Category: Philosophy

St. Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument and Gaunilo’s objection to it

Anselm of Canterbury was one of the early promoters of the Ontological Argument supporting the existence of God. He argues that God exists on the basis that ‘something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought’ should necessarily exist in reality. In other words, just as anything a painter can conceive of can be materialized into a painting, the conception of God is a terminal point for human imagination. To the extent that it is imaginable, the object exists. To the extent that it is the ultimate in the scale of imagination, it must be God. Anselm goes on to claim that that God cannot be thought not to exist is further proof. He says, ‘something-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought’ exists so truly that it cannot even be thought not to exist. If a creature is able to think of something better and bigger than God, it would have to be above its Creator and be judging its Creator. Since this is logically impossible, it is only God who not only truly exists but also exists to . . . Read More

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Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg

It is important for all of us to have spiritual moorings. To be able to negotiate the vagaries of life, a spiritual support is essential. Sharon Salzberg’s informative book Faith is a personalized account of the necessity of faith. Talking from her experiences as an American Buddhist teacher, Salzberg offers readers several insights on the subject.

One of the main concepts spoken by Salzberg is the ‘discovery of truth’. Citing Buddhist understanding of cognitive processes, she reckons that human senses are not adequate to comprehend spiritual insights. To be able to get enlightened, disciplined pursuit of truth is necessary. Salzberg talks about how her own spiritual journey was marked by phases of doubt and confusion. Indeed, it is these challenges which make knowledge concrete, pulling away from its conceptual abstractions. In her own case, she encountered confusion whether to follow the Burmese or the Tibetan tradition of spiritual contemplation. She states that such . . . Read More

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The considerable overlap between Buddhism and Neuroscience

Following the thesis of Weisman’s article for the Seed Magazine, this essay will further furnish evidence in support of its claims. This essay will argue that much of the distilled wisdom of Buddhist thought is congruent with modern findings in neuroscience.

Of late Buddhism has found a following in the West. The major reason is that it is seen as a practical and philosophical system than a dogmatic religion. For example, the practice of meditation is far from being an esoteric mystical aspiration. There are palpable everyday benefits arising from regular meditation practice. Just as working out in the gym is good for the body, the daily practice of meditation is seen as a mind-exercise. To the extent that the mind is a manifestation of the physiology of the brain, meditation can also be seen as a brain exercise. Neuroplasticity is the term used by neurologists for describing the mutability of brain structures. Just as a body builder can shape and grow his muscles . . . Read More

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C. A. Campbell’s Has The Self ‘Free Will’?

Rubric: What two conditions must be satisfied, according to Campbell, in order for a choice to be an exercise of free will (in the morally significant sense)? How do these two conditions relate to determinism? Also provide a reasoned evaluation of Campbell’s defense of free will.

At the outset, there is no consensus among philosophers as to the definition of free will. The definitions have ranged between the most banal to the most intellectually rigorous. Since Campbell believes that a well-defined problem facilitates its solution, free will is identified with two attendant features – moral responsibility and consequences. In other words, free will is said to be operant whenever an action is seen to be morally responsible or lack thereof. In the same vein, free will is applied to those actions which lead to significant consequences. The second condition is important, for there is no utility in dissecting the intentions of an individual when they do not . . . Read More

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The Qualia Problem by Frank Jackson

At the centre of Frank Jackson’s articulation of the Qualia Problem is the claim that “one can have all the physical information without having all the information there is to have”. In the case of sensory experience, for example, while all sorts of comprehensive data could be recorded in a said event, there is yet an intangible element to the actual experience itself. Take, say, a person smelling a rose. Using modern technology one could capture all sorts of biochemical, psychological and cognitive processes that the act of smelling a rose invokes. Yet, the actual experience of smelling a rose cannot merely be contained and explained through this comprehensive body of information. This in essence is the Qualia problem.

Jackson illustrates the inadequacy of physicalism through couple of examples. He uses the ‘knowledge argument’ in describing the case of the exceptionally sighted Fred. Fred actually sees two colors within the conventional red spectrum. In other . . . Read More

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The Value of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (Chapter XV of Problems of Philosophy)

Rubric: Explain Russell’s take on the central value of philosophy. In the final part of your answer, provide a reasoned evaluation of some aspect of Russell’s defense of philosophical inquiry that includes some discussion of an example or two that you think illustrates the importance of philosophy in relation to living and acting in the world.

Russell’s argument is of the vein that studying philosophy is an end in itself. Many fields in science offer us technical knowledge to enhance our material comforts. But this cannot be the sole objective of our existence. Deliberating fundamental questions on the meaning of life, human nature, the cosmos, etc do not have any commercial value. But a life lived without such philosophical speculation is quite limited and enslaved.

Philosophy helps us to broaden our intellectual and emotional horizons by subjugating our self-interest. It cultivates in us to focus on the non-Self, which liberates us from individual . . . Read More

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The Spaces between Stars by Geeta Kothari: An interpretation based on Hindusism

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of the world. It evolved in the Indian subcontinent over 5000 years ago and has a rich body of literature. Unlike monotheistic religions such as Christianity or Islam, Hinduism is polytheistic, with thousands of deities and gods being worshipped. Even in terms of ethnography and culture there is a rich diversity of Hindu expression. The sacred rituals and beliefs related to Hinduism vary across ethnic communities in India. The Hindu scriptures explain morality in the form of legends and myths. More than a religion per se, Hinduism can be looked at as a philosophical system. The key themes of this system are that of the interconnectedness of life, repercussions of good and bad deeds (karma), the temporariness of earthly existence and the aspiration toward liberation from it (moksha). Texts such as the Upanishads and epics such as Ramayana and Mahabaratha serve as mediums of this philosophic discourse.

In Geeta Kothari’s short story the . . . Read More

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Difference between descriptive ethics and normative ethics

What is the difference between descriptive ethics and normative ethics? What role do values play in each of these two approaches to ethics? Provide examples to illustrate your points.

Descriptive ethics is founded on the belief that humans are ‘hard-wired’ to be selfish. That is, they are for the most part absorbed in fulfilling their own desires and goals. The capitalist economy is a good example of this instinct in humans, whereby, ‘greed is good’ is an accepted mantra for business corporations and individuals alike. Descriptive ethics promotes a ego-centric decision making model, whereby, an individual is morally entitled to pursue his own happiness through independent action. Cultural relativism is another term coupled to descriptive ethics. This school of thought contends that what is right or wrong is specific to the particular cultural milieu. Normative ethics, on the other hand, takes a more didactic approach to human action in that it . . . Read More

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The Great Man Theory of History as evidenced in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance

Applying the Great Man theory of History as a subtext to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic essay Self-Reliance makes for an interesting synthesis. The Great Man theory was brought into public discourse by Thomas Carlyle in the 1840s. But most of the later commentators pointed out to some of the misassumptions and flaws in the theory. Chief among them was Herbert Spencer who viewed that great individuals were products of their culture, history and environment and the inverse is seldom true. Yet the idea of the Great Man holds an intuitive appeal to readers. As people sharing a sense of community we are all looking for leaders and role models to provide us guidance. It is this intuitive appeal for leadership that sustains the value of the Great Man Theory, although it had somewhat become unfashionable in the last century.

Great men are thought to be path-breakers and independent thinkers. (James, p.114) In Emerson’s text, we find a powerful invocation of individuality. He . . . Read More

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Redefining student success in American academia: Annotated Bibliography

Daniel R. Jones-White, Peter M. Radcliffe, Ronald L. Huesman Jr., John P. Kellogg, Redefining Student Success: Applying Different Multinomial Regression Techniques for the Study of Student Graduation Across Institutions of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, March 2010, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp.154-157.

The article tackles a perceived flaw in standard evaluations of student success. Moving away from binary all-or-nothing classifications of ‘graduate’ or ‘drop-out’, Jones-White et al device a more sophisticated method. Through the analysis of data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), the method takes into account retention and graduation numbers at both entry and transfer institutions. Hence, what they accomplish is to construct a polychotomous definition of success. The challenge facing them include identifying new methods to model limited dependent variables. They are sceptical that the multinomial logit method is apt for the . . . Read More

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