley DEAR EDITOR: Thank you for Alisa evolution in the US, but their recent
away from a track that will kill five peo- Anokhinas article on relieving depression efforts have been aimed at misrepresenting
ple down a track that will kill one person. through searching for authenticity (Issue evolution as scientifically controversial.
Normally, the moral question posed is: 115). Ive often felt that depression Dismayingly, the Supreme Courts deci-
Which alternative should Visitor take (including my own) is connected to a loss sion notwithstanding, creationism is rou-
and why? Another possibility, however, of authenticity resulting in a severe loss of tinely taught in US public schools.
is for Visitor to do nothing. In that case, self. Ive never before viewed this connec- GLENN BRANCH
Visitor does not interfere in the fate of tion in existentialist terms, but I can now NATIONAL CENTER FOR SCIENCE
any of the six people involved. This see how this philosophy suggests a solu- EDUCATION, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
involves a rather radical view of responsi- tion to, not just a relief from, depression.
bility which we might call Bystander The Australian psychologist Dorothy DEAR EDITOR: In reply to Bill
Immunity. The idea is that one is never Rowe described depression as a prison, Meachams letter in Issue 116 expressing
responsible for a train of events that and it certainly does feel like that. She exasperation over the resolution of the
would occur in ones absence anyway. describes this imprisonment as a life in contradiction in baseballs rules, look at
Admittedly, this is a truncated view of which ones own values cannot be Rule 7.08(e) as quoted in the story of the
moral responsibility. Normally, it is expressed or provide autonomy for that professor: Any player is out when he
thought that we should save another person. It takes a lot of courage to define fails to reach the next base before a
human being if possible, at least when ones own values and act in a way that is fielder tags him or the base. That was
there is little or no cost to ourselves. One consistent with them, so shaping our- the rule before the correction. Now read
should wade into the muddy water to selves, because this often affects other Rule 7.08(e) in rule books subsequent to
save the drowning child, even if it people. But depression does seem to be a the correction (mine is the 2013 edition):
involves ruining ones clothes. To fail to situation in which we have become shape- Any runner is out when he or the next
do so is morally monstrous. Neverthe- less without choices and the best treat- base is tagged before he touches the next
less, it might give us pause that in many ment would be help with regaining and base. The corrected version makes the
countries, there would not be any crimi- strengthening the person we want to be. runner safe in the event of a tie; the old
nal charge in the offing for one who However Im not clear about Alisas version makes the runner out in the
stood by and simply allowed the child to advocacy of medication. Depression can event of a tie. The new version makes
drown or simply let the trolley run be, and often is, devastating, because the the rule consistent with the rule for the
over the five people on the track. loss of self is devastating, and medication batter-runner at first base.
Another alternative is for Visitor to cannot restore that loss of self. Regaining CHRIS CHRISTENSEN
flip a coin: heads, the trolley goes on the the self requires action and love and a PORTLAND, OREGON

40 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

Brief Lives
Voltaire (1694-1778)
Jared Spears looks at the cometary career of a celebrity revolutionary.

mprisoned inside the walls of the Bastille in 1717 accused Master of the Art of Shaping Perceptions
of composing poems which mocked the family of Frances Seldom in one place more than a few years, Voltaires life was
ruling Regent, twenty-three-year-old writer Franois largely that of a wanderer. Never far from controversy, he often
Marie Arouet was hard at work on his first play. He later left a city in flight, as when faced with the prospect of another
boasted that his cell offered him quiet time to think. It seems term in the Bastille in 1723. The wily troublemaker this time
Arouet took this time to ruminate over the injustice of the contrived an alternative, commuting his sentence to a period of
charges: the subject of the play bears the unmistakable irony of exile in London. Voltaires career had to this point leaned more
satire. He chose to adapt Oedipus, the classic Greek incest toward literature than philosophy, but in Englands more laissez-
tragedy. The irony? The Regent, whose family Arouet had faire market of ideas, Voltaire started to engage with convention-
allegedly defamed, was widely rumoured to have carried on rela- challenging concepts about the universe and mans place in it.
tions with his own daughter. Drawing such an unabashed com- Warily returning to France in 1726, Voltaire was eager to
parison, the play was destined to spark controversy, even before repair his tattered public image there. Keenly aware of the
opening. But while libel was a punishable crime, satiric insinua- machinations of noble favouritism, he began a deliberate cam-
tion was not. As if to make sure of his inculpability, the author paign of literary output and influence-courting in Paris. His
for the first time graced his work with a nom de plume, a single tip-toeing around potential controversy in this period paid off,
word: Voltaire. and by the end of 1732 he had taken up residence at court in
This vignette of the rebellious young writer coining his Versailles a sign his reputation was restored. While there he
now notorious pen name is in many ways characteristic of struck up a relationship with the Marquise Emilie du Chtelet,
Voltaires entire life. Throughout a long career, Voltaire was whose vivacious personality and remarkable intellect proved an
never a stranger to controversy. On the contrary, he courted it, instinctive draw. But his repaired standing and new-found
revelling in every chance to outmaneuver an opponent favour at court would be short-lived.
through rhetorical mastery and biting wit. A natural provoca- While at Versailles, Voltaire refined and expanded on his
teur ever testing limits, this penchant for feather-ruffling won Letters Concerning the English Nation, the result of a fruitful
him admirers as well as enemies. A humanist who championed infusion of new perspectives while across the Channel. These
reason over superstition and tolerance over bigotry, Voltaire essays mark his shift toward philosophy and the examination of
helped France cast off a shadow that lingered over it after cen- social mores, extolling such far-ranging topics as religious tol-
turies of religious conflict. erance of the Quakers to the natural philosophy of English
thinkers such as Isaac Newton. Despite Voltaires dutifully
Early Years applying for approval from royal censors, Letters was illicitly
Born in 1694 with whats now diagnosed as Crohns disease, released by its publisher in 1733 without the authors approval.
Voltaire constantly defied prognoses that he was not long for Causing yet another scandal, the book was banned, even
the world, although the degenerative condition often left him burned, when it appeared in France.
confined to bed. As a boy he received a strict Catholic Jesuit This controversy saw Voltaires careful campaign of appear-
education. From this he acquired two things: impeccable ances undone, in part due to his assertions of Newtonian nat-
learning, including in Latin, theology, and rhetoric; and an ural philosophy. The concept of a natural world governed by a
abiding skepticism and mistrust for authority. set of fundamental laws observable and understandable through
Rebelling against his fathers wish to carry on the family experimentation had already won over Protestant nations. The
practice in law, the young libertine chose for himself the life of French, however, clung stubbornly to their own science, rooted
a writer. Instead of performing the duties of a notary as his in the work of Descartes, and French Academy elders rejected
father had arranged, the young Arouet spent his post-college Newtons theories. Underlying the discrepancies was a deeper
days scribbling poetry and charming the salons of Pariss social tension between the methods of the two schools. The deductive
elite. When his deceit was eventually uncovered, his father Cartesian system demanded explanations for why natural phe-
sent him abroad to serve the French ambassador in Holland, nomena occurred, while the inductive Newtonian method
but scandal followed close behind when the impetuous poet favored empirical investigation, and was content to take nature
fell in love with a French Protestant. The idea of an interfaith as it was observed. In Letters, Voltaire broke down Newtons
marriage was too much for his father to swallow, so the errant math-heavy works, and espoused empiricism as a more objec-
son was shuffled back to Paris. tive standard of truth over the useless Descartes, but his asser-
His time abroad in Hollands more liberal society is often tion that Descartes was a dreamer, and [Newton] a sage was
cited as a source of Voltaires humanist values, but the sting of tantamount to heresy among the Academy establishment.
a foiled love affair at such a tender age cannot be overlooked. As the debate swirled in Paris, Voltaire and his partner in
In any case, shaped by the ironies of his early life, his character crime, du Chtelet, fanned the flames by publishing scientific
would be defined by his eagerness to embrace the role of intel- experiments alongside a steady stream of pamphlets and essays
lectual outsider. in support of Newtonian theories. By the time the authoritative

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 41

tions on the nature of
man and the moral
implications that fol-
lowed. Was man inher-
ently good, or inher-
ently evil? Were the
course of mankinds
actions divinely preor-
dained? In natural phi-
losophy Voltaire had
proved himself a tactful
and tireless champion of
the ideas of others. Here
he would leave his own
enduring stamp on
Western thought.
This debate was a war
of words fought on two
fronts. On one side were
those such as the young
Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
who conceived of mod-
ern man as corrupted by
society, and who praised
instead the ignorant
simplicity of the noble
savage. To Rousseaus
assertions, Voltaire
responded that Read-
ing your works, a man
gets the notion to walk
on all fours. After more
than sixty years Ive
regrettably lost that
habit. He went on to
oppose Rousseaus
extremity. Great crimes
are always committed by
great fools, he wrote of
On the other side
stood Optimists such as
Alexander Pope. Heirs of
the German philosopher
by Gail Campbell, 2016
Gottfried Wilhelm Leib-
edition of Voltaires Elements of Newtonian Philosophy was pub- niz, they reasoned that through divine ordination the world
lished in 1745, the tide of French thought had turned away which man inhabits must be the best of all possible worlds. No
from Cartesianism. Voltaire, standard-bearer of the movement, matter how terrible things may seem at times, they asserted that
was credited with dragging national thought into modernity. Gods will must be good, and infallible.
This was the manifold genius of Voltaire able not only to syn- For Voltaire, the Optimists stance epitomized the dangers of
thesize the complex works of Newton and others, but also able dogmatic faith holding sway over reason. In 1755, an unpre-
to wage a formidable campaign of public discourse. dictable catastrophe brought the dubiousness of the Optimists
thinking to the fore when an earthquake of an estimated mag-
Theodicy Meets The Odyssey nitude 8.5 rocked the Portuguese capitol, Lisbon. Coupled with
By 1754, after the untimely passing of his mistress and a tem- the resulting tsunami, the disaster leveled three quarters of one
pestuous stint as advisor to Prussias King Frederick the Great, of Europes great imperial cities in a matter of minutes. With
the wayward Voltaire found his next cause clbre. Europes tens of thousands of lives lost, the horror at this seemingly ran-
many different theological strains had left unanswered ques- dom calamity left Europe bewildered. Although Voltaire must

42 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

Brief Lives
have been as shocked as anyone at the tragedy, he was outraged immediate response. King Louis XV received the Calas family
by the responses of his adversaries. Rousseau proclaimed Lis- and annulled the sentence. A new trial found Calas innocent
bon proof that civilization was inherently a mistake if the and posthumously exonerated the wrongly accused citizen.
many towers of Lisbon had not crowded so many thousands of The incident is a testament to Voltaires now unrivaled influ-
people together, how much harm could the earthquake have ence and stature. It also exemplifies one of his most enduring
done? Even more worrying in Voltaires eyes was Popes Opti- lessons: exercise restraint over impulsive judgement and action
mistic response, which affirmed the idea that God had surely when our emotions might otherwise get the better of us.
brought his wrath upon Lisbon to punish its sinful ways. In February 1778, Voltaire made his first trip to Paris in
Voltaires initial response, Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon, used twenty years. He came for the opening of his latest play, Irene,
high literary form as an entry into the debate. In its verses and was greeted at the theater with a heros welcome. The
Voltaire directly attacks the Optimists, writing, Come, ye members of the French Academy who had so bitterly pitted
philosophers, who cry, All is well, And contemplate this ruin themselves against Newtonian theory some four decades ear-
of a world. In humourless sobriety, Voltaire asks how such lier now exalted the man who had survived to witness the birth
unpredictable, senseless suffering isnt a cruel fate. The poem of his own legend. But at the age of eighty-three, this last trip
stirred the Paris salons and drew rebuke from Rousseau, but proved too much for Voltaires constantly bedeviled health.
Voltaires follow-up would prove the knock-out blow. For one who referred to himself as dying since birth he had
The satire Candide was Voltaires magnum opus, successfully managed to cheat death long beyond the wildest expectations,
synthesizing forty years of social criticism and challenges to con- but he died soon after returning to Paris.
ventional wisdom into a brilliant example of his literary com- A long-standing opponent of the Catholic church, Voltaire
mand. Rich in the authors trademark ironic wit, the brisk narra- was denied a churchyard burial. But his remains would not rest
tive follows its once sheltered young Candide in an Odyssean long in the ground. Just fourteen years later, they were resurfaced
adventure through contemporary Europe, confronting all the on the order of the French Revolutions new National Assembly,
harsh cruelties of this world in a reality check not unlike the to be interred in the Panthon, where the Assembly decreed the
fabled experience of the young Buddha. He is accompanied by most admirable sons of France were to be laid to rest.
Dr Pangloss, who after each horror asserts, Everything must
be for the best, in the best of all possible worlds. The satire An Enduring Legacy
struck a stinging blow against religious zealotry, government Voltaire was so incessant in his attacks, so adapt in wielding
hypocrisy, and, above all, the philosophy of Optimism. both wit and reason, we who look back from today cannot help
Although thinly veiled in allegory, the book laid bare the but admire him, and today he is exalted as a preeminent thinker
shortcomings of that philosophy by reducing it to absurdity. from the era history has called the Age of Enlightenment.
Published in 1759, Candide was quickly translated into multi- It is perhaps easy to think of the Enlightenment and its
ple languages, rapidly becoming a best-seller despite being achievements as just another inevitable step in the long march
banned in France. The books familiar format it satirizes the toward Modernity. But freedoms which form the basis of
narrative clichs of the popular picaresque novel made it Western society today the freedom to think, speak, and act as
accessible to any literate person of the time, rendering Candide we choose were then only the fancy of a few scribbling ideal-
capable of spreading Voltaires rebuke out from the salons and ists such as Voltaire. It took courage to provoke the powerful
into the wider public consciousness. One contemporary that and challenge commonly-accepted ideas to advance more
year speculated that it had been the fastest selling book ever. humane ones. Conceiving mankind as neither irrevocably pre-
The far-reaching results of this work cannot be overstated. destined for glory nor utterly doomed, Voltaire showed that
The minds behind the democratic revolutions in France and despite its perennial imperfections, humanity could neverthe-
America in the following decades were in no small part influ- less strive toward virtue. His life, advocating reason although
enced by the notion of individual free will set forth in Candide. he was at times vain, and tolerance although he was at times
vehement, is itself proof of the wide-eyed realism he espoused.
Final Acts So what can we make of the legacy of Voltaire? His ideals
Voltaire finally settled down in 1759 in Ferney in France, near have been used to mould our modern democratic societies, and
the Swiss border. Installed here for the next two decades, he for that we can rejoice. But we must remain sober in acknowl-
received visitors from across Europe, corresponded with lead- edging the ways in which history is bound to repeat itself.
ing thinkers the world over, and published numerous new What makes, and will always make, this world a vale of sor-
works. The Great Voltaire, as he came to be known, never row, Voltaire warned, is the insatiable greediness and the
ceased his work, and continued to engage in events which cap- indomitable pride of men. So it falls to each era to confront
tured public attention, such as the 1763 affair of Jean Calas. these ever-shifting shadows as they appear to every generation
Voltaire elevated this case of religious persecution against a and place. We can be grateful then to inherit the privilege, and
wrongly-accused provincial Protestant to national scrutiny. responsibility, of Voltaires legacy to stand that much bolder
Calas had been tortured and executed for the murder of his on the shoulders of a great man, who employed wit and wis-
son, despite evidence of his sons perjury and suicide. Once dom in an unfinished quest for greater justice and humanity.
more, outrage stirred Voltaire into a vigorous campaign of let- JARED SPEARS 2016
ters, opinion columns, pamphlets, and petitions. This time, the Jared Spears is a writer and researcher in New York. His work can
intervention of the Patriarch of Ferney prompted an almost be found at LitHub, Mental Floss, and elsewhere on the web.

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 43

Tim Wilkinson answers the question Was Einstein Right?

Books about general relativity with a Yes!, whilst Phil Badger

surveys Steven Lukes perspective on moral relativism.
unanswerable questions (p.50). Induction and Under-Determination
Was Einstein Right?
The authors qualifications for giving The evidence-based approach to knowledge
by Clifford M. Will
us the lowdown on experimental general yields a treasure-trove of ideas for anyone
IN NOVEMBER 1915, relativity are impressive. A distinguished interested in the philosophy of science.
Albert Einstein revealed academic physicist and Editor-in-Chief of It is generally accepted by philosophers
his theory of general rela- the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, of science that scientific theories can never
tivity to the world. he also chaired NASAs Science Advisory be finally confirmed. For starters, the past
Almost exactly a century Committee for the Gravity Probe B may not be an absolutely reliable guide to
later, in June 2015, at the Perimeter Insti- experiment for over ten years. Gravity the future, so that what has been observed
tute in Waterloo, Canada, a group of Probe B is arguably the most important, might not be what will be observed in the
physicists gathered to discuss a problem: and certainly the most delicate, test of future, even in the same circumstances.
the theorists are taking over. As Perimeter general relativity so far performed, and This is part of the problem of induction.
director Neil Turok told New Scientist, in became the longest-running project in Moreover, for any given experimental
physics, theory is becoming result, there might be several
ever more complex and con- theories capable of predicting
trived and yet failing to Gravity Probe B that result, so how do you know
explain the most basic facts heads off which is the correct theory,
(Issue 3028, 4th July 2015). given that evidence? This is the
The main culprit is string so-called under-determination
theory, the mathematics of problem.
which have become all but Will gives us a striking exam-
impenetrable without yield- ple of under-determination in
ing a single testable predic- action, as he charts the rise and
tion. Physicists wanting to fall of an alternative theory of
grapple with these develop- gravitation the Brans-Dicke
ments, and philosophers Theory, developed in the 1960s
studying their predicament, and 70s. For a time, it looked as
could do worse than start by though certain experiments
reading Was Einstein Right? might go against general relativ-
by Clifford M. Will, Distin- ity and in favour of Brans and
guished Professor of Physics Dicke. Although the tide even-
at the University of Florida. tually turned in favour of gen-
Professor Will sets out eral relativity, as Will recounts,
his stall early on: Without with appropriately chosen
experiment, physics is ster- parameters, Brans-Dicke
ile, physical theory merely Theory can always be config-
idle speculation (p.13). ured to produce exactly the
This book is remarkable in same predictions as general rel-
that Will manages to remain ativity, to within any given level
faithful to his objective of of experimental accuracy. Why
making experiment his then, ponders Will, did Brans-
focus, while at the same time Dicke Theory fall out of favour?
delivering, almost in passing, In what sense is it wrong, and
a superb explanation of gen- general relativity right?
eral relativity, without an The answer can be partly put
equation in sight. Further- down to Occams razor gen-
more, youll find here none of the hyper- NASAs history. First conceived in 1959 eral relativity is a simpler, more elegant
bolic theorising that is usually assumed to and proposed to NASA in 1961, the satel- theory. Philosophers reading Wills account
sell popular physics books. There is no lite was not launched until 2004. The may also conclude that Brans-Dicke
fretting about what, if anything, came results in the affirmative were finally Theory was a degenerative theory it was
before the Big Bang, no untestable hooey announced in 2011. Unfortunately, constantly in need of tweaking to accom-
about quantum multiverses. Instead, Will although the experiment is described in modate troublesome observations, without
exhorts us to focus only on observable, detail, the results arrived too late to be any concomitant increase in its explanatory
operationally defined quantities, and avoid included in this book. or predictive power.

44 Philosophy Now December 2016/January 2017 Book Reviews

Falsification Brush Up Your General Relativity
In other chapters of Was Einstein Right? we In addition to its value as raw material for
are served a banquet of food for thought philosophical reflection, Was Einstein
on the relationship between positive evi- Right? should prove an extremely prof-
dence observations that conform with itable read for students of the philosophy
what a theory would predict and confir- of science wanting to get to grips with this
mation that that theory is true. A single important pillar of physics.
repeatable negative example that is, an For example, Will takes his time in
observation which goes against the predic- explaining the crucial importance of the
tions of the theory will always carry more principle of equivalence. Broadly, this is the
weight than any number of positive ones. idea that people in equivalent types of
In fact, a repeatable negative observation motion will experience the universe in the
will, generally speaking, falsify the theory same type of way. For instance, it says that
under scrutiny. However, in some things appear (locally) the same to an
approaches in the philosophy of science observer in free-fall as they do to an
(such as those incorporating Bayesian observer who is not under the influence of
probability), positive evidence should count gravity. Will further explains why any theory
for something, especially when the obser- that respects the principle of equivalence
vation concerned would be extremely sur- (such as Brans-Dicke Theory) will automati-
prising without the theory in question pre- cally make many of the same predictions as
dicting it. As Will shows, some of the pre- general relativity, such as the effect of grav-
dictions of general relativity are so surpris- ity on clocks, and the curvature of space.
ing as to be almost unbelievable, but have Speaking of curved space, Will invites
been verified by observations nonetheless. us to consider an enormous triangle, half
For instance, when setting out the implica- the size of the Solar System, with the Einstein
tions of general relativity on the bending of middle of one side passing close to the Sun
light rays, the effect of gravity on clocks, and the opposite vertex somewhere out lenge, but Will still manages to give the
and the motion of Mercury around the near the orbit of Pluto. From our perspec- reader a decent flavour of whats going on.
Sun, Will clearly, carefully, and convinc- tive, the sides of this triangle are perfectly
ingly explains why calculations done using straight along every part of their length. A Rewarding Page-Turner
Euclidean geometry and Newtons ideas of However, general relativity would predict The only criticism of Was Einstein Right? I
gravity will produce different results to that due to the mass of the Sun, the inte- can muster is that it is desperately in need
general relativity. He then leads us through rior angles of this triangle would add up to of a Third Edition. We now have the
decades of experiments designed to test 179, 59, 59.125 which is 0.875 arcsec- results of Gravity Probe B, and the latest
general relativitys predictions. Because the onds less than the 180 that would be the detectors are approaching the sensitivity
experimental difficulties and uncertainties case if space were everywhere Euclidean. needed to routinely observe gravity waves
are placed front and centre, students of the Conclusion: matter literally bends space. without the need for a conveniently nearby
philosophy of science will find it entertain- Such a large triangle is unlikely to be supernova. But this is a minor gripe.
ing and illuminating to relate their ideas to drawn any time soon; but long baseline Although more educational than popularis-
the episodes described. As a source of radio interferometry (using radio tele- ing, as an exposition of general relativity
material for such an exercise, Was Einstein scopes a great distance apart) provides a which avoids the underlying mathematics, I
Right? fares better than many texts written very accurate way to measure the same have never come across the equal of Was
specifically for that purpose. angular discrepancies. These measure- Einstein Right? The presentation of the
There is still one major prediction of ments have confirmed the predictions of theory in the form of engaging real-life his-
general relativity yet to be properly tested: general relativity with a precision of 0.1%. torical episodes makes it more of a page-
gravity waves. Will explains how these Space is indeed curved. turner than it has any right to be. Com-
arise from the theory. Importantly, from a Spacetime is curved too. Now, using pared to the full-fat mathematical version
scientific point of view, gravity waves are a geometry to represent time, let alone of general relativity I learned as an under-
specific, quantifiable, and in principle curved spacetime, is a few levels of abstrac- graduate, I have no hesitation in saying that
measurable prediction. The theory is tion up from using geometry to represent in many respects, the fascinating tales in
therefore susceptible to falsification. Since space. However, since Descartes introduced this book are far more rewarding. Wills
the mid-1970s, the existence of gravity us to coordinates in the Seventeenth Cen- clear writing and breezy enthusiasm make
waves has been inferred indirectly from tury, we have been able to use mathematics this an enormously agreeable way to pick
the movement of binary pulsars. However, to represent anything that can be quantified, up the basics of general relativity, and an
in early 2016 direct detection of them was including time. Geometry, which since the indispensable resource for reflection on its
announced in a paper published in Physical Nineteenth Century includes non- philosophical ramifications.
Review Letters (PRL 116, Feb 2016). Sadly, Euclidean (curved space) geometries, can DR TIM WILKINSON 2016
this was much too late to be included in then be brought to bear on our physical Tim Wilkinson has a PhD in pure maths.
the book, but it will be interesting to concepts, including spacetime. Describing
watch the story unfold in this still nascent curved, non-Euclidean spacetime without Was Einstein Right? by Clifford M. Will, Basic,
area of observational astronomy. using mathematics is a considerable chal- revised 1993, 9.99 pb, 312pp, ISBN: 0465090869

Book Reviews December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 45

Relative Battle,


Moral Relativism
Peter Pullen 2016
by Steven Lukes


say that this is a slim book
on a huge and controver-
sial topic. However, to say
that a book is slim in girth is not to say that
it is slight in content, and this one is the
summation of well over thirty years work
on its topic by an eminent thinker in the
field. Professor Lukes conclusions might
not be to the tastes of some readers, but
few will be left with anything less than
admiration for his grasp of the issues, or
his crystal clarity in exploring them.
Lukes, a professor of politics and sociol-
ogy at New York University, first outlines
several species of relativism. For example,
cognitive relativism says that there is a
range of fundamentally incompatible per-
spectives about the sorts of things that can
be true. The inspiration here is Immanuel
Kant (1724-1804), and in particular, his
insight that what have become known as
our conceptual schemes (not his term)
shape our understanding of the world.
However, Kant argued that even if we
could not be sure how far our understand- scepticism or relativism: we might, as experienced on learning of each others
ing revealed ultimate reality, the rational Lukes points out, readily accept that others preferred modes for disposing of the
minds basic categories (his term) gener- think differently from us and conclude that remains of the dead. It seems as that we are
ated a universally human vision of that theyre just wrong! It is only when we in the business of inventing right and
reality. Cognitive relativism undermined adopt the external perspective of the wrong (the phrase is the subtitle of a rela-
Kants human universalism by making anthropologist that doubts about the status tivist tract by John Mackie).
claims, based on anthropological research, of our own moral beliefs get a hold. This is
for exotic cultural variations in both a matter of profound anxiety to some Against Moral Relativism
beliefs about the world and basic logic. (Lukes cites Pope John Paul II as an exam- Faced with this situation, the beleaguered
ple) on the grounds that, captured by such moral realist someone who says that there
The Diversity of Custom doubt, well be unable to maintain any are real ethical truths independent of
As exciting as debates about cognitive rela- sense of value at all. parochial variations in customs has few
tivism are and there are plenty of us whod Sadly for the moral absolutists amongst options. One, which Lukes explores, is to
take the universalist side against such rela- us and ultimately we have to count Lukes deny that variation at the level of norms
tivism it is moral relativism that most in that camp there is more difficulty in (that is, rules and practices), betokens any
interests Lukes. Again, it is the apparently overcoming moral relativism than its cogni- real moral variation at all. Thus Persians,
huge range of beliefs found across human tive sibling. Concerning cognitive relativism Indians, and Greeks all shared the value a
cultures that inspires the moral relativist we can, with moral philosopher Bernard more abstract, higher order of thing than a
move. Faced with the wide differences we Williams, say that reality has a habit of bit- norm of respecting the dead, even though
find between individuals and between cul- ing us hard if our cognitions are too wide of the norms followed in doing so differed.
tures regarding morality, the relativist aban- the mark people with really mad thinking The problem here is two-fold. Firstly,
dons questions about the justification of about the world will die a lot quicker than the extent of normative variation between
moral beliefs in favour of sociological ones people with reality-tracking thoughts. Thus, cultures makes us balk at the idea that this
explaining why they exist. Morality, on this agreement or convergence on big ques- variation is superficial. Secondly, if the real-
picture, is the product of time and place, tions of fact is at least possible. ist wants to assert the truth of one set of
and there is nothing more to moral No such constraints define the limits of norms against another, her position is as
approval or outrage than the cultural condi- moral variation. Consequently, history and untenable as moral relativism itself. Moral
tioning of emotion. For Lukes, moral rela- anthropology give us repeated examples relativism holds practices to be too different
tivism represents a fusion of anthropology apparently vindicating the view of the to judge them by any one standard, whilst
and moral scepticism which sees genuine Greek poet Pinder that Custom is lord of with moral realism, the apparent differences
debate on moral issues as impossible. all. Lukes himself gives an excellent exam- in practice signify no real differences at all.
Of course, the existence of moral diver- ple from Herodotus about the mutual hor- How can we know which perspective is true?
sity is, of itself, no argument for moral ror that Greeks, Persians, and Indians Well, Lukes does not swallow any of

46 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017 Book Reviews

this. You can almost hear his distain for Crossing Cultures Huntington saw only irrevocable differ-
anthropologists such as Richard Shweder, So powerful, argues Lukes, has the mono- ence between civilizations again negat-
who attempts to categorise female circum- lithic model of culture become, that it has ing the possibility of real dialogue between
cision as genital modification, and even infected the thought of some other- them. The net result of both positions has
describes suttee (a Hindu widows ritual wise liberal thinkers, leading them to dis- been a ghettoising of culture in which a
self-immolation) as conceivable [to the miss those who criticise practices in other conservative suspicion of those defined as
victim] as an astonishing moment when cultures as cultural tourists. other can fester.
her body and its senses became fully Lukes acknowledges that such criticisms Instead, Lukes proposes that we
sacred. For Shweder, and others like him, sometimes have force, but identifies dan- embark on a renewed effort to identify
cultures and their ways are radically differ- gers, both in certain kinds of relativist shared values across cultures what politi-
ent, alien, and, chillingly, closed to any multiculturalism, and in the Clash of cal philosopher John Rawls called an
form of evaluation from what they see as Civilisations thesis put forward by the late overlapping consensus. This might, Luke
our ethnocentric hopes, form the basis of a healthy
Western perspective. Divine Judgement? re-examination of the justice of
Lukes argues that what Kali Trampling Shiva particular cultural norms. Lukes
is at work here is a kind of by Raja Ravi Varma refuses to pin his hopes for this on
romanticism about culture, any specific philosophical
originating in the work of resource, but unsurprisingly,
Johann von Herder (1744- Kantian universalism gets a men-
1803) and later taken up by tion, as do Jrgen Habermass
Johann Fichte (1762- attempts to rescue the idea of
1814), which sees each cul- shared values from what he sees as
ture as a hermetically Rawls excessive abstraction. For
sealed monolithic unit Habermas, thought experiments
that bears in itself the such as Rawls original position,
standard of its perfection or Kants notions of ideal rational-
(Herder, Reflections on the ity cant replace actual debate
Philosophy of the History of between real individuals. Lukes
Mankind, 1791). In other even gives a nod to the kind of
words, cultures cannot be Aristotelian view represented by
judged in terms of values Martha Nussbaums capabilities
external to them. Lukes approach, which holds that there
pulls no punches in criticis- are some universal prerequisites
ing this view, asserting that necessary for people to live ful-
cultures are nothing like as filled lives.
rigid as it implies (he Theres much to be said on all
approvingly cites Mary of this. For instance, Habermas
Midgleys image of cul- insistence on the right of all con-
tures as ecosystems which cerned to take part in such a
shade into one another, debate has a whiff of circularity
either across space or about it it assumes the equality of
through time). He also says persons which he hopes will be our
this view ignores the possi- conclusion. Nussbaums position,
bility of contention and on the other hand, might seem no
struggle for change within more than an eloquent plea for
a culture. As an example he universalising certain rights.
cites the case of a Sicilian Nevertheless, for Lukes, the
woman, Franca Viola, who chance of establishing a dialogue
broke a thousand-year-tra- between cultures is worth the
dition by not only refusing effort, and dialogue that moves us
to marry the man who had towards basic consensus on values
kidnapped and raped her, but by pressing Samuel Huntington. Both of these con- is the best argument against a moral rela-
charges against him. Later, in similar vein, cepts, Lukes argues, are premised on the tivism which begins from the observation
Lukes notes the research of Christine notion that dissent within a culture is of apparently irreconcilable differences.
Walley, whose work with Kenyan initiates always experienced as both negative and PHIL BADGER 2016
of genital modification counters external in origin. Thus in Holland some Phil Badger studied social sciences, including
Shweders picture of general female well-meaning liberals have denied the economics, psychology, and social policy, with
endorsement of the practice. Custom need for cross community dialogue or cri- philosophy, and teaches in Sheffield.
might, in other words, be lord of all; but tique, which they fear might be experi-
some of its subjects are more willing to enced by immigrant communities as a Moral Relativism, by Steven Lukes, Profile 2008,
revolt than weve been led to believe. form of cultural imperialism, while 8.99 pb, 256pp, ISBN: 1846680093

Book Reviews December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 47

Michael Burke traces the lengths to which we must go
Films to truly love the other person.

peculating on ethics from the bleak Levinas, all these principles and rules for The Failure Of Theodicy
post-apocalyptic 2009 film The Road how I should act get in the way of and Before exploring more closely how The
(based on Cormac McCarthys bleak obtrude my relationship with the Other. Road illustrates Levinass ethic, it will be
post-apocalyptic novel of the same name) Facing the Other, I simply ask: What do helpful to place his philosophy in context,
seems like a contradiction-in-terms. After you need from me? When I encounter as a response to the horrors of World War
all, The Road recounts the journey of a another, I ought to put aside my concerns Two, in the wake of which much of Europe
father and son over an inhospitable Earth and projects to provide succor to the was in a condition not a far cry from the
smothered in a cloud of dust, where civi- Other any way I can. There should be no devastated ruins of the world of The Road.
lization is dead and buried under the ashes. hesitation, no qualification in my response. As Levinas attested in Difficult Freedom
Humanity has become a fast-diminishing Levinas says that our responsibility to the (1990), his life and thought were domi-
refugee species, forced to make brutal deci- Other has no limits. Nor are there any nated by the presentiment and the memo-
sions in the face of bitter cold, starvation, ry of the Nazi horror. Yet the genocidal
and roaming cannibals, as the beleaguered Emmanuel devastation of the Holocaust, which took
survivors eke out what little food remains Levinas the lives of several members of Levinass
while avoiding becoming food for others. 1906-1995 family, did not undermine his hope in
Why then propose this film as an illustra- humanity. Rather, it showed him the
tion of the ethical thought of Emmanuel moral bankruptcy of ethical systems that
Levinas (1906-1995), a philosopher who magnify rational characteristics or social
stresses our unconditional responsibility values over directly addressing the person.

for the welfare of others? In a world where Levinas expounds on the deficit of stan-
any underlying decency has long ago been dard moral theories in light of the
squelched by rumbling stomachs, where Holocaust and other horrific atrocities in
churches have long since burnt down and an essay entitled Useless Suffering. Here
ethical treatises have either succumbed to he addresses the centuries-old question of
mildew or been consumed as fuel to keep how an all-loving, all-powerful and all-
warm, Levinass message seems over- knowing God could allow humans to suf-
whelmingly out of place. Yet it is precisely fer. For Levinas, the absurd, superfluous
when the clamor of all the sensible and character of suffering is magnified in the
rational theories of moral obligation have light of the senseless convulsions of the
been silenced that his message of an Twentieth Century. But despite the vari-
inescapable moral responsibility resonates ous efforts of Western philosophers and
the loudest. In other words, Levinass theologians over the centuries to justify or
ethics is the definitive ethics of emergency, explain suffering, often by appealing
for the destitute, the abandoned, the root- beyond experience to a supersensible
less. His ethics is a sure and steady guide Being, Levinas, not unlike many of his
along The Road, especially as Levinas and contemporaries, believed a tipping point
Cormac McCarthy converge in their limitations on whom qualifies as the was reached against these theodicies [theo-
attempts to salvage a shred of humanity Other. Seeing someone in terms of their logical explanations of evil, Ed] in the
from the gaping maw of an inhuman world. gender, race, creed, or any other distin- Twentieth Century, with its total wars and
guishing characteristic only risks blocking merciless genocides. It is not merely that
My Responsibility To The Other my access to the singular individual before the humanistic culture of the
What makes Levinass ethics so singular is me. So we bear an ethical responsibility Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rea-
his unrelenting insistence on the individu- that we have not chosen, to respond to a son, human rights, and the inviolable free-
als absolute responsibility to others. This call of obligation we can never fulfill. If dom of the person, was unable to prevent
is not an ethics where my obligations to this brief sketch of Levinass ethics shows the rise of murderous totalitarian ideolo-
the Other (person) are mediated through anything, it is the sheer difficulty of living gies, but that these Enlightenment values
some general, rational principle, or up to your responsibility to the Other. In a were fundamentally unable to justify such
through some algorithm of utility. I do not sense, its impossible your obligations are senseless horror. The point is not simply
calculate how I should act toward the never exhausted: the more we meet our that no one can write moral treatises, let
Other by asking what that person would obligations, the more that is asked of us. alone poetry, after the Holocaust. Rather,
want done in my place, or what an impar- But it is this impossible obligation to the any attempt to even explain such an event
tial spectator would suggest I do. For Other that resonates so deeply in The Road. falls flat. So for Levinas, Auschwitz under-

48 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

mines humanitys ability to make sense of nates instead is need, vulnerability, and
the world, let alone form a plausible hostility.
theodicy regarding such events. The cries for help often go unanswered
What separates Levinass response here by the father, the protagonist of the film
from other accounts, is that rather than (Viggo Mortensen) who is bent on continu-
trying to prop up the enfeebled moral and
social values, Levinas asks what we ought
to do in light of this manifest failure of
institutional morality and traditional reli-
gion. If the devastating events of the
ing on The Road and keeping his son (Kodi
Smit-McPhee) alive. Bereft of other sanctu-
ary, father and son find refuge in one
another. This relationship between the
father and the son epitomizes the uncondi-
Unsaying The Apocalypse
Twentieth Century undermine the theo- tional devotion of the ethical bond, both in What unites McCarthy and Levinas is
retical framework of the political and the fathers unstinting commitment toward their common effort to express the inex-
social order, perhaps a more appropriate his son, and in the sons equally unsurpass- pressible. Levinas is well aware of the ten-
starting point is the interpersonal able dedication toward his father. sion upon his call to our ethical obligation
encounter between the I and the Other, Although the fathers unrelenting drive to the Other caused by depicting the
and an unconditional responsibility to the to do whatever it takes to save his son Other, since to comprehend the Other, let
person. Further, if a rational set of moral marks him as a likely representative of a alone measure our ethical responsibility to
principles tailored to the reality of human Levinasian self called to an infinite ethical them, limits and distorts the way our ethi-
condition has failed to guide human inter- obligation to the Other, I think that the cal responsibility reaches us. Levinas is
action, perhaps an unrealistic moral son provides a better example through hard pressed to avoid his suspicions that he
approach, demanding the impossible, can which to see
succeed in its place. In the face of useless Levinas in Father & Son
suffering, perhaps the senseless kindness The Road. help an old man
advocated by Levinas of placing the Although on the road
Others needs, even their survival, before both the
your own is the only sensible response. father and the


son repeat
Post-Apocalyptical Ethics the mantra
The hopelessness and nihilism that post- that they are
war Europeans encountered are paralleled, carrying the
or rather accentuated, in the post-apoca- fire a
lyptic wasteland of The Road. Indeed, what catchphrase
The Road so forcefully characterizes is the which guides
sheer devastation that has befallen the their conduct,
world. Further, there is no explanation of epitomized
the cataclysmic event: we arent told most clearly
whether it is due to some asteroid, nuclear in their stric-
conflagration, or even the visitation of a ture against
divine judgment upon a forsaken humani- eating other
ty. Theodicies can offer neither explana- people the
tion nor succor in this monochromatic and son embodies
wasted world. Rarely has the alternative this ideal more fully than the father. It is has already betrayed the inviolable nature
between ethics and sheer survival been unclear as to whether the father actually of the selfs responsibility to the Other
drawn so starkly as here. But this contrast believes this code, or whether, as intimat- even in merely discussing them.
also starkly exposes what Levinas cease- ed increasingly throughout the journey, Unlike other post-apocalyptic stories,
lessly promulgates: the blunt opposition its simply one of the fathers old stories, The Road deprives the viewer of reassur-
between the way of the world and the ethi- calculated to motivate the son to continue ances of something better to come. There
cal call. The obliteration of the environ- the journey. The son, however, constantly are no precious books to reignite the fires
ment through and even against which advocates for those they come across, of civilization; no triumphant return of
humans have so long defined themselves, whether for a dying man, a thief, or a ram- nature; no sense of freedom or vindication
opens up the possibility of encountering bling old man. In response to the fathers with regard to the overturn of the old, cor-
human beings beyond any doctrine sim- question about responsibility, with its rupt status quo. The desolation and
ply face to face. Neither nature nor culture Biblical resonances of being the keeper of despoilation of the world is near complete.
any longer mediates ones encounter with ones brother, the son replies that he wor- Time has also contracted for the wan-
the Other. The people encountered in the ries about everything and everyone an derers, flattening into a monotony bereft
story are for the most part stripped of the apt summary of Levinass injunction to of conventional chronological references
identifying categories that Levinas casti- care for others unconditionally. Perhaps or temporal markers. The opening line of
gates as submerging the uniqueness of the the son, by his actions, or by his very pres- the book captures this erasure of distinc-
individual brought out by the ethical ence, prevents the father from degenerat- tion well: Nights dark beyond darkness
encounter, such as ethnicity, political affil- ing to the desperate measures that others and the days more gray each one than what
iation, or religious creed. What predomi- around them have adopted. had gone before. Coupled with this loss of

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 49

orientation is the contraction of the world shared world. However, both Levinass and practice strikes close to the concept of say-
to the things necessary for day-to-day sur- McCarthys response to this decentering ing Levinas uses, insofar as saying consists
vival. Whatever does not draw the fathers from time and space is through a storytelling not in explaining or pigeonholing the
scrupulous attention regarding their sur- that is a speaking to the Other rather than a Other but in being exposed to however the
vival is ignored. This tunnel vision also speaking about the Other. Other comes across to you, and thereby
underscores his truncated sense of time At first glance this point seems counter- keeping an open relationship to them.
of a past impossibly distant and excruciat- intuitive for The Road. After all, the exhaus-
ingly painful when viewed from the pre- tion of narrative is in part the point. The Terminus
sent, and a future doled out in the next allusions to the silent monoliths of a for- The world of The Road cannot be put back
scrap to be found, the next meager shelter gotten civilization, to the mute agonies and together or made right. This runs contrary
to be sought. Memories of a deceased wife imponderable rhythms of nature, attest to to the assumptions guiding most theodicies.
and a departed world are irrevocably the end of the human story, the impotence But this bleak comment on the future is an
cleaved from a present where they can find of human theory, and in particular, to affirmation that the world must be faced and
no foothold. An interplay of abstract ideas theodicy. In the face of such devastation, lived in as it is. It deploys themes all too
is also absent from the dialogue. Littered words have been divested of their power. familiar to the reader of Levinass philoso-

with archaic, obscure words, The Roads The son has even tired of his fathers tales phy: the frailty of goodness and redemption,
focus on dead and dying words illustrates of the past, of deeds of goodness and hero- and the isolation of the individual in and
how the apocalypse might also transform ism, complaining that these stories are not from the vast, senseless universe surround-
thought and language. true, yet offering no tales in their place. Yet ing her. Such fragile goodness is exhibited
Levinas grapples with a similar dynamic the reaching-out of story-creating and The Road in small acts of senseless kindness,
of transforming language, for instance story-telling remains. When the father whether it be the father and boy sharing
through his distinction between saying and dies, the boy kneels besides him, saying his their meager supplies with a bedraggled
said. He argues that the Others unique- name over and over again. Although this is stranger, or the family at the end adopting
ness the way they express or say themselves a name we never hear or even need to hear, the now orphaned boy. Yet one must not be
to your self cannot be captured through it assures us that through his love this man misled by this last fleeting glimpse of good-
the stale, general concepts and empty terms fashioned an identity, the story of a self, ness. Such acts will not save the world.
of rational argumentation what is said. And and that in the desolation of the worlds Things cannot be made right.
even though Levinas employs traditional ending, the fathers life meant something. Levinas also acknowledges that there are
spatial and temporal terms to depict the The boy also promises to talk to the father no guarantees or unequivocal measures to
Other, such as the height from which the every day a promise of love that validates be taken to ward off evil. Nor is there any
Other calls to us, or the distant past from the use of memory which the father had certainty that history will not repeat itself
which it summons us, the concepts are once thought too harmful in this world, in new and more horrendous holocausts, be
drained of their conventional meaning. This since all it seemed to do was evoke the pain they human, animal, or planetary. Perhaps
height cannot be traversed; this past is so of loss. So the conclusion of The Road inti- its enough to be content with acknowledg-
remote as to have never transpired. These mates that the boy will assume the fathers ing the fragility of our civilization, with its
puzzling formulations of space and time mantle in continuing to tell stories, talking Bibles, Mona Lisas, and Constitutions, and,
accentuate that the Other stands apart from to his absent father every day not in order as McCarthy in a rare interview with Oprah
context the Other is not a character within to chart the passing of time or understand Winfrey pithily summed up, Be grateful.
a shared spatial and temporal context. For the world, as much as to sustain his rela- DR MICHAEL J. BURKE 2016
Levinas, the said (rational discourse) seeks tionship to the father, and by doing so, sus- Michael Burke is Associate Professor of Philosophy
futilely to compensate for the absence of a tain goodness and love in the world. This at St Josephs College, New York.

50 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

Philosophy Then

What is Metaphysics Anyway?

Peter Adamson considers Aristotles original use of the term.
ve occasionally had the disappointing study of all other things. If so, metaphysics

has a lot to say about being, especially in the
experience of walking into a bookshop, notoriously difficult middle books, whose would still be the primary and fundamental
seeing a shelf marked Metaphysics and, inquiry into substance is clearly relevant to science, but for a different reason. Now, its
beginning to peruse it, only then finding that the study of being (especially since the philosophical primacy will have to do with
its filled with volumes on mindfulness, crys- Greek word for substance, ousia, is derived the primacy of God.
tals, and learning about ones past lives. I from the verb einai, meaning to be). These are two very different ways of
wouldnt be surprised if New Age enthusiasts According to this way of thinking about understanding the Metaphysics, and hence,
have occasionally had the reverse disap- metaphysics, as being concerned with being metaphysics: are the treatise, and the branch
pointment upon learning that a Metaphysics itself, it has a good claim to be the most gen- of philosophy, about being, or about God? Or
course they signed up for will involve arguing eral philosophical subject, and hence in a perhaps there are two kinds of science
about the nature of reality, personal identity, way, the most fundamental science. Ethics here: it became traditional to speak of meta-
and the problem of free will. studies only human happiness and virtue; physica specialis (about God) and meta-
This confusion over what metaphysics is, zoology only animals; physics only physical physica generalis (about being). But allowing
exactly, is an old one. A historically-minded things. Metaphysics would study everything, this would undermine the cherished idea
person asked to define this field of philoso- since everything that is has being. The meta- that Aristotle did have a unified project.
phy might say that metaphysics simply stud- physician should however bear in mind Aris- That was presupposed in a dispute
ies the sort of issues tackled in Aristotles totles dictum that being is said in many between two leading thinkers of the Islamic
Metaphysics, the first work to use the word ways. I myself, for instance, will have being world, Avicenna and Averroes. Avicenna
in its title. But this answer would need a sig- in a different and more primary way than my believed that metaphysics is really the
nificant caveat: Aristotle did not use this title baldness has being. In Aristotles terminol- study of being, and that talking of God, even
himself, and indeed the book is almost cer- ogy, my baldness is only an accident a proving His existence, is just part of this
tainly a collection of disparate materials cob- property that belongs to me and depends on general enterprise. Averroes disagreed. He
bled together centuries after Aristotles death. me for its being; whereas I am a substance, pointed out that Aristotle proves Gods exis-
Because it is a composite work, maybe meaning that I have being independently of tence in the Physics, and thus the Meta-
we should not expect a unifying theme in the other substances. physics only discusses the manner of Gods
Metaphysics. Perhaps it is called by this title Now that were thinking along these lines, causality. But this is as it should be. As the
just because it is to be read after (meta) Aris- we might wonder: is there some being, or first cause of being, God is the proper sub-
totles discussion of natural philosophy in his kind of being, that is most fundamental or ject matter of metaphysics; and Aristotle
Physics. On the other hand, perhaps the primary? teaches that no science should try to prove
compiler had good reasons for putting these Many readers, especially in the medieval the existence of its own subject matter.
materials together as a single text. Intelligent period, thought that such a being makes its This debate has relevance for our under-
readers, from the great ancient commenta- appearance only in the twelfth of the four- standing of metaphysics today. The linger-
tor Alexander of Aphrodisias, to the also teen books of the Metaphysics. Here Aristo- ing association between the word meta-
pretty great medieval commentators Aver- tle discusses the immaterial intellects that in physics and theology or the supernatural
roes and Thomas Aquinas, have indeed his view are responsible for moving the (what comes after physics in another
detected a single project running throughout heavens. One single intellect stands over all sense), has real historical roots. Some are
the Metaphysics, although without agreeing the others, initiating or coordinating the therefore suspicious of the whole enter-
what it was. motion of the entire universe by thinking. prise. But they need not reject the term, or
This disagreement was only to be This is Aristotles God. the discipline, since there is an equally
expected. The Metaphysics takes on an Perhaps then Aristotles plan all along sound historical precedent for understand-
enormous range of problems, from the prin- was to move through preparatory stages of ing metaphysics to be something quite dif-
ciple of non-contradiction, to the nature of discussion before finally reaching the real ferent an inquiry into all that is. This would
God; from an analysis of material substance, object of his investigation, namely the divine arguably make metaphysics the most gen-
to a refutation of Platos ideas about mathe- First Mover. Thus, once we work through the eral and fundamental part of philosophy.
matics. One book even takes the form of an Metaphysics we will have grasped the PROF. PETER ADAMSON 2016
extended philosophical lexicon. If however nature of the first cause of all things. Since, Peter Adamson is the author of A History of
you want to argue that the Metaphysics is according to Aristotle, we understand things Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Vols 1, 2
about just one central topic, then an obvious by tracing back their causes, metaphysics & 3, available from OUP. Both are based on
candidate for that topic is being. Aristotle therefore provides a foundation for the his popular History of Philosophy podcast.

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 51

T allis
On Logos
Wonderland Raymond Tallis looks into the mystery of
the sense-making animal.

he greatest mysteries are often upon the miracle of our sense-making world: John is indicating that God ensured
those we are most likely to capacity. Consider the relative volumes of that His creation and His chosen species
overlook. Supreme among these our heads (4 litres) and of the universe (4 x should be so designed that the latter
is the fact that the world is 1023 cubic light years). In our less-than- should make sense of the former. Let
intelligible to us, at least to some degree. pin-pricks bonces, the universe comes to there be light! was Let there be sense! as
Of course, if we could not make moment- know itself as the universe and some of its well as Let there be stuff! However, this
to-moment sense of what was going on most general properties are understood. replaces one mystery with many others.
around us, there could be no us. Inhabiting That this knowledge is incomplete does Moreover, it does not seem to accommo-
an entirely unintelligible world in which not diminish the achievement. Indeed, the date the story of the gradual advance in
nothing could be understood, anticipated, intuition that our knowledge is bounded understanding, by no means complete,
or acted upon with reliable consequences, by ignorance, that things (causes, laws, that has been the great, hard-won achieve-
would be incompatible with life. mechanisms, distant places) may be con- ment of humanity. It puts it all in the
But there is no of course even about cealed from us, that there are hidden human starter pack.
this. That human existence requires a more truths, realities, modes of being, has been Logos has a history beyond even the
or less intelligible world doesnt solve the the necessary motor of our shared cogni- wide realm of a faith that has filled two
mystery, it simply moves the mystery on. tive advance. Man, as the American thousand years with hope, joy, bloodshed,
After all, the vast majority of organisms act, philosopher Willard Quine said, is the terror, and oppression. This history bril-
or at least react, and flourish, without mak- creature who invented doubt as well as liantly summarised in James Hastings
ing sense of the world. That one thing is measurement, provisional generalisation, monumental Encyclopaedia of Religion and
explained by another thing is not the kind and modes of active inquiry. Ethics (1906-1928) is all the more com-
of thing that bacteria (the most successful It takes two to tango. The fact that the plex because Logos has a multitude of
organisms) entertain; and at a higher level, world is intelligible clearly cannot be just senses, mobilised in different contexts. It
the laws of nature as we understand them down to us, otherwise our stories about has a field of meanings, with nodes here
are beyond the cognitive reach of all but H. how things hang together would be some- and there. This is hardly surprising, given
sapiens. Whats more, many humans thrived where between myths and an evolving con- that it registers such a profound encounter
before Newton announced his discoveries sensual hallucination. The balance between of human consciousness with itself.
or Einstein formulated the General Theory the contributions of what is out there and We cannot be sure when something
of Relativity. what is in us, between the extent to which equivalent to Logos first made its appear-
Let us unpack our sense-making a little. the mind conforms to the universe and the ance in our conversation with ourselves.
We live in a world in which happenings universe has mind-compatible properties, is Some scholars trace it back to the Pyramid
seem to be explained by other happenings: an issue that has had a long history, shared Texts of Heliopolis, nearly 2,500 years
this happened because of that. We not between theology and philosophy. before St John wrote his gospel. From the
only observe causes, but actively seek them primal waters the god Atum arose: he was
out. We also note patterns, connect and The Word and The World the light of the rising sun and the embodi-
quantify those patterns, and so arrive at the One word that haunts discussion of our ment of the conscious Word or Logos, the
natural laws which have proved so empow- astonishing capacity to make sense of the essence of life.
ering, enabling us to predict events and world is Logos. In Western culture, its most The Egyptian Logos does not map
manipulate things. All of this takes place in famous occurrence is in the extraordinary clearly on to what Logos subsequently
a shared, boundless public cognitive space, opening verse of the gospel according to became. The term was in common use
draws on a vast collective past, and reaches St John: In the beginning was the Logos. when the Pre-Socratic philosophers
into an ever-lengthening and ever-widen- This has kept thousands of commentators those tyrants of the spirit who wanted to
ing future. busy, because Logos, which is often trans- reach the core of all being with one leap
The extraordinary character of the lated word or reason, does a lot of work as Nietzsche characterised them in Philoso-
sense-making animal may be highlighted encompassing the Word that was Gods phy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks
by contrasting a wild animal looking for command that the universe should come employed it, partly to pat themselves on
the origin of a threatening signal with a into being as well as the Word that was the back for their own reason-based
team of scientists listening into space to made flesh in the body of Jesus Christ in approach to questions about the nature of
test a hypothesis about the Big Bang, hav- fulfilment of a promise of salvation. At a the cosmos. Although Logos referred to the
ing secured a large grant to do so. more abstract level, the Logos is offered as way human rationality was reflected or
This suggests another way of coming an explanation of the intelligibility of the expressed in discourse, it also captured the

52 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

philosophers trust in their own arguments the notion of Logos as being both the
and explanations, and the sense of their rational structure of the world and the
awakening from the sleep of Mythos. The source of that structure. Reason was present
boundaries between Mythos stories told in all things. This was asserted against the
as religious myths or in works of art and
Logos a reasoned account will always be
materialism of the Ionian philosophers, for
whom the world was just what was visible.
T allis
contested, and their respective claims to By contrast, Logos was an invisible, imma-
truth likewise. After all, myths, too, are
reasoned accounts of a kind: they make
sense of making sense, and they use words.
Whats more, reason itself operates on a
nent reason the general plan ensuring that
the world was an ordered Cosmos rather than
a disordered Chaos. It was the hidden har-
mony behind the discords and antagonisms
humans were truly happy only when they
given experience of the world, established of existence; behind the eternal war between were living in a state of harmony in which
long before reason does its work. Hence the elements that kept Being in motion, the Logos of their own soul resonated with
the endless returns of Mythos. leaving nothing immune from change. This the universal Logos, the harmony of nature.
Logos was central to Heraclituss philoso- rational order of things did not itself make For Philo of Alexandria, a first century
phy. According to F.M. Cornford in From the world conscious or thoughtful. Rather, Jewish philosopher steeped in Greek
Religion to Philosophy (1912), Heraclitus the world became conscious and thoughtful thought, the Logos was the model according
developed in flashes of mental lightning in the human Logos, whose most developed to which the universe was created. It
representative was the philosopher himself, encompassed the creative principle, divine
in whom the human Logos was united with wisdom, the image of God, and man, the
the Logos of the Cosmos. Making sense of the word of the eternal God. At the same time,
world was the result of a marriage between it was the archetype of human reason, that
microcosmic human Logos and the macro- through which the supreme God made
cosmic Logos of the universe itself. Logos contact with His creation. Logos is the
provided the link between rational discourse intermediary between God and the world,
and the worlds rational structure. the creator and His creation.
Which brings us back to the Christian
The Subsequent Fate of Logos notion of Jesus Christ as Logos. The Logos
We are more familiar with Plato and Aris- was the means by which God let Himself
totle. For Plato, Logos was the rational into a privileged part of His own creation
activity of the world soul created by the humanity. Philos connecting the divine
demiurge. It could be revealed through thought with the image and the first-
Ideas accessed by an intelligence stimulated born son of God, the archpriest and the
by the dialectic of philosophical discourse. intercessor, paved the way for the Chris-
For Plato, influenced by Parmenides, Logos tian conception of the incarnate word
was revealed in the kind of thought that become flesh, and so of the Trinity. The
accessed unchanging self-same Being, real Word by which He made the world, His
and true, not through sense experience, law, and indeed Himself, known to man,

which is unstable and untrue. According to was now identified with Christ. In the New
Aristotle, the Logos was the inherent for- Testament, the Logos is the Word, the wis-
mula determining the nature, life and activ- dom of God, the reason in all things, and
ity of the body, as well as, more narrowly, God Himself.
significant utterance. Secularists may smile at such responses
These ideas inspired the Stoics, for to the extraordinary fact that we make
whom the Logos was a supreme directive sense of the world. But when we think of
principle, the source of all the activity and the alternatives such as Kants claim in
rationality of an ordered world that was The Critique of Pure Reason that the experi-
both intelligible and intelligent. It was the enced world makes sense because we fash-
seminal reason or underlying principle of ion that world through our senses and
the world, manifest in all the phenomena understanding, or an evolutionary episte-
of nature. It acted as a kind of force, con- mology that argues that the fit between
ferring inner unity on bodies and on the mind and world is a Darwinian necessity
world as a whole, and at the same time the smile may fade and wonder return. The
guaranteed the intelligibility of the world endeavour to understand the sense-making
to humans, since the human soul partici- animal has a long way to go.
pated in the cosmic Logos. It is also because PROF. RAYMOND TALLIS 2016
the one Logos is present in many human Raymond Talliss latest book The Mystery of
souls that we are able to communicate with Being Human: God, Freedom and the
Atum, Egyptian embodiment each other: we all partake of common NHS was published in September. His website
of reason
sense. The Stoics message was that is

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 53

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December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 55

Hegel & Hume Talk It Over
Chris Christensen watches Hume and Hegel argue about how they can have
knowledge of reality.
Hegel Hume
Hume: True enough, Kant said we could not comprehend the
world without the mind first putting its stamp on it; and he added
that this means that the true external world what he called
the thing-in-itself is forever beyond all knowledge for us.

Hegel: That statement is contradictory! How can he say we

know nothing of it, yet also claim that he knows that it exists
and is a thing?

Hume: I leave that for you metaphysicians to play with if

only you would admit that its merely play! But Kants idea

doubt there are two philosophers further apart in their ideas brings Barzuns metaphor to my mind. Barzun likened Kants
than George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and idea of the mind putting its stamp on reality to a waffle iron
David Hume (1711-1776). Hegels rationalist metaphysics, acting on batter. Fortunately, theres another metaphor that
based on the arguments of reason, ranges far afield and is diffi- reverses Barzuns. Locke says that at birth the mind is a blank
cult to understand. Humes empiricism, on the other hand, with slate upon which the chalk of experience writes. That makes
its conclusions derived through experience, is accessible to the much more sense. To put it briefly, Hegel, ideas arise from
layman. A thoroughgoing skeptic, Hume thought that meta- experience. However, abstract rationalism such as yours
physics should be committed to the flames. Hegel was six years depends more on invention than experience!
old when Hume died, so there was no professional overlap. But
here theyre in the philosophers afterlife outside of time, able to Hegel: Yet there are cases in which the ideas arising from pure
see the entire history of philosophy. I see them in comfortable reason are later empirically demonstrated. For instance,
chairs before a cozy fire, each sipping brandy as they talk. through pure reason Leucippus and Democritus theorized the
existence of atoms over two thousand years before your
Hegel: [Gesturing at the fire.] So, Hume, you say that meta- vaunted empiricism confirmed their philosophy.
physics should be committed to the flames. Does this con-
tempt for thinking beyond what we can observe derive from a Hume: I grant the Greek atomists their luck. But most such
philosophical stance? Or does it simply stem from insecurity cases dont get beyond speculation. Platos nether world of
regarding your unease in tackling pure reason? Forms has yet to be proved empirically, and I dare say it will
remain in his metaphysical cave. Incidentally, you just said so
Hume: The flames are figurative of course. Im not a book yourself: atomic theory was confirmed by empiricism. Still, I
burner, and I wouldnt stand in the way of people who wish to must concede that if Platos Ideal Brandy is better than the
publish nonsense. But I readily admit to unease over any spec- superlative stuff were drinking, then I tip my hat to him.
ulation that professes absolute certainty.
Hegel: We agree on that, Hume. Heres to Plato.
Hegel: Yet you yourself claim a sort of certainty regarding [They raise their glasses and drink.]
experiences that arise from the senses; those which you call Lets leave the ancients and move to more modern times. We
impressions. rationalists believe that so-called empirical proof is unnecessary:
one can gain knowledge purely through step-by-step reasoning.
Hume: You misinterpret me. I make no such claim. I concede Descartes proved this when he concluded I think therefore I
certainty only in mathematics, where, to quote myself, there am. He proved his existence by doubting it, then through pure
are relationships among ideas true and certain. Three times reason carefully built a logical proof that overturned his doubt.
five equals fifteen, Hegel, and always will. I do however say
that the liveliest thought is inferior to the dullest sensation. Hume: Descartes wrote that he wanted absolute privacy for a
few days, and so squirreled himself away to think. But his soli-
Hegel: But Kant taught us that the mind does not simply pas- tude demonstrates the two main weaknesses of pure rational-
sively receive information through the senses, but organizes ism its need for error-free rigor and its extreme subjectivity.
our experience. So our impressions are partly a creation of Bertrand Russell illustrates the first well when he describes
our intellect. In other words, we know the world by the work rationalism as an inverted pyramid, with the first premise pin-
of the mind, and the world just as we experience it does not pointed on the ground. If it and all subsequent premises and
exist independent of us. conclusions are sound, all is well. But if just one mistake is pre-

56 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

sent one brick is weak the whole subsequent argument col- Hegel: Whereas you put great stock in the senses and in
lapses. Empiricism, on the other hand, avoids both weak- empirical proof, yet in the end you caution us that even sci-
nesses. Its foundation is wide and broad, constructed from a ence can be wrong. That is, in truth, you admit that science is
careful gathering of facts. Experiments prove the facts by test- in fact a process of finding temporary approximations to
ing and study. Relationships among the facts are then deter- knowledge that eventually gives way to better approximation.
mined. Moreover, many thinkers cooperate in the endeavor It must make continual adjustments to accommodate new cir-
they seek objectivity. Once the foundation is perfected, the cumstances, new evidence. So your skepticism leads to a dead
next level is built, using the same method, and so on. If a mis- end. We can know precisely nothing!
take is made if a brick in the edifice is weak it can be
removed and corrected without the collapse of the whole Hume: I wouldnt put it quite like that. I concede that my
argument. skepticism can often paint me into a corner. One wag even
said that I throw the baby of science out with the metaphysi-
Hegel: But with empiricism, unlike with pure logic, no argu- cal bathwater! But science does not totally do away with
ment is ever proved absolutely. You yourself admit that by acquired knowledge. It can find error and correct it, or we
using the scientific method, high probability is the best we can may refine our knowledge. Nonetheless, science comes close
attain. Lets return to Kants statement that there is an in-itself to reality despite its tentative knowledge or rather, because
external world beyond our experience. Thats an idea that it admits to tentative knowledge. With the exception of
Kant claims is demonstrated by reason. It follows that we can mathematics, well always be without certain knowledge. Yet
employ reason to further that knowledge. its true, the human mind thirsts for certainty. This is why
religious belief and theories like yours will forever be
Hume: But ideas dont come first, they derive from impres- with us.
sions. So you cannot gain knowledge without employing the
senses. Proof that impressions come first can be seen in the Hegel: But my theory is not religious. It has nothing to do
stark example that a man born blind has no idea of color. with mans religion. Its based on rational thought, bereft of
superstition. I believe merely that humanity is on a journey.
Hegel: A man born blind has only an idea of color! Precisely We are here to develop the self-consciousness of the world,
what he lacks are your impressions! which is the consciousness of freedom. Beginning in China,
then in Persia, and now in Europe, humanity has gradually
Hume: Thats absolutely wonderful, Hegel! Youd have made developed a higher consciousness of freedom, and an actual
a great Sophist! I can see you in my minds eye, traveling with freedom of living, which in turn feeds into a greater con-
Libanius, teaching the untutored the wiles of argumentation, sciousness of freedom, until
the two of you completely unconcerned about truth
Hume: until and correct me if Im wrong humanity
Hegel: Careful, Hume. You dont want to infect your precious arrives at an ideal state of pure consciousness, which you call
empiricism with the minds eye. Absolute Mind, or Absolute Spirit.

Hume: A predictable rejoinder from a rationalist! You seem to Hegel: Now youre getting into the spirit of it yourself,
think you have a monopoly on the mind that empiricists Hume! In fact, reality is actually constituted by mind. At first,
dont employ it at all. Well, let me disabuse you of that notion. mind is unaware of this: it sees the world as something inde-
The intellects greatest contribution to knowledge is being pendent of it, even hostile or alien to it. Its estranged from
acutely aware of impressions and emotions as they surface. In reality, tries to understand it, and fails. Only when mind
short, mind is best used for awareness of its own processes. In awakens and realizes that reality is a creation of mind can it
this way it can tame the passions and prevent flights of give up reaching beyond itself. It then knows there is nothing
Hegelian fancy. Unfortunately, few are very aware. beyond itself. On the contrary, objective reality is thought;
By the way, theres a revealing statement by your fellow ratio- and thought is objective reality.
nalist Descartes, seemingly unconscious. He writes, and I
quote, We must occupy ourselves only with those objects that Hume: Indeed, Russell called your Absolute Mind a sort of
our intellectual powers appear competent to know certainly God: truly a professors God Mind dwelling on its own
and indubitably. Isnt that wonderful? thoughts! The whole thing is quite fascinating, even if it is
nonsense. But let me see if I have it right. The engine that
Hegel: Its perfectly reasonable. Whats your point, Hume? propels this metaphysical journey is your dialectic. One stage
of this journey of human culture is negated as development
Hume: His recommendation certainly seems wise. But first continues: as you phrase it, a thesis meets its antithesis; there
note the words only, certainly, and indubitably. These are is a clash; then the two are melded into a synthesis, which
words of certitude. But in the statement is also a word that becomes the new thesis; and so on it goes.
conveys uncertainty. That word is appear. Its an escape word
a means of explaining how one could be wrong, despite all Hegel: I never used those terms. They were added to my the-
the certitude that reason can attain! I find it charming. ory by my followers. But there is a stage-by-stage advance,

December 2016/January 2017  Philosophy Now 57

yes. And each stage of human culture is an advancement of twenty-first century you have an ally whos picked up your torch,
human consciousness until we reach the stage of Absolute a fellow whose name rhymes with yours Nagel. He took a
Mind. That ideal state no longer requires, nor allows, an shellacking from materialists for his ideas on consciousness.
antithesis. Even I thought the reaction against him was a bit knee-jerk.

Hume: Tell me, what happens to our bodies when we reach Hegel: Yes, Im aware of Nagel an American, no less. In fact,
that exalted state? Do we shed them and ascend to an intellec- he attempts to find a middle ground between my idealism and
tual heaven like a rapture? All I can say is that one would miss materialism by saying theres a gap between the explanations
ones brandy. available to science and explanations for consciousness. He says
the physical sciences can describe the behaviour and physical
Hegel: You make light of it, Hume. Thats a familiar reaction constitutions of organisms like ourselves, but they cannot
to profound thought from someone who shies away from describe our subjective experiences, such as how things appear
metaphysical exploration. Unfortunately, I cannot describe the to our different points of view. This gap, he says, reflects a deep
particulars of the final destination of consciousness. metaphysical difference between consciousness and the brain
between mind and matter. Dualism dies hard, eh? Still, I am
Hume: Sorry, Hegel, but you strike me as taking yourself too encouraged by his existence, and by your defense of his idea.
seriously. Nonetheless, your metaphysical edifice is exceed-
ingly impressive. Your theory is magnificent truly a monu- Hume: I didnt exactly defend his idea.
ment of unprecedented intellectual achievement. It puts you
at the pinnacle of philosophical idealism. Its unfortunate that Hegel: No, but you seem to caution his critics.
it smacks of bloody rubbish. But this is unsurprising, since you
follow in the rationalist footsteps of Pythagoras, Parmenides, Hume: I dont like knee-jerk reactions. But I do like Nagels
Plato, right on up to Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, even idea that science is limited regarding its knowledge of subjec-
surpassing them in speculation. tive viewpoints. However, he says it follows that biological
evolution must be more than just a physical process that the
Hegel: I take that as a compliment, Hume. I see myself as theory of evolution must incorporate a mental aspect.
standing on the shoulders of my predecessors. After all, my
philosophy is all-inclusive. The dialectic of history is a Hegel: But the greater theory need not be theistic, Hume. It
process; it does not do away with what came before. can be seen as an expanded form of understanding that
includes the mental, but is still scientific.
Hume: But in the final analysis your majestic edifice is a reli-
gious one, despite your claim to the contrary. Thats the great Hume: Of course I find that appealing. But his leaping from
irony of pure rationalism. It claims the mathematical precision that to speculating that consciousness has a purpose in the cos-
of logic, but its conclusions ultimately require faith. I suspect mos strikes me as reaching too far.
you rationalists secretly crave the approval of empiricism.
Hegel: Hume, you ought to let your imagination soar a bit. So
Hegel: Recall Democritus and his atoms. Perhaps some day lets imagine that theres a post firmly lodged in the ground
my metaphysical theory will be proved empirically even if it the Post of Skepticism. A rope is attached to the post, with the
takes over two thousand years! other end tied around your waist. My guess is that you, my
friend, would never stray far from the Post of Skepticism, and
Hume: Theres an important distinction between your think- would always keep a firm grip on the rope.
ing and that of Democritus. While you both employ pure rea-
son, you propose a metaphysical theory, concerning a purpose Hume: And you?
and end to human development. Democritus, on the other
hand, proposed the physical existence of atoms. You dwell on Hegel: I would venture out wherever my mind demands, in
metaphysics, he on physics. He was a materialist, lets not for- the search for higher knowledge.
get. His theory was provable by empiricism. I doubt yours is.
Hume: And, dear Hegel, when you felt the tug on the rope, you
Hegel: You doubt everything, Hume. Thats a certainty I find would slip the knot and float away into the metaphysical mists.
quite ironic. And in the twentieth century your skepticism But I must say and this may be the brandy talking despite our
lead to its own extreme result analytic philosophy. It seems differences, I would miss you. A toast, Hegel to philosophy!
that speculative philosophy is now dead. Philosophys role has
become merely to analyze the workings of language. Still, my Hegel: To philosophy!
theory cannot be disproved. [They raise their glasses and drink.]
Hume: Its not incumbent on the doubter to disprove an asser- Chris Christensen is a delivery driver in Portland, Oregon. In addi-
tion: the onus is on the maker of an assertion to prove it. But tion to studying philosophy, he and his wife Bobbie produce a blog
you can dream, Hegel; and your dream never ends. Even in the called Red Stitches: Mostly Baseball.

58 Philosophy Now  December 2016/January 2017

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