Tuesday 18 June 2013
"In fact love is only one of the possible ways to fill life with meaning, and it is not even the best way. Our existence would have come to a sad pass and our lives would be poor indeed if their meaning depended upon whether or not we experienced happiness in love."
Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul
Monday 17 June 2013
"Powers compares Gaga to the artist Cindy Sherman: both draw our attention to the extent to which being a woman is a matter of artifice, of artful self-presentation....
Lady Gaga and her shotgun companions should not be seen as barreling down the road of bad faith. But neither are they living in a world in which their acts of self-expression or self-empowerment are distinguishable, even in theory, from acts of self-objectification."
Nancy Bauer, Lady Power
Friday 7 June 2013
As most people know by now, Google Reader will shut down on July 1, 2013. A reminder to all my subscribers on Google Reader that this is high time to shift to an alternative service, such as Feedly, or subscribe via email. Thank you.
Posted by Awais Aftab at 11:58 am
Something that I remind myself of on almost a daily basis:
"Efficient contact with reality: not too little; not too much." Listed as one of the characteristics of mental health in Oxford Handbook of Clinical Specialties.
The happiness that we have in our individual lives, we bring to our relationships.
A relationship generates some of its own happiness (or pain) as well, but ultimately it's the individual happiness that sustains it.
If the joy in your life is parasitic on your relationship, the relationship will soon be depleted of its joy.
Friday 31 May 2013
L'Orientalist (aka Klingschor) has actively written and talked about the history of the Qurʾān, and as far as blogosphere is concerned, his posts are among the best I have seen on the subject, especially given that they bring to light information that is not commonly known. These two posts in particular are worth reading, and I would highly recommend them: The History of the Qur'an and The Umayyad Qur'an. This interview with L'Orientalist is my attempt to familiarize my readers with these ideas.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got interested in the subject and how you went about exploring it?
It was a combination of factors. In general, I enjoy researching, analysing, synthesising and dispensing information; I disapprove of ignorance, inaccuracy and fallacy; I desire equality and peace. In particular, I have a passion for the history of the Græco-ʿArabī and Türkī-Īrānī Islāmicate Civilisations, both characterised by the presence of the religion of Islām. In other words, my interest in Islām was a convergence of disparate interests and passions.
2. These historical details are not commonly known among Muslims and are not brought to light in most literature that exists on the subject. Do you think it is simply ignorance or active suppression?
I believe that in the case of the lay Muslim masses, it is simple ignorance; in the case of the Muslim intelligentsia, it is a conscious rejection of most materials critical of Islām under the excuse or conviction that such materials are the product of an ‘Orientalist’ Conspiracy.
3. In your opinion, when did this idea of the Immutability of the Qurʾān emerge? Was it something that the companions of the Muḥammad believed as well?
The perception of a truly immutable Qurʾān emerged in the last century following the popularity and spread of the 1936 Cairo Edition, which dislodged most (but not all) regional variants of the text. Prior to this ‘standardisation’, Muslim scholarship and Islāmī Tradition fully acknowledged the numerous minor variations between different versions of the ʿUthmānī Qurʾān-tradition, the numerous heterodox Qurʾān-traditions that existed prior to the ʿUthmānī Qurʾān-tradition, the fact that some notable early Muslims considered the Qurʾān to be incomplete and and even the fact that Muḥammad himself altered the text and content of the Qurʾān to suit his needs at any given moment. The modern mainstream Muslim stance on the Immutability of Qurʾān is actually quite remarkable in this respect.
4. And what would you say about the idea of inimitability of Qurʾān?
I personally suspect that the Qurʾān’s challenge for dissenters to bring forth a scripture like it was probably only directed at pagans, who lacked a revealed scripture (unlike the Ahl al-Kitāb, i.e. Christians and Jews). I believe that Andrew Rippin (Muslims, pp.34-35) is correct in stating that the doctrine of Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān (Inimitability) only emerged as a coherent dogma during the ʿAbbāsī era, when Arabic-speaking Christian polemicists such as Al-Kindī were criticising the style, structure and coherency of the Qurʾān. It was this polemic that motivated Mediæval Muslims to defensively assert the perfection of their holy book.
5. Isn’t it ironic that many Muslims, when faced with these conclusions, question the credibility of the historical sources, even though the sources are the works of early Muslim historians including well-cherished works like Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim?
It is important to remember that identity politics and personal feeling often trump any other source or authority when it comes to the religiosity of a Believer. Therefore, whenever a ḥadīth presents information that conflicts with the ideals or needs of the Believer—for example, depicts Muḥammad as a misogynist, thus conflicting with the modern Believer’s personal ideals of gender relations—that ḥadīth must be de facto false within the worldview of the Believer. Even though this process is subjective and ad hoc (and thus intellectually untenable), it is entirely predictable and expected from a modern Believer.
6. Traditional account states that Zayd ibn Thābit al-Anṣārī created a compilation of Qurʾān under orders of Abū Bakr, that was later passed on to ʿUmar and his family. Did this compilation really exist?
Richard Bell (Introduction to the Qurʾān, p.42) argued the Zayd/Abū Bakr collection-episode to be a politically-motivated historical fiction, and I personally agree with his view. The collection-narrative of ʿUthmān is far more likely, given the sheer volume of (albeit later) sources that attest to the story.
7. Ḥadīth Literature seems to indicate there was disagreement among the companion themselves about Qurʾān and several versions are said to have existed. How significant were these differences and how many versions do we know of?
Arthur Jeffrey (Materials) documents at least 28 different manuscripts attributed to various early Muslim individuals in Islāmī Tradition. The differences between the early codices are extremely significant. Some purportedly contained variant chapters or chapters with more verses than the current standardised edition. However, most just contain variant or inserted verses, which—although being irreconcilably different in content and meaning—are probably the product of Mediæval Muslim commentary, fabricated for various legal, theological or political reasons.
8. When the standard ʿUthmānī Codex was created, what happened to other variant versions of Qurʾān?
Islāmī Tradition speaks of various purges conducted by rulers and governors such as ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān and Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf to eradicate variant manuscripts. These efforts failed, however, and by the ʿAbbāsī era many of these pre-ʿUthmānī versions of the Qurʾān had crept back into the mainstream and intermingled with the orthodox ʿUthmānī version (E.I.2, V.5, pp.404-409). Eventually, an ʿAbbāsī scholar named Ibn Mujāhid authorised 7 canonical versions of the Qurʾān (each slightly different from the other), whilst all other versions were outlawed and forcibly repressed.
9. Can you comment briefly on the role of the fifth Umawī khalīfah ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān?
The original ʿUthmānī Codex was a Scriptio Defectiva, lacking proper vowels, punctuation and consonantal disambiguation. Many traditions attribute the establishment of the Qurʾān’s diacritical markings to ʿAbd al-Malik’s greatest commander and governor, Al-Ḥajjāj, who attempted to impose this ‘elucidated’ Qurʾān upon the rest of Islāmdom. ʿAbd al-Malik’s brother—the governor of Egypt—refused this imposition and established his own Qurʾān, however, and in general the pre-ʿUthmānī crept back into the Muslim mainstream (discussed above).
10. What is oldest existing copy of the Qurʾān and what does that tell us?
The oldest collection of Qurʾānic materials is the Ṣanʿāʾ Manuscripts, most of which—despite numerous textual deviations—conform approximately to the ʿUthmānī Qurʾān-text tradition. Not enough research has yet been conducted to ascertain to full implications of this manuscript collection, but—to take one example noted by Gerd-Rüdiger Puin—the documents seem to indicate that Mediæval Muslim philologists misread the original text in numerous places, misreading Shāṭān as Shayṭān and Abrāhām as Ibrāhīm (Reynolds, The Qurʾān, p.7). The Ṣanʿāʾ collection also contains the first extant manuscript of a pre-ʿUthmānī Qurʾān ever to be discovered (Sadeghi & Bergmann, The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet).
11. You base your conclusions on Muslim historical sources mostly. How do you feel about the historians like Patricia Crone and Tom Holland who tend to be radically dismissive of the authenticity of Islām’s early history?
I only conduct my discourse within the confines of Islāmī Tradition to demonstrate the point that even if you work within the hermeneutical framework of classical Islām, the religion still shows itself to be intellectually untenable. I actually agree with Crone and Holland’s views on the unreliability of Islāmī Tradition, based upon the critical research of Ignác Goldziher, Joseph Schacht and Herbert Berg. Although the various Revisionist hypotheses (e.g., John Wansbrough, Yehuda Nevo, Christoph Luxenberg, etc.) haven’t yet gained widespread consensus, it is now generally agreed amongst Islāmologists that Islāmī Tradition is unreliable (Donner, Narratives, p.25).
L'Orientalist, thank you very much.
Thursday 30 May 2013
"Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: 'What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?' You would be ashamed to confess it! And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
(Source: The Atlantic)
Sunday 26 May 2013
"It all goes back and back, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads." (Tyrion Lannister)
George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords
Thursday 23 May 2013
"What gets eaten, what gets aborted, what gets smashed, will never be decisively resolved by an inspection of internal structures and capacities of a given candidate for destruction. Even smashing a mere chunk of solidified lava -- evidently purely passive, and homoeomerous from one end to the other -- can be experienced as a transgression by the person who is properly sensitized, for whom the chunk shows up as salient within her ethically charged environment. Are fetuses morally relevant? Yes, they are. So are chunks of lava. Does that mean you mustn't destroy them? Not necessarily, but you shouldn't suppose that the way to gain license to destroy them, whether this license is conceived cosmically, socially, or individually, is to produce arguments that cut them off from the sphere of moral relevance."
Justin Erik Halldór Smith, The Moral Status of Rocks. An excellent post, worth reading in full.
"If we are cursed to forget much of what we read, there are still charms in the moments of reading a particular book in a particular place. What I remember most about Malamud’s short-story collection “The Magic Barrel,” is the warm sunlight in the coffee shop on the consecutive Friday mornings I read it before high school. That is missing the more important points, but it is something. Reading has many facets, one of which might be the rather indescribable, and naturally fleeting, mix of thought and emotion and sensory manipulations that happen in the moment and then fade. How much of reading, then, is just a kind of narcissism—a marker of who you were and what you were thinking when you encountered a text? Perhaps thinking of that book later, a trace of whatever admixture moved you while reading it will spark out of the brain’s dark places."
Ian Crouch, The Curse of Reading and Forgetting at The New Yorker
Monday 20 May 2013
Gordon Finlayson: "What I don’t like about [moral error theory] is the view that all our moral judgments are false and that, notwithstanding this, we keep believing them anyway. Why does the ordinary forensic process of experience, whereby falsehoods are eventually discovered, overturned and, when all goes well, replaced by truths, not function in this case? Skeptics about ‘morality’ owe an explanation for the fact that morality as a whole (not in part) has proven to be pretty durable and that people have continued to hold their moral beliefs, with as much certainty as their ordinary epistemic beliefs."
Sunday 19 May 2013
Wednesday 15 May 2013
I am the second author of this review article published in Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences.
Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Muhammad Awais Aftab, Nauman Mazhar, Muhammad Umair, Zeeshan Butt
The purpose of this article is to review the evidence linking depression with inflammation, to examine the bi-directional relationship between the neuro-humeral circuitry of depression and the inflammatory response, and point out new treatment implications of these ideas. The evidence available is in areas of genetic links, association of depression with raised inflammatory markers such as Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF)-alpha, Interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, co-morbidity of depression with inflammatory medical illnesses, administration of cytokines leading to depression, and the recognition that anti-depressants have anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective properties. Inflammatory response and mood regulation constitute a system of bi-directional communication such that inflammatory cytokines can penetrate the CNS and influence behavior. Activation of the CNS cytokine network leads to a cascade of effects such as disturbed metabolism of amino acids, neurotoxicity, diminished neurotrophic support, decreased neurogenesis, impaired negative feedback regulation of HPA axis function and glucocorticoid resistance. Treatment implications include strategies to screen for patients with increased inflammatory activity, possible treatment with anti-inflammatory agents, and the recognition of new target areas for antidepressant medications.
German for 'world-weariness', 'world-pain', 'world-grief'.
"it's the depression you feel when the world as it is does not line up with the world as you think it should be."
(as defined by David Levithan in Will Grayson, Will Grayson)
Monday 13 May 2013
"[I]n the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing."
David Foster Wallace, excerpt from 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address
Saturday 11 May 2013
Thomas Insel, the Director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) writes on the Director’s Blog :
"While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment.
Patients with mental disorders deserve better. NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system....
That is why NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories. Going forward, we will be supporting research projects that look across current categories – or sub-divide current categories – to begin to develop a better system."
Wednesday 8 May 2013
"The place the essay has ended up can be described as sceptical – a scepticism of the gentle variety. Having considered the ways in which mental disorder is understood in psychiatric practice, the explicit definitions in the diagnostic manuals, and bearing in mind the clinical problems that they characterise, and having examined the more elaborate, rigorous definitions in the surrounding literature, the most influential of which is due to Jerry Wakefield, and the sociological approaches, and the paradigms and general findings of the current science – there ends up being, so far as I can see, no stable reality or concept of mental disorder; it breaks up into many, quite different kinds, some reminiscent of an old idea of madness or mental illness, others nothing like this at all. This instability and fragmentation corresponds to diversity in the phenomena, in current clinical services, and in current terminology. I would have settled for one clear proposal as to what mental disorder really is, but couldn’t find one.
That said, the scepticism is just about whether there is something stable, fixed and distinctive here, for which ‘mental disorder’ is a suitable name. It does not include doubts about the reality of the phenomena: the distress and disabilities that people bring to the clinic, and the need for psychiatric, or more generally mental health professional care. The domain of healthcare as a response to personal distress and disability seems to me permanent, only mistakenly seen as something to be deconstructed away. There may be no clear basis for distinguishing between mental health problems and social problems, or between mental health problems and ‘normal – more or less normal – problems of living’, but what distinguishes healthcare is the response to the person involved. The response is care for the individual, based on professional training, science and expertise, distinct from social or political action, or religious judgement, or demands for self-reliance. By all means there is then a debate to be had as to the pros and cons of one kind of response as opposed to another, a debate involving many stakeholders, with some clear cases, and many controversial boundary issues, but healthcare has a permanent seat in the debating chamber."
Derek Bolton, What is Mental Disorder? An essay in philosophy, science, and values, Preface
From the Oxford series 'International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry'
Tuesday 7 May 2013
William Vallicella (aka Maverick Philosopher) recently made a series of posts on the topic of meaning of life, and these contain some of the most philosophically sophisticated and refined discussions that I have read on the matter. In this post I’d like to summarize some of his main conclusions, primarily for my own clarity of thought. For a detailed understanding of his reasoning and arguments, I’d strongly urge the readers to look up the original posts.
The existential meaning of life refers to ‘the ultimate and objective point, purpose, end, or goal of human willing and striving, if there is one’.
Existential meaning has a teleological aspect: a meaningful life is a purpose-driven life. This is a purpose that the individual has to choose for himself out of his own free will. This purpose has to be both non-trivial and achievable.
Existential meaning has an axiological aspect: a meaningful life contains some positive noninstrumental value, a source of personal satisfaction for the agent. Furthermore, it is necessary that this value has to be objective; the pursuit of an immoral life may bring personal satisfaction, but it cannot be called meaningful.
There are also anthropic and cosmic aspects to the question of meaning.
Anthropic question: What is the objective purpose of human existence?
Cosmic question: Is the nature of the world whole such as to enable and further the meaningfulness of human existence?
The meaning can be either exogenous (objective) or endogenous (subjective).
An objective meaning is assigned by an external agent, such as God or ‘the nature of things’. A subjective meaning comes from within and assigned by oneself.
The philosophical question is distinct from the psychological question of a meaningful life.
The philosophical thesis that the meaning of life is subjective (Subjectivism) comes in an extreme and a moderate version. I will only talk about extreme subjectivism here, and will refer the reader to the original post for the discussion of moderate subjectivism.
Subjectivism does not claim that there is no meaning (which is Nihilism) but that there is meaning in life, and this meaning is subjective by its very nature. Vallicella argues that Subjectivism collapses into Nihilism.
Extreme subjectivism states that you give meaning to your own life. Meaning is invented by the agent in a life that is otherwise meaningless.
“On extreme subjectivism, then, the agent freely decides (i) whether or not his life will have meaning, (ii) what meaning it will have, and (iii) whether and to what extent he will live out this meaning day by day.”
Vallicella argues that extreme subjectivism is incoherent. “Anyone who sincerely asks himself whether he is wasting or has wasted his life presupposes by his very posing of the question that there are objective factors that bear on the question of the meaning of life. To raise the question is to presuppose that existential meaning cannot be identified with agent-conferred meaning… if the meaning of one’s life is the meaning one gives it, then one cannot fail to live a meaningful life since any meaning is as good as any other. ” The subjectivist answer contradicts the presupposition of the philosophical question of meaning of life that one can fail to live a meaningful life. If subjectivism were true, a failure of meaningful life would be impossible.
Secondly, Vallicella argues that extreme subjectivism collapses into nihilism. “For if the meaning of my life is the meaning I give it, then my life has no meaning in the sense of ‘meaning’ that gave rise both to the question and the extreme subjectivist answer…. A conferred meaning is no meaning.”
Thirdly, extreme subjectivism entails a vicious infinite regress. For life to be meaningful, there has to be an act of meaning-bestowal, and these acts of meaning-bestowal must be meaningful if life has to have meaning. In subjectivism, however, nothing is intrinsically meaning. If an act of meaning-bestowal (A) is not intrinsically meaningful, then this act of meaning-bestowal needs to have meaning bestowed on it by a second act of meaning-bestowal (A*) and that in turn would require a third act (A**), and so on.
“if a life is meaningful due to acts of meaning-bestowal, and these latter are meaningless, then the life as a whole is meaningless.”
“As soon as the agent reflects that the bestowal of meaning on his chosen purpose is not a response to any objective value such as the elimination of unnecessary suffering, he should see that his meaning-bestowal is a gratuitous and arbitrary and meaningless act. A meaningful life, one wants to protest, is one in response to objective values, where one's responding is itself an objective value.”
“The meaning of life, if there is one, cannot be subjective… But the meaning of life cannot be purely objective either. The meaning of life, if there is one, must somehow involve a mediation of the subjective and the objective: the meaning of life must be subjectively appropriable.”
“An objective meaning or purpose of X is a purpose that is as it were assigned to X from without…. if X has a purely objective purpose, then X plays no role in the realization or enactment or embodiment of its purpose.”
“We may or may not have an objective purpose, but if we have one, it cannot be a purely objective purpose; it must be a purpose that can be made our purpose. But it is best to speak in the first-person. A purpose that I cannot make my purpose is of no consequence to me. Such a purpose would be meaningless to me. An objective purpose that I could not come to know about, or could not realize, or an objective purpose that I knew about and could realize but whose realization would destroy me or cause a preponderance of misery over happiness or thwart my flourishing or destroy my autonomy would not be a purpose I could make my own.”
“We can sum this up by saying that an objective purpose, if there is one, must be subjectively appropriable if it is to be relevant to existential meaning. To appropriate a thing is to make it one's own, to take possession of it.”
“The subjectively appropriable is not merely that which is able to be appropriated, but that which is worthy of being appropriated. I take it as axiomatic that a meaningful life for a human being must be a life worthy of a human being.”
An objective purpose is available to all, the same for all, applicable to all. “The meaning of life, if there is one, must be the same for all and available to all. A rational world plays no favorites. If the objective meaning of life were not available to all, then that would be an evil arrangement, one that could not be objectively meaningful.”
Vallicella defines aporia as ‘a set of propositions each member of which has a strong claim on our acceptance, but whose members are collectively inconsistent.’
With regards to the existential meaning of life, he presents the following aporetic tetrad:
A. If life has a meaning, then it cannot be subjective.
B. The meaning of life must be subjectively appropriable by all.
C. There is no meaning that is both nonsubjective and subjectively appropriable by all.
D. Life has a meaning.
All four statements cannot be true simultaneously. Reasons have been given for A and B. The choice then is between C and D. One of these has to be rejected in order for the contradiction to be resolved.
The case for C can be made as countless millions of humans have not had the capacity or the opportunity to investigate the questions of whether there is an objective purpose in life, what is it and how one may live in accordance with it. Those who have the capacity and opportunity to investigate these questions are confronted with a plethora of conflicting opinions and doctrines, and little means of gleaning out the knowledge of the objective purpose.
“Redemption from absurdity must be possible for all if it is be possible for any. If the world is so arranged that you are barred from redemption through no fault of your own, then my redemption is not a redemption from absurdity.”
Rejecting C, therefore, is not easy. Rejecting D is not an easy alternative either. The biggest argument in its support is a pragmatic argument. One cannot live a life of zest, vigor, passion and commitment, unless it is presupposed that life is objectively meaningful. One who denies this simply does not appreciate the full force of what life’s lack of objective meaning entails. Such a person “maintains at the level of theory that his life has only the meaning he confers upon it, but he ‘contradicts’ this theoretical belief by the energy and passion with which he pursues his projects and perhaps also by the passion with which he tries to convince the rest of us that nothing matters except what we make matter.”
“We must presuppose the intelligibility of the world if we are to embark seriously upon the arduous quest for understanding, but it is logically and epistemically possible that the world is unintelligible in itself. Likewise, we must presuppose the objective meaningfulness of life if we are to live rich and full and committed lives, but it is logically and epistemically possible that our lives are objectively meaningless nonetheless.”
We end, therefore, in an impasse. We have good reasons not to reject all four limbs of the aporetic tetrad, but all of them cannot be true. It is up to the reader, then, to decide which one he/she will choose to reject.
My comment on Vallicella’s post: “Your discussion of limb C seems to have the underlying assumption that the search for meaning terminates at death. If everyone has just one shot at this earthly existence, then indeed it is hard to reject C. However, if some variant of reincarnation is the case, then the search for meaning is no longer restricted to one particular individual life, and will carry on even afterwards by means of another life. If such a possibility is entertained, then one may hope (cosmic optimism!) that over the course of many lives, an objective meaning will eventually be subjectively appropriable by all.”
Vallicella’s reply: “That is a good suggestion and may be a way of solving the problem. My very stringent knowability condition on the appropriability of meaning makes it impossible for most of us to appropriate the meaning of life in one lifetime. But if there are multiple lifetimes then one can hope that mere belief that there is an objective meaning might transform itself into knowledge that there is one.
Or if God exists, then one hope that after death one will come to know what we can only believe in this life. It may be -- and this is what I really think -- that the only way to subjectively appropriate the objective meaning of life in this life is by faith and hope. Just as we cannot live well (or at all) in this life without hope, we must hope beyond this life, and indeed to live well in this life.”
Thursday 2 May 2013
Tuesday 30 April 2013
Monday 29 April 2013
Males who have suffered psychological and social oppression at the hands of females (it does happen) are unlikely to be able to relate to a crude version of feminism which generalizes men as tyrants and women as victims. The oppression that is (and ought to be) the focus of feminism is the oppression of social systems, in which both men and women play their part. Women are no less perpetrators of misogyny and men also suffer (though less frequently) from asymmetrical gender roles. This is not to downplay the men-on-women violence that exists, but a reminder that this is not all there is to it.
"Let us admit what all the idealists admit: the hallucinatory character of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done: let us look for unrealities that confirm that character. We will find them, I believe, in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno.
'The greatest sorcerer [writes Novalis memorably] would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of taking his own phantasmagorias for autonomous apparitions. Would not this be true of us?'
I believe that it is. We (the undivided divinity that operates within us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it strong, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and secure in time, but we have left in its architecture tenuous and eternal interstices of unreason, so that we know it is false."
Jorge Luis Borges, Avatars of the Tortoise
"Theology and texts have far less power over shaping a religion’s lived experience than intellectuals would like to credit. This is a difficult issue to approach, because even believers who are vague on peculiarities of the details of theology (i.e., nearly all of them!) nevertheless espouse that theology as true....
This is the hard part for many intellectuals, religious or irreligious, to understand. For intellectuals ideas have consequences, and they shape their lives. Their religious world view is naturally inflected by this. And most importantly they confuse their own comprehension of religious life, the profession of creeds rationally understand and mystical reflection viscerally experienced, with modal religiosity....
The key insight of cognitive scientists is that for the vast majority of human beings religion is about psychological intuition and social identification, and not theology. A deductive theory of religion derived from axioms of creed fails in large part because there is no evidence that the vast majority of religious believers have internalized the sophisticated aspects of their theologies and scriptures in any deep and substantive sense. To give a concrete example, Sri Lankan Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims can give explicit explanations to at least a rudimentary level as to the differences of their respective religious beliefs. But when prompted to explain their understanding of the supernatural in a manner which was unscripted, and which was not amenable to a fall back upon indoctrinated verbal formulas, their conceptions of god(s) were fundamentally the same!
And that is why one should always been cautious of taking theology, textual analysis, and intellectualism too seriously when it comes to religion....
Not only do I believe that the theologies of all religion are false, but I believe that they’re predominantly just intellectual foam generated from the churning of broader social and historical forces." (Author's emphasis)
Razib Khan, Against the seriousness of theology at Discover Magazine Blogs
This is all well and good, except that religious believers in general are markedly unconscious of this dynamic process, nor are they willing to accept it. They will consciously cling to and defend the theologies despite the fact that in reality their lived religious experience hardly depends on it. This makes any fruitful dialogue with believers extremely difficult. Yes, it's good for understanding religion in a more illuminating and, some would say, sympathetic way, but it doesn't take away the fact that religious believers will continue to espouse their theologies.
"My view allows the possibility that suicide may more often be rational and may even be more rational than continuing to exist. This is because it may be an irrational love for life that keeps many people alive when their lives have actually become so bad that ceasing to exist would be better."
David Benatar, Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence
(source: Substantia Nigra)
In a minority of cases, yes. I cannot find myself in agreement with the absolute value judgement that life is always worth living.
Tuesday 23 April 2013
#TS491 prompts: twitter, aftermath, seduction
They found they could love each other only in bits and pieces, in a romance open to public gaze, all-satisfying but never-enough. #TS491
#TS492 prompts: fear, fly, farewell
The apprehension buzzed in the air like flies over a carcass, rendering their first date too gross for a parting kiss. #TS492
#TS493 prompts: fortress, fiery, rendition
A fortressed city can still burn up from inside; the recurring drama of human pride and folly seeks a charred rendition. #TS493
#TS500 prompts: chuffed, half life, South Pole
"I chuffed away half my life trying to find the elusive poles of her existence, only to realize that the axis passed through me." #TS500
Monday 22 April 2013
There is a spiritual impulse in humans, to seek meaning and transcendent value, and it can manifest as a humble and sublime philosophy...
At the same time, there is a rabid religious impulse, steeped in dogma, which takes the former impulse hostage and suffocates it.
Religion is both sublime and sinister, because man is both sublime and sinister.
No religion that is blind to its own darkness can hope to transcend it. Blindness, unfortunately, comes all too easy.
The world is steeped in ignorance and well-meaning individuals striving to change that are prone to forget their own submersion in the same.
The world is too certain and too far from truth. It is too certain in its assertions and its negations. It needs more self-doubt.
This intellectual humility, however, is a virtue, and virtue does not come easy. It comes from neither logic, nor faith.
A series of tweets from my twitter account.
Sunday 21 April 2013
As far as I can assess, Islam - when seen in terms of its historical origin and development - isn't quite as intolerant as extremists would like it to be, nor quite as liberal as liberal Muslims would like it to be. In this sense, both are guilty of ahistoricism. Both wish to uphold respectively idealized versions that do not correspond well with what history has to offer, and resultantly, the history is either distorted or conveniently ignored. 'Moderates' are probably more in line in terms of the severity of beliefs, but the moral zeitgeist has evolved significantly, so much so that this 'moderate' stance is no longer ethically justifiable.
The liberals are on the 'right side of history' as far as their ethical direction is concerned, but I do not think that any authentic theological reform can come out of an attitude as ahistorical as currently exists. Indeed, with this attitude of ahistoricism, there is no need to even acknowledge a need for theological reform; after all, Islam, revealed in its original form fourteen centuries ago, was already well-suited for practice in the 21st century!
#TS319 Prompts: Tango, Tangle, Tangerine.
The tango ended up in a tangle as they fell down laughing... the warm proximity was forever colored in his mind by her tangerine lips #TS319
#TS320 Prompts: Death, Drape, Desire.
She draped her death-wish with just enough vivacity that, like a hint of cleavage, it even distracted her therapist. #TS320
#TS338 Prompts: Skin, DVD, Eve.
Undressed, Eve was all skin & bones, with disc-like breasts. "You must eat something!" He was aghast. "Let me start with the apple." #TS338
#TS344 Prompts: Purgatory, Darvesh, Shooting-star.
"This kiss will earn you a year in purgatory, darvesh." "I'm past care, light of my life; may this passion burn me like a meteorite." #TS344
#TS358 Prompts: Cheek, Check, Charm.
"Woah, slow down, lover boy. Keep your cheek in check, will ya? Bad boys don't charm me. Not anymore, at least." #TS358
(Found, almost forgotten, in the Drafts folder.)
Saturday 20 April 2013
Friday 19 April 2013
The prospect that Albert Camus may have been considering converting to Christianity in the years before his death is something that makes me very uneasy, as an avid admirer (though not necessarily a subscriber) of his philosophy of the absurd. The dubious information comes to us from a memoir written by Howard Mumma, an American minister in the United Church of America, narrating his private conversations with Camus. This has been well reviewed in this article 'The outsider who almost came in' by Greg Clarke, which I would recommend the readers to go through. It is unlikely, to my mind, that Mumma would have made the whole thing up. I am inclined to believe there is some truth to it, but I am sure Mumma has inadvertently projected his own eagerness onto Camus and has reconstructed the conversations significantly. I am also convinced that even if (and that's a big hypothetical) Camus was seriously considering adopting some form of Christianity, the philosophical shape and essence of that would've been very different from the doctrines that Mumma upheld, and Mumma might very well have failed to understand the subtle aspects of Camus's inclinations. Given that this is the only account we have, we may never be certain of the truth.
Some of the thoughts expressed in this blogpost at The Search for Health in Decadence resonate with my own reactions:
'While most of what Mumma says is plausible, I think he greatly misunderstood Camus's "pilgrimage" toward delving into religious studies and extrapolates an "end point" for what Camus was doing that doesn't necessarily follow.
Most people might read the book trying to extrapolate whether or not Camus was well on the path of becoming a good new born Christian. Even if what is said in the book is completely true, I don't believe that Camus would be a "Christian" in the sense that most Christians are.
Camus was suffering greatly at the sense of emptiness that pervades a life built upon absurdity. If we have nothing but the world we make in a world filled with horrible evils of suffering (like the Holocaust), even a life where meaning is built upon revolt can be exhausting. Camus was looking for something more to life, more of a connection. His self-described pilgrimage doesn't strike me as an attempt to escape the wearying emptiness of living in constant awareness of the absurdities of life, but rather as a spiritual journey to connect with the existence he had in a different way.
I noticed several things in the conversations Mumma had with Camus. Camus was most engaged with the mythological aspects of the Bible. He liked the stories. Keeping in mind that Camus did his master's thesis on Greek philosophy, engaging in Christian mythology for Camus is similar to the tasks of engaging Greek mythology and stepping into the myths as he had done with Sisyphus, Prometheus, and others....
Keeping in mind the despair that Camus was suffering through at this time - his personal and professional meltdown after Sartre's attack on The Rebel, his wife's multiple suicide attempts, his recurring crippled bed-laden spells caused from tuberculosis - it is clear that the starkness of life could be reawakened with a new sort of mythological thinking in his life....
Regardless, this book shows that Camus is ever more complicated and multi-faceted than he is often portrayed as, and I can appreciate that about him. The book creates new problems for me to sort through, but I don't think this book in any way diminishes the works that he has done and his unflinching attempts to always live an authentic existence in good faith. Camus's willingness to engage Christianity at that point in his life is a fine testament to his humility, which is one of his greatest attributes.'
Tuesday 16 April 2013
Monday 15 April 2013
Jean Paul Sartre: Even if one does not believe in God, there are elements of the idea of God that remain in us.... As for me, I don’t see myself as so much dust that has appeared in the world but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God. Naturally this is not a clear, exact idea that I set in motion every time I think of myself. It contradicts many of my other ideas; but it is there, floating vaguely. And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for wont of being able to think otherwise.
Simone de Beauvoir, "A Conversation About Death and God," Harper’s magazine, February 1984
This is not an admission of a belief in God by Sartre, as some people mistakenly believe, but it is an admission of possessing some sort of a sensus divinitatis. I don't think this discredits Sartre's philosophical position of atheism in any way; this honest confession, in fact, reflects his intellectual integrity. What interests me is how Sartre maintained his philosophical stance despite an internal pull to the contrary: to proclaim that existence precedes essence, and yet constantly view oneself as 'a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth'.
Monday 8 April 2013
Saturday 30 March 2013
'During another bout of the blues, [Derrida] wrote to a friend from his infirmary bed, “I’m no good for anything except taking the world apart and putting it together again (and I manage the latter less and less frequently).”
That’s not a bad description of deconstruction, an exercise in which unraveling—of meaning and coherence, of the kind of binary logic that tends to populate philosophical texts—is the path to illumination. In Derrida’s reading, Western philosophers’ preoccupation with first principles, a determination to capture reality, truth, “presence,”—what he called in reference to the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl “the thing itself”—was doomed. He traced this impulse in thinkers from Aristotle to Heidegger, famously arguing, for example, that a tendency to favor the immediacy of speech over the remoteness of writing was untenable....
With the tenacity of a gumshoe, he haunted texts by Plato, Rousseau, Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Marx, and Hegel, among dozens of others, exposing the ways in which the subjugated or banished half of a crucial pair—inside/outside, man/woman, reason/madness, signifier/signified—continued to plague its partner. His close readings were at once highly specific and abstract, but lent themselves to extrapolation. As the scholar Mark C. Taylor neatly put it: “The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure—be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious—that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion.” And what is excluded “does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems.”'
Emily Eakin, Derrida: The Excluded Favorite
Thursday 28 March 2013
Sunday 24 March 2013
"... the total impression is very far from the dislike and fear of [women] with which [Nietzsche] is popularly credited. Essentially, one feels, women were for Nietzsche something strange, mystifying and, above all, tempting.... Much more important than any of this, however, is a simple fact which was pointed out by Bernoulli years ago but which is generally lost sight of: although we know of at least one woman whom he loved, we know of no woman who loved him."
R. J. Hollingdale, Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy
Monday 18 March 2013
Excerpts from Religion Without God by Ronald Dworkin at The New York Review of Books:
"Richard Dawkins says that Einstein’s language is “destructively misleading” because clarity demands a sharp distinction between a belief that the universe is governed by fundamental physical laws, which Dawkins thought Einstein meant, and a belief that it is governed by something “supernatural,” which Dawkins thinks the word “religion” suggests.
But Einstein meant much more than that the universe is organized around fundamental physical laws; indeed his view I quoted is, in one important sense, an endorsement of the supernatural. The beauty and sublimity he said we could reach only as a feeble reflection are not part of nature; they are something beyond nature that cannot be grasped even by finally understanding the most fundamental of physical laws. It was Einstein’s faith that some transcendental and objective value permeates the universe, value that is neither a natural phenomenon nor a subjective reaction to natural phenomena. That is what led him to insist on his own religiosity. No other description, he thought, could better capture the character of his faith. [...]
What, then, should we count as a religious attitude? I will try to provide a reasonably abstract and hence ecumenical account. The religious attitude accepts the full, independent reality of value. It accepts the objective truth of two central judgments about value. The first holds that human life has objective meaning or importance. Each person has an innate and inescapable responsibility to try to make his life a successful one: that means living well, accepting ethical responsibilities to oneself as well as moral responsibilities to others, not just if we happen to think this important but because it is in itself important whether we think so or not.
The second holds that what we call “nature”—the universe as a whole and in all its parts—is not just a matter of fact but is itself sublime: something of intrinsic value and wonder. Together these two comprehensive value judgments declare inherent value in both dimensions of human life: biological and biographical. We are part of nature because we have a physical being and duration: nature is the locus and nutrient of our physical lives. We are apart from nature because we are conscious of ourselves as making a life and must make decisions that, taken together, determine what life we have made."