Read part 1 here!
1. Getting Lucky With Logic
I had a professor tell me once that logic is very much like traffic laws. We know it’s there, we think we should probably follow it, but after a while we tend to just do whatever we want. And while most people would assume that they are logical, many would probably surprised at just how illogical they really are. As is the case with many of these topics, there are numerous points of discussion that could be brought up, discarded and then revived. That would take far too long, so we are going to hit the high notes, so to speak.
Contrary to popular opinion, screaming loudly until the other person concedes your point does not mean that you are logical. It probably means you are a political pundit if anything. The philosophy of logic (or the study of logic, let’s not be picky here) is a well established tradition among the ancient philosophers. Many philosophers including Plato would systematically produce logical arguments within the pages of their texts, even when dealing with abstract notions such as morality, justice, or the nature of the soul.
It is rather unfortunate that we often abandon logic in exchange for highly dramatic, unsupported statements. It is entirely within our power to declare “Frosted Flakes is the best type of cereal ever!”. Yet this remains an assertion without a base, a conclusion without support.
A very important logical tool is the syllogism, which is believed to have been formally presented by Aristotle. A syllogism is a structured argument that presents two statements, which are referred to as “premises”. If both of the premises are true, then we will logically arrive at a third statement which is aptly called “the conclusion”. The most famous syllogism is as follows….
Premise 1: Socrates is a man
Premise 2: All men are mortal
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
This type of thinking may seem rather obvious to you, but for the time it was nothing short of revolutionary. If we are to take the above example of finding the worlds best cereal, then our argumentation might go something like this…
Premise: The cereal that is purchased the most is the best
Premise: Frosted Flakes is purchased the most of all cereals
Conclusion: Frosted Flakes is the best cereal in the entire world
Now while this may seem to be a valid argument, we could easily go about deconstructing it if we choose. This type of argumentation requires that we accept both premises in order for our conclusion to be. Some statements can be verified and some can be outright refuted. However more often than not we will find that many premises are somewhere in between. And while we may have our doubts, we still must decide if the statements given are plausible.
If we are to accept that the first two statements are plausible, then it is not unreasonable to accept the conclusion. The plausibility of any statement is often at the mercy of whoever interprets it.
How And When To Use Logic…
Pretty frequently, I think that would be fair to say. I’m sure you would like to believe that you are always logical, even if you don’t structure your thoughts in the form of a syllogism. Perhaps you are considering asking your boss for a raise at work. After all, you are an ambitious young worker who puts in the hours and pours over a computer all day, researching ancient Greece, or is that just me?
At any rate you might consider your situation like this:
P. I am a hard worker
P. Hard workers get promoted
C. I should totally get promoted!
Good job! that is a rather valid argument you just presented! Now you have to hope beyond all hope that your employer finds the first two statements plausible. If the boss rejects one of the first two premises (perhaps he found out you are dating his daughter or perhaps he personally believes only lying, cheating weasels should get promoted) then you are in a tough spot there. Best of luck to you!
2. Toying With Theology
Theology is the rather profound branch of philosophy that attempts to examine the nature of God and the role he plays in our universe. Theology is often considered the philosophy of faith, and with it there are some ethical implications that spill over into the realm of practical considerations.
One of the most significant examples of theological philosophy can be found within the pages of Plato’s Euthyprho. We discussed this topic some time ago in one of our weekend newsletters. And I am sure you are an avid reader of Classical Wisdom Weekly, so I will not bore you with the details. However the following question is raised within the pages of the dialogue…
Is that which is pious, pious because God commands it? Or does God command that which is pious because it is pious?
Now that might take a minute to digest. Essentially we are going to examine the role God plays in determining morality. Is that which is moral only so because God tells us so? Or is morality independent of God, who is really just a nice guy for pointing out what we could find out on our own? Tough call…
Assuming we believe in a God (which theologians totally do, by the way) then we are faced with some serious problems no matter what side of the argument we fall. If morality is dependent on Gods command then God could hypothetically tell us to commit horrible atrocities and those actions would then be moral. Strangely enough, human history is absolutely saturated with horrific events that were committed because God willed it. Let’s take a look at the other option then.
If we are to assume that morality is independent of God, which is a popular choice for modern religious types, then we also seem to undercut God quite significantly. Our understanding of God dictates that all things come from God, being the divine creator and all. And if we are to say that morality comes from some other place besides the will of God, then it would appear that not everything comes from the divine creator. This would lead us to consider the notion that we do not need God to live morally or justly.
How And When To Use Theology…
My mother always told me that it was bad manners to discuss politics or religion at a party. Strangely enough, we are going to touch on both topics today. An important part of theology that must not be overlooked, is that theology insists that faith and spirituality are requisite while considering the nature of the divine. Examining the nature of God through the lens of faith and logic is a rather special gift that not all are capable of.
If you find yourself wrestling with some severe phenomenological concerns regarding the divine, then theology might just be for you. If you are the type of person who finds that sort of stuff foolish, then perhaps theology would not be a good fit. It is awfully hard to consider the implications of a God when we can’t accept that there is a God in the first place.
3. Playing At Politics
While it might be easy to assume that politics is lots of handshaking, empty promises and empty politicians, the broader scope of this philosophy is often forgotten. Philosophy of politics is the rather interesting examination of how best to organize our society. It is similar to ethics, except instead of one individual grappling with the right way to live, we have millions. It can be said that without the advancements of our democratic society, we would still be living in caves, killing each other with pointy sticks. Fortunately our society has evolved past that so that we can now kill each other with missiles. (that was a joke)
While more modern philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Paine are often celebrated as some of the most influential political philosophers, the ancient Greeks were experimenting with social contracts thousand of years before either man put ink to paper. Interestingly enough, the city of Athens has existed for so long that it is believed to have been subject to almost every conceivable form of government. Whether it be the beloved democracy, aristocracy, or outright monarchy, Athens has seen it and done it.
So it is perhaps not surprising that, along with many other things, Plato discusses his ideal state and the manner in which it would be governed within the pages of The Republic. While we could spend a lifetime dissecting the subtle nuances of this epic texts, we will instead focus on a few examples that you might find rather interesting.
In Book 1 Socrates and his various side kicks get involved in a rather lengthy discussion on the notion of justice, especially as it applies to the governing of a state. It is proposed, rather boisterously, by the sophist Thrasymachus that justice is simply the interest of the stronger. He declares that those in power (the government) will issue laws that will benefit them, and the supplicants will be forced to follow these laws. Whether we agree or not, it would seem that these laws are what society knows as “justice” and so it would appear that justice is very simply the interest of the stronger.
Now that sounds so unlike politics, right? When has there ever been a time when the government made laws to benefit those in power while simultaneously keeping the poor and weak poor and weak? Nothing like that would ever happen right? I didn’t think so…
At any rate, Socrates combats this claim and points out that those in power only gain their power from the people they rule. You can act like a tyrant all you like, declaring your will to be justice, just be wary you do not incite a rebellion. It would seem that Plato, and perhaps Socrates as well, is making the argument that a just city state is always tempered with wisdom. Justice therefore is very closely related to wisdom, and perhaps the best politicians would be philosophers.
How And When To Use Political Philosophy…
I always enjoyed political philosophy when I was a teenager. Perhaps it was that youthful rebellion that had me all up in arms against every establishment. Political philosophy tends to be very interesting for young people I believe. Many of them tend to feel suffocated by rules that they did not agree to, traditions that they want no part of. I’m not saying they are right. This is just an off handed observation really.
Every parent eventually lays down the law for children. If the children ask too many questions, the response is usually
“because I am the parent, now do as I say…”
Okay then, it would appear that justice in parenting really is the interest of the stronger. Thanks Thrasymachus, I will just go to my room now.
If you are not an adolescent who intends to use political philosophy to combat the tyranny of parenting or other more pressing social injustices, then you can still find use of political philosophy. Perhaps you are just some guy at a party, sipping on an old fashioned and trying to remember if the woman in the blue dress is named Jessica or Jennifer. And if you find yourself swept up in conversation about ANYTHING political, you could always be the black sheep and claim that democracy itself is rather worthless.
Plato makes this claim, in case you were wondering. Within the pages of The Republic, Plato argues that democracy is something like a vicious cycle. Much like a Ferris wheel that is permanently stuck in the “on” position, democracy is fun for a while. You go around and around thinking it will all turn out well, but after a while you get rather sick of the whole thing and end up vomiting all over the cotton candy vendor below you.
Plato argues that democracy has the tendency to lift perceived heroes to glorious ranks of power and prestige. These heroes (politicians) are popular for a time, but eventually they lose favor. To retain power they will create laws to protect their own interests and keep their constituents powerless. The heroes become involved in senseless wars that distract the people and often guilt them into supporting a regime that no longer has the support of the average citizen.
“And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty” -Plato (The Republic)
Now before you disagree, go ahead and think about whoever is currently running your country and then tell Plato that he was wrong. Yeah, I thought as much…
4. Imagining The Immortal Soul
Up until this point we have discussed anything from epistemology to metaphysics to ethics to politics and I have done my best to explain how you can use these various thoughts to become brighter, or at least appear brighter. When it comes to the immortal soul, philosophy certainly has quite a lot to say. However I certainly do not know how you could ponder the existence of the unchanging spirit as a way to trick people into thinking you are smarter than you actually are. Perhaps you will have better luck.
For our purposes we will examine Plato’s argument for the soul. A rather lengthy and detailed examination, this argument for the eternal human spirit has been laid out over the course of several dialogues. You could take the time to read the argument in its entirety, or if you don’t have time for that (and I’m sure you don’t) then allow me to summarize the argument briefly.
There are a few steps to this, so let’s start from the beginning. In the pages of Meno Socrates makes the rather large claim that all knowledge is recollection. He uses a servant boy to demonstrate. The boy, who has never had a formal education in his life, is prompted to answer numerous geometry inquires, while Socrates hovers over him continuously peppering the boy with a specific series of questions. After some prompting the boy eventually arrives at accurate conclusions and appears to have gained some sort of mathematical knowledge.
Socrates claims that he did not teach the boy anything, but merely asked the right questions. The human spirit within the boy already is aware of mathematical principles and would know how to answer them if prompted in the right way. Socrates uses this to promote his theory that all knowledge we possess is originally learned by the eternal spirit and our bodies simply remember the information within our lives. So if we are to accept that (and that might be a stretch) then we can reasonably conclude that the human spirit is eternal and possesses infinite knowledge.
Building upon this within The Phaedo, Socrates makes what is known as “the argument of opposites”. This states that all things come from their opposites. Which is to say that that which is hot comes to be from cold. And that which is strong came to be from a weaker state. A “day to night” and “night to day” sort of appeal, Socrates makes the claim that life is the opposite of death and death the opposite of life. And so it would appear that our immortal soul goes into death and then will eventually come to life again. And we make this lap for eternity, endlessly reborn anew.
I would encourage you to pursue these topics in a more thorough manner. While you could remember some of these lessons and recite them to appear like you are a scholar, I would not recommend it. True knowledge is its own reward and it is for this reason that we endlessly pursue it. I hope you have enjoyed this crash course, I hope you have been inspired to pursue philosophy with renewed vigor. Keep searching my friends, and we will talk soon.