Humanist Thoughts for the Festive Season

The festive season is traditionally a time dedicated to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the Christian message of love and peace between all men and all nations. This period of self-collected meditation may also become an opportunity for reflecting on the human condition. William James was the first to offer a purely psychological interpretation of the religious experience away from theological dogmas. His approach was scientific and in this respect the American thinker assumed a non ...

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 ...

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, ...