10 Questions - A Snapshot of My Philosophical Leanings

About ten years ago, I posted a list of 10 questions on this blog, which I declared 'are of great interest to me, and which occupy a significant part of my thinking'. A list of questions that preoccupy me now would have significant differences, nonetheless, it's interesting for me to look at this old list, and think over how I approach these complex issues. I'll take a brief shot at each, outlining the direction in which I lean, deferring elaborations and arguments to the future.

1. What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of human existence?

There is a psychological question of what constitutes a subjectively meaningful life, and what are the factors that lead to it, and there is a philosophical question of whether there is an objective meaning or purpose to individual human existence. I think that any attempts along the lines of 'There is no objective meaning to our lives, but we create/decide the meaning of our lives for ourselves' to ground meaning in subjectivity only (which existentialism usually does) is bound to collapse into a philosophical nihilism about meaning. I don't know if there is an objective meaning, but to live a meaningful life while genuinely adhering to a philosophical nihilism is difficult, which is a strong pragmatic consideration for presupposing an objective meaning of life. "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." (William Vallicella, see here)

2. What is good and what is bad? Are there any absolute moral standards?

I don't know if there is such a thing as 'moral facts', however, I do think there are ethical considerations that are not simply reducible to subjective human opinions. From a broadly virtue ethical perspective, these considerations arise from the fact that certain actions, behaviors and temperaments are more conducive to human well-being and happiness. Massimo Pigliucci termed it 'Moral reasonism': If certain assumptions {W,Z} are accepted (about human well-being), then certain actions {X,Y} will be right or wrong when it comes to promoting human well-being at the individual and social level; and the assumptions are provided by our best (and changing) understanding of human nature.

3. Can science give us certain knowledge about ultimate reality?

I share the Popperian faith that the progress of science is a progress in direction of reality, such that each successive theory, following a process of successive falsification, brings us closer to truth... however, aside from this approximate knowledge of ultimate reality, I do not think science gives us certain knowledge about ultimate reality.

4. What is consciousness? How does it emerge?

I am increasingly drawn to sophisticated philosophical variants of panpsychism and dual-aspect monism. (See here, here, here)

5. Do we have free will?

If free will involves a metaphysical break in the natural chain of causality, then no, I don't think we have free will. We do have human agency -- our actions derive from our intentions, our behavior from our desires -- and holding a compatibilist position, I think that is sufficient for moral responsibility.

6. What is love?

The question is, in a sense, deceptive. What it is really asking is how we should we define love: What should be our moral conception of love, the ideal to aim for? If interpreted in that sense, my answer would perhaps be something along the lines of: love should be kind, compassionate, empathetic, and mindful of its own fragility, turbulence, and mortality without being crippled by it. Descriptively, however, love in the world around us is messy and ugly as often as it is sublime and beautiful (see here). Distinctions between 'love' and 'friendship' are highly blurred (see here), and there is no absolute way of drawing a sharp boundary between love and the surrounding spectrum of emotions.

7. Should there be any limits to freedom of expression?

Yes, however, these limits would have to be fluid, relevant to the social and historical circumstances, based on considerations of serious harm to others - such as inciting murder or inciting mob violence. No limits to freedom of expression should be based on religious or political censorship. I think artistic, philosophical and literary expression should be, for all practical purposes, absolute.

8. Does God exist?

I don't think there is any philosophical argument that proves God's existence conclusively, but I do think certain notions of the divine are philosophically viable. My own notions of God have changed tremendously over the course of my life (traditional Islamic view of God as a child; near atheism; agnostic leaning theistic; emotional-sans-intellectual beliefpragmatic and neo-Wittgensteinian views), and my current views are heavily influenced by contact with Indian mysticism (specifically Sri Aurobindo) and process theology, and I like to say that my current metaphysical view of God is more poetry than it is either religion or philosophy.

9. How do religions emerge and evolve?

This particular question is historical and sociological in nature. Don't have much to say... however, my current views on Islam's origin and development have been heavily influenced by these two books: Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword and Sadakat Kadri's Heaven on Earth.

10. How can you lead a happy life?

My view of happiness aligns with Greek notions of eudaimonia ('flourishing') and virtue.


F. said…
"5. Do we have free will?

If free will involves a metaphysical break in the natural chain of causality, then no, I don't think we have free will. We do have human agency -- our actions derive from our intentions, our behavior from our desires -- and holding a compatibilist position, I think that is sufficient for moral responsibility."

Oh I remember we once had a discussion along these lines! I asked you something like, "If I had no role in [creating] the question, to what extent can I be held culpable for the answer?"

I think now I understand your perspective.