Friday, September 13, 2013

karma, our class, free will & duck rabbit (post for comment)

art by scott greenwalt

1- my slip of tongue on the issue of reincarnation. i said: "i don't believe in reincarnation." of course what i meant was "reincarnation" as a soul (after biological death) beginning a new life in a new body (whether animal or human or spiritual) depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions. but that doesn't take away the viability of the metaphor (we've talked about the importance of metaphors already).

2- many of the rough edges in reasoning have to do with what kind of suit do you wear to a philosophy class.

3- the problem of free will & determinism keeps surfacing. good. you have to come to terms with this trifecta:

libertarianism (not political, but volitional)

once you do, your analysis gets more focused. by the way, it's also ok. to suspend the issue until you feel better about it. there are no easy --or quick-- answers here.

4- there was a question at the end of the class regarding what am i learning here? look, when we tackle a system (hinduism, now), we present it within a historic frame, then we discuss the metaphysics (after all this is a philosophy class) and finally we read the main texts in class. i prefer to touch the issues and problematize them (it makes for richer deeper discussions). which brings me to this point: our discussions are not mere rantings. they touch important points and offer provisional solutions. we must be open minded and understand that the to-and-fro of philosophical discussion is quite productive. do you feel a bit lost? after two or three class lectures and discussions i bet you'll feel better.  there is no single view of hinduism. that doesn't mean that in the end one can come up with some generalities. there are many different schools with contrasting metaphysics, texts, avatars, narratives, etc. and what happens is that the more you try to simplify (and i'd argue that simplicity for its own sake is not necessarily a virtue), the more you end up with fallacious reductionisms. just be a little patient. if you're a little bewildered, think of duck/rabbit! (more of this in the weeks ahead).

coming back to 1- is there a conclusive way to establish that bad actions lead to bad karma? what does it mean that one ends up badly? if there is a difference between being good and being evil? well, the psychological states of an evil person (even character) cannot be the same as that of a good person.why? the difference between the two lies in what aristotle calls eudaimonia.  if aristotle had known the jaina idea of karma, he would have agreed that a virtuous person has better karma than that of an evil person (aristotle did not believe in reincarnation either).

5- i want to invite you to become a friend of m.bourbaki.  

6- anything else that i forgot?

(i close this post next wednesday at 11pm, but prefer you to make comments by tuesday)


Anonymous said...

Dear class, I have thought about some points over the weekend and I think I've come up with some semi-solid deductions. (I hope I have not attained fake moksha).

1) I wrestled with the idea of determinism, free-will, and compatibilism quite a bit. Here's why; If you have gained Papa through actions in the very first cycle of life, in the next one you will be condemned to be a lesser form of life with lesser attributes. If this is so, in the next life you will but be the puppet of what you were in the previous one. It is a result of your karmic chaos in the first life. Then, however, your delinquency in the second life is not a result of your free-will but of your karmic nature and in that capacity you cannot be said to be liable for your criminal acts for you cannot punish a dog for barking, a cow for mooing, a fish for swimming. That is when, for me, Hinduism has a problem. How can a delinquent bring himself to overcome bad thoughts bad, actions, bad views, if it is by design that he must have those bad thoughts, bad views, bad actions as a payback for his intransigence in the previous life? In short, how can Hinduism expect a thief to overcome his delinquency if by Karma he is condemned to be one in the first place? For me , then, it is impossible having descended into papas to ever overcome one's bad Karma. The evolution of life-forms, then, will have continued in a predetermined way (because bad will reinforce bad and good reinforce good) and must have an end. This concept is not dissimilar from Marx's ideas that out of the various castes in pre-capitalist society everyone would eventually be placed in the proletariat or bourgeoisie camps (involuntarily so).

2)The second problem that I have come up with, practical in nature. If this reality is meant to be transcended and only upon transcending it do we become conscious of its illusory nature, how can we possibly aim to consciously transcend it? That is, how did these scriptures come to us if it isn't possible for them to be infallible because they exist in this reality? By fighting this reality, do not we recognise its existence in the first place?

Take the concept of the Ratnatraya, for example. We are taught that we must be act, think, and view the world the right way. Never mind that Hinduism cannot account for its cosmological origins (for unlike in Christianity angels the voice of god does not whisper into our ears to tell us what the Bible is). A much more pressing problem, in my opinion, is how can one possible adhere to the principles of Jaina philosophy without first recognising the importance that this supposedly fake reality (and our conduct in it) has on our progression to the true and supreme one? By willing to detach oneself from this reality one has to admit that it is there already!

I'm eager to discuss this with all of you.

Jose Giron

atRifF said...

Good points Jose. Tomorrow will be the day ;)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to share a thought with you folks that came to me while driving near my house yesterday afternoon.

It was raining quite a bit yesterday and on my way home down Grand Ave. I saw a young black man walking in the rain. Immediately my mind went racing with the possibilities of good and bad karma.

First, is is bad karma if I see something that I could change for the better, but instead leave alone?

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." - Edmund Burke

On the other hand what if I had helped the man? What if he led me down a street with no exit? What if set up to be car jacked?

Now I know this is 95% white people paranoia, but I thought it interesting nonetheless.

Peace and Love,

Anonymous said...

Well teach first of let me say my bad for not commenting for today but uh here it goes now that i know that i can comment on what i would like; I believe karma can be instant or it can seed in ones life and flourish when the being needs to learn a lesson or needs a lift from a bottomless pit in life. I dont believe that they are set rules to how it affects our daily lives, ive learned through experiences that our life is very complicated there are very few things that are set and are non changing. karma is not one of these things karma can be affected by the slightest of things and it may not be fair if i knew why things were unjust i would be in a different length. however karma is fair because it achieves an equal balanced decision ultimately the way you choose to perceive the decision is up to your being.

Anonymous said...

my bad that was

Anonymous said...

Hello, so last class I asked you about if a mother has a deformed child would that be considered her bad karma or the childs, also is karma passed on? You answered that it would be the Childs karma because it is his own life as that being and that would just be the womans darmah to love her child. Then later as the class progressed you then contradicted yourself and said that in fact it is her karma to have a deformed child because she is the one with the bad genes so it was her karma to have those genes and have the deformed child. So does this mean there is some sort of belief of an organization in another life plane or higher dimension organizing souls that have bad karma banks to be born into lives where women have bad karma banks and have to have deformed children? It all seems so planned that I can’t seem to understand how this karma belief system really plays out?

atRifF said...

Jasmin, point taken. I usually contradict myself (humans are fallible). But sometimes it's just plain duck/rabbit. If reincarnation was true, then the absurdity of it all wanes: One brings to the world a child that (already) has its own history. Now, as "your" child, there's a dharma to be fulfilled. Your duty to take care of the child regardless of her past lives. One last point: this child is -also- your own karma (banked or debit points?). Having her (whether you believe in reincarnation or not) has fundamentally altered your give-and-take worldly views. As her mother is her karma, now, not your own?

Anonymous said...

On Evil,

It was discussed that the fallacy on the concept of Ahimsa is that it requires an objective standard. I agree with Jose. And I believe the professor did not get our kindred arguments. Think of blooms taxonomy. An evaluation is contingent upon a comparison. One can only deem a problem analyzed if compared to one's standards. Now, apply this to self-image. How do we know we are doing better? Apply it to ethics. How do we know we did the right thing? We simply compare our actions and self-image to whatever standard of perfection one holds dear. Here, I am simply defining an evaluation. The standard must be perennial and objective for comparison and evaluation to exist. How would the professor evaluate our tests? Based on the standard of perfection of the correct OBJECTIVE answer.
Now, I gather that Ahimsa is subjective. It states that bad karma is derived from ill intent. Now what is intent? How do you judge what is within one's mind. Back to the Nazis, who is to know their intent? On a lighter example, lets take the Inquisition. Why is it wrong to burn a witch? One may do it to hinder the work of Satan, to prevent the plague from reaching one's city, to provide a happy life to his family. Did God incurred bad karma when he sent Michael to do the same with Lucifer? I suppose I argue utilitarianism and the professor argued “non-consequentionalism”????? However, for something to be perennial it must be the above mentioned standard of perfection. Kant would say it is inherently wrong to lie because a lie is contradictory with the truth by definition. Here, he makes the evaluation between truth and lie by having the lie as the immutable standard.
Moreover, on love. What is love? Is it the feeling? No. Such rush is kindred to eating a lot of chocolate. Love is selflessness and commitment. I believe in my last comment, I mentioned reading words for their true meaning, not assumed interpretation. The pervasive Christian tenet is sacrifice; the true interpretation of love. From Judaism, it fallows in the “Shema Israel” that to worship is sacrifice; Christ does not deny this, he adds hospitality to such commandment, as does the Baal Shem Tov. My point, which was not understood, was that love can not be universal. One may hate what is directly opposite to what one loves. Love must happen in a hierarchy. I love my dog, but I love my sister more (love being interpreted as sacrifice). If my dog attacks my sister, I would choose, in the hierarchy, my sister and kill the dog, probably slowly. Love may easily turn into hate. Read apocalypse. Read the entire Old Testament. The tribe of Levi loved God so much they killed an entire family who dishonored him. Sounds like hate? Back to my comment in class, if love may not be universal and it is selflessness, utilitarianism is compatible with it and Ahimsa is not. Maybe this explains the origins of fundamentalism.

Anonymous said...

sorry the last one was mine vinicius Giannattasio

atRifF said...

vinicius, i still don't know exactly what your point is, but will try my best to see if we can make sense. i'll pretend to be a western jaina practitioner:

An evaluation is contingent upon a comparison. One can only deem a problem analyzed if compared to one's standards.


now, are you defending objective standards in ethics? i have no problem with that. i believe slavery is wrong & was wrong all along.

Moreover, on love. What is love? Is it the feeling? No. Such rush is kindred to eating a lot of chocolate.

disagree. love is definitely an emotion. a person unable to feel emotions may "reason" all day about love and still not being able to understand what love is. that the emotion manifests itself differently is obvious but deceiving. though it may count for the many different "versions" we have, the fact that we have many versions doesn't mean we cannot have better and worse versions. it's here that standards apply (and if that's what you're saying, i, as a jainist would agree with you).

If my dog attacks my sister, I would choose, in the hierarchy, my sister and kill the dog, probably slowly.


Love may easily turn into hate.

disagree. true love should not harm while hatred can. thus, what turns into hate is a selfish version of love.

Kate Blazej said...

Hello Professor Triff and class of PHI 2070
Since this is my first posting, and I apologize for that, I would like to state the fact that I am thoroughly enjoying this "unconventional" learning experience and relish in the ability to connect and debate with my fellow peers about the subjects at hand.
The most recent discussion that I continue to think about is the subject of Karma. Being baptized and raised a Catholic, karma was a very seldom used word in my household. Repentance and forgiveness of sin were more commonplace. So I wonder, If a person was to commit a sin, or an act of benevolence, would a simple apology grant them a clean slate? I was merely wondering in regard to my own religion. However this got me thinking about Ahimsa, the non-violent approach, consisting of respect, passion and forgiveness. If every follower of Jainism adopted this, could the world, or even a portion of it live in peace and well being?
It is written that the goal of Jainism is achieved through clearance of Karmic obstructions. The four objections of the soul are your birth, your knowledge, your true faith and leading yourself down the path of righteousness. If one is to be born pure, raised and not only educated, but also taught to think for oneself they could stretch the boundaries of human possibility. They could also lead a path to achieve the status of siddha and attain god-consciousness.
Another subject that I was excited to learn about was Gandhi's logic where he punctuates two opposing beliefs about ahimsa regarding violence. He states when it is necessary, or an equal transfer of power. Also non-violence, regarding non hatred toward his opponent and the belief of retaining ones sword does not equal fearlessness. I immensely respect these views and would love to discuss them further while in class.

Thanks for reading
Kate Blazej

Anonymous said...

Reincarnation is not my first choice amongst theories of what happens to the soul in the afterlife, but, I recognize that I cannot deny something simply because I cannot prove it. There are tribes that live with the belief that the soul is transferred down through ancestral generations and that it is recognizable because the proof is that once an elder dies, however long after, a baby is born and usually has a distinguishable birth mark that can only be related to the soul of the ancestor who once bared the same mark. Now, my question is this. If we compared the belief of the tribe I mentioned to ours, could it not be explained by genetics? In this particular case-the “metaphor” might have more truth behind it than we might know. I don’t really care whether or not these arguments disagree with each other because quite frankly, there are too many contradictions in this world for one to be surprised of the endless pondering and connections we can make, then undo, then remake again.

Personally, my karma feels like it can be instant and also have time lags…but I feel that it is my own and I give it to myself. If I do something wrong, even if it takes me days or years to realize it, I will definitely not be happy about it when I do. It’ll stay in my mind somewhere-how I deal with it is up to me. Will I turn it into good karma or bad? Will I go back and keep doing the same or will I use it to learn and form a new path?

When things get too complicated, sometimes, all I need to do is listen to Morgan Freeman narrate and discuss ideas on the show, “Through the Wormhole.” Yes, I know it’s a show, but his voice is ever so soothing and patient as it takes you in and makes you learn. When watching an episode on the issues between free will and determinism, many different theories were respectfully presented. Some people explained determinism it in mathematical terms. Others argued that life has a beginning and an end point and that although the beginning and the end are determined, there are many different paths among which you can choose to take to the end of the road.

I’ve always believed that what works for us is what’s most important. With that being said, there was an experiment which consisted of having students watch a screen that would sometimes beautify free will and say that we are where we are now in our lives because of our own decisions. The other times, it would say that we pretty much have no control over our lives because everything is decided for us. After each individual student saw their designated message on the screen, they were to take a test, score the test themselves while in a private setting and take a coin for each question they got correct. When compared, the group of students that saw a message about how life is determined and there’s nothing you can do about it were far more likely to grab more coins than they should’ve based on their scores. The whole point of this experiment was to express the idea of how determinism makes it a whole lot easier for us to excuse our actions. If this were the case, I would argue that whether or not free will is true-it sure is helpful to us as human beings to believe that we do have some sort of free will. Ideas can sometimes be as powerful as facts. Not everything is science or meant to be proven or not proven but if we want to believe that we can achieve what we wish to within our own limitations-and it actually helps us to be successful-then why not just let it be? We must do what works best for us if we wish to be happy.

-Veronica Gomez Musa

Anonymous said...

On the subject of being good or evil, I think we couldn't have touched upon it more perfectly in class. That being intention (ahimsa v. himsa); good intention vs. malice. If an action, be it brutal, destructive (not going to mention the perfect example, in light of last class)justified if carried out with some level of good intent. Is it justified to eliminate A,B and C to save D,E,F and G. In that I think we brushed on the philosophy of utilitarianism and Jeremy Bentham, I think. But like the saying goes " the road to Hell is paved with good intentions," even if one intends good and has no malice in mind, and yet causes much more damage and destruction than good, is it consider good or ahimsa? Should not the ends justify or condemn, and not the intent? I'mm not justifying bad intent either, I think the root of all (or most) great evil is premeditated. But is it just to judge someone on just their actions, even if they meant well (or at least meant no harm), regardless of the level of the damage that person may have done? Terrible things can happen (even by men) without malice, accidents happen. I personally like to think that those situations (no harm intended, yet much harm is done) as bad luck and that the person/people who committed it weren't doing evil. And I'm repeating myself too much.
-Manny Alonso

Fabio.V said...

Ahimsa in Jainism does indeed point to a problem of objectivity. Since societies have a lifespan much like every animal on this planet, it does follow from this that it must come to an end at some point in time. However, I doubt that such termination will be abrupt, on the contrary, in the likely hood of such a phenomenon, society will asunder very slowly but steadily. Now imagine one finds himself/herself amidst this termination; where the momentum of destruction has been greatly amassed to the point where the end is inevitable. Will one still espouse the same confidence to another's intentions as one so does today? That is, will one be so confident as to trust another's intention(s) even when such a society has descended to an incondite state? One objection might be that this is a pessimistic view and technology might find a way around this problem. Regardless, societies do have a lifespan and that I take to be a fact. Another objection might confer: since this is the end, why should one care about trust or intentions? Well, it is not always the case that societies know they will plunge to inevitable destruction. Most often they do not.
Going back to this problem of intentions vs a standard of judgment and trust. In a place like the United States or anywhere else that has mitigated chaos and that has somewhat achieved a stable society; where people’s needs are met, we can say that in cases like these, it is worthy to invest one’s trust in another’s intention(s) much more than if one came from a third world country. My point is that, the same way we rely on an individual’s intention(s), so too do intentions rely on the quality of the one who fashions them. How many thoughtful people exist in comparison to thoughtless people? This is not to say that I do not agree with the Arestolian principles of good character and virtue. I do believe that people do possess good qualities and therefore are possessors of good intentions, however, such a thing is in my opinion so fragile that it may be easily corrupted given the proper conditions. It would be best to adhere to a standard of judgment as opposed to what Jainism prescribes in this matter. What I am simply saying here is that man is also conditioned by his savage nature as much so as he is conditioned by his good volition towards his own kind, and for this reason I reckon the Jaina principles on intention(s) to be fallible.

Anonymous said...

My 6th grade philosophy teacher first presented the concept of Karma to me. As I understood it, there was good and bad karma. Through negative actions you accumulated negative karma and vice versa for positive karma. Over the years it hasn’t changed much, but evolved more with my education and critical thinking. I believe that through positive actions you receive positive outcomes, same thing for negative actions. For example, if I do my homework and study, I will get a satisfactory grade on my exam/classes. Lets say instead of studying all afternoon, I go to a party, eat some shrooms, and passout. Odds are I won’t do well on that exam. Now if I choose to go do graffiti on a government building, that would be blasphemy to one person, and artistic to another. I don’t believe that there is an absolute right or wrong for certain things. For example, killing for the sake of killing is absolutely wrong. Flat out. If someone murders my family someone dear to me, then that absolute wrong against killing someone goes out the window. I don’t believe there is a tally sheet somewhere with all my wrongs and all my rights. I don’t believe my wrong doings have any effect on my future offspring’s “clean slate.”
There is good and there is bad. Sometimes negative action is necessary for a positive outcome. A drug dealer is dealing drugs because he needs to feed his family and keep a roof over their head. Selling dope is a negative but his family’s prosperity is a positive outcome is it not? “The drug dealer does not need to sell drugs for money. That’s a cop out, he can get a job.” Having a chance at legitimate employment after being arrested and prosecuted is significantly difficult. This is just an example, but you see where I’m going with it.

In regards to reincarnation, I don’t see any conclusive evidence showing its possibility. I believe in science and facts. When I die, (regardless if I’m cremated or buried) my physical being will change state and transfer into something else. Through decomposition, the earth will eventually absorb me and my energy will be transformed. If I’m cremated, (assuming my family members carry out my wishes) my ashes will be spread over the ocean. Whatever is left of me will be eaten by small fish or dissolved into the water. Matter is not created nor destroyed. I believe the concept of my conscious self being transferred to another life according to my karma, is ridiculous. BUT THAT’S JUST ME!

See you all tomorrow!
~Manny Valdes

Anonymous said...

So, I'm not really the barer of any answers but I do have a few questions which I guess means I'm learning. Anyways, I'm a bit confused of something which was stated previously about karma.I do understand that although it is predetermined it also gives leeway decision. Does this mean that a criminal can stop doing crime but will resort to something equally as bad because of their karma? Like the example used about the thief, if they stop committing physical theft will they commit thievery in other senses?

Something else I was wondering which was also mentioned in class is if karma is shared. What I mean by this is can you be influenced by someone who has bad karma or is is that already in your own own karma?

There is a line which we read in class of Ghandi's logic on ahimsa which said something along the lines of it's better to be violent if there is violence in your heart than pretending to be nonviolent. Why is this so? Is this his way of accepting that there has to be a certain amount of violence in order to create chaos that maintains balance or does it have do with not being able to change karma? Does it even have to do anything with those two things? I'm obviously not sure. All of my questions still have to do with karma but I'll try being confused on other things besides it.

~Katherine Davila

Anonymous said...

hey there guys,
so i'm going to try to stay on course with this post and hopefully i don't veer too off track. When it comes to the issue of reincarnation i have always believed something along the lines of what professor Triff stated his own personal belief on the subject is. While i do not believe in the reincarnation of the soul into a new body after death and starting a new life, I do believe that we have multiple reincarnations throughout the different stages in our lives. In the metaphorical sense, the word reincarnation can symbolize a rebirth or new beginning, sometimes caused by some significant life event or even by our own pursuit to further expand our knowledge. As far as karma is concerned, i do believe that we determine our own Karma throughout our life span by not only our actions but our intentions as well. I do not, however, believe that our karma carries over into our subsequent lives. Looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts during class!!

Valerie Figueroa

Vini Giannattasio said...

I am defending standards in ethics but i am also pointing to the absence of it in Jaina philosophy; it presuposes subjective intent when, by definition, a standard must be objective.
moreover, i try to solve the predicament left by above mentioned fallacy. The standard is objective and "non-consequential," but the defense of such standard is utilitarian because of the agreed upon hierarchical choices. this is a contradiction to Jaina. If the only solution to its problem is against it, it does not work. THAT WAS THE POINT.
Also, you never explained why love is universal. it can not harm is is universal. when you agreed that i can kill the dog that i love to save my sister who i love more, you state that ontological love is not made manifest universally. so it can harm what goes against the NON UNIVERSAL object of such love.

So why is love universal for you professor? And why can a version be selfish if you state that it is tautologically universal?

Anonymous said...

There is no way to establish a connection between actions and karma. It is all subjective. - Ethan Epshteyn