Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

On the sources of political authority

Authority without expressed consent is nothing short of autocratic power or as the Ancients called it, tyranny. On the other hand, to preside over a politically educated, active citizenry is true democracy. If authority is the ultimate justification for exercising power, sovereignty remains the very foundation of its legitimacy. It is in the name of popular sovereignty that revolutions erupted in America, France and Russia. The very moment the legitimacy of a political leader is undermined, authority soon erodes to ...

Descartes on the dangers of false opinion

On the onset of his quest for pure and truthful knowledge, René Descartes decides to ‘overthrow’ all his former opinions since the latter may be built on sandy foundations. However, for fear of finding himself in a mental no man’s land, the philosopher sets for himself the rules of a ‘provisional morality’, the first being ‘to obey the laws and customs of my country’, a precept immediately followed by the injunction: ‘holding constantly to the religion in which, by God’s ...

Russell’s World of Universals

In chapter 9 of his ‘Problems of Philosophy’, Bertrand Russell tackles the nature of universals and their role in our acquisition of knowledge. He first observes that contrary to proper names, like John or London, they are represented in substantives or nouns, adjectives, prepositions and verbs. No sentence can be construed without the necessary presence of at least one word denoting a universal, which explains why ‘all truths involve universals, and all knowledge of truths involves acquaintance with universals.’ Philosophers have ...

In praise of ‘necessary and wonderful science’

For the past forty years, Richard Dawkins has proved a formidable controversialist and his latest collection of essays, lectures and articles, published under the title ‘Science in the Soul’, confirms his central place and influence in the ongoing debate between religion and science, or shall we say, between emotions and reason. Dawkins always had many detractors who see in his lifelong defence of the Darwinian heritage, a rabid attack on deeply felt beliefs in holy religious texts. As an evolutionary ...

The contiguous worlds of Philosophy and Science

In an article published on June 1 2017 in the ‘Times Literary Supplement’, David Papineau addresses the question: ‘Is philosophy simply harder than science?’ Described as ‘the route to truth’, philosophy is described not only as the handmaiden of science but as its original foundation since all scientific theories originate from some form of philosophical position, such as, for instance, ancient natural thinkers like Democritus, Epicurus or Lucretius. Through their denial of any divine intervention in the universe, these ancient ...

Philosophy in Western Movies

The summer break should be an opportunity to get away from academic books and maybe indulge in the discovery of inspiring novels. But what about films? Twentieth-century philosophers have, on the whole, neglected what the French call ‘le septième art’ as very few thinkers critically studied the moving image, with the exceptions of Gilles Deleuze (‘Cinéma’) or Jean Baudrillard who deconstructed the hypnotic power of images in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. But what of the young Sartre, who declared himself an ...

Russell on the elusive knowledge of the Self

In ‘The Problems of Philosophy’ (1912), Bertrand Russell pays tribute to the French philosopher, René Descartes, for performing ‘ great service to philosophy’ by introducing a rational method of doubt in the search for truthful knowledge. He doesn’t identify any apparent difficulty in the Cartesian assumption that everything outside my own thoughts, feelings snd sensations, could be a mere fantasy. However, he brings his own realist interpretation to bear on the argument, when he comments that, despite the logical possibility ...

Descartes’ wax experiment and the project of pure enquiry

Descartes’ rejection of scholastic philosophy is the first step in his systematic questioning and radical re-examining of the foundations of knowledge. The medieval interpretation of the physical world entailed an absolute and unquestionable belief in ‘substantive forms’ or inherent essences, manifesting themselves in phenomena such as fire, regarded as ‘consubstantial’, that is, being intrinsically associated, with the presence of fire. In his ‘Meditations’, Descartes sets out to question the origins of our beliefs in order to make us reevaluate them in ...

Plato and the art of political weaving

Plato’s political views are usually associated with ‘The Republic’ and its detailed analysis of the perfect political and social community. The possibly apocryphal dialogue on ‘The Laws’ sheds further light on the necessity to establish just laws in order to channel the virtuous inclinations of human nature and curb its dangerous excesses. A third, late dialogue is ‘Politikos’ dedicated to the expert on political matters as distinguished from the sophist who resorts to specious arguments to win his case or ...

Kantian Evil or the misuse of human freedom

For Kant, there is no absolute evil, but a ‘radical’ evil which is literally at the root of human freedom as there is a natural, human inclination to act according to our desires and passions and to choose the easier path instead of the path of duty. To posit the omnipresence of Evil in the world would, for Kant, imply a malignant deity, thwarting any human effort to achieve any level of moral rectitude or virtue. Evil, therefore, is not ...

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