Tag Archives | Unethical Philosophy

The Invisible East

In the 3rd edition of Classics of Philosophy – which is, ironically, one of the texts I’m using in my “Philosophy East and West” course – Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn write:

The first philosophers were Greeks of the sixth century B.C. living on the Ionian coast of the Aegean Sea, in Miletus, Colophon, Samos, and Ephesus. Other people in other cultures had wondered about these questions, but usually religious authority or myth had imposed an answer. … The Great Civilizations of Egypt, China, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, and Persia … had produced art and artifacts and government of advanced sorts, but nowhere, with the possible exception of India, was anything like philosophy or science developed. Ancient India was the closest civilization to produce philosophy, but it was always connected with religion, with the question of salvation or the escape from suffering. Ancient Chinese thought, led by Confucius (551-475 B.C.), had a deep ethical dimension. But no epistemology or formulated logic. (pp. 3-4)

Is this true?

The two earliest Upanishads – the Brihadaranyaka-upanishad and the Chhandogya-upanishad – are generally dated to the 7th century BCE or earlier. They contain clear examples of philosophical argumentation. So why don’t their authors – or the thinkers whose views they purport to record (e.g., Yajñavalka and Uddalaka) – count as Indian philosophers antecedent to the Greeks?

Apparently because their views were “connected with religion” and “the question of salvation.” Yet Classics of Philosophy contains writings by Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard – for all of whom philosophy was closely bound up with religious questions. If this connection doesn’t invalidate their claim to be philosophers, why does it invalidate the like claim of their Indian predecessors?

In any case, it is not even true that all early Indian philosophical thought is connected with religion. The Charvaka or Lokayata school, which was atheistic, materialistic, and hedonistic, is generally dated to the late 7th century BCE as well – thus again antedating the Greeks.

As for why the early Chinese thinkers are ruled out as philosophers, we’re told it’s because, although they had a “deep ethical dimension,” they had “no epistemology or formulated logic.” So epistemology and logic are philosophy but ethics is not?

And anyway it’s not true that early Chinese thought had no epistemology or formulated logic. Even if we leave aside the exploration of logical paradoxes by such thinkers as Zhuangzi, Hui Shi, and Gongsun Long, we have a pretty clear example of epistemology and formulated logic in the Mohist Canons.

Of course the Mohist Canons date to around the 3rd century BCE, so if Pojman and Vaughn are making only a claim of chronological priority, they’re entitled to dismiss them. But the tone of the passage certainly offers no hint that these Chinese and Indian traditions got more philosophical later. And the fact that no Indian or Chinese sources appear in an anthology titled Classics of Philosophy (rather than, say, Classics of Western Philosophy) suggests that they don’t regard even later Chinese and Indian thought as containing anything worthy of the status of philosophic classic. The sophisticated logical and epistemological debates among the Navya-Nyaya, Purva-Mimamsa, Vyakarana, and Sautrantika-Yogachara schools, for instance, count for nothing, apparently.

It was bad enough when Antony Flew ignorantly declared in 1971 that Eastern Philosophy contains no arguments, but this is the 21st century, for petesake.


News to Me

In the most recent episode of Arrow, Cayden James, the show’s current main antagonist, tells his followers:

The Presocratic philosopher Thales of Miletus, known as the father of science, believed that for any event there was a natural cause, even if we couldn’t see it; and he thought that with perfect knowledge, man could control anything – everything.

Um … citation needed?


Descartes and Vitoria

I’ve long been a fan of interpretations of Descartes that lay at least as much stress on the continuity as on the discontinuity of his thought with Scholastic Aristoteleanism. (This is no doubt due in large part to the influence of Paul Hoffman, my first Descartes teacher: see here and here.)

I’ve just come across yet another point in which Descartes appears indebted to his Scholastic predecessors. In 1530, over a century before Descartes published his Meditations, Francisco de Vitoria of the University of Salamanca, best known for his defense of native American rights against the Spanish conquistadors, delivered a lecture On Homicide in which the following passage appears:

God could not create a habit which would incline toward what is false. … And by this reasoning, first principles also, even though they are self-evident, can be in a certain way proven. For what if someone were to say that he was forced to assent to this principle: “Every whole is greater than its part,” but would also say that he was afraid perhaps that he was deceived, just as a man sometimes is forced to believe something on the authority of men, in whom the man must have faith and yet it could happen that he be deceived? What, I say, if someone were to speak like this about first principles – could he not be induced by some reasoning to assent to them? Indeed, I think that if someone were to admit to me that God cannot lie nor deceive, he would also concede that it is necessary that a rational creature be created by God with this necessary inclination to consent to these principles, and would evidently be convinced that such principles are true. For if they are false, and God is forcing the human intellect to consent to them, it is plainly evident that God is deceiving men and consequently lying. Similarly, if God were to create any habit inclining toward what is false, He would rightly be accused of lying and deception. (Francisco de Vitoria, Relection on Homicide, trans. John P. Doyle [Marquette, 1997], p. 65.)


CFP: Alabama Philosophical Society 2017

Owing to a time- and energy-consuming family medical crisis, I’m about two months late in announcing this – the submission deadline’s just over a week away.

But anyway, this year’s APS will be September 29-30 in Pensacola; submission deadline is August 1st. Note also the undergrad essay contest (Alabama students only), which pays $100 plus one night’s stay at the conference hotel.

More info here.

Alas, I won’t be able to attend this year. Hoping for next year.


Kant Unbound!

kant-touch-this

[cross-posted at BHL]

I neglected to post about this while it was actually happening, but I just finished participating in a Cato Unbound exchange on Immanuel Kant’s place in classical liberalism – with digressions on, inter alia, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rand. My interlocutors were a Kantian and two Randians.

Reading it is categorically imperative! Catch the phenomenal action here.


Hilary Putnam R.I.P.

One of the greatest and most influential philosophers of the past half-century – and one of my favourite professors from my undergraduate days – has died.

putnam-gotem

Putnam was not only brilliant; he was also usually right. His arguments for direct perception, moral realism, and (most famously) the causal theory of reference, as well as his arguments against skepticism, reductionism, positivism, Kuhnianism, and type-identity theories of mind, are groundbreaking and incisive. I’m not convinced by his best-known positive theory of mind (functionalism), by his dirigist politics, or by his sometime critique of metaphysical realism. (During his antirealist phase, Putnam thought that the only way we can avoid skepticism is to reject the view that truth is radically non-epistemic; but I suggest that Putnam’s own work lays the foundation for a different solution, namely, rejecting the view that belief and consciousness are radically non-alethic.) But as I’ve written elsewhere, “everyone working today in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or philosophy of science toils in the shadow of his revolutionary achievements.”

Addendum:

Here’s a nice piece by Martha Nussbaum about Putnam (CHT Dan Ust) – though I don’t agree with her claim that Aristotle made no contributions to philosophy of language or religion.


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