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Philosophy and Religion in Antarctica


Speech to the Assembled

Dr. Herr E. Powers Kraft



Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for having me here as your speaker. My name is Dr. E. Powers Kraft and I am interested in discussing the Antarctic connection to the most profound questions asked on the world in which Antarctica rests.

The eternal questions, I mean, those asked since the beginning:

What is Good?

What is bad?

Why is justice important?

Why is it better to be Good and just rather than bad and unjust?

Most people have the faculties to make judgement over what is just and unjust. We have a history as ethical beings. We have many philosophical dilemmas: are ethics universal and unchanging? or, are they culturally relative? how can the creation of an ethical system for societies be done?


Big questions are a few, little questions are many. Usually in classes on the UANT campus today, and indeed on campuses worldwide, people apply the big principles to answering the little questions, like:

'Is cloning a Good idea'

'who is in the right, the police or the suspect?'

''was this war a just one?',

is abortion ok?'

'is it ok for the developer to pave this?'

'should Antarctic ice be melted to supply the planet with fresh water?'

But all these questions are in fact answered from principles elucidated from the answers we give to the FEW big questions:

'Does life have a purpose or design?

'Is there a God?

is there life after death?

'Are Good and Evil real?

Are we free or determined?

Few people defend injustice, cruelty, stupidity, slavery, murder, selfishness, arbitrariness, cowardliness, addiction, despair, hatred. And few people deride justice, kindness, wisdom, freedom, peace, courage, unselfish love, reason, respect for life, self control, hope.

The disagreements come when we 1) apply the principles in situations and 2) when we try to justify or explain them by exploring their foundations- as in, where they come from. In the first situation, you don't need to necessarily look at history. But for the 2nd, you must look at it.


Let's perform a thought experiment: what if you could take King Solomon, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Acquinas, Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Neitszsche, Buddha, Kirkgaard, and bring them into our lives to see what they would do? We can, at least, do it to their ghosts. They wrote great books which give a kind of afterlife to their thoughts. We can insert them into our conversation by inserting us into theirs. They talked to each other in their books, and we are here to talk back. They are not entertainers, they are thought-stimulators.


On all seven continents but especially here in the Western World, we live in what seems to be in fact a Brave New World. We seem to have so many new problems: scandals in government, cloning, genetic engineering, radically new ideas about the family, terrorism, wmd's... but in practice they are not wholly new. There have always been scandals, because we have always found it hard to practice our principles. Especially in theory there is not much new, because there can in fact be no new ethical principles. Are there any new ethical principles out there? No. Only new applications of the same old ones. The principles themselves are timeless.

How do I know this? Imagine a society dedicated to selfishness, cowardess, dishonesty and injustice as moral goods! We can't imagine it because such a society wouldn't last long. We can imagine that a personal preference for rape or torture may exist in some societies, but we cannot imagine there to be a moral obligation to do those things. The moral obligation would be not to do what one's baser selfishness wants even in the most corrupt society.

In all history, no one has ever discovered a new moral value.


I used college-student tone to show you how different I am from you. Can you imagine me talking that way? Give me a break. Now, where do the original moral values come from? Do we create them like the rules of a game- using our artistic skills, or do we discover them like scientist, using observation and deduction? The first is subjective, the second objective. The answer EVERY pre-modern society gave in reply to this question is that they were discovered. They were, and are, objective. Most intellectuals in the West today say they are not. They counter that moral virtues were generated artistically by our ancestors in the game of life. Good rules, perhaps, to generate for the continuence of their certain cultural strain. Modern philosophers criticize the old view that there are unchanging, objective, universal moral values- as narrow minded and dogmatic.

Why the Antarctic trend to recapturing the moral traditionalists of Christendom? If moderns say that the subjective view is correct and that values are culturally relative, and Antarctica's people are also modern and in fact depend on science for daily living to a high degree- shouldn't they instead agree with the moderns? 3/4 of all Antarctica residents and students proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and the Constantinapolitan Nicene Creed in the last survey, and that number is no doubt growing. I am even considering re-evaluating my own positions on the matter.

Well, if the new Antarctica trend is correct and the moral virtues are objective, and that we do discover them instead of inventing them, from where are they to be discovered? In nature? Somewhere else beyond nature? If in nature, somewhere in that part we call human nature? Is human nature unchanging then? These are difficult questions.

If one claims this is not so, that moral values do not come from nature / human nature, then moral values cannot be unchanging. So, where do they come from?


The first philosopher was confronted with this very problem, moral objectivism vs. moral subjectivism. Moral truth vs. the non-existence of moral truths. He agreed that there were such objective values, such true ones, but that they were not secure, obvious or easy to find. So, he offended both the dogmatists and skeptics of ancient Athens. Lets see how: If you are a dogmatist and "already know all the answers", see, you do NOT philosophize and ask questions. Conversely, if you are a skeptic of moral truths and do not think there is indeed something called objective truth(s) to know, you do NOT ask questions about them either. Philosophers, however, think there is a truth to be found, and want to get at it. We have been teaching philosophy at University Peak for nearly 40 years, and many of our students are second generation Antarctica residents. I am willing to posit that a new culture is forming here based on this enquiry. There may be some truth to be found, but that is something you must decide for yourself. People here have a relatively high standard of living despite the harsh elements. Perhaps the harshness points the compass of the mind to parts unknown for exploration. What do you think about it?


When you are thinking, indeed, when you are really thinking, you feel exhausted after about an hour. My lecture today will run about six hours. I hope you and I both will have the stamina to make it through. We will be tired of thinking at 1730. You see how long the road to get to that time is... and how easy it is to forget the blatherings of a full day speaker. Don't!


What is ethics about? The Good. Ethics and morality are the same thing. Some people think morals are spontaneous unthought values, and ethics are carefully considered. Not so. Its only a matter of degree. Other people think morals are private values while ethics are public values for everyone in society. Well, in that sense people think morals are usually sexual morals, while ethics is about justice. Not so. Both are important and need to work well. Sex is something you do with someone else, even if only in your fantasies, and so is not merely private. Justice is but something only an individual can practice. To call a whole society Good or bad, you really mean that there are Good or bad individuals in society. Or, you mean the laws and institutions which make those people better or worse. All are one. There is no way of keeping a moral value in the private sector alone, or in the public sector alone.

-It is about the Good, the Good life, Good and evil, right and wrong. Most people understand this, but the mistake is made more often in conflating what ethics is NOT. For example:

1- it is NOT a check up, like a veto power- which is a negative thing, but that's wrong. It Good! It is about the Good life, not about not doing something to follow a list of rules and regulations. So, 'ethics' is not a list of rules, it is an investigation into the substantive: what IS the Good life and a prescription showing how people can fulfill that good life. Telling a joke is ethical, it helps with the Good life. Jokes hurt or heal, they can weaken a foolish attachment to a demagogue through satire, or weaken our attachment to something Good through unfair ridicule. Like atomic energy, jokes can be used for good or ill.

2- It is not a set of mores. Mores facts, morals are values. Mores are patterns of behavior, common to man and beast, morals are unique to man only. We can't say animals because we are animals, rational ones. Beast is an animal without human reason. Morals are principles of behavior and are in man only. Shame, meanwhile, is the frustration over being accepted. Shame comes from others. Guilt comes from yourself. When dog pisses on carpet, it feels shame. Not guilt. When your ass falls down in public, you feel shame but not guilt. You didn't freely choose it. In guilt, yourself is divided into two. One is the judge which tells the that you have been bad, the other is the self being judged, that hears it. This is not consciousness, but self-consciousness. That is why only man has ethics.

Humans have three gifts beasts don't have:

a) power of free choice and ability to make moral judgement. For example, an amimal might stop hitting you on the head cause it hurts bad, but they would not understand that it is wrong to hit you on the head.

b) religion, the ability to worship something like God.

c) aesthetic beauty appreciation (not for sexual purposes) but for its own sake. How about curiousity? Well, higher animals have this somehow... but we have a power they don't in this respect. We have abstract minds they do not, we know men are mortal, and we have words for concrete and abstract things.

3-Ethics is not like psychology, about how you feel about yourself, in relation to Good and evil, as in, guilt feelings about yourself. Psychology may take away our guilt feelings, but it cannot take away our guilt. For that we need the blood of Christ.

In psychology you say I feel that... in essays. Not in philosophy. You think or believe but you do not feel. You must state a truth-claim. A feeling is not a claim. Philosophy is not like religion either, because philosophy does not claim to remove guilt, but can argue about it. Religion claims to remove guilt.

4-it is not Ideology, either left or right. Ideology is manmade, whereas Ethics seeks the real truth about Good and evil which does not change from time and place. Ideology changes from time and place. Ideology can be judged as moral or immoral. Right and left argue about this. For example, is it more ethical to give poor people welfare or teach them to fish? Ethics argues about and judged ideology. Today, ethical philosophers called deconstructionists disagree, they say that ethics is just ideology too, wearing a mask and camoflaged. Power putting on the mask of justice. Just might makes right, like Machiavelli said. This is what the sophists said too.

5-it is not meta ethics. ethics is thinking about Good and evil. meta ethics is thinking about  ethics.much of contemporary ethics research is meta ethics. How are moral statements linguistically meaningful, how moral reasoning differs from reasoning about facts. These are secondary. First you have to make a moral choice, then reflect on it, and only then can we in the 3rd place reflect on our ethical reflections. Ordinary people rarely ask them, and we will focus on first order questions directly about moral choice.

6-it is not applied ethics. there are many new tricky situations that call for the application of ethical principles, social science, biology etc. but ethics itself does not legislate within a particular field per se. Medical ethics it is not, because one must know not only ethics but medicine.

7-ethics is not religion: one does not NEED religious faith to do ethics, but religious faith may help you to do ethics. They may be marriable, but they are as different as male and female: ethics is based on reason and religion is based on faith or on fear... but religious fear is different than practical fear: fear of god or a spirit is not like fear of a tiger or cancer or a bullet. Its in something in another dimension, something unknown,  awesome. The religious instinct is to believe in or aspire to or worship that transcendent mysterious something. The moral instinct is to feel obligated to do Good and avoid evil. Both instincts are against the base practical. I might put myself in danger to help someone drowning. But I might do it anyway because I am morally obligated. In the West, both religion and ethics have the same end, because that which is religiously worshipped is also supremely moral- but religious and moral instinct can be separate too- atheists reject religion but not morality.


So, Ethics is not about a check up, mores, psychology, ideology, meta ethics, applied ethics or religion. What IS it about? The Good life.

Ethics is about 3 terms:

1) Good- means the thing desired. the goal, the ideal, the fulfillment, the telos

2) Right- the opposite of wrong as defined by some law

3) Ought- personal responsibility, obligation, duty, experienced in conscious

And Ethics has 3 main questions- relate them to a fleet of ships at sea, and ethics is our orders: How to cooperate: how to avoid bumping into each other, how to supply each other's needs. This is SOCIAL ETHICS. How to have your boat stay ship-shape and afloat: that is INDIVIDUAL ETHICS. How to be a Good person, just as if you don't start with good bricks, you don't wind up with a good building. What your mission is. This is most important. Why are they at sea in the first place? That corresponds to the question of values, esp. the highest value. The meaning of life. The ultimate purpose and goal of human life. If we don't know where we are going, it doesn't  matter which road we take. In Alice in Wonderland, she asks Chesire Cat: Which way should I go from here? That depends where you want to go I don't care where... Then it doesn't matter where you go.

Quo Vadis: Where are you going?

Modern philosophers ignore that question because either they are afraid its too religous and that arguing about reiligion will put us back in the time of religous wars, or they are too skeptical to think we can ever have an answer. They distinct facts from values, so that values cannot be facts, and therefore not knowable as true or false. Ancient philosophers do not make that distinction. They think values are the most important facts of all, that what ought to be is a dimension of what is. Their world-view (metaphysics) included a life-view. What is your metaphysics? Ethic depends on metaphysics,

Your ethics depends on your metaphysics, so you got to know the answer to, "Quo Vadis". Ethics also must depend on your anthropology: on your philosophy on human nature, cause you gotta know the nature of man. Also, it depends on epistemology, the knowledge of how you know knowledge (through senses, perception, ancient chords of memory, etc.). Now that we have an introduction to ethics and how Antarctican ethic is understood to exist, it's the contrast between ancient and modern ethics that I want to discuss now. It is a huge distinction.


Students, researchers, scientists, fellow professors, visitors... you sometimes lose your way. Sometimes you get confused in all this talk. I can see it from the podium. Many of you UANT students in the audience looking back at me, like you--> and you---> (laughter). That's good! That means you are trying to understand and enter the Great Conversation. What is the Great Conversation? A dinner party, a very old one. Imagine back to when you were a kid. You are overhearing an adult conversation that's been going on for 2,500 years. Listening, you feel a mixture of confusion and fascination. That is the experience of someone beginning to study history, ethics and philosophy. In Antarctica, indeed here on the University Peak campus, this feeling comes awash over all of us at one point or another. If it hasn't awashed your face as of yet, I hope today will be its catalyst for your baptism into the Great Conversation.

Enter, then, the great conversation. Of course, it takes time. You need to know some history first, which is why Western Civ. here at UANT is a good class to take. The Triad Program is full of moments of an almost electric introduction to this reality and what the adults are talking about.

What has the conversation been about so far? Reading the great books can do it for you time and again. If you let Plato talk to you in the Republic, and you talk back, literally, with your tongue, you will find your great book coming alive. It is like a ghost, a ghost of its author. Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book can teach you how to do it if you need some coaching. But for us, the best way to understand something that is bewildering, is to find a point of reference. Hard to find because we have so many modern philosophies now, and it is a very pluralistic situation.

Yet, we can relate them all somehow or another to one common point of reference: the single ethical philosophy that was universally believed until recent times. It consisted of the classical Greco-Roman culture PLUS the Judeo-Christian, and the medieval synthesis of the two. That is, as they would say today about an ongoing message online, our thread.

Also useful to do because the disputes today happen to be between the old and the new views! Are you one of those postmoderns who has forgotten the old, premodern view? If so, let me give you an wake up call. An overview- a summary, if you will, of the old view. I will outline now twelve differences between the 'old fashioned' and 'newfangled'. Old fashioned is of course the greater of the two. And you know this in your bones.

We even tribute it... by calling it 'ancient wisdom'. Have you ever heard of 'modern wisdom', for example? No. Even though we have so much more knowledge available, its still just knowledge. And wisdom is something that knowledge is not. Encyclopedia facts and technical know-how are the beginning of wisdom, not the end. When not combined with a sound ethics and social promise, they can become tools of oppression of the megamachine. We do recognize, surely, 'modern knowledge'. But let's see what there is to learn from the ancients:


Assumption I of the ancients is that ethics comes first. Absolutely first, not second or third. It is the single most important ingredient to a Good life for the ancient teachers. And the whole point of life was not life per se, but moral virtue, which equalled what they called in old times the Good. There was disagreement on if material success was necessary for a Good life. Aristotle said yes, Plato said no, but moral virtue was the main ingredient in the Good life for both. Moderns question if it is moral virtue that is even necessary- they invert the argument and say material success is in fact the key to a good life. Our priorities have changed. Ethics was central to the ancient leaders: Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian, but is more of an afterthought to our modern intellectuals...


Assumption II of the ancients, showing that ethics is FIRST not second, is given credence by remembering that morality for them was not a means to an end, but it is the end in itself. The point of living is to live well, not just to live. Not just to BE, but to BE GOOD. It would be wise, even, to sacrifice to be Good. The ancients did not feel surprised or resentful when the need for sacrifice arose. Not because they were primitive, but because they were sure of the rightness of their philosophy. Sacrifice was a part of blessedness, and happiness. Also, there was respect for tradition, authority and obedience. How old-fashioned! Certainly that is out of style. Just yesterday I saw on this very campus a monitor with something that looked like an emergency flare put it in the ground and out came a rainbow ray, it went into the snow and made my loins tingle. It was extremely disrespectful. The word conformity has in any case a negative connotation now, but it did not to the ancients. To be clear, however, this was not just any old conformity. It was conforming to higher authorities- to abstractions like moral values, and great sages, saints, great minds and books, which stored the tradition. That conformity is no longer popular because the basic consensus on what good has been obliterated. Not for the last 500 years since Luther and and especially not in the last 50. Because of this newness and newfound variety and diversity, we tend to believe that different cultures create different values. But the ancients were NOT cultural relativists, except the Sophist teachers of Athens, who were the only exception. The ancients knew that one cannot just create or invent a new morality. One would have to create a new universe. So my question to you the audience now is WHY don't we like conformity anymore? And I will give my answer, as you probably guessed. It is because when we speak of conformity to authority today, it means the arbitrary authorities of changing social fashions or the current political elite. Do not be fooled: the ancients thought highly of conformity to authority because they were thinking not of conformity to power but of conformity to goodness. Not might, but right. "Authority" itself meant moral power, not political power. Not the power of rulers and propagandists. This is one of the sharpest differences between ancients and modern moral attitudes. The ancients respected conformity and humility and looking up to your moral superiors. They assumed something that we do not: they assumed that hierarchy exists as a concrete thing. In other words, superiority and inferiority. To use a word even more out of fashion: inequality. Here's an example: a student at UANT a week ago came to me and said she had read everything she could about Heaven, and still couldn't picture what it was like in her head. She had even stated that she didn't want to go there because she was afraid of it. She asked me if we would all be the same in heaven. I responded with the correct answer, which is, "No- heaven is not a democracy, and it is not based in equality. You'll not have equality with God." She was shocked but I believe understood, because she replied, "That's a relief, I don't know if I'd want equality with God." I laughed, hesitatingly. (laughter)


Another assumption of the ancients about ethics, the third, was that you do ethics by using Reason- not Emotion. If Moses or Socrates or Aquinas were transplanted here to Antarctica or anywhere else, the most shocking thing for them would be the reverence we have for people's feelings instead of rationality. "I feel bad, so it means it is bad...", disarms any other argument. Socrates meanwhile, said, "If only you were wise enough to know that you cannot be happy without exercising moral virtue... than you would be virtuous." Live according to reason and not emotion, and you will see. Why did they give such a power, such a store to reason? They must have had a broader concept of it: not just calculation and logic and scientific method, but wisdom in all its facets. The rational animal is not just an ape with a computer!


Assumption of the ancients is that ethics is open to religion. Modern ethics separates itself from religion totally, sometimes even anti-religion. At the least, it does not base itself on religion. This is because there is no longer a religious consensus. We live in a pluralistic society in which out memories are scarred by the memories of religious wars. This secularization disestablished religion from a political force to a purely spiritual force. Modern ethics shies away from asking the greatest of all question: what is the meaning of life? This question sounds too religious, divisive, offensive and therefore dangerous. Well, a moral and ethic code is part of every religion... atheists also have a moral code. All can agree a little on ethics, if not on theology. So, in America, we have grounded law in this certain agreed upon ethics (natural laws), instead of a particular religion. Of course, moral controversies have divided America: women vote, minority votes, prohibition, civil rights, abortion, etc. But NONE of them were religious controversies: like in Europe: 30 years war, religous wars, french revolution... and though religion informs people's attitudes like in abortion, or in civil rights... but those controversies are not about religion itself, but morality. Historically though, religion was the most powerful source, motivator and informer of people's morality. Dostoyevsky: If God does not exist, everything is permissible. He meant that if you believe in a moral God, and that morality goes all the way up into eternity, and merges with ultimate reality, you will take it much more seriously. That is why the Founding Fathers encouraged religion as the strongest support for morality, which therefore is the strongest support for a just and peaceful and happy polity. That connection is very much in question today... most of our ancestors did not believe that an atheist could be ethical. Today, most do. Ancients had a deeper concept of happiness- as objective perfection of life, fulfillment of life- not just subjective contentment... And a deeper concept of ethics which is not just a set of rules, and so did not contrast ethics and happiness. If you want to be happy, you have to be Good. They believed ethics was not just a set of rules that interferes with what you WANT to do, but one in the same with what we do want. Ethics is the roadmap to the country of our happiness. The ancients based their ethics on human nature. All the ancients based their ethics on human nature. That is what it mans natural law. Those who used human animal nature (happiness of the flesh) to find happiness, like Epicurius and Lucretius, deduced from this anthropolgy that the greatest happiness was comfort, pleasure and peace. Those who thought human nature was the same or like that of the gods, that is to say spiritual, deduced, like Plato and Plotinus, that the real happiness was spiritual, and that material Goods did not count nearly as much as spiritual. Some joined the two, like Aristotle. For him, human nature was neither fully animal nor angel, and both spiritual Goods like wisdom and virtue, and also material Goods like pleasure and wealth counted too. Spiritual Goods just counted more. Moderns are more skeptical- they do not base their ethics on anthropology at all, but on desire and satisfaction (calculating the consequences of an act in terms of the greatest satisfaction for the greatest number of people, which is called utilitarianism), or else on pure reason abstracted from human nature, like Kan'ts purely logical Categorial Imperative: do un to others as you would have them do un to you. Instead of any specific argument based on human nature, such as 1. do not steal because humans need private property or 2. do not commit adultery because human sex is for families not just for individuals or 3. keep a sabbath because humans need leisure for their highest capacities to flourish... instead of this, we have a kind of do whatever to others whatever you want to them to do to you idea - meaning something abstract, not specific content which could be right or wrong. Instead of 7, we have something like 3. We have mere equality between the people in the equation as a given, and that's the criteria for moral Goodness, something you can have a consensus on, divorced from anthropological human nature. Now, Early Modern philosophies did base ethics on anthropology: Hobbes and Machiavelli found human natures to be evil and selfish and competitive animals: their ethics consisted on power and insititutions to check this nasty human nature. Contrast this then with Rousseau, who believed anthropoligcal human nature was essentially Good, he had a relaxed and permissive ethics. The Founding Fathers denied both Hobbesian pessimism and Rousseauian optimism: they gave us a republic that presupposes the ability of everyone to make Good choices, yet with checks and balances just to make sure. If men were angels, laws would be unnecessary. When a lady asked Ben Franklin what kind of government the Continnental Congress had come up with in Philadelphia, he said, "A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.

For the ancients, the most important question was not "What is a Good person" or "what are Good virtues" or "how should I treat other people" or "how might we have a just society!" These are all important, but the MOST important question was "What is the summum bonum?" What is the meaning of life, the greatest Good? If, like moderns, you think the scientific method is the only way to come up with real answers, than you cannot have hope that this question can ever be answered. You cannot put the value of virtue, money, pleasure etc. into a test tube and see which is the most basic, as you can put chemicals in to see which is hotter, heavier etc. Of course, its a kind of contradiction: the scientific method cannot prove that it is the only way to find truth. So its a paradox: its your choice to use that method always, sometimes or never, and your values prepare the way for it to be used as a tool. A materialist who believes that   only material things are real, would use it always. A spiritualist, like a hindu or buddhist mystics, who believe matter is only an illusion, would use it never. A dualist who believes in both spiritual and material, would use it sometimes. He would use it on material things, but not spiritual things. Ancient Western culture was dualist. There were champions of the material, like Epicurus and Democritus and Lucretius, or the spiritual, like Plotinus. Modern Western culture is much more materialistic (at least its philosophers are). Ancients believed that politics WAS social ethics. No totally different ethics for individuals and their societies. The ends, the aim, of society, is virtue, just as the end of individual life is virtue! No modern believes this. Except Peter Morin, who said, "A good society is one that helps you to be Good." The ancients would have said Duh! But today NO ONE believes this. The aim of society for moderns is totally in question, sometimes the question is off the table. The philosopher who effected this huge change in philosophy was... Machiavelli, 400 years ago! Most modern systems of political philosophy are watering downs of Machiavelli's trashing of the idea that the aim of society is moral virtue. Ancients believed that human nature had both Good and evil in it. Some moderns believe this too... but now many also believe these: 1. we have no essence at all. its whatever is put on the tabula rasa, total environmentalism, total nurture. The master philosopher of this is Marx. Human nature is just the word, put there by others, and is malleable. There is nothing in common between feudal man, capitalist man and communist man. 2. pessimism. man is innately bad, not Good, and it takes Hobbsian force to keep him acting Good. So ethics is like the bit in a horses mouth, so the man-horse can be driven in the right direction. 3. the most popular in America today: optimism. man is innately Good, not bad. he is innately Good, so blame social structures, blame society, but don' t blame him. Don't blame the man, the victim. Man was born Good. Many people want ethics to be scientific- its a popular belief that the rise of science  kicks out religion, but not ethics. For example, as in Greece when Socrates and philosophy gradually kicked out mythological paganism, so in Western Europe since 1600 science has done that to the Christian religion. So, we SHOULD base ethics on science. A scientific ethic. But, this history is a little too simple: religion is still around first of all, and science has not disproved a single religious dogma: it was not DOGMA that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that hell is at the center of the earth. These were just popular opinion. The decline of religion was not caused by science itself, but by something else. Yes, science has succeeded, as has its practical product: technology. And that is our great Western modern project. It separates us from all the ancients, and from all other civilizations. So, can ethics be scientific? The Enlightenment project tried to make it so, but, If the scientific method is the ONLY way to get to objective truth, then ethics must be either scientific or subjective. And this leads us again to the HUGE difference between ancient and modern morality: the ancients believe morals to come from nature, human nature and was objective. Because, nature is not only what science can SEE. The moderns do not. To them. morals are subjective, and culturally relative, and manmade.  In all ancient philosophies, ethics was dependent on metaphysics. Ethics is your life-view and metaphysics is your world-view. Moderns do not base ethics on your metaphysical world-view, because they are skeptical of the existence of metaphysics. Kant had the greatest attempt at proving this.

Understanding. Its something intuitive, not just logical. For the ancients, the most important question was actually not, "What is a Good person" or, "what are Good virtues" or, "how to treat other people" or, "how to have a just society"...! These are all very important, but the MOST important question was "What is the summum bonum? What is the meaning of life, the greatest Good- the end to which we seek"? On the road to that summum bonum, (also called by the Greek word "telos"), the ancients said that what makes a society prosper, is ethics. Today we say it is economics. Plato in the Republic had one paragraph on economics, and ten whole books on ethics. Moderns say that economics is what makes a society prosper. Candidates for public office argue about economics all the time, but not about ethics (unless there is some scandal). Huge difference: if you were to write to the bishop or king of any ancient society, asking an ethical question like "what is the meaning of life, what is Good and evil, what is the nature of reality?" You would actually get answers! An official answer! If you asked this today of a government, they would not only think you were a nut, but tell you, if you press them for an answer, "We don't (can't) tell you that, its up to you." So, our society gives us more knowledge, power, wealth, freedom and distraction than any ancient society, but it gives us less meaning. That means we have to find moral meaning for ourselves. Most people actually like that if you ask them. In fact, they explicitly don't want the government telling them what is Good. But it gives us an obligation to find out for ourselves.


We Western people today have both the ancient and the modern in our passionate minds. The two sides have to learn how to talk to the self. We have to do our own thinking. But can the 'mind' make you a better person? Can philosophy help you to actually live a Good life? Well, Socrates said it could. He was convinced the key to a moral life was wisdom... wisdom gained through philosophy. Can virtue be taught, then? Socrates said not only that it could, but that reason can be taught as well, and good, free thinking people can be molded into being from humble beginnings. In that way, people (like us) who care about a better life for ourselves and our society are children of Socrates. Socrates taught about the role of reason in ethics. He was born in 5th Century Greece, died in 399 BC at 70, condemned to death by a jury of 501 democratic citizens. No one man in history, except perhaps Jesus, has made more of a difference in the history of the West. All philosophy after him (and science- which is a spin off from philosophy) stems from Socrates. Half of Western culture depends on Socrates! Every single philosophical school in antiquity except materialistic Epicurianism claims lineage from Socrates: much like all Christian denominations claim lineage from Jesus.

The difference between Socrates and pre-socratics is much more than the difference between Socrates and his successors. THAT is his power. What made him different was his whole new way of thinking. He invented a skeleton key for thinking, a reasoning power tool: he invented the logica argument. When a point was really proven to be true, to any reasonable person, that was done using logical reasoning. Its a thing, that can be used, and appealed to. He questioned people as a lawyer questions someone in court, this is the Socratic Method. In doing it in a logical way, he could show you that if you accept a certain number of premises as true, you HAVE to accept certain conclusions to be true, too. If all A is B, and all B is C, then it absolutely must be true that all A is C.

This seems simple and innate, but Socrates first discovered and practiced this art. It awoke from its long slumber in the mind of Socrates first, who gave it expression through his voicebox and his actions. In Socrates, reason became aware of itself. It became differentiated in the mind. Why was it in the West that science arose and not in Eastern Civilization? Oriental Man is no less brilliant and wise than Occidental man! So why did he remain intuitive and mystical instead of rational and scientific? Barrett's book Irrational Man tries to figure that out. He says its because of Socrates and his successors. Socrates applied the new rationality to ethics. He was not interested in politics, like Plato was, or the arts etc. Just the connection between reason and ethics. He said, "Virtue IS knowledge, and vice is ignorance. If you really know the Good, what is Good for you, then you will do it. Thus, all evildoing is rooted in ignorance. Not ignorance of facts, but ignorance of values. This sounds stupid: we know of brilliant villains and dull 'Good' people: Marquis d' Sade and Forrest Gump, for example. Well, that just means intellectuals are no more virtuous, per say, than other people. So, what does he mean by saying that virtue is knowledge and vice is ignorance? We all have the experience of knowing what is Good and what is evil, and yet choosing evil. Socrates is not ignorant of this, and his answer, as to why, is found in one of the greatest speeches ever made: the Apology before the court. Apology is not an admission of guilt, but defense of beliefs. More like, I'm not sorry at all, in fact, Ill prove I'm right. He tells the democratic crowd/jury the story about how he became a philosopher. He is on trial for atheism, and he answers that charge by telling how pious he really is: At the oracle of apollo at delphi, there lived the delphic oracle, a prophetess who gave guaranteed true answers in the form of riddles, inspired by the god apollo. Even Greeks who were skeptical of the gods (and there were many) believed in the oracle because it always came out right. So, Socrates friend Kairophon asked, "is there anyone in this world wiser than my friend Socrates?" And the oracle answered "no." When he told Socrates later, he was shocked. He had no wisdom! Now comes the part that proves his piety: instead of dismissing the oracle as a fraud, he assumed that apollo's oracle did not lie, and wanted to understand the meaning of this riddle. So, he wanted to seek out a wiser person and take that person to the oracle to have it explain its riddle based on the new evidence of a wiser person. But he never got to go to the oracle with this wise man, because he never found him. What he found instead was that everybody thought they had wisdom, but upon cross-examination, they didn't. So, the self-fulfilling prophecy of the oracle was born: the oracle's answer made Socrates go out and invent the Socratic Method, the art of cross examination, and become a philosopher. The oracle's riddle was the catalyst that originated Western Philosophy's method of understanding! An example of a Socratic conversation: he would find a politician and ask him a simple question:

Oh great and wise politican, what are you wise about?

Justice I am wise about, Justice- that's my thing.

Oh well, then can you answer me the simplest question about it what is it? What is justice- so I don't confuse it with injustice.

Oh socrates, everybody knows what justice is.

Do then you know too? please tell me so I know.

It means paying back what you owe and being paid back in turn what is owed to you.

Thank you sir, good day. Wait! Before you go, I'm not sure I understand your definition. Do you mean that if i had lent you my knife, and then i became a maniac, that it would be just for you to give me back my knife in that state?

No! Of course not.

Well then, justice is not always paying what is owed, because it would be paying me back to give me back my property, but not just. So, please tell me what justice is universally, by its essence.

Socrates, don't be a troublemaker!


Socrates would go home, thinking that he learned not much about what justice is, but thinking he did learn a lot about what wisdom is. This man thought he was wise, but he was not. Socrates knew he was not wise, and so he actually was. After much of this, he came to the conclusion that he indeed was the wisest one, because he at least knew that he didn't have the required wisdom, and that is why he asked questions that no one else did. He found out that people come in one of two kinds: fools who think they are wise, and the wise who know they are fools. He therefore tried to help people become wiser, by teaching them or getting them to understand that they were actually fools- fools who needed wisdom. Who needed to love knowledge so much they were prepare to seek it wherever it may lead. Who needed to be philo-sophers (lovers of wisdom) and that to get at it, they had better start asking questions.

This paradox is cute, maybe even profound. Wisdom's priority one lession is that you must humble yourself into understanding that you need to inquire. That inquiry gets you to knowledge and that knowledge is virtue. To be virtuous is to be wise, and one cannot be wise without being virtuous. Self-knowledge, therefore, is inherent in wisdom. The first step to virtue is to know yourself. 'Knowing thyself' meant searching for the wisdom you know you don't have through self-reflection. Secondly, this self-knowledge meant to know something of human nature, to know what you were- along with who.


Over the temple of Apollo was the inscription, "Know Thyself". It is the key to ethics. Socrates followed this law better than anyone in Greece! Ironically, the only man democratic Athens ever executed for a religious crime was really the most religious man Athens ever produced! He was following the precepts of Apollo the god of widsom better than anyone. The parallels with Jesus here are remarkable. In the Antarctic trend glorifying the risen Christ, a significant substrain reveres the wise old man of Athens. In the Apology, this wise old man taught another paradox: he taught to be sure of this: "if you kill me, you are harming yourselves- for the eternal law makes it impossible for a Good man to be harmed by a bad one."

This was his swan song. But what does this actually mean? Its baffling really. He means it is literally impossible for a Good man to suffer evil either in this world or the next. Socrates answer to, "why bad things happen to Good people?" is that they never do! Yes, Socrates is giving us a puzzle, and in solving it, we become wise.


His meaning is that, like in Apollo's puzzle, "Know thyself", (which did not mean "what personal feelings and experiences have you had in your life?") but, "what is a human being- and therefore what are you and what is your nature? Put another way, what is the ESSENCE of man?" If you find the answer to his question, you will find the answer to why a Good man cannot suffer any evil. The link is that evil cannot be done to a Good man because of the answer to 'know thyself'. Because of what a 'man' is. What his basic essence is... when honor, freedom and even life are taken away, what is it that is left? What is his ESSENCE? Socrates himself provided the example at his execution. These guys took it all from Socrates, even his life.


But, the ESSENCE of man is necessarily that which cannot be taken away: His virtue and his wisdom. Where are those things located? Not in his mind or body, but in his soul. The true self, therefore, is the soul- the inner self- the personality- the character. That is why bad people cannot harm Good people, because they cannot attack your soul. Evil from outside can attack your body, and can harm only your body. The only evil that can harm you comes from YOU, from the inside. It comes by your folly and your vice. No one else can make you foolish or vicious, wise or virtuous. No one but YOU is in charge of your soul, your character, your personality. Not society, but you- are the master of your fate, and the captain of your soul.


This discovery was a radical discovery in the history of human consciousness. Today we call the self a 'who' not a 'what', but this is due to Socrates. The Greek word for soul is psyche (see-shay). Before Socrates, that word meant ghost. Today, as in psychology, it means self. And in movies today, they usually show the 'soul' coming out of the body like a ghost, like the pre-socratic philosophers imagined it. But for Socrates, its the body that is the ghost- the soul is the real thing that lasts. Its the solid unkillable thing. Socrates changed the meaning of the word psyche (soul). When Christianity arrived, it found a ready made word for the self... psyche. Soul. So, Know Thyself is the key that explains the paradox of evil: it cannot happen to the self, it can only be chosen by the self. We are responsible for what happens to us, because we choose to be happy. No evil, or Good, can just 'happen' to a man. When Christianity came into the world four centuries later, Jesus says something like this- because he says that the soul is closer to your essence, and your body is more outward. Its not everything, but its primary. The body may not be nothing, indeed it is your temple, but it is, in fact, secondary.

Jesus said to the Pharisees that the devil cannot come to you from ritual impurities, only from within... from your own heart. The Know Thyself principle, then, makes clear that all virtue is knowledge. That if you only KNOW the Good, you will do it. That all evil comes from ignorance. And if true, this is an astonishing breakthrough: we would have isolated the cause of evil, and to know the cause, is to know the cure. What is more important than that? How revolutionary is this idea? Lets assume: that we all seek our own Good... not harm... for ourselves. Its a psychological fact. A second thing: you know yourself, and know that the self is the soul, and that your own true Good is the Good of your soul. You know that happiness is not in the body, any more than weight is in the soul. And thirdly, you know without doubt that virtue is the way to happiness. Because virtue is health of soul. If you know these three things, what would follow? We would always seek virtue and never vice. Because if we unify them, virtue is indeed happiness, and our greatest Good. This is the Socratic revolution: that the mind is the key to being Good. Moral wisdom is there. So is wisdom itself, self knowledge.


Example: You are poor. You want to be rich and buy things that give you pleasure. You are also poor in wisdom: you confuse your "self" with your "body" and its material Goods (including pleasures). You identify the Good life as that which allows you the power to get whatever you desire when you want it. You ought to do right not wrong, though. You drive down the street and a bank robber drops a sack of money, you pick it up and you think damn, no one saw me! I can keep it. You know you should give it back. But you are tempted to keep it. You are not a professional thief... it doesn't feel like stealing... why are you tempted? Because you don't really believe that virtue always makes you happy. You don't know really believe that happiness is a matter of your soul, not your bank account or your body. Because you are essentially your soul, your mind, will, your character. You don't know that, at least not deep down, without doubts. You are not wise enough to know yourself, you figure, "well a little moral evil might be worth it. because it sometimes will give you a lot of happiness." Suppose the thieves had dropped a sack of cockroaches. You would not be tempted to steal them. Why? Because you see the true value of cockroaches and know they won't make you happy. You'd have to be nuts to think that... but you do think the money can make you happy... and if you do think that, YOU DO NOT KNOW YOURSELF


Now, if ignorance is the cause of evil, wisdom is the cure. Remove the effect, remove the cause! To remove evil, remove ignorance. For Socrates, philosophy, love of wisdom, is the cure for moral evil. So, why has it not worked then? What's wrong with this argument? The mind DOES plays the major role in moral the mind must have the major role in determining if we are Good and evil... but is the the only factor? Socrates did call the mind the soul's only light, like the navigator seeking the lighthouse on a dark sea, but he left out the Will. The Will is like the captain of the ship, the captain has the power to tell the navigator to shut up, or to speak. When we reflect on our own Good and evil situations, we find both at work: mind and will. We do find what Socrates says about the apparent attractiveness of the evil we are tempted to do, and thus what is behind that attractiveness: ignorance. Lack of wisdom. But what caused the lack of wisdom? When you see that money and know you can steal it without being caught, at that moment something in you tells you the moral truth: you KNOW that moral evil will not make you happy, not in the long run. But there is something else that is telling you to shut that voice down. It wants the temporary satisfaction and desires the money can give. And that something else want you to listen to IT. Its like the old cartoons when the angelic and devilish you are talking in your ears. One voice comes from your reason (conscience), what Freud calls your superego, while another comes from your desires (id), and you (the I, or ego) cast the deciding vote. The ego, that's you. You tell one of those two voices to shut up and agree with the other. You command your thoughts, and your will commands your mind to turn to one set of thoughts or another. The captain orders the navigator around. You are responsible not just for you actions, but for your thoughts! Socrates didn't see that fully. Buddha and Jesus did.


1st line in Dama Pada: All that we are is determined by our thoughts, it begins where our thoughts begin, and moves where out thoughts move, and ends where our thoughts end. If we think thoughts like "he hurt me, he stole from me, he is my enemy," then our life and our destiny will follow that thought like the wheel follows the axle. And if we think thoughts like "he cannot hurt me, only I can hurt myself, he cannot steal from me, he cannot be my enemy, only I can be my enemy," then our life and destiny will follow those thoughts. And Jesus reproved the self-righteous Pharisees, though their actions seemed morally respectable, for their thoughts. He turned ethics from an outward focus on action to an inward focus on the heart. St. Paul said in a letter, "Take every thought captive, and have the MIND of Christ." Thoughts are extremely important to Buddhist and Christians, and they are to be controlled by a deeper source, a more mysterious center. What we in the West call the 'heart' or the 'will'. Socrates didn't quite reach that point. The question remains, how much can the mind really do to make us Good? Can virtue be taught to us at all? Can we have moral education? Should our schools be making their students not just smarter but better? Even if virtue is not JUST knowledge, how much of it IS knowledge?


Plato asked this question, in the Maeno. Maeno asks Socrates, "Can virtue be taught? Or, does it come to man in some other way, by habit and practice? Or is it simply innate in his nature? Or does he get it in some other way? These four paths to getting virtue that Plato gives are EXACTLY the four main philosophies in the next 2,400 years. By teaching? this is plato's answer. all you have to do is make the mind wise and the rest will follow. plato would expect our schools to do moral education. By practice and habit? that is aristotle's answer. we are not vicious or virtuous by nature, and that moral virtues come to us by practice. Only the intellectual virtues come through teaching. so he would agree that our schools should not do moral education because that is the family's job. By our nature? The most optimistic- this is rousseau's answer Against our nature? the most pessimistic answer. virtue comes against human nature, and must be enforced through fear. we have to machiavell's answer in 16C and Hobbes answer in 17C. In china, later on, they came up with the same four answers! Lao Tzu was like Rousseau: we are virtuous by nature, Confucius was a combination of Plato and Aristotle: teaching and habit both contribute to acquiring of virtue, and the Realist School summarized the way to solve social problems in two words: hit them! Its amazing that Plato summarized the next two thousand four hundred years in philosophy in the first paragraph of his dialogue maeno! There are two questions here: first, "can you tell me socrates?" and "can virtue BE taught, or does one get it by one of those another ways?" The answer to the first one Socrates gives, but not the second. He does not answer questions, he teaches, not tells. Teaching takes place by questioning not lecturing. First, Socrates says he can help find the answer in two ways. First, he admits that he does not know. Maeno says he does, but he doesn't really. Secondly, Socrates says we have to define virtue's essence or we won't know what we are talking about. So, Maeno's definitions are shown to be in error, and then Maeno gets frusterated and wants to go home. He becomes skeptical: people cannot know the truth anyway! But then Socrates refutes skepticism: he gives up that everyone really does have a hidden storehouse of knowledge in the mind. Knowing is really remembering. Remembering what is in the unconscious what you will. You have to 'remember' unconscious knowledge. Socrates pushes the buttons to access this knowledge by his Socratic logical questioning. He demonstrates this to be true by teaching Maeno's uneducated young manservant a complex geometric principle: the Pathagorean Theorem, just by drawing some lines in the sand and getting the guy to answer some questions about them. He tells no answers, and the boy figured it out. So, now Maeno is without an excuse on not wanting to find out what virtue is by thinking about it. So, Socrates inspires him by agitating him by taking both sides: first he proves virtue is knowledge and therefore can be taught, but then proves that there are no teachers of it, so it is not teachable. Even the best people, like Pericles, and even Socrates himself, did not teach their children the right virtue. So, its a contradiction. Finally, the dilemma is solved: virtue is neither certain knowledge, nor ignorance, but a sort of knowledge. A right opinion, or belief. It is neither easily teachable by men, like geometry is, nor unteachable. It is teachable in a 'way', only 'god' can teach it, but we can help. Religion? He did say that it was 'right opinion' and 'right belief', the words for that are 'ortho' and 'doxa': orthodoxy. Socrates says virtue is a faith: which is a kind of knowledge, but it is based on faith, not knowledge. if you really believe that you are a soul, and that virtue makes you happy, that works as well as knowledge. And only god teaches virtue? But is he not teaching it? No, he is teaching about virtue. He is a prophet who reveals not answers, but the right questions and method. Maybe he is kidding. No joke. Some scholars think he is not being serious here, and actually giving us a deliberate weak answer so we would find a better one. For one thing, he did NOT think that religous faith and the gods of his society would make you virtuous. The gods themselves were not virtuous! Socrates was executed for not believing in these gods! On the other hand, he may have been seriously. He did not ever speak seriously about the greek gods, but he did speak at times of a single unknown God, whom he never claimed to know or name. Who was mysterious, but who was there.

Is ethics based on religion, then? Is ethics dependent on religion? Is a thing right just because the gods say so? Is ethics an alternative to religion? A better alternative that uses reason over faith, that attains knowledge instead of belief? Or is it another kind of religion?

If everyone seeks happiness- if most people know the road to happiness is to do Good- so are we crazy or stupid? We would have to be crazy not to pick virtue, which would lead to happiness. Socrates said we are stupid. But we are crazy too... we prefer sometimes to be hurt. Sometimes envious! There is something that addicts us to something that we know is harmful for us, yet we do it.


This dialogue is a troublemaker, because it challenges not only the existing religion of Socrate's time (and got him into trouble) but the mode of thinking of any religion, namely faith, and replaces it with a new mode of faith: logical reasoning. He was a man teaching not a new religion, but a new kind of religion, the religion of the pursuit of truth by reason. The athenians knew deep down that this was a threat against their existing religion, which was totally irrational. The conflict was between faith and reason: religion and philosophy. What's going on? Socrates is being arrest and on his way to court for being an atheist because he cannot profess his faith in any of the gods approved by the state. He was actually a pious agnostic, not an atheist. But, on his way he met an arrogant young man named Ethyphro, who is going to court to prosecute his father for acidentally killing a manservant. That was not normal. Religion and family always go together, and the greeks regarded something vs your mom and dad as impious. So, Socrates asks him why. He is doing it out of piety. Socrates turns on the irony: you must be an expert on piety to be so sure you are doing the right thing... yes i am. the socratic method continues: a definition: what is piety? Doing what the gods do and loving what the gods love. Well, there is a myth that says that a god prosecutes his father. Socrates: are you pious in relation to ALL the gods? yes. But the gods contradict each other in our religious tales, in fact, they fight with each other. At that moment, if you were pious to one, it would be impious to the other. A single act would be pious and impious at the same time, which is illogical. So, you have not defined piety, and is therefore not just in acting on a false idea of piety, as if you know what it is. Euthyphro redefines it: Its doing what all the gods agree. Hmm... well, even if all the gods agree, is a thing pious because the gods will it, or is it Good because the gods will it? uhh, its Good because they will it. This is the divine command theory. If god commanded us to eat our neighbor's ears and give ours for the eating, that would no longer be bad.

The problem here is that it makes god arbitrary, to be obeyed not because god is Good, but because he is the boss. Luther, Calvin and Kirkegaard all agreed with this. In fear and trembling, Kirkegaard sees the sacrafice of isaac as a teleological suspension of the ethical by god, a purposful setting aside by god of morality. Now, morality is known by reason, and God is known by faith. Kirk says reason is low down. Reason should not be confused with faith, which is the greatest Good. Not moral reason, because if moral reason is greater, Abraham is not a hero but a murderer. Kirk had a point. If God wills a thing and it is Good, that SEEMS to put Goodness above god, and therefore we can judge God by this standard of Good. We can turn around and judge God by the Good that is done. Now, Socrates says that a thing is not Good because the gods will it, but that god wills Good things. Unlike the greek gods who are less than Good, the God of the bible cannot be judged. Socrates is saying that morality is higher than religion, and that religions can be judged by moral standards. And, if we find morals through reason, ad religioun by faith, than we place reason over  reason over faith to judge it, not faith over reason. So, should we put morality over religion or vice versa? does god command Goodness, or is Goodness above god? the traditional answer is neither. God and Goodness are equally absoulute, because God's essence is Goodness. Add an o to god and you get Goodness. Add a zero to any number, and you get that same number.

Then what about the Abraham / Isaac story in gen. 22? Well, God is teaching Abraham the exact opposite lesson from what Kirkegaard thinks: that human sacrifice is wrong, and that this new religion that God is revealing to Abraham will be the first one in history that will be completely moral. And therefore will not have human sacrifice. The lesson comes at the END of the story, when God's angel intervenes and forbids the sacrifice. And provides a ram instead. The ritual sacrifice of animals was a central event in judaism until the destruction of the second temple in 70. Christians believe the slaughter of Jesus, the lamb of God, was the historical fulfillment of that symbolic pattern, or type. Kirkgaard is ignoring the historical context. He is also ignoring the historical difference between Socrates, who saw real contradictions between reality and the dying greek religion, and started the philosophy movement which grew into the hole it was leaving (because it was dying, because it was immoral and irrational). In Christianity, we have the opposite situation. Religion and philosophy were married in a synthesis, instead of contradicted.  In Greece, the priests and philosophers were enemies, and one could tell which they were by their clothes. In the Christian middle ages, almost all the philosophers were priests.

Kirkgaard is in the minority of Christians, along with William of Ockham, Martin Luther, Calvin etc. and fundamentalists today agree with Eutheryo and usually believe in the divine command theory. They have a low conception in human reason. But the mainline Christian position, that of church fathers east and west, Augustine, Acquinas, CS Lewis, Vatican Council I and II is that human reason can know God, and know the Good. Can know that a thing is Good in itself and not just that God commands it. It it Good and that is why God commands it. That it is Good in itself because it is like God, like God's character. We can know something about God's character by our reason. Reason is our tool for this.

Acquinas puts the relation between our reason and faith very clearly: there are two kinds of truths: those we can know just by reason, and those we can know by revelation by the supernatural God. These truths cannot contradict themselves, what we discover by reason is truth, and what we believe in by faith is truth. Reason and faith are like two books from the same author, God, who never contradicts. What reason discovers when it is properly used, is truth, what faith believes, when it is properly understood, is truth. And truth can never contradict truth. This cannot be argued against, except of course if you do not believe that the faith is true. If your religion taught something that reason proves false, because if it did then you cannot believe it, because you cannot honestly believe in something you know it is false. Mark Twain jokingly defined faith: the art of believing something you know isn't true. Its funny only because it is not true. You can't believe in something you know isn't true.

Socrates vs. Dostoyevsky: D says if god does not exist, everything is permissible. Socrates says that ethics is not based in religion, but knowable without it. So? Is this a real contradiction? Who is right? This is important because historically, ethics nearly always comes from religion. Since most people have some religion, and all religions having some morality. Religions have three facets: teaching about gods and ultimate reality, commandments or ideals for moral living and liturgy and public worship.

Creed, code and cult (words, works and worship). So a moral code is part of all religions... and they are strikingly similar across all religions. Surprising because theologies are hugely different, so are liturgies. But they share a nearly common morality. And this is not just common sense morality: we can group all moralities in the world into 3 kinds:

THE LOW KIND: calculated self interest (you don't bash my head in if I don't bash yours, and we both save on doctor bills). Purely pragmatic. A business deal. But if it doesn't work, its over. If one party thinks they can get what they want without the deal, its junked. The deterrent is shame, if you get caught, or fear of punishment.

THE BETTER KIND: morality of justice: do Good deeds because its the right thing to do. There are some things like moral laws, virtues, responsibilities that have a claim on you, and you ought to follow them. Its just, fair and Good. The deterrent here is guilt. It is not external and public, but internal and individual.

THE HIGHEST KIND: Also the rarest- you go beyond justice- to self sacrifice, to unselfishness, to mercy, to forgiveness. The remarkable thing is that every single major religion teaches this highest kind- this 3rd level morality, as if they had a peephole into the curtain, that allows them to see the same hidden secret. For outside religious communities, this secret is rarely seen. In the West, secularists who claim to have lost religion still often say they believe in this morality, but they are almost always remembering it from the religion they or their family or their culture once believed in. And that religion is Christianity. Antarcticans have been remembering the same thing in the past few years. Almost no one ever came up with this third level on their own, independently of religion- especially Christianity. Should we treat all people as intrinsically valuable? Why should we not use people and love things, but love people and use things? most people say "because we are all god's children, or created in god's image. or because that is what god wants."

So, back to the question: is religion the ONLY justification for ethics? Dostoyovsky says yes. Socrates says. "No, a thing isn't Good because the gods will it. The gods will it because it is Good."

Now, Dostoyevsky is christian, Sartre is atheist and Socrates is agnostic (one who does not know). The dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac stayed up all night imagining, "is there a dog?".

These three are talking about the "everything is permissible" statement.

Dostoyevsky: "if there is no God, there is no real Goodness, and no answer to the simple question, "why can't be whatever assmonger I want to be?" There is no reason for me not to be whatever egotistical pig I want to be. So, there must be a God to make morals and ethics, and some of us who are skeptical about Him are just fooling ourselves and suppressing the knowledge because we don't want to know it- it depresses us.

Sartre: In the brothers karamazov, dostoyevsky puts his saying in the mouth of the athiest Ivan Kramazov, who is honest and a Good man, but who wants to kill his horrible father. God and morality stood in the way of killing him. So Ivan has to kill God first. Freud loved this book, the oedipus complex is right there! Sartre identifies not with Dostoyevsky but with Ivan the new athiest, who now believes everything is permissible. Sartre does not want to kill anybody but the conclusion of Bros. Kraramazov filled him with distress because it so powerfully made clear that without God, life is meaningless and everything is permissible. There is no higher standard to judge Good and bad. Sartre was sad, but Neitzsche was exhilirated, because now that God is gone, Man can be Superman. Can become Uberman, the new man without religion or morality. Without restraint. When God dies, man becomes the new god. So, but both Sartre and Neitzche agree with Dostoyevsky: without god, everything is permissible. If there is no god, there is no morality. Its a package deal.

Enter Socrates: S disagrees that if there is no God, there is no morality. Dosotyevsky's saying sounds like Eyuthpro, who said that an act is right or wrong because the gods will it. But this is not quite the same thing, cause Dostoyevsky was saying that if God did not EXIST, then there would be no morality. D was not a pagan polytheist, but a Russian orthodox monotheist, who believe in the one perfect ultimate God. God is the ultimate standard for Good and evil. So, why didn't Socrates see this? Well, because they did not have this one God! They didn't posit that God created the universe out of nothing, and is not the creator of the universe, earth, man and man's morality. That was a Jewish idea only. For us, God created Goodness.

Enter Albert Camus, athiest. in "The Plague," Dr. Rue who goes about helping people does so because he knows he has to be a saint, a moral hero. He believed in morality even though not in religion. This doctor agonizes over this dilemma. He believes in 3 things that can't all be true: 1. the meaning of life is to be a saint. 2. you can't be a saint without God. 3. there is no God. oops. something is wrong, and he never figured it out.


1. The saying is true, and there is no god, so no morality (Neitzsche, Sartre)

2. The saying is true, and there is a God, and so there is morality (Judeo-Christianity)

3. The saying is false, and while there is no god, there is morality anyway (Plato, however, believes in a single perfect God, but never tells us the connection between this god and morality (Socrates)

4. The saying is false- Yes, a god exists- but everything is still permissible. God just don't care too much (millions of Americans, Europeans, Antarcticans say or behave like this- people who don't want to be athiests because they want the comfort of believing in a god of love, but who also don't want to be saints, and don't want to feel guilty about anything. So they use pop-psychology and condemn traditional morality for being repressive. So they judge morality for being judgmental, and tolerate only tolerance but are intolerant of intolerance, and are dogmatically opposed to dogma, and absolutely opposed to absolutes, and they say its true there is no truth. Philosophy can show what a fool you are, and can make you feel very uncomfortable).

Believers in God use Doystevesky's phrase to make an argument; the moral argument for God: since not everything is permissible, there must be a God. The distinction between Good and evil means there is a God. But this assumes that Good and evil are objectively real. Some people do not believe in this premise, they say that Good and evil rules are sort of arbitrary. Not real. made up by us, like the rules of a game.

But, when you ask these people if they really believe its ok to rape, or cannibalism or burn the rain forest, they don't say then that morality is subjective. When they tell you not to push their morality on them, suppose you say that's your morality. But, imposing morality on other people, that's my morality. So,  don't impose your morality of tolerance and respect and justice on me. Then you will find out that they are not moral relativists, but selective-relativists. They are relativist about sex but that may be all. The moral argument for God says if there is a real morality, where does it come from? From a godless universe that is made up from a bunch of atoms and chance? how do you get a real Good and evil from molecules and kinetic energy and quanta and force...? And if the voice of conscience is not God, but your parents or society or genes, then why do we believe its always wrong to disobey your conscience? To deliberately do something we honestly believe is evil... we really think that. Even moral relativists who say different strokes for different folks have one absolute: although its not ok to sin against society, religion, and the ten commandments and all that, its never right to sin against your own conscience! Why? Why do you treat your conscience like a prophet or a divine deity? Perhaps it is. So we have an argument from conscience for the existence of God. The evidence is the absolute authority of conscience. But nothing has that authority. So there must be an absolute Good.

I started this discussion with Socrates substituting rational thought for religion, and ended it with an argument FROM rational thought FOR religion. Are we confused now?

So, do you need God to be moral? Well, if there is a God who is absolutely Good, he HAS to be, in the ontological sense (the fact) sense, yes. In psychological terms, no, you can be a virtuous person without God.


Like Jesus and Buddha, Socrates wrote nothing at all. By luck or divine providence, one of his deciples happened to be the greatest writer in the history of philosophy. Plato. Before he met Socrates, he was a up and coming poet, hoping to compete in the same competitions of drama and poetry that were won by aescylus and sophocles... but then he met socrates. He had something like a religious conversion. He publicly burned all his poetry as frivelous, and devoted all his energy to writing up the conversations of Socrates in dialogue form. Philosophy was meant to be a life-changing experience in the ancient world. If Socrates came to our time, he would no doubt ask if we had philosophers in our culture. He would be told that there are professional philosophers working at university departments of philosophy. He would laugh, or probably weep. Philosophy was not a department to Socrates, but a way of life. And professional? Selling wisdom for money? The professor is an intellectual prostitute, and the university is their pimp. Plato and St. Augustine sing philosophy. Its worth learning Greek to read Plato, and Latin just for Augustine. Plato's ideas are incarnated in characters. He puts legs under his ideas. Whitehead: the whole history of philosophy can be a series of footnotes of Plato. Plato wrote 30 dialogues, and the greatest is the Republic. It is about ethics. Everyone thinks its about politics, and it is- but that's secondary. The bottom line of it is a thesis on ethics: that justice is always more profitable than injustice. And Justice meant more than 'rights', that it is broader: its almost the whole of ethics. All values stem from it. More than giving and getting rights, it means a cosmic order, a harmony, a music. Don't think of justice like you were an accountant working out debts and payments. In Republic: politics is there as a MEANS TO AN END: Ethics. Moral values for the state and for the individual both, are analogues of each other. Politics, justice, think not of the accountant but of those old coins with walking liberty on them. Much more moral, much more idealistic. Politics was about the Good life, the Good community, the moral life. The Polis was not the bureaucratic state, but the human community. Communities are made by and for individuals. Lincoln said the same: Government was of the people, by the people for the people. Plato agrees, but didn't believe in democracy. Heck, democracy just executed the wisest man in the world.


A conversation on what justice is. Socrates talks to three generations, grandpa, papa and young man. Sephalus, Polymarchus and Thrusimicus. Wants a real definition of justice, so he can have certainty on what it is. What it is ALL the time. Sephalus says: It is paying back what you owe. But that's not it because we don't give the weapon we borrowed to a lunatic. So, Polymarchus says that "Justice is giving people what they deserve." Socrates reminds him that sometimes we are wrong on who our friends and enemies are. So Polymarchus says "Ok, its doing Good to the Good guys and bad to the bad guys." Socrates criticizes this as well, and says something amazing: that justice should do Good to the bad guys too! Because justice is a virtue, it can do only Good, not harm, all the time. Jesus said the same thing. Now, Thrusimicus barges in and bullies Socrates: "Justice is what the strongman says it is." If Germany won WWII, he is a hero and Chruchill is a goat. We might say this sucks, but this is what Maciavelli, Neitzsche and many of us say today too! The rest of the Republic tries to refute it. This philosophy is familiar to us today: the consequence of it though, is that it is naive and foolish to be just. Go the the root of the matter and for the power. Justice is NOT the way to the happy life, according to Thrusimicus, and sometimes injustice is more profitable than Justice. So, do justice when it profits you, and injustice when that does. So, the end justifies the means. There is no moral absolute. Morality is just a set of words or values, something abstract in human minds. Its NOT REAL. This moral relativism was rare among the ancients (except for the Sophists) but it is far from rare today. In ancient culture the teachers were more moralisic than their students, today its the opposite. Opinion polls reveal a morality gap between the intellectuals and the peasants. Thrucimicus writes the books today. His two major claims are big: "Justice is based on power". Well, this one is not accepted today much, even among intellectuals. Too much like crass totalitarianism. The other claim, moral subjectivism, is much more popular. There is no universal, timeless objective truth to find. Morals are an art like building bridges, or a game, like baseball, to make and do. Manmade, not discovered like the laws of physics. What led men to create morality, Thrusimicus? "Weakness. It was the weak not the strong who did it, who created justice. Why would the strong man lower himself to equality with the others? it was the weak who banded together and as the majority forced justice, a false unnatural equality." And if that is so, there is not reason to be moral, except for your own punishment. There is no problem with doing whatever you want, as long as you get away with it.

Prof: Why should you not do anything wrong?

St. Because you might get caught

Prof: suppose you don't?

St: Well, people will hate you.

Prof: suppose they won't- suppose you can con them, your power includes propaganda, power over the mind? Or suppose you just don't care what they think. Why not do evil if you can get away with it and get what you want? Why is Thrusimicus wrong? Why is justice not just power?

Its surprisingly hard to find an answer for students. Although its the most basic question in ethics. Thrusimicus goes home pissed off. But Socrates is not satisfied. Glaucon, Plato's brother, takes up Thrusimics' line (becoming a devils advocate) using a mythological image that is famous in the West- Old in Plato's day, no one knows its origin, and used again in the medieval epic of the Niebelungs, and again by Richard (Rihkhard) Wagner in the great opera cycle, and finally by the book that 5 separate opinion polls chose as the greatest of the 20th Century: Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Its the image of the ring of power. In it, Gaiges, like Gollum, is a loser, He finds a ring that makes him a winner: he can do whatever he wants and the ring will make him invisible. So, he kills the king, marries the queen, rules the kingdom and cons the people. Isn't the power the way to happiness? Gaiges used it wouldn't you? Tolkien, like Plato, said no. The quest is to get rid of the ring. If a genie came out of a lamp, Plato would say "wish 1: destroy the lamp". Power corrupts. Everybody wants happiness. Not everybody wants happiness or justice, or even power, but everyone wants happiness. So, how do you attain it? How shall we then live? Through justice- or through injustice with the power to do whatever you want to "get it"? Now, ok, we are not all doing Thrucimicus' bidding, we are not crass enough. But whenever we think its ok to cheat a little, or lie a little, or be unfaithful a little, we really do believe it. If we didn't believe doing wrong would make us happy, we wouldn't do it. If sin didn't look like fun, we'd all be saints. So, Plato's high aim in the republic, is to convince us that sin isn't fun. Injustice is never profitable. And, really convince us. Not just give us a logical reasoning about it. And that aim, so high, make it one of the greatest books ever written, whether it succeeds or not. Its politics are full of rather rediculous things, so ignore it. Its superb on ethics, crap on philosophy. It never worked, and don't let it prejudice you against plato. Hegel thought the kingdom of God came to earth with Bismarcks Prussia, and Heidegger, best philospher of the 20th C, joined the nazi party and proclaimed Hitler the new god. Plato wasn't that stupid. Plato's goal in the Republic is to say that "Justice is always more profitable than injustice. That being Good is the best way to be Happy." Now, this road has four steps, in book 6,7's elucidation of the theory of the process of education. A line is divided into four parts, and the image is of a prisoner escaping from a cave. cave of ignorance. Step 1. Tradition and Authority. Accepting conventional opinoins, others opinions, just as your eyes accept images reflected in the mirror, or in the water's reflection. But not seeing them in reality.=E2=80=A8Step 2: Experience. Seeing the images yourself. Step 3: Logical Reasoning, being able to prove what you see. Step 4: Wisdom. Understanding them, like justice, the essence of things. The Republic follows its own path, it goes through each of the four steps itself. It starts in book one when Steps 1-3 are done through Socrates arguments about justice. 1. Cephalus' conventional authoritarian and traditional definition of justice. Then 2. testing it with concrete examples through experience (the knife and the madman) and 3. logical reasoning, showing Cepthalus and Polymarchus that their definitions have self-contradidictions in them. Then book 1 ends. But Socrates is not satisfied because step 4 has not been completed: understanding the essence of what Justice is. The rest of the Republic is dealing with this last step. Plato's strategy: We want to prove that justice is better than injustice. And we want to reach certainty on this, so we want to know their essences are. We need a real definition. Well, how to find them? Justice and injustice exist in 2 places: in the individual soul, and in the state. Which is harder to find the essence in? The soul, because they are small, invisible and not easy to get at. But the state? yes, that is examinable. Like reading a large print book. What is the history of the rise of justice in the state? What is the pattern of justice and injustice in states? Well, Plato begins with the history of the rise of the just state, which is a natural thing, because a state naturally arises from the fact of specialization. Division of labor kind of thing. This efficiency in specialization creates wealth, then they invent medium of exchange. Divide of classes now, rich and poorer. Then, a police/military must be created to protect the wealth of the wealthier (and the state, against neighbors who want the wealth). They need someone to supervise them: wise legislators. So, three classes naturally develop: producers of wealth, supervisors (keepers of order) and the rulers (the legislators). The law abiders, law enforcers, and law makers. The people, the warriors/police and the legislators. Each class needs a specific virtue a Good habit: What the producers need most is moderation, what the soldiers need is courage, and what the legislators need most is wisdom. Wisdom, courage, moderation, with justice as the harmonious force making them all work together. Where is justice in all this? Its not in any one of the classes by itself, but in the harmonious functioning of all these together. So, justice in a community is what health is in a body. These 3 classes in Plato's community... are very interesting. They seem to have existed all throughout human society's history! In the details, Plato's off, but in this structure, he seems to have hit something powerful. And, Plato brings it back now to the soul. The same pattern exists in the soul, and Plato makes a map of the soul. The experience of an inner conflict: desire vs. reason. The conflict is resolved by a third power: Will (Spirit). This third takes the side of one or the other, depending on which is best. A spiritually healthy soul, the just soul, is like a just state; where the 3 powers do their job with their proper virtue: AND THE SAME VIRTUES ARE NEEDED: Reason by the Mind, Courage is needed by the Will, Moderation is needed by the Desires (the body, the inner producers), and Justice is the harmony of all three working together doing their proper job. Like a car is the extension of the human body, the state is as well. These virtues have been adopted as the "4 Cardinal Virtues" ever since Plato. Freud's id, ego, superego correspond to them. Now, Plato has found what justice is, and now he must find what injustice is. But before that, a digression: who would rule a utopian -just -republic? Well- Philosopher Kings. "Until philosophers becomes kings, or kings become philosophers, there will be no rest from trouble in the world! Well, so what is a philosopher? What kind? No surprise: Someone like Socrates. Someone who can achieve that 4th level of education. Someone who can know the essences of things. The kind of question that Socrates is always asking. Abstract theoretical wisdom is the key to practical ethical wisdom. Cause, if you know succeed in knowing what justice and injustice are, then you will KNOW that justice and virtue are better, and more profitable than injustice, and that moral virtue will always make you happy and not vice. The only way to be certain of this is to know the essence of both. You are CERTAIN that a circle can't be a square. You know the simple essence of what they are. You are not totally sure that a quasar is not an angel. In order be certain that justice is more profitable than injustice, you must understand their essences. A Socratic philosopher knows these, and if not, at least knows what he has to search for. That is why a philo should rule the state. The other details in Republic are silly, like relations between the sexes. "There is no difference between men and women, and men are better at everything". So, Plato is both a radical left wing unisexist, and a radical right wing male chauvenist. But, Plato did contribute something else: the idea that the single most important thing in a Republic is education. He invented university education. He founded the first university in the world: the Academy. Even though education has not brought us utopia, or solved all world problems, we are further along than without it. Something else, Plato emphasizes the power of music: for education, it is imperative. A whole book devoted to music, one paragraph on economics. Music is powerful, it puts order or disorder into your soul. Even as an adult, it gets into your soul without passing the guard-gate of reason. Its the water that seeps under castle walls no matter how strong they are. It connects you to the patterns of harmony of the cosmos, and makes you happy by this cosmic connection to its harmony. And harmony is a result of justice. So, music is a key for morality. Justice is the key virtue for Plato, and if you know justice, you know the other three cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, and moderation too. But there is something even greater than justice and the cardinal virtues. The Platonic form of the idea of the Good. Goodness itself. It cannot be defined because it is not in everybody's mind, Its the eternal form, the infinite, known by a mind. If we cannot define this absolute ideal, we can define it through parables, like Jesus when he was defining the kingdom of God. The Good, he says, is like the Sun. You can't stare at it without going blind, you can't see the sun directly, but you need the sun to see by its light. You need the light to see everything else, and is only by that light that you can know what you know. Same with the Good, absolute Good. You can't know the absolute Good like you can know finite things like justice. Though undefinable, the Good is the origin of all order, all intellegibility, both physical and spiritual. Everything is known by its end, its design, what it is Good for. Plato's Cave is a story of the steps of the philosopher's education. It is the most famous thing anyone has ever written. Read the first few pages of Book VII of the Republic. Plato defines then INJUSTICE. Both in the STATE and in the SOUL. He finds four forms of injustice in the two places, when the natural order is turned upside down.

Five Forms of Government Aristocracy: rule by the best. Timocracy: rule by the brave. Plutocracy: rule by the rich few. Democracy: rule by the masses (almost like anarchy). Tyranny: rule by one asshole.

Plato had no idea of the rule of law, rather than the rule of arbitrary will. The only democracy he saw rule was the passionate mob that executed socrates. He also knew democracy led to dictatorship after order is restored when the mob screws it up. 2,3,4,5 are perverted. 1 is sublime.

What about in the soul?

1. Reason 3D a just soul

2. Will (like soldiers)

3. Desires (the elite few desires you have)

4. All desires (chaos) like the masses

5. Inner tyrant of obsession and addiction

So, by this, we can SEE that justice must always be more profitable than injustice. We can TELL that it is, and we need not rely on the lower three:

1. authority telling us it is so

2. our own ever-changing sense experience

3. clever logical reasoning

But now we re at stage 4... we can see that the soul of an unjust man is like a zoo, where the zoo animals rule the zookeeper. So, what's wrong then? Why does not everyone who reads the Republic become so convinced of Plato's conclusion that they become saints?!? Well, maybe there is something wrong with Plato's argument? But maybe its something else. Maybe we are not swayed into being saints by argument alone. Maybe there is something Plato didn't figure on: that our psychology is darker and more irrational than he thought: maybe we can actually understand that justice makes us happy, with certainty, and yet pick injustice instead. Last time you did something bad, was it only an intellectual mistake? Didn't you really know it would not make you happy, and you did it anyway? First in the Meno, Plato asked if Virtue could be taught. The Republic taught what it was, and why it is profitable. But maybe, that's just not Good enough. Maybe Plato was wrong, and you do not get virtue by just being taught it. He did mention another way, after all, in the Meno, to get virtue: by practice. For us it is hindsight. It was for his pupil, the philosopher who was for Western Civilization what Confucius was for Chinese Civilization. Very practical, less mystical, more common sense, less intellecticalistic. Paragon of common sense, and most of us are Aristotilians.


Next to The Republic, Nichomachean Ethics is the most read philosophy book on ethics in the world. Aristotle is the greatest philosopher in the world's history. But his books are rather more dull than Plato, because he did not write like Plato in dialogues. Aristotle wrote his lectures at the 2nd oldest university: the Lyceum. And his lectures are about common sense.


They agreed that reality was full of intelligible forms that could be known and defined. But, Plato believed that their essences were changeless, and existed in a separate dimension from the changing world.  Aristotle said they were the just the essences of changing things. Plato said you would find justice in itself apart from just actions, states etc. which just reflected some of the real justice in an imperfect way. Aristotle said there were not two realms, said, "The forms, essences or ideas exist only in changing things, and in the minds of those who know them." So we know things by seeing them in concrete things.


Plato sharply separates the body and soul (mind) but Aristotle says that they are form and matter of the same substance. The soul is the form of the body, and the body is the matter and content of the soul. Like the words and meaning in a book. Aristotle found that we do not feel like a 'ghost in a machine'.


How do you know? Plato separated soul and body, and so separated reason, the soul's tool for KNOWING, from sense experience, the body's tool for knowing. Plato knew that we all had an innate knowledge of the Platonic ideals in the mind, and we 'called them up' thorough recollection. Aristotle said we abstract knowledge of 'forms' by seeing them in concrete things. So, 'justice' is found in just men, and you must experience seeing it in just men. We abstract what justice is through our sense experience of seeing it.


So you must begin with experience, in Aristotle. Both in method and content, they differ. Plato says "the Good life is the virtuous life, and bodily Goods do not matter.' Aristotle said they did, but no, not as much as the soul. So, A does not agree with Socrates when he said that no evil could happen to aGood man simply because he was simply his soul. A was not an ethical relativist, he was an ethical realist. In method, Plato is looking for a perfect definition. Aristotle is always looking at real life.


It is the 1st systematic study of ethics. It asks, "What is the Good?" What is a Good man? What is a Good life? The question of the Good man is the question of virtues: of Good habits of acting.

Neither P or A were legalists with lists of rules. Aristotle is more about character than rules. A added 8 virtues to Plato's 4 cardinal ones. What is the best life? is the major question. What is the end, telos or purpose of life? What is the greatest Good? The end of ends? The most important question of all. Its answered in Book 1. The other 9 books flow from that.

Aristotle first defines the word Good. He looks at what people call Good, the many many things, and then finds something common in all of them, and THAT is the Good. "Every art and every enquiry, and every action and every pursuit, is thought to aim at some Good. And for this reason, the Good has been declared to be that at which all things aim." So, the Good is something we are aiming for, the object of aim... what we desire. Wait! So, the Good is what we desire? But I desire healthy food and you unhealthy food! No, our desiring it is not what makes it Good, but its Goodness, or apparent Goodness, makes us desire it. Desire is to Good what belief is to truth.

Desire has a structure. Some things we desire as a means to get something else: money, tools, medicine. Other things we desire as an end in itself: pleasure, beauty, truth. That narrows our investigation as we are looking for the Good as the end. And even more specifically, the final end, the end of ends. The end of ends question: what Good is human life? What purpose does it have? Perhaps it has no purpose. The sophists thought that the question of the meaning of life was not meaningful. Because, life has no 'end', only means. So, Aristotle first has to argue that there is some kind of telos, a final end, to all things. If there is NOT a telos for human life, the whole attempt to find it will come to nothing, like the search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. His argument: "If we choose everything for the sake of something else, that process would go on for infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain." So, just as the principle of cause and effect dictates that a first domino falls first, felling the others, cause and effect works in reverse too... effect necessitates a cause. There has to be a last end, a thing worth desiring for its own sake, in order that we might desire all the means to that end. The end is the final 1000 piece puzzle, the means are the individual pieces. We have to want to put the puzzle together!

We wouldn't want a car if we didn't want to use it to go places. Life is not a circutious merry-go-round, it must have a telos. If nothing is worth having just for the sake of having it, life would be a merry go round going nowhere. There must be some end, some goal that motivates us as final. At least unconsciously. That's what we are seeking summum bonum: the meaning of life.

Aristole calls this a very practical question. "Will not the knowledge of it then have a great influence on life? Shall we not be like archers aim better if we know where we want to hit? A place, a station in life? goals? Yes.' Its not an easy question though. Some things have an objective truth, a definable right answer: math and the physical sciences. Ethics is not like that. On the other hand, at opposite extreme, matters of taste fashion and human convension, the arts, these are subjective. Does ethics belong here like the sophists and modern ethics peddlers say? It may look like ethics belongs here. But Aristotle says there IS a universally true Good, but it is not easy to find. "It is the mark of an educated man to find as much clarity as the nature of the subject permits. It is equally foolish to accept only probable reasoning from a mathematician, or to demand demonstrative proofs from a retoritician, Ethics is not either of these. Between the two. It is not clear cut like math, but not manmade and artificial like rhetoric. Its easy to put into words: it is happiness, yes. But with regard to what happiness is, is difficult. Everyone seeks happiness, no one wants to be unhappy. Everyone seeks it as an end, not a mean. The means are different for people but the end is the same, The words aristotle uses for happiness mean more than subjective contentment. Macarios means 'blessed contentment' and is stronger than Eudynomia, Happy. Happy comes from happens: old english: hap, (luck). So, we somehow think of happy like luck, as in "damn that happened to you, you;re lucky and happy!" It has nothing to do with how Good you are, it just happens, by chance. Eudynomia is not like that, its different. Its not by chance, its by choice. It has everything to do with how Good you are and that is lasting. Eu (Good) dymon (soul) ia (lasting state of nature): the real lasting state of really having a Good soul. It has three major connotations that the english word happiness does not. 1 you have to be Good to be happy, 2 it is more in the soul, more than the body or outside circumstances by Good luck. 3 its an objectively real state or nature. In english we don't say "you think your happy but you aren't." The objectivity of it means that you can be MISTAKEN when you say you have it. In English it makes no sense to say that "you think you're happy... but  you aren't." Or, you don't think you're happy, but you are." But in Greek it does make sense. Take suffering. Could suffering possibly be part of happiness? In English no, in ancient greek, yes. Aristotle and Aescyclus said "you cannot be truly happy unless you are wise, and you cannot be wise unless you suffer. The man who has not suffered... what could he possibly know anyway!

Closer to Eudymonia is the word blessed. You may think you are blessed... if you inherit a big estate and it wipes you out in taxes. Or you can think you are not blessed when you are... we tell people to 'count your blessings.' So, we are looking not for subjective contentment (Aristotle would tell someone watching TV all the time or making mud pies, and that person was contented, he would not classify that person as happy). Much of what we think makes us happy is just fancy mud pies. So what is the content of happiness- if not TV or mud pies? We are looking for the Good, and we have identified it with the final end, and the final end with happiness (there is a hidden assumption: that happiness is essentially the same for everyone. Because it comes from our deepest desire, which comes from our essential nature, which is somehow the same in everyone. This is an assumption not popular today. But why? Do we not think happiness is the fulfillment of our deepest desire? Do we not think our deepest desire comes from our very essence? Do we deny essential human equality? Different strokes for different folks only goes so far- I might like frozen yogurt and you ice cream, or I like the Devil Rays and you like the Yankees. But we both like pleasure, health, beauty, knowledge, friendship, freedom... everyone does. Aristotle mentions different candidates for true happiness: Most men love pleasure, a few love honor, and a very few love a mystical experience human beings can have: a god like thing in life: contemplation. This is the knowledge of eternal truths for its own sake. Problem: only a few people are capable of it and only for short periods of time.


What about the Good being pleasure? No, it cannot be the highest Good, because it is not human, its common to men and animals. Money and wealth cannot be the ultimate Good, because it is a means, not an end. What about Plato's idea of the Good? No, Aristotle says it is too abstract and indefinite. Honor? Honor cannot be the HIGHEST Good because it depends on those who bestow honor, not only those who receive it. Whereas the Good is one's own possession and cannot be taken by 'one who bestows' it upon them.' Also, because men pursue honor not only for its own sake but in order to be assured of their merit and mettle. They seek honor on the grounds of their virtue. Well... so maybe it is Virtue, then! Ahh, virtue. It is compatible with great suffering. Indeed, virtue is part of the definition of Happiness, but not the whole of it, because great virtue comes often and most poignantly from great suffering. Example, King Priam of Troy suffered many misfortunes, like Job. Highly virtuous. And even though Aristotle thinks human happiness is not mainly bodily and external, bodily goods must count for something. You don't need a lot of material goods to be happy, but you need some. And you can be happy and yet suffer, but not if you suffer enormously. Aristotle is a middle of the road: the materialist on one side, and spiritualist (Plato) on the other. Plato who tried to prove in the Republic that all you need is justice for happiness... like Socrates, who had no material goods.

We still do not have a good definition of happiness! So, Aristotle takes a new route. He gives us a better way to find it than the abstractness of the popular answers. "Look at the natural function of man. See that there is a natural telos of every occupation or work of man. Carpenters, soldiers, farmers... Mustn't there be a natural telos for human life itself? An analogy: every bodily organ has a telos, a purpose; to do its job. What is the telos of man as a whole? If we can find that telos, that end, we would find true happiness because we would know how to seek and attain it. Being happy, being good and being fully human... are 3 ways of saying the same thing. So what could that be? What Good does happiness consist in? Not just pleasure or physical life, or sense experience... its not distinctively human. What distinguishes us is reason: mind. Using what separates us: happiness is in the rational soul living according to reason. That includes both intellectual virtues like wisdom and knowledge and moral virtues. Here is Aristotle's definition of happiness (3D the good for man): An activity of the soul in accordance with virtue... in a complete life, with enough material goods. There are some things the lack of which take the luster out of happiness: the man who is ill born, ugliness, solitary, childless (or have bad children), is not likely to be completely happy. Is A thinking about Socrates? He was born poor, not understood, had no possessions, bad children, and was ugly. Yet, he WAS happy. Based on all this, how could Aristotle explain why Socrates was happy? In Book 1 Ch. 10 Aristotle changes his mind more than once, in print, over whether happiness requires these things at all.

On the one hand: if activities are as we said what determines the character of life, than no blessed man can ever become miserable, because he will never do the acts that are hateful and mean. The man who is truly good and wise will bear all the chances of life becomingly, and always make the best of all circumstances, as a good general makes the best use of an army at hand. One thinks of Robert E. Lee. And if we were to follow his fortunes, we would call the same man happy and again wretched, making the happy man out to be a cameleon. The trials and tribulations of family life laid bare, reveals throughout all times the man taking care of his family might live in a mean state, but yes is full of joy.

On the other hand, no one could call poor Priam or Oedipus or Job happy. At least until the end. Aristotle finally solves his dilemma with a compromise: small pieces of good or bad fortune clearly do not weigh down the scales of life one way or the other. But a multitude of great events if they turn out well will make life blessed... or if they turn out ill, will crush and maim blessedness. You cannot control good luck, and if luck plays a role in happiness, then no matter how good you are, your life could turn out like Priam. Aristotle has trouble making up his mind about it. How important material good are? Materialists are certainly wrong. Poor nations and individuals have lower suicide rates than rich. That's a pretty spectacular index for that. Material things do not make you happy. Yet, the Platonic idealist who says the body is our prisonhouse is wrong too... the body is part of our nature! So, good or bad can happen to us without our control. Remember he don't agree with Socrates: who says that 'nothing bad can happen to a Good man.' It can, because he has a body.


This finding of a middle ground between two extremes is Aristotle's most famous feature: the principle of the Golden Mean. Now, he didn't call it the golden mean, like Christ did not call his principle the Golden Rule. When it came to DEFINING EACH VIRTUE INDIVIDUALLY (cause how the hell does one do that?), Aristotle sought to find the virtue sandwiched between two vices, two defects: Virtues are chosen by reason and the will, which impose the right form or structure on the matter (or raw material) of material actions and passions (desires), so we must steer down the middle of each road, both sides of the road have ditches to fall into. For every virtue there are two opposite vices!

Courage is the mean between cowardice and recklessness (too little fear).

Justice is the mean between getting or giving more or less than what is deserved

Temperance (Moderation) is a mean between being too sensitive or insensitive to pleasure and pain

Modesty is between shamelessness and bashfulness

Wit is between boorishness and buffonery

Friendliness is between quarralsomeness and flattery

Righteous Indignation is between irascability and insensibility (too short and too slow a fuse)

Pride is between vanity and false humility (arrogance and worminess) (this pride is not one of the seven deadly sins: he means proper self respect and self love (Jesus even said 'love others as thyself!') no, it is more competitive (pride against God).

How to get an A on an assignment on 'A Logical Critique of Aristotle's Golden Mean?' One sentence did it: "I think this is a good idea but Aristotle carries it to an extreme."

It means: Isn't Aristotle a bit too moderate? Too controlled, too rational? What about wildness, what about emotion, what about love! Don't we need a little extremism sometimes? Well, when Thomas Aquinas was asked if EVERY virtue was an Aristotelian mean between two extremes, he said, "No, there are three that are not: Faith, Hope and Love." Aquinas added another dimension to life that Aristotle did not have: the vertical (supernatural) dimension. In that dimension there is an infinite object-a being we call God- that is infinitely good and lovable. One can love any finite good too much, but one cannot love the infinite good too much. Aristotle did believe in a God, a Deistic God, a first unmoved mover, but this was not a Mover that loved, or loved us, or who even knew us (in fact, Aristotle never connected this god to ethics at all). Aristotle does mention love, however, in fact, he devoted two whole books to it! Only he calls it Friendship.

He ranks friendship as the fullest form of love. He says it transcends justice. Eros is the word for love (desire) and storgay (natural affection), common to man and animals. Agape was too vague, but this was resurrected by the Christians to connote the specific sharp concrete meaning: the love that God the Father has and is.


1. mutual pleasure: because you are fun

2. utility: because I need you for something

3. respect: because I admire you and want to be like you in character, in virtue (highest form)

He gets these three kinds from a broader context: from the three kinds of goods: because they give us pleasure, because they are useful, because they are morally good. So, this is a hugely practical idea: there are only 3 good reasons for doing anything, for loving anything: because it is morally good, because its a practical necessity, or because it gives you joy. If it give you none of these, get rid of it. Our lives are so cluttered, and if we applied this criteria, we would be much freer. It would be a spring cleaning. Only buy these things, read the things and do the moral virtues on things, that find a place in these criteria.


Ethics is about three things (review); 1. social ethics: good behavior and manners... which raises 2. individual ethics: what kind of person should you be yourself. What are the virtues and vices? And hidden in these is the 3. WHY should I be a good person? why should we live a good life? what's the point the purpose the value in human life, what's the meaning of life? This is the most important of all. The issue of the ultimate end or goal of human life. Somehow, this is related to the idea of success... that this goal is something that can actually be achieved. Success means attaining an end. On the scale of an individual life, some successes may come: at war or sport means winning. success at finance means money, courtship means marriage, education means knowledge and wisdom, and the certification is supposedly a good grade. But who wants to get good grades but flunk life?

No one. So, success at life means attaining life's end. But this assumes life has an end. a point, a goal purpose or meaning. Almost everyone, in every culture, before modernity, did assume just that. They had different answers to the question of what the meaning of life was, but philosophers and regular people thought that life had a real meaning. Today is radically different. In fact, this may be the most radical difference between our present modern culture, and all others. Many people, and most intellectuals, do not believe that life had a real meaning, a point, goal end or ultimate good. At least not an objective one that is true for everyone, and is not subjective: varying from one group to another. Aristotle, as we have seen, argued that life did have an end for everyone: happiness. Conceived of as perfection: real attainment of our true end, not subjective contentment.

So, we must look at this most important question, is not raised much today, and in fact is ignored by our intellectuals. And we must survey the 8 most popular answers to it. How do we know this is the MOST important question? Well, think about the campfire, think about storytelling. This is the most typical and universal human art: storytelling. Why does everyone, everywhere like stories? Because they are about life. Conversely, life is like a story, like a play or novel. So the question What is the meaning of life? Means, what kind of story- are we in?

In Lord of the Rings, that is the question that Sam asks Frodo as they trudge into Mordor, on their pretty much hopeless quest. What kind of a story are we in? Sam wanted to know if it would be a happy or sad ending. But there is a deeper meaning in it: both comedies and tragedies are meaningful- is our story meaningful? Does it have an end, point, purpose, telos, summum bonum at all! Or it might be just sound and fury, signifying nothing. Few premodern thinkers thought that. The writer of Ecclisiastees did. Thats about it. For him, life was vanity of vanities,' and then in the last few verses, he says that life is not a vanity of vanities, but has a meaning: religion. Fear God and keep His commandments, and thou shalt be fulfill the duty of man.

The Greek Sophists also though that life had no meaning and purpose. They were subjectivists, skeptists and relativists. They thought truth was unattainable, whatever you wanted it to be. Another untypical school were the Cynics also said life was meaningless-  they were pessimists about human nature (humans are stupid etc and selfish)... but that's not really meaninglessness, its just pessimism. Life has meaning, virtue and wisdom, humans are just too stupid to get at it. Its not nihilism.

In a TS Eliot play the Cocktail Party where Celia the protagonist, a typically modern, confused, alienated girl, tells her psychiatrist: really hope you tell me that I'm insane. Because if I'm not insane, than the universe is insane. And I couldn't live with that. Even if you are pessimists like the cynics, even if you think you are insane- as Cylia hopes to find she is, life is meaningful, reality is meaningful, and there is hope: hope of being reconciled to reality. Conformed to reality. But if there is no meaning, no purpose or objective reality, why, it doesn't matter who we are or what we do. No matter what lines we speak in the play, the whole thing is meaningless. If the play is Sound and Fury, it doesn't matter if you are a good actor or a bad one, it doesn't matter how you interact with the other actors or what you do. If there is no golden castle at the end of the road, then it doesn't matter which road we choose. Life is like a play, and the 3 questions of ethics: Social, Individual and Summum Bonum, are the plot, characters and theme of the play. But if there is no THEME, then the characters cannot be heroes or villains. So, the hardest thing to sell in modern America is the serious heroic epic. The only sin in america is judging someone a sinner or evil. We don't believe in heroes and villains anymore. Because, we donE280 99t believe we are in the kind of story that allows for them.

Judge not, we say, and by saying so, are judging against judgementalism. Something else to connect this to: why are we so afraid of suffering? Why are we such softies? Why do we lack courage today in contrast to all premodern cultures? This question was asked by Solzhenitsyn in 1978's Harvard Commencement. Its because we lost the conviction that suffering is meaningful. The intellectuals, the opinion moulders, the teachers- they have. CS Lewis wrote up an essay called the 1st and 2nd things. He said that when we rank the good things in life, if we put 1st things 1st, we can hope to get both. But when we put 2nd things 1st, we not only miss the 1st things, but pervert the 2nd things. Example: an alcoholic perverts alcohol by putting it 1st, so it does not gladden the heart, and cannot enjoy the proper pleasure of alcohol. When you make a false god, moving a 2nd thing, like money, a creature, sex, power, self esteem. You remove God, and pervert the thing that you have made into your god by putting divine expectations on it.

CS Lewis then asks, as far as 1st and 2nd things, what our civilization puts first. The answer: life. Survival. Material and quantative goods in life. But, if we don't know WHY we should survive, we probably won't very long. Cultures have given many different answer to E2 809CWhy should we survive?E2 809D But they all had some reason, some motive to live for. If all we have as an answer is to live longer, or surviving', we probably won't. Ships at sea who do not have a mission, will alm ost certainly fail. They will not accomplish their mission by accident. So, this apparently abstract philosophical question of the greatest good, the summum bonum, the meaning of life, is actually the most practical question we could possibly ask. In ethics, if we have no answer to this question of the greatest good, it is not likely that we will get the lesser goods. The sailing ship have their orders (how to cooperate), how to stay afloat and their purpose of mission (meaning in life). The first two depend on the third.

Meaning in life for us means purpose, or goal, or good. Everything we have and do is either a means or an end:

     MEANS                 ENDS

     money                    pleasure

     tools                       beauty




telescopic rifle sight --- using a rifle --- winning a battle --- winning a war --- peace but, what is peace for? eventually you get to the end, the summum bonum. If there is no summum bonum, the others are stripped of their meaning. The ancients would say that this is moral insanity.

In MacBeth, after he has committed murder, and is in despair, and is on the way to hell, he makes this speech: life's but a walking shadow. a poor player that struts for his hour on the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Victor Frankl wrote that, Everyone's most basic need is an answer to this question: the question of meaning. The men who had some answer, any answer, usually survived, and those who didn't didn't. The physically strongest were not the ones who always survived. Many doctors see that the Will to survive is the great unpredictable factor in recovery. That is the mind over matter. But there is another step: the will to live requires a reason to live. If you have a reason to live, you also have a reason to suffer, to endure suffering. If life has a meaning, suffering has a meaning too. Nietzsche: a man can endure any how, if only he has a why. You can endure even in Auschwitz, if only you have an ultimate reason for it. For some, it was revenge, some, work, some, family, some, God. But all, needed a summum bonum. The meaning of life. An answer to the question: what is the sonnum bonum?

Frankl is right. That is why suicide is directly proportional to wealth. The less you have, the less suicide. All Western, post-Christian nations have suicide: Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Holland, USA. Lowest are poor: Bangladesh, Haiti, Chad, and the Austrialian Aborigines. Reason is not hard to find: if you are poor, your life's meaning is to survive. To escape your poverty and move up the ladder. If you're already high on the ladder, then what is your lifeE280 99s meaning? You can still have one, but its not obvious. And if you lack an answer to the primary question of the meaning of your life, you' re much, much more likely to kill yourself. Because you are deprived of your PRIMARY NEED. It more primary than life itself, than freedom, than liberty, than pleasure, than all the things you have. If its all meaningless and valueless, nothing else matters.

Every great philosopher has had an answer to this question: moses, solomon, buddha, krishna, buddha, confuicius, lau tzu, socrates, plato, aristotle, jesus, paul, augustine, mohammad, aquinas, machiavelli, bacon, descartes, hobbes, rousseau, neitzsche, kirkegaard, marx, freud, sartre... all thinkers think about that. And all philosophical story tellers too. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tolkien. All stories are about that too, implicitly or explicitly- and your answer to this question colors and shapes the answers to everything else. Question II in Aquinas' Summa is the greatest summarization of it. Called Of those things in which man's  happiness consists. He quotes Aristotle and Boethus, who wrote a book called Consolation of Philosophy, 5th C, also a great summary. Like Socrates, Boethius will be killed, cause his philosophy upsets the political bosses. And he wonders why bad things happen to good people. And, what does happiness consist in?

Here goes, the 8 most popular pop culture answers to this question, a real Quest-ion- one you must set out on a quest to answer.

1. WEALTH. The stupidest of the popular answers. Happiness seems to consist in wealth, and most people say this first. Its the first thing that comes to mind! But why should the first thing that comes to mind be the most important. Think... this might be true for fool, but we should not listen to the council of fools, but the wise. There is a second argument for money: its like an umbrella- spread out in the sky- everything can be bought. Although money can buy everything money can buy, it can only buy what money can buy. That is, physical goods and services. It cannot buy non physical goods, like wisdom, knowledge, or peace, or goodness, or neighborliness, or happiness. The most practical man who ever lived once said, for what is the profit of man if he has won the world but lost his soul? You would rather be in love in the Bronx than divorced in Hawaii. But wait! The desire for wealth is unlimited! Maybe... but differentiate between artificial wealth and natural wealth. Artificial wealth is money, natural wealth is the real things that money can buy. The desire for natural wealth is actually limited: one can only eat so much, enjoy so many houses, cars, prostitutes. Even kingdoms and palaces. But the desire for artifical wealth is indeed unlimited: if you are a millionaire you want to be a billionaire. But this is only a MEANS to the end of buying natural wealth. Therefore it is not an end, and therefore not the telos of life. Contrary to the really stupid saying he who dies with the most toys wins. Wins WHAT? Aquinas conclusion: wealth is not it because it is a means, given away, exchanged etc. Happiness is not like that, possessing that is an end in itself.

2. HONOR. Being held in high esteem by others. Does happiness consist in this? Honor is twofold: the old way was aristocratic- that you were honored for being superior or better. Being held in high esteem. For being different. Today's version is egalitarian, by being one of the crowd. By not being different. Both are crushed by Aquinas. He ask if happiness is honor because honor is the reward of virtue. But it is not, because it is NOT the reward of virtue: happiness is. When you work hard in school, your reward is the happiness you get from the knowledge you get from the course. The grade you get the A? That is just a sign that points to something else. You don't go to the school for an A, you go for what it signifies. You are a fool if you seek only the grade... the zen buddhists say a finger is good at pointing at the moon, but whoa to he who mistakes the finger for the moon! Its like going on an expensive vacation only for the taking of pictures for later bragging. Well... what about the fact that some people will lose anything except their honor?!? That is a more premodern situation. A male situation. But as we observe people wanting honor, they want it for having some other virtue, not for honor  itself.

3. GLORY (FAME). Glory seems to be the reward for being great. Yet, it can be given by fools. And anyway the glory you have after you die, is in the minds of other people, not you, so you are not enjoying it on earth.

4. POWER- It could be crude like the power of a conquerer, or it could mean freedom! Huh? Think of empowerment... freedom and power both mean the lack of impotence, the opposite of enslavement, of not being able to do or go where you want. We spontaneously say Almighty GodE2 809D, thinking of God's power before his goodness. We even say G ood God' as a swear word! But this is a canard. Its bad theology. God's power is nothing if not his goodness. God cannot use his power for evil, because God is infinitely good. But we can use our power for evil. If we want to be like God, we want to be as powerful as God, not as Good as God. Anyway, we fear losing power a lot, that is an argument for its being happiness. In fact, we would rather have a difficult life freely chosen than an easy life of servitude. But WHY do we so hate servitude? Because it hinders our ability to use power for good, not because power is a supreme end. Power is not happiness for the same reason money can't, because its a means, not an end. Here's another way to look at power: power makes you anxious of losing it. Hegel said: a master is really the slave, because he is enslaved to the need for his slave. How about us today? We don't own other people anymore, but we do own gadgets and electronics. It explains why we don't get happier as we get more technologically powerful. Our slaves are our machines and we just don't get happier.

So, none of these four are the supreme good. Because, they are all external goods. Their satisfaction is partial, they can harm you, and so on. So, what about internal goods? Lets look at these.

5. HEALTH. This candidate is well known. Ahh, at least you still have your health! The old Jewish grandma says. True. And important. But, it is still a means to a further end. The soul, the I, the personality, the self. And since the body is a means, and happiness is an end, they don't match. Anyway, man surpasses all animals in happiness, and, as well, unhappiness. No ape can be happy or unhappy as a man. But in bodily goods, man is surpassed in many respects. In longevity, the elephant lives longer. The stag runs faster, the lion in strength. Again, they do not match. Mr. Universe is Mr. Universe, not Mr. Happiest Man Alive.

6. PLEASURE- This is closer to happiness, because it is more internal. In fact, it is a function of happiness. It is sought as an end, not as a means, and so it is confused. When we have happiness we are indeed pleased. But, Aquinas calls pleasure an EFFECT of happiness, not a cause of it. It is not the essentiality of happiness. Also, we often regret pleasures later on. Hmm...

7. WISDOM AND VIRTUE-  Well, we've gone from the external material, to the bodily, and now to the soul. Closer still... virtue. Happiness must consist in the goods of the soul! The perfection of the soul must be is rational understanding and wisdom, and moral virtue, and this must be happiness. Those two powers, which separate the soul of man from the animal world. We have rational understanding and freewill. BUT, says Aquinas, there is this catch: the soul cannot be its own last end. A soul cannot be its own telos. Yes, by the soul, by virtue and wisdom does the soul grow... but there's the rub. It grows. It changes. If an archer shoots an arrow at a bullseye, the arrow is the soul and what is it shooting at? It flies, grows, changes... what is the target?

8. GOD- The good that is greater than the soul. The only thing that is not an external good, bodily good, or good of the soul... God. Augustine said, thou hast made us for thyself and therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in thee. Nothing in this world perfectly satisfies our desires, and so either there is not such thing as perfect happiness, anywhere, ever, or there is something more than this world. But we have a natural desire for happiness! We have a lovers' quarral with the world: but even after Shakespeare and Beethoven, we ask, Is that all there is? Now, if nature makes nothing in vain, if every natural desire corresponds to something real that can satisfy it (which IS true for EVERY other desire, food, drink, survival, sex, knowledge, beauty, peace... exist somewhere) well than this biggest desire too, the desire for supreme Happiness and the Good, must also correspond to something that really exists. Whenever we get some finite good, it only satisfies us finitely. The goods of this world and ourselves are limited, but our desire is unlimited. So there must be something that is an unlimited good that satisfies all our desires. And that is Aquinas argument that the ultimate human good is the existence of God. Aquinas argued for the existence of God like this in the Kosmos: In a universe of movement, there must be Unmoved mover. The chain of causes depends on a First Cause of things. Perishable things depend on an imperishable being. The relative degrees of perfection we see in all things requires a real absolute standard and perfect being. The design of nature in which many things are ordered requires an orderer (designer). But the most poignant argument for God, the most challenging one, is the one of desire. The physical ones are there. But the human desire' argument as God as a final End, directly impacts ethics. This is not religion, but philosophy. Not faith in divine revelation like the bible, but logical reasoning. If you reason about self knowledge, this is what you get. About 300 years after Aquinas, Machiavelli will also use reason to come up with as radical a different set of conclusions as you can get. Read the Prince and be ready to enter a completely different world.


Machiavelli. The origin of modern philosophy, at the opening of the Western ascendence. In the whole history of thought, no thinker as influential as M has been so despised. Most of his influence has been in the field of politics but he's also the source of much of the modern mind in ethics. All his successors repudiate his teaching- it was much too radical to be popular in its original form. In his time he was called the son of the devil. And one of the most popular names for the devil was old nick', as Niccolo was  his name. So, not only was he named after the devil, the devil was named after him! Wow!

Yet though all his successors reject his teaching, they all accept some of it and mitigate it with their own thought. So do you.

Quiz: is politics about

a) virtue

b) doing what is possible?

B. That is Machiavelli. The classical and medieval philosophers said A.

Machiavelli lowered the ideals. The world accepts his lowering of the ideals, but the world Machiavellian is not a word of praise. Someone who teaches you to be sinister, sly, scheming, amoral or immoral, purely pragmatic. Someone who teaches you to be successful rather than moral, powerful rather than good. And that's not an unfair description! He says it himself. In the Prince, all he says logically follow from three assumptions. First from metaphysics, another from anthropology and one from epistimology. Metaphysical assumption (about reality) is that Reality does NOT include ideals or goods or values, values are not facts, not objectively real. Reality consists only of material facts (facts you can see and get) M is a materialist. Anthropology (about man); man is essentially competitive, immoral, wicked and selfish. He must be because he just said that matter is all that is real' so if that's true, than all that is real in man is matter, too. His biology. And biology is competitive. Basic law of all matter: two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The more money I give to you, the less I have. The more food I eat, the less there is for you to eat. Only spirit transcends this. If spiritual things are indeed real, they can be given away without being lost. Teachers give knowledge without losing it. Lovers do not lose joy or self when they give that self to another. Material goods like power, glory, territory and wealth are diminished when shared. But spiritual goods like love, beauty and wisdom and joy MULTIPLY when shared. But if they don't exist, and if all that exists is the material, then men will compete always, like two animals. BUT M says, traditional morality is always teaching that selfishness is BAD and unselfishness is GOOD. Therefore, morality totally contradicts morality. The third, the epistimological truism is that human history can be a science, and we can know it. There is a formula for success in public life. There are only two variables in life: Virtu and Fortuna. Virtu is not virtue, but strength. Power, control, prowess. Your ability to impose your will on something else. Fortuna is not fortune, meanwhile, it is rather luck, fate. All the things that you cannot control. So, the formula for success? Maximize Virtu and minimize Fortuna. Or, the conquest by virtu over fortuna.

M's assumption about reality, that material goods is all that there are and ideals are not real, is metaphysical. The assumption about anthropological man, that man is by nature selfish and competitive, is about man. The third assumption is the epistimological one, that human history can be reduced to a science, and we can know it and predict and control human behavior scientifically... is also a spiritual one: because reducing everything to virtu and fortuna is implicitly the politics of atheism. And he in fact was an athieist (he never came out with that- he would've been burned at the stake in 16th C Italy)... What about the things that flow from divine providence? Nothing about that here! Only Virtu (the human agent) and Fortuna (pure chance). In the Prince, Machiavelli radically separated the real and the ideal. The classical ideals were too high and difficult to attain. They are like the stars, says M. Beautiful but impractical... too high and far away, to cast light on our lowly Earthly paths... when walking on a mountain road at night, we use a lantern to see by on our path, not the stars. The lantern is the realistic answer to how do I negociate the road at night?'

Forget ideals! Plato began with ideal states, and for the last 2000 years (Plato--Machiavelli) no one ever created the ideal state!  So what to do? It dialectic: either make what is real the ideal, or lower the ideal back to the real. Since the first is troublesome, lets do the second! Thus, the immoralism of the Prince is defended. This is not a book about ideals, but a book about success. If you want to find a book about contemplating beautiful and unattainable ideals, like the stars, then go ahead and read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Cicero.  But if you want success, read my Prince. Its not a book about ethics, in fact, it examines what happens to Good people in history- they become martyrs. The low road, my friend, is the road to success! Its not a value, its a fact. Unarmed prophets have failed, armed prophets have succeeded.

So, real and ideal are NOT the same. Plus, only a few individuals in any state can be saints, no society can as a whole. Remember when Plato said that a soul and a state are kind of the same thing, can what is good for an individual soul can be said to be good for the state too? He said that Justice is more profitable for a soul and a state than injustice. Well M says, after two thousand years... no way. Justice does NOT mean the same thing for a person and a state. The state must be utterly value-free. A third implication of Machiavelli's separation of the real and the ideal: before Machiavelli, it was assumed that the ideal was the standard for the real. How closely the real came to the ideal is how well it is judged. M flipped it: ideals are to be judged on how realistic they are, and how practical they are, and how they have worked in the past. We can know this as historians and as scientists. Ethics: theory. History: data. Use the data.

Machiavelli explains that he is expanding on Plato (he is really contradicting him), in the Prince, ch. 15: The things for which princes have been praised and blamed have been written about before. But this is an original path to doing this, because this is for practical use. Many have dreamed up republics and principalities that have never existed. And the gulf between how one should live and one does live is so big, that a man who neglects what is actually done, in favor of what should be done, is doomed to self destruction, not self preservation. Sounds Darwinian.

Well... in Republic, Plato said that the philosopher-king (the Prince) must know both the shadows in the cave (the follys and illusions of popular politics) AND the more real world outside the cave, justice, truth etc. So, its M's propaganda that the classical authors were narrow and naive and one-sided and that M is opening a wider perspective. Its the other way around. In addition, Plato would agree that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done, learns the way to self desruction... but Plato's goal was not self preservation. Socrates could've saved his body at the trial by lying a little, but he thought that a man was his soul. He sacrificed his body and saved his soul. M thinks that is absolutely crazy.  

In ranking bodily self-preservation above virtue, M concludes that the body is more than the soul. He does not SAY this, like Plato says the opposite. Instead, he says, If a Prince wants to act virtuously, he will come against those who are not. If he wants to know how to stay powerful and maintain his rule, he must therefore not be virtuous. Where Plato attempted to teach virtue, and Machiavelli is now teaching vice! In the Meno, Socrates wanted to see if virtue could be taught. Mow M says men must be taught to be vicious. There is a paradox here. Usually, people say that Plato was an optimist, he taught virtue, and Machiavelli was a pessimist, he taught vice. But this is not necessarily true: Socrates want to teach virtue because he knew that men needed that training! You teach virtue to sinners, not saints. They were not born virtuous and pure. This seems more pessimistic than M! Indeed, M thought men were generally too good, too good to survive in the wicked world of politics. And therefore needed to be taught some vice. Here's, an example of M's wicked world: The Pizzi conspiracy: on Easter Sunday, in the sanctuary at the moment of the consecration, there was to be a murder. It was botched, but blood flowed, and the congregation captured the two conspirators of this offensive- one of whom was the bishop- and they hung them out the cathedral windows, and the crowd below cheered as the two men tried to stab each other while dangling. Edifying. Well, Machiavelli knew that in this world, you gotta do what you gotta do.

One notorious answer to the wickedness of human events for a Prince, comes in ch. 18, when M asks when should a prince honor his word?Answer: Only when it works. He contrast the traditional value first: everyone knows that a Prince should honor his word and that this is praiseworthy. Nevertheless, experience shows that the prince who has achieved great things has given their word lightly. he knows how to trick people with cunning. A prudent ruler, then, should not keep his word if it does not befit him. Wow, a new ethic here. Should. So, a prince should not be honest or he will not survive. The assumption is that survival is the greatest good. Plato would not agree with either of these.

Another argument for the idea that Princes should not honor their world: if all men were good than this could be set aside, but since they are not, and wretched creatures, and would not keep their word to you, you need not keep it to them. This assumes that your morality depends on other peoples' morality. That, how good or evil other people are is your standard too! Usually, machiavelli is said to be advising his Princes to be proactive, strong leaders, not reactive. But its really the opposite! He's telling them to wimp out and let others set the standard, like Pilate not Jesus, to stay in power. This arguement is from history, it works! He says. Well, which of those two, Pilate the Machiavellian Prince, or Jesus, the moralist, which has survived? Which had more Virtu, more influence on history, than any other man who ever lived? And which is reviled and condemned a million times a day when Christians say their creed: suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. And, which one attained success? Which was happy? Which accomplished his job? Jesus of course, but M would say yes but Jesus was killed. Remember, armed prophets succeed, unarmed prophets fail. But to understand M, lets look at another example from Florence. A friar, Savanna Roll was beloved and like St. Francis, preached reform and people reformed their lives. People loved him, but then people wanted to go back to their wicked ways, and M literally watched as an unarmed prophet failed, and was burned at the stake. The Florentines burned their external conscience.

So M is disagreeing with an assumption that EVERYONE before him believed about human nature. They believed that there was a strong moral force in human nature, something like conscience. Dei spiritual power,' in Chinese. A Buddhist story: humble little monk was the wisest in the land. a warrior was also strong and arrogant. The warrior said, I think you are a fake: show me your wisdom or i will show you my sword. What can you tell me that I do not know? the monk said, I will show you the gates of heaven and hell, for you do are foolish and do not know them. The warrior was enraged, got red in the face and went to cut off his head. Pointing to the warriors face, the monk said, I have now shown you the gates of hell. The warrior paused for a moment, and was ashamed, and put back his sword. The monk said, And now i have shown you the gates of heaven. That is an example of Dei, and M argues that it doesn't exist! He writes it is unreasonable to expect an armed man would obey an unarmed man. He calls this story fiction, and it couldn't really happen. What we DO observe, proves the opposite is true. In fact, if man were moral, he would fear pangs of consciousness more than fear physical pain.

But you must define fear. Do you fear your son become the victim of a crime, or that he become a criminal himself? Is it worse for you to be attacked by a demon than to become a demon? No. It is somehow worse to accept evil into your freewill than to be the victim of it. We deep down agree with Plato in the Republic when he said Justice is always more profitable than injustice. And what he said in Gorgias, Doing injustice harms us more than suffering it. And of course Jesus: What good is it to win the world... and lose your own soul?' And its true: what good would it do you to win all the objects, but lose the person who wanted to enjoy those objects!

All this is negated by M. He purports denial of Dei and conscience, inner-sanction, and this leads him to says something disturbing about war: There is no avoiding war, it can only be postponed to the advantage of others. Laws are worthless without punishments for enforcing them... and since no one is virtuous, there is no dei, and there is not an inner force, so the out-there cops must multiply.  M spends a LOT of time therefore on war. No laws, just war. The art of war is all that is expected of a ruler. A Prince must think about one thing continually, military strategy. Well we think this is absurd. But, for M it was not. It logically followed from his anthropology, that no one was trustworthy. You can't trust your staff. Trust NOBODY. He advised a Prince who conquers a new territory to go live there himself and not let subordinates get in charge cause it will be stolen or spoiled. This never fails: Whoever is responsible for someone else's successes, does his own undoing. Trust no one. Cooperation is impossible, competition is the law of nature. Problem is that cooperation is more efficient. G. Carlin said that In america, in 3 generations, everyone will be a lawyer and the US a huge courtroom. Without food. Bronx Tale, It is far better to be feared, than loved, if you cannot be both. Pure Machiavelli. This is a notorious logical extension of M, and he added, For, men are fickle and deceitful. Treat them well and they are with you. But what is better, love or fear? They worry less about doing injury to one who makes himself loved, than one that makes himself feared. Men break the bond of love as they please... they are in charge. They do not break the bond of fear, as they are in fear of punishment, the Prince is in charge. M is useful. He connects the ethical conclusions of a philosopher's metaphysics and anthropology. In this case, using Virtu as your means to success.

Neitzsche said, To understand any philosphers metaphysics (life-view), just look to their arguments and the morality they lead too. Plato vs. Machiavelli: Plato says wisdom consists of differentiating appearance and reality, and choosing reality. To know it, and improve it. Not the cave, not the nexus. Reality. M flips this, and says that appearance is more important! Huh? Everyone sees who you appear to be, only a few know the real you. Well, this is just spineless, he is using other peoples' opinion.  This is today's advertising! They say, image is everything what you appear to be is more important than the reality. Fortuna is image. Hitler was machiavellian cause he was the first to master the media. Totally practical. In addition, M says that cleverness in military force helps: foresight. The south almost beat the north due to the great strategy of Robert E. Lee. The Romans did what all wise rulers must: they cope with present troubles, and also deal with ones that may arise, and forestall them. If trouble is sensed well in advance, it can easily be remedied, but if you wait for it to show itself, any medicine may  be too late, it may be incurable. Doctors say that in the beginning, it is easy to cure but hard to diagnose. In time, it becomes easy to diagnose but hard to cure. So it is in politics.

Lao Tzu said the same thing in the Tau Te Ching. He spoke of a chinese emperor who ruled by music: he walked in disguise through all the cities of the realm. and listened to the music people made. if it was good, he left the city alone. if not, soldiers came in. Musical revolutions in modern times always precede political revolution!

So, can the Machiavellian formula, and that's what it is, a formula work? He's banking that it does, because its practical and not moral. The whole point is that it works, not that its good. So if it don't work, its shot. It would be a big win for the moralists who see 1st and 2nd things, morality is 1st, worldly success is 2nd. If you put 2nd things first, you negate both. So does the immoral advice work? Since fortune is changeable, one who adapts his policy to the time prospers, and those who clash with the times do not. Since policy is virtu and the times come under fortuna, this means that the only way that virtu can conquer fortuna is by conforming to it. Its the old master slave relationship in which the master in enslaved to the slave. In order to master fortune, you have to be fortune's wimp, lackey. You bend, you break, you lose your soul to the environment. The concrete Prince is really a wimp.  


Machiavelli was a revolution. He lowered the standards and rejected tradition. So who would follow him? His successors accepted some of his principles. They mitigated him and made him more acceptable, respectable, by using some of his stuff and adding their own. Thomas Hobbes agreed with M that virtue was NOT the telos of human society, but instead of glory and military conquest, Hobbes substituted self-preservation against the threat of violent death. He devised natural rights' too, and was also an athiest and materialist. He was still to radical to become popular.

John Locke soon after, dropped atheism and materialism, but he too rejected virtue as the social greatest good... and traditional morality as the social basis for society, but this time substituted something that COULD be accepted popularly... property. The desire for property (and wealth) was a new, respectable substitute for virtue, that used to be a private vice: Greed. But now, it is a public good- under the new capitalist economy, this desire for property became the profit motive, which drove society to become richer, and the more greedy people are, the more rich society gets through a trickle-down effect. The WORK ETHIC replaces ETHIC as the foundation for the good society. They used to say that the best society is one in which it is easy to be good, and now say that the best is one in which it is not necessary to be good. Just rich. The aim is not being good but doing well.' He he he.

So is man intrinsically good or evil? Hobbes and Rousseau disagree. Hobbes says no. M is right, man is selfish! But, his main desire is one we can identify with: he wants to live. No death, leave me alone! Society is artificial, and not based on natural law. So, we must construct the Leviathan. Man created civil society in order to protect him from a violent, nasty, solitary, brutish and short life. Pessimist. Society makes natural mean man good. Rousseau says yes, man is good. He is a noble savage, and taught to act badly by society. In the state of nature before the invention of civil society by the social contract, he is good. A nice cavaman. Society is artificial though, like Hobbes said. SN is not like civil society. Its an artifice. You don't bash me and I won't bash you, and we'll give up our rights to some cops to make sure we don't bash each other even though we agreed not too. The origin of this idea, so accepted today, is found first way back in the Republic. Civil society was created and separates us from nature, as we think, but none of the ancients but the Sophists believed this. Plato disagreed with Thrucimicus the Sophist, saying that society is natural, not artificial. Social justice is natural. Society is like a body, with natural intrinsic rules for its health and happiness. Thrucimicus, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau all REJECT the natural law theory, in favor of the artificial social contract theory.

Thrucimicus, M, Hobbes all think man is evil, Rousseau thinks man is naturally good. Ethics depends on this answer a lot, because what is man? Good or evil? Optimist or Pessimist in athropology? An optimist says that The best government is that which governs least! Freedom maximised. A pessimist would say no way, we need more government for more structure and order. Education? Optimist is permissive, treating the child like a flower, letting it unfold itself in the sun. Pessimist would emphasize structure and training and breaking the child's rebellious will. Marriage? Optimist likes natural romance, while pessimist doesn't mind arranged marriages. Obviously we live in a Rousseauian, optimist society. But which is right? Two kinds of good and evil: Ontological goodness: the goodness in your nature apart from your deeds / lifestyles.

Moral goodness: the virtues of your deeds, virtuous acts, will, what you behave like. Ontological evil: misery, suffering, death (what we are, what happens to us) Moral evil: the bad things we do by our free choices

Spoiled genius Hitler has more ontological goodness than Harry the Nice Hamster. But the sweet little hamster has more moral goodness. Possible Anthropologies Traditional: ontologically (originally) good, morally (environmentally) bad Hobbes: ontologically bad, morally bad Rousseau: ontologically good, morally good Sartre: ontologically bad, morally good:

1. Traditional Classical View: Man is ontologically very good and valuable. In Judeo-Christianity, its because he is created in God's image. For the Greco-Romans, its cause he's a little god himself (master morality). For modern secularists, its cause he has rights. If an old man and a billion dollars of paintings are burning in a museum, which do you save? The old man. The old man has more ontological value. Yet, man is not morally perfect and acts in contradiction to his innate ontological goodness. So, there is need for repentance. If he was ontologically evil, there would be no need for repentence- we wouldn't be doing anything unnatural. The king's kid acting like an ape. Made in the image of King God, acting more like king kong. We are too proud of what we do, not proud enough about what we are. Of course, there is a little bad in the best of us, and a little good in the worst of us :)

2. Hobbes denies, like Machiavelli ontological goodness. Man is not a child of God but a shivering naked beast that is afraid of violent death. Morally selfish and competitive-Hobbes is a materialist. Love is just refined animal lust. Matter is in essence competitive. One body must push the other out. Material goods must be taken to survive. So man is not good morally or ontologically. If there are two people and food for one, one must die. Our anthropology dictates selfishness.  

3. Rousseau was the super optimist: ontologically and morally good. There is no such thing as sin. Human nature can be trusted, and the only thing to judge is judgementalism, the only evil is belief in evil. The only thing to be intolerant of is intolerance. We are all brothers.

4. Sartre said there is no such thing as intrinsic human dignity or worth, and also no such thing as sin or evil. Man is ontologically worthless but morally good. Because man and human life is meaningless and absurd, and cause there is no god to design us and give us value, there is no such thing as ontological value. Yet we have moral goodness because since we invent morality as we go, without a god to tell us right and wrong, so we cannot be evil because we invent what evil is, and that is totally subjective. Our will creates morality. The latter denies both the original assumptions of the ancients. We've already looked at what could be called optimistic or pessimistic anthropologies. Recall that Plato's Theory of Education in the Meno was optimistic, as was his Theory of the Teaching of Virtue in the Republic. Meno asked, can virtue be taught, or does it come by practice, or is it in our nature, or does it come in another way that is against nature? pessimism says that it comes against nature because our nature is evil. optimism says it comes by nature. Plato's view: it comes by teaching- enlighten the mind and the will will follow. Aristotle's view: the middle view: both virtue and vice come by training- repeated practice and development of habits. By nature we only have the potential for virtue or vice. To actualize these, takes habits.

Americans used to be closer to 4. Aristotle, and today they are more like 2., which is the opinion of Rousseau. The innate tendancy to sin (original selfishness) is very unpopular today. But babies are selfish! We have to socialize them and train them morally. And we don't succeed most of the time: just think of the adults being selfish. Those people are those kids grown up.

So whose right? Rousseau or Hobbes? Innate goodness or innate evil? We can find out not through emotion, but by reason: to find out what is in man, let it come out. Give man Freedom and Power and see what happens.  Its like a chemistry experiment where you need a catylist to see what the chemicals do. Freedom and power can be used equally for good or evil. Its not the opposite of good or evil, but constraint. So, modern democratic society has given us more freedom than we ever had before, and science and tech has given us more power.  

So, are we better? more moral? wiser? less prone to family and social breakdown? Do we call our times happy days? No. Compare: suicide rate, cowardess, lust, addiction, violence etc. Compare lyrics of popular songs of the past with those today. Compare movies on screen: now with the power to do anything onscreen: is the morality better, the wisdom better, even the themes? characterizations?  

It looks like Lord Acton was right: absolute power corrupts. So knowledge, power and freedom unlock evil. Now, decrease the power and freedom. Think of a power outage, a hurricane, a great depression. What happens? people chip in, they help much more than before, they act like neighbors! they sometimes even act like saints! There is both surprising good and surprising evil in human nature. Which seem to be more evil when we are given all we want. This good / evil in human nature refutes Rousseau.

A syllogism: Power corrupts us, put us and power together and you get trouble, but power is neutral, not evil, so the evil must come from us. That's the bad news. Is there any good news? Another syllogism: Suffering ennobles, but suffering is not good in itself... so the good must come from us! Too much suffering we can't take, but we do act more saintly under moderate poverty. So, it seems human goodness comes out best when there is not too much, nor too little power, money and freedom. In other words; Middle Class Virtue! A class and a virtue that is resented bitterly by the right and the left: by the rich and the poor, by the overeducated snobs and the undereducated slobs. But bourgeois is the best condition for fostering moral virtue. Bourgeois is the best! Yet, there ain't no word more despised by the intelletuals. But the two heros of the greatest book of the 20th C are bourgois. Frodo and Sam. Two creature comfort loving hobbits who become heroes. Like the English in WWII.  

Here's an argument against pessimism and for innate goodness in human nature: if we didn't have innate goodness, we wouldn't know it' and therefore would not use it to judge evil by, yet we do it, and that proves we are partly good. Because we recognize what evil is and condemn it. We are good stuff gone partly good. So man is ontologically both good and evil. We all know that murder, torture rape and cruelty morally bad- but why? if man is not ontologically good, why is harming him so morally bad?

So, what makes him ontologically good? Just cause we say so and we love mankind? Just cause we love man and that makes him good? Therefore he IS good? If its just our desires or choice, that can be changed. We can change that. But we can't. So, if he is objectively good, where does this goodness come from? What is the origin of his goodness? Because he was created in the image of God? Or cause we evolved from animals who can't do anything like that? Are we little gods fallen or great apes risen? Or both? So if we are so good ontologically, why so bad morally? How is it that we are corrupted? Animals can't be as bad or as good as we. Children are not as bad or good as adults. Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds, we just disdain adults who are bad, because unlike children or animals, they choose.

Most of us cannot be as morally bad as Hitler because we are not as strong willed and clever as he. What a saint he would have been, had he been one. So what's the origin of our evil? we just don't know we are not evil, its just an illusion. society is to blame, pass the buck to them- really just other people. this line says then that you are to blame for other people's doings- heridety is to blame, as we are just risen apes. eve's excuse: the devil made me do it. adam's excuse: the woman made me do it. the most uncomfortable: look in the mirror, its our own freewill... I made me do it.

Its 7. But why did God or nature give us freewill if he or she knew that we would misuse it badly? Well, because we cannot be morally good without free choice either. Anymore than we can be morally evil. So this raises a question about free choice: do we have it? It is real or an illusion?

Ancients and moderns conceived freedom differently. Freedom and freewill, are they the same thing? Ancients say we are rightly praised for making good choices and embodying virtues. And rightly blamed for embodying vices and ill character- BECAUSE we are morally free to make the choice and be that person.


Moral Judgmentalism much despised by moderns, presupposed that some choices are really morally right or wrong, objectively. It also supposes that we are responsible for our choices- that we have freewill. The ancients knew about the freedom to choose- freewill. Many moderns deny it- they say that everything is determinism. Actions are determined (caused) by necessary forces: heridity plus environment. Freedom to ancients meant freedom of choice, freewill, that makes us morally responsible. That is inherent in human nature, and is not present in animals. You don't appeal to a dog's conscience not to urinate on the rug, you hit the dog. Animals never have freewill, while humans always do. Even if you are captured and in prison, you can choose to agree or disagree with your captors. You can hate or forgive them, hope or despair. Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky wrote how some people only discover their true freedom in prison. Modern thinkers think freedom is autonomy. Freedom to make laws, or even break laws.  No responsibility to choose judged under a moral law, but freedom to make those laws. We see laws as limiting, ancients thought law defines freedom. Autonomy is something we strive for, freewill is inborn.

So, if freewill is right, how is it compatible with other things, like the fact we are conditioned by heridetary and environment, and how does it relate to predestination, diving providence, fate, destiny... Moderns excuse bad moral behavior because they believe it was caused by society (the environment), or chemistry and hormones (heridetary). Well, the ancients believed in fate and destiny, and YET, humans STILL had responsibility for their moral behavior! That's even more determined than chemistry and society! Usually, we believe in a combination of freewill and a destiny or divine plan. All our stories have both of these in it. Plot (plan) and actors with an uncertain future, who use their agency to make something happen! Ancients believed in both working in tandem. Moderns deny one or the other, or both! This has huge consequences for ethics, if you deny freewill, you cannot blame or respect anyone. And if you deny destiny, there is only randomness, its a play without right or wrong lines to speak. And so there is no objective right and wrong.  

Aquinas said: man has freewill, otherwise all praising, blaming, rewarding, punishing, counsuling and commanding would be meaningless. Legacy of Rousseau and Hobbes: not satisfying thinkers, but powerful, and both questioned something traditional: Hobbes questioned innate human goodness, Rousseau questioned innate human badness, and they opened up more options, still unsresolved. More confusing now even! Many moderns deny freewill because of science often times. Scientists find causes, and are usually determinists. This all started with the book that is the origin of all modern philosophy in science: Descartes Discourse on Method.


Can ethics be a science? Do they match or repel? Some have tried to use science to find ethics: Three attemped to do ethics scientifically:

17th C Rene Descartes      Rationalism

18th C David Hume           Empiricism

19th C John S. Mill            Utilitarianism

19th C Immanual Kant       Purely Rational Scientific Ethics- Single most important modern ethical philosopher: to discuss him, we must know what he knew, the first three, and that means knowing the great conversation.

We start in late Renaissance, when modern culture begins. Divided into earlier artistic renaissance in the 16th and the scientific renaissance in 17th. If anything can be said to be something we can be proud of, its science. It is the one thing that totally distinguishes us from every premodern culture. We may not be wiser, happier or more moral, but we are more scientific. Pure science has given us more factual knowledge, and its spinoff, technology (applied science) than any culture of the past ever had or imagined having. If you took anyone from there to here... in a time machine, he would think he died and went to heaven or hell. Skycrapers came from cathedrals? what are those hand held things with demons in them! How could chunks of matter do that? Those flying things, they are angels or gods. And when he found out that men made those things, just by understanding matter... he would think men were now like gods. How did he do all this!?! What caused this unbelievable scientific explosion? In a word, method. When it was used, the method acted like a skeleton key opening the doors to all the sciences. Its not because interest arose for the first time, don't believe that medieval man was only concerned with the next world because it was the age of faith'. Medieval man WAS interested in nature, but like children. They did not have a clear notion of the scientific method, they did science that was religious and poetic, but not scientific. So what about this new science method and ethics? It works so well everywhere else, so why not ethics (a kind of science- it seeks rational knowledge of good and evil through causes and explanations. Its not a physical science, and it asks something that other sciences don't, namely what is and OUGHT to be. Its rational and argues for its conclusions though. And it is a discovery.

Machiavelli was first to do this: he used human HISTORY to find data that would apply to his prince. The Romans were the most successful in history, why? He tried to find the causes for Roman success, and sought to replicate that successful stuff. Purely factual. The only morality he had was an anti-morality- he found that moral people are martyrs. Morality does not work, high ideals conflict with the fact that mankind is not ideal. All of this was too shocking of course, traditional morality was still in place. But M's method was accelerated by Descartes. The new science was like a rocket ship, the old a paper airplane.

Descartes was father of modern scientific philosophy. Medieval philosophy ended with nominalism (name-ism, as it, nothing is real, just a name) and the resulting skepticism. Montaigne, D's contemporary, was a skeptic. So philosophy was in a rut. Science was going forward. Why??? What was the secret of modern science and how could philosophy imitate it? Descartes did not look back, but forward. He abandoned tradition. He borrowed nothing from his predecessors. He is the first philosopher since Socrates to not cite any previous philosopher. To answer a skeptic, begin as a skeptic. If you begin with certainties, you end in doubts. If you begin with doubts, you may get to a certainty.

So, the secret of science's success? Its method! Lets apply it to ethics, which will give ethics the same clean slate and new start everyone else gets, in his great book, A Discourse of Method. He says, the ancient philosophies are like magnificient temples which laud the virtues and make them more beautiful than anything else. But they are built on mud and sand. They give no criteria for good and evil. No tightly logical proofs for these criteria. On the other hand, the scientific method IS just such a strong foundation, but on this strong foundation, we have erected not temples but only little technical workshops. Francis Bacon's summum bonum says the purpose of man and man's nature is the conquest of nature! Its great! But ethics is important too. So the great project is to join the new scientific method with the old ethics. Lets move the new foundation under the old temple. Or, the old ethical temples onto the new scientific foundation.

Not unlike Socrates. His moral teaching was not new, but what was new was his method. So new that his contemporaries were afraid of his constant questioning of commonly held beliefs. Descartes is like a new Socrates! First thing he does is to redefine reason. Reason is scientific reason. He narrowed it. The method? Descartes begins with universal methodical doubt. Its false until proven true. The first rule of the method. An idea or hypothesis is always treated skeptically. Guilty until proven innocent. Except, nothing is true until proven true with certainty. Descartes began with universal doubt and went to prove his own existence: I think, therefore I am. Then he proved that he is a mind / soul / spirit. Then the existence of a God, from the concept of a perfect being in his mind. The concept of total perfection must include the perfection of existing, outside of our mind. Statement: God lacks existence is self-contradictory.

What about the validity of the material world and the validity of our sense perceptions of it? The premise he used is that if the sense perception we have use of are illusary or deceptive, and they were given to us by God, a perfect being, than God is not perfect and that is not true. So, our faculties are good indicators of truth in nature. Most today believe Descartes is a genius and did a good thing, but few think Descartes succeeded in his proofs on these things above: proving he exists, he is a mind / soul, existence of God, existence of the world etc. He claimed to prove these. He didn't apply the new method to ethics. In Part III of the Discourse on Method, he gives us a pragmatic ethic, to live with safely and comfortably until he got a better ethic done, but he died young. No book. His successors, however, did.

David Hume. Hume used his Method to generate empiricism. In front of your face-ism. Emperically, science is the only reliable source. Human knowledge has two tools: the mind and the senses. Descartes and his rationalism said the mind was the revealer of knowledge. Hume and his empiricism said no, it is the senses. Contrasted with D. Rationalist says only the Mind can be trusted, and the senses must be judged by the mind. Empricist says the senses must judge the mind, they should be trusted, because they alone give you the DATA in the surrounding world. This is epistemology.

Reason and sensation are the two poles of human knowledge, Descartes put forth rationalism. Locke and Hume were empiricists. Hume: Ideas are just less vivid copies of sense impressions, and there was nothing in the mind besides what the senses put there. But what about Ethics?!? There's the NEW trouble for ethics: uh oh, there is no place for it in the new order! What? By the time we get to Hume in 18th Century, ethics is in crisis. The problem is that it cannot be measured by science. Good and evil have no shape or color or size or mass or other scientific qualities, they cannot be reduced to sense data or said to be founded on sense data. So, there can be no knowledge of good and evil in this epistemology. So how did Hume account for our ethical ideas? Oh... well, they are Feelings. Emotive Theory of Values. When we see a mugger kill an old lady, we think we have seen something evil. But Hume says we did not see evil. He says we saw a series of sense impressions: a arm, knife, slash, cry, fall, pool of blood. We call it evil, but where is the evil? It is not seen outside, it has no size or color, but felt inside. Its inside our feelings. Well, feelings are not objective, and do not reveal anything in the world outside of us. But we think they do! When we see the old lady murdered, we feel bad and mad and angry, and we project those feelings out at the murder and the murderer. Hume says the objective ACT cannot be good or bad, its just physical, not moral. Morality comes from inside, it is a quality of our feelings. Ethics, therefore, cannot be objectively good bad, and it can never become a science because there can be no certainty about it. Arguing about ethics is useless. Many philosophers are happy with this reduction of ethics to a feeling. But none were happy with what followed.


With the eliminating of a basis for understanding good and evil, radical empiricism also must deny certain other things in life, because we cannot sense them: it denies the nature of causality (like the causal connection between the bird and the egg, or the bat hitting the ball into the outfield- we sense only the two events. So it must be feeling or mental habit that makes us connect them) since we don't sense that essences in nature exist (example is a table. we don't sense the tableness, only the brownness, hardness etc.) And most disturbingly, we don't sense ourselves. We look within and find only a bunch of feelings, desires, thoughts etc., but not the self that we think thinks the thoughts! Or senses things! There is no YOU! You are just a temporary motel where the atoms you call you have an affair for 70 years. These are not ethical conclusions, but they have consequences for ethics. If there is no substantial self', there is no locus of responsibility for things. We cannot know that the bat caused the ball to move, we cannot know that we caused the vicious or virtuous act, because there is NO REAL ME.  

No one feels comfortable about this, yet the two follow from the same empirical premises. Hume has many followers. 20th C logical positivists were. They said the only cognitive meaningful sentences are those that can be verified or falsified. If not, it is not meaningful. There are only two ways to verify and falsify: by formal logic, and sense. 2+23D4 is verifiable by mathematical logic. The shoe is red is verifiable by sense. Sky is blue is verifiable, spiders have 10 legs is false. What follows? All ethical statements are strictly meaningless. Ought and ought not is not verifiable. Non logical tautologies are unprovable as true or false. Murder is bad. That is an expression of you, not empirically verifiable scientifically. Personal, private, subjective feelings, not intellectual claims. This is widespread in our culture now: Different strokes for different folks, get your values away from me! don't impose your values on me! As if values were a subjective personal preference like a preference for football to ballet, or red to blue ice cream. We call them lifestyles' today, as if the difference between terrorism and heroism or adultery and fidelity were the same kind of thing as the difference between top hats and baseball caps, or an english vs. a brooklyn accent. Matters of style' not content. Not truth, not goodness.

Obviously, there is something wrong with this philosophy. Even though its called logical positivism, or logical empiricism, it is utterly illogical. Why? It says, all meaningful propositions are either logical tautologies or empirically verifiable, it itself is neither one. It is so narrow that it eliminates itself! It commits suicide.

Very few philosophers defend it today. People empirically do argue quiet soundly about right and wrong, and meaningfully. The theory does not explain the empirical data. Also, people argue about subjective facts, and what should have happened. In an accident, what should the person have done is as important as what happened! He should have hit the brakes... so  there IS some relationship between ought' and facts. It can't be known by the scientific method. We don't argue about your dream vs mine, those are subjective. I feel pain, you pleasure, and we don't argue about that. But we do argue about good and evil. Is this a just war? Is abortion always wrong? We are looking for the OBJECTIVE TRUTH HERE, the objective moral fact, not a feeling! And we argue about what those facts are. Skeptics say that we argue about it in vain, and they are just unprovable opinions and feelings. Are they? Or is the emotive theory wrong?  

Skeptics say these are unscientific feelings. AND yes, ethics cannot be they cannot be science, otherwise it WOULD be science. And if it is just a feeling', no. But if subjective moral feelings' are indeed related somehow to objective moral fact, then the question opens up: what kind of science can ethics be? Can it be something like the modern scientific method? That would be a great way to answer the subjectivist.

Descartes never found one. Hume never did. But English philosopher John Stewart Mill did. It is utilitarianism. He says, There is a scientific criterion for good and evil. IF science uses 1. empirical observation and 2. mathematical measurement. Now, empirically, everyone desires happiness, it is an observed fact. And, our choices affect other people in society: make them more or less happy. And given: happiness can be measured. So, ethics can be scientific because all you have here is observation. So! The criterion for good and evil: whatever causes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is the greatest good. Good and bad are measured by how much good and bad they produce. They are multiplied by two things: the intensity or quality of happiness, and how many people are affected. Quality? Hmm... well his predesessor Jeremy Bentham said push pin is as good as poetry, if it makes you happy. Mill said that was too simplistic: its better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. There are higher and lower pleasures. Both agreed that an act is good if it makes people happy. Only happiness is good in itself, and other goods are means to this end of being happy. There are no intrinsically good or evil acts. If I was a sadist and you a masocist, its totally good if you are tortured by me. There are no moral principles. The consequences are more important than the principles, consequentialism vs. principalism. An act is good not because it obeys a prior universal abstract principle, or good law based on one, but the concrete consequences of the act (the happiness caused by the torture). We can see why this makes utilitarianism scientific- the consequences can be calculated whereas the principles cannot.  

American pragmatism in William James is related to this, though much more humane than the raw utilitarianism of Mill. What's wrong with Mill's utilitarianism? It sounds nice but breaks down in real situations.

It gives you no reasons to call cannibalism wrong. If you were on an island with 99 cannibals. The most happiness that there can be on that island is if you were cut up and served to them 1/99 for each. Utilitarianism does not consider what is right. No justice.

Its subjectivism is disheartening. Even happiness in ancient thought was not subjective. It means perfection, true happiness. And it might require some suffering. In identifying happiness with pleasure, no one is a utilitarian who believes that man has a metaphysical soul, or that there exists a God, or that there is anything spiritual above and beyond the materialism of the material world! Utilitarianism criticizes traditional morality for being arrogant and claiming to know too much: universal absolute truths about good and evil. But, isn't it utilitarianism that is more arrogant? It plays God! It claims to know the future, to know what will bring the greatest happiness! It will do anything for that happiness, means regardless. The traditional view is really the humble one, like a soldier who obeys the commander because he trusted him, thought he does not see how it will lead to the best consequences.  

Suppose some egoist asks, why should I be concerned with other peoples happiness? I don't care about them! The utilitarian says well your happiness affects others too... and the egoist says, fuck that, I'm in it for myself! The altruism on the part of the utilitarian is a leftover from traditional morality, and he can say nothing back, there is no basis for convincing an egoist to be an altruist. Neitzsche pointed that out.  

How does utilitarianism account for evil? Evil is reduced to a miscalculation, an intellectual mistake. Was the Holocaust a miscalculation? Utilitarianism doesn't pass the death test'. You can't die for it. It doesn't help us explain death or make sense of it. Its psychology seems too simplistic. We DON'T want JUST pleasure! Chesterton said  man's most pragmatic need is to be more than a pragmatist! Man has deeper desires than utilitarianism considers. The better people all condemn utilitarianism! The better you are, the less you are a utilitarian. How could moral and intellectual maturity take you in opposite directions? That would be a distortion of the human heart's design.

The most devastating: utilitarianism is not just weak ethics, its NO ethics. It has no ethical dimension. There are no moral laws, no duties, no obligations. It reduces values to facts, and is morally colorblind. So what is to become of figuring out ethics scientifically? Of doing ethics on a basis of the scientific method? Next we will see the most successful attempt. That of Immanual Kant. The greatest modern ethical philosopher. He erects a system of ethics on pure reason, a system WITH principles, unlike utilitarianism. He erects this system of principles and obligations on scientific reason, not metaphysical reason. Descartes tried, and didn't. Kant completes the circle, the Enlightenment Project of applying scientific reason to life.  

Kant's classic, fundamental principles of the metaphysics of morals, it and Aristotle's Ethics and Plato's Republic are the triad of ethics book. They all end with good strong reasons for being ethical. But they are not the same reasons!


Child of the scientific enlightenment, saw it as the paradigm of human knowledge. He wanted to complete the enlightenment program of putting all of life on a scientific business. Descartes didn't get around to it, Hume simply gave up on it and reduced ethics to feelings and Mill sacrificed the very essence of ethics (moral obligation) reducing it to pragmatic calculation of the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

Kant wrote 3 great books about the great human ideals from all times: the true, the good and the beautiful (epistimology, ethics and aestetics). Critique of Pure Reason, Practical Reason and Critique of Judgement. But we look at the best: Foundations of Metaphys of Morals. Shorter of all them.

His metaphysics: are anti-metaphysics or else deontological ethics (ontology and metaphysics is the same thing). Can you have ethics without metaphysics? Kant wants to find out. In the Critique of Pure Reason, he outlined his epistemology: he goes to solve the impasse in epistemology (how you know what you know) between rationalists like Descartes and empiricists like Hume, by saying both were wrong cause they both assumed the same false thing about Truth: rationalists like Descartes said we can attain truth through pure reason, and Hume said it was through sensation, and Aristotle said it was done by both.' But all three understood truth as the mind's conformity to reality, its understanding, struggling understanding of reality'. Aristotle defined Truth, if one says of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, he speaks the truth. If he says of what is that it is not, or of what it is not that it is, he does not speak the truth. So, that's conforming to reality.

Kant in Critique of Pure Reason, suggests what he called a Copernican revolution in philosophy: a radical redefinition of truth itself: he says reality conforms to the mind, not vice versa. Human thought is like art not science: it actively structures the world rather than passively mirrors it. It creates, rather than discovers, all the order and form and meaning in the world that it seems' to find'. So objective truth? No, its impossible. We cannot know reality, or things in themselves.' But that is not thought's business! Human thought is not a failure but a success at its proper business- to MAKE the world. To create the world' form and meaning. The world is cookie batter, and the mind's catagories are like cookie cutter shapes. We make it, it's not out there. But, all minds are structured in the same way, so there is a common world. Common forms we all impose on the batter. Form has 3 parts:

Forms of sense perception (space and time, all there is in nature)

Catagories of abstract logical thought (like causality and relation)

The three most fundamental ideas: self, world and God.

These are all subjective not objective, they are in the mind, but they are in all minds, universally. But we can know this but we can't know if they are in objective reality. We can only know appearances, because we make them. We make them all the time, like if we had colored glasses, and we see space-time in. We all wear glasses. Space and time (all that we can sense), color our glasses red and blue, which make rose. We only see the hue our glasses let us see in. We cannot know reality.

So, if we can't know objective reality, where the hell do we get our data? From... think Kenneth Clark here... the Light of Experience! Our experience of moral obligation. We've seen that ethics is about 3 words: Good, Right and Ought. The ancients were worried about the Good, moderns are concerned about rights, and Kant was concerned with OUGHT. The binding power of moral law over the human conscience. His fundamental piece of datum is that We are absolutely obligated to be moral. Question then, where do we find the grounds of this obligation? Why? The ground of obligation is sought not in the nature of man, nor in man's changing sense experience, but a priori, (prior to sense experience and not dependent on it) solely in the concepts of pure reason. Rationalism. Sense experience lacks universality and necessity because what senses tell people differs, but not reason. The sky is dark for an Australian and light for a Canadian. But 2+23D4 for everyone. Necessary and unchangable.  

There are only 5 possible grounds for moral obligation: nature of god- Aquinas will of god- Kirkegaard and Euthyphro nature of man- Aristotle will of man- Moral relativists by way of a social contract abstract, logical, pure reason- Kant. So Kant says all ethics can be based on pure reason. He outlines how to find the supreme principle of morality. Steps:  

Identifies the absolute good: good will

Identifies good will as that coming from someone doing it from a moral duty

Identifies moral duty with respect to moral law as such, from an

overarching general law, it is called the Categorical Imperative.

This is the Categorical Imperative: There is no possibility of thinking about anything in the world (or out of it) which can be regarded as good' without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgement, and others are doubtless good and desirable, as are such qualities as temperament and courage, but these can also become extremely bad of the will which makes use of these gifts of nature is not good. Same for gifts of fortune, power, honor, health, these make for pride and even arrogance unless there is a good will.

He's got a point here.  

We wish monsters like Hitler did not have all those qualities. He misused all these all these good qualities by an evil will. Kant says that happiness is not good in itself, but means happiness in the purely psychological, subjective way, as in, contentment'.  Not like Aristotle and Aquinas used it, meaning objective perfection. So happiness has no moral content for Kant. What makes a good will then? It is good not by a means to a higher end, but only through its willing. It is not a means to a higher end (opposite to utilitarianism here), and so how to find what kind of willing makes the will good? Answer: a good motive. Just the motive. What makes the motive good? Duty. Unfortunate word today, doo doo. Toilet training. And German war criminals I vas doing my duty. But that is narrow. Misleading. Kant means duty as respect for moral law, because it is morally right, period.  

Ancients said that 3 things make something good: the deed, the act, the circumstances. For Kant, just the motive. Kant makes the contrast between duty and inclination. He unmodernly point that feelings (part of inclination) have no moral worth, because they are not under our power, not free-choice. Example: to preserve your life is a duty, and yet everyone has an inclination anyway, so the preservation has no moral worth. They preserve their lives according to duty, but not from the motive of duty.

But if you life is so painful that your inclination is to kill yourself, then your life's preservation has moral worth. Example: To be benefiscent is a moral duty, and besides this, there are some people who are so sympathetically constituted that they find inner pleasure in spreading joy to the people around them. However amiable this is, it has no true moral worth. It is on a level that arises from any emotion! This all seems severe and inhuman, he is saying these are gifts of fortune, not free-choice. The point is one nearly all the saints agree with: This is why the scriptures command us to love our neighbor, even our enemy. They do not mean love as in tender feelings' that is an inclination, and that cannot be commanded... So no tender sympathies, but beneficient practical love, driven by our will, and this is a duty. In that we have moral worth. This is the opposite of utilitarianism, which says an act is good because of what comes from it for the greatest number of people, and instead focuses on the principles which comes before it and motivates it.

So what is that principle? That supreme principle of moral clarity? The Categorical Imperative. He formulates two of these Ultimate Moral Principles.

Now, its hard to find people who act from pure duty. Most of us are too weak to follow that path. But like Plato, he defines a perfect ideal, and therefore a spectrum to judge our actions. His claim is not how good we are', but what goodness is.' Kant's morality is too idealistic to work, but that doesn't mean it isn't valid. Kant did NOT say, however, that its too idealistic. Kant: Why does moral instruction accomplish so little? Because the teachers have not purified their concepts, they spoil the medicine by making it really song. When a righteous act is done away from public view, away from reward in this or another world, even under the greatest temptation of need or allurement, it far surpasses any similar action that was affected by an extraneous incentive. It inspires the soul. Children see this. That is why duties should not be represented to children in any other way.

Don't bribe your kids, just tell them to do it because its right. When they do something for a reward, the bribes backfire when the money runs out. But rightness never runs out.

So Kant wants to know if virtue can be taught, like Plato first asked in the Meno. Usually philosophers say Yes it can, but it must be through example. We learn it by imitation of moral heroes. By concrete not abstract ideas. But, Kant denies this. He says no. Surprise! His epistemology says no. You cannot abstract universal truths from individual sense experiences. The Copernican revolution in philosophy' means that reason structures experience, rather than learning from it. Kant: Worse service cannot be rendered to morality than to derive it from examples. For, each example of morality must first be judged according to principles of morality to see if it is fit to serve as an example or model. But in no way can it furnish a concept of morality. Even the holy one must be compared to our ideal of moral perfection before he is recognized as such. Christ: Why do you call me whom you see good? No one is good, as in the archtype of good, God, whom you do not see. Kant: Imitation, then, has no place in moral matters. Its just good for encouragement.

Kant is wrong. What you are, speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say. Saints teach morality better than philosophers. Kant is ready to formulate the Catagorical Imperative: There is only one IC: Act according to the maxim that you would will that it become a universal law. Do only what you want everyone else to do. Its a variation of the Golden Rule, but Kant deduces all duties from it. If I lie to you, I can't will that you lie to me. I lie only to gain an advantage over you. Same goes for murder or robbery. We don't will them to be universal laws. If we follow this one law, one commandment, to do only what we want everyone to do, we would do only good. And this is the only law we need. A law of justice, and equality. Like mathematics, this law is like an equals sign. A scientific ethics. All good which is for equality based, and bad if inequality. All good is equality, doing what all others should do. All evil is inequality, doing other things from what people should equally do.  

Human nature? Kant: Every rational being exists as an end in himself, and not as a means to get to something else, used by another will. Non rational beings are called things, rational ones persons. Nature marked them out as ends in themselves, and thus objects of respects. There is a Practical Imperative', a variation of the Catagorial Imperative. Wait a minute... people are not mearly subjective ends? Kant: Act in such a way so that you treat humanity as an end, not as a means. Landmark in ethical thought. Basis of Universal Human Rights and a moral order that transcends culture and history and race, popes and athiests have praised it and used it. Kant gives us moralism, humanism and rationalism. This morality is not relative, negociable, hypothetical etc. its right there. And it gives us humanism acceptable to everyone. Even liberals and conservatives.

But. There's always a but. Some problems. There is no substance or content in it. If half the world were sadists and half mascocists, what about the CI would stop the torture? If we all were alcoholics, what would stop that? I do to you what I see as something everyone should do.Whatever you will others to do, do that.

Also, no acceptable exceptions. What about celebacy? How could that be moral? No one wishes it on the whole human race, we would be extinct! Motive. Can it really be the one and only moral determinant? It is important, just look at our laws:  

1st degree murder               full intention and motive, and deed     most severe

attempted murder                full intention and motive, no deed              second most

accidental homocide     no intention and motive, but deed               third most (but

still counts, we punish even if there is no intention).

Traditional morality says there are 3 moral determinants: act, intention, circumstances. Legalism says there is 1 determinant: the objective act. Pharisees are some of these. Kant also says there is 1 determinant too: subjective intention. Pretty one sided.

Another problem: Kant makes duty the ONLY worthy motive. But what about love, like mommy and baby? Example: 2 rich men give to the poor, one out of duty the other out of love for fellow man. Is the 2nd really less than the first? Do we love principles not persons? Like, if I never cheat on my wife for 40 years, its it because of love or because I respect the catagorical imperative? Should we be faithful to persons or principles? Or, do we love persons and see principles as ways to define our interaction with them?

So, duty is not the greatest moral motivator! Love is another one, and what about superheroism? How can heroic actions beyond the call of duty be just following duty?' Its not, its going beyond that. Yet they are morally beautiful. Also, Kant does not account for the fact that the better you are the more joy you get form doing good. In Rome. St. Francis and Bluebeard the pirate are walking down the street. A bank bursts open and gold pieces are all over. Its night so no one else is there. St. Francis does not steal the money out of moral habit, its easy for him not to. He's detatched from greed. Bluebeard too, this one time, says to himself Im not gonna do it. Its hard for him, he's a greedy pirate. But this time he's not doing it.

Kant and Aristotle are watching this. Kant: See, Bluebeard has more moral worth cause its harder, it cost something. It was easy for Francis not to steal, but Bluebeard found it hard, but didn't do it anyway. Aristotle, are you saying Bluebeard is better than Francis? What Kant is missing is the value of virtue, habit and character. He ignores human nature and looks only at deeds, and even narrower, the motives. But isn't it better to look at character?

RRR principle: Right Response to Reality: Treat things as things and people as people, not vice versa. Respect and love people and use things, not use people while loving and respecting things. That's much more solid than the 1st formulation, which is the golden rule. Thats a rule of justice, while the 2nd formulation is a rule of love. Another missing thing in Kant: 1st Catagorical Imperative is a rule for ALL evil things, but NOT all good things. How? He rightly sees all evil as self-contradicary bad deeds cannot be made into universal laws. But, some good things right for one person and wrong for another cannot. Example, heroism, having 10 children, one spouse or another, etc. Right for some, good for some, choices of a job or friend, but not others, and you wouldn't wish it on them.  

3 Postscripts: 3 necessary postulates of morality: God, Freedom and Immortality. WE cannot prove any of them, so we cannot know if they do exist, but we must act as if they did exist. If they did not, we cannot be fully moral. If there is no God there is no perfect ideal. If there is no freewill there is no human responsibility, just machine like determinism. No immortality? than no ultimate Justice, cause justice is often not done in this life.

The God point is the most controversial. He says God is not the source of moral law, because WE create the moral law. Strange... like we locked ourselves into a prison and kept the key with us. Kant says There are two aspects of the self, the empirical ego (the self we can see inwardly), and the transcendental ego (something like the unconscious self, like the Hindu achman, or the oversoul of Emerson, or the collective unconscious of Jung. But wait! He wants us to live a lie if God does not exist. If he does not exist, its not honest to live as if he did, we cannot will him into existence for moral reasons. And if he does exist, living autonomously by our own laws is impossible because we are not the highest being or ultimate authority. Unless we are part of God, which means pantheism, a new can of worms. So should we live a lie in order to live well? Freedom and morality either exist or not. Flat out. If they do exist, lets use the RRR principle! And believe it all because its true, rather than because they LEAD to a better Kantian morality!

Kant's epistemology is off, therefore. If God and His order exist, fine, we follow it and we base ethics on Him and on it. But what if God does not exist? Next we look at atheism and ethics: Jean Paul Sartre.


Kant didn't think you could prove the existence of God or Freedom or Immortality by theoretical reason, but he did think it was necessary to believe in them either way by practical reason- they are a must for any adequate morality. He was probably wrong about the Immortality because not only can you believe in morality without immortality, but Kant says the pure motive does not posit that one does something good for the reward of immortal life or heaven, but because its an end in itself. Plato in Republic deliberately kept immortality out of his argument about justice, so he could prove that justice was its own reward- that it is virtuous and wise and health for the soul in THIS life, whether or not there is a next one. Then he proved there was a next one! In the Bible, God used the same strategy: he did not clearly reveal life after death till many centuries after Moses... probably to avoid it being a bribe, and to illicit a good motive to be good in this life regardless of the afterlife. Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy. Only after that pure motive was in place was the life after death revealed.

So thats immortality, but what about Freedom and what about God? Sartre centered his ethics around a radical new concept of freedom: not freedom to choose to obey or disobey a moral law, but freedom absolutely, without constraint. What is the usual constraint? God. For Sartre, there is no God. We have the freedom to make values and our own laws. I am totally free because there is no God.

Lets put him into the Great Conversation now: up against the others, relating him to the history of western philosophy, we must define the many freedoms':

Freedom opposite from slavery

Freedom opposite of political tyranny

Freedom opposite of prison

Freedom opposite from addiction (drugs, sin, pathological states)

But two are needed to understand Sartre. Freedom of will... Freewill and Metaphysical Freedom. Freewill is traditional, metaphysical freedom is new. It assumes a great freedom unique in our totally unique mode of the human station in the world. Ancients all assumed freewill, without calling it by its name (Aristotle distinguished voluntary and involuntary actions, for example- the voluntary ones are subjected to ethical criteria).

Some deny freewill. Meanwhile Democritus and Lucretius were materialist philosophers. Everything is made up of matter, atoms. Some Christian theologians deny freewill: because they believe in predestination. Calvin is the most famous. Luther denied it, but meant only the ability to save ourselves us from sin by our own power, which would mean having the freedom of doing something good without God's grace, which is another issue than the power of moral choice between good and evil or between two goods.

The mainstream Christian view, however, is to affirm and defend freewill. Aquinas tells us that moral language is meaningless if it doesn't exist.' Our patterns of praising, punishing, blaming, counsuling etc. shows that we believe in freewill. Founder of pragmatism, William James, in 1900 gave this a new twist. He was skeptical of theory and divided belief into live' and dead' options, live ones were those that make a difference in your life. God, Freewill and Immortality he said were live. James criticized philosophers for thinking about dead options, issues that made no practical difference. He found good reasons for both freewill and determinism (caused by forces in our heraditary and environment) beyond our control. So he expressed his indecision in a parable about a philosopher new to Boston, 1900. Boston had many philosophical clubs on a certain street, people cared about this stuff! He didn't know which to join, the freewillers society or the determinists. So he goes to join the determinists club and the doorman asks him, why did you come here? and he said, I came here out of my own freewill. the doorman slammed the door in his face. So he goes to the freewillers and the doorman asks the same thing, and he said, they kicked me out across the street so i had no choice! and the door slammed there too.

But James gave this pragmatic reason for believing in freewill: we don't know if its yes or no, so our ignorance leaves us free to choose, and its better to choose to believe in it, because it makes us more than helpless cogs in a machine. It makes moral language make sense and be real. It gives us a sense of dignity and importance, and makes us responsible for our choices, unlike Adam and Eve who tried to pass the buck. So we can freely create the choice to create the freewill.


But no one until Sartre proposed this most radical form of freedom, metaphysical freedom, one inherent in our radically different and unique mode of being. Being FOR itself, that's human reality- Human reality (to do what one wills in nature) is existence' not essence'... vs Being IN itself (the non-human animal world). Freedom is Sartre's favorite idea. His ethics comes from his metaphysics, a quite usual thing. His new notion of freedom says there is a distinction between being FOR itself and IN itself. Subjects of consciousness (FOR themselves- persons) vs. Objects of consciousness (IN themselves- things and ideas). THINGS have essences that can be defined, while humans have no human essence or nature, he has no pattern (because there is no God to set one) so man is totally free of boundaries, definitions, and limits. He creates his own essence, values and meaning. So ethics is totally arbitrary depending on us. Existence precedes essence! Essence is definable nature, and that is what we, who exist, invent our essence (definable nature, like a triangle confined within 3 sides or an acorn confined within the species- oak, and Lassie, that can only be a dog, confined by species). But Humans have a unique way of existing- we are subjects, not objects. We are not objects of consciousness because we have free choice. Consider a paper cutter- it was made by man to do a certain job- to cut paper. That is its end. Sartre said theists believe that man is like a paper cutter- because he was fashioned by God to do something, he is an object made by divine knowledge to do a job. But if you drop God, there is no meaning or purpose for human life, no telos, and there is no preexisting essence or nature or design for man at all. Even cats have a nature, a species, evolved by chance like us, but they follow a script. They are predictable. But we are not in any play with a script, we write the script as we go along. Human life is all improv. And ethics then is too. No preset moral laws or objective values. Ethics is pure art, that we invent, and not science, not discovery. Subjective. Free from essence. We create our own essence. Our existence precedes our essence. E preceding E is the origin of the word Existentialism.  

Furthermore, that is the freedom inherent in us, and it is actually liberating because we are not an object. Its the only one that gives man dignity, that does not make him into an object. Christian and Jewish philosophers indeed say that man is an object designed by god, and therefore has an essence, but also that he is a subject, because he is created in God's image and has freewill as a subject of moral choice. So man has freedom and dignity precisely because there is a God giving it to him. Sartre arrives at freedom from the opposite pole, that there is no God! But Sartre is not only saying there is freedom from determination, or predestination, but freedom from MEANING. Freedom from having an essence, a character, a set of goals, a nature. All these things are totally up to us. Ethics? Totally up to us. Our being is not given to us by God OR Nature- its made by our own choices- receiving anything is incompatible with being free. Consequence? There is no such things as meaning of life. There is no intelligent creator or author. Nothing justifies any of the meanings we give them. It signifies nothing. It is ABSURD. There are no objective unchangable truths to judge subjective truths by. No divine mind for them to come from. No divine will for them to conform to.  

My entire philosophy is an attempt to draw in all the consequences of the atheistic position. Well, ideas have consequences. Sartre is good to study as an exercise in seeing the logical consequences of an idea. Appreciate the alternative by contrast, because we usually appreciate something when it is taken away. Comfort through discomfort, health through sickness, life through death. Also, he constitutes a test between ethics and religion.  

So is ethics dependent on religion? 4 possible answers.

Sartre and Euthypryro both say yes its dependent on religion.

1. Sartre: no to any objective ethics only cause there is no religion

2. Euthyprhro: yes to ethics only because yes to religion

3. Socrates/Aquinas: Yes to ethics but not JUST cause of religion, which they say yes to, but also on reason and philosophy 

4. Plato: he had no real religion but did have an absolute ethics.

So if you are an atheist, the debate you ask yourself is if you agree with the position of Sartre vs. Plato, and if you are a theist, the question is between Euthyprho and Socrates/Aquinas. Sartre's most important writings are not philosophy. They deliver an existential challenge. And the unexamined life is not worth living. The meaning of life is nauseating' in his book Nausea'. Socrates knows you are afraid to ask if life has a meaning, cause the answer might be no. But Socrates insists that you face the question. Its better to face the question of the meaning of life (the summum bonum) in Nausea' than never to face it at all. Powerful and terrifying, the protagonist looks for meaning in his life everywhere, like Solomon in Eccleasistes. He tests 5 modes of meaning:

As a historian he looks for meaning in finding truth in history- the finding of historical truth. But he finds it all comes from the historian himself, not the history he studies. As a man he goes to live a life of wild adventure. Concludes there are no adventures' with meaning, no reason to risk your life, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Just a series of things that happen one after the other. As a man he tries to find meaning in man as a basis for humanism. Worshipping man as a God, but he finds he cannot idealize man because he is so dishonest. So dishonest... he cannot be a subject of worship, even thought there is nothing higher to worship! As a man he finds meaning in love. Not! Looking for affirmation of his life in the eyes of another, but all he finds is women who want to use him to make their lives more meaningful. Two zeros do not make a positive integer. As an alive man, he tries to find meaning in suicide. But finds even this is meaningless. Its no gain, and neither life nor death have meaning. His unliving corpse has no more meaning than his live body. One promising one: genuine love: love for the other for the other's sake. He says its impossible though. Paul Johnson's mini biography Intellectuals shows that he never received it or gave it. Couldn't take it seriously.

In the play No Exit, 3 people find themselves dead, and in hell, which Sartre does not believe in, but its a parable of this life. They are not tortured, no fire, nothing. No demons. They torture each other because each of the three people need and craves love, but each of the 3 are unlovable. The only way each can love is to live a lie. To pretend not to know the unlovable characters. Garcon knows Estelle who knows Inez who knows Garcon. Each wants to be known AND loved. Light and Fire. But none of them will get it. People want to be known (truth) and loved (goodness). These are the two things that separate us from the beasts. And the two knowable attributes of God in the West. The millions who have had out of body experiences always say that the light' is all knowing, and all loving. But Sartre says this is impossible together. There are a few ways to get' this, none of which make much sense, but here goes:

This love would be the synthesis of a being FOR itself (human reality, but always on the path to becoming. Always making choices to try to create its essence, but this means we are unlovable), and a being IN itself (objects, forces, this is passive can only be known, not do the knowing and loving). Genuine altruistic love would have to not proceed from a need', but from a perfection'. So, this is where sadism and mascocism comes. I-IT relationships. The word We' which lovers who fall in love find takes on a magical meaning when said, is strictly meaningless for Sartre. You're in an I-IT relationship.

There is only an I subject, not a WE subject. I can't recognize you as another person. You are either beloved or lover. Not both. Just like argument against God: impossible synthesis of object and subject. Beloved and Lover.

Or try this one: God would be both I (a being FOR itself) and also a perfect being (IN) itself. Well, God revealed himself to Moses, and said actually that he WAS both of these, when he revealed his name: I am. Both I and AM: both person and being. Sartre set up his two metaphysical categories to make God impossible.


Obviously, many. Goodness is subjective, manmade, arbitrary, unjustifiable, utterly different from one subject to the next. Sartre: There was a soldier who came to him during Vichy France who told Sartre that his mom was dying at home and he was fighting Nazis in the resistance movement. What should he do? Sartre: There is no possible advice I can give you. It is totally up the individual. Each of the two excludes the other. No right thing to do. More. We cannot ever choose evil. Why? Since we create the meaning of our choices by the act of choosing them, what we do is always good... at least to us! Its never evil to us! It might be evil to you, but F that! Its not to me! You may say, with equal validity. No more, no less. Ethics is creative.... like art.  

No such thing as progress, because progress means betterment. There is no better' because better' means getting closer to a certain real goal, stable and unchanging, otherwise there can be no progress to it. Many progressives say they do not believe in any static goods, principles or truths- but this makes no sense, because if there is no changeless truths, no eternal goals, or being, then there is nothing to progress to.

Here he offends some atheists, called humanists. Secular Humanists who see man as the center, not God. Pro Human. Two kinds of humanists', Christian humanism is just a philosophy that affirms the intrinsic value of a human being. Or its a deliberately anti-religious thing. Sartre says he does not agree with the strategy of the great secular humanist, the philosophes of the French Revolution who wanted to do away with God, but keep the idea of unchangable moral principles and absolute values. He says that makes absolutely no sense. No God? No morality. Humanists want to get rid of God with the least possible problems attached to that. They say God is a useless and costly hypothesis, but in order for values to be taken seriously, there must be some good that are good a priori. Don't beat your wife. Have kids. etc. But this is not possible because there are no a priori goods (goods good prior to our understanding them).

Not so. Because, we are in a reality in which there are only men.

...only men...

...only men... there are no a priori goods because there is no infinite consciousness to think of it. This means, no objective values. At all. Dostoyevsky prophesized this. Ivan Karamazov wants to kill his father and wants to murder him without guilt. So he wants God not to exists, so he can murder him without guilt. Sartre: God does not exist and as a result, everything is permissible. And so man is in despair! Neither within him or without, does he find anything to cling to. So is atheism easy? No! There is no cosmic father wagging his finger at us, but Sartre sees deeper than this. He does not say something like and as a result man is happy and free! he says and so man is in despair!  


Man has nothing to cling to, nothing to give him meaning! Our deepest need is not freedom, but meaning. Either we have total freedom cause there is no God, or we have limited freedom, but objective meaning, if there is a God. A God of Abraham, or of Plato (the eternal idea of the Good) or of Aristotle (the unmoved mover) or of Kant (that we can't prove exists but should believe in as a justification underpinning the value regime of the categorical imperative. In Sartre's world, no one can ever be wrong. Because everything is permissible. Because there is no God. And so if nothing is wrong, nothing is right either. We are absurd. William James called Sartre a tough minded philosopher. He affirms we are absurd simply because he thinks its true, not because it makes him happy. Thinkers can be tough minded or tender minded. James says the tender say goodness or happiness is the absolute, while tough minded say objective truth, facts, are the absolute.


Tough minded atheists like Sartre are just that, tough. He and they put forward this because he thinks its true, not cause it comforts him.

Tough minded theists are as well, like Aquinas, who believes in God because he believes, in fact, that he can prove God exists. CS Lewis is another one, who was converted kicking and screaming because he came to believe in the physical proof of existence of God.

Tender minded atheist humanists- they think atheism is a way to overcome guilt or be liberated. Neitzsche is one. Tenderminded... Neitzsche!?! Wow? Yes, because his argument against God is I will now disprove the existence of all gods. If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Consequently there are no gods. He announces not that God does not exist objectively, but that we killed him. He kills God.

Tender minded theists like Kant, who believes in God not because he is convinced that it is true, but because God's being there is comforting to me and to him and to our value system's foundation.

Can one have more sympathy for Sartre than for Kant? Yes. Because even though we may believe God exists, we must believe that honesty is an absolute absolute. And living as if' God existed even if perhaps he does not, is somehow dishonest. Like believing in Santa Claus even though you know better. God would give Kant the more severe purgatory, because Kant did not learn the rule of primacy of truth.

Lesson 1. Sartre did, or seemed to. Only God knows.

Why would Sartre write books if there is no meaning in anything?

Imagine a bubble, and inside there is the inside meaninglessness, and outside the outside meaninglessness. He writes to expand the inside meaninglessness, because that is what he does. Not because it means anything.


So far, its been just the Western half of the world. But since ethics are universal, we'd better look to the east as well. In the West, philosophy distinguished itself from religion, due to Socrates and his successors, but in the east there was no Socrates. So there is no purely rational science, but closely tied to religion. So is there ethical philosophy if it is based on religious experience or faith? Well, yes, if philosophy means love of wisdom. In any event, eastern religions are not religions like in the West. They do not include the following claim:

There is no personal god who created the universe out of nothing that god revealed himself through written scriptures and historical miracles.

That religion is a dialogue between two distinct persons: man and god

That god has a will

That god is a moral commander

That he gave mankind moral commandments

Each of the religions: hinduism, buddhism, confuciusism and taoism all have moral codes. Interestingly, all have different significantly on theoretical questions, but they all agree about practical questions about how to live. Moral goodness and what it is.  


Level 1. pragmatic (survival) morality (I won't hurt you if you don't hurt me)

Level 2. justice morality (do the right thing just because its right)

Level 3. charity (unselfish) morality - don't just do things so you get something, like level 1, and even just because its equal (like level 32) and just - but to give itself away, to forget yourself. The meaning of life is to be a saint.

Why does Antarctica University exist?

Most people recognize level 1, and some still understand and practice level 2 morality, but level 3 morality is rare. Justice, equal rights? that's not rare. But going beyond that? going to give up your very self, is quite rare. Yet, every great religion teaches level 3. Self-giving... self forgetfulness, self-subordination. You must lose your self.'

Lots in eastern religions is lofty and idealistic, but the status of ethics is lower. The role is less than in the west, where moral behavior comes from all the way up, to ultimate reality, to God. The reason for human morality is God. Dueternomy especially tells about this: Be holy because the lord your God is holy. In east we must also be holy, but on a certain stage on the way up, you don't need it anymore, like a multi stage rocket dropping off. The purpose of morality in the east is to wipe the dust off the mirror of the human mind, so we can see god and have mystical experiences. The goal of eastern religions is mystic experiences, while in the west it is sanctity. In the east the moral will has to be purified so that the mind is clear... in the west the mind has to be enlightened so that the will can be made better. In hinduism the ultimate reality is Brahman- sometimes portrayed as a person, or as an ultimate reality' and we are all manifestations of it. IN the depths of our souls we are like a single undersea continent, connected but looking like separate islands. Akman (soul) is Brahman. That one' is god. There are four different roads (yogas, ie deeds or work) to lead us to Brahman. All have different traits, but all have a moral code 3D purification.

1. Genana Yoga is a mental path in which you learn to understand yourself differently. An intellectual path in which you identify yourself with Brahman and detach your thoughts from your desires and ego.

2. Karma Yoga is a path to Brahman through ordinary daily work. Through sheer obedience to your fate. Karmic duties fulfilled not for selfish ends, but obedient.

3. Bakdi Yoga is a personal emotional path of love and attachment to Brahman instead of yourself.  

4. Raja Yoga is a careful detailed way in which you make your life into a spiritual laboratory that combines all the others.

Ethically, good things come from all these paths: the role of the mind is primary in Genana, role of purity of motive and work in Karma, emotion and personal attachment in Bakdi, but they all have the same goal: detachment from selfishness and attainment of a greater consciousness in which you see that you are in fact part of Brahman, or that you will attain spiritual union with Brahman.  

The major specific difference between Hindu and Western ethics concerns the value of individual life. If a Hindu sees someone dying, they will not try to save him, because that would be interefering with his karma. This man will pass out of that body and soon get another one through reincarnation.


The Christian incarnation says that Jesus was God become man, and that this God was the son, or logos of God. God came to become man, and man therefore has inherent dignity. He is raised on high as well as women. No other religion calls a woman the mother of God. That is why life is given a more precious place than common sense takes it to be. Life, Liberty... Reincarnation in hinduism means coming back to earth in a new body to learn the lessons you did not learn up to that point. So life is less important, less final, than common sense takes it to be. Hindus agree with this. You westerners take your lives and individual deaths and lives too seriously! Fear death less, and love life less, because both are repeatable. If you believe you only go around once in life, you will take it much more seriously. That's true for people who believe in heaven, too, because this is the only earthly life you get. So you'd better get it right. Live it with gusto!

In the east, a big cultural difference emerges from the reincarnation principle. Hindu ethics says reincarnation is like taking a test with endless chances to pass. India is very patient, the West is impatient. We emphasize right action, they emphasize right understanding. We have more hospitals, and also more wars.  


Buddha summarized his ethics in the Noble 8 Fold Path, which is like Raja Yoga. Buddha is atheist about Brahman and denies Akman (soul). It denies the soul. It says our belief that we have souls comes from our action of desiring. If we did not desire, we would see that there is no one there doing the desiring... and we want a state of consciousness on the ultimate plane, nirvana (extinction). The end of Buddhist ethics is to extinguish all desires, which then stops suffering- because suffering comes from selfish desire.

Most of us in the West believe that Buddhist are right that selfishness is bad. But we do not agree that the self' and soul' is an illusion, and that ending self consciousness is the ultimate good. We do like the idea of salvation from suffering' of course, but not at the buddhist price: extinguishing of the self. For us, the self is both bad and good, and its the same self that both suffers and enjoys. When you reach Nirvana you are not good or bad... you are simply not. Ethics does not perfect the self in Buddhism, ethics exists only to be transcended. Its job is to destroy the self.  

Buddha in 6th C. BC outlined the 4 noble truths: all life is infected with Dukah, suffering reason we suffer is because of Tanha, desire, wanting what you don't have to eliminate the effect, eliminate the cause there is an 8 fold path to get there and it is your prescription another popular philosopher said you can't always get what  you want he also said, I can't get no, Satisfaction.  

Buddhism is a way of salvation, not from sin like Christianity (there is no god to judge sin) but from want.  


Victor Hugo used a great Christian story in Les Miserables, from 6C France. St. Martin of Tours was a wealthy bishop. A thief stole some gold from him, and the police brought the thief into the town square so he could be indentified. I came to identify him so I can give him the rest of my gift: my coat. He ran away too fast for me to give it to him before. With this goal I have introduced your soul to Christ, to charity, who did this through me. Welcome. In 10C, a buddhist monk in tibet was in a trance in front of a buddha statue in winter. a thief stole the statue and then stole one of his robes, and stole it off his body. This woke him up and he chased the thief and caught him. He said I kept calling you to stop but you didn't listen. You need this second robe more than I do. Your job requires you to be outside in winter! You're crazy! I will tell you why I am not crazy. if you were out in the cold, and had two gloves on your right hand and none on your left, what would you do? Put one on the left hand. That is what I have just done.

Isn't it striking that so many religions have a common ethics?' Yes! Similarities of the ethical system is a real puzzle. They are not derived from a similar theology, nor have any historical connection. Plato would say this common secret' is from an innate unconscious knowledge, like Jung's collective unconscious. Why? Vertically, you might say that if God created us in his own image, he put in us the tendency to think these thoughts- a mental resembelence to him. Or Horizontally, if the story of the Garden of Eden is true, how we have such a disenchantment with the world. We have no memory of being princes' or from a high place to fall from, but indeed it could be something from beyond our memory!

For whatever reason, all the religions produce strikingly similar holy men. Feeling as one with all suffering beings is called Karuna. Like Christian charity (agape)... agape is active love. They both negate the same thing, which is selfishness. But Agape affirms willing the good of the other for their sake, and is to be given to people good and bad. Karuna is to be given to good and bad people as well, but also to animals, and is empathy for suffering. Two buddhists were fishing, one was enlightened. A lizard attached itself to the enlightened one's hand and was sucking out his blood. He didn't pull his hand back and stop it, but fed the lizard his own blood. The monk let him do it. The other person said, don't you know what that lizard is, its poisonous! the monk replied, don't you know who that lizard is? its me.  

We have seen that there is not the great emphasis put on individuality and human life, and human bodily salvation that there is in the west. What about love and hate? Hate is bad, but love is not given its exaulted place. Charity is not.

Story: A sailor who could not swim was caught in a storm, and another boat got in his way and his toppled over. he came up out of the waves and shook his fist at the sailor who cost him his life. He went down and bobbed back up, shook his fist, but could not see the sailor. One more time, came up and shook his fist, and saw that there was no one there. It was empty. He uncurled his fist and drowned in peace. He had no one to hate.

The boat is the body, sailor is the soul, the self, the ego. Buddhism says we are empty boats driven by the wind. There is no one there to hate. The price to pay is that there is no one there to love, either.


He transformed China from civil war to peace for 2,000 years. Its central idea is harmony. Justice is not equality or rights, but a social harmony. This ethic was taken by Mao Tse Tung who destroyed it and replaced it with communism, which is its opposite (based on the class conflict and totalitarian authority).

Confucius was successful in death, like Socrates. In social ethics, more have been Confucian than anything else. Elaborate correctness. Every Chinese schoolchild had Confucian ethics everyday. Americans would find it oppressive. There is a right way to address your older brother, different than older sister, different than younger brother, etc. And the basic unit of society? Not the individual. The family. The extended family. Individual is subordinated to the family. Perserving family loyalty and honor is primary. Surprisingly, this system gave happiness to more individuals than any other: more people in the largest nation on earth for the longest time.

Great emphasis on tradition and the old. Valued what the old embodies: wisdom, rather than (as in our case) youth, who are good at pleasure and health. Biggest difference in ethics? Genius of the West is to distinguish things' like good and evil and define things, clearly and logically ever since Socrates. The genius of the east is to join' and harmonize' with people. Social indication: America has 4% of world's people, yet 75% of the world's lawyers... and China has 20% of the world's people and 1% of the world's lawyers.  


Confucius met Lao Tzu once, and said, I know a monkey, and a fox and a rat when I see one, and today I met a dragon. Taoism is romantic where Confucism is not.  His name means only the old guy. He left civilization like Thoreau leaving for walden pond- and went out to the gatekeeper of the great wall. He was disenchanted with confucian rules and regulations. The gatekeeper did not let him pass without a fee-not money but wisdom.

He got off his water buffalo and scribbled 81 poems and left, never to be heard from again. Those poems constitute the 2nd most popular book in the world after the Bible: the Tao Te Ching. Not only Taoists but Conficians, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians and many others love the book. Lots of it reminds Christians of Jesus' sermon on the mount.  

Ching (book), Te (spiritual power), Tao (way), the way nature works. Learning from nature is the way of taoist ethics. Finding a pattern of natures tao' is the way. Tao of the Tao. Greatest power is in the feminine side of the being, where we are womblike and receiptive and changable. Flexible things live, rigid things die. Think of Howard Bloom's sustaibility situation! The great strong oak breaks in the hurricane. The weak little willow does not. Great analogy to water. Water always go to the lowest humblest place, and it is ultimately flexible: it takes the form of its container. Yet its the source of all life, and is so patient that over millions of years turns the sea rock into sand. If we let our spirit be empty, like the emptiness at the center of a bowl, or doors and windows that let you through a wall, you too will have the Tao. Tao is humble. It does not agree with modern Western man's conquest of nature by technology. When the Japanese mountain climbing team conquered everest, they stopped 50 ft. from the summit and went back down out of respect for the mountain.

What in the West owes to Taoism? So called Deep Ecology. Nature is a sacred vessel, and those who only use her will fail. It never took much in china, only as a counter culture. Mars and Venus, practical and mystical, or in chinese, yin and yang.


In nature there are mutually complementary things: left and right, male and female, light and dark, hot and cold. and life and death. At the heart of life there is death: when we are born, we begin to die. Or like Jim Morrison: No one gets out of here alive! There's great wisdom in all this. What's missing? Well, moral good and evil are not like physical life and death. Life depends on death, but good does not depend on evil. Life depends on death because if we don't die, there'd be no room for new people. But you do not have to be wicked to be virtuous. Unless even God had a dark side... then you'd have a Star Wars type Hindu situation: Darth Vader is Skywalker's father, so the hero is the son not of God but of Satan!


In the West, God has no darkside, and in fact discriminates against evil. In Hinduism good and evil both go all the way up (vishnu is creator, shiva the destroyer, both merge with Brahman). Or neither goes all the way up, such as in Buddhism. Ultimate reality is beyond good and evil here. But in the West, only good goes all the way up. So morality is taken with ultimate seriousness cause its rooted in ultimate seriousness: God. Its the morally absolute thing, no yin being relative to yang, cause good does not depend on evil. Good is good, period. So if its pre Christian, Christian or post Christian, the West tends to moral absolutism.

So who has disagreed with this again? The sophists and epicurians, Machiavelli and the utilitarians, but in the West they've been in the minority. Still today, except not among the intellectuals, I suppose. Now moral relativism is replacing moral absolutism. That's why oriental philosophies are more popular and fashionable today, at the same time relativism is replacing absolutism! Can our civilization survive without its traditional ethical foundations?


Have you been dialoguing with the philosophers during the course of this long speech? How should you interiorize the philosophies and believe now? Can these different flowers be arranged in a bouquet? But! Many of these are contradictory.


Three reasons to ask?

Whose to say? Could mean I know we can never know, and this is a wild goose chase. This is skepticism, and is a cop out. Its an excuse for mental laziness.

Whose to say? Could be a question in which you are seeking an answer to a desperate search for an authority figure, some expert, for someone to believe in. But this is mentally lazy too, and is dogmatism, and if you are searching for answers, this is just as lazy!

Whose to say? Could be an honest confession of confusion and doubt and a hope that it can be made educative. So, can we reconcile these disparate positions? And, what can you gain from studying them?


Light in our civilization comes from many lamps. Many bright lamps. For this we can feel gratitude. A more monolithic civilization would not have given this gift to us. We are smart people. Western Civilization's glory and freedom has produced people who are united in a rich large chorus of voices, and its not the sound of one hand clapping. Diverse voices. Cacophony or harmony? Both! Rather like the 9th Symphony of Beethoven, we just have not gotten to the ode to joy yet. Perhaps its getting more cacophony and less harmonious now, but in the great symphony of the West, WE HAVE TO WORK SO THAT THE BEST IS YET TO COME. Inspiring us to do this is, in part, listening to the symphony of the ages. The symphony will end, or the ode to joy will emerge.

Ok, but, sometimes the bright lights of civilization are indeed either, or. Not like Plato and Aristotle but Plato and Machiavelli. One wins one not. What then? These issues draw blood: not different colors but like night and day. Is Machiavelli in Plato's Cave or is Plato in it? And Machiavelli out in the sunlight? Both night and day are spread like a sky over EVERYTHING, questions like:

do we have a freewill?

do we have a creator?

do we have a soul?

does life have an ultimate end or purpose?

if so, what is life's meaning?

is there a double moral standard?

are we better, wiser and happier than the ancients or less?

We have argued about these things and killed and been killed over. Socrates may have been the 1st martyr over philosophy but he was not the last. Example: if Karl Marx had not written a little book called the Communist Manifesto, 100 million people would not have been killed. America's Civil War was about slavery, a moral idea. The French Revolution was the archtype of modern revolutions was about ideas: liberty fraternity and equality vs. throne and alter. The 30 Years war was the most horrible in Europe's history: 1/3 of the civilian population of Germany was killed. Our past history shapes how we think today. We fear today to argue about these great moral questions very passionately. We fear the violence that used to result from this. Not cause we are cowards, but because we are more compassionate today and don't want to die (even for convictions) and we are unwilling to kill for these convictions. So we agree to disagree. We so fear this, dressing up in uniforms and killing people over convictions. We are SO skeptical of this conclusion that we fear deeply the premonition from which all of that violence in history was deduced. We now deny there is anything great for us. However, we can believe in a spiritual struggle against evil without taking it outside in war. The most recent religious war was... confined to northern Ireland. And that is over. The Middle East wars are about territory and politics and other things more than religion. In the West, religion is taken seriously by most people, most people really want to know the truth', but it just is not violent anymore.

Why? Why are religious wars finished but ethical conflict not?

Reason 1: Religion is separated from state today, which guarantees the freedom and independence and health of religion AND politics. That's good. What about ethics? The state has to judge yes or no on things like cloning, abortion, euthanasia, war, drugs, homosexual marriage, polygamy? State cannot be neutral to ethics. Irony: way more potential conflict in religion than ethics, but we've got religions coexisting.

Reason 2: Decline of Religious Wars for another reason: rise of two new answer to the problem of religious differences and how different they really are. In the past, people figured that religions were exclusive to each other, and mutually totally different.

Today, two answers to this are widely promoted: inclusivism and pluralism. Inclusivism claims that although religions seem to contradict each other, they don't deep down, or way up high. The mountain of truth has all the religions taking different roads up the same mountain. Or islands peeking out of the sea, all part of the same undersea continent. Or many windows to God in the same room. Pluralism, meanwhile, says we cannot know which, inclusivist or exclusivist, is right, because we don't have the last analysis. So lets just all get along.

Can these two new answer help philosophy? Not much. Philosophy does not use faith or mystical experience, and it does use reason. The inclusivist makes a leap of faith to see' that all religions are somehow connected and in fact, in unity. Reason says that Sartre vs. Aquinas is a solid argument that can be judged with reason. And pluralism is a cop out in philosophy: human experience and logical reasoning IS used to figure things out, so we CAN know.

Reason 3: A third reason is the development of the art of dialogue. Learning from each other. Passionate but polite conversation. But demanding a deeper understanding of the other side before judging or acting. When we do this, what happens? Easy answer! You have JUST done it by listening to my lecture! You are test case for Western Civilization because you understand the philosophers better. What you learn is truth, and truth never contradicts truth. These philosophers have contradicted each other but you learn truth through studying them in contrast!

How have you done it? You've done it as they did it. Each philosopher learned from his predecessors in the Great Conversation, which began with Socrates. All branches on the single human tree. Without the predecessors none could even have philosophers- even Descartes- who said he was abandoning all that came before and starting over! Without predecessors you cannot ignore your predecessors and look for a new way!

So... an opposing philosophy helps. Sartre or Nietzsche helps theists, and atheists are helped by theists. Machiavelli can learn from Plato what problems give rise to the Machiavellian solution. Aristotle's metaphysical ultimate end and Kant's non-metaphysical absolute purity of duty. Kant claims pursuit of happiness as the ultimate end has no moral worth because it is a natural inclination, and not freely chosen by the will.' Aristotle must reply and know himself better in the reply. Kant severely limits morality to justice and equality and that is abstract- an ethic for angels not humans.' Kant must reply to that, and that is the Great Conversation. The conversation is what happens in your mind when you study them. Another benefit: you appreciate your own philosophy more and can modify it to make it better when under scrutiny. Even nazism has to start with patriotism, honor, idealism, order, purity, heroism, courage before it can twist all those things so horribly. 

No one sees everything, and no one sees nothing. We all can contribute something.