Some Questions and Answers

(Part 1)


What is reality?

Is reality a dream? If not, what differentiates the 'real world' from the 'dream world'? If so, Life is wrapped in a dream. If that is true, then wouldn't death be wrapped in a dream? Is death just one big dream?

The key to the answer is the recognition that the concepts "reality" and "dream [world]" refer to two distinctly different modes of experience. By the very nature of these two concepts, they cannot refer to the same thing. Therefore, the simple answer is "No!". Reality cannot be a dream without seriously abusing the meaning of the two words. Poets, of course, are granted license to abuse the language for artistic purposes. But philosophers must take greater care.

We each experience "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" in two distinctly different modes. When experiencing life in one mode, we notice that things perceived are constant, persistent, consistent, and coherent. When experiencing life in the other mode, we notice that things perceived are dramatically less constant in form and character, often transient in existence, frequently mutually inconsistent both from thing to thing and across time, and far more frequently quite incoherent. One mode of experience draws the focus of our attention, is amenable to inquiry, and responsive to our reactions. The other mode of experience often drifts uncontrollably past our attention, is rarely subject to inquiry, and is often unresponsive to our reactions. On any scale of measure, the difference between the two modes of experience is dramatic and unmistakable whenever noticed. One of these modes of experience we call the "real word", the other we call the "dream world" (or hallucinations, or illusions).

Most of us spend most of our time experiencing life in the "real world" mode. Episodes spent in the "dream world", while they may seem quite real at the time, always end with a transition back to the "real world" mode of experience. Some people, for reasons as diverse as drugs to organic brain damage, spend more of their time in the "dream world". Some people, again for diverse reasons, lose the ability to notice the distinctly different character of two modes of experience, and are unable to distinguish their "real" experiences from their "dream" experiences.

The bottom line is that life is not a dream. The "real world", unlike the "dream world" possesses an unmistakably greater degree of constancy, consistency, and coherence. In the real world, elephants are huge, grey and don't fly. That remains true across time, and is consistent with all other information we have about the real world mode of experience. In the dream world, pink elephants can buzz around your head, and turn into green mice stomping on the roof of your house. The fact that sometimes a dream appears so real you can't tell, does not alter the fact that you always wake up.


I'm having trouble answering a big question. Maybe you can be of help. Here it is:

"Different cultures have different truths."

"A truth is that which can be accepted universally."

What are the implications for knowledge of agreeing with these opposing statements?

It is not clear from your question whether you are interested in the implications for knowledge of agreeing with each of these statements individually or collectively. I'm going to try to answer in a way that addresses both possibilities.

It is widely (but not universally) accepted in Philosophy that "knowledge" constitutes a justified belief in a true proposition -- where for our purpose here we can define a "proposition" as an assertion that says something that can be either true or false. So the implications of these two statements you have provided arise from their respective notions of what constitutes a "True proposition".

The two statements that trouble you present quite distinct and conflicting notions of "Truth". But that is because they come from quite different conceptual realms. So it is not surprising that they appear to conflict when juxtaposed out of their natural habitats.

The first statement -- "Different cultures have different truths." This is a classic statement from cultural anthropology. Within that context, the meaning of the statement derives from two observations: (a) what makes an identifiable "culture" are the common beliefs shared by the people of that culture; and (b) what separates one culture from another, are the differences between the common beliefs of the two cultures. For there to be two cultures, there must (almost by definition) be two different sets of common beliefs shared by two different groups of people.

For our purpose here, let's define "a belief" (like a proposition defined above) as an assertion that says something that can be either true or false. What marks a cultural belief, then, is the acceptance of some assertion as true by all (or at least the great majority of) the people of that culture. This general acceptance can be (and often is) quite independent of whether the assertion corresponds to the facts of the matter, or is consistent (coherent) with the other beliefs of the people of that culture. It can even be independent of whether in fact anyone at all actually believes the assertion to be true. All that really counts is whether the great majority behaves as if they believe the assertion to be true.

Within the context of cultural anthropology, the statement in question is not an attempt to establish a definition of "Truth". Nor is it an attempt to claim that the notion of "Truth" is culturally relative. It is instead a bit of poetic license used to express the fact that different cultures believe in different collections of fundamental assertions about their culture and their world. It is a description of what people believe to be true, rather than a statement about what is actually true or what is actually knowledge.

To take this statement out of its cultural anthropology context is to dip into a school of philosophical thought usually referred to as "Cultural Relativism" (for obvious reasons). Within this wider context, the statement would have to be interpreted as both a definition of "Truth", and a claim that the notion of "Truth" (and thus "knowledge") is culturally relative. Within Cultural Relativism, a belief is considered to be "True" if it is widely believed to be true within the relevant culture. Since beliefs differ between cultures, as documented by cultural anthropology, "Truths" must necessarily differ between cultures.

(Cultural Relativism is more widely maintained as a system of Ethics than as a treatment of truth and knowledge. In Ethics, Cultural Relativism maintains that what is "good" and "right" is defined by the common beliefs of the culture as to what ought to be considered "good" and "right".)

The second statement -- "A truth is that which can be accepted universally." Taken at face value, the statement is a straight definition of "Truth". It establishes the criteria that determine whether or not some assertion is to be considered true. Whatever the assertion is, if it can be accepted universally, then it is to be considered true. Unlike the cultural anthropology context of the first statement, this definition of "Truth" does not require actual acceptance by anyone. It requires only that such acceptance is possible, and makes no reference to how unlikely that possibility might be. Unlike the Correspondence Theory of "Truth", it does not reference the actual facts of the matter. And unlike the Coherence Theory of "Truth", it does not concern itself with the consistency of beliefs.

Consider an assertion such as "Unicorns exist" or "Fairies dance under the moonlight at the bottom of my garden". Certainly it is thinkable that these two assertions could be accepted universally -- independently of whether unicorns or fairies exist or not; independently of whether a belief in the existence of unicorns or fairies is consistent with other beliefs held to be true; and independently of whether there actually is universal acceptance of these assertions or not. Therefore, each of these assertions would have to be regarded as "a truth". Clearly this is not a reasonable approach to a general meaning of "Truth". And clearly, this notion of "Truth" is inconsistent with notions expressed in either the cultural anthropology or Cultural Relativism contexts of the first statement. So we must assume that there is a hidden context behind this statement that has been lost in transmission.

If truth is determined by the cultural acceptance of the assertion as true, then you "know" any assertion that you believe to be true, and that you have cause to believe is generally accepted as true within your culture. Alternatively, if truth is determined by the possibility of universal acceptance of the assertion as true, then you "know" any assertion that you believe to be true, and that you have cause to believe could possibly be universally accepted as true.

Note that in both these cases, there is no reference to the actual facts of the matter, and no reference to the consistency between one assertion of knowledge and another. Thus, it would be perfectly feasible for you to "know" both that "Unicorns exist" and that "Unicorns do not exist". This is not how people normally think of knowledge they consider whether they "know" something.

In the absence of any context for the second statement, there are a number of ways to reinterpret it so that it makes a little more sense. We could, for example, draw upon the cultural context of the first statement and reinterpret the meaning of "universally" in the second to mean "universally within a culture". This reinterpretation would at least make the two statements consistent.

Another reinterpretation would be to understand "That which can be accepted universally" to mean "That for which there is justification that all rational people would accept if they were aware of it". This would incorporate the notion of justification critical to the concept of "knowledge" we are employing here. It would also eliminate the unlikely but remotely feasible possibilities opened up by the use of "can". On the other hand, without some contextual reason for this reinterpretation, it is certainly stretching the use of English to find this meaning in the words provided.

I'll leave you with the question of whether or not either the Cultural Relativist or the universal acceptance notion of "knowledge" and "Truth" is consistent with how you employ those notions. I know for me, neither is reasonable. Personally, I subscribe to the Correspondence Theory of Truth (wherein an assertion is true just in case it accurately describes the facts of the matter). I find, therefore, that both of these statements are philosophically incorrect, although they may certainly possess poetic meaning within some special contexts (such as cultural anthropology).


Can a moral person be happy?

The short answer is -- Yes!

The longer answer is -- it depends on one's moral standards.

If, as many people, you adopt or inherit your moral standards from one of the many religions extant, then you most likely have an "unselfish/ altruistic" foundation for your moral beliefs. You will probably hold that, ceteris paribus, it is the welfare of others that is your primary moral concern. In that event, your own happiness is at the mercy of others -- either because you are called upon to make sacrifices in the interests of the common good, or a duty to help others, or a commandment to not be selfish and self centered. And in that case, you will only find yourself happy when someone else makes it their business to make you happy. Making yourself happy is immoral.

But on the other hand, if you adopt your moral standards after a reasoned analysis of the best evidence available and without any preconceived conditions, then you will realize that the welfare of oneself and one's family is your primary moral concern. From this standard of morality, making oneself happy and allowing oneself to be happy is a noble ethical pursuit. And in that case, happiness is the expected self-generated reward for a properly conducted moral life.

You takes your pick, and you reaps the consequences.


How do I know that what I perceive as the colour red is the same colour that you perceive as being red?

There are a couple of ways of approaching an answer to this question, depending on just how the question was intended -- as a question about knowledge, or as a question about perception.

You know that you are using the label "red" correctly if you have adequate evidentiary justification for a belief that you are calling "red" the same suite of things in world that others call "red". This is the process of learning what the symbol "red" means. And it is the process of learning the English language.

To know more specifically that you are labelling as "red" the same things that I label as "red", you need to compare your list of "red" things with my list of "red" things. If the two lists correspond sufficiently, then we are both using the label in a similar manner. The match between our respective lists of "red" things need not be exact. It merely needs to be sufficiently similar to avoid confusion in most cases.

To know that you are perceiving the color red the same way that I do is a separate question. And you may be surprised to find that it is largely irrelevant. It makes absolutely no difference to anyone (other than a scientist curious about that specific aspect of perception) whether we each perceive red in the same way or not. One of us could be color blind, or wearing color transposing glasses. Or it may be natural for "red" things to appear differently to each perceiver. Makes no difference. All that matters is that we each respectively call "red" (roughly) the same things in the world.

It is only if we find different things in the world that we each label as "red" that we can explore the differences in how we perceive "red". And aside from those clear cases of color blindness, we will almost always find that such differences in our respective lists of "red" things is due to a difference in our vocabularies. My wife, for example, has a much richer vocabulary of "red-like" color names (crimson, raspberry, candy cane, garnet, rose, wine, etc.). So I label as "red" many more things in the world than she does. Does she perceive "red" differently? Doesn't make any difference. And barring more scientific investigation with specific light frequencies, there is no way to tell.


Do we have a mind in addition to our brains? If not then how do we explain conscious thoughts?

The answer to your first question depends, of course, of just what you conceive "mind" to be. Some people (philosophers included) conceive "mind" to be some sort of non-material "Spirit" that animates the human animal. In which case, naturally, the answer to your question would be "yes". Others are more materialistic, and consider that all there is is the brain, so the answer to your question would be "no".

Me, however, I consider the "mind" to be the product of the brain in action. Somewhat akin to the majesty of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony being the product of an orchestra in action. Materially, all that exists is the orchestra. But the majestic harmony produced can be regarded (and studied) as something entirely different.

As to your second question, I would highly recommend Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett. I found it an eminently readable and very entertaining exploration of your very question. I feel sure you will enjoy it.


If a person is sliced symmetrically in half instantaneously about the vertical axis, before that person's inevitable death, where would his consciousness lie? Since the brain is also symmetrically divided perfectly, would it be possible to have two entities of that person in that moment? A "logical" and a "creative" version of that person, so to speak?

Your question presupposes that the conscious "I" is somehow independent of the brain in such a manner that it could function with only half of one. I challenge this assumption as a position for which we have no evidence. So my answer would be that the consciousness would die in the instant that the brain was divided.

There is a significant amount of evidence, to which you make passing reference, that the two halves of the cerebrum contribute different sorts of mental functions to consciousness. But there is no evidence that consciousness could successfully function without either set of those functions.

There is evidence from victims of severe epilepsy that the corpus callosum can be severed without impairing consciousness. The corpus callosum is the structure deep in the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres of the cerebrum. But that is not the only pathway that connects the two halves of the brain. There is more to the brain than the cerebrum. Patients who have undergone such treatment have never displayed dual personalities. Rather they have demonstrated that there must be alternate pathways for information to flow from one side of the cerebrum to the other.

There is also evidence from people with various sorts of brain damage, that consciousness can get along reasonably well without major portions of the brain. But none of that evidence would suggest that one half of a functioning consciousness could suddenly get along without the other. Survivors of major brain-cell losses take years to even partially recover. All evidence of this sort would suggest that loosing any piece of the brain causes severe mental problems for the unfortunate victim. Loosing one-half of the brain-cells would undoubtedly be instantly fatal.

For more discussion of this issue, in greater depth and with greater expertise than I can muster here, I refer you to Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett.


Someone give me a convincing argument against the reasoning that humans have "free will". I've heard the argument that if you could calculate everything at a certain moment you could predict the future. But that doesn't mean we don't have free will, it just means we can predict the future. I think that a lot of philosophers take the "everything has been determined" standpoint because they are pretentious.

Try Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting by Daniel C. Dennett. I think you will find the author very readable, and his text directly addresses your question.


I am trying to drastically change my life and gain a better understanding of life in general. What philosophical books have changed your life? I would prefer to read books that I can readily apply to my social life.

Here is my own offering of the three most life changing books I have read -- (1) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; (2) The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (and I recommend you follow this with The Extended Phenotype by the same author, in order to complete the story started in the first book); and (3) Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus by Dr. John Grey. All are very readable, and targeted at the average reader. They are not heavy philosophical works.

Once you have managed those, try these heavier philosophical works -- Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett; The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David S. Landes; Culture Matters by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington.

Add to this list a good History of Western Philosophy. My own favorite is A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, but it is a little dated (first published in 1945), stops with William James and John Dewey and the early Logical Positivists, and should be supplemented with a text that covers the Twentieth Century. With this as a base, I think you will be well positioned to start your own reading list.


I have something in my mind that's troubling me. Somehow I have managed to see that generalizations are not correct, since we know nothing about the universe and there could be something out there that would make that generalization incorrect. I don't know, but I strongly believe that generalizations are a major problem in people's way of thinking. What's your opinion about this?

What you have identified is more commonly known (in philosophical circles at least) as "The Problem of Induction". An inductive conclusion is a generalization from a sequence of observed particulars to a general conclusion. The "Problem of Induction" is that the truth of such conclusions can only be demonstrated Inductively. This can be considered either as arguing in circles, or "bootstrapping" -- depending on how sceptical you are feeling.

For example -- I see a swan and it is white. I wander about my environment and observe that all the swans that I see are white. After compiling what I feel is adequate evidence to justify the conclusion I generalize to the inductive conclusion that "All swans are white". This, of course, is incorrect. My conclusion will be invalidated the first time I encounter a black Australian swan.

When one employs induction to reach such generalizations, one must keep in mind that the conclusion reached is only probably true, and not absolutely true. The degree of confidence one can have in the conclusion depends on the nature of the evidence supporting the conclusion. The more the evidence, the more detailed the understanding of the causations involved, the more confidence one can have in the truth of the conclusions. But inductive conclusions are thereby unlike "religious" truths that are taken to be absolutely, totally, and unchallengeably true.

On the other hand, all statements about the nature of Reality are Inductive conclusions. Far from being a major problem in people's way of thinking, Inductive Reasoning is an essential part of how we deal with the slings and arrows of daily life. Do you set the alarm clock to wake you on time tomorrow morning? Do you turn the steering wheel left (rather than right) when you want to make a left turn? Do you eagerly anticipate that mouth-wateringly delicious fork-full of (whatever) at dinner time? If you do any of these things, then you are basing your actions (and your emotions) on the inductive generalization that the future will be like the past, and that things will continue to work the way that you have experienced them working in the past. That the sun will rise tomorrow (and the Universe will not disappear in a puff of sub-quantum smoke) is an inductive generalization.

But I think I might know why you are arriving at your belief that such generalizations are a major problem in people's thinking. Most people are brought up within an Authoritative social environment. Parents, schools and most especially religious organizations are constantly bombarding the poor student with messages such as -- "Do what I tell you because I tell you", "Believe what I tell you because I tell you", and most destructively "These are the Truths, and they are absolute!". As a result, too many people begin to think that any statement that is accepted as "True" is "Truth Absolute". Too many people forget the conditional on inductive generalizations -- they are only probably true, are always subject to revision and correction, and they are only as useful as the evidence that justifies them.


I would like someone to answer this question I have been pondering for a long time. Where exactly does our (your) "Liberty" come from? As many responses would help.

P.S. Not just the Constitutional argument for Liberty, but is there a natural right to Liberty?

I am going to provide my answer from one particular philosophical perspective. There are other philosophical perspectives that will result in quite different answers. So I really hope that you get more than my answer to this question.

First, I must lay some foundation. "Life" is characterized by the unique fact that living things change and move -- "act" -- through the directed application of internally collected, stored, converted, and channeled energy. At a very fundamental level, the goal of all living behaviour is the maintenance of the life that is behaving. It is that (not necessarily contiguous) stretch of the DNA (or RNA) molecule that can be labelled as a Gene that is what must be recognized as the entity that survives and proliferates -- continuation of which is the goal of Life's actions. The actually observed behaviour of all living creatures, both in general and individually, is highly flexible and variable but within the broad genetically defined limits of continued genetic survival.

As an example of life, as an example of the species Homo sapiens, and as an individual consciousness, our purpose is to ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes. To be "Good" at anything is to do a quality job at fulfilling the purpose of that thing. A good Human Being is efficient and effective, and fulfils with quality, the purpose for which the Human Being was built -- to ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes. To ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes is a never ending struggle. There is never enough assurance that the job is complete. There is always something extra that can be done, some marginal increase of assurance that can be found. The struggle continues whether or not the individual is consciously aware of why they are striving, or what they are striving for. Even if they are striving under misconceptions, misinformation, or mistaken assumptions, the human animal is built to strive. The best situation is to be consciously aware of why you are striving, and employ the best of your intellectual abilities to make conscious rational choices of what to strive for. Happiness comes from knowing you are doing a good job.

In order to best provide for the welfare of himself and his family, mankind has discovered that it is a good thing to have the freedom to pursue whatever means seem to be the best available at the moment. At the same time, however, mankind has also discovered that he can better the welfare of himself and his family by co-operating with his fellow humans in projects of mutual benefit. A co-operating social group, however, must necessarily impose some restrictions on the individual freedoms of each member of the group. Otherwise, nothing would get done co-operatively. The concept of individual personal freedom within the confines of a co-operating social group is the source of the concept "liberty".

So -- where does "liberty" come from? It comes from the mutual agreements arrived at by the co-operating members of a social group. "Liberty" is the freedom of action allowed by the group to each member of the group. More importantly, constraints on liberty are imposed by mutual agreement amongst the members of the group on their respective individual freedom in order that they each may best achieve the mutual benefits attainable from group co-operation.

So much for the meta-political theory. In actual practice, of course, especially in modern societies, there is little in the way of "mutual agreement" in the development of what are deemed necessary constraints on individual freedom in the interests of best achieving supposedly mutually beneficial co-operative goals. In any event, our liberty comes from the determinations of the political processes as to the extent of individual freedom we ought to have while we remain part of a social group.

I hope that the foregoing also adequately explains why we have no "natural right" to liberty.


Dear sir, I want to know the purpose of life. I am of the opinion that, if anyhow we're going to die, then why such anxiety to work while living?.Why don't I die, instead of living? Is it my basic human nature or some other mysterious principle that commands me to exist like this? Please provide a solution. I have been worrying about it for the past 2 years.

First, an important disclaimer. I am a realist/ materialist. I am not an idealist or a dualist. So my answer to your question will exclude any reference to religious or spiritual concepts. For answers from those perspectives, you will have to seek guidance from your friendly priest, minister, or spiritual advisor. I am sure you will have no problem finding a suitable representative of whatever religious faith appeals to you (or that you happen to stumble across). And they will tell you that your purpose in life is to unselfishly and altruistically dedicate your existence to the glorification of whatever notion of God they propose. You will have to take their word for it, of course.

On the other hand, if you are seeking an answer that you can check out for yourself, then you are seeking a materialist answer where science and evidence have a meaningful role to play. The answer I provide here will not be met with agreement by many. It does, however, have the advantage of being consistent with all that we currently know about biology, evolution, and psychology.

The first step in answering your question from this perspective is to acknowledge that you are a member of the species Homo sapiens. As such, you are a primate, a mammal, an animal, and a living organism with a 3 to 4 billion year evolutionary history behind you. (I refer you to any of the numerous works on evolutionary biology for further argument on this point). The argument goes like this: Life is Action. "Life" is characterized by the unique fact that living things change and move -- "act" -- through the directed application of internally collected, stored, converted, and channeled energy. > Life's Actions are Teleological (Goal Oriented). At a very fundamental level, the goal of all living behaviour is the maintenance of the life that is behaving.

The second step is to acknowledge that the "Thing" that has been evolving over the myriad of generations that have lived since the dawn of life on Earth, is the genetic code and not the individual. You, yourself, are but a bio-chemical machine. You were constructed by the fertilised cell that was the result of the union of your mother's ovum and your father's sperm. And you were constructed in accordance with the recipe encoded in your genes. You are a survival machine for the genes in your DNA. (I refer you to the works of Richard Dawkins for further argument on this point.) The argument goes like this: The Gene is the Unit of Life. It is that (not necessarily contiguous) stretch of the DNA (or RNA) molecule that can be labelled as a Gene that is what must be recognized as the entity that survives and proliferates -- continuation of which is the goal of Life's Actions. The Reproductive Imperative. The actually observed behaviour of all living creatures, both in general and individually, is highly flexible and variable but within the broad genetically defined limits of continued genetic survival. > Our Purpose. As an example of life, as an example of the species Homo sapiens, and as an individual consciousness, our purpose is to ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes. The Definition of Good. To be "Good" at anything is to do a quality job at fulfilling the purpose of that thing. A good Human Being is efficient and effective, and fulfils with quality, the purpose for which the Human Being was built -- to ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes. > Better is Never Enough. To ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes is a never ending struggle. There is never enough assurance that the job is complete. There is always something extra that can be done, some marginal increase of assurance that can be found.

And Finally, the struggle continues whether or not the individual is consciously aware of why they are striving, or what they are striving for. Even if they are striving under misconceptions, misinformation, or mistaken assumptions, the human animal is built to strive. The best situation is to be consciously aware of why you are striving, and employ the best of your intellectual abilities to make conscious rational choices of what to strive for. Happiness comes from knowing you are doing a good job.

That then, is your answer. The meaning of your life, your function, your purpose, the reason you exist, is to ensure that your genes get transmitted to the next generation. The point of it all is the welfare of your genetic descendants (over the long run, of course). Go to work because it is the best means available to you at this time, and in this place, to prepare you to do well by your children. You are not here to be good for society. You are not here to become whatever God might have intended. You wake up every morning and tackle the day because you have a function to perform. Friends, family, and society matter only to the extent that they can contribute to your ultimate purpose in life.

Many people will object to this answer, including many professional philosophers and of course anyone with a religious/ spiritual bent. But any alternative they offer to my answer will come either from their religious or spiritual premises (which I have specifically disavowed), or from out of thin air. As humans we are gifted with the ability to choose alternative goals in life. And you are free to pursue whatever ends tickle your fancy.

However, regardless of what other goals may be offered instead, if you are not successful at fulfilling this evolutionary meaning of your life, then your genetic codes (and their 3 to 4 billion years of ancestry) will vanish from the future. You are here to ask the question you asked because your parents (and their parents, and their parents, etc.) were good at their job. The future will be populated by individuals whose ancestors were successful at this evolutionary purpose. Are you going to be an ancestor, or a dead end?


Why are people not contented with what they have? Even when they're already successful they still aren't happy, they're are still searching for something. So why is that?

The answer follows on from my answer above.

To be "Good" at anything is to do a quality job at fulfilling the purpose of that thing. A good Human Being is efficient and effective, and fulfils with quality, the purpose for which the Human Being was built -- to ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes.

To ensure the continued survival and proliferation of our genes is a never ending struggle. There is never enough assurance that the job is complete. There is always something extra that can be done, some marginal increase of assurance that can be found.

The struggle continues whether or not the individual is consciously aware of why they are striving, or what they are striving for. Even if they are striving under misconceptions, misinformation, or mistaken assumptions, the human animal is built to strive. The best situation is to be consciously aware of why you are striving, and employ the best of your intellectual abilities to make conscious rational choices of what to strive for. Happiness comes from knowing you are doing a good job.


Should religious doctrines and practices be regulated according to their moral worthiness, or should religion be permitted to operate free of outside interference?

How would Socrates respond to this question?

As to your first question - the answer is - Neither!

What characterises almost all religious beliefs is the adoption of some particular form of moral standard. In fact, one might almost define a "religion" as the adoption of some particular moral standard. Certainly one can identify the flavor of religious belief involved by knowing the particular moral standard adhered to. The problem is that, by the very nature of religious belief, there is nothing that might tend to generate any commonality of moral standards between different religious beliefs.

Now, I am assuming here that you are intending your question to be one of regulating or freeing the doctrines and practices of different religions. Obviously (I hope), within the confines of one particular religion the moral standards of that religion should be (quite properly) used to regulate the particular doctrinal interpretations and practices of its adherents.

But since moral standards are particular to specific religions, it would be impossible to regulate the doctrines and practices of one group of religious believers using the moral standards of another religion. Not, at least, without being (properly) accused of arbitrariness and unjustifiable coercion. How do you think a Christian would react to being governed according to the moral standards of Hinduism? Or vice versa? (How do you think MacDonalds might fair in a regulatory environment where cattle are sacred?)

On the other hand, granting unrestrained liberty to any religious belief is not the answer either. Properly interpreting the "Word of God" (whichever God might apply) is an exercise in unconstrained imagination. There are absolutely no limits to the doctrines and practices that can be dreamed up and claimed as "religious". Rastifarians smoke marijuana as part of their religious ceremonies. Voodoo demands animal sacrifices. Certain sects of Devil Worship and some ancient Incan religious beliefs demand human sacrifices. Most so-called "civilised" societies frown on such behaviors.

The proper approach, I think, is to identify a single natural moral standard that is based on nature and not on religious beliefs, and then constrain people's flights of religious fancy by that moral standard. I would suggest to you that the proper moral standards to apply are "no initiation of the use of force" and "accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions". With these two secular moral standards enforced, I think society can tolerate just about any other religious doctrine or practice.

As to your second question - Who cares?

Socrates lived over two millennia ago, in a social environment pretty homogeneous (everybody he ever met believed either in the Greek Gods or the Egyptian Gods - and there was not a lot of difference between Greek and Egyptian moral standards). Socrates never had to face the religious diversity one can find in any moderately sized modern metropolis. How could his thoughts on the matter have any practical bearing on the modern problem?


Is it fair to say that religious fundamentalism is evil?

Well, that depends!!

It depends first on just what you mean by "fair". And it depends even more on the standards of good and evil that you wish to apply. Certainly, to a religious fundamentalist the answer is a resounding "No!!".

But then, by the very nature of your question, I would have to assume that you are not a religious fundamentalist. So the answer depends primarily on the standards of good and evil that you apply. According to some standards, the answer would be "Yes - religious fundamentalism is evil". By others, the answer would be "No - religious fundamentalism is not evil".

By my own personal moral standards, I would come down on the "Yes" side. I hold the highest moral regard for knowledge and learning about how Reality behaves. I therefore consider the studied ignorance of religious fundamentalism to be a particularly bad way of learning how to predict which way the tiger will jump. But then, my moral standards are not very common, and many people would disagree with me.


Examine Einstein's claim that "God does not play dice with the universe" in the context of the teleological argument for the existence of God. Consider both strengths and weaknesses of the argument.

How valid do you think the argument is as proof of the existence of God?

The "Teleological argument" (or an argument from design) is an argument for the existence of God based on apparent evidence of design in nature. Although there are variations, the best known formulation was done by William Paley (British philosopher-theologian 1743-1805) in his "Natural Theology", published in 1800. For a thorough defeat of this argument, see Daniel C Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea".

In a general way, the argument goes:

1. In all things we have experienced that exhibit design, we have experienced a designer of that artifact.

2. The universe exhibits order and design.

3. Given 1, the universe must have a designer.

4. The designer of the universe is God.

Within this context, Einstein's comment (that "God does not play dice with the universe") can be interpreted as an objection that the randomness of Quantum Mechanics violates the second premise -- that the Universe exhibits order and design -- and therefore must be wrong. One would have to understand thereby that Einstein considered the randomness of dice and Quantum Mechanics as a demonstration of disorder.

Interpreting Einstein's comment within this context is a rather weak approach to understanding his point. A better approach would be to understand Einstein's concept of the Universe and God's role within the context of Newtonian mechanics. Until the development of Quantum Mechanics, the popular conception of the Universe was of a clock-work mechanism. A deterministic mechanism wherein one could predict the infinite future if one knew the position course and speed of all the multitude of parts. Einstein grew up within this conception of the Universe, and a God that created and/or managed such a mechanism. For him, therefore, the randomness of Quantum Mechanics was an affront that violated his conception of God as a "Divine Mechanic" and the Universe as predictable and deterministic.

The only strength that the Teleological argument has left for it is its apparently logical formulation. It is thereby convincing to many who know little of modern science. Dennett, in his "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" has done a thorough job of removing any evidentiary foundation behind all variations of the first premise. And has thus rendered the Teleological Argument quite impotent as an argument for the existence of God.


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