Archive for the ‘Essays on Philosophy’ Category

Essays related to Philosophical issues.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Posted by khuram on August 19, 2006

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When Rousseau sent his latest article to Voltaire for review; Voltaire after having read, wrote him, “Your latest work is the most intelligent effort, that I could never anticipate of its kind, to make us think that we actually are not humans at all, and that we should leave up our present day civilization and should go to Jungles and Deserts as naturally, really we are just like other animals and we in fact do wrong when we do such inferior and mean acts like thinking and living on the basis of our intellect and wisdom.” Voltaire was a profound advocate of using the light of intellect and wisdom. Rousseau on the other hand was known for his anti-rational philosophy. Despite being against using the intellect and wisdom, Rousseau however himself was a strong supporter of a kind of thoughtful dogmatism. Voltaire, being an advocate of using intellect and wisdom, was of the view that humans must be free in their thinking. That is, there should be, as he thought, complete liberty of thought because if there is any restriction on freethinking, we humans then cannot live a life, which would be based on the light of intellect and wisdom. The very tricky and “wise” attacks on wisdom by Rousseau however put Voltaire under a dilemma for he was very much against all what Rousseau wanted to preach and at the same time he could not ask Rousseau to stop his non-sense anti-rational preaches because if he asked him so, actually he would be putting a restriction on thinking of Rousseau. Obviously, if he tried to put any such restriction, he would go against his own point of view that was in support of full liberty in thinking.

How did Voltaire manage to come out of this dilemma? It was in the form of his famous reply to Rousseau, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Why Voltaire thought it necessary to disapprove of the Rousseau’s point of view but to still hold his right to preach whatever he wanted to say? Voltaire’s this position actually was an accurate reflection of all the intellectual environment of the west of his day. It is very important to mention however that the Voltaire’s intellectual environment was gradually so developed that now it was possible for him to take the position where he was disapproving and holding some that sort of things which really could not be so disapproved or hold out just a few centuries ago.

Such type of open hearts did not characterize the European history, earlier to the time of Voltaire where people could really hold the right to say of what they disapprove of. Actually there was the hold of quite an opposite point of view in those times. That point of view was something like that: “I disapprove of what you say, so I do not accept your right to even live in this world.”

This type of point of view had its roots in the Catholic religious dogmas of that time. There was no liberty of any kind of theoretical or other disagreement with the point of view of Church. Not only all the religious ideology of that time but every sort of knowledge including pure sciences were all in the form of very sacred religious dogmas to which church wanted to keep and exercise its sole authority and proprietorship.

Copernicus was very much aware of the fact that what new ideas about the structure of universe and solar system had he found, were going against the established point of view of his contemporary church. He was aware that church would not approve of his findings and therefore would not let him un-punished in response to his disagreement with them. Copernicus actually had found that the established view about the structure of universe, where earth was considered to be the center of universe and sun and planets were thought to be moving around the world, was wrong in fact. Copernicus had found the truth that earth was not the center of universe because actually earth itself was circling around the sun in the solar system, along with other planets. Copernicus was so much afraid of the anticipated response of church to this kind of disagreement that he could not dare to publish his great work in his own life.

“I disapprove of what you say, so I punish you for why you dared to say this”. This was the practical attitude of Catholic Church in the case of Galileo where he claimed to have confirmed the truth of the point of view of Copernicus by observing the night sky using his self-made telescope. Galileo happened to be bolder than Copernicus. This was not the first time when he disagreed the established dogmas. Previously he had successfully shown that all the objects, irrespective of their weights, fall toward earth at the same rate of pace. And this time again he made such a courageous stand of making claim of having an observable proof in support of the point of view of Copernicus. Church, in response, not only disapproved his claim but also compelled him to refute his own previous stand. Galileo could not bear the forceful anger of church. He did accept his ‘mistake’ before others but in his mind, he was still convinced of his own point of view. Society of his time could not give him his right to express his point of view, which was true.

Time passed by. Use of telescope became common. Wise people confirmed the truth of Galileo’s point of view at their own. Point of view of the Church was proved to be wrong. Johannes Capler successfully calculated the paths of earth and other planets in which they orbit about the sun. The method of observational proofs introduced by Galileo became popular. People started confirming the established dogmas using experimental method. Newton made his accurate observations of physical objects and found the laws of gravitation and motion. The observational or experimental method thus won the war against the religious ‘scientific’ dogmas of the Church. Ethically, point of view of the Church became weak. Now it was a bright fact that Church was wrong in the case of Galileo. Copernicus, Galileo and Newton became the heroes of modern time. It was generally accepted that Copernicus and Galileo were not rightfully treated by the societies of their time. The modern society was feeling guilty over it. Society, as a whole wanted to rectify its wrong doings. Modern progressive forces were in favor of accepting the superiority of rationality and experimental method in the process of knowing the truth. These progressive forces became so strong that now they openly and very easily could go against the traditional points of view. Now the patterns of liking and disliking of the society reversed. Society now would hate those who prefer traditional views to modern views. But still there was a class, which still was not ready to accept the truth and superiority of the modern scientific views.

The progressive people, who were represented by people like Voltaire, identified that the main difference between old traditional world and modern scientific world was the acceptance of the superior role of human intellect and wisdom in the process of getting knowledge, in the modern world. For those progressive people, their contemporary world was better than the old traditional world. As already has been mentioned that some regressive forces in the society were also present. Since the tone of the mainstream society was totally changed, so the position of those regressive elements had become reversed. Now in the modern times, one who would take the side of traditional views, would be considered to be insane by the mainstream society because the experimental method had been proved so successful that it became synonym of truth itself, even for a layman.

Now the situation was opposite. Previously, it were the progressive people who could not openly express their views. Now this difficulty was for those who were still traditional in their approach and views. Previously those traditional minded people could easily abstain progressive people from openly expressing their views by just using the force. Now they were not in position to exercise force because by then, they had lost the support of general opinion. So those regressive elements could not effectively use the language of force to combat the widespread view of the superiority of human intellect and wisdom over the ancient traditions.

So the tasks before the regressive elements were to fight and reject the modern views and to again win the support of general opinion. They could not employ force for addressing to these objectives, so some of them tried to combat the modern views using the power of pen. Rousseau was prominent among them. He denied accepting the superiority of intellect and wisdom. He wrote, “those who think, are inferior animals”. He rejected the modern ideas of culture and civilization. He forwarded his own views about culture and civilization, which were based on ancient traditions. He tried to prove the authenticity of scientific nature religious dogmas. He was quite rational and he used strong arguments in support of his anti-rational views. He really made progressive people to seriously think about the negative aspects of accepting the superiority of human intellect and wisdom. Voltaire was his contemporary prominent progressive intellectual philosopher.

Now it was Rousseau, a regressive person, who was going against the general opinion of the society. Voltaire was the representative of that modern general opinion. He was against the points of view of Rousseau but at the same time he believed in the complete freedom of thought. Rousseau was thinking against freedom of thought, but after all he himself was ‘thinking’. Voltaire could not ask him to stop his negative thinking because he did not want to impose any restriction on thinking, even if it was negative.

In the modern world of his time, now he was able to approve or disapprove traditional views. He was in a stronger position, so he said to Rousseau, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was the result of a complete turn of the course of history. This is a good rational treatment against the opposing ideas but still we should not accept this solution to all the similar type problems because there can actually be some very sensitive issues where it may not be possible to accept the right to say of others, where others cross their legitimate rational and moral limits.

Posted in -Home-, Essays, Essays on Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy in Pakistan, Philosophy of Science | 19 Comments »

The Knowledge Explosion in the Modern times:

Posted by khuram on August 19, 2006

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The Knowledge Explosion in the Modern times:

Humans are rational beings. Unlike other animals, they always need to have some kind of theoretical relationship not only between themselves and the universe as a whole, but they also need to have some theoretical understanding about the mutual relations among them. “Knowledge” is all what humans theoretically know, of themselves, of the universe and of their own mutual relations. “Knowledge” in our known world, is under the sole possession of mankind. Other animals do have their existence in this world and they do have their own mutual relations also. They do not possess ‘knowledge’ however because they possess no theoretical stuff at all. We are not sure whether they can feel their independent existence apart from their surrounding environment or not. Even if they feel so, we are sure then, that those feelings must not be of theoretical nature.

Humans are unique in this world in that they act in accordance with their theoretical understandings. To understand the exact nature of ‘human knowledge’, it is necessary that we must differentiate between humans’ theory based actions and the instinct based actions of animals.

Other animals’ all type of action result only from one or the other instinctive motive. Instincts are bodily pleasures and displeasures, which, in an automatic way, guide the animal behavior and action in such a way that would be helpful for the performance of various biological processes. Thus it happens that animals feel some bodily displeasure, let’s say in the form of hunger, they then feel odor coming from their food source, their legs get the motion and take them towards the source, where the odor was coming from. They, in a manner which we can call ‘biological mechanical’, just have to eat that food because exactly it would be the demand of their bodily instinct, which is perhaps, or can be regarded as, some biological genius, which although is quite un-aware about its own existence but still then guides and controls the animal action in such a purposeful way which is directed towards aims that not only the animal’s life be sustained, but also the species as a whole may be perpetuated. In this way, animals live such a biological life, which has no theoretical awareness, even about their own existence, at all.

Humans, on the other hand, not only live just a biological life, their life can be termed as theoretical-life also because of their heavy reliance on their theoretical nature understandings, in most of their behaviors and actions. Humans actually are inferior to other animals as far as the performance of their biological instincts is concerned. These biological instincts, no doubt, do have their role in shaping the pattern of human behavior and action but in the case of humans, greater than to the role of instincts, is the role of psychological and mental factors in the formation of this pattern i.e. of human behavior and action. In contrast to the instincts, which exist in the form of purposeful bodily pleasures and displeasures, humans also feel ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’ which should not be considered to be ‘bodily’ in nature but more precisely, can be thought of as ‘psychological’ in nature. To have psychological features, in addition to just having biological instincts is a great advancement in humans as compared to other animals. Humans however are not limited just in having the extra psychological features, they, in further advance form are also given the God gifts of intellect and wisdom. In contrast to psychological factors which function by giving the feelings of ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’, the more advanced features of ‘intellect’ and ‘wisdom’ give humans the thing that is the most advanced and mysterious of all, which functions by giving the ‘theoretical meanings’ of such diverse things as ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ throughout to the capabilities of understanding science, philosophies and religion. All these things such as ethics, science, philosophy and religion, which are there because humans possess intellect and wisdom, and because the role of humans in this world is that of representatives of Almighty God, can be collectively termed to be “human knowledge”. This ‘knowledge’ makes humans the superior most form of life.

All the human knowledge can be thought of as a sum total of all the different types of theoretical understandings of various natural phenomena. This human knowledge can broadly be categorized in two main classes; first is the knowledge of true religion, which has been given to humans by God Almighty Himself. Second is in the form of Man’s self-made theoretical explanations, which are in the form of philosophies, sciences and technical understandings. For the purpose of this essay, we shall analyze the issue of “knowledge explosion” but only in second class of knowledge, which is man’s self-made.

The unique faculties of intellect and wisdom always compel humans to search for appropriate theoretical explanations of whatever phenomenon they observe in the natural environment. The title of this essay i.e. the knowledge Explosion in the Modern Times, also requires to describe in the essay, such a theoretical explanation that should properly account for the phenomenon of knowledge explosion in the modern times. So this essay should account for the theoretical problem of just how the human knowledge has been evolved over time and just how it has assumed its present day form.

This is a complex philosophical issue in fact and so all the technicalities relating to this topic cannot be covered in a short essay. Therefore, the process of knowledge evolution, only in a generalized way can be discussed here. Earlier we have identified humans to be the rational beings. Humans, as they are rational in their character and essence, always want to have some kind of theoretical awareness of whatever they identify in the observable universe. Humans, using their intellect and wisdom, can explain the identified phenomena but subject to a very important limitation. The limitation is that they can explain the identified phenomena only on the basis of whatever (limited or even incorrect) information they already possess. But afterwards, whenever any new information comes to their mind, humans then become able to re-explain the same natural phenomena on the basis of this new and increased stock of information. This new explanation, which is based on increased stock of information shall usually be superior and better to the previous explanation of the same identified phenomena because that previous explanation was based on lesser or inferior information.

The process of making explanations of identified phenomenon on the basis of whatever available information and then the re-explanation of the same identified phenomenon, but on the basis of increased stock of information, can be described with the help of an example. In the historical times, the early humans identified a natural phenomenon that sun daily rises in the east and sets in the west. Since they were rational beings, so they were in need to explain this identified phenomenon. They had to find the answer to the question: “why and how sun daily rises in the east and then sets in the west?” Surely, those early humans had to explain this phenomenon on the basis of whatever limited and inferior information they possessed in those early times. Those ancient humans did not know that the earth where they lived was spherical in shape. They could see only the flat surface of earth. They never had seen the ‘edges’ of their ‘flat’ earth. So according to this available information, the earth was ‘flat’ whose ‘edges’ might be located at some un-reachable distance. So this was the ‘available’ information on the basis of which our ancient forefathers had to find the answer to this question that why sun daily rises in the east and then sets in the west.

Experts of ancient history tell us that one of the early attempts of humans to find the answer to this question was something like that it was thought that every day a ‘new’ sun came from the un-reachable eastern corner of flat earth and then went to the western corner. The same thing, as it was thought so, happened on daily basis. This can be considered to be the example of the explanation of identified phenomenon on the basis of available information.

Now come to see the example of re-explanation of the identified phenomenon on the basis of ‘increased’ stock of information. The related information was up-dated in this case when humans came to know that the earth, on which they lived, was a large spherical object in fact. It happened in a way when some wise people took notice of such rarely observed things as (i) at the time of lunar eclipse, earth casts its curved shadow upon moon, (ii) during the course of journey in open sea towards extreme south, some of the constellations in northern sky disappear whereas some new ones appear in the southern sky and; (iii) the things which fall towards earth, seem to be falling towards a common center.

On the basis of these delicate rare observations, it was concluded after all, that our earth in fact is a large spherical object. Now on the basis of this new information in hand, humans became able to re-explain the above described phenomenon that sun rises in the east and sets in the west on daily basis. That re-explanation was something like that now it was considered that the ‘same’ sun circles around the earth. This explanation was better than before but still it was not correct. With the passage of time, there came the time when still better information came to the notice of humans and they again re-explained this phenomenon accordingly.

We have seen, up till now, that just how the quantity and quality of our knowledge has been evolved over time. The term ‘knowledge explosion’ refers to the evolvement of such type of human societies where sufficient quantity of quality knowledge is accessible to the majority of humans.

After having seen that just how the quality and quantity of human knowledge has been increased over time, let us now consider a very important characteristic of human knowledge, which is that the ‘knowledge’ can be accumulated over time. Its meaning is that whenever some new information comes to the notice of humanity, the new information does not erase up the corresponding previous information. The previous information actually is just ‘flagged’ as being ‘out-dated’ but still remains intact as a functional part of overall human knowledge. To mention about still another characteristic of human knowledge is also important at this stage. It is that if humans possess less amount of information, then they can explain only less number of identified phenomena. But if humans possess greater quantity of information, then they become able to explain the large number of identified phenomena

Since the nature of human knowledge is such that the quantity of information that humans possess, accumulates over time, so with the passage of time, usually humans get relatively large number of explanations of the natural phenomena. In this way actually human knowledge ‘accelerates’.

The issue of knowledge explosion in the modern times requires discussing about another related issue. It is that each individual human does not need to explain all what he identifies, at his own. Ready-made explanations can easily be transferred from one human mind to the minds of other individuals. This is usually done in the form of formal education and training through which accumulated knowledge, which was evolved over centuries, is transferred to the minds of new generations in relatively very short period of time. The state of ‘knowledge explosion’ actually is the result of this type of very large-scale educational activities. Present day print and electronic media also has made it possible, for large number of people, to get as huge quantity of knowledge and information as never had been possible to get by a common person. In this way more and more people are having more divers sets of information in their minds. The facilities of interaction with other people who live on distant places also have been immensely increased which has resulted in such a phenomenon, which can be termed as ‘knowledge sharing’.

Its overall result is that more and more people throughout the world are now having that much quantity and quality of knowledge, which was not so possible in early historical times. And since the nature of the functioning of human mind is such that more amount of information produces more new knowledge, so we can anticipate that our future generations shall see relatively more intense ‘knowledge explosion’ to that which we see today.

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