Implications of Simple Wisdoms

Table of Contents: Simple Wisdoms Overview

Philosophy -- Metamorphosis at criticism

Criticize one aspect of philosophy and it metamorphoses into something else. Criticisms are deflected to the selected fields within philosophy. It is never taken to apply to the subject as a whole. Criticisms apply to naughty children, never to the parent.

From the etymology of the word philosophy I would expect the subject to be mainstream; to affect a broad spectrum of people. In a way it would be nice, but it is not the nature of the discipline. Not just today, as Kristin points out, but historically. Look what happened to Socrates. He was always considered a loony and a pest. A fringe.1 

I am not sure it isn't the other people who misunderstand. When Socrates dealt with people, he wasn't dealing with abstruse philosophical constructs. He was helping people learn how to think. And that's the only thing he was dealing with: helping people think about the things that affect them. That is so simple an idea. It doesn't seem to have a name other than philosophy.

Organized philosophy has failed at its fundamental task of helping people learn how to think. The reason the teachers fail is that they haven't the foggiest notion of what they are trying to accomplish.

What subject is this?

Is there a name for how you structure your thoughts; how you develop yourself? Value theory in Ethics deals with the common questions of "What should I do?", "Who should I associate with?", and "What things should I aim for in life?"

Socrates and Plato were dealing specifically with value theory. They dealt with "What is justice?" -- the major questions, not whether I should marry this person or that.5 

Socrates and Plato seemed less concerned with forms than with teaching people to live. And what is the name of the field of teaching people to live intelligently? It shouldn't be value theory. It is philosophy. The other subjects should be in search of a name.

Philosophy differs from religion in that religion depends upon a fixed dogma. Is the golden rule a fixed dogma? Is "you must consider the possibility of being wrong" a dogma or merely a philosophy?

Religions were valuable when they were valuable. They were valuable to those who had it once and outgrew it. To be embarrassed for having once had religion would be as childish as to be embarrassed for having been inexperienced as a child. It would be improper and non-productive.

Religion still has value to those who still want, require, or need it. Religion should not be sneered at. Nevertheless, care must be taken to see that religion does not inadvertently damage people who hold to it or others on whom it may be used.6 

Jaynes Thesis: Human origins of God

Jaynes contends that the gods and religions can reasonably have had their origins in purely human conditions. Therefore, contrary to previous opinions, gods are not necessary to explain the past.

Jaynes plausibly addresses how supernatural religions had come to exist in purely human terms. There previously had been no rational explanation for the things that had been written in religious tracts.

To do without the supernatural, many things in the religious tracts must be able to be explained in reasonable and human terms. If we are unable to plausibly explain how things could have come about, then possibly the implausible has occurred and religions might be true.

Religions based on the supernatural have a history of flying in the face of science, morality, logic and common sense.

Traditionally, the laws of society have been couched in terms of supernatural religion. To structure society independently of them, the lessons of value must be extracted and expressed in terms that are reverent for considerations that are human.

A serious problem with supernatural religions is that, previously, people need not have held themselves responsible for their own actions because the Will of God could direct them. Their can be no appeal to reason against the Will of God. When the question of supernatural religions are set on the sidelines, people are required to face to responsibility for the possibility that they just might be wrong. They are required to face responsibility for their own actions.

Theology differs from Religion. With Jaynes thesis, theology becomes a subject of sociological and historical interest rather than a subject for moral and ethical divination.

Religions can help people gain the strength to cope with society the way it is. It can be a unifying force the way Ukranian anti-communism is. There are few potent weapons for correcting society. If you depend upon religious dogma those weapons remain unhoned. Based on dogmatic religion, unity is figurative; non-existent in practice.

Many individual atheists and many state-sponsored atheists try to stamp out religion. That is unwise and unnecessary. Once religion is explained; once it is understood, then religion can be lived with. Then religion joins the useful fantasies similar to those the Greeks enjoyed with their gods when, in the later periods, the gods were used symbolically. In early Greek periods, the gods may have been considered real. In later days, as fantasy, they became a useful mirror for reality and a vehicle for the lessons of morality.

The hereafter: voices of the dead

The concept of the hereafter is common to supernatural religions. Many religions depend upon the hereafter to be the justification for moral behavior here and now.

People are caught in a squeeze. They are at once unable to explain the origin of the concept of the hereafter, and they depend upon it to justify moral behavior.

People have heard voices of people who were among the dead. The voices were clear and compelling. If the voices were of the dead, and if they had heard them, then there must be a hereafter.7 

Asking good questions

"Does God exist?" is not a good question. It joins others -- such as trying to deduce what He means from inscrutable signs -- as an affront to us I should not expect from so great an all-seeing and all-knowing a God. Whether God exists or not is one of the bigger non-questions of the day. It is far better to ask "How should we live, whether God exists or not.

Free Will

Free will seems more than a chance and less than a certainty.

In a multiple-level tangled loop there are lots of levels; lots of loops. The decision process is going to seem as slippery as a block of wood sliding over grease; or, better, an air hockey puck over its cushion of air. It will appear frictionless. . . as free will. In reality there is some friction there.

In free will -- in the mind -- there is some structure of the physical world operating. From the point of view of the elementary instructions of the machine, your machine, you are going to work this way. There is no other way. So long as you are electricity and chemistry you are going to operate this way. So long as you operate according to the physical rules of the universe, you are determined. You are a machine. As all of the planets in the Solar System are part of a machine. As everything in the universe is.

But the levels and layers are so deep -- with circuits that feed back on themselves, modifying proposed actions -- that for all the wisdom that we have -- or need -- it appears to function as free will. The looping is so complex it might as well be free will. The semblance of free will is a manageable way of looking at things. Reasonable, human, and useful. To function as if free will exists spares us from resorting to nebulous and ephemeral concepts.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin is not a useful question. Neither is "Does free will exist?". It is a fun question, and people are welcome to ask it, but in a field separate from philosophy. Aristotle dealt with the question of free will. So did Confucius. And it is of interest to people. But thinking about these things is not practically useful for everyone. Some may spend time thinking about the question. Others may never see the question in their lifetime.

The proof of God?

It is unnecessary to prove that God does not exist. Or to prove that he does exist. Whether he exists or not matters not a whit to deciding how best to face the simple daily problems of living: intent to set a decent standard for life; to lay a framework of understanding to help others learn the value of holding to that standard; to help yourself and others overcome obstacles to further development.

The dogma of church


Living. Why live

Without a supernatural religious concept of the Hereafter, a horrifying spectre emerges: If there is no purpose or goal to living, why go on? Quite simply, to see what will happen next. And to help future people the way past people have helped you.

Ephemeral Verités; Clichés as tangled loops.

An idea may be truthful, useful, and well-expressed. Yet, since it is so well-known, it may be come no longer useful because it is so obvious. It provides no new information. And yet. . ..

Aristotle, like Shakespeare, is filled with clichés. Reading the classics is fascinating because you find the clichés in what to us is a new context. Aristotle says all things in moderation. Then he talks about for any concept you can divide it into three parts: like a dialectical -- so that a man can be foolhardy for going against an enemy when the odds are 1000 to one; or a coward when he won't go when odds are 1000 to one in his favor; or he can be courageous and that is moderation.13 

All the things we are thinking about here are clichés: "Do not do unto others. . ." is about as clichéic as you can get. What we are trying to do is to compile what may seem to be clichés and to re-establish usefulness where usefulness may be overlooked.

If Confucius is brought up to date, or if Jesus' lessons are re-examined, they are restatements of clichés. Yet, clichéic or not, they are useful to those people who need them. If people don't need them -- if they are obvious to people -- then they are clichés. If they are not obvious, or have been forgotten, then they are not clichés.

What is the difference between something that is obviously useful and something that is a cliché? What translates that which Confucius says into something that is palpably useful?

1 ++++reference?
2 Violi, Unicio J. Greek and Roman Classics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965. Pg. 26.
3 Violi, Unicio J. Greek and Roman Classics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965. Pg. 26.
4 Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Letters from a Stoic. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969. Pg. 151.
5 As Kristin points out.
6 ++++Examples -- Christian Science, Iran, birth control, etc.
7 ++++Reference to Jaynes.
8 Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976. Pg. 291.
9 Branden. . . .
10 Hofstadter, Douglas. Godel, Escher & Bach. . Pp. 711-712.
11 Bronowski, Jacob. Fulfillment of Man. . .
12 ++++q50?
13 ++++Aristotle's Politics, according to Kristin.

Table of Contents: Simple Wisdoms Overview