The History of Philosophy by A.C. Grayling (a book review!)

I didn’t merely devour AC Grayling’s The History of Philosophy — I lovingly savored it. I occasionally even re-read sections, taking my time and genuinely enjoying it.

The amount of content covered within these 700 pages is prodigious! Yet Grayling’s writing is accessible and engaging, often with a charming touch of wit. While a more seasoned philosophical student may not be as blown away, I was quite impressed. Although familiar with most of the names in this book, I was not as familiar with their various metaphysical/epistemological ideas.

2500 years of humankind’s most ingenious thinkers and philosophical schools of thought serve as quite a formidable subject to pen within a single volume. Yet the author succeeds in this task brilliantly.

I did think the Analytical Philosophy section got (just a little) dry, but I continued reading, and am certainly glad I did. After having finished this mind-expanding tome while soaking in the sun up at the lake, I can confidently say that The History of Philosophy is now among my very favorite books.

I also high recommend listening to any talk/lecture by AC Grayling (British author, philosopher, and Master of New College of the Humanities in London) that you can find. His wisdom, knowledge, and rationalistic approach to life is of high value, especially in such precarious times as these.

Thanks for reading.

Your friend and fellow book-dragon,

Tylor James.

history

What is Truth, and Can it Be Known?

The following essay is quite the far reach for me! I am not trained in philosophy, nor epistemology, and therefore am totally out of my depth. That being said, I believe I raise some fascinating questions. My hope is that some of my friends and readers may enlighten me as to the subjects of truth, what it is, if it can be known, etc. IF, that is, they can make sense of the following ramble.

***

My good friend, Michael Moen, has recently introduced me to the writings of Eastern thinker, Krishnamurti. One of his ideas I’ve become fascinated with has to do with the subject of truth. Krishnamurti claims that if truth is a living thing, then it must continue to change and evolve, such as all living things tend to do. Therefore, what is true today may or may not be true tomorrow.

Yet can there be a difference between truth and our perceptions of the truth? Perhaps it is our perceptions which are living things, which change depending upon new information and attitudes. Perhaps truth is “a dead thing”, forever remaining static and unchanging. Or perhaps not! We shall hold our judgement until we have collected further evidence to form a decision.

We may bring up innumerable examples of changing perspectives, of course. Once upon a time, humankind believed the Earth to be flat. Although there had been theories of a round Earth as far back as Pythagoras (6 BC), it was not until Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth (1511), that we had conclusive evidence to say the Earth was, in fact, a sphere.

Although human perception had declared the Earth to be flat, had declared that it was “truth” — the actual truth remained – regardless of our beliefs about it. My assertion here is that truth does not need to believed, such as lies do – truth merely needs to be understood. I venture to say that no one believes in a round earth anymore – they either understand it, or they do not.

So what is this “truth” thing, anyway? Some claim it does not even exist. Perhaps. But let’s look at a definition of truth from the online Merriam Webster, just for kicks:

 

1a (1)the body of real things, events, and factsACTUALITY

(2)the state of being the caseFACT

(3) often capitalized a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality

ba judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true

cthe body of true statements and propositions

 

Well, fair enough!

I am particularly fascinated with definition number three, which states, “a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality”. Now, why might the truth be transcendent? Obviously because truth is beyond human biases, human ignorance, human beliefs – we may say it is even beyond being human. Truth, after all, seems to have a quality of remaining itself, since it is unaffected by what we humble creatures would like it to be.

Here I will dare to tether together a more succinct definition: truth is a factual state of reality which is indifferent to the cares of consciousness, human or otherwise.

Such “factual states of reality” indifferent to ourselves include:

The state of the Earth being round.

The state of our planet being in constant orbit, as opposed to the outdated perception that it is stationary and the center of our solar system.

The state of space-time being curved, allowing for gravitational attraction.

Ad infinitum.

 

In order for these truths to be ascertained, they require not our belief, but our understanding. Either we understand the Earth is round, or we don’t, and believe other posits. Either we understand the universe has gravity, or we don’t, and find ourselves mysteriously unable to remark on the results of jumping out of a twelve story window.

Let us return back to the question posed at the beginning of this essay. Is truth a living, changing thing? Let us take up a truth and observe if it changes or remains static.

Truth: The Earth is round.

The Earth has been round for approximately 4 billion years, which is far longer than Homo sapiens have been alive. Yet during Earth’s initial formation, it was not round at all. At its beginning it was positively jagged! It was only until enough material had been accreted and there was enough time to pass, that the forming planet began to “round out” under the laws of gravity. The Earth will also cease being round sometime in the next 4 billion years, as the Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with Andromeda.

Thus, a truth such as “the Earth is round” will eventually change into, “The Earth is non-existent” or “The Earth is a gaseous and rocky soup”.  Yet, so what? The facts may change, but this does not mean they will become lies. That would be quite a jump indeed. I think we may do well to keep in mind that the future does not negate, nor erase the factual circumstances of the past.

Let us take the universal force of gravity into account. There seems mountains of evidence in support of the theory that space-time is curved, which is what creates “gravitational attraction”. Now, we may in the future discover information which makes our current thoughts about gravity narrow, primitive and outdated. But this new information will not negate the truth of gravity – if anything, it will expand that truth and allow it a depth and grandeur we had not previously understood.

Perhaps we may discover that our universe is merely a bubble located in a fast soup of infinite, bubble universes, popping in and out of existence for eternity. A giant God dips a spoon into the soup, downing a trillion universes in a single gulp. If such an astounding idea ever be granted evidence, such truths as “the earth is round” and “there is such a thing as universal gravity” will not cease to be true — even if our little bubble-universe goes ‘pop!

So it seems as if what is true today will remain true tomorrow, just as much as it was true in the past. Our perceptions, of course, will change constantly, whether we are reading Krishnamurti, or engaging in amateur epistemology (for which, of course, yours truly is undoubtedly guilty)!

Today Am I a Barista, or a Philosopher?

I grab the gallon of 2% milk and pour some into a pitcher. Dipping the steel nozzle safely beneath the white surface, I rotate the knob which turns on the steam. A noise somewhat like a jet engine consumes the café. What was at first a soft murmuring of vowels, a vague linguistic portmanteau of customers chatting with one another, has turned into a deafening whine. Occasionally, I dip the nozzle further down, allowing little bubbles to leap up to the surface. Then I pull back up until just the very tip of the nozzle is touching the white. This creates a loud hissing sound, as if a hundred snakes had just slithered into the room. The milk moves in violent currents within the pitcher, undulating in tiny whirlpools.

One would hate to somehow become the size of a fly and be caught inside the pitcher. One can imagine the steadily building, suffocating heat, the deafening noise of the steam being interjected into the whirling froth. The noise builds, a sort of Doppler Effect, as if the jet were approaching instead of taking off. The tiny red needle inside the thermometer jiggles rapidly and the temp climbs in regular increments. 100 degrees, 110, 120, 130… Soon the jet noise reaches its climax and rests at a flat rumble. 145 degrees is the designated temp for all hot beverages in the coffee shop. I rotate the knob to its off position and take away the hot pitcher, making sure to hold it firmly by its handle. I do not want to burn myself. Again.

I pour the steamed milk, its texture like wet paint, into the cardboard cup with four ounces of espresso at its bottom. The creamy, tan darkness of the espresso mingles with the paleness of the milk, like two forces conjoining. An image of the Tao flashes in my brain. I begin to ponder the intricate dance of the two liquids, becoming enraptured by all those intricacies known only through the laws of physics.

I place a black, plastic lid atop the cup, lifting up on it once just to be sure it is in place. How easy it is to put on a cracked lid, causing a customer to spill it on themselves. Or for me to hand it over to them, only to have much of the beverage run down upon my fingers in one blistering moment of pain.

I hand the latte to a middle-aged woman with owl spectacles and long, curly grey hair. She says, ‘thank you’ in a sweet tiny voice, like a mouse, and walks out the front entrance. I am thinking that I’d forgotten to add the vanilla flavoring she’d asked for. I can be so mindless, so stupid, sometimes. But, now she is out the door and getting into her car. I watch as the Jeep pulls out of the lot and onto the main road. I take what little milk is left in the pitcher and dump it into a nearby sink. The steam rises into the air and I think of everything as being the same, as being steam. This world, the entire universe, and especially our very lives, seems susceptible to absolute evaporation.

This is, of course, not so much a moral standpoint for one to take, as much as it is a basic law of physics. Within the bounds of every life, there is always a phase change. What was once suspected as something solid, inevitably transforms into a vague, cosmic vapor; a mish-mash of excited particles.

All souls rise, and dissimulate into the balance of nothingness.

Good and Evil in the Universe & The Modern Misfit

A Modern Misfit

I am a writer whom only happens to exist in the 21st century. Had I been consulted before birth, I perhaps would not have agreed to live in this epoch. All previous centuries, no matter how intriguing or romantic, have already been experienced and written about by others. I must do away with my shyness of mentioning Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones in my writing. I may not particularly enjoy these symptoms of modern technology. I may not find them interesting or appealing. Yet by ignoring them completely, I am doing a disservice to my readers – I am being irrelevant. And this, if I am ever to relate, to connect with the public, shouldn’t continue.

Regardless, I continue on as a modern misfit. Now excuse me while I post this to my blog, check my Facebook messages and shudder with distaste. To hell with being prosaic! Someone text me a picture of a furry mongrel with seven tits! Entertain me at a cellular level, the deepest level of the contemporary consciousness, the modern mind…ravish me with dope insights…

***

Good and Evil in the Universe

There is pure evil in this universe, as well as pure good. There is also the vastness of shadow in between this spectrum of total darkness and light. What is good? What is evil? Both are moral creations of sentient beings whom have evolved a consciousness capable of distinguishing ‘rights’ from ‘wrongs’. Even without human beings, perhaps good and evil may exist in the consciousness of other evolved beings residing somewhere out there in the infinite universe. Who knows? Given the immensity of space, time and materials, it seems quite likely that intelligent life may be thriving elsewhere upon some unknown planet and around some unknown star.

Yet it does seem as if good and evil, indeed all of morality, exists only in an indefinite sense — just as much as humans exist, only in an indefinite sense. When the human species does go extinct, and if there are no meaning/moral producing creatures in the universe, then good and evil will have been vanquished entirely. The universe will then be left to its own. The universe will continue for perhaps another thirteen billion years recycling stars, and spinning, colliding, thrashing around its galaxies. There will be no voice, such as my own, to ask, “But, why?”

And what of it?

***

 

Ponderings: History, Suicide, Eternity, and Just Words!

Forget trying to do good! Simply be good. What follows this inner-constitution of goodness will be inevitable.

*

Everything matters, but only in the sense that everything is matter.

*

History is the stain of time. It is like the jelly trail of a retarded slug!

*

I promise never to write or say anything for as long as I die.

*

Suicide is breaking up with your long-time Self. Mortality is our wedding ring to life. The upside to suicide is, there need be no lawyers to consul this particular brand of divorce.

*

People are either dead or pre-conceived for billions of years, practically an eternity, in comparison to their sunspot years of life. Seventy-six years and the cosmos does not batter an eyelash. Ten generations come and dissipate and the cosmos barely blinks. Am I supposed to be acting serious right now? I will leave the acting to the actors, I believe. I’ve got better things to do…like, live my life as authentically as possible while I still have it.

Don’t blink.

*

My identity wishes for immortality. My soul laughs and asks, “Why on Earth would you wish for such a ridiculous thing?”

*

To keep the ignorant youth more humble and a little less ignorant – instruct them to read Socrates, whom often said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

*

Just a wholesome reminder: We imprint ourselves upon our reality at almost all times. This is why objectivity can often be so difficult. If you want to perceive with clarity, forget about yourself for a while. Let the ego take a backseat.

*

Justice for the Criminals

We have heard this phrase regurgitated time and again. The “Criminal Justice System”. It infers justice, but for whom? For criminals? Well, at long last! The law-abiding citizens of this country have accosted us with their mindless good behavior for far too long. Finally, justice shall be served!

I feel the same way about “Freedom Fighters”. Fire fighters fight fires. Freedom fighters fight…what? You guessed it!

***

If we are “not our body” as spiritual minded people are apt to say, why then, does it appear that we cease to exist once the mechanisms for our consciousness, our being, ceases to exist? Bodily death is Being death. This seems so obvious to me…

Death accepts us all equally, yet we do not accept death. Death is an embrace into nothingness, into a state of pre-birth. Humans have yet to embrace death, as they are mostly busy clinging to life. Fear has rattled our brains with attachments from the start. Yet death remains the eternal good sport, laughing good naturedly at our absurdity, all with an empty black twinkle in his eye.

***

I write such cruel things, sometimes. And yet I always feel so much better for it. For me, to be a writer is to be a harmless sadist. The pen and paper are my tools of torture. Tortured by the universe, I torture the universe right back. Sometimes it is as if whole stars were ripping in two, screaming out all their luminescent, solarized guts upon the page. Word after word, my pen chisels away at eternity.

All the while eternity chisels away at me.

***

The collar and tie,

A casual ball and chain.

***

Life is the ragged climb to a flat line.

***

Only death can steal you from your Self.

***

I just watched the sun dribble away from my fingertips, slipping off the world like a holy egg yolk, blessed into the great beyond. I am alone, writing, with the blackened outside dawning through my windows. I can see little pin-points of light shining through the black canvas, like worn immaturities in God’s reality fabric. How those little pin-points bedeck me with hope!

Holy men and women pray for the universe to unveil itself so that we may discover what we really are. I know what we really are. We are the universe, composed of an identical fabric, shining through our consciousness. Look up into the heavens and behold the distant, wistful stars of this galaxy, located in the wild flesh and genes called human.

***

Just Words

The world is a vast complex simplified into “the world”; a general meaning utilized for common reference. This is what language has done for us. It has taken the inconceivable abstractions of our universe and compacted it into symbolic little packages which we call, words. Let us consider the “Universe”, a mere word which entails stars, galaxies, vast amounts of space (vaster than vast), solar flares, supernovas, black holes, worm holes, quasars, electrons, protons, neutrons, photons, quarks, matter & anti-matter, cosmic acceleration, at least four dimensions, orbits, satellites, planets, moons, comets, asteroids, intelligent life (some say we are an example of this, and some are still not sure this is the case), on and on to literally ad infinitum! Language is an invention which has surpassed our ability to imagine – indeed, much of our imagination is based upon linguistic structure. Our consciousness has been tainted – nay, infected – with language!

All of this, of course, is just words.

Reflections on Contradiction, Freedom & the Unfamiliar.

I’ve noticed two very popular, very contradictory clichés which are often used within the same breath. One is, “Life is short!” and the other is often spoken in the midst of vague chat, for example:

“How are you today?”

“Good, but busy.”

“Well, busy is good, right? Makes the day go by faster!”

Well, which is it that they want? For life to be longer, or the day to go by faster? It seems we have not very clear-sighted ideas as to what we desire out of living…

***

Environment, genetics, imprisonment, etc. are not valid arguments against free-will. These are only limitations which provide us a scope for action. We are always free to choose within our scope of situation, time, and history. These are the conditions of liberty, the fine print at the bottom of the existential agreement. If one does not agree, one may choose the door…

***

We may refer to dying as an “ontological diffusion” into the void of nothingness, or a return to pre-birth. This is not so much a philosophical euphemism as much as it is a way of separating ourselves from common language. What is familiar often has a tendency to divorce itself from our emotional understanding, that is to say, “familiarity breeds indifference”. Thus we should strive for the unfamiliar in all things. We should strive for the difference.

The Limits of Freedom (Is Freedom’s Limit).

Freedom does not exist without its limitations. For what, truly, is ever not limited?
All things in life possess inherent boundary-limitations. Some boundary-limitations are unbreakable, or uncrossable. For instance, an object of three dimensions cannot confine its actions to merely two, one, or four. A physical man cannot be non-physical and continue to be a man. A thing cannot be a no-thing and continue to be a thing. If a thing, person or phenomena exists, it is confined to the boundary-limitation of existing.
The freedom of all existent-forms stretches to this point. This is the break at the shore of liberty. If life is tide, death is shore, and liberation is shackled to its self.

Freedom/existence is limited because it is missing its fundamental half. One might say that one part of freedom composes all of human life, while the other part composes nothing, as that part is death, an absence of life, utter void.

Life and death, freedom and futility, are pieces of the existential puzzle. Except the former (life and freedom) are physically shaped pieces, while the latter (death and futility) is the empty space surrounding the pieces. The latter fits because it could fit anything, as it is no-thing.

Am I making sense? Am I crazy?

You are of course free to judge until the day you die.

***

The River As Analogy for An Unbreakable Boundary-limitation

One cannot ford the river of life.

Life fords the river that is you.

If you and life are identical,

and you and life ford the river,

then life, the river, fords itself.

 

Yet we know a river that fords itself

needs no fording and thus we are left

with only the river,

only life.

All of the universe appears as a singular,

immobile atom.

There is an illusion of movement,

yet all is perfectly still.

Reflections on Freedom (what is it? what does it mean?)

“Man is condemned to be free.” – Sartre.

One does not choose freedom. Freedom comes free with birth. It is inherent in the human condition. Likewise, one does not (cannot) ever choose to be born. Birth is the creation of individual consciousness; it is simultaneously the enabler and limiter of all freedom.

Choices are always here for us to make – and we are not free not to make them. One may choose not to choose and will have utterly failed in the attempt. For not choosing is always a choice. Freedom is a self-limiting fact of life. Liberation provides its own shackles.

As I have said, one does not choose to be born. This does not mean, however, that life is not a choice. The distinction is subtle, yet grand. Do you think that life is not a choice? Then simply turn over your wrists and slice diagonal– this gruesome act will have been your choice, and yours alone. Suicide, obviously, is an extreme consequence of one’s decision not to exist.

Freedom is not a right, and you and I have no right to it. Freedom is, rather, an enabler of rights. Freedom has a right to us.

Life is not a right, and you and I have no right to it. Life is an enabler of rights. Life has a right to us.

Life and freedom are inherent conditions of existing. One may either rejoice, or despair! Both are appropriate reactions. Yet whatever one chooses, it is his or her choice alone. Most things in life, although a majority of human beings are not aware of this fact, are choices.

Hence why I agree with the cliché that “with freedom comes great responsibility”. It is not so nearly often understood that with freedom also comes great anxiety, as well as great consequence. A free human being is one whom has realized that his or her life is a choice, and takes all responsibility for his or her choices and consequent actions.

As a conclusion to this short reflection, I would just like to straighten out one thing in particular: those whom tote that ridiculous bumper slogan: freedom is not free.

Well, if freedom is deprived of its very essence (that of being free), then exactly what are we left with?

I will of course gladly provide an answer: freedom without ‘free’ is just dumb.

Reflections Between the Falling of the Leaves.

The glorious changing of the leaves during autumn can remind humans how to die with grace and beauty.

Reflections in between the falling of the leaves…from green to crimson red, sunrise orange, and banana yellow. The mother, robbed of its child leaves, is stripped of color, left barren, naked to the wind. The skies are overcast in grey. The solid Earth remains as milk, and rain like honey. I sit drunk in contemplation at the window, sipping a coffee.

Autumn is a changing of the guards. The approach of winter puts the grim reaper at ship’s helm. We have cultivated our lives all the yearlong, and now that we are to be shut inside our houses from the bitter cold, we must learn to live with our selves. We are to reap what we’ve sown.

The tradition of holidays and festivals during the winter months distracts us, otherwise instructing us to reap not so grimly.

***

A Memory

I remember holding a basketball in my hands. The basketball was the color of a faded orange, had thick black spider lines weaving around it. I decided to throw it as high into the sky as possible, wondering if I could bump the clouds. So I brought the ball down between my little knees and thrust it upward. It went about nineteen feet up, almost reaching the top of the power lines next to the garage. Not bad. I tried again, this time thrusting it up into the sky with all of my might.

I watched as the ball went up, up, up into the bright white clouds and disappeared from sight. I stood there gazing up at the brilliant blue sky and the passing clouds and wondered if my basketball were somehow floating up there. After awhile, I observed a faint dot in the sky. The dot gradually got bigger and bigger until THUMP! My ball was bouncing in front of me upon the gravel ground.

Never had I thrown a ball so high before, nor would I ever again.

***

An Alternative to Seriousness

Seriousness is yet another manifestation of absurdity; it is man’s attempt at ascribing a severe meaning to all that is otherwise meaningless.

One should attempt to achieve a state of being one may refer to as, “knowingly absurd” – the healthier, wiser alternative to seriousness.

***

Encouraging Educated Voting

It is morally irresponsible to encourage citizens to vote for any one political candidate without first providing a logical reason why. The highest, noblest act for a political activist or educator is to encourage individuals to think for themselves, analyze information objectively, dismiss preconceived dogmas, and to encourage voting with clear-sighted values. The support for any one particular candidate comes second to this primary responsibility.

We must not vote blindly, nor encourage others to vote blindly, even if those others are voting for our preferred candidate.

The ravenous pushing of a preferred candidate only serves a personal agenda, not a well-functioning democracy. A vote committed with ignorance is a vote of shame, an example of ill-functioning democracy. The responsible citizen interested in assisting in the health of the democratic republic must do his or her best to alleviate ignorance and apathy, encourage independent thought and support educated voting.

A Few Ponderings: The Deathless Death of Man, The Hell-bent Heavens, and the Resurrection of Carl Linneaus.

An Uncharming Paradox

The evangelical Christian is little more than a vastly uncharming paradox, as he is hell-bent on his faith in a future vision of heavenly destruction — the end of times, as described in the book of Revelation, wherein Jeeeesus will return to us, so they believe, once more.

Such delusional dogmatists might accurately be described as being hell-bent for heaven.

***

Man, the Wise

Even the name which our species has greedily awarded itself (homo sapiens, Latin for “man, the wise“) signifies an over-abundance of arrogance and hubris. Why could we not be more humble in our desire for self-taxonomy? Why not instead “man, the curious” or “man, the hopeful“? History has shown our species to be an audacious one, a rather fascinating and violent collection of mammals, but wise? I dare think not!

So, I hereby resurrect the good Carl Linneaus from his grave at Uppsala by the powers of my deranged imagination! Let us have a cold pint, Carl, down at the nearest Swedish tavern, so that we may earnestly discuss our Latin wisdom…

***

Death, Conquered

The day humankind conquers death through the ingeniousness of medical science will, ironically, require the death of us all. Upon the attainment of immortality, that infinite condition of the Gods, we will have snubbed out the human man and replaced him with an immortal being. Man will have downgraded himself to the status of a God — and what a lowly god he will be! Although he will be no more lowly than the God of the bible or Quran, or the gods of Olympus and ancient Egypt. We will undoubtedly continue to pursue our own footsteps of endless folly, just as those ignoble deities of ancient scripture. Every hatred and stupidity will be committed to a re-cyclical progression, a savage history set upon mindless repeat. Like a single wave breaking upon the land, always to be followed by the ocean.

Upon the “achievement” of permanence and immortality, humankind will have, in a sense, come around full circle. Man started out believing that he was made in God’s image, when it is rather more likely that man created God in his image. Taking it another logical step further, upon acquiring status of deity, man will have finally created himself in the image of God.

His golden staff will be a sort of complex, technical crutch. His blinding light will be an artificial luminescence. His tissue will be sown to a bodily permanence by a freakish series of subatomic stitches beyond even Mary Shelley’s grotesque imagination. And finally His attained immortality will be an ever-strange zombification of His former humanity.

Man Bless!