Tag Archives: Kant

The Truth about Fiction

Animals are realists. All the species except for us. There are a couple significant differences between the rest of the animals and us that are probably related to each other.

The first difference is that animals are born with the knowledge of how to make use of all their bodily functions and how to get along in the world whereas we are born with only a partial knowledge of our bodily functions and how to get along in the world. Animal instincts are transferred and stored in their genes. Sapiens’ knowledge is acquired through our senses, stored in the brain, and transferred by means of language. Animals are capable of learning varying amounts of information but could probably get along with nothing more than their instincts for most of their lives. Sapiens have instincts too, but not enough to survive on.

The second difference is that animals have only rudimentary languages, if at all, for conveying only real concepts, commands, and warnings whereas we have highly developed languages for conveying representations of internal and external realities, as well as fictions. Fictions include assertions that may or may not be true, that haven’t been proven yet, that we’d like to be true, that we wish were true, that we want to believe are true, that we want others to believe are true, that were once thought to be true, that we are willing to accept for the moment as true, or that are patently false.

Examples of fiction include stories, myths, religious dogma, beliefs, astrology, political propaganda, rights, duties, lies, traffic lights, metaphors, hyperboles, scientific conjectures and theories, histories, nationalities, communities, races, cultures, civilizations, money, corporations, gender roles, purpose, meaning, romance, and our world views. Examples of reality might be hungry, lion, waiting, and waterhole.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind”, written by Doctor (of Philosophy) Yuval Noah Harari. One of the interesting points he makes in his book is that animal species cannot aggregate and cooperate in groups composed of more than a few hundred individuals whereas Homo Sapiens can and in many cases do aggregate and cooperate in groups numbering millions or more. Harari attributes this capacity of Sapiens to get such massive numbers of individuals to live, work, and fight together to their ability to convey fictions with their languages. Our fictions unite us, keep us together, and direct us towards common goals far more so than our reality. If a lion enters our camp, it’s every man for himself. As we say, you don’t have to run faster than the lion. You just have to run faster than the guy in front of you. If you want to kill a mastodon, you don’t need more than a hundred or so men with spears to surround it and bring it down. If you wanted to launch a Christian Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims back in 1099, you’d need thousands of foot soldiers and 300 knights and if the Muslims wanted to take Jerusalem back, they’d need even more soldiers and horsemen, which they were able to muster easily. For the Christians, God was on their side, but for the Muslims their God was greater, or Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر).

Lest we conclude that civilizations would be a lot better off without their fictions, Harari goes on to point out that every social structure comprising more than a few hundred individuals would break down without the fictions that organize them. Many large groups enforce religious beliefs or official party lines, such that non-believers are subject to violence and/or death, for the groups to survive. If, however, enough members of a group stop believing the organizing fictions, that group will cease to exist, as will any benefits accrued by members of the group.

Remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative? Kant’s criterion for whether an action was moral or not was derived by asking what would happen if everybody were to perform that action. If the answer were that society would survive or even thrive, then it would be considered a moral action. If, however, the answer was that society would break down, then it would be considered an immoral action. For example, is it moral to steal from a person? No, because if everybody were to steal from each other, then society would break down. Is it moral to give charity? Yes, because if everybody gave charity, society would survive or thrive. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If not, read the link above.

So the bottom line is I shouldn’t attempt to persuade people to give up their fictions. If I did, society would break down, people would stop working at their jobs, drive through red lights, crash into each other, babble meaninglessly, commit crimes, acts of violence, and suicide, starve, get sick, and die. As a matter of fact, I should probably keep my opinions to myself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Essays, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose

Credo Quia Absurdum Est

“Credo quia absurdum est” is a Latin phrase which means “I believe because it is absurd”. Not “in spite of the fact that it is absurd”. Because. It is a paraphrase of a statement from Tertullian’s work De Carne Christi (“The Flesh of Christ”), “… it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd”. Tertullian lived around 155 – 240 AD. This paraphrase has been espoused by Christians as a measure of the strength of one’s unquestioning belief.

Not to be outdone, Orthodox Jews also have their unquestioning beliefs: God created our world and everything in it including us in one week, five thousand seven hundred and seventy six years ago, and everything written in the five books of Moses (the Old Testament) is literally true. We are not to look for the logic or the reason for what is written, but to accept it all because God commanded us to do so, even if He tells us to sacrifice our son or daughter.

While thinking about Immanuel Kant – The Categorical Imperative, I came up with a proof that either God exists but we do not, or we exist but God does not. It goes like this:

  1. The laws of physics apply everywhere in the Universe, consistently throughout it. We may not understand all the laws but they are universally applicable.
  2. Everything in the Universe must obey the laws of physics. We obey the laws of physics.
  3. God doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics. Even if we defined a special case in the laws of physics that applied to God in a consistent manner, God would not have to obey it. God’s existence represents a lawlessness with respect to physics.
  4. Since the Universe cannot be both lawful and lawless with respect to physics, either we exist in this universe but God doesn’t or God exists in this universe but we don’t.

Now I don’t have anything against Muslims. I know of quite a few Muslims who are at least as good and wise as any Christian, Jew, atheist, or other person on this planet. No condescension intended here. That said, I’m certainly glad I’m not a Muslim. The sentence for apostasy, the rejection of one’s belief in God or conversion to another brand of belief, if one is a Muslim, is death in any country ruled by Sharia (Islamic law). See The Punishment for Apostasy from Islam if you have the stomach for it.

The Saudi poet, Ashraf Fayadh, is currently waiting for his death sentence to be carried out because someone accused him of blasphemy and apostasy, which Ashraf denies. See Outrage over Saudi death sentence for poet on blasphemy charges.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Uncategorized

Morality and Religion

There is absolutely no correlation between morality and religion. Don’t misunderstand: there are probably many moral people who happen to be religious too, just as there are probably many moral people who are not religious. The opposites and contrapositives are also true: there are probably many religious people who happen to be moral too, just as there are probably many religious people who are not moral. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be all that surprised when you encounter an atheist or agnostic who contributes money to worthy causes or hear about a minister caught with his hand in the till.

Morality is based on considerations of goodness. What is the greatest good? What is a lesser good? What is the greatest evil? What is a lesser evil? Religion is based on faith and obedience to the representatives or the tenants of that faith. There are subtle but important differences between the two.

Religion may have provided a kick-start for morality back in the old days. It probably went something like this:

“Thou shalt not kill!”

“Why should I listen to you?”

“Because I represent G-d Almighty and He’ll send you to Hell if you don’t do what He says!”

Then along came Immanuel Kant and wrote a philosophical treatise on Categorical Imperatives. Click http://aquileana.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/immanuel-kant-the-categorical-imperative/ for more information. Basically he said that the Ten Commandments, among others, make sense to abide by them, not because of the personal consequences of doing so, going to heaven or hell or getting some other reward or punishment, but because of the criterion of universality. The criterion may be applied to any action or inaction under consideration. Take an action A. Ask yourself hypothetically what would happen if everyone were to do A? Would world order thrive, at least survive, or would it break down? If world order would break down, then it’s not a good idea to do A. If world order would thrive, then A is a good action. If world order would continue to survive, then there’s no reason why you can’t do A. You may substitute “kill”, “lie”, or “commit adultery” for A and see what you get. Now let’s see what you get when you substitute “attack someone with the possibility of killing” or “defend yourself with the possibility of killing” for A. Yes, “attack” would lead to the break-down of world order, whereas “defend” would not.

Kant’s system of morality is not the only system that analyzes morality independently from religion. As a matter of fact Kant was preceded in this endeavor by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Thanks to Michael Dickel for pointing this out to me. Religion is counterproductive when it comes to analyzing moral dilemmas. Religions start out with a cosmology and a history to establish their credentials, power, and future. Morality is considered an attribute of their commandments but is not to be questioned. It is not for you to question the will of G-d. Who is man to understand His ways? G-d moves in mysterious ways. If you follow His commandments to the letter then you will be rewarded with life everlasting; if not, you’ll be condemned to burn forever in the fires of Hell along with the rest of the nonbelievers. The measure of a man’s faith is that he believes even if it is absurd to do so. To analyze why it makes sense for us as a group not to kill, not to tell lies, or not to commit adultery is not a legitimate activity within religion. Some religions, however, do encourage the analysis of modern actions or modalities in an attempt to correlate or trace them back to some original religious commandment.

So what are the sources of morality that do not necessarily originate from G-d or religion, sources that can teach us or at least stimulate us to learn what is right or wrong? The simple answer to that is everywhere and everything.

Philosophy trains us to analyze the logic and the consequences of our words and actions. Literature, poetry, music, and art train us to feel things we’ve never felt before, to sympathize, and to empathize with anyone and anything around us. That guy walking unsteadily towards your car window holding out a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a cigarette in another at his side who looks like he hasn’t eaten a decent meal in a month is a challenge and a test of our morality. So is that nice looking girl at the office. So is your dog who would give up his life for you in a heartbeat and doesn’t want you to go away. So are the cats who have no one to feed them and give them water. So are the animals we slaughter wholesale for our insatiable appetites, the trees we cut down, the plants we plow into extinction, the soil, the water, and the air we befoul.

Analysis leads to paralysis. Yes, we walk a tightrope between too little and too much. To mix another metaphor, awareness is the burden of our consciousness. Nobody else can hold that burden for us, not even if they say they can. If we analyze too little or too lightly we are at risk of doing or not doing something we’ll regret later. The consequences of our actions or words can never be retracted. Time’s arrow only flies forward. The consequences can only be buried under new consequences which hopefully might be less regrettable.

Religion says differently. It is predicated on the premise that regrettable consequences may be forgiven. I ask you this: what would happen if we substituted “forgiveness of our sins” for A?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays