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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Also Sprach Skywalker

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

"And it is the great noontide, when man is in the middle of his course between animal and Superman, and celebrateth his advance to the evening as his highest hope: for it is the advance to a new morning.
At such time will the down-goer bless himself, that he should be an over-goer; and the sun of his knowledge will be at noontide.
'DEAD ARE ALL THE GODS: NOW DO WE DESIRE THE SUPERMAN TO LIVE.'—Let this be our final will at the great noontide!"1


In the 1970's, there was an increase in interest in Buddhism within the United States. The Jedi were in part based off Zen Buddhism and Taoism. They were also heavily influenced by Greek Stoicism. Yoda is an embodiment of the Stoic sage, and a Zen master, with his calm demeanour and physical detachment.

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,
With the Stoics, there is only virtue (in tune with nature through one's reason) is good, vice (contrary to nature) is bad, and all else is simply indifferent. Also, the Stoics lived ascetically, as in self-disciplined. All this is visible with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. He maintained his calm and peacefulness contrary to Luke's rashness. He lived in a mud-hut contrary to the Galaxy's technological dependence. While the Stoic sage is rare, the teaching is that all should strive to be reach the stage of Stoic sage. Yoda, being over 900 years old, has had the time to practice the asceticism required to attain the wisdom necessary to be a sage. The sage turns around and is benevolent, joyful, passive, and cautious. These sages provide hope for an aspiring world.
The Last Jedi takes place in 34 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin IV, how years (BBY/ABY) are numbered in the Galaxy Far Far Away), 30 years after Return of the Jedi, and came out 34 years after Return of the Jedi premiered in 1983. Since then, nihilism has gripped the American mindset. As opposed to the hopeful detachment of the 1970's, we have the "nothing matters, I do not care" of today.

Stoicism: Sits on the couch to contemplate virtue.
Apathy: No longer cares, merely sits on the couch
Nihilism: Why not? Sets the couch on fire. Our actions are meaningless, so it matters not whether I set the couch on fire. Might as well destroy it so we can move on.

The key to nihilism is the destruction of our meaningless existence, and to give rise to the Übermensch who will lead us to a world of our own building. In order to progress, we have to progress past man. However, within a nihilistic worldview, there is not anything past man. God is dead. We killed Him. So, to go beyond man, we have to build the Beyond Man, the Super Man, the Übermensch. On an individual level, you have to go beyond yourself. Destroy what holds you back and build anew.

Art reflects life. Nihilism is inherently tradition breaking, since to the nihilist traditions of a society do not matter. They must be destroyed and we can set up rules of living on our own. It is more than killing God, but also killing our families, and what is important to them. They do not matter. This is how The Last Jedi starts: the previous Jedi do not matter: all they did was create strife and nothing can be done to fix that, so Luke throws his lightsaber over his shoulder.

Nihilism is not just seen in Luke (who eventually destroys the traditions of his past by literally attempting to destroy the traditions of the past), but also in Kylo Ren. His constant repeating of "let the past die" would not be problematic, as he is the villain, if it was not also repeated by Luke in his own words. Rain Johnson took our expectations, and constantly subverted them. Why not? Our expectations do not matter either, we have to kill them off and move on. Actually, that is not necessarily a bad mindset to have, but if it is a constant barrage of this, then it no longer becomes good storytelling.

It took the mysticism of Star Wars, and subverted it. It took the hopefulness of A New Hope, removed it, and replaced nihilism in its place. Everyone killing the past (Luke, Yoda,2 Kylo Ren, Rain Johnson) to subvert it, burn it, and start anew. As long as the old is destroyed, we can move on. To move on with Star Wars, we need a new Force, a new way. Something. Something beyond the Jedi. We need the ÜberJedi. No longer tied to or informed by the traditions of the past, but fresh and new to progress, made by the new Jedi themselves. Just remember that the Dark Side will always be there. The Force will balance itself. Nothing you do will balance it. It does not matter.

At least Rey acts like a Star Wars character. She still seems to believe in the Jedi. Maybe with her, there will be some hope.

1. THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA by Friedrich Nietzsche 1.10 translated by Thomas Common
2. "But the books were not in the tree when Yoda burnt it down!" you say. While this is true, the tree itself still symbolised the ancient Jedi, and was part of a temple of the ancient Jedi.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Problems with Descartes - Part II

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

Previously, we discussed the two main assumptions of Descartes in his book Discourse on the Method:
  • that reason is equal among men
  • that philosophy is a science, and should be subject to the scientific method
In Chapter 5 of Socrates Meets Descartes by Peter Kreeft, we move from discussing the primary assumptions to discussing the agenda for why Descartes wrote his book.

Within the Discourse, we are still within Part One. We have to keep in mind what state Europe was currently in. Europe (mainly the Holy Roman Empire) was torn apart by the Thirty Year's War. This was a war between the Catholic states and Protestant states, and after awhile brought in other European powers (though there was a lot more to the war than religious differences. Keep in mind, the Catholic King of France joined the fight against the Catholic Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It was more to do with balance of powers and the stability of society than an actual war about religion). By the end of that war, it was the deadliest European war in history.

Descartes, while a professed Catholic, joined the war with the Dutch State Army, a mostly Protestant group. Throughout the war, he witnessed horrifying events. In the meantime, the Catholic Inquisition courts were suppressing heretical teachings (by Catholic standards), and he did not wish to see his works suppressed and himself silenced and put under house arrest (as did Galileo Galilei). To quote the Descartes of Socrates Meets Descartes, "I had no desire or calling to be a martyr like you." He had hoped that his application of the scientific method to the realm of philosophy (and also theology) would end the war that he had fought through.
Then, of those who, having enough reason or modesty to judge that they are less able to distinguish truth from falsity, than some others by whom they can be instructed, must rather content themselves with following the opinions of these others, than to seek better ones themselves. (Part 2, paragraph 3)1.
This was a direct contradiction of  "Common sense is the most even shared thing in the world."2 and "reason is naturally equal in all men."3 (Part 1, paragraph 1) Yet that is the point. Not wanting to die a "martyrs death" or to follow in the footsteps of Galileo, he through in statements like that to keep the Inquisition off of him, yet let his book be published to propagate his "revolutionary" philosophy.

His goal was to end the difference of opinion, and thus, the wars and death that were caused by them. This was rather commendable, understandable, and noble of him. However, by putting forth a new philosophy, by his assumption that Aristotle was incorrect in separating the different methods for different fields, by subverting philosophy as a type of science, was only one more opinion to add to the mix. While this rationalism was popular in the centuries to follow, it still never solved the problem of both 1) scepticism, the stated goal of this book, and 2) death by differing opinions, the implicit goal of this book. It is still a self-contradictory notion. He regards reason as equal among men, but then casts aside the wisdom of his philosophical forerunners. The rest of my issues with Descartes stem from this beginning differences.

1. "Puis, de ceux qui, ayant assez de raison, ou de modestie, pour juger qu'ils sont moins capables de distinguer le vrai d'avec le faux, que quelques autres par lesquels ils peuvent être instruits, doivent bien plutôt se contenter de suivre les opinions de ces autres, qu'en chercher eux-mêmes de meilleures."
2. "Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée."
3. "la raison est naturellement égale en tous les hommes"