For a Global Approach to Philosophy

All philosophies tend towards the same goal: the acquisition of wisdom, be it through transcendental meditation, spiritual contemplation or rational investigation. In a world open to all sorts of false claims, dangerous reinterpretations and approximations of so called ‘new truths’, philosophy, often under attack from malevolent quarters, has never appeared so urgently needed to repair our dented certainties and restore our belief in the power of objective reason and personal self-enlightenment. In his ambitious work Taking Back Philosophy. A Multicultural Manifesto (Columbia ...

Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou’ Relation

In an age where identity is being questioned in the light of the latest technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, Martin Buber’s thought is a welcome reminder of how our relation with others remains the deepest and most solid foundation of our morality and humanity. Steeped in Jewish theology and culture, Buber (1878–1965) was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century as he transcended his own Jewish faith to encompass the Christian tradition and offer the ...

Religious Knowledge?

The very notion of Religious Knowledge is, for many, an oxymoron (a combination of mutually contradictory terms) or at best a category mistake (something described in terms of a conceptual category it does not belong to). Be that as it may, the IB introduced Religious Knowledge Systems into the new TOK syllabus in 2014 and it deserves serious attention for at least two reasons. In my experience the academic exploration of religion in schools is far too often neglected, distorted ...

Oligarchy and Democracy (Part 2)

Plato regards the descent of political regimes into tyranny as a gradual process in which each type of government is transformed into an even more unjust or imperfect state. The oligarchic man is the son of the timarchic man who has lost his reputation and fortune ‘in some political disaster’. Reduced to poverty, his son neglects the dialectic power of reason which he uses instead to further his selfish materialistic ends. In his craving for money, the oligarchic man ‘is ...

Oligarchy and Democracy in Plato’s Republic (Part 1)

In Books VIII and IX of The Republic, dedicated to imperfect societies, Socrates undertakes a systematic political and psychological survey of the forms of government following the demise of his perfect state, doomed to extinction like all human creations. It is gradually replaced by a new regime, inspired by Sparta’s principles of ‘honour’ and ‘worth’ (or ‘time’ in Ancient Greek), in which war becomes the main preoccupation of rulers chosen among ‘the simpler, hearty types’ instead of the intelligent Guardians ...

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 ...

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 ...