David Hume – An Introduction

A very basic introduction to David Hume written for Grade 12 Philosophy Class

David Hume’s Life

  • Born April 26, 1711 in a tenement in Edinburg. Father died just after 2nd birthday
  • Started attending the university of Edinburg at the age of 12 – at this time it was normal to start university at 14
  • Worked in the Philosophical fields of Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion, and Metaethics.
  • Greatly influenced future Philosophy and provided many tools for questioning certain modes of thought.
  • Died from some form of abdominal cancer in 1776

Hume and Empiricism

  • David Hume was an Empiricist in the sense that he believed the constituents of our thought come from experience, and a Skeptic because he still thought that we cannot have causal knowledge of the external world.
  • The Copy Principle – the constituents of our thoughts come from experience. Even math requires the prerequisite of quantity that comes from isolating parts of experience
  • Hume calls all the contents of the mind perceptions, which he then splits into impressions and ideas. Impressions are the content of sense experience like colour and sound, whereas ideas are a product of the intellect (although impressions are primary to ideas).

Ideas and Hume’s Fork

  • Hume speaks of simple ideas and complex ideas – we take simple ideas that come from impressions such as blue or circle, and we then create complex ideas such as a blue circle. Any complex idea can be traced back to its constituent impressions.  Complex ideas require reflection.
  • Hume’s Fork: the division of all possible objects of knowledge into relations of ideas and matters of fact (of the actual world).  A matter of fact is a causal interpretation of our experiences, such as interpreting your perception of a mirror as a reflection of yourself, as opposed to a clone of yourself elaborately mimicking you.  A relation of ideas is logically relating / comparing ideas, such as “all bachelors are unmarried” and “2+ 2 = 4”
  • One cannot coherently deny a true relation between ideas, as they are true by nature of their directly observable content, but one can coherently deny a matter of fact given by impressions.  This distinction was high jacked by Kant and popularized as Analytic – true by definition – vs. Synthetic – true by nature of the actual world.

Epistemology of Causation

  • Hume says that we do not truly perceive causation. We are given instances of impressions, and via observation of resemblance and consistency over time, the mind fills in the gaps with the notion of cause and effect. When we see billiard balls collide with each other, we see instances of impressions, and the mind then fills in the gaps deciding that the billiard ball coming in contact with the other billiard balls made them disperse.
  • This problem then leads to Hume’s famous Problem of Induction. Induction is an inference from past observations, ie. Insofar, the sun has rose every morning, therefore it will rise tomorrow morning.

The Problem of Induction

  • Since we do not directly perceive causation, there is no logical necessity to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, that dogs will not meow, and that jumping off high surfaces will cause injury.
  • Due to Hume’s Copy Principle, we have no concept of causation besides the constant conjunction – the instance of two or more events occurring at the same time – because nothing is given besides the impressions.
  • Science relies on induction. Science is the causal interpretation of impressions.

The Whiteheadian Response to Causal Skepticism – Prehension

  • The Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead constructed a theory of perception that is mostly in opposition to Hume’s causal skepticism, called prehension.
  • A historically dominating view of perception has been Representationalism – that our perceptions are mere representations of reality, and that the perceiver and the perceived are numerically distinct (called the subject object dichotomy, popularized by Kant’s noumena-phenomena divide).
  • Prehension is the direct INGRESSION of reality into oneself and changing oneself. The perceived actually becomes a part of the perceiver. For Whitehead, all causation is a matter of prehension.  Any identifiable process is purely composed of a) a series of prehensions, and b) a creative reaction to said prehensions.
  • So in perceiving a billiard ball colliding with other billiard balls, we not only have instances of impression (perception in the mode of presentational immediacy), but we also directly prehend the causal information (perception in the mode of causal efficacy; more subtle).
  • Perception in the mode of presentational immediacy doesn’t give very reliable knowledge of the actual world (the nature of a certain instance of sense impressions can be misinterpreted) whereas perception in the mode of causal efficacy gives more hard facts of causal relations in a more subtle sense.

Bundle Theory

  • David Hume claimed that any object is merely a bundle of properties with no underlying substance
  • The Bundle Theory of Self says that the self is just a bundle of properties
  • The merits of bundle theory lie in the fact that it seems very difficult to conceive of there being an inherent object / substance stripped of any properties.

Humes Guillotine

  • This problem is in regards to moral epistemology and points out that you can not derive an “ought” from an “is”.
  • Hume discovered that people often derived “ought: statements from “is” statements, despite their fundamentally different nature.
  • For example: an abortion results in the death of an individual, but there is no transition to a moral obligation, which must been shown to come to a prescription, otherwise there is only descriptive terms.
  • “Because we evolved X, we ought to be X” – just because we evolved X, does not mean that X is obligatory
  • Hume’s Guillotine rejects all moral systems grounded in metaphysical description which provides issues for many different ethical theories such as Naturalistic Ethics, Divine Command Theory, Social Contract Theory, and more.
  • It seems that any ethical system must start from a certain description and try to derive a prescription thereof, considering that all we have access to is descriptions, therefore how can Hume’s Guillotine ever be overcome?

 

 

Advertisements

Language, The Münchhausen Trilemma, and Skepticism

Ambiguity, intellectual arrogance, and a lack of spontaneity haunts the current academic scene.  From vague scientific concepts, the meaning of life, the self, reality, the rejection of theories / methodologies that attempt to go outside a popular worldview, etc.  Far too many terms / concepts are used that, upon being analyzed, turn out to be entirely empty.  Not only could academia benefit from a rigorous skepticism, but this could also help society too, as far too many self destructive abstractions are painted by society as a result of a lack of analysis – racism, patriotism, consumerism, etc.  This is the human tendency to not look outside of “the practical” and to live in ones little box for their whole life.  Humans accept the world which they are given.  The intent of this post is to shine light on the uncertainty / absurdity of discourse and reality.  I’ll divide this into two parts:  1) Ambiguities of language and the human tendency to utilize terms without an analysis of the content contained in the term 2) The Münchhausen Trilemma – a problem that threatens the possibility of certainty, and my thoughts on skepticism & epistemic suspension

In analyzing certain concepts, there reaches a point where to make sense of it, you can only appeal to it circularly ex. “To say an action is morally wrong means that you should not do it”, “Essence is the essential part of something”, “To say that we matter means we have value”.  These concepts, upon being analyzed, are empty.  They contain an absurdity.  It may be the case that the entirety of our concepts are actually empty upon being analyzed enough.  It is rather incredible that the human mind has the ability to use a string of of absurdities contained within language as if they are completely meaningful.  A lot of discourse isn’t discourse as much as it is word artistry.  Interestingly, through psychedelic experience, whether that be through the administration of substances or from natural means such as meditation and sensory deprivation, concepts start to lose their meaning.  It seems as though psychedelics inhibit this part of the mind that uses concepts as if they make sense without analyzing their contents.  Its not exactly that they cause an intoxicated haze of stupidity, but they make you less accepting of the things you think you know, making all concepts look like these empty abstractions that do not necessarily correspond to reality.  We take in sense data and profile it into a conceptual framework, but this is more so practicality than reality.  Reality, when you realize that these concepts are folly, ultimately makes very little sense.  Mankind is generally scared of this transient absurdity, and to ground oneself in the comfort of structure, we idolize our language.  An excerpt from Carl Jung’s Liber Novus explains this interestingly:

“But the unbounded makes you anxious since the unbounded is fearful and your humanity rebels against it.  Consequently you seek limits and restraints so that you do not lose yourself, tumbling into infinity.  Restraint becomes imperative for you.  You cry out for the word which has one meaning and no other, so that you escape boundless ambiguity.  The word becomes your God, since it protects you from the countless possibilities of interpretation.  The word is protective magic against daimons of the unending, which tear at your soul and want to scatter you to the winds.  You are saved if you can say at last:  that is that and only that.  You speak the magic word, and the limitless is finally banished.  Because of that men seek and make words

Reality does not seem to make much clear sense when you come to these conclusions.  Consider the following.  The means by which we explore this world, our six senses, can be manipulated if one is colour blind or has Synaesthesia – a rare experiential phenomena in which one converts external data into an internal experiential data unlike the conventionally experienced one – experienceable via. psychedelics.  Whereas you may look at a yellow banner and say that it is yellow, a Synesthete may instead say that it is high pitched, because the Synesthete can see sounds, hear colours, and more.  There have been several talented musicians who would see their music in colour, such as Billy Joel, Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, and more.  Now, its easy for somebody to decide to write this off as broken brain syndrome, but are they really interpreting data the incorrect way or are they merely interpreting it differently?  There is an explanatory gap in physics between electromagnetic waves – what physicists refer to as the datum correlated to our seeing of colour  – and the actual experiential data of colour.  We could imagine another species that evolved to interpret sound waves as taste, electromagnetic waves as sound, or radio waves and dark matter as a sense that we cannot even imagine because we haven’t experienced it.  It seems as though what we experience in our six senses is not really out there objectively.  We only evolved them because they are practical to our survival, but as I’ve said, practicality is not reality.  So what is out there in raw reality?  Well, maybe we can’t really consider “out there” as this orderly intelligible thing.  It is likely just an undifferentiated chaos that we experience as orderly for practicality.  So, hopefully I have shown you how bizarre this world is at this point.  We’re living in a world that makes sense to us because we use concepts to make sense of it, but our concepts do not correspond to reality – they are fabricated – and upon analysis, these concepts contain nothing but ABSURDITIES.  How incredible that the human mind can use a string of absurdities dressed in language as if they make sense.  Consider the concepts “mental” and “physical”.  These are some very basic concepts in our worldview. No linguist, metaphysician, or scientist has provided an adequate explanation for the content contained within these terms.  They are completely enigmatic, and any attempt to explain what “physical” means often relies on some appeal to empiricism or complete circularity.  Who’s to say that everything isn’t just experience and information?

An interesting problem in epistemology – knowledge theory – called the Münchhausen Trilemma threatens our thoughts on knowledge and justification.  Knowledge is generally considered a true belief which is justified.  So for any proposition to be considered knowledge, it must have an explanation for its justification, but for that justification to be considered knowledge, it too must have a further justification.  The conclusion is that for any proposition to be justified, it must contain an infinite chain of justifications – clearly an impossible feat.  Epistemologists have tried to reconcile this with something called Foundationalism.  Foundationalism says that we know certain propositions because they are self evidently and non inferentially given to us, such as “A=A” or “I exist”.  For quite some time I supported Foundationalism, as it’s rather hard not to.  Of course I exist – I am experiencing and thinking, therefore at the very least these experiences and thoughts exist, right?  No matter what, there was this little pushing “why?” in the back of my head.  Just a simple why.  The question “why” always wins – nothing ever puts “why” to bed.  No matter how much you claim that something is “self evident”, a pushing skepticism lurks around the corner demanding a further “why” for such self evidence.  The problem is that any attempt to shine light upon the merits of our reasoning either a) justifies the merits of reason via. a system of reasoning (circular reasoning), or b) rejects the merits of reasoning via. a system of reasoning.  It seems that we can not say that we know things, and we also cannot say that it is impossible to know things, because even the latter statement relies upon a certain system of reasoning such as the Münchhausen Trilemma.  This is an incredibly paradoxical problem here, and it seems like the only discernible option is an epistemic silence.  A complete suspension of epistemic judgement.  That is not to say that this is the RATIONAL choice, no, that would just be hypocritical.  This is just the choice that decides that given the capabilities our rationality, no reconciliation is currently visible.

Does this mean that Philosophical discourse is dead?  Have we put all inquiry to bed?  No, not necessarily.   Just because you suspend epistemic judgement and justification, does not mean you cannot entertain philosophical inquiry.  You can still have philosophical discourse for the sake of pushing depth of inquiry and rigor, its just that the inquiry does not come to a complete end or justification.  It’s always mysterious, and perhaps that adds some more beauty and depth to it.  This can allow us to look outside of our methodologies and basic frameworks to push our inquiry further.

In summary, it appears that many, if not all our concepts contain empty absurdities.  Many concepts can not be rigorously defined without lapsing into circularity.  Mind and matter, right and wrong, real and unreal – these concepts which are very basic to our everyday view of reality are threatened by linguistic ambiguity.  It seems that through the administration of psychedelic substances our conceptual library begins to fade into absurdity, not from an intoxicated haze, but rather from a rigorous hyperskepticism that seems to actualize the Münchhausen Trilemma in consciousness.  The Münchhausen Trilemma threatens our views on knowledge as a justified proposition – if a proposition has to be justified to qualify as knowledge, then doesn’t the justification also require a justification ad infinitum to qualify as knowledge?  It has been attempted to reconcile this via. the assertion that we have basic self inferential knowledge, but no matter how much you claim this to be self evident, it is always possible to further ask “why?” to such a system of reasoning.  “Why” can never be put to bed, for any attempt to stifle it results in a further “why”.  The claim that we can not know anything is just as problematic since it rejects the merits of our reasoning based on a certain system of reasoning,  so it seems that the only discernible option is a complete suspension of judgement.  Epistemic silence.  This world is incredibly bizarre and you do not understand it.

 

Process Philosophy

What is Process Philosophy?

Process Philosophy is a paradigm shift in philosophical thought that is united by the general idea that change, flux, process, and relation is fundamental.  Process Philosophy dates back to the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, beginning with his famous quote that “you can not step into the same river twice”, and has been extensively developed by many other philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.  Process Philosophy is a major deviation from the mainstream history of philosophical thought, as it dissolves many false dichotomies and abstractions, providing a new rigorously analyzed lexicon to build its ontology off of.  Process Philosophy is in opposition to its historically significant rival Substance Philosophy.  Substance Philosophy speaks of the dichotomy between substance and property, entity and attribute, subject and object, self and environment, and of essences.  Process Philosophy, the more parsimonious option due to its rejection of these deadweight entities, tends to replace these concepts with process, movement, relation, experience, and creativity.  To speak of essences and “things” is to abstract the practical mode of perception into reality.  Practicality =/= Reality.  A process is not a thing.  We only think in terms of rigidly carved entities because it is practical to carve out the geometric fields of our perceptions into concepts, but this loses its practicality with process philosophy and creates false problems, dichotomies, and concepts.  The historically dominant focus on substance seems to be a result of the cognitive dispositions caused by Indo-European languages that prioritize nouns over verbs.  On the other hand, languages that have prioritized verbs have created cultures that are much more aware of the transience of existence.

Most process philosophers do not necessarily consider this stance the be-all and end-all of truths, but rather they see process philosophy to a) be the more parsimonious stance (posit less expendable entities), b) have the widest explanatory scope and dissolve many philosophical problems and dichotomies, and c) provide the empirical sciences with a very intelligible framework (Process philosophy can shine light upon the “randomness” of quantum mechanics, and the Biologist C.H. Waddington has made some profound scientific developments by adopting Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Philosophy).  The development of process philosophy has mostly been attributed to A.N. Whitehead, who created an intricate metaphysical system of process-relational panpsychism – the notion that sentience is a universal, fundamental part of reality – and Panentheism – the idea that “God” is nature and more (this “more” being the realm of eternal objects for Whitehead, but that is something I will not cover here, as I have covered it on my youtube channel in my video on Whitehead).  I would argue that Process Philosophy demands Panpsychism and Pantheism (possibly Panentheism), and provides a much smoother view of causality.  It is the general thought that there are these floating constant “laws of nature” that entirely govern reality.  Many people have had problems with this seemingly ungrounded way of thinking and have thus tried to entirely attribute causality to God.  Constant laws of nature should not be considered compatible with process philosophy, as these constants neglect the transient nature of the workings of existence; but neither should an all powerful God be considered compatible with process philosophy, as this neglects the fact that a process-relational world always demands power within the confines of ones imposed relations.  Process Philosophy can provide a middle way in which the observed workings of nature are the act of a permeating force of sentience striving throughout nature, organized in a hierarchy of self organizing societies all the way up to the universe in its entirety – God.  This “god” must be considered a non-anthropomorphic universal consciousness, which CONDITIONS the cosmos rather than COERCING the cosmos.  This view of nature solves the ambiguous notions of fixed laws of nature, whilst avoiding the fatal flaws of omnipotent monotheism.  By prioritizing process, this has already provided a smooth framework for causality, god, and consciousness.

Process Philosophy, depending on the branch of thought, has the potential to dissolve many different philosophical dichotomies and problems.  The following are some dichotomies that can potentially be dissolved via. process philosophy, mostly from the Whiteheadian perspective

  1. Subject and Object

In perceiving an object, part of the object becomes part of the subject.  Perception from a process-relational stance should be thought of as the ingression of data into oneself, changing oneself

2. Mind and Matter

The concepts “mental” and “physical” are both linguistically ambiguous.  Definitions of “physical” always just lapse into an appeal to empiricism, an appeal to physics, or some form of circularity.  Mind and Matter are both abstractions of experience, and process philosophy is generally incompatible with a pluralistic mode of nature (or at least very controversial & problematic).  As the linguist Noam Chomsky said, if we can’t define “physical”, then there is no mind body problem.

3.  Substance and Attribute

Entities and properties, substances and attributes, are all replaced with processual and relationally defined information.

 

In summary, process philosophy is a very innovative shift in philosophical thought that has done away with many of the conceptual tools provided by the substance oriented history of ontological thought, replacing it with a much more linguistically rigorous framework that dissolves many false problems, dichotomies, and abstractions.

“It is presupposed that no entity can be conceived in complete abstraction from the system of the universe”

~ A.N Whitehead

 

 

Fulfillment and The Radical Transvaluation of Values

A plague of inauthenticity, hedonism, condemnation of life disguised as moralities and religions, and a lack of spontaneity haunts the spirit of the times.  We currently face a crippling sense of emptiness which will not be helped by our current value systems.  The ages preceding ours has had its great wars, its fight for rights, and its great depressions, but what now?  We now seem to be left with filler.  The great wars replaced with a spiritual war, and the great depression replaced with our daily lives.

Most humans have certain existential conflicts within their mind which are not resolved, but are often just pushed to the back of their head and compensated for with some inauthentic form of meaning – social validation, validation from an all powerful being (god), consumerism, hedonism, etc. – each ultimately failing due to the simple fact that meaning does not exist out there; it can only be salvaged from within .  “Woe betide those who live by way of examples!  Life is not with them.  If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself?  So live yourselves” – Carl Jung.  The inverse of this quote can be found in The Bible, John 14:6: “Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life:  no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”.  Lets analyze some existential problems that face humanity

  1.  Meaninglessness – Life has no inherent meaning.  This claim is almost always met with some surprised, confused, unhappy faces.  This is not a pessimistic claim, it just is what it is, and can be seen as something liberating.  What this means is that there is no universal objective meaning to life;  We may have INTERNAL feelings of meaning, which is a completely separate thing, but besides that, the universe is a chaotic process of becoming, simply doing what it is doing without any transcendentally ordained value.  So nothing that exists – humans, countries, planets, the universe as a whole – has inherent value, though it may have internal value for you.  We’re just existing to exist.  The important thing about this, is that the absence of meaning leaves us to be free and critically transvaluate ALL values, all moralities, and all authorities.  The consequence of meaninglessness is that there is NO moral truths and so nobody can tell you what you ought to do (though, of course, there are still things that will benefit you).  To live meaningfully, one must embrace the chaotic meaninglessness of existence and use it to conduce a paradigm shift in values and identity.  In confronting meaninglessness, one must a) make sure that they are deriving their internal sense of meaning from themselves and not from some inauthentic external source and b) take time to introspect upon your identity and values and analyze which ones are merely inherited arbitrary values that do not benefit you.  Any knee jerk retort that claims that this is pessimistic is merely the result of somebody who cannot accept their freedom.  You can tell where somebody is in their life based on their reaction to this.  Any reaction in the form of “If everything is meaningless, than why don’t we all just blow up society and end it all?” shows a deep level of depravity.  If you have an internal sense of fulfillment, what does it matter if existence is inherently meaningless?
  2. Death – This one speaks for itself.  We likely will die.  We will likely stop existing in the sense that we currently do, meaning our identity will crumble and / or we may just stop experiencing altogether.  A bit of death anxiety can be good motivation for acting authentically, but an unresolved fear of death is not a good thing.
  3.  Isolation – Rather than this being the general loneliness of not having significant people in your life, existential loneliness is the fact that we are all born alone, and we all die alone.  Sure, there are people who we have relations with, but we still all have separate wills which are bound to conflict with each other, and ultimately nobody can completely understand us since they don’t have the same concepts and experiences.  Language does not communicate ideas, feelings, or experiences themselves, but rather it communicates symbols which we then reconstruct with our OWN meanings, so we do not ever understand each other.  This may cause feelings of dissonance and alienation.  When this issue is unresolved, it frequently causes people to desperately seek social validation.

There are certainly more existential conflicts than these three, but these are the big ones which will be focused on.  Until these existential conflicts become resolved, one cannot be very fulfilled.   The big thing to focus on with fulfillment is the transvaluation of all values.  Transvaluation is just an introspective process of carefully analyzing all of your values and deciding which ones are inauthentic and destructive, and which ones are actually helping your development.  This should start with our moral structures.  Moral structures are mere power structures that sow the seeds for establishing a false you vs. me dichotomy.  Throughout history, many different races have claimed superiority and projected inferiority on others – would this have happened if they were aware that we are all equally valueless?  Of course not.  Morality must be replaced with mutual understanding, genuine compassion, and personal principles.  To demonstrate the fact that moral structures are mere power structures, consider the shift from the Roman & Greek master moralities to the Christian slave morality.  The roman master morality valued courage, strength, and intelligence.  For the more passive members of society, one way of increasing your state of power was to form a moral paradigm shift that benefits the weak.  Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”.  When humans are approached with something they do not like, the best way to increase their own power is to initiate a moral imperative saying that what they dislike is inherently bad, so that others will suppress this “bad” thing.  The most we can really say about something we dislike is that we dislike it.  We cannot say that it has the property of “badness”.

Another regrettable consequence of moral absolutism is the condemnation of suffering, and thus a condemnation of life.  Friedrich Nietzsche said “what does not kill you, makes you stronger”, because in overcoming a state of suffering, we make progression and are able to overcome obstacles in the future more efficiently.  The moralities have decided that pleasure is inherently good, and suffering is inherently bad.  In some sects of Buddhism and Hinduism, we are to suspend desire in order to extinguish suffering.  With Christianity, suffering is something that we are to be saved from after death.  An eternity of pleasure in heaven – though let us not brush over the fact that the biblical scholars have said that suffering and evil is the product of free will, and that heaven has no evil; the consequence: an eternity of robotic bliss, void of freedom.  As a consequence of deeming pleasure as inherently good, and suffering inherently bad, many of us believe ourselves to be inbuilt hedonists.  We think that the driving force of man is to seek pleasure.  This is certainly not the case – constantly chasing sex, drugs, and money only ever leaves people feeling empty.  Something that I call The Circular Sadness Paradox explains why desires are NOT formed by pleasure:  If we say that desires are formed by emotions, and emotions are formed by the reaction of an event that affects ones desires, we reach a circular explanation in which we still do not seem to have a clear foundation for desire and emotion.  The driving force of everything is The Will To Power – a concept devised by Friedrich Nietzsche that says that everything is just seeking power (in the vague sense of development and progression, not necessarily material / societal power), and pleasure is merely the product of fulfilling the will to power.  The parts of the brain associated with desiring and striving actually take up more space than the areas associated with pleasure.  We must understand that suffering can thrust the will to power, and so to live a fulfilling life it is required that we affirm the duality between suffering and pleasure, and understand that they both require each other to form beauty.  Art would be miserably empty without the inspiration of suffering.  So to reiterate:  all inherited moral structures & power structures must be transvaluated by the individual to fit his own unique being.  Principles must be seen as mere personal maxims that further ones motives, not extendable to others, as life is meaningless and the consequence of this is the collapse of moral objectivity.  To see the logical impossibility of acting morally to begin with, refer to my previous article on Egoism VS. Altruism.

Following the transvaluation of moral structures & power structures comes the transvaluation of identity.  When we’re thrown into this machine, we’re given a shoebox full of things to identify with, and because our minds are so vulnerable while developing we passively except it.  To except arbitrary things such as ones country, socioeconomic status, possessions, job, sexuality / gender, etc. as a meaningful part of oneself is often just mere existential sedation.  For whatever reason, people think their value increases the more they identify with things.  The big problem with identity is that it causes unnecessary suffering and can stifle academic progression.  When we start to identify with the positions we hold or the things we do, we start to develop an ego with it and interpret attacks on our positions as personal attacks.  A socialist having his ideology questioned will feel as though he / she is being personally attacked, and will not be as open to genuinely considering the possibility that they are wrong.  It is best to deconstruct your identity to only include basic psychological traits and passions, not abstract things such as nationality or social status.  The other thing about identity is that we should not completely see ourselves as an independent entity abstracted from the universe and others – we should see ourselves as interconnected in the process of experience and flux that is the universe.  In my previous article where I formulate my Psychological Universalism, I discuss the relational interconnectivity of nature and the self, albeit briefly.  We currently operate in a mode of perception where we see ourselves as an entity disjointed from the environment around us.  We artificially carve out the geometrical fields of our perception into concepts for practicality, but the reality is that everything is connected and to entirely separate ourselves from the environment is folly.  If nothing interacted, nothing would exist.  With anything we analyze, it becomes clear that the entirety of its identity is composed of relations, and if you deprave it of these relations, it ceases to be what it is.  The self cannot be conceived of without these relations – these relations that, when analyzed, appear to span the depths of the universe.  So, at our depths, we are the chaotic process of the universe.

Transvaluation on its own is not an instant jump to a state of fulfillment.  You can transvaluate your values yet still be in a state of mediocrity.  A creative outlet, a sense of wonder, exploration, healthy relationships, and compassion are still necessary of course.  A big problem in modern society is this imbalance between creativity and consumption.  Humans like to create.  We are a creative species, so when we are in a state of constant consumption void of creation, existence becomes dull.  Now, I won’t just regurgitate specific things you should be doing to live meaningfully, but rather I will finish off on the note of self exploration & philosophical exploration.  Nobody has the same path, so nobody can tell you what your path is, but I will say that you have to dig into the depths of your psyche and introspect upon your life.  Find your path.  Our current education systems have a lack of focus on the general science of being in control of your consciousness and happiness.  As a result of this, the common way of thinking for many people is that the mind is this untameable force that controls your fate.  “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” ~ Carl Jung.  We need to have classes that teach people to mold their mind and access unconscious tensions.  Take your path of progression and inner exploration, and see how far the rabbit hole can take you.

In summary, one must affirm the meaninglessness of life and transvaluate everything they have come to know – smashing to bits the relics of arbitrary values merely utilized by society for power; moralities, religions, law, government, consumerism, social status – whatever it may be for the individual.  Through this process of transvaluation, man will come to know himself better, and thus know his neighbour better, forming a genuine compassion through mutual understanding.  It is rather a sad reflection that mankind requires these floating abstractions of “right” and “wrong” to be kind, instead of forming peace through mutual understanding and genuine compassion.  With the collapse of morality, we will no longer think in the mode of “us vs. them”.  Racism and Nationalism will have no foundation to build itself upon, and mass shooters will have no moral ideology to inspire their violence.  Arguably, much of societies problems stem from the inability to affirm meaninglessness, suffering, and the absence of moral truths.  To live a fulfilling life, you cannot just go about your day and ignore everything, you must take a journey of introspection and philosophical reflection; this way you will come to know yourself and the nature of life, fulfillment, and psyche.

“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

 

Altruism VS. Egoism? Psychological Universalism

Do humans act in self-interest, or do we genuinely act for other humans?

Can we genuinely act morally?

What is “the self”?

What I have termed Psychological Universalism, a theory of human identity, value, and action, will attempt to shine light on these three problems, with the goal of a) Establishing the coherence of genuine compassion as a consequence of the absence of self, yet b) establishing the incoherence of acting morally.  Psychological Universalism could be deduced from a combination of a process-relational view of nature, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s panpsychist notion of The Will to Power

The question “do we act in self-interest?” contains problematic language to begin with.  To shine some light on the problem of Egoism VS Altruism, first we ought to confront the problem of personal identity to give it structure.  There is no inherent self, for the self cannot be properly referenced without a context of its immediate relations.  We are composed of our relations with other processes, and a creative reaction / valuation to said relations.  If something were to be completely depraved of its relations to others things, it cannot be said to exist.  There is nothing that we can identify that, when taken away from its relational contexts, has any substantial existence – here I adopt an ontology of relations and process.  No thing can be properly referenced in abstraction from the universe as a unitary whole.

When we look at humans in this context of interconnectivity, we must realize that our wills, too, must be seen as interconnected and thus mutually orchestrated.  This is a view that has been seen throughout both eastern and western philosophy; the Buddhists saw compassion as the consequence of the impermanence of self, and Arthur Schopenhauer also derived his descriptive ethics from this.  I adopt a Nietzschean Will to Power stance when it comes to what drives humanity, for we do not simply seek pleasure, we seek power (in the vague sense of development) and emotional pleasure is merely the byproduct of fulfilling the will to power.  This is why hedonistic pleasure seeking only results in a feeling of emptiness, because there is no striving or accomplishing with hedonism.  Where I would split off from Nietzsche, though, is where he rejects the possibility of genuine compassion.  Compassion is the will to power of another manifested in oneself – the ego fades, and we see that our wills are not disconnected, but rather are mutually orchestrated.  One might say that due to the interdependence of everything, the only true substantial self is the universe as a whole, and so there is only egoism on a fundamental level, but humans still do genuinely act for each other

When the coherence of altruism is established, one may rashly come to the conclusion that consequently, we are capable of acting morally.  This can never be the case.  Although Arthur Schopenhauer concluded that humans act in genuine compassion, he said that this merely displays a descriptive ethics, something that describes the nature of our moral belief systems, but does not deduce any moral prescriptions from such descriptions.  Schopenhauer said that an ought without an if clause is internally contradictory to begin with – ought statements do not communicate any real meaning without a motive to finish it off.  A means always entails an end.  Bernard Williams Internal Reasons Thesis could shed some light upon this issue.  The Internal Reasons Thesis is a way of reading any statement in the form of “X has reason to ω”.  We can interpret these sentences as proposing that “X has some motive which will be served by his ω-ing”.  So if a proposition says that X has reason to ω, yet he has no motive which will be served by his ω-ing, then that proposition is false.  For a volitional being to act morally, it would be algorithmically following a code of duty in an alien fashion.  Any maxim which can be formulated in the structure of “I ought to X if I wish to Y” cannot be capable of holding moral truth.  A moral truth is an ought without an if – nothing but “I ought to X”.  Both Egoistic and Altruistic maxims can be formulated as “I ought to X if I wish to Y”, and thus are incapable of exerting any moral objectivity, so for somebody to GENUINELY act morally, they must be operating in a 3rd mode – lets call this deontic action.  Deontic action must be a blind following of moral obligation, detached from internally valued reasons, otherwise it can be formulated into an egoistic fashion (or at least some fashion that merely serves a motive, whether that be your motive or another things motive, not a purely moralistic motive).  The clear issue with this deontic action is that it seems algorithmic and alien.  Would this really be what we’d like to call moral action?  Can you even call this blind action a volitional and free action?  No, clearly not.  The general rule of thumb should be: no motive? no action.  In summary, to act morally, you mustn’t be able to formulate your maxim with an if clause, and since egoism and altruism can both be formulated in such a fashion, a third mode of action is required – deontic action – a mode of action detached from motives, algorithmic in is nature, and thus meaningless.

So to summarize the tenets of Psychological Universalism:

  1. Everything is interconnected, interdependent, and impermanent; thus there is no real “self”
  2. As a consequence, our WILLS must also be viewed as interconnected
  3. Because of the interconnectivity of will, we do genuinely act for other people – compassion is the fading of ego boundaries.
  4. Despite this, everything is still the will to power, except it is mutually orchestrated, and so even acts of altruism can be formulated as a hypothetical imperative; therefore altruism does not = acting morally
  5. For one to act morally, they would have to be capable of a third mode of action termed deontic action
  6. Deontic action has no motives, and is simply completing a moral duty for the sake of the moral duty itself – this mode is algorithmic and due to the fact that its detached from motives, it is just a possessive, valueless force.  This mode of action is required for moral action, but is also untenable.
  7. Humans do not act morally

 

 

Carl Jung’s Theory of the Psyche

  • Carl Jung was one of the most influential early psychologists and founded analytic psychology
  • Jung was born in Switzerland to a reform pastor and begun studying medicine at Basel university, later on switching to Psychiatry at the age of 24
  • He was a reader of psychologist Sigmund Freud and the two of them eventually worked together and had a close relationship, however as time went on, Jung began to deviate from the Freudian thought as he did not agree that so many mental tensions were merely the cause of sexual complexes and childhood traumas. Freudian thought could not coherently frame the complexity of dreams and mythological relics of humanity

Overview

  • Jung wanted to design a coherent and practical framework that would account for the relics of the unconscious mind and a method for influencing it
  • He divides the Psyche (The totality of ones personality) into
    – Consciousness
    – Ego
    –  Personal Unconscious
    –  Collective Unconscious

Consciousness

  • The CONSCIOUS realm of the mind is everything that we are readily aware of.  At the center of the conscious mind lies the ego – the gatekeeper of the conscious mind – organizing the contents of experience and selecting what enters consciousness
  • Somebody who is highly individuated will have an ego that allows more contents to access consciousness
  • Knowledge of the ego personality is often conflated with knowledge of the self.  Many people think they know themselves merely by being conscious of their ego, but there is so much more to know of

Personal Unconscious

  • The PERSONAL unconscious, frequently referred to as the subconscious is the well of experiences, thoughts, or dilemmas that never gained entry into consciousness, perhaps because they were useless or repressed due to them being distressing
  • These dilemmas can show up in our dreams and show us the status of our mind, so we must see our dreams as important and pay attention to them
  • A cluster of unconscious components is referred to as a complex.  To say that somebody has a complex is to say that they have an intense unconscious fixation on a certain thing

Collective Unconscious

  • The Collective Unconscious is the mental realm of inherited dispositions and mythological relics
  • We are afraid of snakes and the dark because this was a danger posed to our ancestors for many years
  • Jung saw many mythological parallels in the visions of his patients and came to believe that we inherit certain “archetypes” from our ancestors
  • Archetypes are a main part of Jung’s psychology that made him so famous.  Archetypes are the inherited predispositions / images that reside in the collective unconscious – these could be fears, mythological relics, behaviour patterns, thought processing patterns, etc.
  • Archetypes should be thought of as virtual / potential images rather than definite images – somewhat analogous to Plato’s forms, though also incompatible since Jungian archetypes are dynamic.  Perhaps a comparison to Whitehead’s Eternal Objects would be more appropriate.
  • In analyzing mythologies and religions we can see these archetypes manifested throughout history – they are telling an important story about ourselves.  The four most important archetypes are:  The Persona, The Shadow, The Anima / Animus, and The Self (I’ll go into detail with these)
  • There are many other archetypes which are often subsets of the above archetypes, such as the trickster archetype being a subset of the shadow, or the god archetype representing the self
  • Each archetype has a dual-naturemeaning there is a good and bad side to each archetype – for example The Shadow, the animalistic / violent parts of man, has a good side which is the creative side of man, whereas the bad side is dark and violent.
  • Clusters of archetypes are formed, called complexes.  A complex is a certain fixation on something that can often be destructive.  The method of therapy that Jung devised to work on these archetypes and complexes is called The Individuation Process

The Individuation Process

  • The individuation process is Jung’s process of therapy in which one integrates the elements of the unconscious mind into the conscious mind so that they do not control you so much
  • Individuation is facilitated by the Transcendent Function.  The cooperation between conscious reasoning and the data of the unconscious mind is called the ‘transcendent function. This function unites the opposites.

The whole process is called the ‘transcendent function.’ It is a process and a method at the same time. The production of unconscious compensations is a spontaneous process; the conscious realization is a method. The function is called ‘transcendent’ because it facilitates the transition from one psychic condition to another by means of the mutual confrontation of opposites.

Jung (1939)

  • The Individuation process involves having an appropriate balance of all archetypes
  • When a certain archetype becomes underdeveloped it can cause mental tensions which could eventually result in a sort of rebellion of the archetype in which it hyper-develops to compensate for the imbalance
  • A good quote from Carl Jung that represents this thought is “What you resist, persists.”  The common man tends to repress or deny his negative attributes instead of becoming aware of them, and this merely results in a festering persistence of the very thing he is trying to repress
  • For example, we could say that the dramatic rise in psychological phenomena such as homosexuality, transvestitism, and gender dysphoria are the necessary consequence of stigmatizing feminine men and masculine women for many years.
  • Any religion that tries to repress the animalistic nature of man will necessarily thrust itself into violence.  This is why we have never seen worse wars than those instigated by the nations of abrahamic religion.
  • So, specifically how do we go about conducting the individuation process?  Dream analysis and active imagination

Active Imagination and Dream Analysis

  • Dream analysis and active imagination are the two main methods of going about the individuation process, alongside analysis of mythological / religious symbols.
  • Dream analysis is important since dreams are a projection of the unconscious / collective unconscious.  To achieve individuation, dreams should be recorded and you should keep an eye out for recurring symbols that may be communicating something important
  • Active Imagination (also commonly called Mythopoetic Imagination) is an effective method of directly bridging the conscious and the unconscious.  Active Imagining is done by reaching a meditative trance state and then passively allows a scenario to play out in which you have a dialogue with your unconscious.
  • You should be active in the scenario by acting as if it is a real scenario, but passive in the sense of not judging / interpreting the content quite yet.  Interpretation comes after the imagination.
  • Carl Jung compiled a large book of his active imaginations which was named The Red Book or Liber Novus.  During the time he wrote this book, he went through a very stressful yet profound time in which he was flooded with the contents of his unconscious mind.
  • He travelled down the rabbit hole of his psyche and occasionally even saw visions in waking life that guided his process of individuation
  • Jung warned that care must be taken when going down this path.  One should have a strong ego to embark upon this journey, for the experiences could be quite shaking, yet rewarding.
  • You must be careful or else it may be possible to slip into psychosis.  The difference between active imaginations and psychosis / schizophrenia is that Active Imagination is a voluntary ingression of the unconscious mind whereas psychosis is the involuntary flooding of the unconscious into consciousness.

Archetypes:

The Persona

  • The Persona is essentially the personality we put on when we are around others.
  • It affects external characteristics such as the clothes you wear, the people you hang around, the car you drive, etc.
  • The persona has social benefits but it can become detrimental when people over identify with the persona, as other parts of the mind will be underdeveloped and cause tensions
  • Over identifying with the persona could even raise your chances of developing a psychotic disorder, because as the unconscious becomes underdeveloped, it may revolt and flood you with the inner imagery.

The Shadow

  • The Shadow is the animalistic aggressive nature of man.  It contains attributes that have been repressed because they have been deemed unconventional by society.
  • While the Shadow has its dark side, it is also highly responsible for creativity, spontaneity, and insights.
  • Repressing the shadow will lead to a poverty of spirit – this has been shown in the common man of modern society.  We lack the Dionysian spirit as Nietzsche would put it.
  • The Shadow archetype is also highly prone to something called psychological projection – a coping mechanism in which a denied personal flaw is perceived as a moral deficiency in somebody else.
  • It could be said that psychological projection is the foundation to racism, and that to end racism humanity must properly integrate the shadow into their lives.

The Anima / Animus

  • The Anima in men or the Animus in women is the archetype which deals with ones feminine traits in the case of men, or masculine traits in the case of women.
  • This archetype has been developed through years of interaction with the opposite gender
  • For an ideal mental health, ones Anima / Animus must be able to properly express themselves and have balance.  Femininity lacking masculinity becomes self destructively compassionate, whereas masculinity lacking femininity becomes cold and resenting
  • Repressing the Anima / Animus causes mental tensions as it may cause an archetypal rebellion, causing psychological phenomena such as gender dysphoria
  • If a man or women has had a bad experience with the opposite gender or had a bad mother or father they may try to disconnect themselves from their Anima / Animus and condemn the energies of the opposite gender
  • Ironically, this only leads to being controlled by the very energies that you condemn.  A women who condemns men for being angry and controlling becomes angry and controlling herself
  • Repressing the Anima / Animus will also make you desperately seek out a romantic partner
  • People who have a controlling desperation for trying to find a man or women are really just trying to find what they are missing in themselves – their Anima / Animus.
  • The Anima influences what you consider to be the perfect partner.
  • Just as the shadow archetype is prone to projection, the Anima / Animus can also be projected.  Often times when people “fall in love at first sight” they are really just projecting their Anima / Animus onto somebody
  • After the initial stage of a relationship where your partner represents your Anima / Animus, the magic can fade because you see them more for who they really are.

The Self

  • The self is the archetype representing order and balance in the mind.
  • The self archetype has the job of trying to harmonize all of the archetypes and keep them in a unitary balanced process.  It aids the process of individuation
  • The self archetype lays in the centre of the psyche as the archetypes all gravitate towards it
  • After integrating the shadow and the anima / animus, the final step of the individuation process (although it never comes to a complete finish) is reaching the state of self realization.
  • Religious symbols are really just manifestations of the self archetype that are used to try to individuate the psyche.
  • The Gods of religions are really just manifestations of the self archetype
  • The self creates useful images of wholeness that can cryptically tell us about the self.  For example, Jung believed Mandalas to be representations of the self
  • Getting into a trance state and then drawing a mandala could be helpful in the individuation process.

Conclusion

  • Carl Jung’s psychology is a useful paradigm that stresses the importance of unconscious elements and works to manipulate them via. active imaginations, dream interpretations, and analysis of mythological & religious relics
  • For more on Carl Jung, there are some good youtube videos by Academy of Ideas, and there is a board on reddit called r/jung which has a lot of useful information.
  • For books by Carl Jung, I would recommend starting with Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Man and His Symbols, and Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, and then once you have a good comprehension of his ideas I would recommend reading The Red Book – a compilation of all of Jung’s active imaginations, dreams, and visions.