Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jazz Post I - New Rhumba

How about some jazz to enjoy the day?

No lyrics, just wonderful music.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Nihilism and the Buddha

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters. Thank you.

Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra); This work was created by Tevaprapas.
As I continue to study nihilism and its effects, I came across a book titled Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities. In my younger days, I was attracted to Buddhism, especially in its Zen varieties. Since my metanoia back to Christendom, and my journey from modern Catholicism to traditional Catholicism to Eastern Catholicism to Orthodoxy, I have kept Buddhism in a special place in my heart. However, I am ever distrustful of nihilism. This book forced me to come to terms with some latent prejudices.

As Nietzsche was formulating his works, he was introduced to East Asian thought (therefore Buddhism) by works by Arthur Schopenhauer. He made up his mind that Buddhism was a "passive nihilism," a nihilism that ends the search for meaning upon reaching the conclusion that past beliefs and traditions are meaningless and empty. This is in contrast with "active nihilism," where upon reaching the same conclusion, destroys the past and moves forward with a new belief system. The logical conclusion of active nihilism is "complete nihilism," where nihilism itself is rejected, and man can finally move forward with a deeper understanding. It was the active nihilist, Nietzsche claimed, who was the freest, for the passive nihilist never reach complete nihilism.

Nietzsche, philosophically, disapproved of Plato, and he passed off Christianity (among a many other reasons) as "Platonism for the people," where the Platonic Forms are the thoughts of God, and the Platonic true world is the Kingdom of God. He also claimed that Kant is the true beginning of the end of "truth," as Kant made the claim that the limitations on knowledge are to the material world. This signalled to Nietzsche the end of metaphysics.

Then enter Buddhistic thought. Like himself, he read that Buddhism progressed from "God is truth" to "all is false." Since all is false, one rejects all to achieve nirvana, or complete nothingness. With this nothingness, one empties himself of desire, which achieves honest happiness. This strive towards emptiness is not a struggle against sin; it is not a system of morals or believes. Instead, this strive is a struggle against suffering. This is not a metaphysical belief system, but instead a psychological and physiological one. Yet, since this strive of emptiness does not pass onto an understanding that even emptiness is meaningless, and one should move on with a new set of morals based on himself, Buddhism fails to be active, but instead passive, nihilism.

However, was Nietzsche correct in this analysis? Is nirvana truly a weakness? A systemic depression caused by understanding that our morals and desires are utterly meaningless, only to be overcome by achieving emptiness of life and desire?

In short, the answer is no.

Nirvana is not absolute nothingness, nor is it Buddhistic teaching that all is suffering. Rather, nirvana is culmination of the Eight-Fold Path. Nietzsche was correct in identifying desire with suffering, and that is the goal of achieving nirvana: an emptiness of desire. In Buddhistic eschatology, life is seen as a wheel. Life is born, dies, and is reborn anew. It is a seemingly endless cycle. Nirvana is a break from this cycle. Instead of being reborn, when one has become enlightened and emptied of desire, free from all karmic debts, then he passes into nirvana. What happens is something unintelligible, but the goal in Buddhism is not oblivion, but instead impermanence (not subject to destruction or change). Please see a true Buddhist for further information.

Nihilism is only possible in a post-Christian society. Buddhism started well before Christ's earthly ministry by 400-600 years and about 3000 miles where the Jews lived. The two philosophies (though Buddhism is more than a philosophy) are just not compatible. To accuse Buddhism of being nihilistic, even passively, is grossly misunderstanding what Buddhism is.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Protagoras by Plato

The dialogue opens with a friend of Socrates visiting with him, and Socrates explaining that states that he has just visited with Protagoras, a Sophist, who is in town. The dialogue tells the story of his visiting.
Socrates went to a gathering with Hippocrates, who wants to meet with Protagoras and pay him to teach him what virtue is. Protagoras states that he can teach virtue to Hippocrates, and what he teaches will make him a better citizen. This starts the question of the dialogue: is virtue teachable?
Socrates argues that virtue is not teachable: that any citizen of Athens can participate in the public decision making, instead of deferring to an expert. Also, if virtue were teachable, the sons and pupils of virtuous men would be virtuous themselves. Protagoras counters by retelling the legend that Prometheus taught practical wisdom to humans, and Zeus then taught them shame and justice. Therefore, it is understood that virtue can be taught. He then pointed to the system of punishment: punishment would be illogical if it were simply retributive, for that does not correct a past crime. Instead it is used to look forward, to teach the wrongdoer correct action. Also, it is more than just fathers who teach children virtue. It is all of society. Some are better at virtue than others, and some are better at showing the way to virtue than other.
Protagoras holds the idea that the five virtues (wisdom, courage, piety, justice, and temperance) are five differing components of virtue, as parts of the face are components of a face, whereas Socrates holds that all are indistinguishable and indivisible. Socrates then gets Protagoras to hold that all the virtues are indistinguishable, except he still holds that courage is different.
Protagoras states that not all courageous people are wise, but Socrates counters that people can be bold, but that is different from being courageous without wisdom. Socrates argues that being courageous involves being bold, but boldness can also occur with madness.
Socrates turns to pleasure and evil to make this argument. Pleasure cannot be evil. He admits that this is counter-intuitive, and that many people do seemingly bad things for the sake of pleasure, but this is only because their calculations of pleasure are off; they go for immediate lesser pleasures instead of working for greater future pleasures to get immediate gratification. He draws this comparison to courage and boldness: those who are bold without courage have a wrong calculation of danger, and those with courage have a well-ordered calculation. Wisdom knows the difference between what is dreadful and what is not, and ignorance of what is dreadful and what is not is cowardice. The opposite of cowardice is courage; therefore, courage is wisdom. With this, Protagoras agrees.
However, at the end of the dialogue, Socrates secedes to Protagoras that virtue is indeed teachable.

Continuing my series on Plato:
  1. Apology
  2. Crito
  3. Euthyphro
  4. Protagoras

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Euthyphro by Plato

Euthyphro defined piety as something that is loved by the gods, but has to further define piety as something loved by all the gods, because the gods often disagree amongst each other. This brings Socrates to ask: is it pious because it is loved by the gods, or is it loved by the gods because it is pious? Something cannot be liked by someone without reason, therefore piety should come before the action of the gods liking it, and therefore it is loved by the gods because it is pious. This weakens Euthyphro’s definition of piety here. It also turns the definition of piety into circular logic: the love of all the gods must only be an attribute of piety, and cannot be the definition itself. Euthyphro then defines piety as sacrifice and prayer, not out of economic exchange, but out of honor. That, however, brings us back to: it is pleasing to the gods, therefore it is pious.

Continuing my series on Plato:

  1. Apology
  2. Crito
  3. Euthyphro
  4. Protagoras

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Crito by Plato

Crito opens up with the titular character visiting Socrates in his prison cell awaiting execution just before dawn. Crito has implied to have bribed the guard and said that there was a ship in the harbour waiting to take Socrates to exile. Socrates declines, and Crito was upset. He stated that Socrates is betraying his followers, and that he is not any good to them dead. He can teach them more if he stays alive and escapes.

As 49 starts, Socrates begins his reply by connecting back to Apology stating that one must never do wrong. Even if the majority of the actions taken against you are immoral, one must still act morally. It would be immoral to commit an injustice on another, therefore no one can knowingly do wrong. He made an agreement with the state to be in prison and be executed, which he considers to be an immoral action and an injustice, but it is still his moral obligation to remain in his prison cell and not escape, and only leave if he persuades the state to let him go.

Socrates then goes on to say that the laws are what hold together the state, and without the laws, the state will fall into chaos. If one chooses to stay in Athens instead of move away when he becomes an adult, then he has chosen to submit himself to the laws of Athens. One must accept or reject all the laws and not pick and choose which ones to obey or disobey. Just as a son cannot destroy the father simply to preserve one’s self, a citizen should not try to destroy the state. To respect and honour the laws, Socrates doubles down that it would be better, and morally right, to persuade the state that executing him would be unjust than to flee.

Socrates chose to stay in Athens rather than move away, and thus has agreed to submit himself to the laws of Athens. Also, since he rejected exile in his trial in Apology when it was legal for him to have chosen exile, it would have been out of character for him and inconsistent to then escape and go into exile now that is illegal to choose that.

Continuing my series on Plato:

  1. Apology
  2. Crito
  3. Euthyphro
  4. Protagoras

Apology by Plato

Plato's Apology depicts the trial of Socrates, who has been charged with corrupting the youth of Athens and impiety: either bringing in new gods not worshipped in Athens, or straight up atheism. Please note, Apology means to defend one's position, not in the modern sense of apologising. Think of religious apologetics.
The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)
In responding to the charge that Socrates was corrupting the young, he turned the charge back at Meletus. Not only did Socrates deny the charge, he accuses Meletus of being frivolous over serious matters and, in short, wasting the Athenian’s time with this farce of a trial. He also states that it is illogical for someone to deliberately corrupt another person, because this keeps the corruptor vulnerable to the corrupted seeking revenge for being corrupted. He then states that it was not him that corrupted the youth of Athens, but the playwright Aristophanes who wrote a play lampooning himself who actually corrupted the youth.
Some points are more successful in demonstrating Socrate’s guiltlessness of this charge. Accusing the trial to be a red herring and a farce does not actually answer the charge. It may be pertinent information, but it does not respond to the truthfulness of the charge. The same for stating that it is illogical for someone to deliberately corrupt another person. The charge is not whether it is logical or not to deliberately corrupt another person, but whether he corrupted the youth or not. However, it is true to Socrate’s character to live logically, so that point is only useful when one knows this character trait of him. The point about Aristophanes is the most successful point to counter the charge. To show that he is not guilty of saying something, but rather it was the lampoon who said those things to make the audience laugh, makes it clear that he is not guilty. Think of SNL and Sarah Palin. She did not actually say that she can see Russia from her house, but yet is still accused of saying such.
Continuing my series on Plato:

  1. Apology
  2. Crito
  3. Euthyphro
  4. Protagoras

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Dialogues on Kant and the Death Penalty

We meet with two men, Lysander and Wendell, who are dialoguing together over Immanual Kant, and his view on the death penalty.
WENDELL:     Any conversation concerning Immanual Kant should state his two categorical imperatives: the first categorical imperative states that one should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law (Groundwork 30)”, and the second categorical imperative states that one should “act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end (Groundwork 36).
LYSANDER:    Seems simple enough at face value.  So much so, I am willing to grant those, and accept them without debate for the rest of the dialogue.
WENDELL:      Wonderful!  Then we should jump straight to our conversation of Kant and his views on the death penalty.  Kant holds and argues for the law of retribution: the punishment for a crime should fit the crime.  This follows directly from the first categorical imperative.  When you commit a crime, you will that the crime committed be a universal act, therefore, you will that the crime be committed against you as well.  When you burgle, you will to be burgled.  When you murder, you will to be murdered.  Therefore, if you have murdered, it is the duty of society to be sure that you are executed.  Note, the punishment of the crime should come from the courts and not the wronged individuals (Right to Punish).
LYSANDER:    Similar to eye for an eye?  To quote Exodus:
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow:  he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.  And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (King James Bible, Exodus21:22-25 [emphasis in original]).
WENDELL:      Kant would agree with this, but denying to do so because of obedience to God.  The law of retribution would be arrived to purely on human reason.
LYSANDER:    Is that not unsustainable?  After all, to repeat the quote commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”  If we followed that logic, would not the executioners also will to be killed?  If by following the first categorical imperative, killing another means you will to be killed yourself, that it would be natural law to kill others, and eventually be killed?  Does this not lead to a world without people?  Or at least the strongest left alone, to die alone as the last human being?  That is definitely not a world worth living in.
WENDELL:      No, definitely not.  That would also be a too simplistic view on role of punishment in society.  The role of executioner is done by the state, an impartial arbiter of law and enforcement.  If the executioner was done by vigilante justice, then, yes, I would agree with you.  But it is the duty of the state to ensure that laws are enforced, including with use of punishment for crimes.
LYSANDER:    I am not denying the role of the state in punishment; I am just saying that the death penalty is not logical obligation by using the first categorical imperative.  It is contradictory to say that a killer should be killed.  That would make the executioner someone who wills to be executed as well.  The state has other means to punish criminals.
                           Furthermore, not only is it logically inconsistent with the first categorical imperative, it is not logically consistent with the second categorical imperative either.  When a criminal is killed, the autonomy of that human being has been taken away.  Taking away the criminal’s ability to repent of his crimes makes him a means to an end, instead of an end himself.
WENDELL:      But then what is your alternative?  Setting a monetary punishment allows for those with the means to afford the fine allows them to avoid punishment, and traps the poor unable to make the payment.  This is insulting to the poor.  Does the criminal sell himself out for medical research in order to mitigate his sentence?  That would make a farce of the judicial system, and allow the criminals to buy their way to freedom without punishment.  Life in prison?  That would be a shameful existence.
LYSANDER:    No, a fine or giving himself for over for medical experimentation is not at all what I would suggest.  Life in prison, however, is exactly what I would suggest.  Shameful existence?  At least the criminal would have an existence.  What would be so wrong in having a criminal live in shame?  Especially since we have been discussing only the crime of murder.  The criminal killed another human.  I think shame would be the least of his problems.  Plus, it allows him to stay alive to feel shame.  Killing the criminal would remove his shame, but also his guilt of the crime, and his ability to make reparations.  With the way technology has progressed, a criminal can have a future behind bars, held away from the rest of law abiding citizens, and serve out his sentence without death.
WENDELL:      Life imprisonment sounds humane, but it is in fact is not a humane response at all.  Anyone who could be ashamed would prefer death to prison, while the lives of those who do not have dignity or shame are useless.  Punishment has to have a suffering component, or it is useless.  If a criminal is willing to undertake a punishment, then the punishment has no meaning.  Since the punishment must fit the crime under the law of retribution, the only punishment fitting for murder is execution.
LYSANDER:    Does this turn the criminal into a tool of the state?  If demanding the death of a murderer use the murderer as a means towards public surety?  That is a direct violation of the second categorical imperative.
                           This keeps ending up violating one or both of the categorical imperatives.  Killing those who kill reduces to having to kill executioners, since those who kill will for every one to kill, eventually to be killed themselves, this leads to an unsustainable society of executioners being executed.  That violates the first categorical imperative.  Demanding the death of a criminal turns him from someone as an end to a means to the expected end of public surety.  Also, by removing any future of repentance, you remove the criminal’s autonomy.  Those violate the second categorical imperative.  Under Kant’s own imperatives, the death penalty is logically inconsistent, and undesirable.

Holy Bible: King James Version. American Bible Society, 1975. [link to current online version]
Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the metaphysics of morals: with on a supposed right to lie because of philanthropic concerns. Hackett, 1996. [links to Project Gutenberg version]

Kant, Immanual. “Kant, ‘The Right to Punish.’.” PDF