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

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.


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?