5 December 2010
Greek Philosophy: Plato and Theory of Forms
Dualism is the view that there are, indeed, at least two kinds of realities: the physical—characterized by measurable properties such as weight, location, size, and color; and the mental—characterized by nonphysical and immeasurable qualities such as immateriality. One reality is constant change and the other eternally changeless. Dualism is a very old tradition, having many proponents. Some scholars claim that Plato was the first to make a sharp distinction between the mind and body. For Plato, the relationship between the mind and body is not an ideal one—in fact, the body can be seen as the “prisoner” of the mind or soul, which is the true person. In death, the mind and soul are separated. The body decomposes into its original elements, but the mind or soul cannot decompose because it is not a composed material substance. Therefore, the mind or soul cannot die.
Plato also separated two different kinds of conditions of the world: being and becoming. Truth and knowledge are found in a realm of reality: the level of being, which is unchangeable. Opinion is found in the world of appearance and changes by time and space. Hence, reality is superior to appearance, and knowledge is superior to opinion.
In Plato’s metaphysics, the level of being consists of timeless essences called Forms. The Platonic Forms are independently existing, nontemporal “somethings” that cannot be known through the senses.
According to Plato, Forms are essences, pure, and unchanging, existing independently of minds, existing regardless of continuous shifts in human opinions and alterations in the physical world of sensible. These are why Forms differ from objects of perception; while objects of perception are mixed ideas, affected by human minds, and changing, Forms are pure and unmixed essences that exist independently of human consciousness. Forms exist, but they are not physical objects.
These Forms are the essences of various objects: they are that without which a thing would not be the kind of thing it is. For example, there are countless tables in the world but the Form of tableness is at the core; it is the essence of all of them. Super-ordinate to matter, Forms are the most pure of all things. Furthermore, he believed that true knowledge or true intelligence is the ability to grasp the world of Forms with one’s mind.
Although exactly what Plato meant by “Forms” has been a subject of many philosophical debates, Plato’s theory of Forms is central to the rest of his philosophy. He wanted his theory of Forms to provide a rational explanation of how knowledge is possible. Facing the challenge of relativism, he tried to offer more than faith in the existence of knowledge, knowing that defense of universal, absolute knowledge is difficult.
Plato believed that experiences are necessary, but not sufficient for knowledge. Experiences can make us slip into the two lowest levels of awareness, which are level of illusion and level of opinion. In his concept of a divided line, Plato illustrated the relationship of knowledge to opinion, reality to appearance, and metaphysics to epistemology. This is a hierarchical segments that represent decreasing degrees of truth. Each degree of truth corresponds to a different kind of thinking and different level of reality. Comprehension of the highest degree of knowledge is unlike other forms of knowing. The mind must deliberately work its way up from the lowest level of opinion (becoming) to enlightenment. This mean, in order to acquire knowledge, the mind has to experience of the sensible world. However, the experience of the absolute knowledge or the good so far transcends all other experiences that these knowledge and Good cannot be clearly described.
5 December 2010
An Argument against St. Aquinas’ Teleological Thinking
Basing upon examination of the nature of the world, the teleological argument, also known as the design argument, is one of the most widely known and used arguments for the existence of God. Teleological thinking is a way of understanding things in term of their telos, which is a Greek word, meaning end, purpose or goal. For example, infancy is understood in relationship to adult: the adult is the telos of the infant; the oak tree is the telos of the acorn (Douglas, 230).
The main thrust of the argument is therefore that the world is too complex and well ordered to have been produced by chance or random change. Air and water behaves in orderly ways, as do rocks, plants, animals, and people. Molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles exhibit order, and each performs a specific function. Goal-directed behavior is observed in all bodies obeying natural laws, even when they lack awareness. Their behavior hardly ever varies and practically always turns out well, showing that they truly tend to their goals and do not merely hit them by accident. But nothing lacking awareness can tend to goal except it be directed by someone with awareness and understanding. Therefore, it is argued that God is the only being responsible.
However, the world itself is not well ordered. Nature exhibits as much ugliness and disordered as it does design and purpose. What is the ultimate goal of a world war? What is the telos of starving children or freak accidents? Is that for human good? It could be argued that these disordering are all because of human freewill, which is the idea that everything we do is going to happen in one specific way because our free choices are not random and have causes. This idea seems to support the teleological argument: the world is designed and does not happen by chance. Those who support this reason forget to think about the natural disasters. Tornados, floods and volcanos, together with diseases and other suffering, could surely have been prevented by an omnipotent God. Where is the hand of the most good, most designer, and most powerful? If ugliness and disordering are still designed, where is ultimate goodness of God? The world is not bad, but is it the best possible?
In addition, complexity does not imply design. According to Thomas’s, life or objects are described as “orderly” or “ordered”, which implies that an intelligent designer has ordered them. However, in reality, there are examples of systems that are non-random or ordered simply because it is following natural physical processes, for example diamonds or snowflakes.
It could also be argued that the presence of this kind of natural physical process like the perfection in the structures of diamonds or snowflakes is also evidence for a designer. However, existences of these complexities still do not support the existence of God. Even though there could be evidences of design, or there could be a designer, but it would not prove that the designer is the “traditional” God. Designer itself does not mean God. God should be a conscious intelligence, the most powerful, and the ultimate goodness.
Supporters of design assume that natural objects and man-made objects have similar properties, therefore both must be designed. However, different objects can have similar properties for different reasons, such as stars and light bulbs. Proponents must therefore demonstrate that only design can cause orderly systems or the argument is invalid.
Supporters of the teleological argument also raise question about the origin of life within the universe, understood as a system composed of basic matter and energy. Unless there is a designer for the matter and energy, where do they come from? Scientists still cannot answer this type of question, and if they could point out “something” as the origin of matters and energies, there would be another question about the origin of that “something.” If you explain the world in terms of scientific laws, then you still have to answer the question of where these laws came from. This is undeniably a perplexing question. Saying, “I don’t know all we can say is that they’re just there” doesn’t sound very satisfactory, but it may be all we can do. Saying God is the cause of all these fundamental laws doesn’t really answer the question, as you can then ask what caused God and why he’s there. Saying God created the universe just places the buck of explanation onto saying why God exists, and just what sort of thing he is. On the other hand, again we can say that the unclearness about the origin of the matter and energy does not support the existence of the traditional God. Even if the matter and energy are designed by a designer? Is this designer the God people keep talking about? Is this designer the goodness, the conscious intelligence, and the unique one? Arguing the existence of God basing on the ultimate purpose seems to raise numerous others questions that still need to be answered.
5 December 2010
Early Modern Philosophy: Descartes
Rene Descartes endeavored to address these questions in his search for knowledge, in the first instance for himself. His essential task was to reconceive a process of discovering knowledge. For Descartes, this meant making himself get rid of all prejudice, or prejudgments, and to doubt- to doubt everything. Descartes’ reconstruction of a knowing process was based upon a mathematical approach and gave a physiological answer to his problem. It also led to a revamp of the ancient concept of the mind-body dualism. Descartes must be seen as a great philosopher for his contribution to the historical development of the thinking process, to learning, and to deductive process of discovering knowledge.
Descartes’ quest for certainty starts with a claim of doubt. He doubts his senses, his body, everything he has experienced. In claiming doubt as his first step to knowledge, Descartes did not want to become a skeptic and doubt for the sake of doubting. His main intension in starting with doubt was to allow scientific inquiry to begin. In order for Descartes to map out, or set a paradigm for scientific endeavor, clearly a ‘method’ was needed, although the method in itself was not be a complete answer to skepticism but a process by which the reasonable and thinking person could find knowledge. Implicit in Descartes’ aim to map out the physical world is the notion that the epistemology of the Scholastics, had thwarted scientific endeavor. Accordingly, he set out to furnish a method that would provide foundation for a process of knowledge that could not be questioned by the skeptics. Having found a refutable method, Descartes believes this earns him the right to get on with things.
Descartes believed that a mathematically precise method was the only reliable way to discover the truth about the universe. He suggested using the new spirit of scientific inquiry and mathematics to reexamine everything. Also, in order to apply methodic doubt, Descartes had to rely on a standard of truth that could tell him whether or not it was reasonable to doubt something. Whatever method people apply when searching for truth, they must have some criterion for distinguishing truth from falsity. Defining clear as “that which is present and apparent to an attentive mind,” and distinct as “that which is so precise and different from all other objects that it contains within itself nothing but what is clear,” Descartes appealed to clear and distinct knowing as the ultimate standard to be used in accepting or rejecting ideas. He rejected anything he did not know clearly and distinctly. According to Descartes, to recognize something clearly and distinctly is to know that it is true.
In order to have a clear and distinct thinking about existences of things that no evil genius can trick, Descartes established “the cogito,” which is the argument from the Latin sentence Cogito, ergo sum, meaning I think, therefore I am. The “I” refers to whoever speaks or thinks the sentence. The cogito must be understood in the first person. This is something that has to be thought through by each of us for ourselves, as we follow the course of the meditations. No rational person can doubt his or her own existence as a conscious thinking entity while being aware of thinking about anything. Descartes interpreted this to mean that while bodily existence may seem more solid and certain than ideas, mental existence is in actuality more certain. This is also an attempt of Descartes to refute skepticism with the certain knowledge of his own experience. So although Descartes was a rationalist, the thrust of the cogito is not reasoning but self-awareness.
In addition to the methodic doubt and the cogito, Cartesian dualism is also one of the most notable ideas of Descartes. Dualism is any philosophical position that divides existence into two completely distinct, independent, unique substances; Cartesian dualism refers to Descartes’s conviction that human beings are a mysterious union of mind and body, of incorporeal substance and corporeal substance, with each realm operating according to separate sets of laws.
Cartesian dualism of Descartes generates the mind body problem. In Descartes' philosophy the mind is essentially a thinking thing, while the body is essentially an extended thing- something which occupies space. Descartes held that there is two-way causal interaction between these two quite different kinds of substances. So, although mind and body are separate from each other, the body affects the mind in perception, and the mind affects the body in action.