Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Philosophy; do we need it?

First time I heard about three big names of Philosophy “Socrates, Plato and Aristotle” was at an English class in college. I got very fascinated hearing that, Plato was pupil of Socrates and Aristotle was the pupil of Plato and just in three generations these three Philosophers contributed so much to Philosophy that some think that Philosophy afterwards are just footnotes Plato’s works. Knowing this, I immediately set to learn about these three great men. My fascination was not because of immense contributions of those three men but because I could see a human face of Philosophy in them. For long I have heard that a tall tree with thick shades prevent nascent trees from growing tall and large and here I got an example where three great men learning and studying together and yet each one are so tall that we see the whole ancient Greek civilization through them. Let me recap,

It starts by Socrates going to streets, marketplaces and temples to question people about their belief through his famous cross-questioning method. The main message is “know thyself”. But why? That is important. Well, because Athens was on decline and as it was a democratic state city so he knew that power resides in people. If people reclaim the right beliefs, Athens could rise again…. You know the rest of story that he was poisoned on charges corrupting youths, and then comes his pupil, Plato. Plato did not follow his teacher method but rather he established a school “Academy” and wrote Republic to sell the idea of “Philosopher King”. He unlike his teacher had lost hope in bringing change through people and wanted to save Athens by “Philosopher King”. Aristotle on other hand takes a very different course. Plato believed that states’ government rotates in three cycles of Democracy, Aristocracy and Monarchy and their three degenerative forms however Aristotle contests this view and thinks that democracy is a degenerative form of government by many. Aristotle takes more realist position and focus on logic and “Sciences”.

It is a very broken and incomplete description of these three men but it serves the main purpose and that is to show the great shifts in thoughts and thinking methodologies of three very close Philosophers in a very short time just to respond to needs of their time.

Philosophy was always in the service of those who wanted to use it for a purpose. Augustine of Hippo used it to rationalize Christianity; Machiavelli just like Plato used it to bring the glory of Italy and wrote his famous book, “The Prince”. Karl Marx used it for economical equality. I believe that Sartre used Philosophy to introduce an unconquerable freedom (A freedom that no other Hitler could snatch). In our time, USA stands as a Republic based on Philosophy. The forefathers of USA used Philosophy to create a great Republic and they succeeded. Margret thatcher says, “United Kingdom is based on history and United States is based on Philosophy”….

I was fascinated by these three men not because they were three great names but because of great shifts in their thoughts. To me, Art is appealing because it has the ability to make us wonder, smile and break our hearts and with same coin, Philosophy is appealing because it makes shifts in thoughts a natural process. Humans grow and go through great shifts but cultures have instilled fear in them through judgments via wrong and right. Unlike culture, Philosophy does not allow to get reduced by changes in thoughts. That is very humane and attracted me.

I never tried to be a logician because to me it looks like something hollow but instead tried to be logical. Logicians need to create non-human language of symbols but for a logical person a few sentences in the language of ordinary people may suffice to declare themselves… Just read following quotes of two men and a woman (Though I may not agree with all Philosophy of Ayn Rand but I provided some key quotations of her to counterbalance the dominance of male thinkers).

I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law….Aristotle

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong…Abraham Lincoln

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities… Ayn Rand

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities….Ayn Rand

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others….Ayn Rand

Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason…. Ayn Rand
The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me………Ayn Rand
Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future….Ayn Rand

I think, above quotes suffice to say, though there are no such use of logic but they are pretty logical. You may agree with them or not and it is quite normal but they beautifully depict the stands of those thinkers. That is what I call a human face. OK, now back to title, Do we need to cook Philosophy? ….

I have mentioned in the beginning that Philosophy has a human face and do not work in isolation from their time. In order to answer the question in title, we need to understand the biggest questions of our time. I think two biggest phenomenon of our time is globalization and so called ‘clash of civilizations” and I think that both of them stem from a single root and that is the concept of “nation states”. Nation States are modern phenomenon that have “created people” and have bounded them in nation states. There is no problem with it as such however, when people are made to hate each other, discriminate, kill and die for it then it is problem. Globalization is taken as a decline and loosening of control of nation states due to progress in communication and trade. Though communication is the biggest factor in it but I am interested in outcome of the current globalization. The declines of nation states have resulted in rise of corporations and multinational companies. If the nation states make people hate, discriminate, kill and die for them, corporation exploit people economically using flaws in governments. If you read again the quotes I have selected, you understand that they are the positions of “past” thinkers against misuse of nation states. I think, we need Philosophy not just to write footnotes to big names in Philosophy but to not let ourselves be wasted or reduced by “created structures” of our times. Take for example the concept of “Clash of Civilizations”. If I speak from the position of a Hazara (that is a very small historical nation among other historical nations of world), Hazaras are populated both in East and West, in Central Asia, South Asia and Middle East. How Hazaras can reconcile between clashes of East and West and nation states? Of course, larger historical nations are even more widespread and facing the same problem. For me, it is the demand of our time to go for “Universal Values” rather than sticking to “cultural values” and waste ourselves by created hatred and confrontations. I am by no means are saying that we should compromise our identity or culture. No question about that… but while having our identities we have to move towards universal values. Again by Universal Values I do not mean something new but something common to humanity. In simple words, it is just thinking bigger, bigger than nation states, races and cultural identities when values conflict and demands for judgments. Until now we are hearing about tolerance. That is good but that is very fragile. Unless we do not think big, bigger than our identities, tolerance can anytime change into outrage. It is only thinking bigger than boundaries that will allow to understand and for that we need to keep cooking Philosophy……………………………………………………………….

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An "advice" of Philosophy to Sciences

In 2007, as part of teachers training, I joined the class of a Science teacher to co-teach. When it came to measurements he was expressing "embarrassment" that although USA is the leading country in Sciences yet the measurements are not scientific, pound instead of Kilogram, mile instead of Kilometer and so on. But to me a big fact lies there. It is the thinking mechanism that makes things scientific not the language. I mean the job of Science is to unravel facts not to create facts. That is the job of culture.

I wanted to describe the rock samples that I had collected and I wanted to follow a standard color chart, The Munsell color chart. I looked at Amazon and found Munsell color chart books ranging in prices from 72 US dollars to 995 US dollars. What? I was thinking, will getting the book with 995 dollars will result in production of a work 10 times higher in value than one that is priced 72 dollars? At least the price differences are suggesting so. The main purpose of standardization is to make language "precise" and "common" so everybody could get them with precision but I feel in the process of standardization, "Sciences" have created "facts". I mean if you follow everything else but not a "standard language" then no matter how factual is your work it is of less value or worth than one written in "standard language"... In other words, "standardization" have become something "bigger", "larger" or "more important" than Facts themselves...

I am not saying that standardization is wrong but I am talking about the attitude that are the outcome of standardization. It is a natural process that... when something is constructed and are valued as "higher" then a reactionary deconstructionism follows.

Science is still young so we have yet to wait for this reactionary deconstructionism to come. But if want to know how it is going to look, Philosophy as an aged discipline gives some clues. I am not saying that Sciences are going to face the same fate because both disciplines are very different in their mechanisms but still it provides a lot of clues for those who want to see....

Standardization is not something Sciences are obsessed with but it is a general problem of men and it is why we see it in all disciplines. Philosophy had the same problems. I am not going to start from Socrates who was going to streets to question people's beliefs and world views, an effort to demonstrate the shakiness of their beliefs or to invite them towards standardization of their world views... Rather I start from Plato. Plato ( 424/423 BC – 348/347 BC) stands tallest among Philosophers of ancient Greek in terms of impact on human thinking. He wanted to standardized the Philosophy so he introduced the concepts of pure/ideal forms like those of geometrical forms/shapes. Those forms were ideal and absolute and all other things were changing images of them. You can call this metaphysical standardization or ontological (study of being) standardization, meaning essence precedes the existence of things and are of primal importance.

Almost more than 2000 years later, Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) tried to reverse the course of Platonic standardization to 180 degrees. He tried to make the Human mind as the source of knowledge rather than Platonic ideal forms or essence . He doubted the existence of everything and announced, "I think, therefore I am". In other words there is no ideal forms as Plato was saying but rather it is human mind, "I think" which is the source of knowledge... You can call this an epistemology standardization OR the standardization based on consciousness.

However, Descartes' efforts of a solid firm ground for knowledge didn't last long. Sigmund Freud ( 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) just a little more than two centuries later thinned Descartes' solid ground of consciousness by theorizing that conscious mind is very thin part of mind and is dependent on the unconscious mind, the largest part of mind...Freudian structural division of mind was a blow to Descartes' genius efforts. Knowledge was there but it was neither divine nor humanistic...

On other hand his contemporary, Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883)gave another fatal blow to the standardization efforts based on essence and mind by theorizing that Arts, literature, Philosophy and Sciences are not truth on their own but are the results of the socio-economic changes.

Reduced by all these changes and shifts, Philosophy turned to language hoping that by standardizing or precising language they might revitalize Philosophy. In one such efforts, Ferdinand de Saussure introduced "Structuralism". Actually it was an effort to create parallel "Humanities Science" to that of Natural Sciences. In brief, he was saying that "words" in themselves do not mean anything but they get meaning when we order them in a lingual structure. However it also didn't last long as Derrida, an Algerian/French Philosopher proposed that structuralism itself is a structure and by this we entered in post structuralism or the "deconstructionism" in humanities.

Let's rewind all this,

Philosophy as an oldest discipline tells us a very interesting Phenomena and out of this comes one thing very clearly and that is standardization projects didn't last long in Philosophy. The longest one was that of Platonic. That was of ancient Greek period and the main goal was to introduce something higher than material things, the ideal forms. Then comes Descartes' conscious and it also lives for two centuries but after that nothing survives very long. The efforts to standardize language burst as soon as they are born and now we live in a time that we are left only with ruins standardization in Philosophy..

Coming back to Sciences, it is going to work because it is based on measurements but attitude of creating something as "higher" is not going last long as reactionary movements will come to contest them...