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 ...

Scientific Morality?

Can Science provide a better basis for morality than other forms of human knowledge such as religion, psychology or philosophy? A look at the history of moral philosophy shows that by and large every significant contribution to ethics has come primarily from philosophers or theologians. It is not until the late twentieth/early twenty first century that some scientists have proposed that science can be a better basis for ethics, in other words that the answer to the question “how can ...

PRE IB: What to expect from the IB Philosophy course

This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here. The IB Philosophy course is the most eclectic introduction to a subject wrongly considered as reserved to the most academically inclined students. On the first lesson of the new school year, I usually ask my group of Philosophy students their reason for their choice of this particular subject. On one occasion, a student candidly replied that he didn’t really ...

PRE IB: How Philosophy can boost your IB academic performance

This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here. OK. You don’t really know what Philosophy is about and you are not remotely interested in starting a new academic subject from scratch. But, hold on a minute and consider the following: would you be prepared to say that you never thought about the difference between reality and fantasy or what you are doing on this planet? Obviously not, ...

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 ...

How to approach the Philosophy examination

The Self in its Different Dimensions Spiritual Dimension: ‘the Self as Transcendent Entity’ Judeo-Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, Taoism The Inner Self: ‘Who am I?’ Psychological foundations:                                                      Philosophical foundations: The Unconscious (Freud)                                                       ...

Plato’s political use of the ‘noble lie’

What would Plato have made of our ‘post-truth’ era where ‘alternative facts’ are likely to receive equal attention and are sometimes given more credence than analytic arguments, standing to reason? Well, Plato also had his own political agenda when writing The Republic and devising the most perfect society or what purports to be the most just society. The educational programme laid out by the alleged ‘founders’ of this utopian state, does not cater for the producers of material commodities. However, ...

Plato’s rejection of Athenian politics

In his alleged Seventh Letter, Plato recounts his three visits to Sicily at the court of Dionysius, the tyrannical ruler of Syracuse and his vain efforts to change his political views. However, before embarking on his first sea-journey, Plato casts his mind back to the period of the Thirty Tyrants and notes that: ‘When I considered all this, the more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult ...