We have been assessing the reliability of our sensory apparatus – the mind plus the five sensory organs – in the last two Posts. We already discovered that they do not show what exactly exists out there. They may show non-existing things to be existing but we slavishly believe in what they show to us. Let us examine this issue one more time so that you will be free of doubt.
Undoubtedly a chocolate tastes sweet and a hammer dropped on our foot hurts. We find things hot or cold, tall or short, light or heavy and so on. But do these qualities rest within the objects seen out there or do our senses project them on to something which lies there? Is there truly an inherent solidity and physicality to the objects we perceive in our awake state? We seldom ever brood over this issue. Let us do a small experiment to know whether the solid looking stuff we see around really exists or not. Continue reading →
At the end of Part – 2, we raised the question “Who am I?” At the end of Part – 3, we introduced the concept of personality in place of “I.”
If I ask you “Who are you?” you may say your name. You may continue, “My parents are … … and I was born on August 15.” You may add, “I am an engineer / a doctor / a carpenter / a driver / an expert / etc.” If you feel patriotic, you may say, “I am an Indian, an American, a Mongolian etc.”
But have you noticed one thing? All the above aspects, which you claim to be “you,” are actually told by somebody else. Your name, parentage or your expertise are all just what you “learnt” and accepted. None of them are known directly by you from your experiencing. Continue reading →
We ended the Part – 2 with the questions, “Who exactly am “I”?; and “Is my “mind” the proper and the most efficient instrument for the job I am putting it to?”
Any good workman first examines the efficiency, sensitivity and efficacy of his tools, before using them, for, as experience shows, there could be an unaccounted “instrumental error” that can creep into the conclusions we draw. In a modern laboratory of scientific investigations, calibration of the error from various sources including the tools used is a standard practice.
So let us first find out what is mind, the only tool we have at our disposal, what is its nature, and what are its characteristics. We should be aware of the errors it may introduce and thereby bias the conclusions. Continue reading →
Towards the end of NBS Part – 1, we had seen that the very presence of another is a cause for fear — that is to say that the presence of an additional creature other than a ‘me’, in general, is a ‘challenge’ to my own existence. We then asked the question: “But suppose the second entity is a Savior, a Protector, a Godhead?”
That is a very comforting thought. It helps to calm the agitated, perturbed, worried mind. It feels soothing. Yes, comforting.
The idea of a Savior, a loving caring Godhead, gives me a confidence that there is someone out there to look after ‘me’, to take care of my interests, and to see that things work forever in ‘my’ favor.
And suppose, in that Savior, I pack all those qualities that I do not have — in order to make good for my shortcomings, my weaknesses, my frailties, my infirmities, then I will have a colossal strength at my back. I can rest without a worry. I can sleep peacefully. So let me think of a Super-human, omniscient, omnipotent, Lord as my Protector. Continue reading →
Mind is the only tool we have as human beings to investigate and inquire into what is, if anything is, beyond the physical world of objects which we know from our direct perception (pratyaksha pramANa) using the five sensory organs. We want to know “That” which supports this solid looking world and the animate and inanimate creatures populating it. The “driver” for such an enquiry could just be an inborn curiosity or a desire to attain unswerving freedom from unhappiness.
As a matter of fact, we are already accustomed to use our ‘mind,’ without being ever even aware of doing so, for ensuring ‘security,’ which we believe gives us happiness. We have been able to detect certain “patterns” in the world. One is that all things are always changing. As a measure of this change, we ‘invented’ time. So time dimension or factor in the world is known to us only through the mind. Continue reading →
When deciding whether an action should be deemed good or bad (as opposed to whether it is something we ourselves want to do), people will sometimes try to calculate whether the result will benefit the majority. This principle was expressed in the 18th Century by Francis Hutcheson: ‘That action is best which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers’. It is effectively the opposite of what Kant was saying. Whereas he insisted that it was the motive alone that determined whether an act should be deemed to be ‘good’ and that we should act from a sense of duty, Hutcheson was claiming that motives were ultimately irrelevant, it was the outcome alone that mattered.
Two philosophers in particular were responsible for developing and propagating these ideas and thereby influencing many people’s attitude towards morality. The first was Jeremy Bentham, who is generally regarded as the originator of so-called ‘Utilitarianism’, which says that conduct is right or wrong according to its tendency to produce favourable or unfavourable consequences for the people who are affected by it. It was given this name because actions are judged on the basis of their ‘utility’ or usefulness in bringing about good, or benefit of some kind as opposed to evil or unhappiness. Continue reading →
As noted earlier, Hegel’s philosophy was very influential with Marx, whose ideas are the basis of the intellectual foundation of Communism. In particular, he accepted Hegel’s concept of reality as an ongoing dialectic process, which could be monitored through a study of history, and which would continue to evolve until there were no further internal contradictions needing resolution. Not until this was achieved would true freedom and fulfilment be possible for man. He believed that the sort of society that would bring this about would be one in which individuals acted together rather than independently. Marx did not however agree with Hegel’s concept of a spiritual ‘Absolute’. Any form of religious belief or pursuit was seen as an attempt to escape from the meaninglessness that life had become.
He believed that matter, in the sense of man’s relation to it, was the driving force behind progress, and this meant that subjects such as the production and distribution of goods, and the economics of this, became extremely important. Thus he would have argued that socialism was simply the point that had been reached in the process of evolution, not something that he was specifically advocating, though his personal commitment to the ‘revolution’ is apparent in his writing. But all of this is a matter of politics and was advocated at the expense of ethical considerations. Continue reading →
The Sceptics, noting that different peoples had differing opinions on many subjects, wondered how one could ever justify holding a particular belief. Arguments for one view rather than another were founded on unproven premises and there seemed to be no means of ever being certain about anything. They concluded long before Kant in the 18th Century that we could have no real knowledge about the nature of things and believed that in situations where we were essentially ignorant we ought not to make judgements. This course of action (or perhaps we should call it ‘inaction’) was thought to lead to peace of mind. The outcome was that adherents behaved in whatever way those around them behaved and did not really believe in anything themselves (what we might now call cynically!). Again, this philosophy offered some consolation to those seeking escape from a difficult life – don’t worry about the future since you can never know anything about it anyway. In fact, the above description seems remarkably similar to the way that the modern generation seems to behave so that it has clearly lost little of its force as a philosophical outlook on life. Continue reading →
Socrates is famous for claiming that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. If we simply go through our lives seeking pleasures for their own sake without ever looking for some sense of purpose and meaning, then we might as well not have existed. The hedonist’s retort to this is that, if we spend all of our lives searching for significance and fail to find any (whether or not there actually is one), then we have wasted our opportunity to enjoy it while we are able. The fact that many claim that there is a purpose, and that they themselves have realised this, is not really any help. Most of such people will be held by us to be deluded religious fanatics and their opinions will carry little weight. If there is meaning then it does seem that we must discover it for ourselves, perhaps by systematically examining all of the claims and deciding whether they are in any way justified. Continue reading →