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Techno(non)immortalization • The Abyss ‘Twixt Mythos & Logos • Abortion and Blind Spots • On Rorty • Freedom For Capitalists! • Hegel Goes West • Freedom From Hegel! • Freedom From Freedom! • The Truth About Post-Truth • Happiness and Responsibility!
Dear Editor: I enjoyed the Tallis in Wonderland article on ‘Technoimmortalization’ in Issue 128. The good professor wrote excellent good sense in his usual elegant style. However, was the subject really worthy of Professor Tallis’s detailed critique? He’s considering the idea that one day techniques might be available for the essential personal information in my brain to be uploaded onto a computer or something similar. But when I’m dead, I’ll still be dead, won’t I? The fact that some computer or something somewhere thinks it’s me wouldn’t alter that fact, would it?
I first encountered this problem over fifty years ago while watching Star Trek. Captain Kirk would be beamed up; and I thought, Captain Kirk on the planet he needed to be beamed up from has just died, and can have no experience of the post-beaming life of the new copy of Kirk, with his reconstituted body and reconstituted memories.
“I’m sorry if this has spoiled your day, when you have so few of them”, writes Prof Tallis. But, happily, I have no idea how few days remain to me, and as I feel quite well today, I also feel immortal!
Dave Mangnall, Cheshire
Dear Editor: I just finished reading Raymond Tallis’s ‘Technoimmortalization’, Issue 128, and it inspired me with the following thoughts on life after death:
After death: I wonder how many people have lost sleep over the fact they weren’t able to help build the pyramids? Has anyone today ever felt angry they weren’t able to catch a ride on the Mayflower and participate in a great new adventure on a new continent? In general terms, has anyone ever anguished over the fact they didn’t exist through centuries of history and most of humanity’s existence? Probably not. But I bet plenty of people have lost some Zzzs over the thought of going back to non-existence after they die.
Reincarnation: If I wanted to live on, it would be as me, not as someone else. Would you really want to start over as a small child and have to go through all life’s trials again: trying to fit in; the teenage years… perhaps as someone of the opposite sex and a worse economic situation. I had a great life looking back on it, but I wouldn’t want to do over it again, especially as someone else.
Heaven: This is a big one. How about the belief in your dearly departed looking down on you? Is it Heaven to be able to look down and see your loved one’s reality but not be able to do anything about it? Or maybe Heaven involves suddenly awaking in a strange realm you can’t relate to. That would be scary! Would you have a body? What age? Without a body, what could you do? What would be your goal, and how could you strive for it? Maybe what people expect from Heaven is stress-free pleasure. I still remember a favorite episode on the Twilight Zone from the Fifties, in which a man died and went to where he had all the pleasures he could want. He loved to play pool, so he played continuously, and won every time. After a long time, he became bored of winning every single game. He soon lost interest, and said he didn’t like heaven anymore. As the final line in the show, his host replied, “Who said this was Heaven?” Maybe going out of existence isn’t so bad after all.
D.H. Socha, Dartmouth, MA
The Abyss ‘Twixt Mythos & Logos
Dear Editor: Regarding Peter Flegel’s article, ‘Does Western Philosophy have Egyptian Roots?’ (Issue 128): I am glad the author phrased the title as a question rather than a statement, thus exonerating himself from excessive criticism. Let me just say that although Egyptian influence on certain aspects of Greek culture is undeniable, it must be pointed out that the evidence of an Egyptian origin for any part of Greek culture is an entirely different matter. Greek culture was separate and different from Egyptian or African because of language and genealogy. Let’s not get carried away with never-ending cultural misappropriation for the benefit of perceived historical fairness. For instance, the first known philosophers, the Pre-Socratics, didn’t attribute natural phenomena to deities and myths. They rejected the superstitions and prescribed priestly wisdom predominant in the East, such as the worship of cats in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians also lacked ways of generalising: although hexagons are fairly common in Egyptian monuments, the pentagon is never found. And all mathematical terms, ‘pyramid’ included, are of Greek origin (as is ‘Heliopolis’, by the way).
It is important to be clear about this, for ancient cosmogonies are still paraded as the source of Greek/Western philosophy. However, these things have nothing directly to do with philosophy. J. Burnet said that there can be no philosophy where there is no rational science, and rational science is the gift the Greeks gave to humanity. But then again, it depends on what we mean by ‘science’. If we’re prepared to give that name to an elaborate record of celestial phenomena made for the purpose of divination, then the Babylonians had science. Or if we’re prepared to call rules for measuring fields and pyramids ‘science’, then the Egyptians also had it. But if we mean by ‘science’ what Copernicus, Galileo, or Newton meant, there’s not a trace of science in old Egypt or Babylon, while the earliest Greek ventures are unmistakably its forerunners.
Marina Hall, Anti-thesis philosophical forum, Chevy Chase, Maryland
Abortion and Blind Spots
Dear Editor: I write neither as an apologist nor as a crusader on this emotionally and politically charged topic: abortion. In his elegant exposé of historical blind spots, Gerald Jones (Issue 128) summarizes potential contemporary moral ‘blind spots’ we may be judged on by our descendants. Contributors to the list include Yuval Harari, Steven Pinker, Kwame Appiah and the author himself. These range from atrocious treatment and slaughter of animals for human consumption, to how we treat the elderly, misogyny, pornography, grotesque economic inequality, consumerism and environmental depredation. It is curious that the contentious issue of abortion was not mentioned as a possibility (even acknowledging that it can have strong medical justifications, for example). Particularly as it is now legitimized in many democratic societies as a matter of personal choice, with the attending large scale annihilation of a life form (I will avoid the quagmire discussion ensuing from the use of the term ‘human being’). Indeed in the same issue Michael Kowalik (‘Abortion and Phenomenology’) considers the phenomenological implications of this practice and how it can be self damaging to our constitutions insofar as we identify with what we are killing: “the greater the degree of likeness in what is killed the more deleterious to Self is the act of killing.”
One’s personal moral stance on abortion is not the issue. A discourse on moral blind spots would seem to invite the possibility of including this practice, or at least how we engage in it, in the lengthy list we may be judged on by our descendants. I think this is a legitimate consideration in a philosophy periodical.
P. Guarionex Lopez, Canada
call it poetry.
Scott Parker, USA
Freedom For Capitalists!
Dear Editor: As a left-wing anarchist, I hesitate to criticise the excellent article on anarchism by Nick Gutierrez in Issue 128; but I feel that he has omitted a significant strand of thought, namely, capitalist anarchism. It would probably shock Friedrich Hayek and his followers to be described as ‘anarchists’; but every time they say that ‘the market will solve the problem’ they’re putting forward an anarchist position, in that they’re rejecting the need for state intervention. Indeed, the idea that the market eliminates the need for state control of the economy inherently denies the need for the state. Cecelia Holland’s science fiction novel Floating Worlds vividly depicts a society based on capitalist anarchism.
Martin Jenkins, London
Hegel Goes West
Chris Christensen, sitting, self-consciously, on the WEST coast of the United States talks of a Drang nach Westen (= a Drive to the West) in Hegel’s theory of the development of consciousness and pokes fun at the philosopher for stopping at Prussia. He does, however, indicate with sincere understanding that Hegel was aware of who buttered his bread and, free thinker though he was, there were existential reasons for his assertion that a cultural apex had been achieved in Prussia and that its constitutional monarchy was the best form of power!
Granting Mr Christensen his thesis that Hegel wilfully ignored the USA, I think that, particularly in terms of 20th Century ideas of self-consciousness, the US was in many regards a peak. However, as Mr Francis Fukuyama found to his chagrin, the ‘winning’ paradigm becomes corrupted and a new one will emerge – to the West. And that would be … in China! I get this feeling of deja vu !
Sitting, as I am, on the WEST coast of Scotland, close to the University of Glasgow, which has established a close relationship with China, I daily see many highly-intelligent young Chinese people traipsing back and forth between the campus and their halls of residence. I think it is plausible that the next stop in the Drang nach Westen will be on the western Pacific.
Alasdair Macdonald, Glasgow
Freedom From Hegel!
Dear Editor: How fitting that Chris Christensen, a scholar of Hegel (‘The Trouble with Hegel’, Issue 129) is also a delivery driver. In order to find a place for themselves, men seek to attach themselves to some movement, some abstraction – perhaps humanity, or the voracious historical process that Hegel promotes. As I wrote in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), we fear that “if a man lets go of Hegel he will not even be in a position to have a letter addressed to him.” In Britain, the unreliability of the Royal Mail proves that unlike Mr Christensen, they have let go of Hegel.
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, Assistens Churchyard, Copenhagen
Freedom From Freedom!
Dear Editor: In Issue 127, Nayef Al-Rodhan claims that the tools of neuroscience can throw light on the problem of free will. He says if our actions have a causal explanation then we cannot be free, the implication being that if our actions don’t have a causal explanation, then we are free. But this is too short-sighted. If my actions are never caused by my beliefs and desires, my deliberations, intentions and choices, nor by anything else, then it is hard to see how they can be anything other than random movements of my body. If this is what free will is, it would be unconnected with personal responsibility and with social practices such as praise and blame, reward and punishment, or with any other concepts, such as authenticity, which are supposed to make free will matter to us. The real problem of free will is that it appears to be incompatible both with determinism and with indeterminism – in other words, it appears to be a self-contradictory concept. If this conclusion is correct, then it does not require the tools of neuroscience that Al-Rodhan invokes to discover that nobody has free will: what it requires is simply philosophical reflection.
Nick Everitt, Seascale, Cumbria
The Truth About Post-Truth
Dear Editor: In recent times the fashion of postmodernism has been overshadowed by post-truth. Is this good?
Labels are almost by definition inaccurately simplistic, but they do often describe social realities to some degree. ‘Postmodernism’ emphasises that our thoughts need not be dominated by big theories or worldviews. This leads to a kind of ‘pick and mix’ approach to truth without the aim of big picture coherence. Our concerns can focus on the particulars without having to make it all fit. The now fashionable label of ‘post-truth’ of course follows from this. Post-truth is the notion that society can choose to be led by emotions and sentiments rather than bothering with whether these reactions are based on facts or truth (or fall within the boundaries set by academic elites, as someone advocating it might say). This idea also rejects an idealised Truth which is universal and needs to be submitted to.
At a tribal level, the advantages of this attitude are pragmatic, as its emphasis on individualism fits nicely into Western culture. But this concept is now not just the play-thing of academia and the arts. One metaphor describing the application of ‘post-truth’ would be that it sees politics as being more similar to the bartering in the marketplace and business world. When you’re seeking the best deal you’re not necessarily going to be bound by any inconvenient ethic such as honesty. The game of not starting by offering the ‘fair price’ is accepted, and though outwardly dishonest, it is not offensive: that’s just what you do in the context of bartering. But now, in politics it seems almost a mistake to be honest! Related to this is the general disillusionment and scepticism of politics and of political correctness. This seems particularly understandable when the ‘best for the rest’ does not help me as an individual. All these elite boffins go on and on about ‘seeking the truth’ and what is ‘right for society and the world’, when they live in privileged feathered nests! Thus the protest vote against truth.
From a philosophical point of view I take some comfort in the belief that the truth is not going to go away even if it is ignored and unperceived. But from a humanitarian point of view this is all worrying because it has led to increased tribalism and disregard for ethical standards. Global warming, racism, bigotry, chauvinism and misuse of social media are just the beginning of the consequences.
George Dunseth, Leicester
Happiness and Responsibility!
Dear Editor: Professor Kavaloski in Issue 129 is absolutely right that the U.S. Declaration of Independence mistakenly assumes that happiness lies outside us. It is just as much within us. People who are naturally miserable and those suffering from depressive illness are unhappy despite the most favourable circumstances. Conversely, others are somehow contented despite considerable misfortune.
A further minor error in the Declaration is the assertion that all men seek happiness itself. No one does that. We seek what we think will bring us happiness and are often sadly disappointed when we obtain it.
But the major mistake in the Declaration is its claim that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable Right. It most certainly is not. No one has a right to pursue their happiness at the expense of causing great misery to others. The rights of an individual or a group must always be balanced against the rights of the wider community. And this balance might always be changing. What might have been a correct balance concerning gun laws in the eighteenth century has been made grossly unbalanced by the firearms available in the twenty first century. Failure to correct this imbalance causes frequent deaths of schoolchildren, disgracing a society which regards itself as civilized.
Allen Shaw, Leeds