Not only was Lucretius my all-time favorite Roman philosopher, he was also the greatest of philosophical poets who lived through one of the most anarchic periods in Roman history: a time of dictatorship, civil war, and conspiracies. No one was safe from this world. Continue reading Lucretius
We Know Nothing
The hallmark of the Hellenistic era was chaos due to the deteriorating political influence of the city states and countless ruinous wars among autocratic rulers. That Tyche, the mercurial goddess of chance, was highly venerated everywhere, clearly indicates the instability of the time. Hellenistic people were deeply cognizant of the omnipresence of contingency in their lives.
Change the World?
“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Continue reading Change the World?
Philosophy on Twitter
Twitter is the perfect medium for today’s over-saturated media-soaked times. Continue reading Philosophy on Twitter
The Sense of Absurd in Schopenhauer’s Philosophy [English translation]
I have attached my working English translation of Clemet Rosset’s essay on Schopenhauer, The Sense of Absurd in Schopenhauer’s Philosophy. Rosset has emphasized the concept of absurdity as the chief intuition of Schopenhauer. In this fashion, Rosset has gone beyond the level of explaining odd or strange behavior, and to the root of existence itself. Therefore, to assess the strangeness of existence as a blind, ceaseless will also helps in the assessment of its particular manifestations, we ourselves as individuals.
In this essay, Rosset establishes Schopenhauer as the father of the concept of the Absurd that gained widespread circulation in mid-20th century French literature. As a French theoretician of postmodernity, Rosset pulled off a difficult job in summarizing Schopenhauer without sacrificing the 19th century German thinker’s profundity and relevance for today.
Every ‘why’ question is a subset of the ultimate question: Why is there Something and not Nothing instead? If you can think yourself and the world away, if you can say no, then you are acting in the dimension of the nothing. There is such a thing – the Nothing. We are, Heidegger says, “a placeholder of the nothing.” (What is Metaphysics, p. 38) The transcendence of human beings is therefore Nothing. Continue reading Nothing.
Creation, by Gore Vidal
A historical novel by Gore Vidal, Creation is an Odysseus styled dialectic on religious dogma. The main character, Cyrus Spitama, is the grandson of Zarathustra, and his encounters with other 5th century sages are clearly the highlights of the novel. Cyrus is fixated on the question of creation, or the origin of the universe or human existence. Initially he was indoctrinated by Zarathustra, specifically the dualistic ontology of Zoroastrianism. Convinced with this religious truth, he sets out to test the alternative answers or non-answers of other wise men, such as those from the East: the Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tze, and the West: Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, and etc. However, the book demonstrates how much of a fatal flaw the question of creation was for Western philosophy, because it always was the wrong question. Continue reading Creation, by Gore Vidal
Leopardi and pessimism
Giacomo Leopardi is one of the greatest secrets of 19th century poetry. Despite being heralded by luminaries like Schopenhauer1 and Nietzsche, his fame remains scattered in Europe and hardly extends to the American hemisphere. Leopardi’s Zibaldone di pensieri2 was read by every school kid but they barely cracked open his Operette Morali.3 The likely culprit is an irredeemable pessimism that was too difficult for interpreters to connect it to contemporary issues. Leopardi wrote mostly moral essays, parables, fables, and dialogues – painting life as a joke of the gods – a darkly comic view of world and its inhabitants. However, instead of leaving the reader sad and pathetic, they are actually funny. Continue reading Leopardi and pessimism
Leibniz & God
In his philosophical system, Leibniz tried to juggle God and the monads. He claimed that monads are both eternal & indestructible, yet also with the same breath, he claimed that God is capable of creating them or destroying them in a jiffy. Monads are supposedly free, which is a must for all substances, but not so in God’s eyes.
Now, just exactly what is God in this system of monadology? Is God a monad Himself? Leibniz only goes far enough to assert that God is the “monad of monads.” Interesting, isn’t it?
If God isn’t a monad, then that would explain for God’s existence before he “flashes” the monads into existence. However, that means monads exist, and consists of properties only in virtue of the properties of this flashing, non-monadic entity. Then if monads depends on another entity, then they are not substances. The definition of substance is something that does not depend on anything else to be what it is. If monads depends on God, then they are only “modes” of a substance. If God is the only entity that does not depend on anything else to be what it is, then God is the only substance.
Hegel observed this: “There is a contradiction present. If the monad of monads, God, is the absolute substance, and individual monads are created through his will, their substantiality comes to an end.” (Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3rd section)
If God is not a monad, then Leibniz is basically a Spinozist.
On the other hand, let’s say the “monad of monads” is a monad. However, if God is a monad, then by definition he cannot interact with other monads, or he would determine their essence, and/or they, his. At best, God as monad may be involved with his creation only virtually, which is the pre-established harmony Leibniz often writes about. Thus, if God acts through this pre-established harmony, then he could not have created that either. FWIW, whatever God does, it follows with absolute, logical necessity from his monadic essence. The idea that God will “create” this universe is already contained within the concept of God, much like “got shot in Dallas” is a necessary predicate of “JFK.” Given the hypothesis that to choose one monad is to choose the entire universe, then therefore, once God exists, then the universe such as it is, exists with utter necessity. God could not have had a choice about anything – except like JFK, he is ignorant of his true nature.
Bottom line: if God is a monad, then he isn’t God, but someone like us. If God is a monad, then Leibniz was an atheist.
Philosophy Can [Not] Change You
If philosophy cannot guide our conduct, much less change behavior, then why should we bother read philosophy at all? Curiosity, perhaps? If philosophy can help guide conduct, then let’s look at conduct. At the bare minimum, our actions are the result of character, which is what we fundamentally will as motivation. Then it follows that a change in motives will result in a change in action. Then it is reasonable that philosophy can at least produce a change in the information we have about the world that is relevant to how we act.