Socrates from Consolations of Philosophy - by Alain deBotton (Part 1)
Introductory Note: This book does not claim to analyze all of Philosophical thought, rather it looks at just six philosophers from Socrates to Nietzsche.
Part 1 - Socrates
Basic Biographical Facts: He was born 469 BC and died in 399 BC. His father was a sculptor; his mother a mid-wife. He was married to a difficult wife and had three sons. When asked why he married such a difficult woman he would say “horse trainers need spirited animils to practice on”.
Perhaps because things were tense at home, Socrates use to spent much of the day in public spaces talking to people. People appreciated Socrates’ intelligence and sense of humor, but his looks put some people off. He was bald with a beard and had a very wide flat nose with large lips. His eyes looked swollen and were topped by bushy eyebrows. He had a habit of wearing the same well worn over cloak everyday.
He liked serious conversation and when he would approach a fellow citizens he would begin with small talk but would quickly move to serious subjects asking the person very penetrating questions about the other person views of some serious question(s).
Young people were attacted to Socrates and he liked them. Amoung his followers were Plato, a later philosopher, and Apostrophizes, who became a playwriter. Socrates wrote very little down; fortunetly his pupils, particularly the two just mentioned, wrote down a lot about what Socrates did and said. Their reports are not always consistent but a good picture of their mentor does emerge.
In 399 Socrates ignited a fire storm. He was working with some young men getting them to think more deeply about things they took for granted. Three parents took offense at what Soctraes was doing to their sons. They brought a charge against Socrates claiming among things that he had turned young men against their fathers. A trial was held with five hundred jurors impanelled. Socrates was convicted by a vote of 280 to 220. He was condemned to die. Though offered a chance to escape and live out his life in excile, Socrates felt himself a part of the community and therefore should accept its negative judgement. He voluntary drank hemlock and died with several of his young proteges with him.
Socrates was interested in discovering the true and he used deep thought, conversation with others, and questioning of others to get to germs of truth. This explains his habit of approaching others with questions about serious subjects.
Socrates believed people should question the accepted norms and values of society. He didn’t necessarily think such “norms and values” were wrong but felt no one should accept them without asking questions, without exploring their truthfulness independently. So Socrates was always questioning such things as the nature of the Gods, or what is the best legal system, or what is the proper form of government, or what components constitute the good life, why is it necessary for people to speak truthfully, etc.
Socrates felt each men should spend time thinking about and discussing such issues. So obviously the conversations triggered concern among those who had a vested interest in the status quo; thus his eventual trial.
It is interesting that Socrates felt that craftsmen who had demonstrated the ability to made something unique or special should not be questioned about the truth of their techniques. The proof of truth was seen in the products they produced.
So Socrates gave a seal of approval to truths that had been arrived at through physical processes involving trial and error. This might be equated to acceptance of the truths that science arrives at today through experimentation and analysis. So for us today, Socrates perhaps would say it is “ok” to question the existence of God but not to question the existence of the solar system or the truth of a car?
Interesting exchanges that Plato recounts that illustrate Socrates’ approach:
Meno (a rich young man visiting Athens) said to Socrates “a virtueous man is someone of great wealth who can afford good things”
Socrates asked “by good do you mean such things as health and wealth?”
Meno said “I include acquistion of both gold and silver and a high and honorable position”
Socrates said “Are these the only kind of good things you recognize?”
Meno said “Yes, I mean evertyhing of that sort”
Socrates said “ do you add the words ‘just and righteous’ to the word ‘acquistions’ or doesn’t it make any difference to you? Do you call it virtue all the same even if the goods are unjustly acquired?”
Meno said: “ Certainly not”
Socrates said “so it seems that justice or temperance or piety or some other virtue must attach to the acquisition (of the gold or silver or goods) ... in fact lack of gold or silver, if it results from a failure to acquire them in circumstances which would have made their acquistion unjust, is a virtue?”
Meno said “It looks like it”
Socrates said “Then to have such goods is no more a virtue than to lack them?”
Meno said “your conclusion seems inescapable.”
Notice each of Socrates’ statements ends with a question mark.
On another occassion Socrates had an exchage with a general about the definition of courage
General says “in order to be courageous a man must advance in battle and kill adversaries”
Socrates says “let’s consider that more carefully?”
General repeats “ a courageous man must be prepared stand in the ranks, face up to the enemy, and not run away.”
Socrates askes “at the battle of Plataea the Spartans faced the Persians, but the Spartans weren’t willing to fight so they broke ranks and retreated. The Persians seeing the Spartans break ranks ran in pursuit of the Spartans. Then the Spartans turned, ran into the running Persians, fighting with abandon like calvary men fight. Did the Spartans not demonstrate courage?”
General said “you’re right sometimes courage is displayed other than by just fighting in ranks perhaps it is measured by endurance”
Socrates then said “but don’t crazy people exhibit extreme forms of endurance. Are they really couageous?”
General sought a different virtue and Socrates made another observation. This back and forth continuing until it was decided courage involved: knowledge of the situation, an awareness of good and evil, and could be found in war but also in other situations.
Here is an analysis of Socrates’ method derived from looking at serval such exchages:
The six step method Socrates used to change thinking about cultural or governmental norms.
Step 1 - Locate a statement confidently described as common sense. Then ask challeging questions:
Acting courageously involves not retreating in battle?
Being virtuous requires money?
Step 2 - Search for situations where the foregoing might not be true? Ask:
Could one be courageous and yet retreat in battle?
Could a person be firm in battle and yet not be courageous?
Could one have money and yet not be virtuous?
Could one ever have no money and yet be virtuous?
Step 3 - If any exception is found then the definition (see #1) must be false or ar least imprecise.
Is it possible to be courageous and retreat?
Is it possible to stay firm in battle yet not be courages
Is it possible to have money and be a crook
Is it possible to be poor and virtuous.
Step 4 - Then the initial statement must be “given nuance” to take exceptions into account
Acting courageously can involve both retreat and advance in battle
People who have money can be described as virtuous only if they have acquired it in a virtuous way, and some people with no money can be virtuous because they have lived through difficult situations where it was impossible to be virtuous and make money.
Step 5 - If one subsequently finds exceptions to the statements, the process can be repeated. The truth, in so far as a human being is able to attain such things, lies in a statement which it seems impossible to disprove. Also it is by finding what something is not, that one comes closest to understanding what it is.
Step 6 - The product of thought is superior to the product of intuition.
.... (prepared by Hugh Murray on 8/12/19 )
Epicurus - from Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
Introductory Note: This book does not claim to analyze all of Philosophical thought for all time, rather it looks at just six philosophers from Socrates to Nietzsche
Basic Biographical Facts:
He was born 341 BC and died in 270 BC. His parents were from Athens but were living on the island of Samos when Epicurus was born. Epicurus lived his early life in the eastern Aegean where he was exposed to the thought of several philosophers particularly Plato and Democritus. For a time he ran schools in the western Aegean, at Mytilene and Lampsacus, but his approach raised eyebrows, so he decided to relocate.
In about 306 BC Epicurus moved to Athens were he was able to organize some financing from wealthy Athenians and found a school called The Garden.
His school taught both young men and young women the proper use of “natural things” in the pursuit pleasure and a happy life.
Because his school had both men and women living together and because his school was dedicated to seeking pleasure, the locals engaged in considerable prurient speculation about what might be transpiring at The Garden.
Epicurus never married. However he had good friends and kept them in his life.
About a year before he died, he developed urinary problems. Eventfully he died of stones in his urinary tract that had completely blocked his urinary tract.
Those who were with him remarked on how well he maintained his generally pleasant personality through this very painful illness.
Epicurus rejected the philosophy he had been exposed to in school, so he developed his own philosophy. It is said he wrote about 300 book and/or essays on philosophy. Most of these have been lost, but we know of them because others refer to them extensively. His work touched on most of the major areas of philosophy including: ethics, physics, epistemology, theology, and politics.
Epicurus believed in the Gods but he did not believe humans had an after life. He felt it was man’s challenge to make the most of this life. This led him to study intently the things which give man the maximum pleasure and happiness in this life.
Epicurus realized there where two kinds of pleasurable experiences: 1) those that provide long term, steady or daily pleasures (e.g. enjoying the steady beat of waves on a shoreline) and 2) those that provide a surge of pleasure followed by some let down (e.g. a night of drinking and feasting followed by a hangover the next day). He called the first static pleasures, the second moving pleasures.
He felt the Gods had organized the world and life completely using an infinite number of “atoms” that determined everything; however, he also held the “atoms” sometimes lose their alignment and these discontinuities provide humans with opportunities to exercise free will.
Epicurus was the first to define the paradox about God and evil. Epicurus said:. God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?
Epicurus was a hedonist. He taught that what is pleasurable is morally good and what is painful is morally evil. He defined "pleasure" as the absence of suffering and taught that all humans should seek to attain the state of ataraxia, meaning "untroubled-ness", a state in which the person is completely free from all pain or suffering
Epicurus also studied various people; some that were demonstrably happy and some that were unhappy. He noticed there was no correspondence between personal wealth and personal happiness. He refined this observation saying that everyone needs enough to avoid hunger and homelessness but once people have their basic needs met, further happiness comes mostly from having friends that truly care about you and that you in turn care about.
Epicurus felt that most unhappiness in life comes from worrying about death, worrying about what happens after death, worrying about whether certain behavior in this life assures better treatment in the next life, etc. Epicurus felt so much of life’s worries could be avoided by just accepting that life ends with our death. He was the first to develop the saying "I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care" which is used even today by those who don’t believe in an afterlife.
But Epicurus acknowledged that there were other distress producing situations in life that should be mitigated or avoided. These include: bad bosses, competition, infighting, and the company of patronizing people.
He urged people to situate themselves in life where they have the true necessities, have naturally beautiful things nearby to enjoy, have considerable freedom each day, have friends in their life, treat others honestly, regularly think deeply about life - writing down these thoughts and/or discussing them with friends, etc.
Epicurus’ Influence over Time -
After Epicurus’ death, his thought gained adherents in the Greco-Roman world as many thoughtful people had trouble with traditional beliefs
Then Christianity gained popularity in Greco-Roman areas. Christianity taught that man’s soul had an eternal existence and insisted that each man had a duty to love his fellow man, even other men one hardly know or don’t know at all. (e.g. volunteering and charitable giving).
The rise of Christianity pushed Epicurean thought aside. It also pushed other popular ways of thinking aside (e. g. Stoicism, polytheism, etc.).
One diehard admirer of Epicurus built an 80 meter long wall in Asia minor at Oinoanda around 150 AD. This man, Diogenes, was wealthy, and had all sorts of Epicurean thoughts inscribed into his stone creation. Here are a few items he selected for inclusion
Luxurious foods and drink .... in no way produce freedom from harm or a healthy condition in the flesh.
One must regard wealth, beyond what is natural, as of no more use than additional water is to a container that is already full.
Real value is generated not by theaters, baths, perfumes, and ointments ... but by natural science.
Send me a pot of cheese so I might have a feast whenever I like
This stoa has a total of 25,000 words of Epicurean thoughts inscribed. The wall was placed near the market in Oinoanda. It was located so shoppers could think about their purchases.
In the Middle ages (500AD to 1500 AD) a variety of views developed toward Epicurus.
By the early fifth century AD, Epicureanism was virtually extinct. St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD) declared, "its ashes are so cold that not a single spark can be struck from them." While the ideas of Plato and Aristotle could easily be adapted to suit a Christian world view, the ideas of Epicurus were not amenable. So Plato and Aristotle enjoyed a privileged place in Christian philosophy throughout the Middle Ages.
An artist’s rendering of Epicurus suffering in sixth circle of hell as Dante and his guide, Virgil, pass by.
Information about Epicurus's teachings was available, through Lucretius' On the Nature of Things. Quotations from it are found in some medieval Latin grammars and encyclopedias, but there is little evidence that these teachings were systematically studied or comprehended.
During the Middle Ages, Epicurus was remembered by the educated as a true philosopher, but he frequently appeared in popular culture as a gatekeeper to the Garden of Delights, as the "proprietor of the kitchen, the tavern, and the brothel." He appears in this guise in such works as Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Epicurus and his followers appeared in Dante’s Inferno where they are situated in the Sixth Circle of Hell. They are imprisoned in flaming coffins for having believed that the soul dies with the body
The Renaissance brought a resurgence of interest in Epicurus. Surprisingly a Catholic priest named Pierre Gassendi (1592 - 1655) was a leader of this movement. Of course, he was required to alter Epicurus’ teachings on free will and the afterlife in order to get his work passed by the Church’s censors. Fortunately his revisions were not noticed and Gassendi was able to promote Epicurus’ sensible views about how to live a happy, temperate life.
Once Gassendi had resuscitated Epicurus’ reputation many other thinkers began to find Epicurus’ formula for living “the good life” intriguing. The list of post Renaissance thinkers influenced by Epicurus include: John Dryden, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, and John Locke. Marx actually wrote his doctoral thesis comparing two philosophers: Epicurus and Democritus. Thomas Jefferson once said “I am an Epicurean”.
Since the advent of Christianity, the two Greek philosophers with the greatest following in the west have been Plato and Aristotle. This is because these two philosophers had views which were compatible with basic Christian beliefs. This allowed Christian thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, to use the thinking of Plato and Aristotle to round out and refine the basic framework left by Christ and the other Biblical authors (e.g. St. Peter, St Paul, etc.) The idea here was to use human reasoning and logic to extend man’s knowledge of the truth, in this case religious truth.
Of course, other Greek philosophers had a lot that was worthwhile to say. However it has only been in the last few centuries that their brilliance has had a chance to shine again.
Epicurus is one of those philosophers
...... (prepared by Hugh Murray on 7/21/2014)
.... .(prepared by Hugh Murray on 9/22/2014)...............
Michel de Montaigne -
from the book Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton ..... (this summary prepared by Hugh Murray)
Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592) was the classically educated grandson of a rich fish merchant who had been able to buy a title and an estate with a castle for the family. Montaigne attended a boarding school from age six where he was required to read and write in classical Latin. So his first language was Latin not French. At 33 Montaigne married. He and his wife, Françoise de la Cassaigne, had six daughters but only one survived infancy.
Shortly thereafter he was induced to serve in the provincial assembly where he met Etienne de la Boetie. They became fast friends and it is thought Etienne had a profound effect on Montaigne’s thinking. Unfortunately the friendship only lasted 4 years because Etienne died suddenly. Montaigne was profoundly affected. So when Montaigne was 39 he decided to retire from an active life and began to spend large amounts of time reading and writing in a remote corner of his castle. This became his refugee.
When Montaigne was 51 he decided to travel to Italy for treatments to ease kidney pain. He decided to extend his trip and traveled widely in norther Italy, Switzerland and Germany. During this long trip he took careful notes on how different groups lived, he noted differences in their heating systems, their food, their social customs, their clothes, their furniture, modes of conversation, etc.
During his life their was conflict in France and alarming news from abroad. The conflict at home was between Catholics and, their freshly separated brethren, the Protestants. Although Montaigne remained Catholic he saw relatives embraces the new religion. The alarming news from abroad came from the New World where Spanish soldiers were enslaving Indians and treating them as beasts of burden, not men.
As mentioned above, the castle Montaigne interested had an attached tower which became his library and study. He accumulated over 1000 books, and as he discovered passages that particularly impressed him, he would have those passages painted on the overhead beams that supported the second floor and roof. Although his castle was torn down and rebuilt, the tower where he worked was saved and can be visited today.
His essays began to question the accepted underpinnings of French culture and western civilization generally. There has been much expert discussion about how to classify Montaigne’s essays, some classify them as literary works, others feel they are more correctly considered philosophical in nature.
His Philosophy According to de Botton -
He Discusses “Off Limits” Subjects - Montaigne thought the essayists should not avoid prurient and/or sordid topics. Accordingly he wrote about intimate male - female relationships, human genitals, human excrement, and erectile dysfunction and how this subject should be broached during intimate conversations.
On Different Customs - Montaigne is the first philosopher that advocated for acceptance of cultural diversity. He felt the Spanish were wrong to classify the Indians as barbarians just because they believed in human sacrifice, shared their wives with others, and wore skimpy outfits. Montaigne agreed with the Dominican Friar Bartolomeo Las Casas who wrote scathing attacks against the Conquistadors for their treatment of the Indians in his A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies published in 1652. In like fashion, Montaigne felt the French should not feel superior to other Europeans who ate different foods or heated their homes with different systems (e.g. iron stoves vs open fireplaces) or whatever.
Accept that you can Learn from all People - Montaigne felt every person can learn a lot from every other person. He felt people make too many assumptions about the level of knowledge others possess. He felt with patience and a welcoming attitude any interpersonal encounter can yield an increase of knowledge for both parties. For Montaigne the acquisition of knowledge was an important activity.
Reading Good Authors is most Important - Montaigne felt it was important to read, but he had a strong preference for writers whose work had withstood the test of time. That is the reason why Montaigne’s library was heavily skewed toward classic Latin and Greek authors augmented by the likes of Dante, Plutarch, etc.
Learning does not Automatically Impart Wisdom - Montaigne felt a main goal of life was to acquire wisdom. His formula for becoming wise was: 1) to acquire knowledge from both books and by interacting with many different kinds of people both at home and, if possible, in other countries and 2) to think deeply about all the knowledge acquired in #1 above. However, in arriving at conclusions be practical and be somewhat deferential to existing custom which usually had some merit having survived over time; but in the end be faithful to the truths you discover.
Travel - Montaigne felt travel was important to the process of acquiring knowledge. People in other places have very good reasons for their unique practices and beliefs; but, you can only gain acquaintance with their “very good reasons” if you interact with these other people preferably in their home country, the place where they are most comfortable.
Patient Observations - Montaigne felt that the acquisition of knowledge from others can’t occur quickly. He argued for patience, for attention to details. When reading great writers he would note how different authors would stress different aspects of the same phenomenon or occurrence. He tried to see several sides of each situation.
Stanford University Categorizes Montaigne’s thought -
His Work - Montaigne’s approach to writing was unusual. He would return to his earlier essays adding additional thoughts, and he would put non-connected subjects next to each other in his volumes of essays. Consider these adjacent subjects from his first book of essays: Idleness, Liars, Prompt or Slow Speech, and Prognostications. Montaigne’s thoughts were so diverse they accommodate any social or academic fad. However, they are loaded with detail and resists any facile interpretation.
Montaigne is particularly noted for his unwillingness to assign a superior place to man over animals or western cavitation over “barbarians”. Nineteenth century intellectuals tried to pigeon hole Montaigne classifying his work as “frivolous subjectivity” or “literary impressionism”. Modern students of philosophy have a deeper appreciation of his work noting it displays both hard work and deep thought.
Montaigne freely quoted earlier philosophers and felt the work of philosophy was an additive process where one generations simply adds to their predecessors. However, Montaigne refused to be bound by earlier philosophers, he felt all knowledge whether from books or personal observation needed to be thought over carefully and accepted or rejected as needed.
He, unlike Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm, also felt religious thinking should be separated from philosophical thinking. So although he was a Catholic he did not feel the philosophical tools of logic should be applied to the knowledge gained from God’s revelation in the Bible to arrive at additional insight into God. (e.g. using logic to surmise the Trinity from the writings in the New Testament)
Regarding Judgement - Montaigne felt the true philosopher should shake off all attachment to doctrinaire principles. For him “all is subject to revision”. In looking at the discoveries of science. Montaigne wanted the findings of science to trigger questions, instead he noticed people were using scientific discoveries to rationalize and prove up their preconceptions.
Tower library where Montaigne did his reading, thinking, and writing.
Montaigne said by questioning we found both the weaknesses and strengths of our earlier notions. He found that a critical part of the process was to force his thoughts into writing. He became himself through his writing. His essays with their additions become a testimony to his attachment to writing as part of the thinking process. He wrote primarily to educate himself.
Regarding the formation of the youth - Montaigne felt most education is acquired from living life, not in the classroom. He felt children needed lots of play and activities to conform themselves to their companions and to learn the social customs of their society. Children should be taught to accept knowledge from multiple sources.
Montaigne himself could change his attitude easily so as to view situations through different mind sets. He would move from Stoic, to Sceptic, to Epicurean, to Christian. From these various points of view he produced literary and philosophical innovations. For instance he felt when we encounter a stranger from a strange culture, we should remember that our perceptions are limited by our own cultural limitations and make allowances for this.
More generally, he felt when gathering knowledge from life we should always keep in mind our own preconceptions and how those preconceptions might be influencing our take on the knowledge being acquired. The manner in which truth is acquired is as important as the truth itself.
Montaigne felt life is far more complex than it appears on the surface; far to complex to be mastered or understood easily. Accordingly he felt change should come slowly. In that sense he was a conservative.
Scepticism - In 1576 Montaigne had a skeptical crisis. His longest essay reflects his despair which fortunately he was able to shake off. However, it strengthened his deep scepticism toward the use of philosophy in analyzing religious matters. With religion he felt all depended of God’s revelation and on one’s personal faith.
Montaigne was influenced in his scepticism by two Romans. Sextus Empiricus (160 - 210 AD) who believed all man’s pretensions regarding reason were useless. For him concepts such as truth, being, and justice were beyond man’s reach. He gave man more than a sense of being humble; he made man feel humiliated.
The other ancient that influenced Montaigne on scepticism was Cicero who also questioned much that he encountered, but he emphasized the use of probability in deciding what was likely true and what was not. After 1570, Montaigne ceased his study of Sextius and proceeded using Cicero’s modified approach. From 1570 on Montaigne felt absolute truth might be unknowable, but we can still make progress by balancing or weighing opinions assigning weights to different viewpoints.
Coming out of this process Montaigne actually seemed upbeat. He felt he now was free to reject perceived wisdom and felt he had room for a wider exercise of his own faculties.
Relativism - Montaigne felt perfection was an impossibility because we are hostages of custom. He added that other things influence us as well, these include our scepticism, the strength of our imagination, our good luck or lack there of, etc. All these destroy our ability to comprehened truth.
He felt no universal reason presides over the birth of our beliefs. The notion that absolute truths exist twists our ability to reason and in time will wreak society. Custom should be given contingent control of our behavior. However, we should always reserve the right to depart from custom if its legitimacy is undermined by new knowledge, individual judgement, etc. Because of this thinking some scholars refer to Montaigne as the father of modern social science.
It is also true that Montaigne regretted deeply the fighting that broke out between Protestants and Catholics as religious customs were overthrown by millions. Montaigne realized people could go “to far” overturning custom, but he always held that man’s judgement would eventually restore order.
Regarding education, he said above all society should instill in the youth a resistence to vulgar opinion, as well as the positive virtues of independence of thought, clear-mindedness and good faith.
His Impact after his Death - After his death, Montaigne’s’ essays were assembled by Pierre Charron who added commentary. Charron got many of Montaigne’s ideas wrong, in some cases quite wrong. For instance, Charron felt Montaigne was in favor of adjusting his considered judgements if the adjusted result yielded a result “more favorable to society”. Montaigne’s teaching was more nuanced, conditional, and committed to truth.
In any event, whether because of Montaigne himself or because of Charron’s commentary, Montaigne work was place of the Catholic Church’s index of forbidden works. So Montaigne, a life long Catholic, had his work banned by his Church.
Many later philosophers discussed the legitimacy of custom. These included Hume, Pascal, Levi-Straus, etc. Their work was probably inspired by Montaigne.
Descartes was not a disciple of Montaigne, but he did adopt Montaigne’s approach to gathering and analyzing both book learning and personal observation. Descartes was able to thus overcome his attachment to custom. So these two Montaigne and Descartes are called the fathers of ethnocentrism, precursor to modern day cultural diversity. Both felt we had a lot to learn from so called savages and that we should question the customs of our own society. They departed company of the question of whether or not current custom should be initially accept as good. Montaigne felt until proved wanting current custom should be accepted as the best way to proceed. Descartes on the hand felt all customs should be put to the test before being accepted and continued.
Final Thoughts - Montaigne preserved his freedom by pursuing various paths of thought as they presented themselves to him. He avoided philosophic jargon, and he was every ready to expand upon an earlier thought or essay. He questioned the convictions and conventions of his time. He writes with clarity and confidence, but he clearly contradicts himself in many places. He shows he is willing to reconsider earlier conclusions. His goal was to judge well all that he considered.
................ (prepared by Hugh Murray on 7/17/2019)
-Arthur Schopenhauer -
from Alain de Botton’s book
Consolations of Philosophy -
as summarized and augmented
by Hugh Murray
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860) was born in Danzig, Germany (currently Gdansk, Poland). His father was a very successful merchant with relationships across western Europe and England. Arthur’s mother was personable, socialized easily; but her husband was an intelligent brooding person inclined toward depression. Arthur seems to have inherited both his father’s intelligence and tendency toward depression. Arthur had one younger sibling, a sister named Luise.
Arthur traveled widely with his family early in his life. He even spent one semester in an English school. He attended some business meetings with his father and his father wanted him to enter the business.
His father died in 1805. He probably committed suicide, but the issue could not be determined precisely. His body was found in a shipping canal near the family home. Beyond the business, his father left Arthur, his sister and his mother each a large amount of money. Arthur diversified his money into a wide array of bonds which generated a steady flow of interest payments. These allowed Arthur to live comfortably without having to work. (His mother and sister made the mistake of putting all their money in one bank, a bank which went bankrupt. They received only 30% of their money back.)
Arthur spent a few years honoring his father’s wish. Arthur attended trade schools designed to train young businessmen. However, Arthur was not satisfied. He decided on more education. He took several science classes in an initial effort to become a doctor, but that only lasted a couple of years before he refocused on the liberal arts. He studied history and philosophy; during this period he lost interest in Christianity and moved toward atheism.
Arthur’s mother was undaunted by her set backs. She continued to socialize and ended up involved with a younger man, a local civil servant; she wrote novels that proved very popular with her readers as well as her publisher Brockhaus Publishing. She worked on her son explaining to him that he had to curb his acerbic personality, if he wished to have success with women and lead a normal social life. Her criticism created a rife between them, and her son began to avoid his mother.
Arthur got a PhD in philosophy writing a thesis entitled The World as Will and Representation which contained some difficult ideas. He later turned it into a book. Because Brockhaus Publishing had high regard for his mother they published Arthur’s book. It sold only a few hundred copies. He tried teaching and his class attracted only five students. Of course, he had the audacity to schedule his lectures at the same time as the popular teacher, Hegel, who was also teaching philosophy at the University in Berlin.
Arthur quit teaching and traveled or moved regularly. Sometimes he was avoiding outbreaks of disease, sometimes local armies that might draft him into service. He finally settled in Frankfurt in 1833. He made that city his home for the rest of his life.
Later in life Schopenhauer began to take an interest in eastern religions mostly Buddhism, and he had a successful book Pererga and Paralipomena in 1851. This book contained several essays and aphorisms. It was much more approachable by the average reader than his earlier work.
However, this book caused some readers to investigate his earlier works and they sold many more copies. Arthur was asked to deliver lectures across Europe. He said of his sudden fame “Would anyone with a great mind ever have been able to attain his goal and create a permanent and perennial work, if he had taken as his guiding star the bobbing will-o-the-wisp of public opinion”.
However, Arthur’s mother was correct about his personality effecting his life. Although he was interested in marrying and having normal friendships, his constant criticism of others kept people at a distance. His intimate relationships were with women of low social status and were of short duration. He was even known to engage prostitutes.
Arthur passed away in 1860. He is buried in Frankfurt.
de Botton illustrates Schopenhauer’s Philosophy - through the mechanism of a story about a couple:
- Train Courtship Story - DeBotton devises a story of a man and woman meeting on a train. They are both serious people in serious jobs, but the chance meeting causes both to lose there reasonable composure as they begin to interact back and forth across the aisle.
So what does the philosopher say about people becoming a little irrational? The procreation of the race requires that humans select mates that promise not so much their own happiness but the perpetuation of the race. Here is “sufficient reason” requiring irrationality to accomplish an important goal.
- Greek olive courtship story - Here the couple goes out to dinner and behave in ways that they would normally avoid in order to impress their dinner mate. The example deBotton uses is a plate of un-pitted olives. They both love olives but they can’t think of a cultured way to deal with these olives so neither takes an olive. They talk about their favorite hobbies and wonder if they would like the other’s hobbies. They leave thinking about those hobbies and incidentally thinking that the other person doesn’t like olives.
So the philosopher here talks about the “will-to-live” and how attraction will or will not occur between people because of their irrational acceptance or rejection of the “other” based upon their sub-conscience determination of the ability for the couple to have healthy children. Oftentimes because of the irrational “will-to-live” urges they will falsely think they would like the other’s hobbies when a more rational analysis would arrive at an opposite conclusion.
- Frankfurt airport story - this story is a break up story where the girl intentionally arranges her travel itinerary in a way that forces her to break a date via long distant telephone and adds at the end of the conversation. “Maybe we should put things on hold for awhile, I call you when I’m ready to go forward.”
The philosopher would say the man feels consolation in rejection knowing many others are also rejected and such pain is normal. The man can say she had an irrational but probably accurate sense that we wouldn’t produce the best children. The man should not hold a grudge over the rejection.
- Jilted lover thinking in the park story - here the jilted man is sitting on bench in the park when a couple come along with a young son on a tricycle. They get settled on the grass. A few minutes later the son drives his tricycle into a thorn bush and screams. The couple then fight over whose turn it is the handle their son’s current crisis. The jilted lover shakes his head thinking perhaps I dodged a bullet when the girl ditched me.
The philosopher notes that much of life is reactive and predetermined. It is not rationally considered. He analogizes the non-rational side of human existence to the Australian ants acting by instinct digging trenches hour after hour trying to find food.
Summary, Schopenhauer said we all have to struggle to survive and find a mate. He relates this to the Adam and Eve story. Alain de Botton’s last sentence “We must between periods of digging in the dark, endeavor to transform our tears into knowledge.”
Stanford University’s thoughts on Schopenhauer
1) Schopenhauer ‘s Four Fold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason - Philosophers had come to accept that what is real is rational, a concept called the principle of sufficient reason; Schopenhauer questioned this proposition because it yielded strange but logical results in some cases. For instance, the world could not have been created at one time rather than another because there is no sufficient reason for one time to be better than another. More fundamentally there is no suffient reason for the universe to exist rather than not exist.
Rather than reject this whole construct, Schopenhauer decided to try to save the concept. So he set out a few limiting rules to shape this approach: 1) we must be clear that in each case where something is an object of analysis there must also be an identifiable subject that is doing the consideration whose competence and biases can be considered, 2) Schopenhauer felt that any object being analysis can not be thought to have arise by accident, all objects have to be considered necessary, 3) Schopenhauer said different objects have to investigated with different kinds of reasoning (e.g. Material things with “cause and effect” analysis, abstract concepts with logic, mathematical/geometrical constructions using numbers and spaces, and motivating forces with the study of intentions).
Schopenhauer added that in no event should analytical tools from one mode of analysis be applied to analysis in a different category. He also ruled out the use of cosmological and ontological arguments for the existence of God.
The forgoing is an brief overview of how Schopenhauer developed his four fold root of the principle of sufficient reason which came to replace Leibniz’s more limited principle of sufficient reason defined in 1714.
2) Schopenhauer’s critique of Kant - Although Schopenhauer was generally favorable to Kant’s work. Schopenhauer felt Kant was wrong to posit an existence of “a mind independent object that is beyond human experience and serves as the primary cause of our sensory experience” This Kantian creation, referred to as “the thing in itself” is too much like God to be acceptable to Schopenhauer and some others.
Schopenhauer felt the concept of causality could not be extended into areas beyond man’s senses. If man could not sense it and study its cause, it could not exist. Kant’s “thing in itself” was outside of man’s experience and therefore could not be. To analogize, Kant envisioned a line of dominoes being pushed over by the “thing-in-itself” from behind a screen, beyond our senses; but we apprehend the falling dominoes only as the come around the end of the screen. Schopenhauer felt the correct analogy of cause and effect should be a coin with two sides, one the cause the other the effect, where there is no real difference between the two. He also used the analogy of electric current and a spark. Here are two different manifestations of the same thing.
Schopenhauer felt Kant had gone overboard setting out 12 categories (e.g. unity, plurality, totality, reality, negation, limitation, substance, causality, reciprocity, possibility, actuality, and necessity) of human understanding. Schopenhauer simplified saying all you needed to think about was cause and along with it time and space. In other words, individual objects are dispersed through space and time, causally related to one another.
3) The world as will - Here Schopenhauer deals with the perennial philosophical reflection that if one looks deeply inside oneself, one will discover one’s own essence and the essence of the universe as well. In short stare at your navel long enough and you will understand all.
Schopenhauer sees “will” as instinctual. It is mindless, aimless, non-rational and is the foundation of our drives.
Schopenhauer also talks about viewing things both objectively and subjectively; consider our hand, we can view it as an integral part of us, but we can also view it as out there as having an existence apart from us.
This kind of thinking lead Schopenhauer to say the “will for us” is a unity whereas the world of representation is a world of objects, ideas, in much diversity. Because of this concept his book might have been called the Inner and Outer Nature of Reality.
This book was not widely read but some who did read it pointed out to Schopenhauer that his ideas were presaged in ancient, oriental religious writings like the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. This Stanford analysis also shows Schopenhauer is becoming more atheistic in his thought during this time.
Schopenhauer ideas posited a world dominated by the “will for us” concept his world was depressing. His was a world of constant striving, lawlessness, no respite in sight. Essentially meaningless. For Schopenhauer the world we experience is constituted by objectification of will that corresponds first to the general root of the principle of sufficient reason and second, more specific fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason. This generates initially a two tiered outlook (i.e. will for us equals our reality, vs objects in general which equal appearances).
The forgoing leads Schopenhauer to posit that life becomes for us a sort of dream, where we sort and prioritize various representations (i.e. objects, ideas, etc.) creating our own individuated world of the various representations we have been exposed to. Obviously this individualized world is not only a function of the things we have apprehended but also our individual reaction the “will for us” that has us on this meaningless struggle called life. The result is a war against all. His paradigm is the bulldog ant of Austrian which is so aggressive that when it is cut in half the two parts will begin warring with each other in a battle to the death. Schopenhauer sees a world that feasts on itself.
This analysis is the source of Schopenhauer’s renowned pessimism
4) Transcending the human condition of conflict -
a) Aesthetic perception as a Mode of transcendence - here Schopenhauer’s vision of the world as unrelenting violence forces him to seek tranquility. He feels man will find peace if he stops to focus on his here and now to spend more time thinking about universalist themes. To get outside oneself Schopenhauer recommends studying nature, setting aside the flaws in the individual scene viewed. If an apple tree grows next to an ugly building mentally erase the building from the scene focusing only on the tree. If a person’s face is lovely, except it has odd hairs popping out, erase the hairs. Just as an artist would do when painting a portrait.
By doing this we transform the individual object viewed into a universalized pure, timeless subject of knowledge. This process requires transcendent tranquil aesthetic perception, which Schopenhauer admits not all people possess. He notes most artists do possess this ability. The arts allow man to focus on the Platonic idea of the perfect archetype of something.
Schopenhauer singles out music as having a special ability to move men out of their individualized existence into a more universal sphere. He says bass notes analogize the inorganic world (e.g. mountains, rocks, air, etc.) the harmonies analogize the animal world, and the melodies the human world. Think he said of the bass notes producing subtle overtones that welcome the string instruments, perhaps in the way animal life emerged from inanimate nature, or the way human life emerges from animal life.
Schopenhauer went further and said the world can not be fully comprehended through the tools of science and mathematics but needs to be apprehended through music as well. Later thinkers such as Wagner and Nietzsche, who combined music and philosophy in their writings pushed Schopenhauer ideas further. Schopenhauer felt that music allowed man to conceive of the perfect archetype of such things as sadness or joy. This allows man to rise above the trials of his daily life.
However, Schopenhauer realized this approach did not yield for man a moral awareness.
b) Moral awareness as a mode of transcendence - Here Schopenhauer urges people to practice self denial as a way to break away from their individualized worlds so they can see the needs of others in the broader world. He admits to getting this insight from Christian ascetics, but he notes the same religious commandment exists in Indian (Hindu) spirituality. Along side asceticism Schopenhauer notes the need for one to treat others as kindly as one treats oneself.
Schopenhauer felt this was a morally sensitive way to rise above our individual existences and in caring for each other we are actually dealing with the sins of the whole world and in some sense participating in all the world’s pleasures and joys as well. Going further, Schopenhauer posits that when we do wrong to a fellow human we push ourselves into our individualistic selves, but when we do good for another we escape the driving force of our will. Schopenhauer also posits that the emphasis on scientific advancement, particularly social science, tends to push people into their individualistic selves because there is necessarily a separating of people into sub-groups to do the analysis. Schopenhauer felt it was important for each person to feel they were like every other person.
Schopenhauer ‘s moral consciousness does deliver us out of the “unquenchable thirst that is individuated human” behavior but it is more. It also generates a degree of wisdom and tranquility. However, in his essay “on the freedom of the will” Schopenhauer makes it clear every act is predetermined by prior causes or motives; so our acts, for good or ill, are mere manifestations of our “innate intelligible character”. This character is innate to us and is beyond our free will to alter or change. Schopenhauer took this idea from Kant and felt it is one Kant most important contribution to philosophy. Schopenhauer did believe that by acquiring more self knowledge our innate character will express itself fully and we can play our role with greater firmness and grace.
c) Asceticism and the denial of the will to live - Here Schopenhauer goes further and says man must reject his “will” and instead seek a life of “renunciation, resignation and willessness” with “composure and tranquillity”. Jesus and Francis of Assisi are prototypes for the most “enlightened lifestyle”. Schopenhauer admits this is not easy. We must pass through the “fires of hell and experience a dark night of the soul” as “our universal self combats our individuated and physical self, as pure knowledge struggles against our animalistic will”. His language is strong, but clearly defines the issue.
Schopenhauer then asserts that if people where successful in reversing their urge to do their own selfish will and began to behave ascetically and morally the world would return to the state of Adam and Eve before the fall. Paradise can be regained if we all act properly.
5) Schopenhauer’s later work - This section explores how Schopenhauer views evolved from 1818, when he wrote his PhD thesis, to his death. The Stanford commentators note that his views on the search for tranquility evolved and took on a lot of detail over the years. In 1818 he mentions “the ascetic’s mystical experience, but he regards the experience as ineffable” . It was only in his later work that his views takes on the nuance set out in the earlier section.
The other area where Schopenhauer ‘s views evolved in was with “will as the thing in itself”. In 1818 the concept is clear cut in his writing; all men are driven by their wills to struggle through life striving to survive or seeking “more and more” without relief. As Schopenhauer brings in his search for tranquility through the study of the arts or listening to music or practicing self denial or treating others as you treat yourself or modeling yourself on Francis of Assisi. Schopenhauer’s description of the nature of the human will has to be adjusted and adjusted. This process of adjustment is hampered by the fact that Schopenhauer does not accept the concept of free will or the existence of God. Schopenhauer eventually says “the thing in itself has other modes of being that are incomprehensible in ordinary terms, but they might be accessible to mystical consciousness”.
6) Critical Reflection - This section closes with this telling sentence from the Stanford scholars: “If will is only one of an untold number of the universe’s dimensions, there would be no reason to expect that the individuating effects of the principle of sufficient reason would generate a world that feasts on itself in the manner that Schopenhauer describes.”
7) Schopenhauer’s Influence - Schopenhauer is highly regarded for several reasons: 1) he acknowledges the importance of traditional moral values but without acknowledging God’s existence, 2) he dethrones science as the only standard for judging truth and insists that music and art have a place as well, 3) he incorporates and acknowledges the importance of religious principles of behavior (e.g. the golden rule, asceticism, etc.). He did this without accepting man’s free will or the existence of God.
He influenced a long list of later authors. A few who wrote in English follow: Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, Edgar Allen Poe, and W B Yeats; most were inspired by Schopenhauer’s sense of the world’s absurdity. Some emphasized his gloomy conclusions, others made fun in lighthearted or comic ways. Schopenhauer ‘s work lead directly to Nietzsche’s purely literalistic style of philosophy.
His ideas, which had spread through the 19th century, as scientific advance followed scientific advance led to a feeling that man was master of his fate. Then the 20th century dawned; and Schopenhauer ideas combined with the trauma of WWI and WWII to give people of the western world a sense of hopelessness, this in turn led to the popularity of the God centered, idealism of Hegel and the collectivism of Marx.
Selected Bibliography of Schopenhauer’s work
On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, 1813
On Vision and Colors , 1816
Theory of Colors (Theoria colorum), 1830.
The World as Will and Representation (alternatively translated in English as The World as Will and Idea; vol. 1 (1818/1819), revised & reissued vol. 2, (1844))
The Art of Being Right, 1831
On the Will in Nature, 1836
On the Freedom of the Will, 1839
On the Basis of Morality, 1840
The Two Basic Problems of Ethics: On the Freedom of the Will, On the Basis of Morality, 1841.
Parerga and Paralipomena (2 vols., 1851)
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- ................. (prepared by Hugh Murray on x/xx/2013)
Friedrich Nietzsche -
from de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy
- this summary prepared by Hugh Murray
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) was born in Saxony, Germany to a Lutheran minister, Carl Nietzsche, and his devout wife, Franzisky. They had two other children, Elizabeth and Ludwig. Carl died when Friedrich was four.
Friedrich always remembered his father fondly and decades later used the receipt of some unexpected funds to provide his father’s grave with an elaborate headstone. Friedrich’s brother, Ludwig, died during his childhood, but his sister survived well into the 20th century and actually met Hitler in 1935.
Friedrich received a first class education attending college at the Schulpforta near Naumburg followed by graduate studies at both the University of Bonn and the University of Liebzig . At age 24 he was appointed Chair of Philosophy at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
His interest in Philosophy stemmed from an accidental encounter with Schopenhauer’s first book World as Will and Representation . This happened when Nietzsche was about 19 while he was exploring the shelves of a library. Schopenhauer’s argument against religious belief had a profound effect on Nietzsche, and at age 20 he wrote his sister to tell her he was no longer a Christian.
While at Basel, Nietzsche wrote regularly but could never put together a book that had an organizing theme. His writings changed direction from chapter to chapter and even offered different literary styles in different places (e.g. aphorisms, invented personas, figures of speech, tropes, historical references, etc) which Nietzsche referred to as his “experimentalist mode” of writing; he said he wrote this way to force his readers to really concentrate.
Nietzsche continued to teach at Basel until his health began to fail in 1878, when he was just 35. For the next few years, Nietzsche increased his literary output. Eventually writing 16 books, two of which were published after his death by his sister, Elizabeth. During his lifetime his books generally sold only 200 to 300 copies.
Nietzsche’s social life was pretty slim. He experienced long periods of loneliness. He had a desire to marry; however his sever Constance and his inability to interact easily with young women of his social class, made that goal unattainable.
He did develop a longer term friendship with an older wealthy lady who invited him to vacation with her and other friends at her lovely villa overlooking the Bay of Naples. He loved his visit to Naples.
At age 44, Nietzsche was taken into custody in Turin hugging the neck of a horse that he was protecting from its owner who was attempting to discipline the animal. After his arrest he behaved erratically. He said that Bismark should be shot, that the pope should be jailed, Nietzsche also claimed he had placed Caiaphas in fetters, and he had himself been slowly crucified, etc. After some periods of observation at several mental institutions, doctors were uncertain about his diagnosis. In 1890 the authorities sent Nietzsche to live with his mother in Germany where his mental illness progressed; he had strokes in 1898 and 1899 and then died in 1900 at the age of 55. He is buried at Rocken a few kilometers southwest of Leipzig in Saxony.
De Botton’s thoughts on Nietzsche
(Note: Our author, Alain deBotton, like most readers of Nietzsche, was unable to latch onto a unifying thread or theme so he divides his large chapter on Nietzsche into 23 sub section that are basically stand alone commentaries strung together loosely with one Nietzschean idea, namely that success grows out of misery, appearing most frequently.)
1. Nietzsche felt is was a good thing to feel wretched. He felt that out of pain comes personal growth.
2. Nietzsche felt his work was the greatest gift to mankind.
3. Nietzsche was formidable to behold. He had a huge head of hair, a moustache that hung down over his lips, and deeply recessed intense eyes under a very prominent forehead.
4. Nietzsche became fascinated with philosophy reading Schopenhauer at age 19. He wrote at that time that he had accepted a personal life of renunciation and resignation. He also announced that sex is delusional.
5. In 1876, Nietzsche visited Naples living high above the Bay of Naples. This visit enlivened his spirits, and he moved beyond Schopenhauer. Now he felt alive and adjusted his attitudes.
6 Nietzsche wrote glowing letters to the hostess saying he had an enervating experience.
7. He started to study Montaigne, Stendhal, Goethe, Galiani all of whom were lovers of art and music and who possessed a more positive view of life.
8. Nevertheless, Nietzsche decided some misery is necessary for a fulfilled life. He began to teach that more misery will lead to greater eventual success in life and that a lack of misery will inhibit success.
9. Nietzsche strove to correct the false impression that great success can be had without pain, misery, and effort. He used the example of the dramatist Stendal whose early plays were mediocre and the artist Raphael whose early drawings lack the life-like qualities found in Michelangelo. Both men through long effort reached the highest ranks as artists.
10. Nietzsche liked the mountains. His favorite mountain location was Sils-Maria in Switzerland, which is located at a height of 1800 meters above sea level and on the line where northern air flows encounter Mediterranean air flows to create beautiful cloud formations and wonderful air to breath.
11. Nietzsche particularly liked walking the roads and paths around Sils-Maria noting the cows, the trees, etc. These he documented in his notebooks.
12. Nietzsche borrows Montaigne’s idea that we must “use our adversities to make a better life” .
13. Nietzsche notes again that great men often times rise from mediocrity to greatness by working on important details one after another. Nietzsche said attempts to improve all aspects of one’s life at once will usually fail.
14 Nietzsche liked to use horticultural terms to describe and explain. After he left the University of Basel he became an avid gardener . He said “we can convert our angers, drives, feelings of pity, etc. into something good” in the same way a gardener converts manure into beautiful plants (see page 3 below). We should not be embarrassed by our difficulties or failures, unless we fail to grow something beautiful from these difficulties.
15 Nietzsche noted the Greeks made a great civilization out of difficult situations.
16. Nietzsche was a non drinker. He felt alcohol and Christianity had weakened and softened European civilization . He even used the word “poisoned” to describe this process.
17.. Nietzsche hated John Stuart Mill (the English thinker) who felt the good or evil in an act is proportional to the pleasure or pain produced. Nietzsche felt people should accept pain and strive for greatness. He even said “build your house on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius” ( a volcano in Italy which had recently erupted)
18. Nietzsche loved his father, a Lutheran pastor, but he had strong words for Christianity. He said it was a force for corruption. He said reading the Bible was an indecent act, and he felt Pilate was the only New Testament character worth our respect. He noted it was “indecent to be a Christian”.
19. Nietzsche complaints against the New Testament go on and on. He objects to saying “the meek are blessed”, or advising people “to obey their masters”, or accepting poverty because the rich will have trouble getting into heaven. His main criticism of Christians was that, while they want fulfillment and success, they don’t fight hard enough to gain these things. They possess a religious “comfortableness” that drains life of its full potential.
20. Nietzsche felt Christian attitudes had invaded even non-Christian peoples who quietly accepted this Christian style of “comfortableness”.
21. Nietzsche, like Epicurus, wanted friends but had long periods of loneliness; he wanted marriage but had no ability to woe a young lady; he wanted the good life but mostly lacked enough money to live even a middle class lifestyle; he wanted good health but was sickly; he wanted fame but his books sold poorly, and he spent the last 11 years of life coping with mental illness.
22. Nietzsche kept promoting his ideas even though he never really had much success. He personally promoted his “will to power” idea even as he suffered for years.
23. Nietzsche would probably summarize his main thoughts by saying: “not all pleasure is good, not all pain is bad”.
Stanford University’s take on Nietzsche -
1) Critique of Religion & Morality - Nietzsche is probably best known for his critique of traditional morals. By the late 1800's intellectuals were demanding rational justifications for beliefs and behaviors that were commonly accepted because they were underpinned by religious beliefs.
Nietzsche went further announcing “god is dead” and proclaimed that Christianity no longer commands the ethical commitments it once did. He went on to say these prior moral commitments were positively harmful. He argues the most cherished aspects of our way of life must be ruthlessly investigated dismantled, and reconstituted in a healthier form. A societal sense of concern for others is for Nietzsche nothing but a dangerous historical innovation.
Nietzsche elaborates on how this innovation grew out of a noble class “morality” found in Greek and Roman society into a standard of behavior for all people. He goes further and notes these voluntary standards of good moral behavior have begun to mutate into the requirement that all be treated in a high “ moral” way. Formerly what was voluntary goodness is becoming compulsory goodness.
Nietzsche explores the disconnect in Christianity where sermons about hell and damnation are preached by the same preachers that urge love toward others. How can a religion simultaneously preach unloving vengefulness and a requirement to love the other in nearly the same breath.
Nietzsche investigates the historical connection between guilt and indebtedness. Deadbeats who didn’t pay their debts where made to feel that they were bad or guilty, so feelings of guilt grew out of indebtedness. Then Nietzsche gets into the psychological aspect of guilt feelings and how such feelings can cause mental illness. Nietzsche determines that feelings of guilt are basically very bad.
Nietzsche then explores asceticism and self denial. He says such behavior is a person’s outward expression of his/her own sense of worthlessness. It is a manifestation of a “purified guilt”. Again Nietzsche sees as false the Christian idea of sorrow for and doing penance for sins. He claims feeling of guilt drain people of their sense of self worth.
Nietzsche is equally forceful in his attack on feelings of compassion. He says altruistic behavior is bad because it promotes feelings of egoism or superiority over others. Nietzsche felt it was better to let others suffer because that suffering will promote their growth.
Stanford notes that Nietzsche addresses other moral ideas he dislikes (e.g. sin, otherworldly transcendence, free will, anti-sensualist moral outlooks, etc.), but the Stanford experts don’t elaborate.
2) Value Creation - Students of philosophy have searched Nietzsche ‘s writing expecting to find an alternative set of moral values but have found little.
2.1) Nietzsche’s Meta-ethical Stance and the Nature of Value Creation - Nietzsche felt values are created by the individual not discovered in the broader world. (Sanford’s experts remark: This is a very subjective approach to the evaluation of “values”, and it is hard to make it workable because our “values” are the things we use to interact with other people and the rest of the world. This necessarily requires much objectivity (i.e. thinking about the value sets others use today and those used in the past) in deciding what values to adopt going through life.)
2..2) Some Nietzschean Values -
Now some Nietzschean values need to be considered. Six factors are presented below.
2.2.1) Power and Life -
Nietzsche is most influenced by ideas of power. Everything that heightens a man’s sense of power is good, and the reverse is also true; anything born of weakness is bad.
What is happiness? Anything that gives the feeling that a man’s power if growing brings happiness.
The best goal is not contentedness but more power; not peace but war; not virtue but fitness.
After Nietzsche’s death this idea was summarized as “might makes right”. However, his supporters say Nietzsche is saved by his occasional assertion that internal self control and the development of cultural excellence were better than merely seeking domination over others.
Scholars later suggested Nietzsche really felt power is just a tendency toward growth, strength, domination, or expansion, and he was mostly focused on the overcoming of resistence.
2.2.2) Affirmation - This is the second value commitment prominent in Nietzsche ‘s work. He feel affirmation of life is most important. He affirms life by seeking perfection in our work and by not reproaching others we disagree with but rather by influencing others so profoundly that our opponents seem “dark” to others.
We also affirm our life by imagining that if our life were to recur in all its current detail we would affirm it as it is. Nietzsche scholars use affirmation of life as the strongest argument against those who would call Nietzsche a nihilist.
2.2.3) Trustfulness/Honesty - Here after we have affirmed life, we now honestly assess what our life and our world are really like. For Nietzsche honesty and truthfulness trump all other values. He goes on the say, honesty requires the pursuit of knowledge. He feels scientific testing particularly in the social sciences is all important. He says the man in search of truth is a courageous man. In this area Nietzsche attacks any claims to knowledge that arise from reading religious texts. He said belief in revealed truth amounts to cowardice. He also points out that the search for truth is a form of asceticism because it might require the setting aside of previously cherished values. “Truth at any price” can lead to great internal anguish, but also great growth.
2.2.4) Art and Artistry - Nietzsche feels we need truth, but we also need illusion. So he was a great proponent of the arts. He shared a love of art with Schopenhauer and said we can rework and remake ugliness in life by appealing to our artistic side. Nietzsche felt love of the arts can help us cope with the unsettling truths that our quest for truth is likely to uncover.
2.2.5) Individuality, Autonomy, “Freedom of Spirit” - All through Nietzsche you find the importance that he places on individuality and “free will”. However, he limits this by saying its worth is not the same for all people. Special people must have their individuality and free will respected much more fully. The quest then is to determine what makes certain people special?
Nietzsche says men who accept religious values or any value system delivered from beyond their own consideration are less entitled. Whereas, those who seek truth and possess a will to power are “overmen” or “higher men” and are therefore entitled to autonomy and freedom of spirit. These higher men create laws for themselves and exhibit the ability of self governance so they can “stand surety” for their own futures.
2.2.6) Pluralism - Nietzsche must have sensed that some of his value propositions were in opposition to each other, so he posited this final way of arriving at values: pluralism. Here he allows that there can be seeming conflicts between truths, or power goals that pull different ways, etc. So Nietzsche allows that a person may have to be responsive to a multiplicity of values, virtues, outlooks and perspectives on a given question. So pluralistic responses are allowed.
This leaves serious Nietzsche scholars in the dark, as they try to create a unified theory. The only interesting attempt to come to terms is an agreement that Nietzsche wants the strength and health of his followers, and he believes that “the will to power” is the overriding value that will provide them “strength and health”. So the “will to power” is given top billing in this section.
3.) The Self and Self-fashioning - Here Nietzsche gets into the individual psyche. He claims that psychology is the queen of all the sciences and says earlier philosophers failed by not replacing destructive concepts like sin, morality, and ascetic self-denial with self affirming ideas from psychology.
Nietzsche is torn at some places; he adopts the idea of self and self-fashioning and at other places he denies the things traditionally associated with “self” such as the soul and the ability to think, or will, or even feel.
More particularly Nietzsche treats the soul as very complex, changeable, and subject to disintegration. He says it is a “social structure of drives and effects.” In this model the soul becomes a sub-personal constituent element or part that makes up the more important personal psyche or “the self”.
Nietzsche sees the self as a work in progress not part of the basic metaphysical equipment with which a person enters the world. This makes sense for Nietzsche because each man is constantly striving through pain and misery toward “power” and is therefore constantly refashioning his personal “self”.
4.) Difficulties of Nietzsche’s Philosophical Writing - Nietzsche’s novel ideals that question traditional philosophical understandings are appealing; however, his way of writing makes his ideas difficult to apprehend. As mentioned in his biography above, he changes subjects and styles from chapter to chapter in his books and as noted by Stanford scholars (above) his ideas do at times contradict each other. All this leaves his readers feeling unmoored, but Nietzsche offers them little sympathy saying his style and thought processes are good because they force the reader to struggle and think.
So Nietzsche’s writing style accords with his general philosophy which might be summed up “all real advancement comes through struggle, misery, and pain”.
5.) A summing up with three Key Doctrines - Here are the three doctrines which Stanford feels most fully define Nietzsche ‘s philosophy.
5.1.) The Will to Power - Nietzsche idea of the will to power posits that there are power centers where individuals, organizations, or groups are striving to increase their power and influence. But it is clear that if all mentions of the “will to power” in Nietzsche ‘s writings are taken together he is talking about some sort of “centers of force” like the “centers of energy” postulated by 19th century physicists or clusters of growing super-organisms identified by biologists.
It is also clear Nietzsche saw the “will to power” as a way of overcoming resistance, and he sees it as opposed to Schopenhauer’s will to life which is more muted and promotes pessimism. Clearly this concept is central, although some say not all important, to Nietzsche ‘s philosophy.
5.2.) Perspectivism - Here Nietzsche points out that the work of earlier philosophers have suffered from their failure to consider the impact of their own perspective on their work. He is particularly critical of “dogmatic” philosophers who fail to acknowledge the bias introduced into their work by their belief in God.
Nietzsche holds that no philosopher can eliminate the bias introduced by individual perspective. This is directly counter to the belief of philosophers since Plato. The question then is “can a philosopher step outside his personal perspectives an seek truth in a truly objective fashion?” Nietzsche says a “view from nowhere” is impossible.
Nietzsche also disagreed with the a priori assumptions used by earlier philosophers regarding the world around us (e.g. space, time, physical things, causal relations, etc.). Nietzsche said the objective philosopher must study the human modes of cognition using empirical psychology. He went further saying “ every great philosophy so far” has been “the personal confession of its author, a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir”. Early in his career, Nietzsche exposes the psychological theories or biases that earlier philosophers brought to their work, but his later writings seem to leave off criticism of earlier philosophers.
5.3.) The Eternal Recurrence of the Same - Here Nietzsche holds that there is an eternal recurrence of the particular situations in our lives. This doctrine is nowhere spelled out with specificity, but Nietzsche asserts it is his most important idea. Most readers who encountered this idea in Nietzsche ‘s writings felt it was a cosmological hypothesis about the structure of time or of fate.
Later commentators felt this concept was just a rhetorical device designed to force readers to focus of their current lives. If a reader is faced the prospect of reliving his exact life again, he is likely to think “is my current life all it should be?”. Would I want to repeat the decisions I have made?
Others have said it also serves to counter the reader’s natural bias toward optimistically thinking about the future rather than thinking about adjusting or reversing early decisions in this life. This concept of eternally reliving one’s current life in exactly the same way is hard to imagine. Even if you love your current wife, would you want to relive your life with her endlessly? No, most commentators feel even the happiest person would eventually want the cycle to be “over and done with.”
.......... (prepared by Hughn Murray on 8/05/19)
Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae
taken from Peter Kreeft’s audio course
on Aquinas’ philosophy
Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274) was born into a royal Italian family that lived close to Montecassino , the famous monastery founded by St Benedict. Thomas went to school at Montecassino until about 1240 when he went to Naples for further education.
At age 19, Thomas announced he wanted to join the new Order of Preachers which St. Dominic had organized in 1216. His parents were shocked. They had always assumed that if one of their boys wanted to be ordained they would join the Benedictines at Montecassino, where their local prominence would assure rapid advancement within the monastery and perhaps the Church itself.
There is a story about Thomas brothers hiring a prostitute to visit Thomas attempting to get him to foreswear entering the Dominicans. The story ends when Thomas take a fiery log from the fireplace and brandished it at the girl. She fled and he got to enter the Dominicans.
He was sent to study under a leading scientist Albert the Great who is also known as Albertus Magnus. Albert realized he had a very bright but very innocent student on his hands. Thomas was physically large and gave the other students the feeling he was both naive and a little slow. They called him the “dumb ox”. When Albert overhead the students referring to Thomas as a “dumb ox” he said “this ox’s bellow will be heard to the ends of the earth”.
Thomas then when into teaching. He had two stints of teaching at Paris. But he also taught in Naples and Rome. During his life, he composed perhaps 50,000 folio pages of his thoughts on theology and philosophy. Thomas was absent minded and had some trouble dealing with mundane matters. Because he weighed about 300 lbs., he had a habit of walking next to his donkey rather than riding on the animal as other travelers did.
During his second period of teaching in Paris, Thomas was accused of misleading students because he brought the pagan philosopher, Aristotle, into nearly all his lectures. Later the Bishop of Paris actually issued a decree against Thomas who was away from Paris when the decree came out, so it had no practical consequence, except to drive his ideas underground. Fortunately members of the Dominican order kept Aquinas’s ideas alive. Later they came back into prominence when the Jesuits in the 16th century adopted Thomism as their preferred approach to philosophy.
Thomas wrote the Summa Theologicae between 1265 and 1274. It is designed to use philosophy’s tools to explain God’s nature, God’s creation, and God’s desires for man to the literate layman of the day. The book was never finished. In 1274 Thomas had a mystical experience while saying Mass, and he never wrote another word of the Summa. When asked why he stopped, he said my vision showed me that all I have written is “nothing but straw”.
Not long after the mystical experience, Thomas was traveling to the Council of Lyon, at the request of Pope Clement IV, when he fell ill. He was taken to a local monastery where his long time friend and traveling companion, Brother Reginald, heard him confess. After Thomas died, this friend reported “his confession was that of a five year old.”
Prof. Peter Kreeft’s audio course
(This course is divided into 14 lectures - 30 minutes each. Prof. Kreeft went to college at Calvin College and later received a PhD in philosophy from Fordham. He now teaches philosophy at Boston College. He began his life as a Protestant but is now a Catholic.)
1) General Intro to Thomas - Thomas had a deep commitment to common sense. He was a straight forward genius mostly a theologian but he used philosophy to explore God and His creation. Thomas’ life is full of interesting stories and statements. His philosophy has survived the centuries and yet he personally referred to this, his greatest work, as nothing but straw.
2) Philosophy and Theology, Faith and Reason - Prof. Kreeft talks about Aguinas’ five proof of God which were simplified in the Summa Theologiae. (Kreeft notes that Thomas presents a more elaborate expaination of these five proofs in his Summa contra Gentiles.) Kreeft also points out Thomas was not perfect, for instance, he actually argued for mild torture to adjust people’s attitudes. Thomas covers a wide array of subjects saying it’s better to have imperfect knowledge of the perfect than the reverse. He argues we can only know God two ways, from His revelation and from His works. We can not know God perfectly because we are limited but God is perfect. St Anselm had said the existence of God is self evident. Thomas disagreed with Anselm and thought proof was needed so people could know God from both faith and reason. Thomas felt God had given us revelation because there were important facts God wanted man to know that human thinking could not arrive at through reason alone.
3) Can you prove God’s existence? - Before beginning with Aquinas’s five proofs. Kreeft notes that all proofs of God fall into one of three categories: a) proofs from observation of the cosmos: the universe, matter, other beings, etc., b) proofs from religious experience or belief (e.g. faith, a miracle, a mystical experience, etc.) and c) from merely stating that God obviously exists. From here Prof Kreeft goes into Thomas’ five proofs of God by reason arrived at by observations of the cosmos. These are:
a) proof from all the motion and change observed in the universe and which leads to the proposition that there must be a first mover,
b) the source or cause of existence, the observation that all things come from something or someone so where is the first source or cause of this chain of causation which is necessary to hold all else in being.
c) everything decays and ceases to exist in time so by now the world would have come to an end if it had not been held in existence by a power outside of itself. (i.e. this process of decay is called entropy by scientists)......
d) from the natural hierarchy we see in things and their gradations; by extension there is logically a perfection that completes the chain of improvement we see from say a rock, to a tree, to a dog, to a man, etc..... or in language we see it in the three words “good, better, best”.
e) Thomas observes the perfections in the natural world. The sun, the seasons, the design of man’s body, etc. these all convince him there is a master designer. We therefore can know of his existence from the beauty in God’s work, his created world.
These don’t prove the single unified God that we know from revelation, but they do prove some sort of perfect Divinity who created the universe and keeps it going. Kreeft notes that many modern believers don’t want to prove God by logic. Instead many point to miracles and/or personal mystical experiences to explain their belief in God.
4) Case against these Proofs - Here the objections to Thomas proofs of God are presented. The only really strong objection is the obvious existence of evil in a world that Aquinas says has been created and maintained by an infinitely good and infinitely powerful God. Acquinas answers this objection noting that God brings good out of present evil, a concept which he borrows from Augustine. Acquinas notes that evil acts by men are necessary if man is to have free will. Also God allow natural evils like forest fires and cancer so the story of life for each man is varied as each man discovers his relationship with and struggles on his path to God. Out of difficulties new personal relationships are formed. Men come to see others in a different and hopefully an improved light.
St Augustine said God can bring good out of evil. Good and evil are opposite qualities. They do not checkmate each other. opposites can and do exists at the same time and/or place. (Kreeft notes he oftentimes “loves and hates his wife at the same time”). Kreeft notes there are logical contradictories which are two things that can not exist together. (e.g. it would be a contradictory to have a world where gravity pulled upward and downward at the same time.)
5) Our knowledge of and Language about God -
Here the discussion turns to how do we know God. Only two ways exist from reason. These are analogically and negatively. It is not possible to know God directly and positively. So we speak thus-ly “animals ability to reason as compared to man’s ability to reason” might be compared to “man’s ability to reason as compared to God’s ability to reason”. Of course the analogy is imperfect because God is infinite and both animals and people are limited. For instance, all living things live in time which is a limitation, but God lives outside time.
Consider an example: Man is always moving from the past toward the future. So a man might say “I’m falling in love”. God, on the other hand, is always fully in action. He is always loving, so much so that we can say “God is love”.
We can say God is not limited by time. But we must also say we have no way to understand what living outside of time is like. So again we are logically limited to negative statements and analogical observations.
Kreeft adds a discussion about how young children and primitive tribes know God. These humans have trouble with abstract thought because their language skills are limited. So visualization of a human being as God, helps them master the idea of God.
6) What is God? - The attributes of God - Here Aquinas goes into the application of philosophical principles to the problem of logically showing the attributes of God. These are some that he comes up with:
all knowing (i.e. he must know all there is to know),
all powerful, (i.e. he must be powerful enough to put the stars and planets into orbit)
all loving, (i.e. he created all and since he didn’t create that he disliked, he must love all)
all wise, (i.e. filled with all knowledge and understanding)
perfect, (i.e. possess no fault)
all good, (i.e. without any evil)
transcendent, (i.e. above and beyond any limitation)
immutable, (i.e. unchanging, always the same)
timeless, (i.e. operates outside time, all events are immediately present to God)
one, (i.e. unified indivisible (the Trinity is three persons perfectly unified in one perfect nature))
all present (i.e. present in all things holding all things in existence) etc.
Also found in this section, the proof against polytheism (multiple Gods) is presented. If there were multiple Gods they would necessarily possess different attribute so each would have some missing attribute(s). These lacking attributes would make each of them less than perfect thus negating a necessary characteristic of God.
7) Aquinas’s Cosmology: Creation, Providence and Free Will - (Here are some random items taken from this thirty minute lecture) We look at the relationship of God to created things; we also look at man’s free will and God’s providence; finally we look into the problem of evil and the pain it causes and the feelings of guilt it engenders. Since there is no contradiction possible in God and we know God is good, we must try to understand the problem of evil. This is taken up again in a later lecture.
Kreeft feels modern evolutionary theory is not contrary to Thomas’ view of how God might have operated. Thomas would specify that at some point in the evolutionary chain God gave the first rational being (man) a permanent soul rather the limited soul possessed by his predecessors (i.e. some animal).
Does God love all the world? Of course, he does. To love is to will the good for our loved one. Can a being create good, yes. God’s love is the source of all good and his creation can do good as well. God willed plurality in creation (e.g. ants, plants, animals, men, etc.) and he willed good in all things. However, if you love God’s things more than God himself, you have a fault. Nothing happens by chance although it may appear that way.
Thomas’ sees God working through secondary causes. Freedom comes under God’s providence, (i.e. God’s plan) This world is like a play where the players may or may not act and read the script as God wrote it. Miracles do not overrule natural law; God is just making an exception in a special situation. Evil is willed by God in that he created the beings out of which evil comes. Cain killed Able with a good stone using his own good muscles. Socrates said it better to receive evil than to inflict it. Consider the former injures the body which dies the latter injures the soul which lives forever.
8) Aquinas’ Metaphysics - (Of the four branches of Philosophy Thomas pursued in the Summa, he felt metaphysics was the most important.) -
Here Kreeft goes into the first of four branches of philosophy he plans to explore in some detail. The branches are metaphysics (the study of being), philosophical anthropology ( the study of man), Ethics (the study of morals, how people should behave) and Epistemology ( the study of knowledge).
This section is devoted to the first of these. He goes on into Thomas ‘ metaphysics which is the study of God’s being first and then the study of man ‘s being; then looking at different species (e.g. dog, dogwood, etc), and then looking at accidental differences (e.g. hair color). He also gets into essence and existence, then into matter and form. It is possible to conjure up a detail image of a man in your mind such that you could say you have the essence of a man, however, such would not be an actual existing man. In like fashion there can be the matter “wood” which can take on many forms (e.g. a chair rail, a cane, a table, etc.) All these must be considered when discussing what is “being”. Thomas says all science considers beings or things (e.g. a planet, a plant, a molecule, etc.) but metaphysics considers all these in a universal way looking at universal properties, laws, and principles. (Modern philosophers object to such study saying it presupposes a master plan and thus a master planner. Modern philosophers reject the idea of God.)
9) Aquinas’ Philosophy of Anthropology - Souls animate all living things. These are the things that give life. The soul is a life force. Plant and animal souls die when the plant or animal dies. The human soul has infinite existence. Human souls have three qualities. They are immaterial, subsistent and immortal. The human brain is part of the body; however, the human mind is in the soul. Therefore the soul contains both the intellect and will. Here are three additional observations about this: 1) The human soul is immaterial. It can combine logical concepts with data from the body’s senses to create new understandings but in itself it has no material. 2) The soul is subsistent, able to subsist on its own, we know it has the ability to draw conclusions and make inferences. 3) The soul is immortal. It does not endure physical corruption (Note: this is not to say it might not endure moral corruption through willing evil acts).
To truly know your body you must be outside your body thus you’re soul is needed. Its you’re soul that knows your body. The body is matter but the soul is form. Our body exist with or without a soul, but of course a dead body has no life. Intellect has a life in the soul even when it operates apart from the body. Consider 1) The soul is immortal because substance exists by itself it is impossible to kill because it is only a form. What corrupts the body does not corrupt the other. 2) everything that has an intelligence wants to exist for ever. No natural desire can exist in vain. To frustrate this desire would mean God was a bad God giving un-achievable desires. This would be a trick universe. 3) the soul provides the body with life and the body feeds info to the soul. Thomas opposes thinking of our souls as “other angels”. Matter supports form. The body is for the soul not vis versa.
There were ancients who thought there were several souls in each body. However, Aristotle said there had to be one soul with three powers: vegetative (to help the body), sensitive (to sense and desire another body(s)), and rational (to grasp universal ideas). The whole soul is in each atom of the body. Matter for humans is the body, but form for humans is the soul. The soul rules over the body with a despotic power. The soul commits the sins not the body. Soul gets to pick ends and may or may not seek the true good. However, God intends that the soul’s will seek happiness and its intellect truth.
Our free will makes us different from animals. God, the first cause, moves secondary causes to facilitate both the fate of man and freedom for Man
10) Aquinas’s Epistemology - The criticism of human reason is a modern question. Aquinas would say you have to study being to know what being is (what exists) so you can devise a plan to study being and thus gain additional knowledge. Aquinas. is a realist he starts with the simple statement “things exist”. Reason is open to reality and vis versa.
The human mind is able to receive new ideas and if motivated will engage them. However, God’s intellect is always receiving, it is never passive. Only forms (e.g. images, concepts, etc.) can enter man’s mind. The human mind must be prodded to act.
Matter can’t enter the mind only form can, so the mind when it acts has to abstract ideas from images of matter to get forms that it puts in the mind’s memory. For instance, an apple can’t enter the mind but “apple -ness” can.
Now we come to the value of individual truth. If each person’s truth is held equally valuable than true opinion is hard to discern.
Aquinas says we understand by looking at concepts and images and then making a judgement. Comprehending a concepts is not true or false but judgement can be. Aquinas also said not all persons have equal ability to reason and judge. Aquinas says philosophers disagree because they are not all equal in understanding & wisdom. Only senses can know individuality, the mind can only know form. Infinity is a attribute of our intellect because we can keep adding truths, images, etc.
We know ourselves by reflecting on the world, and then judging ourselves. Knowing self comes late in life. Ideas exist in God’s mind, then in nature, and then in our minds after our senses pick them up. We learn of God by studying God’s creation. Again we need analogy to make deductions from nature about God.
Aquinas felt the soul or mind could have out of body experience.
Aquinas investigated the highest things of the mind - intellect and will. Aquinas says its complex. When perceiving higher things the will is preeminent. When we perceive lesser things the intellects is first. Intellect guides or navigates but the will is the captain. However, the glue that unites us to God in love is the intellect. Lovers love most because of knowledge of each other and the intellect is our seat of knowledge . Our will propels us toward God but the actual union is the work of the intellect.
What is truth? The soul can receive all kinds of images and generate hundreds of ideas. Aquinas says man must have a way to check the truth of the ideas that his mind comes up. Ideas are means by which we know things, but they are not necessarily good in themselves.
11) Aquinas’ Ethics - What is the Greatest Good? - Aquinas here explores how one decides on the greatest good, in other words what end should be pursued. Everyone agrees that happiness is the ideal end, but the question is what intermediate ends are likely to achieve happiness. Many kinds of intermediate ends are considered starting with wealth. This is followed by honor, fame, good health, pleasure, virtue, and the acquiring of the most desirable goods. Aquinas deals with each in turn pointing out that none lead to true happiness. He then proves the only thing that can yield long term happiness is union with God.
(Note: This series of arguments are perhaps the most famous in the Summa following Aquinas’ five proofs of God.)
Aquinas does not leave us hanging. Once he had destroyed each of the forgoing as goals for achieving happiness, he offers union with God as the goal most likely to achieve happiness. He offers first a philosophical answer to the question saying that we have proven that the perpetual, unending God created all things including ourselves, and we have proven that our souls will live in perpetuity, it is only sensible to believe the eternal soul would be happiest in the presence of the eternal God. He gives Augustine’s theological answer “for God has designed us for union with him.
12)Aquinas’ Ethics (con’t) - Right and Wrong - Aquinas now discusses what behavior would be pleasing to the God that made us. What do we know? We know God is good and therefore we know he is attracted to good behavior in us and we can be sure he would not be attracted to evil or bad behavior in us.
Now our task is simple how do we separate the good from the bad. Here Aquinas is again ready with four guidelines. First is almost a non sequiter “do good avoid evil” this guideline requires that we inform ourselves about the good. Second Aquinas notes he does not mean the latest fad idea of behavior but rather what is good under establish principles and which do not violate our internal conscience. Third, Aquinas insists we do a bit of logical reasoning to extend basic principles, such as if it wrong to cheat a friend out of money you owe him, it is also wrong to cheat the government by not paying a just tax. Finally, Aquinas admits that life does not always present simple situations in which to apply these principles. He points to several factors that can blur the issue: addiction, fear, compulsion, ignorance, etc. Each can cloud our judgement and/or justify an otherwise evil act. Going on Aquinas sets forth three aspects to consider when contemplating an act with a moral dimension. We should ask these questions: What is the object or end of the act? What are the circumstances? What is the motive to perform this act?
All three answers must be good for the act to be good for you, your neighbor and the broader community. Kreeft illustrates this point with this example; a husband and wife love each other and wish to make love so they chose to do their love making in their front yard at 10 AM. So the act is fine when considering factors one and three, but gets a definite no for the middle factor.
Again we can see the common sense coming through in all of Aquinas’ reasoning.
13) Aquinas on Law -
According to the Summa, law "is nothing other than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and which has been promulgated." All law comes from the eternal law of Divine Reason that governs the universe, which is understood and participated in by rational beings (such as men and angels) as the natural law. The natural law, when codified and promulgated, becomes the human law.
In addition to the human law, dictated by reason, man also has the divine law, which, according to the Summa, is dictated through revelation, that man may be "directed how to perform his proper acts in view of his last end", "that man may know without any doubt what he ought to do and what he ought to avoid", because "human law could not sufficiently curb and direct interior acts", and since "human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds: since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse." Human law is not all-powerful; it cannot govern a man's conscience, nor prohibit all vices, nor can it force all men to act according to its letter, rather than its spirit.
Furthermore, it is possible that an edict can be issued without any basis in law; in this case, men are under no compulsion to follow it, unless it helps the common good. This separation between law and acts of force also allows men to depose tyrants, or those who flout the natural law. While removing an agent of the law is generally contrary to the common good and the eternal law of God, removing a tyrant is lawful if he has ceded his claim to being a lawful authority by acting contrary to natural law.
Generally Aquinas feels the laws should be limited in number, written so average people can understand the law, and changed infrequently. These three requirements assure average people have a reasonable possibility of staying current with the law and thus be able to obey the law.
Here Kreeft notes we live in a time where law making, whether by the Courts or Congress or by executive regulation, is not logically tied to the natural law. This sort of law is called positive law. An example of such law making is the Supreme Court deciding that two man can contact a marriage which for legal purposes is the same as a marriage between a man and a woman. Authoity is going where God’s natural law would set a limit.
14) Aquinas and Modern Philosophy - Aquinas has written on so many philosophical questions and he has so consistently taken common sense, middle of the road positions that Thomism is in the center of all modern philosophical debates. Additionally, Thomism incorporates many ideas from earlier philosophers as well; Thomas’ material creates a “high hill” from which new philosophical ideas can be viewed, studied, and evaluated objectively from a wide, historical perspective.
Aquinas was a great synthesizer of philosophical ideas. He may not be the last great synthesizer. He probably won’t be. After all, the world is always producing new geniuses.
Today, however, the big difference is between rationalist philosophers and empiricist philosophers . The rationalists take pure ideas and combined them rejecting sense perception, while the empiracists only accept sense perception and try to build philosophical systems on inductions drawing from observations. Of course both camp currently reject the idea of a God.
Modern philosophers disagree about whether or not man is basically good or bad. They also disagree about man’s emotion “are they meant to be tightly controlled or allowed wide latitude?”
Kreeft concludes by saying: “This (Thomist) pattern of thinking seems at first to be hard to attain, since most modern philosophers fail to attain it. Yet it turns out to be the easiest to attain because it’s the default position . It’s the philosophy of common sense. It is the philosophy we held before we studied philosophy.”
Returning to modern positive law making, Kreeft notes that “We are living in a radical social experiment, the very first civilization in history whose most influential teachers and law makers no longer believe there is any natural moral law. Whoever is right on this issue, the party that is wrong is very wrong. Either philosophers like Aquinas are enslaved by ancient superstitions or the other side is cutting down the very truck of the whole moral tree.” Time will tell !!!
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