A Summary of John Finnis’s Theory of Natural Law

Hugh McCarthy's ASC Blog

So far I have looked at two theories of physical law. Lewis says that physical laws are descriptive statements made humans, whereas Armstrong says that law are relations between Universals, and so exist out there in the real world.

I want to get a similar contrast within legal law. So far we have Kelsen’s theory, where laws are normative statements made by humans. We can contrast this with a theory of natural law. According to natural law, there are laws that exist out there, that are true whether we know them or not.

Natural law has existed as an idea for millennia. I am focussing on the work Natural Law and Natural Rights, a seminal restatement of the doctrine by John Finnis.

In this post I will just summarise Finnis’s theory. I also have some criticisms, and an attempt to combine this theory with Kelsen’s theory.

John Finnis

View original post 2,306 more words

Women In Philosophy or: How To Argue With A Marxist

Recently on a personal page of mine I shared an article, the contents of which can be found here. I expressed my disdain for the idea that great philosophers should be thrown off the curriculum solely for their crime of being white males, to make way for lesser philosophers, and made the point there are few great LGBT or female philosophers to replace the likes of Plato, Descartes, Locke and Hegel with. This spurred a debate between myself and a gentleman who was clearly outraged by my opinion. The man in question is a law lecturer and an expert in human rights law, a respected academic certainly, but in my view blinded by his short sited ideology on this topic. I thought it may be of interest to share the debate, as I think it demonstrates the faulty reasoning and lack of thought behind the “equality at all costs” approach to academia. For the purpose of this I’ll call my noble challenger “Mike”, and myself “AoI”.


“Mike”: to be fair women and non-white people are hugely under represented in modern philosohy which places students and philosophers from minority groups at a disadvantage in terms of implicit bias etc … also don’t think you can stand over your assertion that all of the “great” white philosophers were straight (Socrates and Plato were rumoured to be gay) …

AoI: I think Socrates was almost certainly gay, probably Plato. I didn’t mention those two as presumably they are two of the white males the people in question want to remove from the syllabus. Plato should be on the syllabus not because he’s gay, but because of what he contributed. It may be true minority students are disadvantaged which prevents them from getting to contribute much to philosophy, but that doesn’t mean we should force minority voices into the curriculum if their contributions are inferior to other philosophers who happen to be white males. There’s only a finite amount of information to put in a philosophy course. The unfortunate truth is if you include these minority voices you have to force out better philosophers.

I’d also like to see some evidence that lack of female representation is solely due to forms of oppression and there is no cognitive advantages men have over women related to the kind of abstract thinking needed for philosophy.

“Mike”: I am not big into philosophy but I am aware that academics in the discipline of philosophy both in the US and the UK are giving more consideration to making their courses more diverse. Mainly because the majority of authors included in the curriculum are white men and the majority of philosophy lecturers are white men – as such the discipline is seen as a white male discipline for white male students. This is seen as disadvantaging students and philosophers from diverse backgrounds who are not male or white and compounds the notion that people from minority groups underachieve as philosophers. I take your point that there is only a finite amount of information to put in any philosophy course but that does not mean that students and academics should not have a think and a conversation about how we can make the curriculum more diverse understand that female academics are significantly underrepresented in faculties in the same way they are underrepresented in STEM, which is unusual for a discipline in the humanities. I don’t think there is a consensus as to why this is the case but certainly bias is seen to play a role and there is an argument for taking steps including looking at a more diverse curriculum to address this…

AoI: Well having a conversation about the minorities being underrepresented is one thing, but changing the curriculum to suit is another. Were there talented female philosophers who were getting ignored due to this attitude there would be a case for changing the curriculum, but it’s just a case that the body of philosophy has been put together by men. Whether this is due to forms of oppression which have existed throughout history seems to me irrelevant, even if we were to accept that, where would we go from there in changing the curriculum? It would seem the only option would be to drop some of the great philosophers on the curriculum to include female voices, most of which were part of the postmodernist movement in the latter half of the 20th century, but in my opinion such a movement has no place in a philosophy course other than as a footnote. The only point I’m getting at is it might be desirable to have female voices on a philosophy curriculum, but as of now they just aren’t there.

As you can see my argument doesn’t rest on accepting that women are in any way bad at philosophy, but just in terms of why they are underrepresented compare to other subjects in the humanities I would offer this speculation. No other humanities subject has logic and abstract reasoning as such an important role in other subjects. Women are often shown to be more capable at with language and emotional intelligence, but less capable when it comes to the kind of intelligence which may be called abstract thinking. The more important point is that although men and women score about equally in IQ tests, women tend to cluster around the center, while men variate more to extreme ends, hence you get more extremely unintelligent men, as well as more male geniuses. A very high intelligence isn’t exactly necessary to contribute to most of the other humanities subjects,however leaving a lasting legacy in philosophy requires a certain genius. If you look at historic IQ estimates famous philosophers score consistently high, and the best philosophers have often been great polymaths (Aristotle, Leibniz) who demonstrated exceptional intelligence in a number of fields.

Now this argument isn’t exactly scientific, mostly speculation based on the available information, but the key point I’m making is that the curriculum should not have it’s standard lowered just to include minority voices when their contributions aren’t sufficient to make it in on merit.

“Mike”: I don’t really understand why you are so certain that the writings of dead white males aka “the greats” are so indispensable. Like I said I am not particularly interested in philosophy – I am more interested in less abstract practical approaches to problems and issues. I might be wrong but not everyone agrees that the while male “greats” have written the most insightful and profound works in philosophy. Others have argued that the relationship between gender, power structures and knowledge has resulted in the belief that white male philosophers are considered the greats. I have read some of the work of Davis (a black woman) on social justice – her work is excellent yet it has not been recognised in the same way as Foucault’s work which has looked at the same issues… I think there is scope for greater diversity in curriculum – there is a movement amongst students and academics to make the curriculum more diverse and I think that is positive for the reasons I set out above…

AoI: Well I believe these dead white males are indispensable precisely because they are great. You may be more interested in less abstract approaches to practical problems but that isn’t the domain of philosophy. If people want to study practical theories on making the world a better place they can study politics or sociology. The unique contribution of philosophy is giving us theories to better understand the nature of reality.

Now there are indeed those who have argued that such a belief is a result of gender and power structures, such people are usually sub standard Marxists and charlatans who intentionally make their writings vague and unintelligible so it’s difficult to argue against what they say. They seem to me to be committing a genetic fallacy, I may think Plato was the greatest philosopher who ever lived, and they may counter by saying that opinion is based on my gender, environment etc. But until they can show me a couple of great female philosophers and demonstrate their ability over the male ones they have no evidence for such a claim. Of course, they would never do this as they are generally relativists who don’t believe in objective truth or making value judgements. As such, it’s impossible to engage with such criticisms. All I would do is defy anyone to name a few great contributions in philosophy which have come from women which merit inclusion on a course more than the generally thought ones.

The fact also remains, even if I accept my judgements on philosophy are irrelevant and decided by my gender and environment, before the 20th century there basically were no female philosophers. So if we decided to include more women it would seem the course would have to begin in the 20th century with post modernism. This would hardly be a good grounding to give students in philosophy. The other option if one was to split the course equally would be to have the course be half great classical and post enlightenment philosophers, all male, and half female philosophers. But again that would be to give half the time and focus of the course to 20th century philosophy, which would make the course massively skewed and again leave a poor understanding. So I may agree with all you say, but no longer speaking abstractly, it is very much a practical impossibility to include ample female voices and produce a course which gives a good understanding of the discipline.

Incidentally if it was up to me I wouldn’t inflict Foucault’s nonsense on anyone either, not because of his gender, but because of the weakness of his work.


~ I have yet to receive a reply.

Nagarjuna’s 70 Stanzas on Emptiness

1] “Arising,” “enduring,” and “disintegrating;” “existing” and “non-existing;” “inferior,” “middling,” and “superior” do not have true existence. These terms are used by the Buddha in accordance with worldy conventions.

[2] All phenomena must have either self-existence or non-self-existence. There is no phenomenon which is other than these two, nor are there any expressions which do not come under these two catagories. All phenomena which are the subject of this treatise are similar to nirvana because all phenomena are devoid of inherent existence.

[3] What is the reason for this? It is because the inherent existence of all phenomena is not to be found in causes, conditions, aggregations or individualities. Thus all phenomena are devoid of inherent existence and are empty.

[4] Some assert that a result already exists inherently in the nature of its cause; but then it cannot arise because it already exists. Others assert that a result exists inherently but not in the nature of its cause; so it cannot arise becuse it is not in the nature of its cause. Yet others assert that a result both does and does not exist inherently in its cause; but then they are asserting contradictory views about an object because an object cannot simultaneously both exist and not exist. Because phenomena do not arise inherently so also they do not endure or cease inherently.

[5] Whatsoever has already arisen will not be able to arise. Whatsoever has not arisen will not arise. Either a phenomenon has already arisen or else it will arise; there is no other possibility beyond these two. Whatever is in the process of arising should have already arisen or else it will arise in the future.

[6] The cause of a result which already exists is similar to that which is not a cause. Also in the case where a result does not already exist, then its cause will be similar to that which is not a cause. A phenomenon should be either existent or non-existent but cannot be both non-existent and not-non-existent because these two are contradictory. Therefore it is not suitable to assert that there is either an inherently existing cause or an inherently existing result in the three times.

[7] Without one there cannot be many and without many it is not possible to refer to one. Therefore one and many arise dependently and such phenomena do not have the sign of inherent existence.

[8] The twelve limbs of dependent origination result in suffering: since the twelve limbs and suffering do not arise independently of each other, they don’t exist inherently. Furthermore, it is not acceptable to assert that the twelve limbs are based on a single moment of a mind nor on successive moments of mind, as such moments arise dependently and do not exist inherently.

[9] Because contaminated things arise in dependence on one another they do not exist inherently as permanent phenomena nor do they exist inherently as impermanent phenomena; neither as phenomena with self-nature nor without self-nature; neither as pure or impure; neither as blissful nor as suffering. It is thus that the four distortions do not exist as qualities which inhere in phenomena, but rather are imputed to phenomena.

[10] There are no four distortions which exist inherently and thus there can be no ignorance arising from them. Because that ignorance does not exist inherently it cannot give birth to karmic formations, which means karmic formations will not arise and so also the remaining limbs too.

[11] Ignorance cannot originate as a cause except in dependence on the karmic formations. Also, the karmic formations cannot originate except in dependence on their cause, which is ignorance. Because ignorance and karmic formations are interrelated as cause and effect so these two are known by a valid cognizer not to exist inherently.

[12] By itself none of the twelve limbs can originate inherently, but must depend on the remaining limbs. How then can one limb produce another limb? Moreover, because one limb has originated as a cause in dependence on the other limbs, so how can it act as a condition for the origination of results such as the other limbs?

[13] The father is not the son and the son is not the father. These two are mutually not non-existent and the two of them cannot arise simultaneously. It is likewise with the twelve dependent limbs.

[14] Just as in a dream, happiness and suffering depend on dream objects and upon awakening these objects are known not to actually exist, likewise any phenomenon which arises in dependence on another dependent phenomenon should be known not to exist in the manner of its appearance.

[15] Vaibhisika: If you assert that phenomena don’t exist inherently then you are asserting that they don’t exist at all. So how can you make distinctions like inferior, middling, and superior or that there are different beings in the six realms of existence? How then can you assert the manifestation of a result which arises from causes?

[16] Response: When you assert that phenomena exist inherently you are asserting that they do not originate in dependence on causes and conditions and thus that phenomena actually do not exist. For if phenomena do not depend on causes and conditions, then they should have independent existence throughout the three times. Therefore there cannot be inherent existence for functional phenomena which arise from causes and conditions or non-functional phenomena which do not arise from causes and conditions, and there cannot be any third mode of existence for phonemena.

[17] Opponent: If phenomena do not exist inherently, how can you use terms to refer to their own characteristics or their characteristics in relation to other phenomena or non-functional phenomena?
Response: Although phenomena lack inherent existence, still we can use terms like own-characteristics, other-characteristics and non-functional phenomena for although these are unfindable upon analysis, still, like objects of a dream they appear to have existence to ordinary perception. So the way they exist and they way they appear are different and these conventional existences are called distortions or false.

[18] Opponent: If phenomena are devoid of inherent existence then they will be completely non-existent like the horns of a rabbit, and so there can be no occurrence of their arising or their cessation. As Buddha has spoken about arising and cessation, they must exist, so how can things be devoid of inherent existence?

[19] Response: An object cannot simultaneously arise as a functional phenomenon and cease as a non-functional phenomenon. If a non-functional phenomenon does not exist then a functional phenomenon cannot exist because an object cannot arise and endure as a functional phenomenon without depending on its cessation as a non-functional phenomenon, or else it would exist at all times. If a non-functional phenomenon which is different from a functional phenomenon does not exist then it is impossible for a functional phenomenon to exist.

[20] If there is no arising and enduring, which are functional phenomena, then there can be no disintegration or cessation, which are non-functional phenomena; so the latter would be completely non-existent. If a phenomenon were to exist inherently it must have arisen from its own nature or from some other nature, but it cannot arise from its own nature and because a phenomenon cannot have a different nature than its cause, so it cannot arise from some other nature which has inherent existence. Because of that, a functional phenomenon cannot exist inherently and because a functional phenomenon cannot exist inherently, so a non-functional phenomenon cannot exist inherently.

[21] If a phenomenon were to exist inherently it should be permanent. If a phenomemon were to disintegrate completely then you must accept the annihilationist view. If a phenomenon were to exist inherently it would either exist permanently or else undergo complete disintegration: it cannot occur in a way which is different than these two. Therefore one should not assert that a phenomenon has inherent existence.

[22] Opponent: Because of continuity there is no danger of the two extreme views. Acting as a cause of another causal phenomenon the original causal phenomenon ceases to exist.
Reply: As explained before, the cause and the result, like a functional phenomenon and a non-functional phenomenon, cannot arise with inherent existence either simultaneously or sequentially. In your view their lack of inherent existence makes them completely non-existent, in which case you cannot assert their continuity or that of the moments between them. Therefore the faults of the two extremes remain in your view.

[23] Opponent: When Buddha explained the path to liberation he spoke about arising and disintegration, so they must have true existence.
Response: It is true that Buddha spoke about arising and disintegration, but they are devoid of inherent existence. For that reason the way they appear and the way they exist are dissimilar, and they appear in a deceptive way to the world.

[24] Opponent: If arising and disintegration do not exist then suffering can not exist, so what cessation will bring forth nirvana? But because nirvana can be attained that means there is suffering which has inherent existence and therefore there is arising with inherent existence and disintegration with inherent existence.
Response: Nirvana refers to that state where suffering does not arise with inherent existence and does not cease with inherent existence. Don’t we call that state the naturally abiding nirvana? therefore arising and disintegration do not exist inherently.

[25] You have accepted that the extinction of the continuation of suffering is nirvana, in which case you have held an annihilationist view. And if you modify your position and assert that nirvana is a state where suffering has inherent existence and has not been extinguished, then you accept permanent suffering which even includes the state of nirvana, which is an eternalist view. Therefore you cannot assert that nirvana refers to a state where suffering is a non-functional phenomenon which has been extinguished nor can you assert that nirvana refers to a state where suffering is a functional phenomenon which has not been extinguished. These two assertions about nirvana are not appropriate. Therefore nirvana refers to that state where suffering does not arise with inherent existence and does not cease with inherent existence.

[26] If you assert a cessation that is different than a functional phenomenon then you are asserting a cessation which does not depend on a functional phenomenon and which exists inherently and permanently. Because we have refuted the inherent existence of a functional phenomenon and also the inherent existence of a non-functional phenomenon which depends on a functional phenomenon, so here a cessation cannot have independent existence and so it cannot exist inherently or permanently.

[27] Without depending on the defined one cannot establish a definition and without considering the definition one cannot establish the defined. As they depend on each other, they have not arisen by themselves, so therefore the defined and the definition are devoid of inherent existence and also they do not exist inherently in a mutually dependent way, so none of them can be used to establish the inherent existence of another one.

[28] Following the logic of this explanation of mutually dependent origination one cannot use the cause of a result to prove that the result has inherent existence. The same applies to all the pairs of such as feeling and the one who feels or seeing and the seer, and so forth. Taking these as examples one should understand how all the pairs are explained as being devoid of inherent existence because they originate in mutual dependence.

[29] Time does not exist inherently because the three periods of time do not maintain continuity by themselves, but are dependent on each other. If the three times were to have inherent existence in a mutually dependent way, then we could not make distinctions between, but because we can make distinctions so time itself cannot be established as having inherent existence. Because time does not have inherent existence, the functional basis on which the three times is imputed cannot have inherent existence, so therefore the three times do not have inherent existence and are merely imputed by concepts.

[30] Following the reasoning just given, the three characteristics of a composite phenomenon which are arising, enduring and ceasing are unfindable upon ultimate analysis even for you, so then a functional phenomenon which is characterized by these three attributes is also unfindable, in which case the functional basis of a composite phenomenon becomes unfindable. So when a composite phenomenon cannot exist inherently, how can a non-composite phenomenon which depends on a composite phenomenon have inherent existence in the least.

[31] At the point of its complete disintegration does a phenomenon disintegrate which has already disintegrated or at that point does a phenomenon disintegrate which has not yet disintegrated? In the first case the process of disintegration is complete, so this cannot be accepted. In the second case it is free from the function of disintegration, so this cannot be accepted. The same applies to enduring and arising. If a phenomenon were to endure at that point when it has alrady endured then the process of enduring is complete and we cannot say that it is enduring at that point. And a phenomenon which has not endured cannot be accepted as enduring at that point because it is free from the function of enduring. If a phenomenon were to arise at the point of arising which has already arisen then the process of arising is already complete, so this cannot be accepted. and if a phenomenon were to arise at that point which has not arisen then that case is not accpetable, because it is non-existent.

[32] If we examine composite phenomena and non-composite phenomena then we cannot find them as one, because then we cannot differentiate between these two types of phenomena, and we cannot find them as many, because then these two would be completely unrelated. If a composite phenomenon is asserted to exist, then it cannot arise because it is already existent and if it is asserted not to exist, then it cannot arise because it is non-existent. If it is asserted to be both existent and non-existent, this is not possible because such a state is contradictory. Every different type of phenomenon is included within this criterion of non-inherent existence.

[33] Opponent: The Peerless Subduer has taught that there is continuity in the flow of actions. Likewise, he has taught about the nature of actions and their results. He has also taught that the results of actions performed by an individual sentient being must be experienced by him and that whatever actions are performed are certain to bear fruit. For these four reasons actions have inherent existence.

[34] Reply: Buddha taught that actions do not exist inherently and so they cannot arise inherently. Although actions do not exist inherently, they will not be wasted but it is certain that they will bear fruit. From these actions arise consciousness, name and form, and the rest of the limbs of dependent origination. Conception of self is generated through focusing on the person who is merely imputed upon these dependent limbs. Also, it arises from the preconception which takes imporper objects and overestimates them.

[35] If actions were to have inherent existence then they would not be impermenent but would have the nature of permanance, and then the body which results from those actions would also be permanent. If actions were to be permanent then they could not give rise to suffering, which is the ripening of actions. If actions were non-changing then they would have the nature of permance and then they would have self-existence. But then Buddha would not have taught about the lack of self-nature.

[36] If actions were to exist at the time of conditions, those actions could not arise from those conditions. And if conditions do not have the potential to give rise to actions, then actions cannot arise from conditions because those conditions are similar to non-conditions. Because actions cannot arise even slightly from non-conditions, so therefore all composite phenomena are like an illusion, and a gandharva town and a mirage, and therefore they lack inherent existence.

[37] Actions are caused by delusions. Our body arises from the nature of delusions and actions. Because the cause of the body is actions, and actions arise from delusions, so therefore these three are devoid if inherent existence.

[38] When actions do not have inherent existence there will be no person to perform actions. Because both of them do not exist, results do not exist. When there are no results there will be no person to experience those results physically and mentally. Because of that reason that actions do not exist inherently, so all phenomena are devoid of inherent existence.

[39] If one understands how actions are devoid of inherent existence, then he sees the suchness of actions. When he has seen suchness he will have eliminated ignorance and when there is no ignorance then the actions which are caused by ignorance cannot arise in him, and so the results of actions such as consciousness and so forth up to aging and death will not be experienced by him. When consciousness ceases to exist the dependent limb of aging and death cannot occur; thus he will attain the state of liberation free from aging and death.

[40] Through his miraculous powers, Tathagata the Subduer emitted an emanation and that emanation emitted another emanation. As the emanation emitted by the Tathagata is devoid of inherent existence, it is hardly necessary to say that the emanation emitted by the emanation is also devoid of inherent existence.

[41] When we say that these two emanations do not exist inherently, that does not mean that they are completely non-existent but rather that both of them, just like actions and the one who performs actions, merely exist through terms because they are separated from the nature of inherent existence. They do not exist, but merely through imputation by thought in a deceptive way.

[42] The person who performs actions is said to be similar to the emanation emitted by the Tathagata because he is led by ignorance. And so his actions are said to be similar to the emanation emitted by the emanation. All of these are devoid of inherent existence, though they do have a slight existence as mere imputation supported by terms and concepts.

[43] If actions were to have the nature of inherent existence, then they would be permanent. But if actions were permanent then they would not depend on a person, and if there were no person to perform actions, then actions would not exist. In that case, nirvana, which is the state of cessation of delusions and actions, could not be attained. If actions did not exist through mere terms and concepts then their ripening results such as happiness and suffering could not arise.

[44] Whatever is said by the Buddha has the two truths as its chief underlying thought; it is hard to understand and must be interpreted in this light. When the Buddha says “existence” his chief underlying thought is conventional existence; when he says “non-existence” his chief underlying thought is non-inherent existence; when he says “existence-and-non-existence” his chief underlying thought is conventional-existence-and-non-inherent-existence as a mere object of examination.

[45] Neither does inherently existent form, having the nature of elements, arise from elements nor from itself and not even from others. Therefore, it does not exist, does it?

[46] A form cannot have the fourfold nature of the elements because if the form has four elements then it will be fourfold and the four elements cannot have a singular form or else they will become one like form, so how can form arise from the four great elements as its cause?

[47] Form is not apprehended as inherently existing, so therefore the form does not exist inherently. If it is said that the inherent existence of form is understood by the mind which apprehends it, then such a mind does not exist inherently because it has arisen from causes and conditions to it cannot be used as a reason for proving the inherent existence of a form.

[48] If a mind apprehends a form with inherent existence then the mind will apprehend its own nature. Such a mind has arisen from causes and conditions, so it is a dependent arising which lacks inherent existence. In the same way, form does not exist truly, so how can that mind apprehend a form with true existence?

[49] The kind of form, which has arisen but not ceased to exist, that I have explained is not apprehended by each moment of the mind in the present. Therefore, how can such a mind apprehend forms of the past and also of the future?

[50] In all times color and shape do not exist as two different things. If they were to exist as two different things then a mind could apprehend shape without considering color or color without considering shape. Because these two do not exist as two different things, so therefore there is not a mind which apprehends shape without taking color into consideration nor color without taking shape into consideration. In the world, a form is known to be singular; if its shape and color were to exist as two different things then the form would appear to the world as two instead of one.

[51] The eye has no consciousness because the eye is a form but eye consciousness is formless and that which is formless cannot adhere to form. In the same way the form which is observed has no eye consciousness, nor is it between eye and form. Because eye consciousness is generated in dependence on eye and form, if it is apprehended as having inherent existence, that is a mistaken concept.

[52] When the eye does not see itself, how can it see forms? Therefore the eye and the forms do not have self-existence and the remaining entrances should be understood in the same way.

[53] The eye is devoid of its own self-existent nature. It is also devoid of the self-existent nature of another. In the same way, form is devoid of its own self-existent nature as well as that of another. And it is the same with the rest of the entrances.

[54] When any of the six internal entrances arises simultaneously with contact, at that time the rest of the entrances will be devoid of the nature of contact. The rest of the entrances which are devoid of the nature of contact do not depend on the nature of contact. That which is not devoid of the nature of contact will not depend on that which is devoid of the nature of contact.

[55] The eye, eye consciousness and its object arise and immediately disintegrate, so they cannot exist as abiding in their natures and so those three cannot assemble. When these three cannot assemble, contact cannot exist and if contact cannot exist, so there cannot be feeling.

[56] Consciousness arises in dependence on internal and external entrances. Because consciousness arises in dependence on the entrances, so it is like a mirage and an illusion which are devoid of inherent existence.

[57] Consciousness cannot arise without taking its object, so it depends on the object of knowledge. The object of knowledge cannot arise without depending on the consciousness which apprehends it, and therefore because they exist in a mutually dependent way both of them lack inherent existence. The object of know ledge and the apprehension of the object do not exist inherently, therefore the person who knows the object does not exist inherently.

[58] Buddha has seen no essence in composite phenomena with inherent existence so he said that all composite phenomena are impermanent, so therefore they are devoid of inherent existence, or because he said that all composite phenomena are impermanent, so how could they exist inherently in the nature of permanent phenomena? If phenomena were to have inherent existence they should either be permanent or impermanent; but how can there be phenomena which are both permanent and impermanent at the same time?

[59] Through superimposition one develops the three distorted preconceptions toward pleasing, repulsive and neutral objects, which respectively cause attachment, hatred and closed-mindedness. Because they arise in dependence on these conditions, the essential nature of attachment, hatred and closed-mindedness is without inherent existence.

[60] A pleasing object does not exist inherently because some persons develop attachment towards it, others develop hatred towards it, and still others develop close-mindedness towards it. Therefore such qualities of the object are merely created by preconceptions, and these preconceptions also do not exist inherently because they develop from superimposition.

[61] Whatever may be an object of examination does not exist inherently. As the object of examination does not exist inherently, how can the thought-consciousness of that non-inherently existing object exist inherently? Therefore, because the object of examination and the thought-consciousness arise from causes and conditions, they are empty of inherent existence.

[62] The mind which directly understands emptiness is an unmistaken mind which eliminates the ignorance that arises from the four evil preconceptions. Without that ignorance the karmic formations will not arise, and so neither will the remaining limbs.

[63] Anything which arises in dependence on any causes will not arise without those causes. Hence, functional things in the form of produced phenomena and non-functional things as unproduced phenomena would be empty of inherent existence which is the natural state of nirvana.

[64] The Teacher, Buddha, said that the conception of true existence of functional things which arise from causes and conditions is ignorance. From this ignorance arise the twelve dependent limbs.

[65] Understanding the non-inherent existence of things means seeing the reality [i.e., emptiness] which eliminates ignorance about the reality of things. This brings about the cessation of ignorantly grasping at an apparently true existence. From that the twelve limbs of dependent origination cease.

[66] Produced phenomena are similar to a village of gandharvas, an illusion, a hair net in the eyes, foam, a bubble, an emanation, a dream, and a circle of light produced by a whirling firebrand.

[67] There is nothing which exists inherently. In that fashion even non-functional things do not exist. Therefore, functional things which arise from causes and conditions as well as non-functional things are empty of inherent existence.

[68] Because all things are empty of inherent existence the Peerless Tathagata has shown the emptiness of inherent existence of dependent arising as the reality of all things.

[69] Ultimate reality is contained within the limit of the non-inherent existence of a thing. For that reason, the Accomplished Buddha, the Subduer, has imputed various terms in the manner of the world through comparison.

[70] What is shown conventionally to the world appears to be without disintegration, but the Buddha has never actually shown anything with true existence. Those who do not understand what is explained by the Tathagata to be conventionally existent and empty of the sign of true existence are frightened by this teaching.

[71] It is known in the way of the world that “this arises in dependence on that.” Such statements are not refuted. But whatsoever arises dependently does not exist inherently, and how can that non-inherent existence itself have inherent existence? In fact, that non-inherent existence must definitely not exist inherently!

[72] Those who have faith in the teaching of emptiness will strive for it through a number of different kinds of reasoning. Whatever they have understood about it in terms of non-inherent existence, they clarify this for others, which helps others to attain nirvana by abandoning grasping at the apparently true existence of cyclic existence and non-cyclic existence.

[73] By seeing these internal and external phenomena arising from causes and conditions they will eliminate the whole network of wrong views. With the elimination of wrong views they will have abandoned attachment, closed-mindedness and hatred and thereby attain nirvana unstained by wrong views.

Alfred North Whitehead and Process Philosophy


It is rather unfortunate that 20th century philosophy is remembered chiefly for two main schools of thought. One was the analytic turn towards logic and eventually the study of language, pioneered by thinkers such as Bertrand Russell. The other was a move towards existentialism and postmodernism in the continental school. Each was motivated by a rejection of even the possibility of ever answering great questions on God, morality and metaphysics, and instead took a subjective turn. This was spurred on by Marxist theory on the continent, for the analytical school it was guided by a general distrust of metaphysics and philosophising of the kind done by Hegel, a disdain for the elaborate metaphysicsal systems seen to greatest effect in the school of German idealism and Neo Hegelians.

While these two trends dominated the century, there were nevertheless some great thinkers who fall outside of these two poles, chief among them being Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead is best remembered for working with a young Bertrand Russell on the Principia Mathematica. After his early focus on mathematics, he turned to the study of the philosophy of science, his contributions to this field are also notable, as he  would publish a unique and working theory of relativity. In the final period of his career, Whitehead was offered the chance to become head of the department of philosophy at Harvard, which he duly accepted. Whitehead turned his great mind to the field of speculative philosophy, and over the next eight years he would create his unique philosophical school of thought, culminating in the publication of Process and Reality. Whitehead created what he called the Philosophy of Organism, but which has since been more popularly called Process Philosophy.

Process philosophy breaks with the Western tradition instituted by Aristotle and discards the notions of enduring substance and matter, instead taking process itself as being ultimately fundamental to the nature of reality. Whitehead terms it “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness” to wrongly take some part of reality as ultimately fundamental. This fallacy is committed when someone sees reality as being made up of tiny bits of matter, beyond which there is nothing more fundamental. In breaking from the long tradition of substance metaphysics, which takes parts of the world as separate and imagines them to exist independently, Whitehead also breaks from traditional philosophical language, which is “thing” oriented in nature, and introduces a variety of new terms to help understand his process oriented Metaphysics.

Whitehead claims reality is fundamentally made of Actual Entities, in his own words “they are the final real things of which the world is made…. God is an actual entity, and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far-off empty space.” Whitehead’s Actual Entities are similar to Leibniz’s monads, but, while the monads of Leibniz are “windowless”, Whitehead’s Entities could be said to be all window, they are temporal events which flow into one another, and prehend one another. The many become one, and are added to by one. Whitehead’s vision of reality is thus holographic in nature, every entity mirrors every other, including those of the past which have gone through Concrescences with other Actual Entities to create the current ones, thus gaining Objective Immortality, as they live on in all future Actual Entities.

The theory of organism provides a solution to the problem of the relation between mind and matter. We are wont to think that mind and matter are two distinct facts of experience influencing each other in some way. But how can any mutual interference be possible if they are separated from each other? The problem can be solved only if mind and matter interact by a relation of process. Nature flows into the mind and flows out transformed by it into the objects of perception. Here, neither of the two is more real than the other. The perceiver and the perceived form one continuous process. There are no subjects and objects differentiated from one another. The perceived universe is a view of itself from the standpoint of its parts that are modified by the activity of its whole being. There is a continuity of process between mind and matter. Thus, Whitehead is commonly labelled a panpsychist, though modern process philosophers use the term Panexperientialism to clarify his thought, as Whitehead himself says experience is prior to consciousness, and not vice versa. This means, in a very real way that the whole universe is in a state of conscious interaction with itself, an object is nothing but a continuous process of actual occasions as we experience them in their externalised condition. There is no fixed object anywhere. An event is a series of actual occasions revealed in perception as demonstrated in a molecule for a few moments. Objects are more complex formulations of such events, they are the coming together of Actual Entities into societies.

Whitehead speaks of an Ingressive evolution of the actual occasions from possible forms of experience which are known as Eternal Objects. The eternal objects Ingress into the formation of actual occasions. These eternal objects are not concrete existences but abstract possibilities of the evolution of the actual occasions. They are Whitehead’s more abstract version of Plato’s forms, non actualised possibilities which make reality as we experience it possible. The number 3 is an eternal object, as is a possible musical pattern. These Eternal Objects exist in God’s Primordial Nature.

What spurs on this endless process of creation, this evolution of Actual Entities into more complex stages of becoming. Whitehead uses the term enjoyment to describe the motivation of the process. Actual Entities interact and form concrescences for the enjoyment of the act of creation, as they evolve into more complex societies and achieve objective immortality within the greater process. Fundamental to reality is Creativity. This concept of creativity takes on a similar role to the Will in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, it is all that is fundamental to reality and pervades the cosmos in it’s influence, it is the driving force behind the process. Even God, generally seen as the ultimate metaphysical existent, is for Whitehead a mere non temporal accident of the ultimate of Creativity. As Whitehead explains, “In all philosophic theory there is an ultimate which is actual in virtue of its accidents. It is only then capable of characterization through its accidental embodiments, and apart from these accidents is devoid of actuality. In the philosophy of organism this ultimate is termed ‘creativity’; and God is its primordial, non-temporal accident”

This neatly introduces the concept of Whitehead’s God, and God in process philosophy generally. Whitehead’s brief descriptions of God’s role has since inspired the rise of it’s own school of process theology. Whitehead turns the concept of God on it’s head by introducing a temporal God to his system, who is not all powerful, but instead co operate with and coaxes along Actual Entities in a certain direction. Whitehead’s God is panentheistic, or Dipolar, in that it contains two natures.

The first aspect of God is the Consequent Nature of God, which is the God in the world aspect we most immediately experience, this is God entering into the world through the prehensions of actual occasions. This is akin to the classical God of theism, which acts on the world, but his power is limited in that each Actual Entity retains freedom in it’s activity. God is more like a loving mother, encouraging and supporting each entity along it’s journey than it is like the authoritarian father figure of the Abrahamic religions. Whitehead is not specific on how significant the effect of God is on the world, but he does give to each Actual Entity Subjective Aim which is their fundamental motivation in moving forward. For Schopenhauer, the Subjective Aim is the same in all, the kernel of the Will to Live. We can rather suppose the idea found in much religion and mysticism, that the subjective aim is the aspiration of the universe to realise it’s perfection in union with the Absolute or Godhead.

The other, more theoretical nature of God is his Primordial Nature. As it is more fundamental to the metaphysics of Whitehead, this aspect is discussed more in Process and Reality. As mentioned, the primordial nature of God contains the Eternal Objects which, so to speak, provide the being for the becoming of existence. This is the impersonal, trans-temporal aspect of God which is the ground of being.

It is easy to see why theologians have been drawn to the model offered by Whitehead as a way of understanding God. Within a framework of process philosophy, many of the age old theological problems are better understood. For Whitehead, God cannot be held responsible for the problem of evil, this is true because God is not the creator but the principle of limitation, who provides the conditions necessary for the manifestation of the universe. The process of reality is like a jazz session, multiple musicians play their instruments off each other, originally there is chaos, and there is often bad music created by the individual musicians often conflicting aims, but great music is created when the musicians work in tandem to express their creativity. We are once again reminded of the fundamental reason for this whole process to Whitehead, which is one of enjoyment. Whitehead frees us from the nihlistic, fatalistic obfuscations of modern philosophy and gives us a way of seeing the world which keeps a special place for reverence to creativity, novelty, beauty and freedom


One of my favourite modern Whiteheadians, who also writes excellently on Nietszche and Schopenhauer, is Peter Sjöstedt-H. You can follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/ontologistics

Islamic Invasion Of India: The Greatest Genocide In History

The Muslim Issue

Muslim historian Firishta [full name Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah, born in 1560 and died in 1620], the author of the Tarikh-i Firishta and the Gulshan-i Ibrahim, was the first to give an idea to the medieval bloodbath that was India during Muslim rule, when he declared that over 400 million Hindus got slaughtered during Muslim invasion and occupation of India. Survivors got enslaved and castrated. India’s population is said to have been around 600 million at the time of Muslim invasion. By the mid 1500’s the Hindu population was 200 million.

By the time the British arrived to the shores of India and after centuries of Islamic law ruling India, the Hindu population was not behaving like their normal self; they were behaving like Muslims. There are many witness reports from the British archives of horrendous Hindu incidents that were shocking in cruelty to the British – and they therefore sometimes…

View original post 3,271 more words

Kali Yuga – Are We Living In The Dark Age?

According to Hinduism, the world is currently in a state of Kali Yuga, or the dark age. One might take this as mere fiction and carry on, but considering the Hindus produced the finest examples of wisdom ever created in the Vedas, and that they generated their own theory of evolution, I believe we should consider carefully this ancient idea, which is also found in other religions.

According to Hinduism, the universe is destined to go through four Yugas or stages, the last of which is Kali Yuga. There is dispute about when this age started, indeed some have argued it is already over, but charting the course of the modern world one can see a drastic move away from tradition, spirituality and religion towards atheism, materialism and radical politics, starting around the enlightenment. Though this was focused in the West, in the East we have likewise seen a descent into barbarism, as the Islamic Golden Age was followed by centuries of intellectual stagnation from the Muslim world. The reverence for the ancient religions in the East is waning, as countries like India embrace modernism, while Buddhism has faced suppression in parts of communist Asia.

This may all seem a natural progression of history, though man has never lived so cut off from certain aspects of his nature. One would have no reason to think this is part of some greater epoch, had we not the incredibly prescient predictions of the Hindus, which bear incredible conformity to what we see in the phenomenon of modernity. I will leave what strikes me as the most accurate predictions here for the reader to evaluate themselves. All are taken from the ancient Srimad Bhagavatam.

Prediction 1:

Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, duration of life, physical strength and memory will all diminish day by day because of the powerful influence of the age of Kali.

Prediction 2:

In Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man’s good birth, proper behaviour and fine qualities. And law and justice will be applied only on the basis of one’s power.

Prediction 3:

Men and women will live together merely because of superficial attraction, and success in business will depend on deceit. Womanliness and manliness will be judged according to one’s expertise in sex, and a man will be known as a brahmana just by his wearing a thread.

Prediction 4:

A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he dos not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.

Prediction 5:

A person will be judged unholy if he does not have money, and hypocrisy will be accepted as virtue. Marriage will be arranged simply by verbal agreement, and a person will think he is fit to appear in public if he has merely taken a bath.

Prediction 6:

A sacred place will be taken to consist of no more than a reservoir of water located at a distance, and beauty will be thought to depend on one’s hairstyle. Filling the belly will become the goal of life, and one who is audacious will be accepted as truthful. He who can maintain a family will be regarded as an expert man, and the principles of religion will be observed only for the sake of reputation.

Prediction 7:

As the earth thus becomes crowded with a corrupt population, whoever among any of ther social classes shows himself to be the strongest will gain political power.

Prediction 8:

The citizens will suffer greatly from cold, wind, heat, rain and snow. They will be further tormented by quarrels, hunger, thirst, disease and severe anxiety.

Prediction 9:

In Kali-yuga men will develop hatred for each other even over a few coins. Giving up all friendly relations, they will be ready to lose their own lives and kill even their own relatives.

Prediction 10:

Uncultured men will accept charity on behalf of the Lord and will earn their livelihood by making a show of austerity and wearing a mendicant’s dress. Those who know nothing about religion will mount a high seat and presume to speak on religious principles.

Prediction 11:

Cities will be dominated by thieves, the Vedas will be contaminated by speculative interpretations of atheists, political leaders will virtually consume the citizens, and the so-called priests and intellectuals will be devotees of their bellies and genitals.


So from examining these predictions what are the characteristics of this promised age, and how well does it describe the modern age?

  • Widespread atheism, lack of respect for religion and a lack of understanding of religion by those who practice it.  This is evident in the lack of understanding among modern theologians and religious figures of the perennial aspects of religion. Warring religious tribes kill each other over interpretations of scripture, not realising that at root they are all branches of a more profound universal religion. We are also warned of propounders of religion being focused on nothing but their “bellies and genitals.” Giving the recent revelations to come from religious institutions, this became more of a problem than anyone realised.
  • Materialism. The view that the universe is contained of nothing but brute matter, with no spiritual aspect, no reason for being, and no phenomenon beyond the material has never been more popular or widely accepted than today. There were schools who propounded this view in ancient India, but they had few followers. In the modern world, people like Richard Dawkins can get a huge following among ordinary people by arguing for this simplistic materialism. The narrative is that it is the philosophy science gives us, but when one examines physics this is patently false. Yet people believe it. Often when challenging a materialist, it becomes apparent they believe it because they want to believe it.
  • Obsession with money, material goods. Kali Yuga is a time when man’s focus turns away from what is objectively good and instead focuses on self interest, which manifests in the modern obsession with money. From a young age, people are indoctrinated into the belief that the highest ideal in life is to become wealthy, no higher ideal is imagined, while religion and ethics are seen as means to an end, useful to comfort some people, but secondary to the ultimate goal.
  • Collapse of marriage. Degradation of sex. To the Hindus, marriage was a sacred institution with spiritual purposes. This is another aspect of the perennial philosophy, marriage is not a contract between two people who live and breed together, but a spiritual union worthy of reverence. Sex was intended as an act of love or procreation, the idea of engaging in casual sex just for pleasure would be considered morally abhorrent. Not only is it the hedonism that is antithetical to a spiritual view of the world, but it also reduces people as means to an end, objects of pleasure. We are now at the stage where, as the scriptures predict, men and women will live together merely because of superficial attraction
  • Machiavellianism. Though the term was yet to be invented, the Hindu scriptures predicted that politicians in Kali Yuga would be self serving, devoid of beliefs and focused only on their own gain, even at the expense of the people they represent. Never before has this been more felt than in the modern age, politicians go on telivision to defend policies they don’t like, they stab each other in the back and decide policies more based on their popularity and chance of winning votes than for thinking they are what’s right. In the recent Republican primaries in the US, most candidates denied man made climate change because they realise people don’t want to be told unfortunate truths.
  • Environmental Destruction. The Scriptures promise widespread environmental catastrophe. Flooding, drought, and extreme weather will negatively effect people’s life span and the world will descend into a less habitable state. We now realise the huge destruction being done to the planet’s eco system by climate change, which confirms these predictions, yet still, little action is taken. Most people know the reality of climate change, but carry on living in ways which worsen it.

Looking at these predictions, one finds it hard not to draw the conclusion that the Hindus were correct. Rather than engaging in early dystopian fiction, they were warning humanity of the dark days it faced as it threw off essential aspects of it’s nature and descended into materialism and amoralism. Most see this brave new world as a better one, a multi coloured, diverse, relativistic open society in which nothing is really right or wrong, systems of oppression such as religion and tradition are thrown off, and people are free to behave like the well evolved primates they are, free from superstition and guilt. At least, this is what we are told.

We are told we are happy, yet more people than ever complain of depression, anxiety and general dissatisfaction with life. We are told we don’t need religion to behave morally, yet time and again we are reminded of the selfishness and self obsession of modernity. We are told we are enlightened, yet at root many feel it is not the case. Buried in there, despite all the actions taken to suppress it, is the intuition that there is more to life than the material, that there is a right and wrong, and that spending a life chasing pleasure is inherently empty. As long as that spark of intuition remains, there is still the possibility for it to light the flames of true enlightenment

Fifteen Reasons the Universe May Be A Simulation

The unthinkable may be true. It is the stuff of science fiction, but the Simulation hypothesis is a gaining increasing credibility among theoretical physicsts, which means the universe may just be a virtual reality – a giant video game simulated in a universal mind. Brian Whitworth, a pioneering physicist in this area, presented one of the first and best arguments for the simulation hypothesis. He skethced out a powerful argument for why a virtual reality model is a better way to understand the universe than an objectively real reality. Whitworth presents ways in which our universe resembles a virtual reality, according to physics our world:

1. Had a beginning. All the distant galaxies are receding from us at known rates, so it is possible to calculate back when our universe started up13 about fourteen billion years ago, in a first event that began not only our universe but also its space and time. Yet a complete physical universe can’t begin, as by definition there is nothing outside it to create it and to create itself, it would have to exist before it began. This leaves physics speculating on D-branes, alternate universes, wormholes, teleporting worlds, quantum tunneling, big bang-big crunch oscillation theories and other steady state variants. In contrast, every virtual reality has a boot up that creates its pixels and its space-time operating system, based on nothing within itself.

2. Has a maximum speed. In our world, a light shone from a spaceship moving at almost the speed of light still leaves the ship at the speed of light, which is impossible in an objective reality. Einstein proved that the speed of light is a maximum, but gave no reason for it. The equations increase an object’s inherent mass as it increases speed relative to other objects, which works but doesn’t really explain anything. In contrast, every screen has a fixed refresh rate that no pixel-to-pixel transfer “speed” can exceed

3. Is digital. Everything at the quantum level is quantized, including time and space, but field theory assumes continuity, so it has to avoid the infinities that implies by a mathematical trick called renormalization. We think our world has no gaps but actually Planck length and time are irreducible and calculus implies infinitesimals. In quantum realism, pixels and cycles are expected.

4. Has quantum tunneling. For an electron to suddenly appear outside a field barrier it can’t penetrate islike a coin in a perfectly sealed glass bottle suddenly appearing outside it. Again, this is impossible for an objective reality although quantum theory permits it. In contrast, a digital reality allows “cuts” between one probabilistic frame (quantum state) and another.

5. Entangles entities. Entangled photons maintain opposite spins no matter how far apart they go because quantum collapse works instantly across the universe. An objective reality limited by the speed of light can’t do this, so Einstein called entanglement spooky action at a distance. In contrast, a program can instantly alter any pixel anywhere on a screen, even if the screen is our universe. In this view, entangled photons just merge their processing until the next processing reboot.

6. Space curves. In Einstein’s vision, the sun keeps the earth in orbit by “curving” the space around it, but what exactly does space curve into? Space needs another dimension to do this, but string theory’s extra dimensions are “curled up” in our space, so they don’t allow it. In quantum realism our 3D space is a just a “surface” that can curve into a fourth dimension.

7. Time dilates. In Einstein’s twin paradox, one twin travels the universe while the other stays on earth, and the first twin returns after a year to find his brother an old man of eighty! In an objectively real world time is fixed but in our world it slows down as we go faster. Likewise, every gamer knows that the frame rate of a game slows down if the server is busy.

8. Randomness occurs. In our world, radioactive atoms emit alpha particles randomly, i.e. in a way that no prior physical “story” can explain. Randomness implies a physically uncaused cause that isn’t possible in a complete physicality. The many-worlds fantasy, or today the multiverse, was invented solely to deny quantum randomness. In contrast, the processor of a virtual construct can choose which quantum state becomes a physical state in quantum collapse.

9. Empty space is not empty. An objective space should be nothing but our space exerts a pressure. In the Casimir effect, flat plates in a vacuum placed close together experience a force pushing them in. Current physics attribute this to virtual particles created by the vacuum, but space as null processing is a simpler explanation.

10. Waves are particles. In Young’s two-slit experiment, one electron goes through two slits, interferes with itself to give an interference pattern, but still always arrives at one screen point. A particle can’t do this but a program can spread instances of itself like a wave but still restart at a point (quantum collapse) to arrive as a particle in one place. Processing can spread like a wave but reboot like a particle.

11. Every electron is identical. In our world, every photon, electron and quark is indistinguishable from every other one, just as if the same code generated all of them.

12. Quantum superposition. In quantum theory, currents can simultaneously flow both ways around a superconducting ring, and an electron can spin both up and spin down – until observed. Such combinations are not physically possible, so in current physics quantum states don’t exist, but in quantum realism an electron program can instantiate its code to explore both options.

13. Non-physical detection. Imagine a bomb so sensitive that even one photon will set it off. It should be impossible to detect, but scientists have done the physically impossible with a Mach-Zehnder interferometer (Kwiat, Weinfurter, Herzog, Zeilinger, & Kasevich, 1995). Current physics attributes this to quantum states that don’t exist but quantum realism lets those quantum states exist.

14. Retrospective action occurs. If the future can affect the past, causality fails and with it physics. Yet in delayed choice experiments, an observation made after a photon takes a path defines the path it took before the observation. This has led some to speculate that all time, like all space, already exists, allowing time travel and all the paradoxes it implies. In quantum realism program instances take all paths and the observation picks the physical event, so there is no time travel.

15. Anti-matter. Quantum equations predicted anti-matter, but no reason has ever been given why matter that inherently exists needs an inverse, of the same mass but opposite charge, at all. In Feynman diagrams, an anti-electron colliding with an electron goes backwards in time, but how it can enter an event in reverse time not explained. In contrast, processing by definition implies anti-processing, and if time is the processing sequence, anti-processing implies anti-time.


As he points out, Bertrand Russell rejected the idea of idealism in favour of the world being objectively real because it satisfied Occam’s razor;
“There is no logical impossibility in the supposition that the whole of life is a dream, in which we ourselves create all the objects that come before us. But although this is not logically impossible, there is no reason whatever to suppose that it is true; and it is, in fact, a less simple hypothesis, viewed as a means of accounting for the facts of our own life, than the common-sense hypothesis that there really are objects independent of us, whose action on us causes our sensations.”
However, if the simulation hypothesis makes better sense of what we observe than supposing the world is physical real, then we should take that as the best explanation. Whitworth’s own take is “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Once again, we start to see the wisdom of ancient philosophy in modern physics. As Pythagoras said, the universe is composed of numbers or computer code, as Plato said the world doesn’t exist objectively but only as the imitation of ideal mathematical forms. And as the later Kant said, space and time are just the way we interpret the thing in itself, in this case coding from a higher source. Outside of our narrow understanding exists something more fundamental than space, time and the world as we know it.

Schopenhauer on Eternal Justice

Insights Into The Murder Machine

This year Ireland celebrates the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, in which a small group of Irish rebels stormed the General Post Office and other buildings in Dublin to attempt to launch a countrywide rebellion against British rule. The unofficial leader of this rising was a man named Patrick Pearse. Pearse, the teacher, poet and barrister knew the rebellion was doomed to failure but was willing to offer up a “blood sacrifice” in the hope of inspiring a new generation of Irish men and women to fight off the yoke of British oppression. Pearse is in many ways the antithesis of a typical rebel. A poet, a deeply religious man, conservative, dedicated to higher ideals.

One such ideal is the ideal of higher education. 100 years on, I have been re examining some of the writings of the Eastern 1916 leaders. One work which has stood out to me in it’s prescience and insight is a short work by Pearse on education, written in 1909, titled “The Murder Machine.” Pearse’s work deals with the nature of education in Ireland in the early 20th century and expounds his concern with the trend he saw developing – namely, away from the higher ideals of education and towards turning the schooling system into a machine designed to churn out obedient slaves.

What was being “murdered”, Pearse claimed in 1913, was the spirituality, as he saw it, of the Irish nation. The “murder machine” was at once an instrument of British policy and, even more pernicious, an instrument of progress. A section of the essay was headed “Against Modernism”. Never averse to hyperbole, Pearse claimed that the old Irish, “two thousand years ago”, had the best and noblest education system ever known among men. Here he meant the schools described in the legends of Cuchulainn. In his lectures and essays he was, as his friend Joseph Holloway put it, “indiscriminately eulogistic to absurdity” about the literary merits of the Gaelic sagas that he came to treat as history.

So impressed am I with the work I have decided to cut it down to it’s finest and most relevant points and share the abridged version with whoever it may concern.


The Murder Machine – An Abridged Version

In our adoption of the standpoint here indicated there is involved a primary blunder as to the nature and functions of education. For education has not to do with the manufacture of things, but with fostering the growth of things. And the conditions we should strive to bring about in our education system are not the conditions favourable to the rapid and cheap manufacture of ready-mades, but the conditions favourable to the growth of living organisms—the liberty and the light and the gladness of a ploughed field under the spring sunshine.

In particular I would urge that the Irish school system of the future should give freedom—freedom to the individual school, freedom to the individual teacher, freedom as far as may be to the individual pupil. Without freedom there can be no right growth; and education is properly the fostering of the right growth of a personality. Our school system must bring, too, some gallant inspiration. And with the inspiration it must bring a certain hardening. One scarcely knows whether modern sentimentalism or modern utilitarianism is the more sure sign of modern decadence. I would boldly preach the antique faith that fighting is the only noble thing, and that he only is at peace with God who is at war with the powers of evil.

In a true education system, religion, patriotism, literature, art and science would be brought in such a way into the daily lives of boys and girls as to affect their character and conduct. We may assume that religion is a vital thing in Irish schools, but I know that the other things, speaking broadly, do not exist. There are no ideas there, no love of beauty, no love of books, no love of knowledge, no heroic inspiration. And there is no room for such things either on the earth or in the heavens, for the earth is cumbered and the heavens are darkened by the monstrous bulk of the programme. Most of the educators detest the programme. They are like the adherents of a dead creed who continue to mumble formulas and to make obeisance before an idol which they have found out to be a spurious divinity.

The English thing that is called education in Ireland is founded on a denial of the Irish nation. No education can start with a Nego, any more than a religion can. Everything that even pretends to be true begins with its Credo. It is obvious that the savage who says ‘I believe in Mumbo Jumbo’ is nearer to true religion than the philosopher who says ‘I deny God and the spiritual in man.’ Now, to teach a child to deny is the greatest crime a man or a State can commit. Certain schools in Ireland teach children to deny their religion; nearly all the schools in Ireland teach children to deny their nation. ‘I deny the spirituality of my nation; I deny the lineage of my blood; I deny my rights and responsibilities.’ This Nego is their Credo, this evil their good.

Against Modernism

I expressed the hope that even Home Rule would not commit Ireland to an ideal so low as the ideal underlying the phrase ‘a sound modern education.’

It is a vile phrase, one of the vilest I know. Yet we find it in nearly every school prospectus, and it comes pat to the lips of nearly everyone that writes or talks about schools

Now, there can be no such thing as ‘a sound modern education’—as well talk about a ‘lively modern faith’ or a ‘serviceable modern religion.’ It should be obvious that the more ‘modern’ an education is the less ‘sound’, for in education ‘modernism’ is as much a heresy as in religion. In both mediaevalism were a truer standard. We are too fond of clapping ourselves upon the back because we live in modern times, and we preen ourselves quite ridiculously (and unnecessarily) on our modern progress. There is, of course, such a thing as modern progress, but it has been won at how great a cost! How many precious things have we flung from us to lighten ourselves for that race!

And in some directions we have progressed not at all, or we have progressed in a circle; perhaps, indeed, all progress on this planet, and on every planet, is a circle, just as every line you draw on a globe is a circle or part of one. Modern speculation is often a mere groping where ancient men saw clearly. All the problems with which we strive (I mean all the really important problems) were long ago solved by our ancestors, only their solutions have been forgotten. There have been States in which the rich did not grind the poor, although there are no such States now; there have been free self-governing democracies, although there are few such democracies now; there have been rich and beautiful social organisations, with an art and a culture and a religion in every man’s house, though for such a thing to-day we have to search out some sequestered people living by a desolate sea-shore or in a high forgotten valley among lonely hills—a hamlet of Iar-Connacht or a village in the Austrian Alps. Mankind, I repeat, or some section of mankind, has solved all its main problems somewhere and at some time. I suppose no universal and permanent solution is possible as long as the old Adam remains in us, the Adam that makes each one of us, and each tribe of us, something of the rebel, of the freethinker, of the adventurer, of the egoist. But the solutions are there, and it is because we fail in clearness of vision or in boldness of heart or in singleness of purpose that we cannot find them.

An Ideal in Education

Is it not the precise aim of education to ‘foster’? Not to inform, to indoctrinate, to conduct through a course of studies (though these be the dictionary meanings of the word), but first and last to ‘foster’ the elements of character native to a soul, to help to bring these to their full perfection rather than to implant exotic excellences.

Fosterage implies a foster-father or foster-mother—a person— as its centre and inspiration rather than a code of rules. Modern education systems are elaborate pieces of machinery devised by highly-salaried officials for the purpose of turning out citizens according to certain approved patterns. The modern school is a State-controlled institution designed to produce workers for the State, and is in the same category with a dockyard or any other State-controlled institution which produces articles necessary to the progress, well-being, and defence of the State. We speak of the ‘efficiency’, the ‘cheapness’, and the ‘up-to-dateness’ of an education system just as we speak of the ‘efficiency’, the ‘cheapness’, and the ‘up-to-dateness’ of a system of manufacturing coal-gas. We shall soon reach a stage when we shall speak of the ‘efficiency’, the ‘cheapness’, and the ‘up-to-dateness’ of our systems of soul-saving. We shall hear it said ‘Salvation is very cheap in England’, or ‘The Germans are wonderfully efficient in prayer’, or ‘Gee, it takes a New York parson to hustle ginks into heaven.’

Now, education is as much concerned with souls as religion is. Religion is a Way of Life, and education is a preparation of the soul to live its life here and hereafter; to live it nobly and fully. And as we cannot think of religion without a Person as its centre, as we cannot think of a church without its Teacher, so we cannot think of a school without its Master. A school in fact, according to the conception of our wise ancestors, was less a place than a little group of persons, a teacher and his pupils. Its place might be poor, nay, it might have no local habitation at all, it might be peripatetic: where the master went the disciples followed. One may think of Our Lord and His friends as a sort of school: was He not the Master, and were not they His disciples? That gracious conception was not only the conception of the old Gael, pagan and Christian, but it was the conception of Europe all through the Middle Ages. Philosophy was not crammed out of text-books, but was learned at the knee of some great philosopher: art was learned in the studio of some master- artist, a craft in the workshop of some master-craftsman. Always it was the personality of the master that made the school, never the State that built it of brick and mortar, drew up a code of rules to govern it, and sent hirelings into it to carry out its decrees.

I do not know how far it is possible to revive the old ideal of fosterer and foster-child. I know it were very desirable. One sees too clearly that the modern system, under which the teacher tends more and more to become a mere civil servant, is making for the degradation of education, and will end in irreligion and anarchy. The modern child is coming to regard his teacher as an official paid by the State to render him certain services; services which it is in his interest to avail of, since by doing so he will increase his earning capacity later on; but services the rendering and acceptance of which no more imply a sacred relationship than do the rendering and acceptance of the services of a dentist or a chiropodist. There is thus coming about a complete reversal of the relative positions of master and disciple, a tendency which is increased by every statute that is placed on the statute book, by every rule that is added to the education code of modern countries.

Of Freedom in Education

I have claimed elsewhere that the native Irish education system possessed pre-eminently two characteristics: first, freedom for the individual, and, secondly, an adequate inspiration. Without these two things you cannot have education, no matter how you may elaborate educational machinery, no matter how you may multiply educational programmes. And because those two things are pre-eminently lacking in what passes for education in Ireland, we have in Ireland strictly no education system at all; nothing that by any extension of the meaning of words can be called an education system. We have an elaborate machinery for teaching persons certain subjects, and the teaching is done more or less efficiently; more efficiently, I imagine, than such teaching is done in England or in America. We have three universities and four boards of education. We have some thousands of buildings, large and small. We have an army of inspectors, mostly overpaid. We have a host of teachers, mostly underpaid. We have a Compulsory Education Act. We have the grave and bulky code of the Commissioners of National Education, and the slim impertinent pamphlet which enshrines the wisdom of the Commissioners of Intermediate Education. We have a vast deal more in the shape of educational machinery and stage properties. But we have, I repeat, no education system; and only in isolated places have we any education. The essentials are lacking.

I knew (of a) boy of whom his father said to me: ‘He is no good at books, he is no good at work; he is good at nothing but playing a tin whistle. What am I to do with him ’? I shocked the worthy man by replying (though really it was the obvious thing to reply): ‘Buy a tin whistle for him’. Once a colleague of mine summed up the whole philosophy of education in a maxim which startled a sober group of visitors: ‘If a boy shows an aptitude for doing anything better than most people, he should be encouraged to do it as well as possible; I don’t care what it is—scotch-hop, if you like.

Back to the Sagas

A heroic tale is more essentially a factor in education than a proposition in Euclid. The story of Joan of Arc or the story of the young Napoleon means more for boys and girls than all the algebra in all the books. What the modern world wants more than anything else, what Ireland wants beyond all other modern countries, is a new birth of the heroic spirit. If our schools would set themselves that task, the task of fostering once again knightly courage and strength and truth— that type of efficiency rather than the peculiar type of efficiency demanded by the English Civil Service— we should have at least the beginning of an educational system. And what an appeal an Irish school system might have! What a rallying cry an Irish Minister of Education might give to young Ireland! When we were starting St. Enda’s I said to my boys: ‘We must re-create and perpetuate in Ireland the knightly tradition of Cuchulainn, ‘better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour’; ‘I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me’.

…..we need the divine breath that moves through free peoples, the breath that no man of Ireland has felt in his nostrils for so many centuries, the breath that once blew through the streets of Athens and that kindled, as wine kindles, the hearts of those who taught and learned in Clonmacnois.


The Metaphysics of Plotinus

I have long felt Plotinus to be one of the most underrated and oft forgotten great philosophers of all time. Expanding on the philosophy of the great Plato, he sets out a system of thought which comes into concurrence with the great philosophies of the East. I will now set out a summary of the philosophy of the great thinker.

There are three basic elements to Plotinian metaphysics:

1) The One – The self-caused, absolutely simple first principle. It is the cause of all other beings in the universe. The complex must be traced back to the simple, and that which can be explained in light of something must be traced back to that which requires or admits of no explanation. It must be noted, however, that the One is not absolutely simple in Plotinian thought.

This “One” is the same as the “Good” of Plato’s Republic. More specifically, it is the “Idea of the Good.” The Good and the One, for Plotinus, are identical. Rather than being actually simple, the One is the cause of everything precisely because it is virtually everything. “This means that is it stands to everything else as, for example, white light stands to the colors of the rainbow, or the way in which a properly functioning calculator may be said to contain all the answers to the questions that can be legitimately put to it”(Gerson, 2014).

All things are seen in terms of emanation from the One. This refers, not to a temporal process of generation, however, but to a relationship of atemporal, ontological dependence.

2) Intellect – This is the first derivation from the One. It is what contains the Platonic forms. Entities have properties which exist in these Forms. In this, Plotinus saw himself as following Plato in the Timaeus. This intellect is called the Demiurge.

The Intellect is the ground of the diversity and distinctness of the Forms of the One. As noted before, the Forms are thought by the Intellect of the One

3) Soul – The highest form of functioning for life. It is associated with desire and it is satisfied in the life of the Intellect, where the “desire is eternally satisfied by contemplation of the One through the entire array of Forms that are internal to it”(Gerson, 2014). Indeed, soul is itself the principle of desire, which can be found in both plants and animals. Desire seeks that which it is external to it and which it lacks. Desire, there, is signifies a kind of lack.

For Plotinus, as noted before, the One shared virtual identity with the Forms. To understand what this means, consider the arithmetic equation 1 + 2 = 3. On the one hand, it is an identity. But on the other hand, 1, 2 and 3 all have distinct identity. These Forms are united in the Intellect, which is itself subsumed under the One. Plotinus’ reason for positing an Intellect to house the Forms is, the Forms would be in disarray apart from something to unify the.

The role of Intellect is to account for the real distinctness of the plethora of Forms, virtually united in the One. Thus, in the above mathematical example, the fact that numbers are virtually united does not gainsay the fact that each has an identity. The way that identity is maintained is by each and every Form being thought by an eternal Intellect. And in this thinking, Intellect ‘attains’ the One in the only way it possibly can. It attains all that can be thought; hence, all that can be thought ‘about’ the One.

The One is the ground of being in general. The Intellect, housing the Forms, is the ground of particular beings. The Forms determine what kinds of things individual things are. The One is the first principle, which requires the Intellect in order for there to be particular beings, and the Intellect needs the One because that which is complex must ultimately be explained by the simple.

The soul is related to the Intellect in a manner similar to the way the Intellect is related to the One.

For Plotinus, matter is evil. The One, though identical with Plato’s “the Good,” is the cause of evil insofar as all separation from it is evil, and it is the cause of the Intellect’s separation from it. At the end of the production process is the “limit,” and beyond this limit is matter, which is evil.

In addition to being metaphysically evil, matter is evil to the extent that it causes humans to be impeded in our return to the One. It is evil when it is an end in itself. This is because humans are primarily a soul which employs a body foreign to it, so that attachment to physical, material pleasures, contradicts its nature. Humans are internally conflicted and divided, Plotinus thinks, because their physical bodies draw him away from contemplation of the one.

The flashes of insight in Plotinus are superb: “There everything is transparent, nothing dark, nothing resistant; every being is lucid to every other, in breadth and depth; light runs through light. And each of them contains all within itself, and at the same time sees all in every other, so that everywhere there is all, all is all, and each all, and infinite the glory. Each of them is great; the small is great: the sun, there, is all the stars, and every star again is all the stars and sun. While some one manner of being is dominant in each, all are mirrored in every other.” “In this Intelligible World, every thing is transparent. No shadow limits vision. All the essences see each other and interpenetrate each other in the most intimate depth of their nature. Light everywhere meets light. Every being contains within itself the entire Intelligible World, and also beholds it entire in every particular being… There abides pure movement; for He who produces movement, not being foreign to it, does not disturb it in its production. Rest is perfect, because it is not mingled with any principle of disturbance. The Beautiful is completely beautiful there, because it does not dwell in that which is not beautiful.” “To have seen that vision is reason no longer. It is more than reason, before reason, and after reason, as also is the vision which is seen. And perhaps we should not here speak of sight; for that which is seen if we must needs speak of seer and seen as two and not one is not discerned by the seer, nor perceived by him as a second thing. Therefore this vision is hard to tell of; for how can a man describe as other than himself that which, when he discerned it, seemed not other, but one with himself indeed?” (Enneads, V. 8; VI. 9, 10).

Having read such passages, how could one not place Plotinus among the greatest teachers to have graced the world?