Friday, 31 March 2017

Charles Taylor - notes on lecture at 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions after September 11

Charles Taylor – Reflections on the Quebec Consultation Commission on Cultural Differences
One of the most important thinkers Canada has produced, Charles Taylor (BA ‘52) is that rare philosopher who attempts to put his ideas into practice. His writings have been translated into 20 languages, and have covered a range of subjects that include artificial intelligence, language, social behaviour, morality and multiculturalism…he joined forces with sociologist Gérard Bouchard to chair the high-profile Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences, the Quebec government’s response to a string of controversies surrounding the “reasonable accommodation” of religious groups; and he published A Secular Age, a study of the changing place of religion in our societies, which the New York Times hailed as “a work of stupendous breadth and erudition.”
There are two recent models –the regime controlling religion  or religion controlling the regime; both are disastrous outlooks. The challenge is looking for a way of structuring lives with diverse views; how can we live together as citizens in modern democracy, which is very much different from Athenian democracy. There must not be differences among citizens, no discrimination. We need to figure out how to regulate different outlooks, to see all views on the same footing. We take into consideration the diversity model based on the first amendment of the US constitution. There are differences in established churches – there is trouble if one Church has precedence over another. We have the American diversity model versus French controlling law. There are issues of problems of extremism, for example the19th century protestant Christian vision of society where protestants united to stave off equality; The French 1904/05 laws establishing separation of Church and State; Problem of Catholicism trying to influence the Republic. A major question is “Where is hegemony in religion”.
We face the modern problem of unprecedented religious diversity and immigration as source of diversity. There is a tremendous amount of young people who are searching – an immense number of searchers finding paths that did not exist before – this is a very important feature of the modern religious landscape. Religious control model has no relevance – the diversity law does. There are fears triggered by diversity coming though immigration – these fears are not rational – the presence of each minority religion is still negligeable, thus the fear is not rational. Peoples comments are to the effect that this problem is going to change their society so that it will become unrecognizable, but the reality is that we are going to change even if there was no immigration. We can take part, we can take charge of the battle, there is a well of potential. The problem is slightly more powerful in Europe with the recent wave of immigration, the problem is not as acute in North American societies. We have been through this historically – we did not give rights to Japanese and Chinese immigrants, the problem of slavery. We can all step back. What is religion? What are the differences within religions. There was a very powerful tendency towards stereotyping, Islamophobia, scapegoating.
Racial equality is one of our great values, but Quebec has not achieved salary equality between men and women. Do we really live up  to our standards? We need to get rid of our fear of others, for example with the problem of the hijab. What are we fighting for – what is liberal – what is humane? I was a proud Canadian, a proud Quebecer; I can no longer be proud. There are outstanding forces of scapegoating and stereotyping – all of western society has to come to grips with this – look what is happening in France, Germany and the UK. The Indian Republic has secularist policies and there is a real diversity thanks to Nadel, Gandhi and Nehru. Therefore we need to look beyond the west to Indian scholars such as Rajiv Bagai Mohammed Karaan. There is a great renewal in Senegal. We can’t be left alone. We have not won the battle of multi-cultural citizenship.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Through the Gates of Gold, Chapter 1, part 2
In order to avoid the reality of suffering, why not just end it all? But that is no solution because we do not really know what the after-life has in store for us. And it does not change the reality that we are born into this world because we crave the sensation of living. Moreover there is an interesting reflection on the importance of the will to live, observing that, if we truly had no desire to live, our body would naturally cease functioning. The craving for life is compared to a substance addiction:

“Man returns to physical life as the drunkard returns to the flagon of wine, — he knows not why, except that he desires the sensation produced by life as the drunkard desires the sensation produced by wine. The true waters of oblivion lie far behind our consciousness, and can only be reached by ceasing to exist in that consciousness, — by ceasing to exert the will which makes us full of senses and sensibilities.”

If one continues to follow this existential questioning, the more acute awareness of the realities of existence can be troubling:

“And more; we are content, for the most part, to go on without object or aim, without any idea of a goal or understanding of which way we are going. When the man first becomes aware of this aimlessness, and is dimly conscious that he is working with great and constant efforts, and without any idea towards what end those efforts are directed, then descends on him the misery of nineteenth-century thought. He is lost and bewildered, and without hope. He becomes sceptical, disillusioned, weary, and asks the apparently unanswerable question whether it is indeed worth while to draw his breath for such unknown and seemingly unknowable results.“

However, it can lead one to search for deeper solutions:

“But are these results unknowable? At least, to ask a lesser question, is it impossible to make a guess as to the direction in which our goal lies?”

ps - Below is a related passage from Light on the Path
It is a truth, that, as Edgar Allan Poe said, the eyes are the windows for the soul, the windows of that haunted palace in which it dwells. This is the very nearest interpretation into ordinary language of the meaning of the text. If grief, dismay, disappointment or pleasure, can shake the soul so that it loses its fixed hold on the calm spirit which inspires it, and the moisture of life breaks forth, drowning knowledge in sensation, then all is blurred, the windows are darkened, the light is useless. This is as literal a fact as that if a man, at the edge of a precipice, loses his nerve through some sudden emotion he will certainly fall.

The poise of the body, the balance, must be preserved, not only in dangerous places, but even on the level ground, and with all the assistance Nature gives us by the law of gravitation. So it is with the soul, it is the link between the outer body and the starry spirit beyond; the divine spark dwells in the still place where no convulsion of Nature can shake the air; this is so always. But the soul may lose its hold on that, its knowledge of it, even though these two are part of one whole; and it is by emotion, by sensation, that this hold is loosed.

To suffer either pleasure or pain, causes a vivid vibration which is, to the consciousness of man, life. Now this sensibility does not lessen when the disciple enters upon his training; it increases. It is the first test of his strength; he must suffer, must enjoy or endure, more keenly than other men, while yet he has taken on him a duty which does not exist for other men, that of not allowing his suffering to shake him from his fixed purpose. He has, in fact, at the first step to take himself steadily in hand and put the bit into his own mouth; no one else can do it for him. (Comment I)

Friday, 10 March 2017

Plato's Four Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul from the Phaedo part 4

4- Argument from Causation through Forms (Form of Life) (102b-107b)
Objection: The soul pre-exists, but even if it continues after death, it might not be immortal; it might eventually wear out and perish.
A full response to this objection requires a full treatment of the causes of generation and destruction.
As previously discussed, we can assume the existence of such forms as absolute beauty, goodness, and magnitude (see Argument 2). A thing is beautiful because it take part in absolute beauty. It is by beauty that beautiful things are beautiful and the same goes for forms such as largeness and smallness.
From this perspective, it would  be better to say that a tall man is taller by virtue of tallness than being tall by a head because a person cannot be taller by the same thing that makes someone shorter (or by something that is short).
We can then infer that no object can come into being except by participation in the reality peculiar to its appropriate universal; therefore, one plus one equals two, not by virtue of addition, but by participation in duality.
For example, Simmias is bigger than Socrates due to his height, and Socrates has the attribute of shortness relative to the height of Simmias.
Additionally, Simmias is smaller than Phaedo because Phaedo has the attribute of tallness in comparison with the shortness of Simmias.
Therefore Simmias is both short and tall, because his shortness is surpassed by the tallness of Phaedo and his tallness is asserted over the shortness of Socrates.
We can further infer that a form (tallness) cannot be both tall and short; tallness will not admit shortness; if shortness approaches, it must either withdraw or cease to exist.
However, Socrates can receive both shortness and tallness, but tallness itself cannot receive shortness and remain what it is.
And as seen from the first argument, opposite things come from opposite things; but the form of opposite itself can never become opposite to itself.
Therefore snow can never admit heat and remain snow; fire cannot admit cold. Moreover, the attribute of the form is applicable to both the form and the object possessing the form. For example Three is both three and odd, though not identical with oddness.
A given form does not admit its opposite and everything that possesses that form also does not admit its opposite.
For example, three (which is odd) cannot admit anything that is even and remain three. Three is always accompanied by the opposite of even (odd), even though not odd itself. Two is always accompanied by the opposite of odd (even). Fire is always accompanied by the opposite of cold (hot).
Consequently, double will not admit the form of odd; one and a half will not admit the form of whole.
Therefore it takes fire to make a body hot, not heat. (It takes an object possessing the form of heat and not the form of heat itself). Hence it takes fever to make a body diseased, not the form of disease itself.
We can then infer that it takes the soul to make the body alive and not the form of Life; and the opposite of life is death; therefore soul cannot admit its opposite, which is death; and that which does not admit death is immortal. Therefore the soul is immortal.
What is immortal is imperishable. God and the form of Life are immortal.
And so when death comes, the mortal part dies, and the immortal part escapes unharmed and indestructible and so we can infer that our souls will exist in the next world.
If the soul is immortal, then it demands care at all times. It takes nothing to the next world except the education and training it received in this life. Then it is of supreme importance in helping the newly deceased at the very beginning of their journey there.
Back to Part 1 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Plato's Four Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul from the Phaedo part 3

3- Argument from Affinity (Body / Soul duality) (78b-84b)
At this point, a question is raised: we are sure the soul exists before birth, but how can we be sure it continues after death?
In responding, we first need to ask what sort of thing would be naturally dispersed after death.
A composite or natural object will decompose, an incomposite one will not. Incomposite things are constant and invariable, and so these can thus be considered as absolute realities. Absolute Equality or Beauty are constant and invariable whereas concrete instances of beauty or equality are inconstant and variable. Concrete objects are sensual and perceivable whereas constant entities are only perceivable by thought, hence they are invisible.
One can therefore infer that invisible things are invariable and visible things are variable.
Now human beings are part body and part soul and the body is visible whereas the soul is invisible.
When the soul uses the body for inquiry (via the senses), it is drawn to the variable natures and gets confused; but when it investigates by itself, it passes into the pure, eternal, immortal,  immovable, and absolute nature which is constant and invariable; this latter process is then a kindred nature with the soul.
Therefore the body is variable and the soul invariable; and it would be good then, to assume that the divine part, the soul, should govern, and the mortal part, the body, should serve.
Never Self-Consistent
Always Self-Consistent

The philosopher, following reason and shunning pleasure and passions, frees himself from the imprisonment of the body and does not fear death.

Part 4 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Plato's Four Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul from the Phaedo part 2

2- Argument from the Theory of recollection
Recollection (72e-76e)
Definition of recollection: If we question someone in a certain way so as that they are lead to give a correct answer to a problem that they previously did not understand, or a correct understanding of a diagram they did not understand, this would indicate that the person had prior knowledge but had forgotten it and required that there memory be stimulated (For a full development of this concept, see Plato’s Meno).
If someone is reminded of something, then they must have known it previously. Recollection is arriving at knowledge in a particular way. Ex. Lovers see an object belonging o loved one and remember lover. Objects not seen in a while, that we had forgotten. Recollection may be caused by similar or dissimilar objects (one can see an object of Simmias or a portrait of Simmias and be reminded of Simmias)

Forms or Ideas (Eidos)
Along with recollection, we need to understand the nature of knowledge, and to this end we need to introduce the notion of forms (or ideas, in Greek: eidos).
To understand that nature of a form, let us admit that there is such a thing as equality (absolute equality, not the relative equality of two sticks, for example).
We can then observe that from seeing two equal sticks we are reminded of the idea of equality which exists separate from the sticks.
Whether the two sticks are similar or dissimilar does not matter as long as they remind you of the idea of equality. They do not have to be perfectly equal to remind one of equality.
We can then infer that we must have had previous knowledge, a previous understanding of equality, to understand the nature of seeing equals things striving after equality and falling short.

Sensation and Cognitive Theory
Note that it is through the senses that we perceive equality in sensible objects; therefore we must have acquired knowledge before using our senses; and since we acquire the sense faculties at birth, then we must have acquired this knowledge prior to our birth.
We can therefore infer that we must have acquired knowledge of all absolute standards before and at our birth.
And so we are born knowing and continue to know all our lives; we retain the knowledge we possess; and forgetting is loss of knowledge.
Therefore if we had knowledge prior to birth and lose it at birth and recover it after birth by exercizing our senses on objects, then this process is recollection.
Furthermore, since it is possible to be reminded of something we had forgotten by seeing an object (through association), then seeing is a kind of recollection.
So if someone us unable to explain something, it means that they do not possess that knowledge, then they need to recollect it, having forgotten it. When had they known it? If not in this life, then it must have been prior to that.

Hence souls had a previous existence, independent of bodies, and were possessed of intelligence, so we can infer that they must have had knowledge that embodiment has caused them to forget, therefore freedom from body gives them greater knowledge.
In conclusion, if there are absolute realities such as Beauty and Goodness and it is to them we refer to recollect, as copies refer to original patterns, then all objects of sensible perception can stimulate recollection.
Moreover, if these absolute realities exist, then so do our souls before our birth; if one of the two notions is impossible, so is the other.

Part 3