Some Questions and Answers

(Part 5)


  It is said that I truly love another if my happiness is depends on his/her happiness. i.e. I cannot be happy unless s/he is happy. My questions is, is this always true, or are there cases in which I cannot be said to love another truly even though my happiness depends on his/her happiness?

I would suggest that your happiness depending on another's is a necessary but not sufficient condition for "love".   What I mean by this is that while I think it would not be proper to say that you "love"someone if your own happiness is not dependent to some extent on the happiness of that other person, I think "love"involves much more than that.  

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Microsoft Bookshelf Basics), "love"is "a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness."

  Here are some of the generally accepted common denominators of love according to some of the "Relationship Self-Help"books I have encountered -

And finally, here's a quote from Ayn Rand (I don't remember the source) -

"Love and friendship are profoundly personal, selfish values: love is an expression and assertion of self-esteem, a response to one's own values in the person of another. One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and derives from love."


What's with solipsism? I have a friend who believes that the world well and truly revolves around him.   He is the creator and that's that.   It seems logically impossible to overcome that kind of thinking since it is non-falsifiable.   Is there any way to reason around solipsism?

As a philosophical position, Solipsism has the advantage (if you can all it that) if being logically consistent.   Therefore, it would appear to be impossible to reason around your friend's Solipsism -- assuming that your friend is being a logically consistent Solipsist (which I admit is rather hard to imagine).

On the other hand, it also appears to be impossible for your friend the Solipsist to declare in any meaningful way that he is the only valid consciousness - because anyone he tells it to (like you) will automatically disbelieve it. While that may be acceptable to your friend, it presents a major problem for a philosopher.   It makes Solipsism workable only as a completely private belief.   Which doesn't necessarily mean it isn't true, of course.   It just means that if it is true, then none of the "people"that a Solipsist identifies in his experiences will agree that it is true.   If two Solipsists happen to meet, neither will accept the possibility that the other is right or even "real"(in the non-Solipsist sense).   Each will insist that "I am the only existent", and the other is therefore necessarily wrong.   After all, the other person -- even if also an avowed Solipsist -- is nothing more than a particularly interesting pattern in the experiences of the Solipsist.

So even if your friend thinks the logic dictates that he should believe in Solipsism -- and it is hard to deny the persuasiveness of the logical arguments following from the premises of Subjectivism -- he will never find any like minds who will agree with him.   And he will find it ultimately to his advantage (in terms of pleasure and pain) to actually believe that Solipsism is false.   Which sort of sounds contradictory, even if logically it is not.

There is also a less immediate difficulty faced by the Solipsist.   The Solipsist concept of "the world"is based on the observation that there are quite obviously patterns in my experiences that are more or less constant, persistent, consistent, coherent, drawing the focus of my attention, amenable to inquiry, and responsive to my reactions.   But the logically impermissible question is -- **Why** are there patterns rather than random noise?   What, if anything, causes the patterns?   What, if anything, causes the patterns to be constant, consistent, etc.?   To these sorts of questions the Solipsist has no possible answer.   The patterns simply are.   And to the extent that they are constant, consistent, etc. they are self-sustaining.   Further inquiry is illegitimate.   And again, while that answer may satisfy your friend, that sort of answer is simply unacceptable to philosophers.   Metaphysics, after all, is supposed to question everything.

So far as I can determine, no professional philosopher likes the Solipsist conclusion to the premises of Subjectivism.   But if you don't like the consequences of a logically valid argument, you have only one real choice.   And that is to adopt different premises.

If you would like a more detailed exploration of Solipsism, try this Essay.


What is the point in philosophy if we don't know the answer to the basic most questions - like the reasons we are here, or what is this world?

The point of philosophy is to understand just what you *mean* by these questions.   It is not trivially obvious what these questions mean, or what the answers would mean if we had them.   Philosophy is, among other things, the examination of just what the questions mean and just what the answers would mean if we could discover them.

For example -- What is a "reason"?   What kind of answer would provide a reason we are here?   What do you mean by "here"?   Do you mean the geographic location you currently occupy?   Or do you mean to refer to the fact that we human beings exist?   And what do you mean by "exist"?   And so forth.

How could we recognize an answer to one of these "most basic questions"if we do not know what we mean by the question?   And then again, how do you know that we do not already have answers to these questions?   They have occupied philosophers for thousands of years.   Many philosophers have written weighty volumes in their attempts to address only parts of the answers.   Would you be able to recognize that one of these philosophers has actually hit upon the "right"answer?

To study philosophy is to study the implications of these more fundamental questions.


Could god create a statement that is both true and false?
Did god create the rules of logic or is he subservient to them?
And if so what are the ramifications?

  "Could God create a statement that is both true and false?"- Before I can answer that you are first going to have to provide some definition of what you mean by "God"and by "true".   There are many different conceptions of "God".   Some of which include an unconstrained omnipotence, and some of which include logical constraints on His omnipotence.   If you conceive of a God who can create a square circle, then surely God can create a false truth.   On the other hand, even if God's omnipotence is constrained by logical limits, there are many different conceptions of what constitutes "truth".   So even under the constraints of logic, it may be possible for God to create a statement that is both true and false.   One theory of truth, for example, is "Emotivism" -- that maintains that "true"and "false"are but linguistic labels for our approval or disapproval of some statement.   In that event it would be trivially easy to create a statement that some consider "true"and others consider "false".

"Did god create the rules of logic?"No, God did not create the rules of Logic -- Man did.   All of logic and mathematics are the reasoned consequences of a defined set of axioms.   While those axioms, and the resulting body of mathematical and logical reasoning, are designed and intended to describe reality, they are Man-defined not God-given.   On the other hand, it might be argued that while God did not create the rules of logic, He at least created the reality that those rules are intended to describe. It is presumed that God created reality.   So if our God-created reality is indeed logically consistent (something not provable), and the Man-created defined axioms of logic and mathematics are in fact good descriptions of that reality (also something that cannot be proved), then credit should be shared between God and Man.

"Is God subservient to the rules of logic?"Well that depends too much on your conception of "God".   Most people will grant that God is omnipotent within the constraints of logic -- He can't create a square circle, for example.   In that case, one would have to say that He is subservient to the rules of logic.   But others would insist that God is strictly omnipotent, and unconstrained by the rules of logic.   In the complete absence of any evidence on either side, you are free to believe what you wish.


Assuming for sake of argument that God is the original energy source that created the universe, then what materials did he use to create with? If only God alone existed then wouldn't it stand to reason that the only materials he had in order to create with was his own essence, energy etc.? Would this mean that pantheism or monism is a more logical form of theism? Otherwise you must posit creation ex nihilo which simply seems to me to be an appeal to authority at best and an appeal to magic at its worst.

We have, of course, absolutely no evidence at all with which to constrain our speculations as to how God created the Universe -- if in fact He did.   Actually, that statement can be made even stronger.   We have absolutely no evidence at all with which to constrain our speculations as to how the Universe got created.   We do, on the other hand, have plenty of evidence that constrains the nature of the Universe that was created, however it was created.   But in the absence of evidence constraining the creation of the Universe, we are free to speculate pretty much at will, in which ever way amuses us.

So one speculation is that God created our "positive"Universe at the same instant He created a "negative"Universe -- a sort of universe-sized quantum fluctuation.   All of the "materials"(read "positive energy") He used to create our "positive"Universe were balanced by the creation of the "negative"Universe.   This would be just exactly like the spontaneous appearance of a positron and an electron out of the vacuum of space.   The energy of the positron exactly balances the energy of the electron, yielding a net zero effect on the Universe.   Hence the creating God would not have to come up with any surplus energy or other "materials".   Aside, of course, from decreeing the "rules of the game"that are the physics of the Universe.   Once the rules of the game were in place, all He would have to do is fiddle with the quantum probabilities a bit.   This speculation has the advantage of being totally consistent with all of our current physical evidence and theories.   And the added advantage of being neither an appeal to authority, nor an appeal to magic.


Can nature, or what is natural, be considered any kind of guide to what is virtuous or even tolerable? We often hear it said that "it is natural for some people to be homosexual."   But then it is presumably equally natural for some people to be colour blind, to be aggressive, to be attracted by children. It may be natural for animals to behave as they do, but barely desirable for humans to behave like animals. But then natural human behaviour is superior ethically, we may believe. However, if that is so it is only by some external standard that we can judge human nature to be superior. In that case, it is the standard that has to apply, and not nature.   How do we know that Jesus of Nazareth was virtuous, other than by some external standard?

Ah!   But the challenge is -- from where comes this "external"standard, and why is it an acceptable (appropriate? necessary? best? only?) standard?  

More particularly, we would have to arrive at some meaningful context for the concept of "external" -- external from what?   External from the person being appraised?   Or external from all human behaviour?   Or external from the natural environment?   Or perhaps you mean here "external"as in the dictates provided by a "supernatural"God?

While I think it reasonable to posit a standard that is necessarily external to the person we are appraising, I don't think it is necessary that the standard be necessarily external to all human behaviour.   Utilitarianism, for example, posits that the standard is "the greatest happiness for the greatest number".   This is certainly "internal"to the naturalness of human behaviour.


Is there not a popular tendency to equate evil with immorality? If we assume morality is concern for human and animal welfare, then it is clear that to kill is an evil in isolation.   However, in an imperfect world, it was probably a morally justifiable decision for Britain to declare war in 1939.   It may also be morally justifiable to cull animals, or to conduct some medical experiments on them. Morality is often a choice between greater and lesser evils, for the sake of future good although this utilitarian principle can be made too much like arithmetic, and should not justify extreme present evil.

The reason that there is a general "tendency"to equate evil with immorality is because "evil"is by definition that which is immoral or wrong.   Morality is all about standards of conduct that are accepted as right or proper or wrong and improper.   Hence "evil"is just another word for "immoral".

"If we assume morality is concern for human and animal welfare, then it is clear that to kill is an evil in isolation."Except that you have here just demonstrated that it is not evil "in isolation".   You first had to establish the premise that morality is concern for human and animal welfare.

All moral evaluations are ultimately founded on some fundamental premise as to what constitutes the appropriate standards of right or good behaviour.   You have established one here (concern for human and animal welfare).   Other philosophers have offered other alternatives.   Each alternative fundamental moral premise will result in (more or less) different judgements as to what is moral and immoral behaviour.  

For example, the individualist moral premise holds that the individual is more important than the state.   And by many moral codes within that class, the Nazi's were evil and war was moral.   The collectivist moral premise holds that the community is more important than the individual.   And by many moral codes within that class, the Nazi's were doing the moral thing, and England was the evil empire.   After all, it was not the *intent* of the Nazi's to do evil.   By their moral standards, they were doing the right thing.   It is just that their moral standards were not consistent with the individualist moral standards of the winning side (the writers of the history texts).

Even Utilitarianism can generate some "counter-intuitive"moral recommendations -- at least for those who believe in an individualistic moral code.   Utilitarianism will, for example, recommend that torturing one individual is morally acceptable if as a consequence the happiness of enough others is raised sufficiently.   Hence it is acceptable to a Utilitarian that torture is practiced by the police and security forces on the premise that the continued welfare of the community is sufficiently important to the happiness of the general population that the "utility"balances out.


What is the best way to solve the Epicurean Paradox? How can you reconcile the existence of evil with an all good all powerful God?

Your question immediately raises the response -- against what standard are you going to measure "best"?   In the absence of any guidance on this score, I am going to provide the sort of answer that *I* think is best.   You will have to judge for yourself how it measures on your own scale of "best".  

The dictionary tells us that a "paradox"is a statement, proposition, or situation that seems absurd or contradictory, but is presumed to be none-the-less true.   But in logic, a self-contradictory situation, a statement or proposition that contradicts itself, is a reductio ad absurdum proof that at least one of the premises that leads to the contradiction is false in some way.   Therefore, in order to "solve"the Epicurean Paradox, one must examine the premises that lead to the apparent contradiction, and question whether they are in fact really true.

The one premise that seems to me to be most easily questioned -- because it lacks any independent evidential support what so ever -- is the premise that an "all good, all powerful God"actually exists.   After all, the only evidence that leads us to accept such a premise is that God tells us (in the Bible) that He is all good and all powerful.   This is circular reasoning -- the only evidentiary support for the truth of the premise is evidence only if the premise is assumed to be true.  

To solve the paradox, then, all that is needed is to relax this rather strong premise somewhat.   Perhaps God does not exist (my own choice).   Or if you choose to believe that God exists (your choice, presumably, given the nature of your question), perhaps He is not all good, or perhaps He is not all powerful.   Either of these latter two alternatives would resolve the apparent contradiction just as well as the first.

If God is not all powerful, then He might be powerless to prevent the machinations of the Devil.   Or perhaps God is indeed omnipotent, but merely chooses to limit His exercise of that omnipotence.   However, addressing the question of why He might so choose gets us into the issue of the goodness of God.

So the other option is to consider the possibility that God is not all good.   This is a favourite alternative of some Christian Fundamentalists -- although they would, of course, be the last to admit it.   What they actually do is redefine the meaning of the word "good"so that it includes everything that God does, even those things that we poor uncomprehending and undeserving penitents mistakenly call "evil".   Hence the paradox is only apparent because we apply mistaken understandings of "good"and "evil".   The things that we mistakenly call "evil"are still the acts of an all good God, and are therefore necessarily "good".   It is just that we poor servants in His service do not fully understand His goodness.  

But of course, in the absence of any evidence to constrain our speculations, we can we can amuse ourselves endlessly with variations on these themes -- as religious philosophers have done for thousands of years.


Why are people not thinking?

Good question!   I have often wondered that myself.   I have often even wondered that *of* myself -- when I have discovered that I have done something particularly dumb!

The only answer I have been able to come up with that seems to fit the situation is that people are just plain lazy.

Thinking is actually pretty hard work.   After all, to actually think about things, to make conscious and considered choices about things, you have to be actually paying attention to things.   Most people seem to stay so intently focussed on their immediate goals (driving the car, finding the next meal, etc.) that they spare no effort to notice that there are alternatives and opportunities passing them by.   To notice these alternatives and opportunities, you have to approach your daily activities with an open mind.   Most people seem to find it much easier to keep a closed mind, and ignore the possibilities.   After all, doing something different, taking a chance on something not "proven"is risky.   And most people are uncomfortable with risk.

Taking effective advantage of the alternatives demands sufficient knowledge of how the world works to be able to predict consequences with reasonable accuracy.   Most people seem to prefer to stay in their own little rut, and avoid the effort of learning how the world outside that rut actually works.   That is why most people find change uncomfortable, and new things risky.

Forming thoughtful opinions on any matter means that you have to actually consider the alternatives, identify possibilities, and extrapolate consequences.   It takes much less effort to adopt the opinions of someone else.   Most people, most of the time, seem to let other people do their thinking for them.   They manage their lives on the basis of instinct, habit, and the opinions of others.

The only reason I can think of to explain this avoidance of effort, is that most people, most of the time are inherently lazy.   And I include myself in that generalization!


What do you think of the wrecking ball that David Hume applies to science? Does he really show that necessary connections are merely based on psychological conditioning or constant conjunctions of similar events? What should be the impact of Hume and empiricism in this era of great scientific and technological advances?

From the dictionary:

cause - 1. a. The producer of an effect, result, or consequence. b. The one, such as a person, an event, or a condition, that is responsible for an action or a result.(3)

effect - 1. Something brought about by a cause or an agent; a result.

"All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If you were to ask a man, why he believes any matter of fact, which is absent, (for instance, that his friend is in the country, or in France) he would give you a reason, and this reason would be some other fact, as a letter received from him, or the knowledge of his former resolutions and promises. A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island, would conclude that there had once been men on that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature. And here it is constantly supposed that there is a connection between the present fact and that which is inferred from it. Were there nothing to bind them together, the inference would be entirely precarious. The hearing of an articulate voice and rational discourse in the dark assures us of the presence of some person. Why? Because these are the effects of the human make and fabric, and closely connected with it. If we anatomise all the other reasonings of this nature, we shall find that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote, direct or collateral. Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other."David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
                                [Hume, David (Eric Steinberg, Ed.) An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Second Edition;
 
                                Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1993.   ISBN 0-87220-229-1. Chapter on Cause and Effect, Part I.]

"We have no other notion of cause and effect, but that of certain objects, which have been always conjoined together, and which in all past instances have been found inseparable. We cannot penetrate into the reason of the conjunction. We only observe the thing itself, and always find that from the constant conjunction the objects acquire an union in the imagination. When the impression of one becomes present to us, we immediately form an idea of its usual attendant; and consequently we may establish this as one part of the definition of an opinion or belief, that it is an idea related to or associated with a present impression."Dave Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
                              [Hume, David (Ernest Mossner, Ed.) A Treatise of Human Nature. Penguin Books Inc., London, England. 1985.
                                ISBN 0-140-43244-2. Chapter 19, Section iv.]

When Hume wrote these words -- circa 1740 -- he was reasonably correct in his characterization of our common every day understanding of the relationship between cause and effect.   However, this was before the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment.   In particular Newton's First Law of Motion -- "Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless an outside force acts upon them." In other words, any event that we can observe constitutes a change in the previously existing status quo.   And by Newton's First Law, any such change requires the application of force -- a flow of energy.

Since the time of Newton then, our common understanding of the physics of energy flow has constrained our talk of cause and effect.   It is certainly true that we notice instances of cause and effect by the constant conjunction of events.   But contra Hume's suggestion above, for us to assert that one event another is to assert that there is a suitable energy flow from the causing event that initiates the change that is the effect event.   Which is not, of course, to say that we are necessarily aware of what that flow of energy is, or of any details of the steps of the flow.   It is merely to claim that there is such a flow.

The "higher level perspective" ("Humean causation", or what I like to refer to briefly as "causation(1)") is a view of "cause and effect" consistent with Hume's analysis.   An observed repeated conjunction of two events - one labelled as the "cause", and the other labelled as the "effect".

Suppose at 8.21 PM, I make an experiment: I think "Sound of thunder". At that exact same moment, you seem to 'hear' the sound of thunder. Only no-one else did. Cause and effect? How does one prove that? The way Hume says (in his rules for judging causes and effects)? If this happens just once, we mark it down as happenstance. If it happens occasionally but not consistently, we mark it down as simple coincidence. But if it happens consistently, repeatedly, and especially if we can make it happen at will, we can - a la Hume - recognize the concatenation of events as a candidate cause-effect pair. This sort of thing happens all the time, and is the general way in which we identify cause-effect linkages.

Combine this higher level perspective with the detailed reductionist focus of science. Science, in examining the suggested Humean cause-effect pair that is my thought and your hearing of thunder, will attempt to find out just how your thought "caused" my heard thunder. And it will do that by attempting to track the transfer of energy between your thought and my hearing. While Newtonian Mechanics is not the most accurate available theory of physics, it has been more than adequately demonstrated as sufficient for all but relativistic or quantum events. To propose, therefore, that your hearing thunder is the effect is to propose that the biochemical reactions in your head that is your hearing of thunder must be initiated by some application of external stimuli - an application of force - a transfer of energy originating in the cause - the biochemical reactions in my head that are my thinking "Sound of thunder".

If scientific investigation cannot find such an energy flow (as would be likely in this case), then the hypothesis that my thought "caused" your hearing of thunder would be seriously questioned. Other sources of the noticed linkage would be sought before scientists would be willing to throw out most of our understanding of physics. Hence we have the "lower level perspective" of cause-effect relationships that is the flow of energy (application of force) between the event that is the "cause" and the event that is the "effect" ("Newtonian causation", or what I like to refer to briefly as "causation(2)") that acts as a constraint on our "freedom" to notice pairs of Humean cause-effect conjunctions of events.

Understanding the relationship between "cause" and "effect" is critical to our understanding of reality, and critical to how we survive "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".   From the perspective of physics, the link between a cause and its effect can be determined by following the flow of energy.   The cause is always the creator of the energy that triggers the effect.   But at the "higher"level of practical day-to-day events, the link between cause and effect is often simply a Humean observed correlation between the occurrence of two sets of circumstances.  

Which set of circumstances is the cause and which is the effect is often not clear.   If we choose the wrong set as the "cause", we often find ourselves pursuing theories of how reality works that become overly complex, and ultimately self-defeating.   By reversing field, and realizing that we have the cause-effect relationship backward, we discover that our theories become simpler, that they have broader application, and that they offer greater opportunities for deeper understanding.   When we get our understandings wrong, we run the risk of becoming lunch rather than enjoying it.   But take heart.   We are pretty good at doing it right.   We are descendants of a long line of hungry but fragile omnivores who have successfully managed to predict where and when the tiger will jump.


How can there NOT be a God? It appears as if the world is existing, in some manner of temporally linear fashion, and has existed for some amount of time.   If the so called "laws of cause and effect" are any gauge, it seems that the world, if it is in fact existing, has to have begun at some point.   So time, insofar as events happen and things endure, exists, and the world had to have started; that is to say, it can't be temporally infinite, for this would violate the laws of cause and effect with the problem of an infinite regression. But it couldn't have simply happened out of nothingness, could it?   Someone must have started it.   Right?          

You raise an interesting point.

However, have you considered that if we do assume that there is a God that started it all, all of the issues you raised with regards to the existence of the world can be raised with regards to the existence of God.   Consider this re-phrasing of your question:

How can there NOT be a Hyper-God? It appears as if God is existing, and has existed for some amount of time.   If the so called "laws of cause and effect" are any gauge, it seems that God, if it is in fact existing, has to have begun at some point.   So time, insofar as events happen and things endure, exists, and God had to have started; that is to say, it can't be temporally infinite, for this would violate the laws of cause and effect with the problem of an infinite regression. But God couldn't have simply happened out of nothingness, could it?   Someone must have started God.   Right?          

I think you see the potential for just as significant an infinite regress.   There are two ways (at least) out of this seeming dilemma.   One is the suggestion that God is outside of time and space, and beyond the scope of the laws of causation, so that there are no questions of there being something "before"God.   But this is more or less inconsistent with the Christian notion of a "personal God"who hears and responds to our prayers.   The other is the suggestion that God is (by definition?) infinite in duration and infinite in scope, so again there is no question of there being something "before"God.   But if it is acceptable for God to have infinite temporal duration, why is it not acceptable for the world to have infinite temporal duration?

In short, I do not accept as reasonable your suggestion that "someone must have started"the world.


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