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 ...

On the proper use of Cyberspace

In his book ‘Free Speech’, Timothy Garton Ash proposes the following principle related to knowledge: ‘We allow no taboos against and seize every chance for the spread of knowledge.’ In his attempt to delineate the contours of his liberal ‘open society, the former journalist turned academic acknowledges the central place played by knowledge in every aspect of human life and endeavour. Yet, in an age driven by computer technology, it is essential to be aware of the differences existing between ...

Pacifying Our Cyberworld (1)

At a time when freedom of speech and particularly freedom to criticise is being threatened by a pervasive climate of suspicion and rejection of the liberal press in western democracies, a much respected British journalist, Timothy Garton Ash proposes ‘Ten Principles for a Connected World’ in his latest essay, ‘Free Speech’, published by Atlantic Books, in 2016. The Internet revolution has unleashed a nonstop flow of unlimited information but also myriads of unvetted spurious opinions, ranging from thumb-up positive reactions ...

Parrhesia and the post-truth age

After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is ‘post-truth’ - and adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Such is the entry to be found on the Oxford Dictionaries website. Socrates would, no doubt, be turning in his grave if he only knew the extent and triumph of the present doxa (or opinion) over truth ...

Aldous Huxley’s warning against a ‘Brave New World’

The prescient English writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, was through the 1930’s, a keen critical observer of the rise of political extremism, coupled with the irresistible progress of modern technology. Self-exiled in California, in 1938, for health and political reasons, he lamented the spread of fascist ideology across Europe and the absence of pacifist solutions to the imminent threat of a world conflagration. In March 1946, a few months after the end of the worst conflict ever, he published a ...

Iris Murdoch and the irresistible attraction of the Good

The writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was fascinated by the intimate connection between ‘truth’, ‘beauty’ and ‘good’ in Plato’s dialogues. In the late Timaeus dialogue, written after The Republic, Plato introduces a divine figure, the ‘demiurge’, literally ‘the architect’, who inspired by his love for the Form of the Good creates the universe from pre-existent and therefore necessarily imperfect material. Murdoch sees in the story of the ‘demiurge’ the answer to the previous limitations of The Republic. Through the ...

Popular Sovereignty and Representative Democracy

Was Plato right after all when he remarked in ‘The Republic’ that the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavey rises out of the most extreme form of liberty.? For students of this political classic, contemporary events have never been so meaningful as Western democracies are going through a crisis of confidence in their social, political and financial élites. Popular sovereignty is being reclaimed throughout Europe by movements such as Indignados in Spain, Direct Democracy Now! in Greece or Nuit ...

Introspection and Action Part 2

The death of Jean-Paul Sartre in 1980 coincided with the end of a certain introspective philosophy, mainly preoccupied with the citizen’s historical place and moral obligations in a secular, industrialised Western society. Succeeding generations continued to see philosophy as an intellectual weapon to be used in new struggles such as feminist and gay rights movements. Sartre, himself, was fully aware that his legacy was precarious as new historical ‘situations’ would inevitably generate new attitudes and new schools of thought. Sartrean ...