Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Update: Some thoughts + your turn #1

I got my HTML right this time. The Read more here option is now selective (as it should). I changed the order of the post and some content (the Hinduism post is now more conceptual. Please, read it to inform your post discussions).

Let's summarize some of the points in today's lecture. (I may have seem all over the place but keep in mind, there's always a conceptual constellation). 1- Change and "the odd couple" (Heraclitus' pantha rei vs. Parmenides' eon) 2- Hegel's master/slave dialectic to explain religious syncretism (and Joseph Losey's The Servant as a fine example of a film), 2- The symbolic richness of Neti, neti as negative theology,
3- Children's power for empathy -and fish-empathy in Julio Cortazar. 4- About Brian Pennington's book: Is Hinduism a colonial invention? 5- The proto-symbolic power of poetry employed as poetic philosophy. Your comments in class? Right ON! Now, let's argue here.
In my lecture (Tuesday) introducing Eastern Philosophy, I brought up this idea of
metaphor1as worldmaking: a conceptual frame through which we could comprehend stuff. What I’m trying to say is that to facilitate our discussion, one doesn’t have to take some of these ideas literally: I don’t have to literally and a priori accept the idea of “karma” to illuminate other aspects of such metaphor. If God and the universe is the same thing, how can one meaningfully address the issue of teleology? Then, one can say does it make sense that I even bring up the question? Is there any sense in conceiving such proposition without losing sight of the difficulty of the endeavor?

Nelson Goodman: Willingness to accept countless alternative true or right world-versions does not mean that everything goes, that tall stories are as good as short ones, that truths are no longer distinguished from falsehoods, but only that truth must be otherwise conceived than as correspondence with a ready-made world. Then, there is redemption and Benjamin.

Finally, I want to bring some of the paradoxes implicit in our discussion: Karma (what’s the limit between what I’m supposed to be and what I am) self-realization; is it even possible? i.e. just a second before my death (imagine a somewhat morally lived life), have I realized myself, how do I know it?) or moksha (liberation of what?)2
1According to philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a metaphor is a rhetorical process to liberate the capacity of a fiction to re-describe the reality. 2 According to Buddhism atma-jnana is a precondition to moksha.


JDMR said...

Greetings, I want to examine the implications of Karma, determinism and free will.

For the sake of the argument I'll state some definitions. First off, it's not insane to state that the concept of Karma (universal and eternal cycle of cause and effect) falls under the category of determinism (namely, there is no freedom). Then, we can conclude that there is no real freedom in Karma. Regarding this, I heard an interesting comment in class that provides some sort of solution to this problem, I'll paraphrase: "...[Just because there is a destiny it doesn't mean that we human beings know it, and thus we can live our lives as if we were free]." A very interesting approach. Nevertheless, it doesn't satisfy me entirely. This is because, if we are living our lives in a lie--albeit fine in practice--thinking that we are free, but at the same time knowing that there is an unknowable destiny...what's the point? The problems I see are:

1) Saying that there is an unknowable destiny is the same thing as saying "...I don't know if you'll shoot the gun, but I'm sure something will happen if you make a decision." It is obvious that something will happen, thus, nothing new has been said.

2) Let's assume that the knowledge of this destiny is achieved, then there was never free will.

3) Stating that we cannot know is already a conclusion. So, in a sense, we are saying that we know our destiny (namely, we know that we will never know and thus, that is our destiny: not knowing).

4) This argument, I am tempted to say, is fallacious, since I can prove an instance in which destiny exists (within our contemporary understanding of life): We all die. Every living being dies. Death is the inexorable destiny of all living creatures.

This is why I conclude with a proposal. Since destiny and free will are mutually exclusive (if one exists the other can't), perhaps they can co-exist in different relative areas. What I'm trying to say is that free will is a present event, whereas destiny is a future event. In other words: Destiny exists in the future. Destiny doesn't exist, destiny will exist. In addition, Free will exists in the present.

Jiryu02 said...
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Deblinger said...

I'd like to begin my thoughts on determinism by covering (what I believe to be) some very key points in Jose's argument.

The problem with believing in determinism is that "...there is no real freedom in Karma." If our actions are all predetermined, then we have no control over the future. Of course some have said that even though our lives are determined, we do not know what is going to happen. And if we don't know our destiny than it is very possible that we can live our lives freely. I believe that there are problems with this approach.

What if our destiny is not a happy one? What if our destiny is to be a serial killer? At what point to we draw the line between what we want to do and what we are determined to do. Furthermore, by accepting the concept that our lives are already determined, we cannot live with any regret because it's impossible to regret something that was beyond our control.

I'd like to give a scenario:

Let's say that we are faced with a choice, and -to take this example to the extreme- the choice is between killing a person that we despise or letting them live a rich, healthy life. What would we do? What would you do? Some of us would let the enemy live, but some would kill them. Now, if our lives are predetermined, than no matter what our choice was, it was always going to be THAT choice, and not the other.

What if we chose to let this person live, but three years later they got into a drunk driving accident with someone that we love, and they both died.

Our initial reaction would be to regret ever letting that person live in the first place. But, because of determinism, we can't think like that. In theory, it was our destiny to let them live and it was their destiny to kill the one we loved.

There is a lot of pain in feeling powerless, and that is why I could never believe in determinism. It is bad enough that there are governments and societies that limit people's freedom, but I could never take the idea of free will away from myself.

I do, however, believe in one destiny that I wasn't consciously aware of until I read Jose's argument:

"We all die. Every living being dies. Death is the inexorable destiny of all living creatures".

Our destiny is to die, and there is nothing that we can do about it. But if our only destiny is death, than life is our freedom.

I'm not sure if i am right or wrong, but if I am wrong, than I was predetermined to not believe in determinism. Who knows the truth? God? Probably not. But that is another discussion in itself.

Matt Deblinger

JDMR said...

@Matthew Lendziaz:

I kind of understand you, being a naturalist (more specifically atheist) myself. Nevertheless, I've always considered theology as a metaphor for justifying a specific spiritual problem (and eventually seek meaning and purpose). The problem is that since we have been raised in a western monotheistic society, every time we hear "God" we have the idea of a personal entity that is in charge of pretty much everything. But what is God? I mean, I am an atheist towards the stereotypical personal God(s), nevertheless, what if God does exist, but not as we conceive it? Namely a non-conscious force that binds the molecular elements together (to put an example). In this sense, I find the eastern alternative quite appealing. I wouldn't mind a non-personal entity whose conscience is emergent (This is why I consider pantheism and atheism close analogues).

In this affairs, I urge a position of atheist in theory and agnostic in practice. As I consider that an atheist is an atheist because he/she has the courage to doubt, but he/she must also doubt the doubters.

@Matt Deblinger:

Wow...I really liked how you contrasted life to my examination of death. Life is indeed freedom and death is destiny, as I said, I believe both can coexist in different temporal planes.

Moreover, in regards of determinism and the problem of free will. I believe that the main issue lies in the fact that if our actions are determined and we do not possess freedom, then can we truly say that that life is ours? I believe that [absolute] destiny implies the separation of the responsibility we hold as persons. But if we are not responsible, do we belong to ourselves? I know Sartre would've said something like that.

Kudos! Excellent discussion! :)

JDMR said...


Professor Triff, here's the name of the god (of the kitchen we could argue) that I mentioned in class:

AegirThe issue with nordic myth is that since it is composed by many sagas, it sometimes tend to bring various interpretations of the same god. In this sense, Aegir is commonly seen as the god of the seas. Nevertheless, if we take the symbolism further, we can conclude that the sees in itself represent food, nutrition. Since nordic folk survived mostly on fishing (cold weather). Also, Aegir is widely known for hosting parties with the other Aesir (norse gods) in which he would prepare his infamous ale.

A.T. said...

JDMR: Karma function best as universal justice. A child is born deformed. She will come back as a healthy girl. A crime is committed, the perpetrator will pay in his next life. See it as a metaphor for universal causation. Rejoin: The bad sleep well. Well, maybe so in this life, but not the next: EOD (end of discussion).

A.T. said...

BTW, thanks for Aegir, he seems a bit of a debaucher.

A.T. said...

"We all die. Every living being dies. Death is the inexorable destiny of all living creatures".

Deblinger: Seen under a religious lens, determinism and fate are not necessarily identical. The former points to mere physical cause/effect sequence (which needs not of God). The latter has more of a fore-ordained-by-God flavor.

"Truth can be so unsatisfying though. This is because we want the whole truth."

Well said, Matthew. In fact we don't need the whole truth to have -perhaps- enough truth. Example: Columbus was not absolutely certain to reach the New World when he traveled westward. He just had the best possible explanation for the phenomena.

Jiryu02 said...
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J.V said...

I would like to post on the topic of “self- realization” and the question of whether is it possible or not?
I do believe that it is possible to have self realization, in this fast pace world we forget to look at the specific moments when it actually happens. They are defined in what everyone calls the “aha or aja” moments, it happens in a matter of seconds or minutes, it is when you wake up on Monday morning and you say “wao it’s already Monday and I am here ... what has my life been like” than the mind awakens and starts going on through memories.

Memories are an important aspect of what defines "self-realization" and it well goes together with the present, with memories you are aware of the present, because you are looking back at what has been and what hasn’t been. Therefore once you are aware of the past your awareness of the present is more alive. Why? Because the past defines the present as well as the present defines the past. Perhaps I am confusing my words a bit but if I am let it be so because it is also part of this discussion. When we don’t find self realization we are in a state of confusion, soul searching and blindness of what reality is; it is what you call being human, individuals who reach self realization and can let it last for a life time, are those who live life one day at a time, meaning people who live in the present. I shall use my experience as an example, 3 years ago I finally saw that for more than 6 years of my life I came to the realization that my life I had only been thinking about the future. With only thoughts of the future I forgot to live my present( which is now the past) and so I woke up to a Friday morning when I had realized that my life had been defined by blindness which led me to sadly walk by, through the wonderful opportunities of life.

But to actually acquire the experience of realization and really see if it’s possible fr it to happen we would have to look at psychology and "the power of the human mind" every philosophical idea is developed in our extraordinary minds. Self- realization can be possible depending on how powerful and well train our minds are, enough to see through the illusion of what we call life on earth.

Jessica Ventura

Carla Abad said...

Jose said that destiny exists in the futures (when one dies) and we live in free will (during the present).

However, if we are predetermined to die, which makes death destiny. What about being born? Would that have been predetermined as well? As far as we can remember, we never chose to be born, who determined that for us? was it destiny?

If so, that would mean that there is destiny when we are born and when we die. Is it that it leaves and allows room for free will during the middle? Or are we simply unaware of its existence?

If the beginning of our lives depends on destiny and the end of it does too, when does free will begin and end?

M.S.C said...

Good afternoon, I want to comment on Prof. Triff's discussion about the example of the baby being born deform.

It's from my point of view that I see this not fair for the parents but in a philosophical way of seeing life it's understandable and fair. For example, "things happen for a reason", every human being thinks in a totally different way, I could see it as if there was something similar to cost and effect on this little baby's life. For example real life experience, my godmother has had cancer for 7 years every day it was spreading more and more until she could not take it anymore and two weeks ago she gave up on this fight and she passed away; "bad things happen to good people". She would always say to me: "God gave me this barrier because he knows that I could handle it in a peaceful way, he know I could handle the pain that’s in me, because probably the other option he had was not as strong and/or was not as healthy as I am" this words help me realize that probably she was right, it could be the same for the case of the baby being deform or having a disease that is as dangerous as the cancer was for my godmother. This people are given this serious problems or barriers because, from my point of view, they are able to handle this heart breaking situations where there are people trying to find help or answers to why things happen the way they happen, unfortunately no one knows and we are used to trying to find he answers of life and that is totally impossible, and I know this because I’ve try so many time to know the why and not realizing that there was an empty space for that answer.

Thank you,

Alex Uribe said...

The only two things guaranteed as living creatures are birth and death, naturally both are not at our will. If we were to assume that we had control of our lives, that we could truly experience free will, then could we argue that suicide would be our ability to exercise that will? It’s a bit perplexing to believe that we are destined to kill ourselves, let alone to murder because it seems to go against nature. I do accept free will but also acknowledge that to argue for or against it would be to chase ones tail in circles. I fathom that believing in a God (in the Western notion) is just a fear of the possible reality of there being absolutely nothing after our life here on earth. Yet with that I do not accept that we should rape and plunder, because we’ve all been given a chance at living, for all we can understand one chance, therefore we should attempt to attain a heavenly world in the present and not remain so immersed in working towards our next life. I do believe that we have a destiny yet it may be more of a self fulfilling prophecy, we are given life and the ability to reason [debatable], and with that we can attempt to form our own future. It is worth mentioning that we are not all given the same opportunity, the child born deformed does not have the same possibilities of life as I may have, but then we could believe that we all have a purpose, that they were born that way so that they could be the catalyst to something greater. (also, for better or worse I do not have the same possibilities as the deformed baby)

Quazo said...

The concept of karma in my opinion is in fact the proof to the question of free will. Although it is viewed as a limiting and constricting cause and effect cycle, karma still allows for the possiblity of choosing one's own individual cause and effect as he/she adjusts to karma's pre-determined reactions.
If it is so that every action will respond with a fair corresponding concsequence then I am free to build my current proceeding lives by these guidelines with moksha being the final goal, well aware that there are actions that will inhibit spiritual progress.
The reactions of karma-phala that appear to restrict or confine are just elements from previous actions, not future actions. Thus, i still have complete freedom of the present and future. Karma steers and feeds our free-will by punishing or rewarding our present actions.


Alejandra said...

For a long time now i have struggled with the mutual exclusivity of fate and free will. The idea that we are caught in this eternal cycle of cause of effect on the up side gives us a sense of purpose and adds meaning to our lives; but on the down side the idea that our lives have been predetermined strips us of the motivation to be proactive in our decisions.

I really like what jose mentions: free will is a present event, whereas destiny is a future event. I am a firm believer in that so much of what we see is merely our perspective. I wonder if it really matters whether or not our lives are predetermined? At the end of the day what really matters is what we each believe. If I believe that my life is not predetermined then I believe that my actions are what determine the outcome of my life and i will act accordingly. So if there really is a perpetual cycle of cause and effect then maybe it might be affected positively?

Victoria said...

If I follow the "rules" of karma, does that mean that my actions are being tallied up by some mathematical universe? Who/what is to say that my actions are good or bad in the first place? What the hell is good or bad? I find a certain judgmental sharpness in the ideology of karma that i can fairly see in the idea of sin and forgiveness in Christianity. I understand that the energy I put out into the universe should come back to me somehow in some sort of cycle, but where does it go? Who/what judges its morality? How do I follow a system of ideas that bases itself on self realization and reaching perfection if I am blindly acting and reacting to my world? Shall i simply become a saint and live life as positively as i can?


E.B.G. said...

The concept of God or gods is quite fascinating.
Raised Roman Catholic, I’ve been taught since a very young age to accept God as an all-knowing being. Furthermore, in order to be a “good” God-fearing Christian, I should accept the Bible blindly. For this reason, I’ve been looked down upon by my peers.

The universe is full of unanswered questions. We, humans, have inquisitive minds that seek understanding. We are quick to believe a certain set of beliefs because we seek the stability that accompanies such acceptance. However, we must be careful that we do not blind ourselves with the sets of beliefs we choose to follow. It is just as naive to claim God non-existent as it is to claim him present.

As JDMR stated in a previous blog, “an atheist is an atheist because he/she has the courage to doubt, but he/she must also doubt the doubters.” Choosing or not choosing to believe in God does not satisfy our thirst for truth. In correlation with what Prof. Triff stated above, we as humans may be satisfied with what we feel is enough truth. Perhaps this is why we choose to have faith or disregard the unknown. The bible may be enough truth to prove or disprove our theories. If it allows us to sleep better at night, we choose believe in it. Truth is subjective.

From a Christian standpoint, as I previously stated, we are taught early on to accept the concept of our religion with out question. This however is a contradiction to our natural state and God.

If God is the entity of the universe, all knowing and supernatural, who desired the acceptance of his followers, why would he create humans with minds so curious?
Seeing as we are taught that he knows all, it can be assumed that when creating us, he would have realized the intricate nature of our minds. In being so powerful, one would think that God would make us robotic in nature, lacking the ability to question, deduct, and reason.

Perhaps God overlooked this small detail? Perhaps this is where his own mistake lies.

However, this challenges the idea we are brainwashed to believe: God is Flawless, God is perfect.

But what is perfect? Can a human have a true understanding of perfection while being so imperfect? Sure we can recognize imperfection because it surrounds us, but when have we ever been exposed to a perfect being? Thus how can we identify the difference between imperfection or perfection? If perfection stood in front of us, would we consider it perfect? After all it would go against society, thus considered imperfect.
Perhaps it is perfect for a human to be imperfect, however society has led us to believe otherwise.

The perfection of God can continued to be questioned. M.S.C. gave an example of her godmother who suffered from cancer. Her belief in God proved to be strong, and probably a very helpful factor during her most difficult and trying moments. Perhaps this strength is why humans turn to gods. We feel we do not have it in ourselves to be strong on our own.

We rely on the supernatural because it allows us to cope.

However, this is a very cynical way of viewing gods and life entirely.

We are choosing to believe in a being that knows all, yet he subjects us to pain and suffering throughout our life. Is this because of Karma? Is this our punishment from a past life?

What if it is a child’s first life, and he/she is born defected? When they are reincarnated, they come back as a healthy boy or girl the following life, however, why were they originally born defected? What allows them to earn the right to be a healthy child in the following life? After all, if Karma is based on one’s reactions to the predestination of Karmas Cause and Effect cycle, what has the defected child done to deserve the right to a healthy life? Suffering? Why were they forced to suffer in the first place?

Was this the parent punishment from their past or current life?

Elle said...

Determinism is a very interesting subject. I've been reading about it for the past hour and a half as I read your discussions as well. These discussions are awesome by the way. I'm new to this whole talking about philosophical topics but here goes.

Determinism. I believe that determinism is more of a way to justify the crazy events that occur around us everyday. For example, the whole idea of the person who is destined to be a serial killer. Maybe that isn't their destiny at all. Perhaps it was the events prior to their very existence that may have become a catalyst to their destiny that then lead to the person having a mental disorder that causes them to have this ensaciable desire or uncontrollable need to kill people.

But then again maybe it's all Karma. Maybe three generations back the grandfather of this serial killer was a member of the Gustapo in Germany and would rape the women that were in these concentration camps but was still able to lead a happy life until he had his first child who was born healthy but by the time he was 18 had severe depression and committed suicide. This Gustapo officer is left to face the consequences of his actions passed down to his own child that now took his own life. But wait! He has another son who becomes a successful German lawyer who moves to The United States of America and has three beautiful healthy children. Now this former-Gustapo officer has three healthy smart grandchildren. But now the youngest of the grandchildren has a mental condition that leads to him being enraged and violent. Years later he is convicted of murdering five people. This is the more depressing example of Karma but a possiblilty.

Maybe there is freedom in both of these ideals but as humans that acknowledge these possibilities we should be intelligent about them.

If determinism truely exists then we leave our lives as the foot of destiny? To do with it what it wants? Or should we attempt to use the freedom we might posses and be "good" human beings and be kind, gentle and loving to one another so the next generations won't have to suffer for our down falls? It's even confusing for me to grasp these concepts even though I have been ranting for the last five paragraphs. Regardless hopefully we can be enlightened with some type of understanding.

Amanda Gelpi

Daniel said...

I am interested in Jainism. Jainism does not have a specific god but they regard every living soul as a divine creature. A Jain is a follower of this religion and is suppose to fight the inner enemies such as hate and violence. This religion emphasizes not only on physical but mental behaviors. They should learn to control their thought because thoughts lead to actions. They have five basic ethical principles: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacarya (Celibacy), and Aparigraha (Non-possession).
Ahimsa means not harming a living being human or non-human. Satya means always speaking the truth. However, when the truth leads to violence, it is better not to talk. Asteya means not taking anything that is not given to you willingly. Brahmacarya is the complete abstinence from sex, which is practiced by the monks, the other followers practice monogamy. Finally, Aparigraha means not to have any possession, one is supposed to give up wealth. This means owning without attachment, one is suppose to be detached from every object and a lot of people.
They follow tirthankaras which are the 24 enlightened ascetics. They achieved infinitive knowledge and they helped other people to achieve it as well. One interesting fact about Jainism is that the religion makes the follower to be vegetarian. I loved to learn about this religion and it would be great to be part of it for a time to learn more from them.

Shane said...

I think Jose makes a valid point. I am not satisfied by the comment made in class concerning destiny. The word destiny by its nature rejects the idea of will or freedom because it suggests predetermination.

In class, Triff discussed the cycle of reincarnation that is described by Eastern philosophy. At once we are unwillingly brought into the world, lead lives, and then at our death bed we unwillingly leave, only to be taken into another life against our will. A scheme like that, as you can imagine, does not leave much room for will or freedom. It is said, although, that eventually we recognize this cycle and do our bests to be "higher forms" to eventually be one with the universal energy.

Still, I wonder whether or not progression in this sense is what everyone would want. What if I want to go down the chain, become a dog? What if that is not a hell at all. Isn't nothingness just as vast as being?

And imagine this. This chain of being is described cyclically. We go up or down the chain depending on forces such as karma, etc. When trying to get to a point in a circle, one can travel either way to reach said point. Why then, would it be desirable to continue striving through the difficult life of a human when one can regress into the seemingly simple lives of amoeba, until regression leads one into the basis of all things?

I think Benjamin's argument is really beautiful, paradoxical. Through these fabrications, truth can discovered. Its...Absurd! It can't be conceived logically. But yet it puts one in front of questions that are in themselves more important than any answers logic would provide, if any. I think Benjamin's ideas place the artists of our time in position of prominence. More importantly, it values imagination.

AndreaC said...

You brought up some very interesting points, Jessica, about self-realization. But I felt a little uneasy while reading at times. In some parts in seems like you contradict what you previously stated about self-realization.

You mention how memories are an important part of self-realization. What I got from this is that memories help you see yourself in your own present and that self is able to appreciate the past. Now, the example you stated – that deals with your own experiences – contradicts your argument. Someone who lives their life looking at the future has no past so in this sense, memories don’t apply. Living in the future is like being a zombie in the present, going through the motions. You don’t enjoy anything; you’re just doing it to achieve the future you see in your head. Therefore, the past won’t define the present and the present won’t define the past. It is possible to be launched into a state of confusion and blindness but then a gain, not really. If you’re past is a blank slate, you will be able to recreate yourself however you want.

You will be able to reach self-realization with or without your memories. You can’t rely on memory so much because, again, if you live in the future, your past is a blank slate, and the mind – being the mind – will generate memories that never happened thus making memory unreliable.

Andrea Cebrecos (T/R @ 11:40AM)