Showing posts with label Western Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Western Philosophy. Show all posts

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Plato’s Moral Philosophy or Plato's Thoery of Ethics

Plato was greatly influenced by Socrates in formulating his moral philosophy or ethics. Like Socrates he said that there is a Good which is universal and independent of any particular culture. And there is a consonantal movement of thought from Plato's theory of Forms to his theory of moral philosophy. In his moral theory, he censured the Sophists' cultural relativism saying that the true nature of definition of justice is not related to a particular culture or society. If we want to have a clear vision of the justice, we have to make a universal Idea of good, says Plato. He argues that we can be deceived in the field of moral choice as we were deceived in the cave if we make judgments after experiencing particular cultures. Plato brought forth the Socratic notion that knowledge is virtue. 

Plato invented two ways to express his ethics:
(1)  The concept of the soul
(2)  The theory of virtue as the fulfillment of functions

Plato's Concept of the soul:

Plato assumed that soul is the principle of life and movement. The body by itself is inanimate and therefore when it moves it must be moved by the principle of life, by soul. Plato described the soul as having three parts called reason, spirit and appetite. 

Firstly, there is an awareness of a goal or a value and this is the act of reason; secondly, there is the desire toward action; the spirit which is neutral at first but responds to the direction of reason. Last, there is the desire for the things of the body, the appetite. Plato has summed that these three parts are linked together and must work together to achieve their goals. According to Plato, all the three parts have their goals, but the passion or appetite in goal seeking is incapable of distinguishing between objects that provide long lasting pleasure and those that provide pleasure for the short time. 

Plato believed that moral evil is the result of ignorance .Evil or vice is inherent in soul when it is created. The soul has two parts namely rational and irrational. The rational past is created by the Demiurge whereas the irrational part is created by the heavenly gods. There is another cause of the disorder as when the soul enters into the body, the body persuades the soul to create disorder by overthrowing the rulership of the reason. 

In addition the body creates stimuli which make the reason go away from the right direction. Evil is also transferred through the transmigration of the soul. In the process of becoming moral, men must recover his best inner harmony with which he has acquainted in the world of Ideas. The reason must overthrow the rule of appetites. The reason must take the control over the irrational parts of the self and distinguish the false knowledge. According to Plato, no one does anything which will be harmful to him. But man should do what is actually good but not good only for himself.

Virtue as the fulfillment of  function
The good life is the balanced life and the balance can be achieved when each part of the soul does its assigned function. Reason has a function and reason is good only when it acts clearly and correctly. At the same time, spirit has a function and so do the appetites and when these parts do their function properly then the balanced life is achieved. According to the Plato, there are four cardinal virtues. Three of these correspond to the three parts of the soul and the fourth is the unity of them.  

When the appetites are kept within limits and avoid usurping on the other parts of the soul, this moderation in pleasures and desires lead to the virtue of temperance. And when it becomes trustworthy instead of aggressive and defensive then the virtue of courage is achieved. And when reason remains undisturbed it achieves the virtue of wisdom. The forth virtue is justice which means proportion  and harmony within the  soul. When all three parts perform their functions and co-operate with each other, then the justice is achieved. 

By grounding morality on the various functions of the soul, Plato felt that he had overcome the skepticism and relativism. Virtues or the right conduct of life are action which flow from knowledge, knowledge of the tripartite soul, the Forms, and the Idea of the Good. Only the few have such knowledge and they should control the conduct of the other members of society.

Berkeley’s Subjective Idealism or Theory of the Existence of Things and Berkeley’s Criticism of Locke’s philosophy

Berkeley, the second in the line of the British empiricism,  is the founder of subjective idealism. Subjective idealism is an epistemological position according to which knowledge consists of ideas and ideas cannot exist apart from a mind. So, there is no extra mental objective reality existing independently of mind. Berkeley, who built his philosophic position following Locke’s empiricism, differs from Locke in a number of ways. He specially rejects Locke’s concept of substance and the primary qualities.                   
Though Berkeley uses the empiricism of Locke to establish his position, he is far from following Locke’s common sense approach concerning the existence of substance. Berkeley sets out to remove some of the rubbishes from Locke’s philosophy. Berkeley denies the existence of substance and the division between the primary qualities and the secondary qualities.

Berkeley introduces subjective idealism by his startling and provocative formula that “to be is to be perceived”, anything must be perceived in order to exist. Clearly this would mean that if something were not perceived, it would not exist. It was Locke’s philosophy that had raised doubt in Berkeley’s minds about the independent existence of things or matters that Locke sought as the source of sensory stimuli.  Locke had failed to push his own theory of knowledge to conclusions that to Berkeley seemed inevitable.                  

When Locke spoke of substance as “something we know not what”, he was only a short step from saying that it was nothing, which Berkeley did say. He denied the existence of the material substances and said that minds and their ideas alone are real. Berkeley says ‘Esse est percipi’. It means anything must be perceived in order to exist, no matter, but only qualities are perceived and therefore there is nothing besides minds and their ideas. What, for example is a cherry? It is soft, round, red, wet and fragrant. All these qualities are ideas in the mind that the cherry has the power to produce through the senses. So, that the softness is felt, the color is seen, the roundness is felt or seen, the sweetness is tested and fragrance smelled. Again, the very existence of all these qualities consists in their being perceived. And apart from these qualities there is no sensed quality. The cherry, then, represents a complex of sensation.

How Berkeley refutes Locke’s primary qualities

Primary Qualities: Berkeley refutes Locke’s theory of primary qualities and the division between the primary and secondary qualities. Berkeley, like Locke, had shown that the secondary qualities such as color, heat, round, taste, smell etc; are subjective. To a jaundiced person everything appears to be yellow. The same water appears cold or Luke-warm with the variation of conditions. He then proceeds to show that the lot of primary qualities is no better. Firstly, primary qualities such as extension, weight, motion, number etc vary with varying conditions like the secondary qualities. The same thing looks larger when we are near of it than when we are far off. The same motion appears fast to one and slow to other. The same thing is one, thirty six or three accordingly as it measured by a yard, a foot or an inch. Secondly, the proven and secondary qualities can’t be perceived apart from each other. So, extension can’t be perceived apart from color (by right) or heat and cold (by touch). The same arguments which make the secondary qualities subjective are equally applicable to the primary qualities. Is it possible, Berkeley asks, to separate primary and secondary qualities “even in thought”?   

Berkeley adds, I might as easily divide between primary and secondary qualities. But in truth the object and the sensation are the same thing and cannot therefore, be abstracted from each other. Since substance or matter is never perceived or sensed, it cannot be said to exist.

Berkeley was perfectly aware of the potential nonsense involved in his idealistic hypothesis. Aware that his idealism would be ridiculed , Berkeley writes what therefore becomes of the sun, moon and stars? What must we thing of houses, rivers, mountains, trees, stones nay even of our own bodies? Are all these so many chimeras and illusions of fancy?

According to him, objects are not therefore unreal. They exist primarily in the mind of God; and our ideas of them are only the reproductions of divine ideas. The laws of nature are the ways in which God perceived these ideas and reproduced them in finite spirits.

Berkeley adds: I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend either by sense or reflection.  The only thing whose existence we deny is that which philosophers call matter or corporal substance. And in doing of this, there is no damage done to rest of mankind, who, I dare say, will never miss it, says Berkeley.

In conclusion, we can say that in Berkeley’s theory a thing is the sum of its perceived qualities and it is for this reason he argued that to be is to be perceived, anything must be perceived in order to exist. Since substance or matter is never perceived, it cannot be said to exist. If substance does not exist and if sensed qualities alone are real then only thinking as Berkeley says, spiritual beings exist.

Aristotle’s Theory of Syllogism

Aristotle defines syllogism as discourse in which certain things being stated ,something other than what is stated following necessity from their being so. This is the principle of implication and Aristotle was particularly concerned that scientific discourse should proceed from one valid step to another with precision. He wanted to discover the method  that would guarantee that conclusions were rightly inferred from their premises . Th thought that it is possible through syllogism.

The syllogism represents a special form of connected language. According to Aristotle scientific demonstrations are possible because certain words stand for certain properties, qualities or characteristics of things.  Such words stand for essential properties as compared with accidental properties.  To say that a man is mortal is to describe one of his essential properties, whereas to say that he has red hair is to describe something accidental, since to be a man it is not necessary or essential that to be have red or even any hair .

But it is essential to his being a man that he be mortal ,and it is such essential properties of things that scientific propositions look for. When we ask why it is that men are mortal  a fact we already know from experience , we are asking for a scientific or technical “reason why”.  It is at this point that the specially connected language of the syllogism comes into operation, for the syllogism represents the linking of propositions about essential properties in such a way that the conclusion necessarily follows . 

And what makes the conclusion follow is that a particular term is found in both of the premises , linking these premises together so that the conclusion necessarily follows. We say first that “all animals are mortals” and next that ’ all men are animals’ and from this it follows that “all men are mortals”. The middle term here is animals and this term is linked to the predicate mortal and to the subject all men , thereby producing the implication that “all men are mortal”.  In a formal way, Aristotle sets up the structure of the syllogism as follows;

If (A) is predicated of all (B) which is a major premise; and
 (B) is predicated of all (C) which is a minor premise then
 (A) is necessarily predicated of all (C) which is conclusion; 

Aristotle’s chief interest in developing the syllogism is not simply to assure consistent reasoning but to provide an instrument for scientific demonstrations, and for this reason, again, he emphasized the relation between logic and metaphysics, between our way of knowing and what things are and how they behave. Aristotle, however, distinguished between three kinds of reasoning, each of which might use the instrument of the syllogion but with different results; these are ,first, dialectical reasoning ,which is reassuming from “opinion that are generally accepted” second, there is eristic or contentious  reassuming ,which begins with opinions that seem to be generally accepted but are really not, and, third , there is what Aristotle calls demonstrative  reasoning where the premise from which reasoning Starts are true and primary.
The value of syllogistic reasoning depended for Aristotle upon the accuracy of the premises;

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Locke’s Theory of Knowledge: John Locke as the Father of British Empiricism

John Locke is the founder of a new school of philosophy called empiricism. He did it through a new interpretation of how we get knowledge. The key concept of his empiricism is that everything we know we know from experience. It was diametrically opposite to the Cartesian view that we have our mind stuffed with ideas during our birth.

Builder of a new system

Locke built a new system of philosophy. In order to build his new system Locke, at first, aims to clear the ground a little and remove some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge.The main rubbish that he removes is the rubbish of the innate idea. Side by side Locke also describes how our mind works and how much knowledge we can expect from our mind.

Start of empiricism

With the publication of his celebrated work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke founded empiricism in Britain.According to Locke our knowledge is restricted to ideas generated by objects we experience. And ideas take two forms sensation and reflection. Without exception all our ideas come through our senses and through reflection upon these ideas our mind becomes internally aware of these ideas. 

First of all we have to have the idea of sensation and then that of reflection, because reflection means simply mind’s taking notice of its own operations upon ideas, given through senses. Reflection involves perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing etc.Locke insists that each person’s mind is in the beginning like a blank sheet of paper, void of all characters and the senses are the only agents to provide the mind with ideas.

Simple and complex ideas

Locke divides ideas into two groups namely simple and complex ideas. The source of ideas is experience. There are two kinds of experiences namely internal and external. On the basis of these experiences our ideas are also of two kinds: simple and complex ideas.

Simple means single idea. Whenever we look at an object ideas come into our mind single file. Although an object has several ideas blended together, the mind receives the ideas of those qualities separately such as a white lily has the qualities of whiteness and sweetness without any separation, but our mind can think of them separately, because each idea enters through a different sense, namely the sense of sight and that of smell. But different ideas may enter into our mind through the same sense, such as both the ideas of hardness and coldness enter through the same sense namely the sense of smell. Simple ideas constitute the chief source of the raw materials out of which our knowledge is made. Simple ideas are received passively by our mind through our senses. Simple ideas at first originate in sensation and then by mind’s taking notice of its own operation originate in reflection.

Complex ideas occur when our mind puts together several simple ideas and makes a composite idea out of simple ideas. Unlike simple ideas, complex ideas are not received passively by our mind. Here the mind actively receives the ideas. The mind does the three things such as the mind joins ideas, brings them together, but holds them separate and abstracts. Thus the mind joins the ideas of whiteness, hardness, and sweetness to form the complex idea of a lump of sugar.

Primary and secondary qualities

To describe even more detail how we get our ideas Locke turned his attention to the problem of  how ideas are related to the objects that produce them. In order to account for how we get our ideas, Locke says that objects have qualities and he defines a quality as the power to produce idea into our mind. Locke distinguishes between two kinds of qualities namely primary and secondary qualities.

Primary qualities are those qualities that really do exist in the bodies themselves. Primary qualities resemble exactly those qualities that inseparably belong to the object. A snowball, for example, looks round and is round, appears to be moving and is moving.These qualities are primary because they really exist in the object snowball. Primary qualities refer to solidity, motion, or number.

Secondary qualities are those qualities that have no exact counterpart in an object. We have the idea of cold when we touch the snowball and the idea of white when we see it, but there is no whiteness or coldness in it. Secondary qualities such as colors, tastes, sounds, odors, warmth, and smells do not belong to or constitute bodies except as powers to produce these ideas in us. What Locke wanted by this distinction is to distinguish between appearance and reality.


The discussion of substance is an important part of Locke’s theory of knowledge. He approached the problems from common sense point of view. According to him as there are qualities so there must be something that holds these qualities. If ,for example, we ask what has shape and color ,we answer something solid and extended. Solidity and extension are the primary qualities and if we ask in what they subsist, Locke answers substance. In Locke’s philosophy substance is an abstract idea and he himself could not give satisfactory definition of substance.    

The degrees of knowledge

The extension and validity of our idea depend upon the relations our ideas have to each other. Locke defines knowledge as nothing more than the perception of the connection of an agreement or disagreement or repugnancy of any of our ideas. There are three modes of perception namely intuitive, demonstrative and sensitive and each one leads us to a different degree of knowledge regarding reality. 

Intuitive knowledge is the most fundamental and certain. It leaves no room for doubt, hesitation and examination. The mind perceives the agreement and disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves without the intervention of any other idea. We know that a circle is not a square or that 6 is not 8, because we can perceive the repugnancy of these ideas to each other. From intuitive knowledge we know that we exit. Experience convinces us that we have intuitive knowledge of our own existence.

Demonstrative knowledge occurs when our minds perceive agreement and disagreement of ideas, not immediately, but through other mediating ideas. We reach this knowledge through investigation, reasoning, questioning and inquiry. Each step in demonstration rests upon intuitive certainty. This type of knowledge leads our mind to an exiting reality. By an intuitive certainty, man knows that out of nothing nothing can be created. Since there are in fact existing things around us that begin and perish in time, it is an evident demonstration that from eternity there has been something. And Locke terms this eternal being which is most knowing and most powerful as God. 

Sensitive knowledge is not knowledge in the strict sense of the term. It only passes under the name of knowledge. So this sort of knowledge does not give us certainty, nor does it extend very far. We have the knowledge of the existence of a particular man as long as we observe him. But whenever the man moves away from us, we are no longer assure of his existence. Nevertheless, sensitive knowledge gives us some degree of knowledge but not certainty.

Thus, Locke founded empiricism in Britain. Later his followers Berkeley and Hume led empiricism to further development.