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Showing posts from October, 2012

Dostoevsky and Rebellion

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov contains perhaps the most vivid and intense description of the philosophical problem of suffering in literature. The relevant passages are in the chapters titled Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor. (They have been published separately from the novel as well.) While the whole novel is worth reading in entirety, below I am presenting an excerpt-summary of the problem of suffering in the words of Ivan Karamazov. This exercise is intended mostly for personal convenience of revisiting the text while philosophizing about this problem in future, but I hope it will also benefit those who wish to get a taste of it before (or without) reading the whole novel. The excerpt is from Rebellion.
--- Excerpt Start ---
"It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept....
I meant to speak of the suffering of mankind generally, but we had better confine ourselves to the sufferings of the children.…

Wiping out Islam's archaeological history

Saudi Arabia's eagerness to destroy Islam's archaeological history is quite telling: Wahhabism seeks to return to a past that doesn't exist.
The Guardian reports: 'the house of the prophet's wife, Khadijah, was razed to make way for public lavatories; the house of his companion, Abu Bakr, is now the site of a Hilton hotel; and his grandson's house was flattened by the King's palace. "They are turning the holy sanctuary into a machine, a city which has no identity, no heritage, no culture and no natural environment. They've even taken away the mountains,"... 
[There are] proposals to develop Jabal Khandama, on the hills to the east, which will likely see the erasure of the site where the prophet Muhammad was born. Alawi says his wilful destruction of Islamic heritage is no accident: it is driven by state-endorsed wahhabism, the hardline interpretation of Islam that perceives historical sites as encouraging sinful idolatry. So anything that rela…

Fire in the Soul

"There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself by it, all that passers-by can see is a little smoke coming out of the chimney, and they walk on."
Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to Theo

Psychotropic Drugs and Veridicality

Maverick Philosopher answers a question I had asked him regarding two of his posts dealing with the issue of psychotropic drugs and veridicality.

Uzma Aslam Khan's Interview

Uzma Aslam Khan's interview, conducted by me, published in The Friday Times.
Two excerpts from it:
* 'As with just about every aspect of Pakistani life, in matters of love, we overdo ourselves at the same time that we don't do enough. For instance, we lavish love on our guests, or our friends' children. And at the risk of generalizing, I'd say Pakistani children lavish more love on each other than children in the West; they're more affectionate and generous. I encountered dozens of such examples while teaching in Lahore, ways in which the young look out for each other. Yet, we teach those same children to withhold love from the poor, from religious minorities, from sexual "outcasts". We teach them to be ashamed of thinking of wives as lovers and friends. These aspects of love we don't nurture; the flower, if it blooms, blooms in a closed, guilty place, where it can't live for long.'
* 'When in the book Nana is falsely accused of blasph…

Meaning of Life: Creation vs Actualization

Maverick Philosopher argues that we cannot be the source of our own existential meaning. He explains it with great clarity. His argument is that if my life has no meaning apart from the meaning that I create for myself, then before I create meaning for myself, I and my acts exist meaninglessly. This further implies that my very act of meaning-bestowal exists meaninglessly. If the very act of meaning-bestowal is meaningless, how can it give my life a meaning? As far as I can see, it's a pretty devastating argument.
My own view on the matter is that meaning exists as a set of open-ended possibilities determined by the facticity of an individual; the personal, social, political, historical and material circumstances, and the inherent capabilities, which all limit and shape the spectrum of possibilities. One of these possibilities is actualized over the lifetime by the interaction of the individual will and the facticity. We are not the source of our existential meaning. We are the ac…

Neuroscience in Dostoevsky's Words

"What do you mean by ‘sorry to lose God’?" "Imagine: inside, in the nerves, in the head — that is, these nerves are there in the brain... (damn them!) there are sort of little tails, the little tails of those nerves, and as soon as they begin quivering... that is, you see, I look at something with my eyes and then they begin quivering, those little tails... and when they quiver, then an image appears... it doesn’t appear at once, but an instant, a second, passes... and then something like a moment appears; that is, not a moment — devil take the moment! — but an image; that is, an object, or an action, damn it! That’s why I see and then think, because of those tails, not at all because I’ve got a soul, and that I am some sort of image and likeness. All that is nonsense! Rakitin explained it all to me yesterday, brother, and it simply bowled me over. It’s magnificent, Alyosha, this science! A new man’s arising — that I understand.... And yet I am sorry to lose God!"

A Popular Argument on Free Will and Moral Responsibility

I encounter this argument very commonly from people amidst conversations: "If free will does not exist, it implies that we cannot hold criminals morally responsible for their crimes."
However, despite the appeal, the argument is self-defeating. The argument supposes that we have some sort of a choice in holding criminals morally responsible; that we could choose not to hold them responsible if we so decided, and yet it denies this same agency to the criminals. A criminal could not have done otherwise in committing a crime, but we can do otherwise by not judging them?
As obvious, the relationship between free will and moral responsibility is of more philosophical subtlety than this popular argument can capture.

Clarifying Nagel's Project

As Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos has not yet arrived in Pakistan to my knowledge, I can only console myself with online reviews. Maverick Philosopher is doing a better job in this regard than most other published reviews that have come out. In his latest post he clarifies Nagel's project in the face of some objections raised by Elliot Sober
'According to Sober, Nagel " . . .  argues that evolutionary biology is fundamentally flawed and that physics also needs to be rethought—that we need a new way to do science." This seems to me to misrepresent Nagel's project.  His project is not to "end science as we know it" but to indicate the limits of scientific explanation.  A legitimate philosophical task is to investigate  the limits of even the most successful sciences. (4) Now, to investigate and point out the limits of evolutionary biology and physics is not to argue that they are "fundamentally flawed."  They do what they are supposed to …

TS298-313

#TS298 Prompts: Axis, Deixis, Catalexis.
He aligned his focus so much towards context that he ignored the rhythm of his life. The poet within him was buried without a funeral #TS298
#TS300 Prompts: Guns & Roses, Brigadier, Happy endings.
She whispered as he caressed, "You soldier on in love, but you cannot reign. It's hard to hold a candle, in the cold November rain." #TS300
#TS302 Prompts: any three words beginning with "dis-"
He dissected his disquietude in the hope of dispelling it, but his discomposure only deepened and disarmed his sanity. #TS302
#TS303 Prompts: Man, Manhattan, Manet.
The impressionistic sketch of Manhattan skyline struck him as symbolic of modern human condition & he broke into uncontrollable sobs #TS303
#TS304 Prompts: Story, Storey, Storyteller.
He climbed a storey for every novel he had written and looked down. 'One day I'll reach the roof and jump,' he thought and smiled. #TS304
#TS305 Prompts: Smoke, Mirror, Addiction.

Nietzsche's God

'Nietzsche war kein Atheist, aber sein Gott war tot'
['Nietzsche was no atheist, but his God was dead']

Carl Jung 
[as quoted in The Dionysian Self: C.G. Jung's Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche by Paul Bishop]

(discovery owed to my dear friend Qasim Aziz)

Provocative Attire and Sexual Harassment

Following is an excerpt from a very informative paper 'Sexy Dressing Revisited: Does Target Dress Play A Part In Sexual Harassment Cases' by Theresa M. Beiner. The excerpt deals with popular perceptions about provocative clothing and sexual harassment/rape, discusses how actual evidence reveals that harassment is driven by perceptions of passiveness and submissiveness, and contrary to popular opinion, revealing attire is viewed as a sign of dominance and assertiveness, and therefore those wearing provocative dress are less likely to be victims of harassment. It then discusses the reasons for why this misconception exists in public:
"Underlying rape shield laws is the belief that people, and in particular jurors, mistakenly believe that a women’s dress has an impact on whether she will be victimized. This belief is borne out by research on perceptions of women’s dress. [...] [H]ighly-educated and learned adults believe that how a woman dresses has an impact on whether or …

The Limits of Pornography

An excerpt from The Cruel Boredom Of Pornography by Robert Jensen. The whole article is worth reading.
"* Heterosexual men tend to consume pornography to achieve sexual satisfaction without the complications of dealing with a real woman.
* Pornographers deliver graphic sexually explicit material that does the job, but to do so they must continuously increase the cruelty and degradation to maintain profits.
Gonzo producers test the limits with new practices that eroticize men’s domination of women. Less intense forms of those sexual practices migrate into the tamer feature pornography, and from there in muted form into mainstream pop culture. Pornography gets more openly misogynist, and pop culture becomes more pornographic -- many Hollywood movies and cable TV shows today look much like soft-core pornography of a few decades ago, and the common objectification of women in advertising has become more overtly sexualized.
Where will all this lead? How far will pornographers go to e…

The 'True' Islam

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid wrote an article in Pakistan Today, which states an opinion that is all too common in the Pakistani atheist community: The Islam of Taliban is the true authentic Islam.
First, let me pre-emptively state to counter any possible ad hominem criticism that I am not one of the 'moderates'; I have never declared Islam to be the 'religion of peace' (if anything, I have been critical of the notion) and, if my memory serves me right, I have never accused Taliban of 'misinterpretation'. I state this only so that I am not reflexly dismissed by the readers as one of those whom the author mocks as: "you live in oblivion with your extremely palatable, but simultaneously blatantly fallacious, brand of religion and then claim that the Taliban are misinterpreting and misapprehending your ideology?"
A lot of our Muslim liberals and moderates do follow cherry-picked, fallacious brands of religion, and it is not something I wish to deny nor do I de…

Are Islamists secularising society?

My op-ed in The News:
Last year Humeira Iqtidar’s book ‘Secularizing Islamists?: Jama'at-e-Islami and Jama'at-ud-Da'wa in Urban Pakistan’ ruffled many feathers in the Pakistani liberal intelligentsia, where her work was generally perceived and dismissed as rationalizing Jihadi discourse and as being anti-secular. However, these responses, in my opinion, failed to engage with the crux of her argument and instead focused on implications of her thesis, which weren't exactly spelled out by the author but were assumed by her critics to be in accordance with their alarming apprehensions. 
Last month Ms Iqtidar restated her position again in an article titled ‘Secularism and Secularisation’ published in Economic and Political Weekly, which has helped me gain a better understanding of her views and has stimulated the writing of this article. The key to comprehending Ms Iqtidar’s case lies in grasping that the sense in which she uses Secularization is different from the conven…

Nagel's Panpsychistic Naturalism

An elaboration of Nagel's panpsychistic naturalism by Maverick Philosopher:

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Overview

Poetry and Prose

"She is rhythm, rhyme, long and short verses that break and lose themselves only to come back to meaning.
And she is with him, he who is prose. But prose that is obsessed with poetry, obsessed with rhythm, obsessed with rhyme, but prose that is never able to break and lose itself only to come back to meaning. He never does that."
excerpt from Haider Shahbaz's short story Marriage on 3QD

Forbidden

The best way to preserve the allure of the forbidden is to let it remain forbidden.

Kant and Madness

"Kant’s critical philosophy and much of continental philosophy which has followed, has been a defense against horror and madness."
This intriguing premise drew me into reading this article, which only turned out to be senseless crap driven by the sort of careless thinking that PoMo inspires.

Another Review

Michael Weisberg and Brian Leiter's scathing review of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos:
"We suspect that philosophers — even philosophers sympathetic to some of Nagel’s concerns — will be disappointed by the actual quality of the argument."

Homosexuality, Incest and Morality

This is my response to thabbithinks's post To incest or not to incest:
There are two aspects of this question that we must distinguish here. One is the question of whether two consenting adults have the right to do as they please. This is an issue of individual liberty, regarding the morality of limits of social interference, which we have established using the criteria of ‘adulthood’ and ‘consent’. This in itself says nothing about the positive or negative moral value of what those two consenting individuals choose to do.
The sexual relationship in which a couple chooses to indulge in dehumanizing and degrading forms of sex, but within privacy and with mutual consent, are well within their ‘rights’ to do so (i.e. society is not justified in interfering with what goes on between them) but that relationship cannot be ascribed the quality of being ‘moral’, because it possesses no positive moral value as such. Sadism and Masochism as character traits only have negative moral connota…

Mind and Cosmos

Book review of Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos at the The Threepenny Review:
'So mind and cosmos are a pair of strangely mutual astonishments. And in addressing them, Nagel believes that the teleological step is necessary: “The intelligibility of the universe is no accident,” he says. His book suggests that physical matter itself—the proton, the quark, the first stardust—has always been imbued with a purpose, which it seeks to fulfill. This though he’s an atheist....
Nagel doesn’t intend to be an obfuscator or a mystic. He is a dyed-in-the-wool atheist and takes pains to make that clear. He is very much on the side of science. But he feels that science has oversimplified two important mechanisms of nature: mind and evolution. The mind must be more than sparks and drips; and consciousness must have evolved by more than random accident.
Mind and Cosmos lays out a far-reaching, general campaign. He wants to defend not only consciousness against reductionism, as in previous work, …