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:

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.

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?