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Re: [stoics] Re: Universalism, Compassion, Buddhism, Translations

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  • Matt D
    Dialectic is great fun!  Let’s address your concerns from last to first.     Science is inapplicable to the study of philosophy, ethical systems, virtue
    Message 1 of 349 , Aug 1, 2009

      Dialectic is great fun!  Let’s address your concerns from last to first.



      Science is inapplicable to the study of philosophy, ethical systems, virtue or beauty.


      The only major difference between a Scientific approach and Philosophical (Humanities-based) approach is one of Measurement:  The Scientific Method emphasizes pre-assigned Quantitative objective measurement units such as grams, inches, density and volume, whereas the Philosophical approach utilizes a more subjective (Either-Or) Qualitative measurement system.


      Consider the measurement of Pregnancy as an example. 


      Under a Qualitative system, a person is either Pregnant (+) or Not Pregnant (-).  A person either “is” or “isn’t” pregnant and the question “How pregnant are you?” is virtually nonsensical.  Under a Quantitative system, Pregnancy is measured by pre-assigned value units, so the question “How pregnant are you?” is perfectly reasonable and answerable: “Your blood test indicates a serum pregnancy hormone level of 25,000 units which is consistent with a 17 week pregnancy.  Let’s do an ultrasound measure of the fetal head diameter, crown-rump & femur length to confirm that finding.”


      Under a Qualitative approach, the Colour Red, a Lovely Woman, Beautiful Music and Moral Action are subjectively present or absent.  Under a Quantitative approach, the Colour Red corresponds to the eye’s perception of reflected light on a frequency-dependent visual spectrum, a Lovely Woman possesses physical attributes which optimally conform to a pre-assigned cultural norm of desirable female body types, Beautiful Music exhibits tonal & melodic qualities which optimally conform to a pre-assigned cultural musical norm and Moral Action shows behavioral characteristics which optimally conform to a pre-assigned cultural & social norm.


      And Ethics?


      Assuming we choose to define Ethics as a predisposition to good action “in conformity with the proper function of a thing” or "consequential upon a thing's nature”, a Qualitative system judges Ethics to be present or absent and a Quantitative system measures, compares and correlates human behavior to a pre-assigned cultural norm.


      Interestingly enough, the first documented advocates of the Quantitative approach were the Materialist Schools of Scepticism, Epicureanism and Stoicism.


      Science cannot study a phenomenological experience.  Empirical research cannot establish that my experience is the same as yours.


      Spoken -- appropriately so -- like a true Egoist. 


      After all, the Stoics were all Egoists in the sense that they embraced a self-centered, individual agent-based definition of Morality (aka Ethics). However, before anyone gets too full of their personal “specialness,” as humans we all possess physical bodies with functionally identical biologic, cognitive & sensory organs and minimal genetic variance.  We are all peas in a pod.  Also remember that Epictetus asserted that we are all just little souls carrying around a corpse.


      I like to think that we are all Unique-- Identically Unique – just like everyone else.


      Science is based on controlled experiments & Philosophy is based on life-experience.


      A Straw Man argument with stereotypes


      Ones supposes that the Philosopher spends his time experiencing life to the fullest by traveling, drinking, whoring & creating while an the Scientist hides in cave, sexless and friendless, mixing foul smelling chemicals by rote & cackling maniacally to himself.


      I suspect that the lot of the philosopher is no more interesting than the lot of the average scientist:  Both study, research, observe, theorize and repeat; both apply academic suppositions to real world situations in an experimental manner; and both try to measure theory, application and outcome in their own way.


      When an apple whacked Aristotle or Epictetus on the head, I’m sure they both concluded that an apple had fallen according to its nature. 


      When the apple whacked Newton on the head, he concluded that an apple had fallen according to its nature and then decided to measure, compare, contrast, correlate & predict exactly how every other apple and object falls thereby discovering gravity.


      Happiness is a perception? What on earth does that mean? A subjective perception, at that!  To distinguish it from what?


      I understand how frustrating technical terminology can be to the uninitiated -- especially jargon that relies on poorly defined & untranslatable foreign words-- so I will try to translate this phrase into Common English.


      To the Qualitative mindset, Sensation is Experience: Colours are seen & Pain hurts.


      To the Quantitative mindset, Sensation and Experience are distinct events:

      Much like a camera, the eye focuses colour-specific light frequencies on specialized retinal sensors and these sensors convert those frequencies to quantized nerve impulses which travel to the optical center of the Brain where those signals are reassembled, interpreted & perceived as Colour.   The Brain perceives light indirectly but does not actually experience light as it has no direct contact with light energy.  As for Pain, a pain sensor registers injury at various sites, translates the insult into neurological quanta & transmits it via the nervous system to the Brain where the Brain interprets & perceives those signals as pain.  This process applies to every sensation (with the application of slightly different mechanisms).


      For the more holistically inclined who like to assert that a person is more than a brain & a collection of sensory organs, I agree: A person remains a person even when they cannot experience, sense, speak, walk or see. 


      Similarly, Happiness is neither Sensation nor Experience. 


      Happiness is a Perception or State of Mind .



      Science has nothing to say on the subject of God because the scientific method provides no way to test for the existence of God.


      True enough: How can anyone physically measure something antecedent to physicality?


      The Materialists (Sceptics, Epicureans & Stoics) answered this question of first causes by limiting their inquiries to the natural, physical & material world.  


      Did the Stoics argue about pin-headed dancing angels, divinely immovable objects and non-physicality?


      And what Philosophical Consensus has answered all your questions about God in a conclusive and definitive manner?  



      Can Science tell the different between Good/Right/Virtue & Evil/Wrong/Vice?




      From a subjective perspective, these terms represent Qualitative descriptions of behavioral characteristics which optimally conform to a pre-assigned cultural & social norm (aka Moral Relativism or the “When in Rome ” approach to Good & Evil).


      From an objective perspective, these terms can represent either Quantitative or Qualitative descriptions of behavioral characteristics which optimally conform to the best interests of the individual, the family unit, society as a whole, the human condition and the natural biological order.


      Given the opportunity, Science can tell an interested Mother all about optimal child safety, social expectations, sexual practices, optimal moral and/or ethical behavior, virtue, motor vehicle maintenance and infant nutrition.


      Can Science tell us if Virtue is sufficient for Happiness?


      You & I have both been told many things by various sources, so how do we separate the truth from falsehood?   We test it, of course!!


      Let’s devise the appropriate experiment together.


      You can pick 100 male individuals that meet your criteria for Virtue; I’ll pick 100 males who self-identify as Virtuous individuals; and we’ll have someone else pick 100 random unexceptional males.  Then we’ll release them together in an environment of your choosing with unlimited wine, women & song.   After a month of self-controlled behavior, we’ll ask them to rate their personal level of spiritual, physical & emotional satisfaction on a scale of one to ten.


      Not a fair test?  Let’s juggle the variables & try again.


      Does the Philosophical approach work any better?


      Ask yourself how the Philosophical approach can “prove” that Virtue is sufficient for Happiness when it cannot even agree on a singular definition of what Happiness is?




      --- On Fri, 7/31/09, Keith Seddon <K.H.S@...> wrote:

      From: Keith Seddon <K.H.S@...>
      Subject: Re: [stoics] Re: Universalism, Compassion, Buddhism, Translations
      To: stoics@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Friday, July 31, 2009, 9:04 PM

      snailman100 wrote:
      First, let's start with an easier concept: the colour red.
      In the past, the colour red could have been considered to be an entirely
      mental phenomenon. How can we know if the colour I think is red is the
      same as the colour you think is red? [snip] Thus we have brought the concept of "red" out of the philosophical realm and into the scientific realm.
      No we haven't. A scientist cannot study a concept or dissect phenomenological experience. However much empirical research you do into this, finding out all there is to know about wavelengths, the cells of the retina, neurons and the rest, you cannot establish that my experience of red is the same as yours. It is not that you haven't found out enough, or worked out the right experiments -- the task is impossible. It is something that science cannot do.
      [snip] Thus we can also bring the concepts of "anger" and "happiness" out of
      the philosophical realm and into the scientific realm.
      Since stoic philosophy deals with these concepts, stoic philosophy
      cannot be independent of these scientific results.
      What the scientist finds out is completely irrelevant to the Stoic. It makes no difference at all to the question as to whether it is better to make the correct judgements and so be free of anger, say. Stoic philosophy is good for all self-conscious, sentient creatures, all over the universes. The particulars of all the different brain chemistries are utterly beside the point.
      Indeed, one of the reasons I'm becoming interested in stoic philosophy,
      is that it generally seems to correspond well with what I've been
      learning about neuroscience.
      Of course it does. It would correspond well to whatever the neuroscientists find out. Stoic philosophy is not validated by modern neuroscience. We know that Stoic philosophy is correct no matter what scientists say, on the basis of philosophical analysis and reasoned argument.



    • Grant Sterling
      ... I think they are interchangeable--the two terms do not _mean_ the same thing, but it is a necessary truth that all rational actions are moral and all moral
      Message 349 of 349 , Aug 5, 2009
        gich2 wrote:

        Gich (now): I think we're somewhat at crossed purposes here. In our discussions, you seem to use the words 'moral' / 'rational'; 'morality' / 'rationality'; more or less interchangeably and this confuses me. Let's leave this for now.

            I think they are interchangeable--the two terms do not _mean_ the same
        thing, but it is a necessary truth that all rational actions are moral and all
        moral actions are rational.


        New words for song:

        Billy's fiancé said:

        Billy, promise me you'll remember the words of Epictetus in Discourse 3.15,

        " In every act consider what precedes and what follows, ..., and if it is for your good, undertake the thing. ..., consider first what it is that you're dealing with, then your own nature also, what it is able to bear.... for different men are naturally formed for different things.... "

        And follow his advice in Discourse 1.2 where he recognises that we're all different and will behave differently in otherwise identical situations: what is appropriate behaviour for one may not be appropriate behaviour for another. You must discipline yourself to (maybe) NOT take action now,... in preparation for appropriate action in the future. He advises against rash behaviour: you should analyse the evidence before your eyes and consider possible consequences of a possible course of action BEFORE doing anything.

            If she had said any such thing, I would have totally agreed.  If she had
        limited her discourse to "don't be a fool with your life", as in "don't
        unthinkingly or irrationally throw your life away to no good purpose",
        then of course I would have no complaint with her request, and if
        she had meant this, then when she learned that Billy had died as a hero,
        losing his life while performing a _morally necessary_ act of heroism,
        she would have been proud of him.  but it is clear from the song that
        this _isn't_ what she meant--she regards Billy as a failure for dying
        heroically rather than living as a coward.

        Don't forget Discourse 4.12, "Next to this we ought to remember who we are, and what is our name, and to endeavour to direct our duties toward the character of our several relations in this manner: ... on what occasion to comply and with whom; and finally, in complying how to maintain our proper character"

        ABOVE ALL, always keep in the forefront of your thinking your fundamental Epictetan role-duties as husband (to be) and father (to be).

            And this is the root of our entire disagreement.  This "above all" clause is
        nowhere found in Epictetus, and is nowhere deducible from anything he
        says.  Notice the passage you quote--we must direct our duties (plural)
        toward the character of our several (plural) relations in this manner.  That
        is, we have _multiple_ duties, and _multiple_ relationships.  Nothing here
        suggests even for a moment that my role-duty as a husband (and
        certainly not husband to be!) or father (or father-to-be) take precedence
        over all other duties. 
            The Stoics often praised Socrates, and yet Socrates repeatedly
        argues (if you'd like citations, I'll be happy to supply them--you
        can start with the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo) that one must
        risk one's life when it is called for, and lists several cases in his
        own life (as a father and husband) when it was called for.   Among
        them, notably, was his own heroism in battle....
            Your 'above all' clause is unjustified, and indeed contradicts
        what Stoicism stands for.  Protecting my own life, either for its
        own sake or as a feature of duties to others, is only one responsibility
        among many, and by no means of special importance.

          Take it easy, Grant

        Pax vobiscum


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