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 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 ...

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 ...

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 ...