The Balance of Yin and Yang

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Dec 271989
 

The most ancient of Chinese theological concepts is the belief in a universal order, emeshed in constant turmoil and change, within which man must seek harmony. This idea of universal order is epitomized in the Dao, or “the Way.” The Dao, an impersonal force or power controlling the flow of destiny, must be understood and mastered in order for the future to be anticipated and harmony amid change to be achieved. There are, unfortunately, infinite changes within the Dao, so the Chinese had to explain the way that change is qualified and how it portends or affects the future. This need bred the concepts of Yin and Yang.

The first, Yin—the black half of the Yin-Yang—meant, originally, “covered by clouds.” It represents all in the universe which is dark, hidden, or secret. Therefore, it symbolizes the uncomfortable cold of winter, the reserved and secretive female, and the base Earth. Conversely, Yang, the white, represents all that is bright and shiny in the world. It is the warmth and blossom of summer, the bright light of the sun, the open male, and the enlightened heavens. The relationship between these two extremes make up Change in the universe.

Both Yin and Yang are constituents or the basic spiritual fiber of everything. Therefore, their relative blending in a particular moment or instance dictates the nature of that instance or change, be it Yin or Yang. Furthermore, this relative nature can reveal a blueprint or schematic of the future repercussions of the instance. Now, the symbolism of the Yin and Yang could lead one to believe that all that is Yin is “bad” and all that is Yang is “good.” Although acting according to Yang is favored by Daoists, it is an accepted fact that the whole system itself is intrinsically good—including the Yin: it is of the Dao and is therefore the proper order. Both of the halves are needed to make a whole, and it is the balance between the two which determines the absolute rightness or wrongness of an event or thing.

Therefore, the core of the world order expressed by Dao and explained by the Yin and Yang is balance. The Daoists realize the importance of finding the middle road between frigid cold and searing heat, between blind darkness and dazzling light. Therein lies the harmony of the Dao: this balance. A white dot in the Yin half of the circle and a black dot in the Yang half represent the imperative need to blend the two components of life into a blissful harmony amid change. Therefore, the controlling feature of this regulating concept is the balance. Without a proper blend of Yin and Yang, change is wrong, properly blended, and change is progress.

December 17, 1989

The Doxastic Assumption

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Sep 271989
 

Lawrence Bonjour has dug himself a deep philosophical hole, one about six feet down. He has tried to construct a theory concerning the structure of man’s system of beliefs; but has run into an obstacle of justification. He is forced to salvage his coherentist ideas in order to justify his system of beliefs which is, in and of itself, a justification for accepting new beliefs. As an answer to this dilemma, he proposes the Doxastic Presumption.

The Doxastic Presumption is, for Bonjour, not so much a premise in the logical flow as it is a cognitive practice. He describes it as such realizing that it would, as a premise, require justification. Adjusted thusly, the Presumption states, essentially, that we must assume the veracity of our meta-beliefs; we know that which we believe. This practice, Bonjour claims, is automatic and, because of this, is reliable. He understands that we can question the beliefs in our system, but he feels that the meta-beliefs are not doubtful.

This, unfortunately, is where Bonjour stumbles into that hole which he has dug. This principle requires one to swallow too big a pill. It ask man, who has been staggering through the justification of his cognitive system, to justify that system with an assumption, itself unjustified. Why not simply assume the veracity of one’s initial system and save a few precious memory cells? There is little reason to entertain the Doxastic Presumption when it lacks veracity; when it just “assumes” veracity. Certainly, it is human practice to follow the Presumption. Does, however, humanity always have correct practices? It is conceivable that philosophy’s main barrier to answers is this practice. Could not the most important target of inquery be our meta-beliefs? Or is it impossible that man is mistaken about them? He is, after all, so certain of other “truths.”

Therefore, though the Presumption is a noble effort by Bonjour to escape his unpainted corner, it simply asks too much. It is nothing but an analysis of one aspect of humanity; but, to save himself, Bonjour turns it into an infinite regress arrest. Its failing poses a serious threat to the continued acceptance of externalist coherentism. If one can not even be sure about that which he believes, then a system of these beliefs will not be very trustworthy.

Mixed Drinks

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Feb 271989
 

The skeptics have won. They have punched holes in coherence theories and have made a mockery of foundationalism. Their ignorant posture, further, is invulnerable to criticism; so no riposte, on a philosophical level, is possible. They, however, do have a problem. What do they know? Well, they have said themselves that they know nothing, that they are certain of nothing. Yet, what good is skepticism as a philosophy of life if it offers no answers or even any shred of hope for finding the answers? At least foundationalism had a goal; at least coherentists had a system. Skepticism offers nothing on either the philosophical or practical level. With what, then, are we left?

It would seem that the skeptic is forcing its bitter, empty pill down our throats. To allow this is pure folly. Everyday life depends upon assumptions. These assumptions are formed based upon some loosely coherent web of beliefs which we hold. Without these assumptions, we could not act in life, if only because we fear failure and the unknown. What man would drive to lunch if he seriously doubted the continued existence of his favorite diner? How does the skeptic woman, living alone, contend with the absolute uncertainty of her home’s security? Clearly, skepticism is a dead-end street of thought. Its end result is only stagnation, inaction. This point is further evident when one argues with a skeptic. Their only response to any inquiry will be “I don’t know; I cannot be certain of the answer.” What progress is made?

Unfortunately, however, the skeptic has succeeded in damning the competition. Noone would whole-heartedly support strong foundationalist ideas. Likewise, the coherentists have their faults, making them equally unsupportable. For a solution, regard… a bartender. He has, in stock, a liquor whose intoxicating results are unparalleled, yet no man can bear its taste. He also has a mixer which, by itself, is pointless and ineffective, but tasty. His solution is our solution: a mixed drink. We want a potent solution, a foundation, for the universe. We equally require a coherent framework in which to apply this foundation and all of its deductive permutations. Thus should those who quest for empirical knowledge develop some blend of coherentism and foundationalism.
How, then, should we mix our philosophical potable? Equally—one part foundationalism to one part coherentism—or with more of one? Well, of the two ingredients, coherentism is surely the more stable, more useful. For that reason, it is our mixer. By augmenting coherentism with foundationalist beliefs, a truely tasty, as well as heady, drink should be formed. Coherentists propose an internally consistent weave of beliefs. Their prime fault, as Bonjour criticizes, is that their web is neither based upon external input nor “causally influenced by the world” (Bonjour, p108). Foundationalists aspire to reach the central truths of the universe; yet they are forced, because of their dependance soley on sense experience, to fear error and misapplication of the perceived truths. What if, though, the coherentist looked for the basic truths, and from these strove for consistancy? Or, equally, what if the foundationalist applied his fundamentals to a larger frame of thought? Could not a working format for justification of truths then be found?

Essentially, the answer is “yes.” Foundationalist flaws are easily avoided if one has an internal, working test or template in which to try to fit newly derived or discovered truths. If one’s senses are being fooled in some instance, the application of the their discovery to the coherent web will surely reveal this. Coherentism does not flounder alone with the aid of the external, fairly trustable input through the senses. One cannot form a coherent theory of existence which is completely incorrect if one is receptive to the external world. Certainly one could make a coherent web which is not grounded in experience, but our “coherent foundationalism” does not allow for such fantasy. Our mixed drink is blended.

April 20, 1989

On Machiavellianism

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Nov 271988
 

Niccolo di Bernardo Machiavelli was born May 3, 1469, with a modest future. Yet, after ten years in Florentine government he wrote some of the most influential works ever. His experiences as well as those in power around him greatly affect his views, and these views would greatly affect the world.

From the start, Machiavelli admired the Romans. He felt their government was one of the best established in history; and he would, in his works, often cite their methods. This, early on, set up his support of a return to earlier governing forms. He also highly regarded the Latin classics, the “golden words.” He was named gonfaloniere for life in 1502 but was purged from office in 1512 after Medici rule over Florence was installed. Machiavelli, however, learned much in ten years that would later benefit him. His encounters with Louix XII and the cardinal of Rouen as ambassador establish, for him, a basis for analysis of powerful rulers. He also visited Pope Julius II, and from that visit produces his discussion of damaging ways of middle behavior and how noone is capable of being totally good or totally evil. It was the son of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia, who proved most influential in the formation of Machiavelli’s ideas. During his three encounters with Borgia, he saw in him the prototype of a modern ruler. It was at this time he formed one of his main themes on what makes a ruler. All in all, it was his diplomatic experiences which had the most influence on him. They provided him with a ready source of examples to compare against those in his favorite classic authors and supplied him with a “laboratory” in which he could compare his budding theories to these examples.

It is after expulsion from office that Machiavelli begins his intense writing. It is now that he puts the ideas previously mentioned on parchment. The aforementioned theme he formed around Borgia described what causes someone to have a historical impact: ability or ingenuity (virtu) and good fortune (fortuna). It is in 1513 that Machiavelli’s virtu and fortuna theme (and others, to be later mentioned) is developed in the one work upon which most of his fame sits, The Prince. This work caused quite a stir initially, as Machiavelli intended; he wrote it as cause to unify Italy against French invasion. In it, he lays down his second famous theme, “Si guarda al fine” — one must consider the final result of questionable acts. He praises a beneficial goal, regardless of the violence involved in obtaining it. He also ties the first theme in with this theme by examining individual virtu and the influences of fortuna in human affairs. Another famous work of Machiavelli’s, Discourses, contains his more comprehensive studies of human nature and political theory. He more thoroughly analyses virtu and fortuna. Each ,according to him, make up half a person’s life, and no person lacking in either will become truly great.

Together, these two influences may allow a man to take advantage of a historical opportunity, or occasione. With regards to political theory, Machiavelli locates the standard of excellence for a government in the past. He asserts that present leaders should strive to reach the classic ideals of his favorite authors. He also aligns himself with classical theorists by feeling that a mixed form of government is the most stable. He sees that the conflict created by such a mix insures stability based upon dynamic equilibrium. Machiavelli therefore sees as necessary inner conflict within a state. In like manner, he expects war out of state, and calls for a citizen militia to fight it; this came from his admiration of ancient Rome or Sparta. Lastly, he sets down policy for the workings of a government. He states the need for ordini, meaning a constitution for the organization of aspects of the state. He also praises the conflict between Roman plebeians and aristocrats because it was carried on without partisans or factions. Discourses, therefore, was his most elaborate discussion of how a state should be set up and how the leaders of that state should rule.

The influences of Maciavelian works on more modern history become readily apparent now that his beliefs have been analized. Throughout history his ideas have been used for everything from a dictators propaganda to the foundation of a nation. In the worse extreme, such dictators as Mussolini and Castro have twisted his theme of using final analysis to judge actions to justify their oppressive rules. On the other hand, the United States was founded on many of his ideas. The entire mechanations of the U.S. government are layed out in the constitution, and the central government is built around a system of checks and balances, thereby creating Machiavelli’s all-important inner conflict. The first president of the U.S. was noted for his condemnation of political factions, and the first military system set up by Americans was a militia. These same impacts are seen in other governments also, which futher goes to show the impact of Machiavellianism. He did much of his writing with intent to unify Italy and instill the desire for a stable government in the people. But not only did he influence his nation, but his writings went on to influence the world.