Tuesday, July 20, 2010
As I have argued before, whenever you feel like life is becoming nonsense or whenever you feel like you lost your purpose, remember that all of this is wrong. You are a human being. You are born in this world with desires, rationality, and abilities. All of those are mixed together to give you the five genuine sources of life fulfillment. These are; pleasure, friendship, understanding, achievement, and practical reasoning.
Today, I will write about one of them which is understanding.
Life is a great mystery which is still, largely, unsolved up till now. Many different people through out time have attempted to rush things up by offering a theory explaining life and what it is all about. Religions, ancient and modern spiritual ideologies were all among the products of such attempts. Those many different forms of religions aimed for more than any of them could have ever accomplished. They attempted to explain how we came into being, why we exist, what we should do in life, how to think about death, and lots of other difficult questions that maybe all of us have to encounter sooner or later.
Unfortunately, those super natural claims are infected with so many incoherencies. In addition to the particular incoherencies related to each one of them, they all share a common fatal problem. They use terms such as “God”, “soul”, “inner spirit” all of which can’t be used to yield a meaningful sentence at least within the context of reality. The details of this problem are mainly related to the theory of understanding and the arguments presented by Dummett, Platts, and Grayling. I will not go into its details here but maybe later.
Anyway, you might become content with such theories and reject their dismissal. If you do so, you are following your raw desires instead of attempting to rationally control them. Rational control of such a desire to know and to understand will lead you into rethinking about those super natural claims. Later you would find that we have to depend upon our rationality to understand. The proper way through which our rationality can be expressed is through philosophy and science.
Reality is not simple. It is so much complex. It will take more than a single, allegedly, divinely inspired man to solve its mysteries. However, lacking a theory that allows us to understand life should not lead us into despair. Having this passion to understand is all that you need to think of life as worthy living. Making a modest contribution among other contributions made by other humans through out different ages would one day allow us to see the bigger picture and to start dealing properly with all the problems we face in life.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Understanding morality might be one of the most difficult things I had to encounter. There are many different problems related to morality. I am mainly concerned with the problem of the moral standard. What is the standard which guides our thinking into taking a particular action as good and another as bad? I have this tendency to adopt utilitarianism. Utilitarianism argues that maximization of utility is the end of all human actions and therefore it is the principle which lies in the basis of what distinguishes a good action from a bad one.
I would like to interpret utilitarianism in the following terms; it is wrong to perform an action which interferes with someone else’s pursuit of a good life. On the other hand, it is good to facilitate other people’s pursuit of a good life. This interpretation is totally different from the classical form of utilitarianism. However, I interpreted it in such a way to provide some limitations on the classical form to avoid lots of the objections which were raised against it. However, this might seem as a good interpretation initially, but with further investigation, it becomes apparent that this principle is so raw when it comes to practical applications.
What about situations at which you are put into a difficult choice between two actions which both would violate other people’s pursuit of a good life, but to different degrees? I can use the commonly used example by philosophers here. If you passed by a village governed by a tyrant. This tyrant decided to punish the inhabitants of the village, for their last attempt to revolute against him, by killing 20 ones of them selected randomly. This tyrant however, decided to give you a privilege as a guest. If you choose so, you might kill only one of those poor guys and in such a case the tyrant would let go of the others. However, if you decided not to kill any one, the tyrant would go on with his plan of killing them all. What would you do in such a case?
Clearly, no one with a normal moral sense would commit the crime of killing an innocent person even for the sake of saving the lives of 19 other innocent guys. However, such a moral choice can’t be based on the utilitarian principal alone. It must be depending upon other principles. But what are those principles which together with the utilitarian principle might constitute our moral standard. We might think of some principles such as justice, integrity, or freedom. A problem however still exists. We can think of many different occasions at which those principles might contradict each other. What should we do in such cases? In such cases the question would remain; what is the moral standard which we can make an appeal to in such cases of contradiction?
Posted by Dr.Tarek at 8:43 PM
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I argued in my last post that it is not only happiness which we are looking for in life. Don’t get me wrong. Having a happy life is a great thing. However, focusing on happiness as the sole end of your life will most probably lead you into an unhappy life. So, what is it that we want in life? We have different desires in life. I have mentioned them repeatedly in previous post. However, it might be a good thing to remind you with them. Our basic desirers are; biological needs, security, attachment, self esteem, and self actualization. Some psychologists added self transcendence to the list. It is a bad idea to focus on the mere fulfillment of your desires as your strategy to have a good life. Our desires were designed by evolution to enhance our survival. I don’t want to under estimate them though. They were in fact great in accomplishing what was required of them to do. However, they are still primitive and not so well designed to be our sole compass toward having what is good. They might represent the foundation of what constitutes what we might conceive as good in this life, but there are other factors which are important as well, even more important. Another feature of human beings which was also developed by nature to enhance survival is our ability of rational thinking. It is very important to recognize the importance of rationality when it comes to determining what is good in life. The rational assessment of our desires and our abilities is the only way through which we can determine what is really good about life. Without going into the philosophical details, I would like to present to you one of the most plausible theories concerned with what makes our life good. Roger Crisp argued convincingly that what makes our life good and accordingly the ultimate end of our life are the following five main features to which any other feature can be reduced:
• Pleasure, including aesthetic pleasure
• Friendship and if possible the highest degree of friendship which is love
• practical reasoning
Each of those features deserves further explanation. Before I do so, I would like you yourself to think about what those features mean to you and their value to your life.
Monday, July 12, 2010
What is good about life? What makes life worth living? Terms such as “good”,”bad”,”right” and “wrong” are all evaluatory terms. In other words, such terms will not make any sense if we though of them in isolation from an evaluating subject who applies certain evaluative criteria to determine whether those terms can be used or not.
I can further clarify this through the use of an example. What does the statement “this is a good car” mean? This statement would mean that if we took the car in question and examine its fulfillment to certain evaluative criteria we would be able to determine whether it’s good or not and accordingly whether this statement is true or false. Evaluative criteria for distinguishing a good car from a bad one might include; its speed, its design, its horse power and so on. All of those criteria are considered to be the evaluative criteria we need to use since they determine what the evaluator would like this car to do for him. Hence, the process of evaluation has to be under lied by the interests of the subject making the evaluation.
Now let’s go back to our main question; what is a good life? It might be clear to you now that this question can be paraphrased into the following; “what are the evaluative criteria we would tend to apply to determine whether a particular form of life good or bad?” we might think that the only one criteria that is of importance in distinguishing a good life from a bad one might be happiness. We might find it plausible to claim that I can say of myself that I had a good life if I had a happy one. Those who hold this assumption are called hedonists. It is important to notice that this assumption is a highly respectable one. Some might think that holding this assumption would mean depending on material and sensual sources of happiness to provide a good life. However, this is not necessarily the case. There are a lot other different sources of happiness other than sensual and material ones. It is clear that serving others, defending a higher cause or gaining success in work are all important sources of happiness which are neither material nor sensual.
However, hedonism still suffers from internal incoherencies which make it a less plausible theory. Those incoherencies were best demonstrated through the objections that have been raised against John Stuart Mill’s hedonism. Those objections were recognized by Mill as we will see and he attempted to defend his hedonism against them. However, it seems that he failed to do so. I will mention some of those objections here. It might seem highly intuitive that a good life is a happy one, but isn’t it intuitive as well that Socrates, who was delineated by his society and was sentenced to death, had a better life than any other fool who rejected his wisdom. You might argue that Socrates might have had difficulties in his life but this doesn’t necessarily mean that he was unhappy. He must have enjoyed his wisdom to a greater degree than what he suffered because of the people surrounding him. Even if this was true, we can still think of someone who was not happy in his life and yet he had a good life. We can think of some one who has discovered a particular truth that would benefit humans greatly. However, he suffered a great deal in his life to come up with this discovery; his discovery was not appreciated till after his death. Such a person might have felt happy for some time when he came up with his discovery but any one else who suffered less in his life must have had a happier life than him. Even though such a person didn’t have the happiest life possible but he can still be considered as having lived a good life, might be even better than the lives of most of us. It is important to notice that it is not only us, who see the whole thing from the outside, who judge his life as a good one, but this person himself would be considering himself as having lived a good life based on his assumption that he made a great achievement that will be evaluated properly one day even after his death. We might still argue that it’s his realization that he has made an achievement which will be recognized one day is still a significant source of happiness that can overweight any other suffering that he might have experienced. Therefore, over all, he had a happier life and thus a better life than most of us. By accepting this response we accept the assumption that making a big achievement yields a greater amount of happiness than most of the other sources and therefore it would over weight any other suffering that one might have experienced.
This would lead us to the following argument that was offered again in objection to hedonism. Imagine that you were given the choice between leading the life of a great scientist who would make very big achievements to the human kind, but who would die at the age of 78, and the life of a moderately intelligent man who would lead a luxurious life style full of sensual delights and who will die at the age of 500 or even will live forever. It seems that most of use would still find the life of this scientist better than the life of this immortal man, even though the amount of happiness experienced by the immortal man must at some point exceed what was experienced by the scientist. Note that even though you might choose to live this luxurious long life, but it is still hard to deny that the life of the scientist would still be more memorable and better.
In response, we might still argue that the happiness created by achievement is of entirely different nature that it can never be compared to what ever the amount of happiness developed by other sources. In such a case, we must have to face this question: what makes the happiness developed by achievement better or of higher value than the happiness developed by other sources. It seems clear now that there must be other evaluative criteria which we have to use to distinguish higher sources of happiness from lower ones. Accordingly, there must be other evaluative criteria which are important in distinguishing a good life other happiness.
We will continue searching for those criteria in later posts.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
It’s been long since I started writing about happiness. Today, I will complete what I have started before. I have mentioned before that the transcendence program include the following activities:
• Appreciation of life
• Embracing life with its unsolvable problems
• Appreciation of people and the love you can share with them
• Enjoy pleasurable activities and stimuli more profoundly
• Enjoy your most rewarding activity
What is common between all those activities is that they don’t involve your Ego as their axis. In addition approaching them should be done through a form of thinking which is systematic positive and imaginative rather than factual. I will attempt here to further clarify what is meant by the utilization of an imaginative form of thinking.
There are many different contemporary thinkers who have suggested promoting your life through what I consider to be modern spiritual trends. Authors such as Eckhart Tolle, Mctaggart and Goswami have all preached some kind of what I consider to be an example of the imaginative line of thinking that I am suggesting here. Tolle argued for the identification of oneself as consciousness, Mctagratt argued for considering neotic science, and Goswami depended on the findings of quantum physics to argue for revitalization of ancient spiritual beliefs. There are many different writers with different theories of this kind. Such theories can be of great help in achieving all the activities I have mentioned in the transcendence program.
However, I would like to stress that all of those theories are not based on factual form of thinking. Even though such theories might appear initially coherent, with further analysis, it becomes apparent that they are infected with contradictions and unjustified speculations on so many levels. Even if you were convinced that they are coherent, they would still be much less coherent than the scientific naturalistic theory we have for explaining the nature of humans and the universe. The scientific naturalistic theory is the theory we can hold upon based upon factual thinking which ensures the best utilization of human rationality. Other theories even though might have a utility in allowing transcendence activities, as I can admit, but they lack stability and adequacy and other evaluative properties which justify us in accepting them to be literally true.
However, even if such theories are not true, I don’t think there is any reason which prevents us from using them in achieving the transcendence activities. Being committed to a true theory is only essential when it comes to the Ego program. It is the Ego program at which you need to achieve things and deal with solvable problems. It is at the level of this program at which you must hold on to reality. However, when it comes to those moments at which you are just too exhausted to think properly, and when it is time to relax and enjoy the moment, you can use such theories to help you enjoy life through all the various transcendence activities.
Imagination is an amazing ability which we should utilize as long as it doesn’t interfere with serious issues that are more worthy of our rational consideration.
Religion can be thought of as theory which has developed because of many reasons. One of the most important reasons, I think, why it developed is to help in allowing the transcendence activities. With time, people faith in religion was deeply internalized in them to the degree that it affected their factual thinking which they should utilize when it comes to the Ego program. This is why I would like to stress the importance of keeping the imaginative line of thinking that might utilize such theologies to the transcendence activities alone without crossing to the Ego program. When you consider such theories to approach the transcendence activities, you should think of it as if you are just reading a fairy tale or enjoying nice movies. Once, your session of transcendence is over, you should return back to the factual line of thinking to go along with your life properly.
It seems that there is still much to talk about regarding happiness. I will do this later.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
One of the most remarkable abilities that we humans have is imagination. In times when you don’t know any better, using your imagination might be a highly valuable tool. Today, I would like to ask you to use your imagination to see your own future. Think about yourself approaching seventy, have lived your life according to the plan you have made long ago. Imagine that you were told that you are suffering from a terminal disease that would soon put an end to your life. Imagine asking yourself this question “if I was given a second chance would there be anything that I might have done differently?” what if the answer to this question was “yes”, would not you desire so much to be given a second chance. Wouldn’t you wish to go back in time and get your passions satisfied?
Now, return back to reality. Imagine that your wish was fulfilled. You have been given your second chance to do exactly what you wanted the most. I think the wisest thing you can do right now is to go ahead and start following your passion.
It might be difficult to reach a conclusive idea reasonably about what to do in our life. However, imagination might teach us that the most important thing to do in life is to do what you would regret the most for not doing when your life approaches an end.
So, go ahead and don’t waste your second chance.
Posted by Dr.Tarek at 7:00 PM