Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Zone of Indiscernibility

Hi guys, Im writing this blog because I wanted to get other opinions on what we discussed a little bit in class today; Ranciere’s “Zone of Indiscernibility."

First of all, lets talk vocab. When something is "indiscernable," it is difficult or impossible to perceive. So when Ranciere mentions this "Zone of Indiscernibility," he is simply making a category of things that he feels cannot be completely perceived. A few examples we had on the board today include: children, comatose patients, people with mental disorders, and immigrants. Some of these examples have a more obvious reason to be placed in Ranciere's zone, such as refugees. They flee their home country for safety, so it is hard to determine what rights, if any, apply to them (their rights are difficult to perceive). Children also have a fair reason to be placed in this category, as they do not have enough knowledge nor experience to make decisions on their own, therefore making their rights hard to be perceived as well. If a child commits a murder, are they tried as an adult or as a child? These thin lines are exactly what causes Ranciere's Zone of Indiscernibility.

I would like to know how all of you feel about the more difficult examples, such as comatose patients and people with mental disorders. In the case of comatose patients, you might want to reference Agamben on page 4 of Ranciere's Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man. Take note what he says about "sacred life."
Also, if you can think of any other subjects that should be placed in the Zone of Indiscernibility, feel free to mention those as well.


Thanks guys!!
(250 words)

Humanitarian Invasion - An Abuse of Power?

Having read Ranciere’s “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” multiple times now, I find that fully comprehending the ideas and assertions of the essay is rather complex and confusing. Personally, I was completely hung up on the statement which Ranciere uses (albeit halfway through his essay) as the foundation for his arguments: “the Rights of Man are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights they have not” (5). What? I had hoped that class today would clarify this but it seems to have baffled the majority of us. Ranciere explains that according to Arendt, rights are “Either a void or a tautology” (5). However, he believes there is a third assumption which is ignored in Arendt’s arguments and that is what brings us to the previously stated and extremely complicated sentence. Essentially, what comes out of his musings are two things: first, that rights are written inscriptions for society, and second that they are the rights of those who use and verify the validity of their rights.

Since Andrea already posted a very thorough blog on the arguments of Ranciere, I’d like to focus on the conclusion that Ranciere draws from his new third assumption. He traces the progression of the Rights of Man from being the rights of those with certain civic rights to becoming Human Rights and eventually the new right to “humanitarian interference.” By his account, Rights of Man were essentially the “rights of the rightless” (1), which lead to the obligation of society to uphold those rights for them. In modern, western society, humanitarian aide is generally considered one of the highest goods a person or nation can do. However, Ranciere uses curiously negative language in his description of this phenomenon and I wonder what he may be implying when he describes the right to humanitarian interference as “the right to invasion” (1)?

Historically, many wars have occurred over what seems to be Human Rights. World War II is best remembered for victory over Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The War in Iraq is said to have began in order to free the Iraqis from their tyrannical leader. The Civil War is remembered best as the war in which the Yankees freed the slaves. However, is this really why the wars began or have we simply started using this new right to humanitarian interference as an excuse for personal gain? In my opinion, nations have abused this new right as both an excuse to conquer and a way to rally its subjects. It seems that as a nation, we only act when we are either provoked or it is to our advantage. Because of this, defending the rights of the rightless has become the byproduct of something much less noble – invasion.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rights of the Rightless?

Those who trudged through the long reading of Rancière on “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man”: Congratulations! In all seriousness, it was not an easy reading. Rancière takes a backwards approach to his essay by stating the conclusion first with, “And the Rights of Man turned out to be the rights of the rightless,” (297) and he slowly works forward with evidence from other philosophers.

What exactly is Rancière implying with the “rights of the rightless”? One of his stronger arguments was when he broke down his statement, “The Rights of Man are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not,” (Rancière , 303). Confused? He clarifies his idea by stating that the two forms of existence—written rights and the rights of those who make something of the written rights—are brought together by the subject of rights. Bringing his ideas back to Arendt, he agrees with the German philosopher that humans only obtain rights through a nation. People are rightless until they are identified in a group in which rights are established and protected by a state. Therefore, the Rights of Man (assuming man in his natural state, without establishment) are actually the rights of humans who don’t have rights. A little wordy, but it seems plausible. However, because people are rightless, does that make them not worthy of rights? I think the term “rights” is thrown around too often. Rancière makes a point to say only citizens have rights, not natural man. Since rights are established within a community, they could vary from group to group. So perhaps being “rightless” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like the saying “you never know what you have until it’s gone,” maybe natural man isn’t compelled to seek equal rights because it’s not something he was seeking. A right doesn’t become a right until someone takes it away from another; only then is it a privelage to be treated a certain way.

Rancière goes on to talk about politics and democracy. He states that unlike many perceive it to be, democracy is not the power of poor. Instead, it is the power of the people who are powerless. It’s supplementary in politics. While I believe this is true—that democracy serves to try to spread the power amongst the citizens—I was confused about his stance on qualification. He says, “Democracy is the power of those who have no specific qualification for ruling, except the fact of having no qualification,” (Rancière, 305). I agree that you do not have to be qualified to have power in a democracy, but does that mean that each person is not “qualified” to have power? What exactly is this qualification; what traits does a person need to be qualified to have power? I do agree with Rancière’s opinion that politics separate the community. Politics divide humans into parts, whether it is between nations, political parties, opinions on issues, etc. By forming a community of people with different ideals, it is inevitable to have some sort of separation between opinions and ideas.

A part that caught my attention was Rancière’s view about Wrong. First off, by writing “Wrong” with a capitalized “W,” Rancière implies that there is only one collective unit that consists of all “wrong.” He says that rethinking Wrong is the key to Human Rights in a humanitarian circumstance. He then uses Lyotard’s concept of Inhuman to justify his thoughts. Lyotard says what we call “inhuman” behavior is, in fact, part of human nature. Humans act inhumane when they are betrayed by another Inhuman; it is an uncontrollable part of human nature. However, by using this example, is Rancière implying that certain “Wrongs” should be dismissed because sometimes a human’s reaction is part of the unconscious? In that case, how would Wrongs be regulated? How can someone distinguish Right from Wrong? While Rancière pretty accurately covers most topics on the Rights of Man, some points could have been clarified one step further.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Blast to the Past? (Butler)

In Indefinite Detention, Butler uses the actions of the U.S government towards detainees as a platform to voice her concerns on “indefinite detention”. Here, it’s used to describe detainees held by the U.S who are denied even recognition and solid standards for convicting evidence and trials. She believes it doesn’t have a ground in law and is based on the judgment of a select few who determine the fate and lives of people. However, is it because that indefinite detention is based on people’s judgment that it is outside the sphere of law? Or is it the other way around? And is she implying that those who make heavily consequential decisions are dumb? Indefinite detention plays a constant role on detainees because in government policies because people’s definition of terrorism is limitless; people see terrorism in everything, and so their detention will never end. She shoots down the excuse that extreme measures are necessary in a state of emergency by pointing out that the definition of “state of emergency” is also indefinite, and that there is no set period for it. What I found interesting was the notion that indefinite detention “not only carries implications for when and where law will be suspended but for determining the limit and scope of legal jurisdiction itself”. (Butler 51). Is she saying that those who implement indefinite detention become the law or the sovereign?

Something that really confused me was the idea that getting rid of the traditional thought of sovereignty (as in how people got power through social status, etc.) would cause sovereignty to rise again as an “anachronism” (an error in chronology). My interpretation of this is that sovereignty could potentially rise again as something it wasn’t supposed to be, and so the new sovereignty would be a mistake. But does she mean an error in what was already past, and what counts as an error in time?

Butler beings up two forms of government power: sovereignty and governmentality. Governmentality cannot be reduced to law and “legitimizes the state” (as in it allows the state to do what it deems to those it governs). The state cannot exist without governmentality, and in order for governmentality to exist, the traditional sovereignty has to be dropped. So how do countries with sovereign-like governments survive today? And does she see a difference between the traditional sovereignty and the governmentality now? Because it’s the government now that is keeping the detainees from basic rights and living conditions that she believes everyone should have and that’s loosening the standards for evidence and trials. Could we be living in a monarchy right now without knowing it?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Run! The Stateless are coming!!


“Before this, what we must call a ‘human right’ today would have been thought of as a general characteristic of the human condition which no tyrant could take away” (Arendt 297). Aristotle thought of those people part of a political community as “political animals” (297). But what happens when the political is taken out of the term “political animal.” Those once considered “political animals” just become animals or what equivalent to a “savage” or stateless person who attains human rights by nature. Arendt presents a valid argument on the existence of human rights. It is hard to believe that a slave and a criminal in political society have more rights than an innocent refugee who abandons their nationality for their basic rights. Arendt brings about an interesting conclusion to the idea of the growth of a stateless people when she states “their ever-increasing numbers threaten our political life [and] our human artifice [similar to the way] wild elements of nature once threatened the existence of man-made cities and countrysides” (302).
If the stateless people one day grow to have a population almost as large as the amount in civil society, should civil society take those “just humans” back so that civilized society does not face any danger from the stateless community?
If yes, civilized society would be admitting the “savages” that were let go in the first place. It beats having a confrontation with the stateless society. Also, where do the stateless people go to live? They no longer have right to land or a nation to call home.
Would they live a life of travel like the gypsies who are constantly migrating or live somewhat like the Native Americans who have specific land granted to them by the government?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Questioning, of the Jewish Question

This literature was by no means easy to grasp upon first glance. I was reading over it, and my initial reaction was that it was anti-semitism preaching at its pinnacle. However after further prodding of the work i started to interpret it very differently. Marx was not alienating the Jewish people, (well he was actually) but he was using their history as an example in civil society. The jewish people have always been comprised of contradictory requests in the endeavors of their practice. Bauer pointed out that Jewish people wanted emancipation both religiously and politically, however they were emancipating themselves from everyone else, so where do we stand to emancipate ourselves from them and their practice? He looked at it as the jews wanting to have their cake and eat it to. He would clearly have been a man to think that these contradictions are what led to almost every major conflict/war in human history. However, in our postmodern society, this thinking is highly frowned upon and regarded as terribly unenlightened. Our chapter of modern civil society would look more to Marx's idealism in regards to religion as opposed to those of Bauer's.
Marx takes it beyond the scapegoating of the jewish people, and takes it to the question of religion and religious obligation in the state. He claims that the only way for a society to function at 100% efficiency is to be entirely devoid of religious affiliation, but not to outlaw it altogether, albeit families can follow the tenants of their respective religious disciplines in absolute privacy of the state. This allows for a secular society that can have religious following within it, but removed from guiding it behind closed doors. He uses north america as an example of this working at high efficiency where the culture of the society is entirely politically emancipated and religious practice is allowed in free expression, with regards to secularity from the state and office. So is it to say that society would be better off without religion entirely? or does the U.S. government have the end all be all solution to this question? In my belief as someone being raised religiously i do understand that religious strife causes much political tension across the globe, especially in the hotbed of turmoil that has been the middle east for ages now. However, i have been raised to believe in being righteous, and doing good things, and spreading the good word. Most religions are based around the concept of being a good person, and being a proud member of the community and country in which you belong to. So yes there is the pledging yourself to a god or higher power, but their is the utmost respect for civil law and legislation within civilized society. So maybe it should not come down to who is right about God, and whose God is the right one, but how we can live harmoniously together with our religions coinciding with one another. He goes as far as to say that in civil society we reduce every man we encounter to their means and nothing more, therefore we have grounds in which to judge them entirely upon our initial meeting of them. He continues this with a note that we too reduce ourselves to our means to know our place within the social construction of society and communicate effectively with these other civilized beings. Our status as command beings within the political community serves spiritually to our civil society as heaven does to earth. "Men living within civil society exist as an imaginary member of an imaginary sovereignty. We are removed from individual life and reality and given an unreal universality."(p.36) So do i agree with Marx? no, i feel that he is an idealist who seeks an impossible utopia through pragmatic ideals, but do i understand his reasoning behind his work and where his intentions are coming from? yes i do. Our society is so dependent on fiscal association and class affiliation that we are losing sight of our humanity by the day, and whether an answer to this issue will ever come about is beyond me, as i am merely a student attempting to interpret this very cryptic, critical way of putting the world we ve come to know. The "Jewish Question" and the question of religious emancipation from the entire world has yet to be answered in a clear and coherent fashion, maybe one day religion will evolve and adapt along with the society now that seems to be almost fashioning it as an archaic and dated idea.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Jewish Problem

Bruno Bauer introduces a commonly disputed topic in history – the Jewish Problem. The words “liberty, human rights, and emancipation” are often thrown around regarding the Jewish struggle(187). As I’m sure many of us have learned about numerous conflicts in history class pertaining to Jews these words were thrown around. In order to reach a completely unbiased conclusion on this matter I agree with Bauer in saying, we should refrain from using them in our research.

            The problem greatly deals with the criticism of Jews. They are subject to a lot of criticism. Are they deserving of it? Many would say, as we learned in high school world history, that they deserved to follow their religion without persecution or ridicule. This problem has become such a sensitive subject that and minute criticism of the Jewish man results in an “outcry”(187). Are some of these criticisms not legitimate? It is absolutely true that some of these criticisms have been brought upon themselves. In some aspects they may have excluded themselves from society rather than society out casting them. “The will of history is evolution new forms and progress change.(190)” It is quite evident that the Jewish man is opposed to anything that brings him from what he is. We can give them honor for suffering oppression that they brought upon themselves.  But this honor, and opposition against the system has excluded them. The problem Bruno provides for us is that thos who suffered from oppression did so because of their lack of ability to develop within history. Those who migrated to the Americas, or France did not keep their pure identity. Thus, they were successful in their flee from oppression.

            I feel almost uncomfortable talking about this topic because we are all brought up based upon the US Constitution, which grants freedom of religion, voice, etc. Indirectly, most of us choose not to voice and small for of question or ridicule of other’s religion. But Bruno’s argument on his first page is absolutely true. It seems that Jews can target criticisms of Christians without a “human rights” issue being raised while if the opposite happens all hell breaks loose. Right now I want to comment saying that what I am saying is in no way shape or form anti-Semitic, but just rereading my text it is absolutely neutral. For the first time I can confront this subject with which I always feel I am walking on eggshells. The reality of the “Jewish Problem is that both religions have been affected by the other, yet neither could over come the other(197). Christianity was created as a trail of Judaism, while Jewish critiques of Christianity would not have been made possible had it not been for Christian Scholarship. Thus the only way to liberate Jews from oppression is for there to be a free world; one which there is no longer prejudice; that prejudice for which the Jews themselves are responsible.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Discourse on the Origin on Inequality

Rousseau, a major critic of civilization shows that a major problem in modern man is inequality. The main concern of said inequality is civil, political, and social inequality clearly existent in society today. What does this inequality root from? Has inequality always existed? Rousseau answers this complex question by using conclusions about the past. He explains that through studying ourselves as human beings we become farther away from how we were as original human beings. But, we must have some notion or concept of the past to know the present. By this philosophy, Rousseau can make theories about the past; specifically the change in natural man, and the possible of inequality in natural man.
A major advancement in Rousseau’s Discourse on the origin of Inequality is the understanding of man in his natural state. Man was guided by one thing…impulses. He lived for, and just enough time (similar to animals) for self-preservation; specifically, food, sex, and rest. Because of these basic needs, man had one tool, his necessary robust senses. He had everything he needed to survive. Rousseau states, “In instinct alone, man had everything he needed in order to live in the state of nature; in a cultivated reason, he has only what he needs to live in society” (34). Without these, he would not be fit enough to advance in life and reproduce. According to Rousseau, natural man does not have reason (37). Reason is something we learned or acquired. Thus, the knowledge of man is through perception and experiences. Natural man was significantly stronger than modern man because of the sheer lack of reliance on technology associated with modern man. Original man was prepared for any task because all he needed were his own forces, not tools (20). Natural man according to Rousseau was harmless. He, unlike the competitive civil man, is “gentle.” Rousseau writes, “When placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man….he is restrained by natural pity from needlessly harming anyone himself, even if he has been harmed” (50).
In respect with the existence of inequality, it has not always existed. Descartes essentially blames inequality on the existence of society. Man in his natural state, was completely different from the modern man in many aspects. Modern man according to Descartes is flawed. We have gone through “revolutions” as became farther from natural freedoms of man. As men developed, and changed from natural original man, he began to depend on many more things; namely, other people. The change first started in mans acquisition of pride. When one man is stronger than another in any aspect, he develops pride. This is all a result of unequal association. Eventually mankind became settled. A direct result of this, are laws of justice. Without these laws, clearly man free from any higher power, and is the judge of himself. Thus, in this state man is more free. Eventually, the establishment of the artificial institution of family came (47). Family is like a small society. Unlike original man, modern man in this society is now dependent on other people, and tools and different technology. Thus, original man was more free in a sense that he did not rely on anything but the tools that he was born with. He did not concern himself with anything besides self preservation which he spent all of his time doing. The ultimate move toward perfection of an individual seems to be great. Although according to Rousseau, is it “the decay of the species” (50).
Man was clearly free in his natural state. On the contrary, modern man has far less freedoms, one constraint is law. According to Rousseau, with the rid of law and the state, man would return to a state of natural freedom. The ultimate and direct cause of inequality, which is the predominant problem with society, is society itself. Rousseau uses an example with a blacksmith and a farmer both, who do an equal amount of work, one rendered far better off than the other (53) Thus, Rousseau concludes that, “it is natural inequality imperceptibly manifests itself together with inequality occasioned by the socialization process” (53). Therefore all problems such as thefts, poverty, violence, is a result of socialization in the eyes of Rousseau. And the major flaw of modernity; inequality, is legitimized and secured, with the establishment of property and its laws associated as a direct result (71). The existence of inequality was nonexistent in original natural man.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Society: The Origin of Inequality

In Part two of Rousseau's Discourse on the origin of inequality, Rousseau gives evidence that inequality was started once societies were formed. He begins by giving the example of a man claiming land as his own, when in fact it does not belong to him. From this, he goes further back to find out when this idea of property came into being (44).
Eventually Rousseau gets to the point in history when man starts forming society. Men started settling together and forming nations, united by characteristic features rather than regulations and laws (49). Within these settlements, public esteem became a value. When this happened, "the one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit or the most eloquent" were the ones who were held up high in public esteem (49). This is where jealousy and competition can be rooted to. According to Rousseau, "this was the first step toward inequality and toward vice." (49).
This desire to be highly regarded by others became a danger to happiness and innocence. Many philosophers state that it was in man's nature to be cruel, but Rousseau argues the opposite. He says that once men began to value one another, each man wanted to be the best, and terrible things such as jealousy and revenge came into being. It is because of this that men became "bloodthirsty and cruel." (50). He also says that there is nothing as gentle as a man in his primitive state, when he lived for self preservation. When men lived with only self preservation, they did not interfere with or harm others. At this point he praises the words once said by Locke, "where there is no property, there is no injury."(50). Rousseau uses Locke's statement to strengthen his argument against those that say men are naturally cruel, and that civilization is needed in order to soften him.
All of these factors, mainly the creation of society, together form the basis for inequality among humans. The desire to be highly regarded by others causes jealousy which then leads to violence. If society had not been formed, there would not be any competition among men, and therefore there would be no cruelty because without society, everyone is equal.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back to Basics: Understanding Man in his Natural State

Is it possible for the modern man to ever truly know the human being as it was in its primitive state? This is precisely the question that Jean-Jacques Rousseau explores in his "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality".

In order to learn of the "specifics" of a subject, one must first have a thorough understanding of the "subject" in its most basic concepts. Here, we can see that this "specific" is the question of inequality, as it relates to the subject of the human being. And thus, it is the human being that we must fully understand before delving into anything relating directly to mankind's inequalities.

Much like Rene Descartes had begun from the "ground" and worked his way up in order to make his points, Rousseau also philosophizes in a similar way, as be wants to start at the very beginning of mankind. He sought to understand man, not in his current state, but instead, in his most primitive state - before reason, knowledge, science, and civilization fueled man's decline, as he believed it to have done.

Rousseau believes that the most we apply our knowledge and reason to understand the primitive, natural man, the further we travel from the truths we are seeking to find. We cannot use the modern, civilized tools (reason) that has been instilled in us over the ages to explore primitive man; to try and use modern ways of thinking to understand concepts from man's natural, uncivilized days of existence would be like trying to fix a metal nail into a wall by using a hammer made of soft clay - utterly useless, and the mere notion of it concludes a great falsity.

At this point, Descartes had come to mind once more, as he distinguished between objects and perceptions, realizing that we cannot use one (perception), to understand the other (object) because of their complete lack of relativity. Similar to this, Rousseau claims that we cannot thoroughly examine and understand man in his natural state through the use of our modern reasoning and science. We must instead examine solely the natural laws; those laws that "speak directly by the voice of nature" (13). Abiding only to the natural laws by which primal man existed, Rousseau identified what we thought to be the two most simple operations of the human soul" (14): primarily, well-being and our self-preservation, and secondly, our natural repugnance toward seeing other being, especially humans, suffer. With only these two aspects of the natural, primal human soul, Rousseau believes we had little to no inner conflict. Reason was the element, that once introduced, smothered the true, harmonious, natural laws of man.

A great irony in regards to Rousseau's claim that the use of reason is that which hinders us from understanding mankind's natural state, is that he uses exactly this kind of modern and civilized reasoning throughout his entire essay. It makes me wonder if the use of reason was, indeed, a primal, natural aspect of the human being; if it was never learned, but ingrained in us from the very beginning. Maybe Rousseau is using his reasoning in such an overt way that he does not even realize the naturalness of himself using it, even when trying to focus on subjects he claims that reason can't understand. How can one philosophize about subjects that they claim cannot be understood by reason, when philosophizing is, in itself, using reason to make conclusions - it is a complete paradox.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Inequalities of Man and Animal

Rousseau’s task in Part 1 is to answer the question: “what is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by the natural law?” He compares and contrasts man and beast. He explains the differences in the laws we live by, focusing on natural law. He defines the two different types of inequalities, natural and moral, and he illustrates the principle of pity to prove that man is not naturally evil. To him, the subject of the discourse is to explain why at certain moments right takes the place of violence, or the strong serve the weak (16-17). In order to do so, Rousseau ignores historical facts, is not speaking for a specific audience or time, but man in general.
He begins by defining natural inequality and moral inequality (16). Natural inequality is determined by nature and includes age, health, and the quality of mind. Moral inequality is determined by men; it includes wealth and power. A major difference between the two is that moral inequality is privileges enjoyed at the expense of others. Rousseau establishes the types of inequalities in order to distinguish between the two later as having different origins.
Next, Rousseau explains the main differences between men and animals. The first is the way they make decisions. Animals choose or reject by instinct; men decide by an act of freedom (25). The example he uses to illustrate this difference is that an animal will not go against its nature even if it could save its own life, while men live to excess and kill themselves in the process. Rousseau explains that for men, the freedom of choice can be more powerful than their instincts: “The will speaks when nature is silent” (25). The second difference is the idea of self-perfection. Animals do not change over time and do not acquire or lose any knowledge during their lives. Men, on the other hand, have to deal with growing old and losing the perfection that had been developed.
Finally, Rousseau attempts to disprove Hobbes’ theory that man is naturally evil because he does not know goodness. Rousseau does so by utilizing the principle of pity. Pity is the disposition given to man to curb his desires of selfishness. It is universal, useful, precedes reflection and is natural (36). Even animals show pity. Rousseau illustrates that pity is the reason for benevolence, friendship and commiseration (37). “Nature, in giving men tears, bears witness that she gave the human race the softest hearts” (37).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rousseau's Preface to Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Rousseau sees the question of the origin of inequality as both an interesting but delicate one. He states that in order to start our journey we must first take a look at the origins of man and how nature intended him to be because according to Rousseau the modern man is unrecognizable compared to the natural man thanks to society. Society forces knowledge and errors and experiences onto people which change them. Rousseau admits that finding the origins of man and his natural state is near impossible but states that ever since his origins, he has been progressing and “continually moving away from his primitive state”(11.) The more man progresses and the more knowledge he acquires, the further he gets from the most important and basic knowledge of all.
When man was first created, they were equal by nature as are any other animals in nature. Ever since that point; however man has undergone changes. These changes did not all come at once or “in the same manner to all individuals” (11.) These changes are what sparked the first inequalities in humans. Some experienced changes for the better and some for the worse, all at different paces and in different forms. Rousseau then goes on to modestly explain how he does not believe he deserves much credit for this discovery as he came upon it using simple reasoning and guesses. He also explains how these finding hardly answer the question he poses about inequality but rather are steps in the direction of truth.
Some rhetorical questions that Rousseau poses are “What would be necessary to achieve knowledge of natural man?” and “What are the means to carry out these experiments in the midst of society?”(12.) He admits that the task of answering these questions is not possible due to the ignorance of the nature of man and the countless contrasting views of writers and philosophers. One question that he does attempt to answer however concerns natural rights and laws. He goes on to dissect these two ideas and concludes that natural rights are an individualistic concept and vary depending on the person. Everyone has their own concept and definition of rights and their purpose and limitations. He also points out that natural law can only be considered law when it is obeyed by all and that man is both aware of it and submissive.
Rousseau concludes his preface by analyzing the nature of humans in general, disregarding inequalities and society. He concludes that all men are sentient beings, as are all animals of nature. This being true, we are obliged to show compassion for both animals and each other. Upon taking a close look at the nature of man, it is clear that human establishment is built upon a sturdy and lasting foundation of self-dependence and respect. Rousseau closes his final statement by insightfully pointing out that man should be thankful of “him”, presumably God, for their unshakable foundation and happiness.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Soul and the Body

In the “Passions of the Soul,” Descartes shows us the difference between the soul and the body. Everything created have both internal and external functions that form what we perceive it to be. The soul has an internal motion, whereas the body has an external motion. Descartes says men have a soul and a body, and together they form the perception we have of ourselves. Each function of the body or the soul has a cause--- a passion/ action that allows it to perform another function. Passion and action have the same meaning. Both terms have different names because they represent two different subjects, the soul and the body. Passion is used when referring to the soul, and action refers to the body.

Passions in the soul is a consequent of an action in the body. The reason we differentiate the body from the soul is so that we know what functions correspond to each one. Descartes believes that what one can perceive is attributed by the body while what one cannot perceive, reflects the soul. One cannot define the body without knowing what the soul is; like the idea of not being able to know what finite things are unless you know what infinite things are. A person thinks with the soul and its movement corresponds to the actions of the body. Therefore, a person cannot not move with the help of the soul or cannot think with the body; two oxymoron in Descartes point of view. Many people confuse this idea because they believe that the body no longer has motion due to its separation of the soul after death. The body no longer has motion because its organs, the cause of its movements, have decayed.

The organs cause the bodily motions while the soul functions are determined by our thoughts, thoughts that are defined as the wills and perceptions of the soul. Descartes defines the will as a desire of wanting something and making it possible, such as the will to walk which makes the actual walking possible. Perception just becomes ease for the will to become true. As learned in class, “will is more free, the more it is inclined to what is true” (Vaught).

Passion is the wanting something and going for it. Passions make the soul desire what it wants for its body. Therefore, one can decipher that an individual’s passion somehow foreshadows the person’s actions carried out through the body because both passion and action are in truth a reflection of the other. Descartes separates the body and the soul in order to define each one’s purpose and by separating the two, we understand that both the body and the soul go hand in hand to form the single individual that completes us all.

What is the primary function that one can say links the body and soul together as a whole?

Why does Descartes want to differentiate the soul from the body yet still continues to show how they both stand hand in hand in relationship to an individual?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"God Only Knows"

In the sections that have been selected, Descartes centers his focus on the nature of God and the relationship between God and Man. In a basic sense, in order to support any of his later theories about “knowing” and “knowledge”, Descartes must establish a new philosophical foundation. He begins by stripping down all knowledge that is through both the senses and through reason. He finds his basis in the fact that since he is capable of thinking, then he must exist, even if only while thinking. With this alone as a basis, Descartes’s arguments would be rather feeble because this explanation fails to address any of the physical perceptions that come through the senses. He addresses this by adding to his foundation a correlation between our existence and the existence of God.

Such a correlation merges from Descartes’s answering the basic question that arises when descartes is “reconstructing” philosophy. This question is why would Descartes want to cast doubt on the truths acquired through reason? The answer is simple: if God has given the senses to humans and the senses are capable of deceiving, then it is logical that reason, also of God, may be deceptive as well. Since reason comes of God, proving that truths acquired through reason are, in fact, true would lend to the notion that God must exist.

The definitive proof of God’s existence is provided by Descartes through his explanation of the infinite. Descartes acknowledges that there is objective reality in which ideas exist and that there is formal reality where physical objects exist that are perceived by our senses. The objective reality is omposed exclusively of ideas and is the true reality of any object which we may “perceive”. In a sense, Descartes’s objective reality hearkens back to the notion of the “eidos” of Platonic and Socratic philosophy. Also, he acknowledges that out of the things that comprise formal reality, there is a hierarchy associated with each being according to their level of interaction with objective reality. As Professor Vaught explained in class, a human has much greater importance than a turnip because the human has reason and the capacity to think (even if not all humans seem to feel the need to actually think).

If we are to accept that humans exist physically as a part of formal reality, then we must accept that humans are finite. However, we must also accept that in order for there to be a finite world, there must also exist a sense of the infinite to counter it. He explains that this concept of the infinite is not fully understood by finite beings, but nevertheless, must exist. In Descartes’s words, “we do not... positively understand them [infinite things] to be in every respect unlimited, but merely negatively admit that their limits, if they exist, cannot be discovered by us” (238). Since this concept of the infinite cannot come from a finite being, then it must be a result of an infinite being, thus necessitating the existence of God. In so proving the existence of God, Descartes proves not only that God exists, but that thoughts and ideas must be correct because they are exist in the objective reality of the mind where the physical senses cannot obscure truth.


Questions for thought:
If we, as beings of a finite world, cannot truly conceive of the concept of true infinity, then how can we possibly know that true infinity exists?
Is it possible that our concept of infinity is wrong?
What would this mean for Descartes’s theories on philosophy?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Truth through Extensions

In Descartes' scrupulous writings, he further goes onto explanation of his first meditation; of which he describes that he has solely devoted his life for “truth” and in doing so Descartes has rejected anything which may deceive us. In this case Descartes states that “our senses sometimes deceive us”(60). With this premises Descartes argues that if one can make a mistake in even the most “simplest matters” that we should reject all falsehood. By this notion Descartes also goes onto further explanation of dreams, and argues that one must be able to disregard dreams from reality because one can think in reality. Descartes states, “I think, therefore I am” (61) to support his claim that this was the most reliable method because this claim is not open for opposition and therefore flawless in a sense. Descartes supports this claim by using the mind as an example. Descartes argues that if one can pretend the world or the body did not exist at all, it would only make sense if one had existed in the first place to conjure up such ideas. Descartes clearly believes that one must have thought in order to exist, but he also believes perfection is derived from nature. The idea of perfection of the heavens and the earth all seemed to be interconnected by the very idea of nature, and therefore if these ideas were not true they were derived from nothing and as a result there is a “defect” in man.
In Descartes second meditation, Descartes moves aside any doubt for which may have defect and in doing so he can decipher what is certain from what is not. He disregards his senses because he believes they are false. Descartes argues that we must not question every detail, but focus on what is certain. As a result he questions the body and the soul, in some sense he uses the two terms as an extension of one. Descartes claims that he can describe the body but when describing the soul he could not. By this very notion he questions the nature of the body and try's to decipher what the body and the soul truly is. Descartes questions his own existence by describing the nature of the body but also includes the idea that he may in fact be dreaming and by this he must disregard the dream. He further goes onto explanation and states that our senses are easily deceptive and what we see through our senses may be an optical illusion.
All in all, Descartes is arguing that we must disregard our senses in order to find truth. Descartes clearly argues that our thoughts are substantial to understand our very existence; however the methods of discovery do not necessarily rely on our senses or our dreams but through the extensions of truth.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Inspection of the Mind Revealing the Truths

Descartes experiences several meditations throughout his life, where he questions and explores his knowledge. In his first meditation he adopts a different initiative. Descartes starts off by believing all that he thought was false to be true, and vice versa. Except through this he experiences many difficulties. He finally arrives at the conclusion that the things one sees clearly and distinctly are the truths of the world. Descartes is on a search to find someone more perfect than himself, someone with no flaws or defects. He explains that he found a lot of perfections in himself but along with these perfections also came defects. Is there someone in the world who is free of defects? Descartes cannot seem to find anyone presently living who is “perfect.” God is the only perfect being, and one must observe his perfections in order to become more like him.

In his second meditation Descartes explains that he cannot resolve his first meditation. He takes that path of saying that everything he sees is false, and that his senses reveal false answers to him as well. He has trouble finding something that is true and certain in the world, and comes to the conclusion the only thing that is true and certain in the world is the fact that nothing is certain. How does he know that there is nothing else in the world that is true and certain? Has he observed and studied everything, by arriving at this conclusion? This is where Descartes use of mathematics comes in. Mathematics has been used in the same manner for a long time and this has proven that there must be some certainty in this field. Descartes explains that thought exists and it cannot be separated from him. As long as he is thinking, he will remain alive. He tries to use his imagination and his dreams to figure out who he truly is but realizes that these do not reveal who, or what he truly is. Does a person’s imagination show what they are, or what other things are in their true form? Descartes comes to the conclusion that people perceive things through their mind. Through the inspection of the mind people come to know things. Depending on how concentrated people are reflects how good or bad the idea of things people have are. After inspection of the mind judgements come in. A person cannot form these perceptions or judgments without the human mind.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Descartes Searches for the Best Arguments (Descartes Philosophical Essays p.94,97-100,104,212-213)

After reading Descartes's Aim of the Meditations (pg 94), the Meditations on First Philosophy letter of dedication (pg 97-100), and Meditation One (pg 104 paragraph 1), I have concluded that Descartes wants to simply and leisurely prove the existance of God and the distinction between the soul and the body. But how?

As Descartes states in the Aim of the Meditations, he "could not prove that the soul is distinct from the body before proving the existence of God" (94). So with this, he decides to embark on a journey of proving these two things. He will use the Meditations to explain his findings and ideas. One principle that Descartes strives to teach in the Meditations is that, "it is necessary to form distinct ideas of the things of which we wish to judge - something ordinary people do not do" (94). With the goal of his Meditations now concrete, Descartes begins on his Meditations.

In Meditations on First Philosophy "Letter of Dedication," Descartes states that philosophy is the main aspect to help demonstrate God and the soul. According to him, non-believers need natural reason as proof before accepting God, for example the five senses. I feel this is a legitiment point. But how is it the case that Descartes believes God is known "better" than other living things, without physical proof of him, like our five senses, etc? With this, he urged to seek out the best argument for proof of God. He is well aware that the best argument will not be suited for everone, that it will be lengthy and will demand a mind free from prejudices, and especially a person who is withdrawn from their five senses.

On a new note, this entry left me with a unique question. In your opinion, why are athiests referred to as "dilettantes?" (99). To my knowledge, "dilettante" is an insulting term. For Descartes (who understands that his conclusions will not be suited for everyone) to call someone this, is very odd.

Lastly, in Meditation One (concerning those things that can be called into doubt), Descartes mentions that he has "freed his mind of all cares, secured for myself a period of leisurely tranquillity, and am withdrawing into solitude" (104). He believes that if you want to make anything about the sciences concrete, then you must rid yourself of all your prior and doubtful knowledge and begin again from the beginning. In paragraph one, it is clear that Descartes has begun to apply himself in the most extreme ways to prove the existence of God and the distinction between the soul and the body.

I think therefore I am?

By the use of pure logic, Descartes reaches some of the same conclusions that Plato had before him. In Meditation One, he first reaches the conclusion that the senses are sometimes deceitful, hence, not reliable sources of knowledge - this is not very different from Plato's idea that knowledge can only be attained through reason and not the senses. Descartes goes on, saying that the basis for all factual ideas need to be 'indubitable', or indisputable. Ideally, such indubitable facts are derived from mathematics, apparent laws of physics, and common sense. For example, no sane person can say that two plus two does not equal four. These indubitable facts are similar to Plato's forms. Neither of them exist in space nor time, and both signify the highest level of knowing.

It is also remarkable that they both reached these conclusions from different perspectives. Plato was concerned about how we knew that certain things like justice and equality existed, even though we never truly saw them. He deduced that we must have seen them as forms at some point before we were born. On the other hand, Descartes was concerned about how he could be certain about something. Essentially, his conclusion is that to be certain of something, one has to see whether it conforms with basic, indubitable facts. The examples he gives of these indubitable facts fit Plato's description of the Forms. The fact that both philosophers reached the same conclusion through different perspectives gives their ideas more credibility.

After introducing the concept of indubitable facts, he mentions that even mythical creatures hold some degree of reality because they consist of real parts. For instance, there is no such thing as a pegasus, but there are such things as horses and eagles. This is the part that intrigues me, because previously, he had mentioned that facts that are based on indubitable facts are truthful. According to this, it would seem that since the pegasus is based on real creatures, then it must be real. Is this the case, or could it be that the pegasus is not based on real creatures, and that the animals it is based on are deceptions of our senses?

What do you guys think?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Critical Thinking and Electronic Texts: Distraction

I am including below a link to a blog on the NYTimes with a debate, of sorts, between a number of literacy and technology experts on the topic of electronic reading. This is something that has fascinated me for a while, because I am something of a bibliophile. I think I am finally at the point where I could narrate what I take to be an interesting account of learning how to read. Obviously, by the latter I don't simply mean the interpretation of the words on the screen or on the page, but the active engagement with a text, which is really what reading is all about.

The debate on electronic versus paper reading would seem to be a simple, at first glance: do people have a more difficult or an easier time in reading from a screen? But in fact there are a number of related questions about the process of reading--the comprehension and "active engagement," as I put it above, with the text, which are affected by the difference in medium. In particular, these experts seem agreed that there is a tendency to distraction and a dramatically shortened attention span that attends reading from a screen. This is partially an effect of our experience of reading hypertext, on sites like the NY Times or Wikipedia or whatnot, which in knowledge is always produced in small, quickly consumable segments. But a novel or a book of philosophy requires something quite different.

Check it out:
http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/does-the-brain-like-e-books/

I would be curious to hear your opinions, particularly since probably most of you have grown up in this digital environment ...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Joseph Albo, Book of Principles (242-244, 249-250)

After reading Joseph Albo, Book of Principles (242-244, 249-250), Albo talks about the three types of law: divine, natural, and nomic. Divine law is the opinion of believers who’s choices are impacted by God’s will. Divine law’s main principals are the existence of God, reward and punishment, and Torah from heaven. Also, the purpose of divine law is to have happiness and immorality. Next, natural law is mainly to promote justice and societies safeness to the world. Natural law’s principal is that a human action can be judged as reasonable or unreasonable and the intentions are to keep men away from theft and robbery. Finally, nomic law improves human activity and is when wise men worship God, and God has no disclosure. Natural laws principals are choice and purpose and its intentions are to keep away the evil and to bring in the good.

In chapter nine some questions arose such as, Albo discusses nomic law and its principals and there are two laws within it, choice and purpose. Why wouldn’t somebody have complete choice of there own ability to do something if the purpose is to gain spiritual reward? While reading throughout the text there are many statements about the differences to nomic law and divine law. Why is it stated that divine law is superior to nomic law but also nomic law can be superior to divine law?

In chapter eight, the viewer reads that it is impossible to have perfect qualities and to be naturally perfect in everyway. This is stated which shows that the world is full of imperfections. Although if you look deeper into chapter eight, David believes that there is such thing as perfect and it is divine law. Why in the Book of Principals is divine law stated, as being a perfect law, could there be negative effects to that? Also, if missing one principal in the divine law then it cannot be completed because everything follows one after another. When reading the divine law it is difficult to understand, saying as within laws there should be separate reasoning’s and everything should not connect completely.

Overall Joseph Albo, Book of Principles expresses the different laws that humans dealt with and the different connections within them. Also the reader learns the specifics about nomic, natural, and divine law. Reading about the Book of Principals shows the different type of beliefs and their understandings towards various laws.

Stanley Fish on Philosophy and the Law


I think it would be fair to call Stanley Fish is a professor of "critical thinking". The below link connects to a blog that he writes for the New York Times. In this blog posting, he writes about a new book examining the practice of "academic abstention", which denotes the ways in which universities are exempt from oversight of the law.

Although Fish doesn't purport to take up Al-Farabi's concerns about philosophy in relation to religion or law, his account of the relation between academic institutions and judicial oversight bears a clear resemblance to it.

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/the-rise-and-fall-of-academic-abstinence/

What makes both philosophy and the academy "select", such that they are not/were not held to judgment by the law? Has that principle changed?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Believing, Numbers, and Wisdom(s)


Augustine and Evodius begin the second book as Evodius asks why God would decide to give humans free will. He believes that in not doing so, humans would not have the ability to sin. Furthermore all good comes from God, human beings are from Him, and the gift of free will is good. Humans can live justly and rightly if they choose and will. Free will was given to permit humans to live rightly. God punishes those who use their free will to do wrong, seeing that they could have used it for good instead.

Just like many of us wonder and question who God is, and whether or not He exists, Augustine and Evodius speak on the existence of God. Augustine shows the distinction between two verses found in the Scriptures. He points out that Jesus first asks his followers to believe in Him, “Unless you believe you will not understand.”(Isaiah 7:9), but later these words begin to change: “that they may know you, the true God.” If one believes, one should seek to know who God is. But it is necessary first to believe in Him.

The truth of numbers has nothing to do with the senses of our bodies. Senses are experienced by all but can be perceived differently. Nevertheless, numbers are constant and universal. The scriptures links wisdom to numbers in Ecclesiastes 7:25, “…that I might know and consider and seek after wisdom and number.”

Wisdom exists, and wise people can be found, but this question follows; does every person have their own wisdom? So that there are as many wisdoms as there are human minds and wise people. Or is wisdom a single thing although there exists many different highest goods?

Widsom, Free will, et al.

In book two of On Free Choice of the Will Augustine continues to discuss that although numbers in their mental form are unchangeable, all material objects have countless parts. Hence, no material is perfectly one. Our senses cannot perceive what is one, Augustine argues that the knowledge of one comes to us by an inner light of which the bodily senses know nothing about. This inner light is associated with God.

They then proceed to argue about wisdom. Evodius cleverly points out the relative measure each different human can give to the concept of wisdom. Augustine describes wisdom as the truth in which the highest good is discerned and acquired. The objective of men to be wise would thus be to seek a happy life. Happiness comes with wisdom and is not circumstantial. Wisdom is here the representation of the greatest eidos to attain in life by Augustine.

He reaches the point of free will to explain that even if the essence of wisdom is unique different people may focus on different parts of it. He uses the symbol of the sun and how its perception changes according to the individual facing it. Here each person is free to chose whichever perception suits themselves best.

It is important to note that in this writings he is implying that humans by nature are different. They can perceive the same thing with their own nature. He also implies that unchangeable truths are universal as they cannot be possessed by any individual, for example the idea of one. Wisdom is to be attained by one's own free will. The virtues are examples of these, prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. People are free to pursue them or not, if they do, we can say they are wise by their own accord. He even compares wisdom with number. Both having unique and unchangeable characteristics that can be grasped with reason.

The idea of perfection found in wisdom and number joins both of them to be truth in itself, they are equal to Augustine. Therefore, they must have a greater value than all other things, which are perishable. The concept of the eidos pertains to this part of his writing. If wisdom does evoke this but numbers do not is a result of poor reasoning by humans. He poses he idea of hierarchy and where does wisdom stand, whether it is inferior to us, at our level or superior.

His conclusion is that wisdom is superior to reason and understanding. Wisdom is truth and truth is what makes us happy. The goal would be to recognize truth as something superior to us, as it is universal and unchangeable and to rejoice in this. It is also this truth the consequence of positive freedom, that which directs our will towards God and away from sin. In addition, he points out that it is also the cause of equality among humans, as no one can be separated from it. This highest good that makes us happy and that is complete in itself and that we cannot unwillingly taken apart from are a basis for the existence of God for the two interlocutors; therefore, everything good comes from God.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Free Choice of Will - Book Two

In Book Two of Augustine’s Free Choice of the Will, Augustine argues with Evodius about what it means to understand. The passage started by the two of them talking about where the free choice of will came from. Evodius was saying that without free will we would never sin, so why would God give it to us? Antigone then explained that without wrong, there is no right. If we didn’t know what was the wrong thing to do, we would never know what the better choice was. The fear of punishment for doing what’s wrong is what makes us make good decisions. No one wants to deal with the consequences of making poor choices.

Augustine and Evodius then discuss religion, and how people know that God created anything, and furthermore how do we know that God even exists? Evodius then started to doubt his own faith, because he realized that very few things on this earth are really completely known. How do we know what it means to fully understand something?

Throughout this passage, Augustine puts things in lists of most important to least important. For example, he says that understanding is more important than what is alive, and what is alive is more important than what exists. This is because what is alive and exists we can still understand. Understanding goes with everything. This seems to link up to the class discussions about eidos. Eidos is like the understanding, and what is alive is what comes from the eidos.

Augustine and Evodius discuss the five senses and numbers. We know what our senses are, but we don’t necessarily know how they are used universally. For example, everyone eats and tastes food, but our senses react differently to it. This is why some people like certain foods and others don’t. On the other hand, numbers are universal. Numbers are one of the only things that does not change, and people do not have different opinions or reactions to the rules of mathematics.

The main message of Book Two is to think about what it means to understand something. For that matter, what is wisdom? Is wisdom what you get when you have an overall, flawless understanding of a concept? Is it ever even attainable?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

to evil or not to evil?

On the Free Choice of the Will—Saint Augustine

Evodius and Augustine set off to find the source of evil. Augustine initially makes the distinction between evildoing and evil suffering; for if someone commits a crime and is punished (specifically by God) and as an extension of this they suffer one cannot consider this kind of suffering or malice as evil—surely God isn’t capable of evil. This gravitates our understanding of evil to the elements that focus on the act itself rather than its reception. Before moving forward, Augustine reminds us that God is the source of all good and has created everything good (out of nothing), he himself is more excellent than what he created, and he was not aided in creating by any other being. This is to assert that God cannot be held accountable for evil and to eliminate any notion we may hold of evil as a force that equals God in power and might.

Evodius goes on to propose whether evil is something that is learned (considering we are created good). In order to determine that we must examine learning; knowledge is “given or awakened” through the process of learning. Furthermore, learning cannot be divorced from its product: understanding, the chief of human goods, according to Evodius… But he remains dissatisfied and wants to know the source of evildoing. But before knowing of evil’s cause we must understand what evil is. First, our judgment of what evil is should not rely on our own personal tolerance of it; in other words, we should move away from ascribing relativism to evil. Second, we must not look to the law as the last resort of authority over the nature of things. As Evodius stated, “it is not evil because the law forbids it; rather the law forbids it because it evil.” Political or social law therefore retains its efficiency in proportion to its faithfulness in divine or religious law. Something we have covered already concerning the unchanging, immutable, perfection of divine law from where political law encounters its point of departure.

Evodius brings up another interesting point when he states that good law can be enacted by someone who is not good himself. This ties into what Prof. Vaught mentioned in class today that our knowledge is divorced from our actions. We can know certain things but it does not assure that this knowledge will always permeate to or even guide our actions. Experience, according to Augustine, accounts for this realization. Sin, ultimately derives from our loving perishable things before God. Once the will, which is free to fix its attention on anything it chooses, directs this attention and love toward material things, sin is produced as a consequence. Reason, the faculty that allows accurate examination of truth and its possible acquisition can guide the will towards the highest, God.

Question: Intent vs. Action. Evodius mentions at one point that if it is just the killing of another human being, it should not be considered murder. This reminds me of the biological person vs. the developed personality covered earlier this semester. He goes on to exemplify that when a soldier kills an enemy or a judge condemns a criminal to death, then these deaths cannot be considered murder. In other words, within a state or society, acts that prompt the removal of citizenship could be punished by death; and killing is acceptable if ordained by the state.

Conclusion: Whether Socrates or Augustine, the first commandment nonetheless reigns true: love God your creator above all else.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Christianity and Philosophy: A Match Made in Heaven?

Augustine's writings, however hard to decipher, offer many insights into the relationship between Christianity and philosophy. At first, Augustine summarizes many of the arguments made by philosophers before him. He summarizes many ideas, such as those of Socrates, Numa Pompilius, and the Epicureans. He finds serious faults with all their ideals until he discusses the Platonists. What he discovered is that no other way of thinking comes closer to the Christian reality, than that of the Platonists, because Plato said that the wise man imitates, knows and loves this god, and is happy through participating in him. Every other way of thought used the senses of the body, which Augustine thinks confuses the mind. He says this because, while the body can sense the world around it, only the mind is intelligible, and can truly understand it. Therefore any form of thinking that worships nature, or does not give precedence to the mind, must be wrong. What makes Plato most appealing, is that his ethics/morals are centered on attaining happiness, and doing good as an end to itself, both of which are central Christian ideals.

Augustine then offers some of his own opinions on topics we have seen. He first discusses the resurrection, and the rights that women and infants (specifically the ones who died young or in the womb) will attain under God's eyes. He says that in the end, we will all be restored to the height of our physicality, even women and children. This was shocking to finally see a thinker who believes in women and children's rights, especially when referring to a Divine outcome. He also discusses the Roman Republic, and how unfitting a social structure it is to bring people to the level of happiness and understanding Christianity can bring. He claims to observe that leaders of the human world unworthily put themselves on the same plateau of God, and cities breed impiety, debauchery and sacrilege. He finally discusses women, and their standing in relation to men from the point in the book of Genesis to his present day. He says that many people misunderstand the story of woman's creation, in that they say she is to be mans helper. He claims that woman, outside of sexual reproduction, are to be mans equal. They are partners in marriage to help raise children, instill fidelity, and maintain the holy sacrament of matrimony.

Augustine, in relation to the previous texts, offers some fresh insight into the relationship between men and women, and society and social organization. Not only does he speak like a philosopher, he also combines older insights from Plato, while being critical of other philosophers. His understanding of the world, relative to the Christian life, is insightful and true to the beliefs he practices. He does not contradict himself once, and while he is wise, he remains modest. Yet the question remains on whether or not the Christian insight is the right, or ultimate, way to achieve "good" in life. Is there really only one path to eternal life, or happiness? To Augustine, is god just a word or thought synonymous with a purpose based on life, understanding and happiness? Or is god really a "being" we must understand or please so that he/she/it will graciously bestow its knowledge and secrets upon us? While Augustine argument is flawless in relation to Catholicism, what the work left me questioning is obviously whether Christianity has anything to do with achieving happiness for myself, and truly can help others achieve the ultimate good as well. I feel we must understand who/what god is, before we can discuss Augustine’s "how" to reach his/her/its level of being/thinking. In the end, Christianity and philosophy are not at odds, yet both seek the same end; knowledge and the ability to answer our who, what, how and why's. Augustine definitely makes a strong case for Christianity, but obviously still leaves the reader with questions.

Antigone did deserve death

Fact:
Divine Law > Civil/Political Law > Familial Law> burial

First, Antigone was a woman. According to the political and divine laws which her sentence was based on, she deserved her death. A woman was not supposed to go against the political law presented by Creon. Second, because she is a woman she is not even considered as a citizen according to political and divine law. Even though divine law is not clearly stated, Antigone is still not considered a citizen under divine law. A woman going against the political law is a strong offense during this time period in Greek society which is a reason for her to be killed. She over stepped her boundary as a woman in society. Third, because Antigone is headstrong, she does not see past her pride which clashes with Creon’s pride. Antigone owns up to her own consequence (death) when she states “you’ve caught me, you can kill me” –page 20, line 497. Even Antigone is aware about the consequence of her action. She accepts it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Antigone should not get the death penalty

Antigone should not have received the death penalty for a number of reasons. First, Antigone should not be punished for burying her brother Polyneices because Antigone followed family law. In this case, burying a family member immediately after death should be the precedent. Antigone, unlike her sister Ismene, believes that both her brothers should have equal rights even after they died. This includes the right to a proper burial.

Another reason that Antigone should not receive the death penalty was that it was a serious of unfortunate events that created the problem. For example the battle should have never occurred because it was time for Polyneices to become the ruler. Eteocles was unfair because he did not respect the family ruling procedures. If Eteocles had turned over the leadership to Polyneices there would never have been a battle in the first place. Since tradition was not followed properly Antigone is not to blame. In conclusion, Antigone should not be punished with the death penalty because she was following appropriate ritual procedures.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Plea for More Creative Titles

Somehow, a title which simply refers to the title of the dialogue that we are reading just does not titillate the potential reader. Or me, an actual reader. So I make this plea for more creative, specific, mysterious titles.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crito, Antigone

"One must not even do wrong when one is wronged, which most people regard as the natural course." Socrates a man full of knowledge he claims he does not know holds true to his beliefs. When one reads this quote in regards to the position he is in in the reading of Crito one naturally would find his claim to be truly ignorant. I personally feel that if I am wronged I may naturally want revenge on whom wronged me. If Socrates just accepts his death rather than escaping, does he suspect that people might learn from it? If so I feel that he is a fool for believing so. He claims the general public is ignorant and that their opinion does not even matter, but if he were to stay alive he can continue to try and change that, if he is dead he is useless. If he has already more or less proven that one cannot define what is Holy and what is not, should he not be able to defend him self against the definitions of what is "just" and "unjust"?
"integrity, institutions and laws, are the most precious possessions of mankind." Another statement by Socrates. But all of these things still need to be defined. And if they are defined, who defines them? and for what purpose do they serve? One mans opinion of integrity may differ from another mans opinion. So then who holds more integrity? I feel that Socrates almost gives up by accepting his support in laws, but never truly questions who made the laws. And what purpose do they truly serve if it is correlated with what is Holy and what is not Holy? I feel there were many more questions Socrates failed to ask that could have helped his cause, and instead he took the easy road by claiming "one must not do wrong when he is wronged." Socrates relies on his reason to make decisions. The truth for anything or the answerer to anything for him is discovered through reason. So my last questions for the reading of Crito is what is the relation between reason and truth? Is reason our only way of discovering what is true?

At the beginning of the play Antigone and Ismene talk about how bad the Gods have been to their family. "You and I are left to pay the final penalty to Zeus for Oedipus." Right from the start one learns that the family has a lot of problems, to say the least. If you look at the family tree that is in the first couple pages of the play you get an understanding of who is who and what the discussions are about early on. Ismene and Antigone discuss how Creon supports the proper burial of one of the brothers and not the other. "Give him to the vultures, unwept, unburied..." The two brothers Eteocles and Polyneices killed each other in battle. The big argument between the two sisters is about if they betray Creon will they fall into sadness as the rest of their family? And if they avoid betraying Creon will they avoid a deadly fate unlike the rest of their family? Antigone argues that the laws of God are stronger than the laws of the land. So she insists she will give her brother a proper burial. The sisters eventually depart as Antigone follows her beliefs on her brothers proper burial while Ismene remains faithful to Creon mainly out of fear.

Crito

This section begins in the jail cell of Socrates, as he finds himself waiting execution. He is then visited by a friend, Crito, who tries to help Socrates escape prison and bring him somewhere safe. However, Socrates seems as though he has accepted his fate and is not looking to escape. In attempt to change his mind, Crito presents numerous reasons why he should leave with him. He believes that Socrates death would reflect poorly upon his friends because they did not try hard enough to deliver him aid. Also, he would be allowing the government to punish him when he has not truly done anything wrong. Socrates would also be leaving behind his sons and this is often devastating to a family. Much of this does not seem to bother Socrates. He answers saying that you should not worry about public opinion but know what is the right thing to do and what is the wisest decision. What the general population says or believes should not and does not affect someone at the deeper level. The real question that is presented is whether it would be just or not for him to escape. If it were to be the wrong thing for Socrates to escape, then he must face his inevitable death and accept his fate.
In the next part, Socrates brings in the voice of the Law of Athens. The Laws exist like a series circuit, if you break one, you have broken them all. When you live in Athens, you are choosing to live by a social norm and must therefore abide by the Laws that are set in place to create structure and order. One must follow the Laws otherwise they are doing the wrong thing morally. The Laws explain to Socrates why it would be wrong for him to escape and suggest persuading them into letting Socrates leave. Because Socrates is a long-standing member, he should be happy with the Laws that are in place seeing as that he has reeked the benefits of them his entire life. So, by escaping, he would be making himself an outcast because he wold be breaking the social contract that he has lived his life by. Not only will this bring misery upon him wherever he may go for the rest of his days, but he will also not be viewed favorably by the God's, which was very important at the time. This is Socrates defense to Crito, as he convinces him that it is better to face his fate that the government as set in place.
My question is this: Why would escaping prison be a bad thing if what he is there for is not fair? If he is being unjustly punished and forced to death, would the Gods not take pity on his situation? Could the public not understand why he would attempt such a thing and not be judgmental towards him, but instead accept him?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Plato's Apology

Socrates is in a very tough situation throughout Plato's “Apology.” He is currently being charged with "corrupting the youth" and not recognizing the gods. And yet even though this section of Plato is called “The Apology,” it is by no means an actual apology. Socrates instead attempts to defend himself and his conduct instead of apologizing for it, even though that is exactly what he should be doing. Does Plato use this title to suggest how Socrates should have acted, or is he trying to show something about Socrates’ character through his use of irony?

Despite the fact that he is considered to be a poor speaker, Socrates pleads his case well. He provides a good argument with the judge, saying he will only speak the truth, since that is what he is accustomed to doing. Although he has little experience with the law, he uses his unique methods of preaching to try to convince the jury. People wonder how Socrates could persuade so many people with such a unique style of speech, but I think he does this by using the confidence that comes from recognizing his own ignorance. He accepts that he knows little of life but still desires to learn more. A lot of people would consider this lack of knowledge a form of weakness, but doesn’t it take a wise person to admit to ignorance? After all, there are plenty of people out there who pretend they are a lot more intelligent than they really are. This arrogance makes them less likely to learn at all.

People believe Socrates to be a very stubborn person as well. He would rather make a fool out of his accusers than actually be proven innocent. He sometimes cares more about image than what is really inside. This is proven when Socrates interrogates Meletus, and his primary concern is to embarrass Meletus rather than bring out the truth. Sometimes Socrates is so caught up in making others look bad and stubbornly refusing to do what they want that he gets himself caught up in an even bigger mess.

Ultimately, Socrates is found guilty and has to serve a punishment. However, Socrates offers to pay a fine, once again looking at things in a playful light when they are in reality a big deal. Naturally, the jury does not find his offer appropriate and sentences him to death. But doesn’t it seem likely that Socrates already knew they wouldn’t accept this offer? Maybe he did it on purpose to give himself the opportunity to say, in his typical manner, that he is not scared of death. He can then preach one last time when he says that no one really knows what afterlife is besides the gods, so how can one be scared of something he knows nothing about?

In the end, it is argued if Socrates was punished fairly or not. Yes, he was lawfully wrong in rebelling against the Greek beliefs, but wasn’t he in reality actually helping out the youth and educating them? People could argue that he actually showed them a deeper outlook on life and provided them with more insight through his rebellion.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plato: Apology

On trial for “corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in supernatural things of his own invention,”(48) Socrates must defend himself in front of the jury, and acquit himself of Meletus’ allegations. If his conversation with Euthyphro was any indication, one can easily see that Socrates’ “improvised thoughts in the first words that occur”(39) to him may not absolve him of his charges.

Socrates claims to have “not the slightest skill as a speaker.”(39) He is, however, able to dissect the words of others to form a staunch argument that casts doubt onto the validity of his litigant’s accusations. A perfect example can be seen in the cross examination between Socrates and Meletus. Socrates defends himself by reasoning that all of the jurymen, Councillors, members of the assembly, and whole population may influence the youth, but Socrates alone corrupts them.

My question is why didn’t Socrates focus more on further advancing his defense as opposed to making a mockery of his accusers? Instead of insulting Meletus by saying he is “tongue-tied”(49) and accusing Meletus of insufficiently dedicating his attention to the youth, why didn’t Socrates provide an explanation for his role in society?

There is almost a demeaning quality to the way Socrates dismantles the words of those he speaks to. He remains calm, presents one side of an argument, and then follows with the opposing side of the argument. He seems to have a unique method of learning through discussion. By constantly questioning that which is submitted to him, he unearths several different viewpoints in order to arrive at the truth. Socrates considers himself “sent to this city as a gift from God.”(57) He humbly acknowledges his ignorance, but he is aware that he possesses a gift.

Why then, is Socrates as composed as he would be on any other day? He doesn’t show the faintest sign of agitation, nor does he fear death. Even if he is acquitted, Socrates states that he would continue philosophizing. He is content with his life, and the role he has played in society. Wouldn’t he wish to continue living his life, at least in private so hat he may continue thinking and uncovering new truths? When Socrates speaks to the members of the jury he speaks of the tranquility he believes one finds in death. Could it be that Socrates is simply at a point where he is ready to die?

My final question pertains to whether Socrates is indeed guilty. He is charged with corrupting the youth, so the question would be whether or not Socrates’ teachings were contributing to the excellence of the youth. If his teachings were contributing to fulfilling the youth’s personalities and an overall goal of achieving excellence, then it would seem Socrates was unjustly put to death. However, since his teachings were going against what was accepted at the time, was he in fact corrupting society? Does it matter that Socrates’ teachings were understood at a later time, or should he be judged based on what was accepted under he conditions in which he lived?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Plato The Last Days of Socrates: Euthyphro pgs.1-30

"Socrates: Then you’ve not answered my question, Euthyphro. I wasn’t asking what turns out to be equally holy and unholy- whatever is divinely approved is also divinely disapproved, apparently. Consequently, my dear Euthyphro, it would be no surprise if, in trying to punish your father as you do now, you did something approved by Zeus and offensive to Kronos...." (Tarrant & Tredennick 17-18)

Socrates and Euthyphro converse on the following question: What makes something holy or unholy? As Socrates asks Euthyphro several questions, his opinion about his views on what is holy or unholy keep changing. One of the conclusions drawn was that the things that are considered holy are things that are approved by the Gods. However, things disapproved by the gods are unholy. In a way this argument can be legit, but in Euthyphro’s situation, it cannot be proven. According to the quote above, the fact that Euthyphro is prosecuting his own father is unholy to society. However, some gods may view this as just, while other gods may view his actions unholy. Therefore, I don’t see how something can be considered holy when even the gods disagree on the situation. There are certain benefits that gods have that humans don’t have. A god can do something unholy and say it’s holy.

The preceding information raises the following question: If the gods have no part in deciding what is holy or unholy, then is it the people and the way they think? In the text, Socrates mentions the power of thinking and how some people may interpret something unholy while others interpret it as holy. Going back to Euthyphro’s situation, it is considered holy and just to prosecute someone who did wrong, especially for killing someone. However, the fact that the person he is prosecuting is his father makes all the difference. Why is it that this is unholy? His father killed someone and therefore justice should be served. Perhaps decisions by the gods do not influence what is holy, instead it is the people and the way they accept things. The fact that the people feel that Euthyphro prosecuting his father is wrong derived from somewhere. People view this as wrong because they were told it was wrong for many years. It’s like being taught when you’re a little kid about how not to steal because it’s wrong, but who says it is? People like Socrates who tests these things are seen as people who disrupt society because things are being challenged. It causes chaos to society and things are no longer because they are, instead there needs to be evidence to back it up.

This leads me to my last and final thought: What determines what is holy or unholy and what are the premises behind the conclusion?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

United Nations’ “Declaration of Human Rights” (1948)

My blog posting will address two separate issues: first, the status of human rights in the first sentence of the Preamble (71); and second, the qualification of entitlement in the first part of the Article 2 (72).

I find this first sentence of the Preamble perplexing. The emphasis in this first sentence is on “recognition,” since everything hangs on it. This recognition is the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (71). But is there a difference between the recognition of the “inherent dignity” of the human person and that “dignity” itself? What constitutes “recognition” of that dignity? I would surmise that it means the legal and political recognition, i.e. by legal, political institutions, and not the recognition of John Q. Public, private citizen. But if recognition is separate from that dignity, I question if there is such a dignity and what its basis is. Is the recognition of that dignity what constitutes that dignity? Such dignity is a lovely thing for two individuals to speak about on a summer afternoon, but that conversation means little in comparison to the legislative and judicial actions bearing on that dignity. The latter is what matters for the UN.

However, I think we can come to the following agreement: that this statement in the preamble could be construed as the conclusion in the argument the Declaration advances. In other words, even seemingly innocuous political documents like this Declaration make arguments and therefore require reconstruction. The question is, what are the premises affirming this conclusion. I’ll leave that to you all, or our classroom conversation.

The second issue I wanted to raise concerned the meaning of the phrase “or other status” at the end of the first sentence of Article 2. We might ask who is the “everyone” being granted in this sentence, but the answer to that question comes in what follows, by the characteristics of what it means to be a human—we’ll address this concretely in class on Friday. But when the authors write “or other status” that seems troublingly ambiguous. For example, does this other status include an individual’s judicial condition? A person guilty of a crime and imprisoned, or worse, on death row for a crime, both imprisonment and the eventual death sentence are infringements upon an individual's human rights. And let’s consider the cases in which this would be truly problematic, such as that of war crimes. Even if “other status” does not include war criminals, it would seem that they would be covered by “political distinction,” since all agents in wars are acting for political causes.

This turns me back to the first question. What is the status of these rights? Are they something that should be recognized, as a kind of ideal goal for the international community?