Two books on philosophy that I published recently, Hopefully, some visitors to this blog will find my way of dealing with philosophical issues helpful, or maybe, provocative.
So what can we say about Nietzsche’s early work, Human, All Too Human, and Schacht’s remark that it does not represents Nietzsche as a secular humanist at all? We can draw few preliminary conclusions, among them the following:
In this book Nietzsche develops a strict, naturalism that rejects idea of human as rationally driven. He does a psychological analysis of man’s values and beliefs and as a result rejects claims to rational ethics, democracy, and a rationally based philosophy. Even the title of the book, Human, all too human implies limitations of human action and motives. What do we imply when we say of someone, he is human all too human? Often the phrase implies that someone has failed to perform up to ethical ideals and maybe even acted dishonorably. In short, it is a way of saying that we should not expect consistently rational, ethically good behavior from human beings. Intellectual excellence and ethical virtue are not often part of our nature as evolved human animals. Nietzsche was markedly aware of our evolution as biological beings and aware of the psychological (often irrational) limitations of our actual values and beliefs to accept the view that humans are rational, ethical beings.
Yes, we are conditioned to varying degrees by all kinds of neurological conditions, physiological conditions, genetic conditions, environmental conditions, etc. We don’t live and act in a vacuum free of external and internal causation. But this does not prove or even offer compelling evidence for concluding that we never make meaningful choices and act responsibly. To say that, because of the conditions that affect how we act, nobody is to blame for wrongdoing is just as much a fallacy as saying that because an artist was affected by a large set of external and internal conditions, that artist should not get any credit for his works of art.
The entire business of denying free action and affirming a universal determinism is quirky business right from the start. I can understand how philosophers might fall victim to sloppy thinking on this; but surely scientists who should approach matters critically and with skepticism should never have fallen for the pseudo problem of free will.
There are a variety of attitudes that persons take with regard to philosophy. Among them are the attitudes of reverence (on one end of the scale) and iconoclasm (on the other end). The reverent attitude assumes that traditional philosophy expresses truth, or at least important aspects of truth; and that the scholar’s job is to render favorable interpretations of the text so as to bring out those important insights and truths. Contrary to this, the iconoclastic attitude mostly presumes that much of what traditional philosophers have written and uttered was confused and resulted from a lack of the knowledge that scientific development has provided.
The only basis for saying anything about any alleged ‘god’ is by taking note of the behavior of those committed to that ‘god.’ When we do (looking at the long, bloody history of god belief), we find anything but expression of love. What we find is violence, aggression, and the use of ‘god’ as a club to beat down the opposition. If we try to infer the ‘god’ at issue, it is not one in which God is Love, at all. This does not rule out exceptions, people who try to practice their religion as a form of love for humanity. And, yes, there is much expression of this sentiment in much religious literature, starting with scripture
Much of our philosophical discussion on social and political issues such as abortion is really not of much help to those directly dealing with those problems in the world outside of the philosophical halls and coffee shops. Much of our philosophical discussions are mostly abstract and theoretical, so much so that only the academic specialists can truly appreciate them. And, with a few exceptions, such discussions and debates are not too relevant to the real problems that individuals like those working for family planning clinics and their clients face everyday.
Consider the phrase: “…to be aware of objects in the world, I must form a representation of them “inside,”in my brain or in my mind.” The purported locations of the ‘representations’ are not at all equivalent or even in similar categories. “In the brain” is clear enough a locations and would be a clear reply to the question “Where is X located?” But “in the mind” is completely metaphorical and does not at all state an unambiguous location. “In my mind” simply means in my thoughts or alternatively, something about which I think. A lover who writes of his beloved, “I have you in my mind,” does not claim that the beloved inhabits his brain, rather than where ever she happens to be. He merely states that he has her in his thoughts or is thinking of her. “She is in my mind” does not at all answer the question “Where is she?” To think it does is tantamount to a category error.
John Dewey was what we would call today a humanist activist. He was one of the original thirty-four signers of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933 and an honorary member of the Humanist Press Association, which was the predecessor to the American Humanist Association. With a wide range of works that were not only highly respected in academia but also influential in shaping American public policy and dialogue, Dewey is arguably the single most important public intellectual in the history of modern American humanism.
There is no problem of free will. Humans can realize degrees of freedom and make informed choices; in many situations they can do what they desire to do or what they find to be in their best interest. There isn’t any conflict between this concept of free action and a concept of determinism which does not imply predictability or inevitability. This free action and free choice are all that are required for what Dennett refers to as freedom worth having.
Someone who denies dualism can consistently affirm the obvious truth that each of us has subjective experiences. These are different issues altogether. In fact, I don’t know of any non-dualist who denies that people have subjective experiences. Not even the more radical behaviorists went to that extreme.