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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...