Sunday, June 25, 2017

Epictetus on the Perishing of Pots and People


Epictetus (c. AD 50 – 135) was a Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey) and lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses and Enchiridion.


Concerning each of those things that are alluring or have any usefulness or you are fond of, remember to say, what type it is, even beginning from the smallest things: If you are fond of a pot, that, “I am fond of a pot.”  For if it breaks you will not suffer.  If you kiss your very own little child or wife, that you are kissing a human: because if they die, you will not suffer. Epictetus, Enchiridion I.3

ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστου τῶν ψυχαγωγούντων ἢ χρείαν παρεχόντων ἢ στεργομένων μέμνησο ἐπιλέγειν, ὁποῖόν ἐστιν, ἀπὸ τῶν σμικροτάτων ἀρξάμενος: ἂν χύτραν στέργῃς, ὅτιχύτραν στέργω.’ κατεαγείσης γὰρ αὐτῆς οὐ ταραχθήσῃ: ἂν παιδίον σαυτοῦ καταφιλῇς ἢ γυναῖκα, ὅτι ἄνθρωπον καταφιλεῖς: ἀποθανόντος γὰρ οὐ ταραχθήσῃ.

Epictetus has thus far lead us to believe that things either are or are not in our control, and that the former only properly belong to the domain of our concerns.  Chiefly, if not exclusively among those “things” in our power, are our mental states: hupolepsis– plan; horme– desire; oreksis– volition; and ekklisis– avoidance (the opposite of choice).

The practical takeaway amounts to this: If I love a thing I am to tell myself that I love a thing.  But what exactly does this mean?  Epictetus has just introduced three categories of “things” as they relate to us: the alluring, the useful and those things we are fond of.  A pot then, we are to remind ourself, fits into one of these three categories.  Epictetus places it into the “fond of” category.*  Note, not uncoincidentally, that it is we who are to remind ourselves.  If we told other people or vice versa, about this self-reflective protocol, we would in fact be transgressing Epictetus’ injunction to concern ourselves only with what is in our power.  If anything is not in our power, it is certainly the thoughts of other men.  For our own part however, conjuring up the thought, or perhaps even audibly voicing the words, “I am fond of a pot” is not necessarily supposed to sef-consciously evoke the brute absurdity of the utterance.  What I understand Epictetus to be doing is that when we say, “I am fond of a cup” we are to mentally categorize the object, the cup, into one of the three previous categories.  Either it is alluring, useful or loved.  It is the third, and after this recognition we are to note that if either of the two elements out our control, ourself (including our body) or the cup, is taken out of the equation, whether through destruction, theft, or injury, then we are immediately dealing with a concern not properly our own.  We can and must engage only with that in our control.  A destroyed pot, out of our control, is by definition something we should not concern ourselves with.  We should not say of a non-existing pot, “I am fond of a pot” just as we could not say, “I am fond of a pot” if we ourselves were to cease to be.

*(“Be fond of”, translated in three different places above, is here from the verb stergo, a term not normally associated with erotic love nor love for a friend, but often concerns the mutual love of parents and children.)

Concerning each of those things that are alluring or have any usefulness or you are fond of, remember to say, what type it is, even beginning from the smallest things: If you are fond of a pot, that, “I am fond of a pot.”  For if it breaks you will not suffer.  If you kiss your very own little child or wife, that you are kissing a human: because if they die, you will not suffer. Epictetus, Enchiridion I.3

ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστου τῶν ψυχαγωγούντων ἢ χρείαν παρεχόντων ἢ στεργομένων μέμνησο ἐπιλέγειν, ὁποῖόν ἐστιν, ἀπὸ τῶν σμικροτάτων ἀρξάμενος: ἂν χύτραν στέργῃς, ὅτι ‘χύτραν στέργω.’ κατεαγείσης γὰρ αὐτῆς οὐ ταραχθήσῃ: ἂν παιδίον σαυτοῦ καταφιλῇς ἢ γυναῖκα, ὅτι ἄνθρωπον καταφιλεῖς: ἀποθανόντος γὰρ οὐ ταραχθήσῃ.

On my last post on Epictetus, I discussed the therapeutic protocol one is to undertake when encountering an “object” in the world.  It is unclear thus far if Epictetus intends for this mental procedure to be a comprehensive categorization of everything in the world which one could desire.  But it does, consistent with the all-inclusive calculus of a Stoic, include the seemingly least important (pots) all the way up to the most important “objects” (wives and children).

An interpreter could choose to focus on the subjective element of the choice in Epictetus: It is I, this self, that is choosing to love this pot.  And we could, in accord with this view, draw conclusions about foisting our choices promiscuously upon a new object of choice, after the old one has been taken from us. I do not believe this is Epictetus’ view.

Against our expectations of a philosopher who said, in the slanderous paraphrase of the Bard, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”* Epictetus makes it quite clear that we are to focus on “what” our object is (ὁποῖόν ἐστιν).  So when it comes to forefending the grief associated with the loss of a wife, we are to remember that she IS a human, but we merely THINK she is our wife.  We must disabuse ourselves of erroneous dispositions about the actual world, not, as goes the Stoic caricature, mentally grunt it away.

M.A.D Moore 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Philosophical Categories

A system of categories is a complete list of highest kinds or genera. Traditionally, following Aristotle, these have been thought of as highest genera of entities (in the widest sense of the term), so that a system of categories undertaken in this realist spirit would ideally provide an inventory of everything there is, thus answering the most basic of metaphysical questions: “What is there?” Skepticism about the possibilities for discerning the different categories of ‘reality itself’ has led others to approach category systems not with the aim of cataloging the highest kinds in the world itself, but rather with the aim of elucidating the categories of our conceptual system. Thus Kant makes the shift to a conceptualist approach by drawing out the categories that are a priori necessary for any possible cognition of objects. Since such categories are guaranteed to apply to any possible object of cognition, they retain a certain sort of ontological import, although this application is limited to phenomena, not the thing in itself.

 After Kant, it has been common to approach the project of categories in a neutral spirit that Brian Carr (1987, 7) calls “categorial descriptivism”, as describing the categorial structure that the world would have according to our thought, experience, or language, while refraining from making commitments about whether or not these categories are occupied. Edmund Husserl approaches categories in something like this way, since he begins by laying out categories of meanings, which may then be used to draw out ontological categories (categories of possible objects meant) as the correlates of the meaning categories, without concern for any empirical matter about whether or not there really are objects of the various ontological categories discerned.

A system of ontological categories drawn out in any of these modes has the potential for a great many uses in philosophy, but those who would offer such systems of categories also face a variety of difficulties. They must address the issue of what the proper methods are by means of which categories are to be distinguished, how many categories there are and what they are, whether or not there is a single summum genus subsuming all other categories, and whether we should distinguish a single system of categories or multiple dimensions of categories—issues on which there has been little agreement.

Over the past hundred years, skepticism about the possibility of offering a uniquely true and complete system of ontological categories has led discussion of categories to shift from attempts to offer complete systems of categories to attempts merely to draw particular distinctions, especially among our conceptual or linguistic categories. Work on category differences, unlike that on category systems, does not generally purport to answer deep metaphysical questions about what things or kinds of things exist; instead, category differences are articulated as a way of diagnosing and avoiding various philosophical problems and confusions. Nonetheless, even those who merely argue for category differences owe an account of the conditions under which two concepts, terms, or objects belong to different categories.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Plato : Late dialogues

The Parmenides demonstrates that the sketches of forms presented in the middle dialogues were not adequate; this dialogue and the ones that follow spur readers to develop a more viable understanding of these entities. Thus, the approach to genera and species recommended in the Sophist, the Statesman, and the Philebus (and already discussed in the Phaedrus) represents the late version of Plato’s theory of forms. The Philebus proposes a mathematized version, inspired by Pythagoreanism and corresponding to the cosmology of the Timaeus.

But Plato did not neglect human issues in these dialogues. The Phaedrus already combined the new apparatus with a compelling treatment of love; the title topics of the Sophist and the Statesman, to be treated by genus-species division, are important roles in the Greek city; and the Philebus is a consideration of the competing claims of pleasure and knowledge to be the basis of the good life. (The Laws, left unfinished at Plato’s death, seems to represent a practical approach to the planning of a city.) If one combines the hints (in the Republic) associating the Good with the One, or Unity; the treatment (in the Parmenides) of the One as the first principle of everything; and the possibility that the good proportion and harmony featured in the Timaeus and the Philebus are aspects of the One, it is possible to trace the aesthetic and ethical interests of the middle dialogues through even the most difficult technical studies.

The Theaetetus considers the question “What is knowledge?” Is it perception, true belief, or true belief with an “account”? The dialogue contains a famous “digression” on the difference between the philosophical and worldly mentalities. The work ends inconclusively and may indeed be intended to show the limits of the methods of the historical Socrates with this subject matter, further progress requiring Plato’s distinctive additions.

The Parmenides is the key episode in Plato’s treatment of forms. It presents a critique of the super-exemplification view of forms that results from a natural reading of the Symposium, the Phaedo, and the Republic and moves on to a suggestive logical exercise based on a distinction between two kinds of predication and a model of the forms in terms of genera and species. Designed to lead the reader to a more sophisticated and viable theory, the exercise also depicts the One as a principle of everything (see The theory of forms).

The leader of the discussion in the Sophist is an “Eleatic stranger.” Sophistry seems to involve trafficking in falsity, illusion, and not-being. Yet these are puzzling in light of the brilliant use by the historical Parmenides (also an Eleatic) of the slogan that one cannot think or speak of what is not. Plato introduces the idea that a negative assertion of the form “A is not B” should be understood not as invoking any absolute not-being but as having the force that A is other than B. The other crucial content of the dialogue is its distinction between two uses of “is,” which correspond to the two kinds of predication introduced in the Parmenides. Both are connected with the genus-species model of definition that is pervasive in the late dialogues, since the theoretically central use of “is” appears in statements that are true in virtue of the relations represented in genus-species classifications. The dialogue treats the intermingling of the five “greatest kinds”: Being, Sameness, Difference, Motion, and Rest. Although these kinds are of course not species of each other, they do partake of each other in the ordinary way. The Statesman discusses genus-species definition in connection with understanding its title notion.

The Timaeus concerns the creation of the world by a Demiurge, initially operating on forms and space and assisted after he has created them by lesser gods. Earth, air, fire, and water are analyzed as ultimately consisting of two kinds of triangles, which combine into different characteristic solids. Plato in this work applies mathematical harmonics to produce a cosmology. The Critias is a barely started sequel to the Timaeus; its projected content is the story of the war of ancient Athens and Atlantis.

The Philebus develops major apparatuses in methodology and metaphysics. The genus-species treatment of forms is recommended, but now foundational to it is a new fourfold division: limit, the unlimited, the mixed class, and the cause. Forms (members of the mixed class) are analyzed in Pythagorean style as made up of limit and the unlimited. This occurs when desirable ratios govern the balance between members of underlying pairs of opposites—as, for example, Health results when there is a proper balance between the Wet and the Dry.

The very lengthy Laws is thought to be Plato’s last composition, since there is generally accepted evidence that it was unrevised at his death. It develops laws to govern a projected state and is apparently meant to be practical in a way that the Republic was not; thus the demands made on human nature are less exacting. This work appears, indirectly, to have left its mark on the great system of Roman jurisprudence.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Influence of Aristotle

After Sulla removed Aristotle’s esoteric writings to Rome, they were edited and published by the peripatetic philosopher Andronicus of Rhodes. By late antiquity they had almost fallen out of circulation, hampered by the rise of the Church and of neo-Platonism, the fall of Rome, and the loss of the Greek language amongst educated people. In the early sixth century, the Christian philosopher Boethius translated Aristotle’s works on logic into Latin, and, for centuries to come, these were the only significant portions of Aristotle’s writings (or indeed of Greek philosophy) available in the Occident. However, the study of Aristotle continued unabated in the Orient, in the Byzantine Empire and more particularly in the Abbasid Caliphate, where Persian and Arab philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes wrote extensive commentaries on Aristotle, whom they referred to deferentially as The First Teacher.

In the twelfth century, this Aristotelian fervour spilt over into Christian Europe. In the Condemnations of 1210–1277, the Bishops of Paris prohibited Aristotle’s physical writings on the grounds of heterodoxy, but without too much success. In the thirteenth century William of Moerbeke produced a Latin translation of Aristotle’s writings from the original Greek text rather than from Arabic translations, the first complete Latin translation faithful both to the spirit and to the letter of Aristotle. At around the same time, Albert the Great and his pre-eminent student Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Angelus, sought to reconcile Christian thought with Aristotle, whom they and other scholastic thinkers referred to simply as The Philosopher. Under the aegis of the Church, Aristotelian ideas achieved such prominence and such propriety as to be assimilated to God-given gospel, to be overturned only centuries later by pioneers like Galileo, Descartes, and Newton.

Aristotle is without a doubt one of the greatest philosophers of all time, and, along with Plato, one of the most influential people in Western history. Raphael’s Renaissance masterpiece, The School of Athens, depicts Plato and Aristotle walking side by side, surrounded by a number of other philosophers and personalities of antiquity. An elderly Plato is holding a copy of his Timaeus and pointing vertically to the lofty vault above their heads, whilst a younger Aristotle is holding a copy of the Nicomachean Ethics and gesturing horizontally towards the descending steps at their feet. Plato was chiefly interested in moral philosophy, and held natural philosophy, that is, science, to be an inferior and unworthy type of knowledge. His idealism culminated in the Theory of the Forms, according to which knowledge of the truth cannot be acquired through the sense experience of imperfect particulars, but only through the rational contemplation of their universal essences or Forms. Aristotle flatly rejected the Theory of the Forms and emphasised that all philosophy should be grounded in the simple observation of particulars. In so doing, he laid the foundations for the scientific method, and his meticulous zoological observations remained unsurpassed for several centuries. His moral philosophy prevailed throughout the ancient and mediaeval periods, exerting a profound influence on Christian thought, and returned to due prominence in the twentieth century with the resurgence of virtue ethics. His extant works, to say nothing of those that have been lost, cover such a wide range of topics, from aesthetics to astronomy and from politics to psychology, as to constitute a quasi encyclopaedia of Greek knowledge. Some of his most important works are Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, On the Soul, Poetics, and, of course, the Organon, with which he created the field of logic and dominated it so thoroughly and for so long that even Kant in the eighteenth century thought that he had said the last word upon it.

More than any other figure in Western history, Aristotle is the embodiment of knowledge and of learning. His ideas have shaped centuries of thought and are still keenly pored over by all those who seek to understand Western civilisation, or simply to inhabit one of the greatest minds of all time.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Letter to Herodotus from Epicurus

Epicurus summarizes the key doctrines from “On Nature” (of which only a few fragments have been recovered) in this letter to Herodotus. At a time when most philosophers still endorsed what amounted to a magical world-view, Epicurus squarely places himself in the atomistic/materialistic tradition of Democritus. Epicurus also adds some brilliant and daring insights of his own, notably in his explanation of mental function in terms of the movements of specialized neural atoms and his suggestion that the universe is filled with other worlds where extraterrestrial life is possible. Another important theme of this letter is the role of physical knowledge in promoting human happiness and negating skepticism and superstition.


Epicurus to Herodotus, greetings:

For those who are unable to study carefully all my physical writings or to go into the longer treatises at all, I have myself prepared an epitome of the whole system, Herodotus, to preserve in the memory enough of the principal doctrines, to the end that on every occasion they may be able to aid themselves on the most important points, so far as they take up the study of Physics. Those who have made some advance in the survey of the entire system ought to fix in their minds under the principal headings an elementary outline of the whole treatment of the subject. For a comprehensive view is often required, the details but seldom.

To the former, then—the main heads—we must continually return, and must memorize them so far as to get a valid conception of the facts, as well as the means of discovering all the details exactly when once the general outlines are rightly understood and remembered; since it is the privilege of the mature student to make a ready use of his conceptions by referring every one of them to elementary facts and simple terms. For it is impossible to gather up the results of continuous diligent study of the entirety of things, unless we can embrace in short formulas and hold in mind all that might have been accurately expressed even to the minutest detail.

Hence, since such a course is of service to all who take up natural science, I, who devote to the subject my continuous energy and reap the calm enjoyment of a life like this, have prepared for you just such an epitome and manual of the doctrines as a whole.

In the first place, Herodotus, you must understand what it is that words denote, in order that by reference to this we may be in a position to test opinions, inquiries, or problems, so that our proofs may not run on untested ad infinitum, nor the terms we use be empty of meaning. For the primary signification of every term employed must be clearly seen, and ought to need no proving; this being necessary, if we are to have something to which the point at issue or the problem or the opinion before us can be referred.

Next, we must by all means stick to our sensations, that is, simply to the present impressions whether of the mind or of any criterion whatever, and similarly to our actual feelings, in order that we may have the means of determining that which needs confirmation and that which is obscure.

When this is clearly understood, it is time to consider generally things which are obscure. To begin with, nothing comes into being out of what is non-existent For in that case anything would have arisen out of anything, standing as it would in no need of its proper germs. And if that which disappears had been destroyed and become non-existent, everything would have perished, that into which the things were dissolved being non-existent. Moreover, the sum total of things was always such as it is now, and such it will ever remain. For there is nothing into which it can change. For outside the sum of things there is nothing which could enter into it and bring about the change.

Further, the whole of being consists of bodies and space. For the existence of bodies is everywhere attested by sense itself, and it is upon sensation that reason must rely when it attempts to infer the unknown from the known. And if there were no space (which we call also void and place and intangible nature), bodies would have nothing in which to be and through which to move, as they are plainly seen to move. Beyond bodies and space there is nothing which by mental apprehension or on its analogy we can conceive to exist. When we speak of bodies and space, both are regarded as wholes or separate things, not as the properties or accidents of separate things.

Again, of bodies some are composite, others the elements of which these composite bodies are made. These elements are indivisible and unchangeable, and necessarily so, if things are not all to be destroyed and pass into non-existence, but are to be strong enough to endure when the composite bodies are broken up, because they possess, a solid nature and are incapable of being anywhere or anyhow dissolved. It follows that the first beginnings must be indivisible, corporeal entities.

Again, the sum of things is infinite. For what is finite has an extremity, and the extremity of anything is discerned only by comparison with something else. Now the sum of things is not discerned by comparison with anything else: hence it has no extremity, it has no limit; and, since it has no limit, it must be unlimited or infinite.

Moreover, the sum of things is unlimited both by reason of the multitude of the atoms and the extent of the void. For if the void were infinite and bodies finite, the bodies would not have stayed anywhere but would have been dispersed in their course through the infinite void, not having any supports or counter-checks to send them back on their upward rebound. Again, if the void were finite, the infinity of bodies would not have anywhere to be.

Furthermore, the atoms, which have no void in them—out of which composite bodies arise and into which they are dissolved—vary indefinitely in their shapes; for so many varieties of things as we see could never have arisen out of a recurrence of a definite number of the same shapes. The like atoms of each shape are absolutely infinite; but the variety of shapes, though indefinitely large, is not absolutely infinite.

The atoms are in continual motion through all eternity. Some of them rebound to a considerable distance from each other, while others merely oscillate in one place when they chance to have got entangled or to be enclosed by a mass of other atoms shaped for entangling.

This is because each atom is separated from the rest by void, which is incapable of offering any resistance to the rebound; while it is the solidity of the atom which makes it rebound after a collision, however short the distance to which it rebounds, when it finds itself imprisoned in a mass of entangling atoms. Of all this there is no beginning, since both atoms and void exist from everlasting.

The repetition at such length of all that we are now recalling to mind furnishes an adequate outline for our conception of the nature of things.

Moreover, there is an infinite number of worlds, some like this world, others unlike it. For the atoms being infinite in number, as has just been proved, are borne ever further in their course. For the atoms out of which a world might arise, or by which a world might be formed, have not all been expended on one world or a finite number of worlds, whether like or unlike this one. Hence there will be nothing to hinder an infinity of worlds.

Again, there are outlines or films, which are of the same shape as solid bodies, but of a thinness far exceeding that of any object that we see. For it is not impossible that there should be found in the surrounding air combinations of this kind, materials adapted for expressing the hollowness and thinness of surfaces, and effluxes preserving the same relative position and motion which they had in the solid objects from which they come. To these films we give the name of “images” or “idols.” Furthermore, so long as nothing comes in the way to offer resistance, motion through the void accomplishes any imaginable distance in an inconceivably short time. For resistance encountered is the equivalent of slowness, its absence the equivalent of speed.

Not that, if we consider the minute times perceptible by reason alone, the moving body itself arrives at more than one place simultaneously (for this too is inconceivable), although in time perceptible to sense it does arrive simultaneously, however different the point of departure from that conceived by us. For if it changed its direction, that would be equivalent to its meeting with resistance, even if up to that point we allow nothing to impede the rate of its flight. This is an elementary fact which in itself is well worth bearing in mind. In the next place the exceeding thinness of the images is contradicted by none of the facts under our observation. Hence also their velocities are enormous, since they always find a void passage to fit them. Besides, their incessant effluence meets with no resistance or very little, although many atoms, not to say an unlimited number, do at once encounter resistance.

Besides this, remember that the production of the images is as quick as thought. For particles are continually streaming off from the surface of bodies, though no diminution of the bodies is observed, because other particles take their place. And those given off for a long time retain the position and arrangement which their atoms had when they formed part of the solid bodies, although occasionally they are thrown into confusion, Sometimes such films a are formed very rapidly in the air, because they need not have any solid content; and there are other modes in which they may be formed. For there is nothing in all this which is contradicted by sensation, if we in some sort look at the clear evidence of sense, to which we should also refer the continuity of particles in the objects external to ourselves.

We must also consider that it is by the entrance of something coming from external objects that we see their shapes and think of them. For external things would not stamp on us their own nature of color and form through the medium of the air which is between them and use or by means of rays of light or currents of any sort going from us to them, so well as by the entrance into our eyes or minds, to whichever their size is suitable, of certain films coming from the things themselves, these films or outlines being of the same color and shape as the external things themselves. They move with rapid motion; and this again explains why they present the appearance of the single continuous object, and retain the mutual interconnection which they had in the object, when they impinge upon the sense, such impact being due to the oscillation of the atoms in the interior of the solid object from which they come. And whatever presentation we derive by direct contact, whether it be with the mind or with the sense-organs, be it shape that is presented or other properties, this shape as presented is the shape of the solid thing, and it is due either to a close coherence of the image as a whole or to a mere remnant of its parts. Falsehood and error always depend upon the intrusion of opinion when a fact awaits confirmation or the absence of contradiction, which fact is afterwards frequently not confirmed or even contradicted following a certain movement in ourselves connected with, but distinct from, the mental picture presented—which is the cause of error.

For the presentations which, for example, are received in a picture or arise in dreams, or from any other form of apprehension by the mind or by the other criteria of truth, would never have resembled what we call the real and true things, had it not been for certain actual things of the kind with which we come in contact. Error would not have occurred, if we had not experienced some other movement in ourselves, conjoined with, but distinct from, the perception of what is presented. And from this movement, if it be not confirmed or be contradicted, falsehood results; while, if it be confirmed or not contradicted, truth results.

And to this view we must closely adhere, if we are not to repudiate the criteria founded on the clear evidence of sense, nor again to throw all these things into confusion by maintaining falsehood as if it were truth.

Again, hearing takes place when a current passes from the object, whether person or thing, which emits voice or sound or noise, or produces the sensation of hearing in any way whatever. This current is broken up into homogeneous particles, which at the same time preserve a certain mutual connection and a distinctive unity extending to the object which emitted them, and thus, for the most part, cause the perception in that case or, if not, merely indicate the presence of the external object. For without the transmission from the object of a certain interconnection of the parts no such sensation could arise. Therefore we must not suppose that the air itself is molded into shape by the voice emitted or something similar; for it is very far from being the case that the air is acted upon by it in this way. The blow which is struck in us when we utter a sound causes such a displacement of the particles as serves to produce a current resembling breath, and this displacement gives rise to the sensation of hearing.

Again, we must believe that smelling, like hearing, would produce no sensation, were there not particles conveyed from the object which are of the proper sort for exciting the organ of smelling, some of one sort, some of another, some exciting it confusedly and strangely, others quietly and agreeably.

Moreover, we must hold that the atoms in fact possess none of the qualities belonging to things which come under our observation, except shape, weight, and size, and the properties necessarily conjoined with shape. For every quality changes, but the atoms do not change, since, when the composite bodies are dissolved, there must needs be a permanent something, solid and indissoluble, left behind, which makes change possible: not changes into or from the non-existent. but often through differences of arrangement, and sometimes through additions and subtractions of the atoms. Hence these somethings capable of being diversely arranged must be indestructible, exempt from change, but possessed each of its own distinctive mass and configuration. This must remain.

For in the case of changes of configuration within our experience the figure is supposed to be inherent when other qualities are stripped of, but the qualities are not supposed, like the shape which is left behind, to inhere in the subject of change, but to vanish altogether from the body. Thus, then, what is left behind is sufficient to account for the differences in composite bodies, since something at least must necessarily be left remaining and be immune from annihilation.

Again, you should not suppose that the atoms have any and every size, lest you be contradicted by facts; but differences of size must be admitted; for this addition renders the facts of feeling and sensation easier of explanation. But to attribute any and every magnitude to the atoms does not help to explain the differences of quality in things; moreover, in that case atoms large enough to be seen ought to have reached us, which is never observed to occur; nor can we conceive how its occurrence should be possible, in other words that an atom should become visible.

Besides, you must not suppose that there are parts unlimited in number, be they ever so small, in any finite body. Hence not only must we reject as impossible subdivision ad infinitum into smaller and smaller parts, lest we make all things too weak and, in our conceptions of the aggregates, be driven to pulverize the things that exist, in other words the atoms, and annihilate them; but in dealing with finite things we must also reject as impossible the progression ad infinitum by less and less increments.

For when once we have said that an infinite number of particles, however small, are contained in anything, it is not possible to conceive how it could any longer be limited or finite in size. For clearly our infinite number of particles must have some size; and then, of whatever size they were, the aggregate they made would be infinite. And, in the next place, since what is finite has an extremity which is distinguishable, even if it is not by itself observable, it is not possible to avoid thinking of another such extremity next to this. Nor can we help thinking that in this way, by proceeding forward from one to the next in order, it is possible by such a progression to arrive in thought at infinity.

We must consider the minimum perceptible by sense as not corresponding to that which is capable of being traversed, that is to say is extended, nor again as utterly unlike it, but as having something in common with the things capable of being traversed, though it is without distinction of parts. But when from the illusion created by this common property we think we shall distinguish something in the minimum, one part on one side and another part on the other side, it must be another minimum equal to the first which catches our eye. In fact, we see these minima one after another, beginning with the first, and not as occupying the same space; nor do we see them touch one another's parts with their parts, but we see that by virtue of their own peculiar character (as being unit indivisibles) they afford a means of measuring magnitudes: there are more of them, if the magnitude measured is greater; fewer of them, if the magnitude measured is less.

We must recognize that this analogy also holds of the minimum in the atom; it is only in minuteness that it differs from that which is observed by sense, but it follows the same analogy. On the analogy of things within our experience we have declared that the atom has magnitude; and this, small as it is, we have merely reproduced on a larger scale. And further, the least and simplest things must be regarded as extremities of lengths, furnishing from themselves as units the means of measuring lengths, whether greater or less, the mental vision being employed, since direct observation is impossible. For the community which exists between them and the unchangeable parts (the minimal parts of area or surface) is sufficient to justify the conclusion so far as this goes. But it is not possible that these minima of the atom should group themselves together through the possession of motion.

Further, we must not assert “up” and “down” of that which is unlimited, as if there were a zenith or nadir. As to the space overhead, however, if it be possible to draw a line to infinity from the point where we stand, we know that never will this space—or, for that matter, the space below the supposed standpoint if produced to infinity—appear to us to be at the same time “up” and “down” with reference to the same point; for this is inconceivable. Hence it is possible to assume one direction of motion, which we conceive as extending upwards ad infinitum, and another downwards, even if it should happen ten thousand times that what moves from us to the spaces above our heads reaches the feet of those above us, or that which moves downwards from us the heads of those below us. None the less is it true that the whole of the motion in the respective cases is conceived as extending in opposite directions ad infinitum.

When they are traveling through the void and meet with no resistance, the atoms must move with equal speed. Neither will heavy atoms travel more quickly than small and light ones, so long as nothing meets them, nor will small atoms travel more quickly than large ones, provided they always find a passage suitable to their size. and provided also that they meet with no obstruction. Nor will their upward or their lateral motion, which is due to collisions, nor again their downward motion, due to weight, affect their velocity. As long as either motion obtains, it must continue, quick as the speed of thought, provided there is no obstruction, whether due to external collision or to the atoms' own weight counteracting the force of the blow.

Moreover, when we come to deal with composite bodies, one of them will travel faster than another, although their atoms have equal speed. This is because the atoms in the aggregates are traveling in one direction a during the shortest continuous time, albeit they move in different directions in times so short as to be appreciable only by the reason, but frequently collide until the continuity of their motion is appreciated by sense. For the assumption that beyond the range of direct observation even the minute times conceivable by reason will present continuity of motion is not true in the case before us. Our canon is that direct observation by sense and direct apprehension by the mind are alone invariably true.

Next, keeping in view our perceptions and feelings (for so shall we have the surest grounds for belief), we must recognize generally that the soul is a corporeal thing, composed of fine particles, dispersed all over the frame, most nearly resembling wind with an admixture of heat, in some respects like wind, in others like heat. But, again, there is the third part which exceeds the other two in the fineness of its particles and thereby keeps in closer touch with the rest of the frame. And this is shown by the mental faculties and feelings, by the ease with which the mind moves, and by thoughts, and by all those things the loss of which causes death. Further, we must keep in mind that soul has the greatest share in causing sensation. Still, it would not have had sensation, had it not been somehow confined within the rest of the frame. But the rest of the frame, though it provides this indispensable conditions for the soul, itself also has a share, derived from the soul, of the said quality; and yet does not possess all the qualities of soul. Hence on the departure of the soul it loses sentience. For it had not this power in itself; but something else, congenital with the body, supplied it to body: which other thing, through the potentiality actualized in it by means of motion, at once acquired for itself a quality of sentience, and, in virtue of the neighborhood and interconnection between them, imparted it (as I said) to the body also.

Hence, so long as the soul is in the body, it never loses sentience through the removal of some other part. The containing sheaths may be dislocated in whole or in part, and portions of the soul may thereby be lost; yet in spite of this the soul, if it manage to survive, will have sentience. But the rest of the frame, whether the whole of it survives or only a part, no longer has sensation, when once those atoms have departed, which, however few in number, are required to constitute the nature of soul. Moreover, when the whole frame is broken up, the soul is scattered and has no longer the same powers as before, nor the same notions; hence it does not possess sentience either.

For we cannot think of it as sentient, except it be in this composite whole and moving with these movements; nor can we so think of it when the sheaths which enclose and surround it are not the same as those in which the soul is now located and in which it performs these movements.

There is the further point to be considered, what the incorporeal can be, if, I mean, according to current usage the term is applied to what can be conceived as self-existent. But it is impossible to conceive anything that is incorporeal as self-existent except empty space. And empty space cannot itself either act or be acted upon, but simply allows body to move through it. Hence those who call soul incorporeal speak foolishly. For if it were so, it could neither act nor be acted upon. But, as it is, both these properties, you see, plainly belong to soul.

If, then, we bring all these arguments concerning soul to the criterion of our feelings and perceptions, and if we keep in mind the proposition stated at the outset, we shall see that the subject has been adequately comprehended in outline: which will enable us to determine the details with accuracy and confidence.

Moreover, shapes and colors, magnitudes and weights, and in short all those qualities which are predicated of body, in so far as they are perpetual properties either of all bodies or of visible bodies, are knowable by sensation of these very properties: these, I say, must not be supposed to exist independently by themselves (for that is inconceivable), nor yet to be non-existent, nor to be some other and incorporeal entities cleaving to body, nor again to be parts of body. We must consider the whole body in a general way to derive its permanent nature from all of them, though it is not, as it were, formed by grouping them together in the same way as when from the particles themselves a larger aggregate is made up, whether these particles be primary or any magnitudes whatsoever less than the particular whole. All these qualities, I repeat, merely give the body its own permanent nature. They all have their own characteristic modes of being perceived and distinguished, but always along with the whole body in which they inhere and never in separation from it; and it is in virtue of this complete conception of the body as a whole that it is so designated.

Again, qualities often attach to bodies without being permanent concomitants. They are not to be classed among invisible entities nor are they incorporeal. Hence, using the term “accidents” in the commonest sense, we say plainly that “accidents” have not the nature of the whole thing to which they belong, and to which, conceiving it as a whole, we give the name of body, nor that of the permanent properties without which body cannot be thought of. And in virtue of certain peculiar modes of apprehension into which the complete body always enters, each of them can be called an accident. But only as often as they are seen actually to belong to it, since such accidents are not perpetual concomitants. There is no need to banish from reality this clear evidence that the accident has not the nature of that whole—by us called body—to which it belongs, nor of the permanent properties which accompany the whole. Nor, on the other hand, must we suppose the accident to have independent existence (for this is just as inconceivable in the case of accidents as in that of the permanent properties); but, as is manifest, they should all be regarded as accidents, not as permanent concomitants, of bodies, nor yet as having the rank of independent existence. Rather they are seen to be exactly as and what sensation itself makes them individually claim to be.

There is another thing which we must consider carefully. We must not investigate time as we do the other accidents which we investigate in a subject, namely, by referring them to the preconceptions envisaged in our minds; but we must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which we speak of time as long or short, linking to it in intimate connection this attribute of duration. We need not adopt any fresh terms as preferable, but should employ the usual expressions about it. Nor need we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the same essence as is contained in the proper meaning of the word “time” (for this also is done by some). We must chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and by which we measure it. No further proof is required: we have only to reflect that we attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and likewise to feelings of pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, conceiving a peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by the word “time.”

After the foregoing we have next to consider that the worlds and every finite aggregate which bears a strong resemblance to things we commonly see have arisen out of the infinite. For all these, whether small or great, have been separated off from special conglomerations of atoms; and all things are again dissolved, some faster, some slower, some through the action of one set of causes, others through the action of another.

And further, we must not suppose that the worlds have necessarily one and the same shape. For nobody can prove that in one sort of world there might not be contained, whereas in another sort of world there could not possibly be, the seeds out of which animals and plants arise and all the rest of the things we see.

Again, we must suppose that nature too has been taught and forced to learn many various lessons by the facts themselves, that reason subsequently develops what it has thus received and makes fresh discoveries, among some tribes more quickly, among others more slowly, the progress thus made being at certain times and seasons greater, at others less.

Hence even the names of things were not originally due to convention, but in the several tribes under the impulse of special feelings and special presentations of sense primitive man uttered special cries. The air thus emitted was molded by their individual feelings or sense-presentations, and differently according to the difference of the regions which the tribes inhabited. Subsequently whole tribes adopted their own special names, in order that their communications might be less ambiguous to each other and more briefly expressed. And as for things not visible, so far as those who were conscious of them tried to introduce any such notion, they put in circulation certain names for them, either sounds which they were instinctively compelled to utter or which they selected by reason on analogy according to the most general cause there can be for expressing oneself in such a way.

Nay more: we are bound to believe that in the sky revolutions, solstices, eclipses, risings and settings, and the like, take place without the ministration or command, either now or in the future, of any being who it the same time enjoys perfect bliss along with immortality. For troubles and anxieties and feelings of anger and partiality do not accord with bliss, but always imply weakness and fear and dependence upon one's neighbors. Nor, again, must we hold that things which are no more than globular masses of fire, being at the same time endowed with bliss, assume these motions at will. Nay, in every term we use we must hold fast to all the majesty which attaches to such notions as bliss and immortality, lest the terms should generate opinions inconsistent with this majesty. Otherwise such inconsistency will of itself suffice to produce the worst disturbance in our minds. Hence, where we find phenomena invariably recurring, the invariability of the recurrence must be ascribed to the original interception and conglomeration of atoms whereby the world was formed.

Further, we must hold that to arrive at accurate knowledge of the cause of things of most moment is the business of natural science, and that happiness depends on this (viz. on the knowledge of celestial and atmospheric phenomena), and upon knowing what the heavenly bodies really are, and any kindred facts contributing to exact knowledge in this respect.

Further, we must recognize on such points as this no plurality of causes or contingency, but must hold that nothing suggestive of conflict or disquiet is compatible with an immortal and blessed nature. And the mind can grasp the absolute truth of this.

But when we come to subjects for special inquiry, there is nothing in the knowledge of risings and settings and solstices and eclipses and all kindred subjects that contributes to our happiness; but those who are well-informed about such matters and yet are ignorant—what the heavenly bodies really are, and what are the most important causes of phenomena, feel quite as much fear as those who have no such special information—nay, perhaps even greater fear, when the curiosity excited by this additional knowledge cannot find a solution or understand the subordination of these phenomena to the highest causes.

Hence, if we discover more than one cause that may account for solstices, settings and risings, eclipses and the like, as we did also in particular matters of detail, we must not suppose that our treatment of these matters fails of accuracy, so far as it is needful to ensure our tranquillity and happiness. When, therefore, we investigate the causes of celestial and atmospheric phenomena, as of all that is unknown, we must take into account the variety of ways in which analogous occurrences happen within our experience; while as for those who do not recognize the difference between what is or comes about from a single cause and that which may be the effect of any one of several causes, overlooking the fact that the objects are only seen at a distance, and are moreover ignorant of the conditions that render, or do not render, peace of mind impossible—all such persons we must treat with contempt. If then we think that an event could happen in one or other particular way out of several, we shall be as tranquil when we recognize that it actually comes about in more ways than one as if we knew that it happens in this particular way.

There is yet one more point to seize, namely, that the greatest ,anxiety of the human mind arises through the belief that the heavenly bodies are blessed and indestructible, and that at the same time they have volition and actions and causality inconsistent with this belief; and through expecting or apprehending some everlasting evil, either because of the myths, or because we are in dread of the mere insensibility of death, as if it had to do with us; and through being reduced to this state not by conviction but by a certain irrational perversity, so that, if men do not set bounds to their terror, they endure as much or even more intense anxiety than the man whose views on these matters are quite vague. But mental tranquillity means being released from all these troubles and cherishing a continual remembrance of the highest and most important truths.

Hence we must attend to present feelings and sense perceptions, whether those of mankind in general or those peculiar to the individual, and also attend to all the clear evidence available, as given by each of the standards of truth. For by studying them we shall rightly trace to its cause and banish the source of disturbance and dread, accounting for celestial phenomena and for all other things which from time to time befall us and cause the utmost alarm to the rest of mankind.

Here then, Herodotus, you have the chief doctrines of Physics in the form of a summary. So that, if this statement be accurately retained and take effect, a man will, I make no doubt, be incomparably better equipped than his fellows, even if he should never go into all the exact details. For he will clear up for himself many of the points which I have worked out in detail in my complete exposition; and the summary itself, if borne in mind, will be of constant service to him.

It is of such a sort that those who are already tolerably, or even perfectly, well acquainted with the details can, by analysis of what they know into such elementary perceptions as these, best prosecute their researches in physical science as a whole; while those, on the other hand, who are not altogether entitled to rank as mature students can in silent fashion and as quick as thought run over the doctrines most important for their peace of mind.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Machiavelli: “The Discourses on Livy”: Liberty and Conflict

While The Prince is doubtless the most widely read of his works, the Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy perhaps most honestly expresses Machiavelli's personal political beliefs and commitments, in particular, his republican sympathies. The Discourses certainly draw upon the same reservoir of language and concepts that fed The Prince, but the former treatise leads us to draw conclusions quite different from—many scholars have said contradictory to—the latter. In particular, across the two works, Machiavelli consistently and clearly distinguishes between a minimal and a full conception of “political” or “civil” order, and thus constructs a hierarchy of ends within his general account of communal life. A minimal constitutional order is one in which subjects live securely (vivere sicuro), ruled by a strong government which holds in check the aspirations of both nobility and people, but is in turn balanced by other legal and institutional mechanisms. In a fully constitutional regime, however, the goal of the political order is the freedom of the community (vivere libero), created by the active participation of, and contention between, the nobility and the people. As Quentin Skinner (202, 189–212) has argued, liberty forms a value that anchors Machiavelli's political theory and guides his evaluations of the worthiness of different types of regimes. Only in a republic, for which Machiavelli expresses a distinct preference, may this goal be attained.

Machiavelli adopted this position on both pragmatic and principled grounds. During his career as a secretary and diplomat in the Florentine republic, Machiavelli came to acquire vast experience of the inner workings of French government, which became his model for the “secure” (but not free) polity. Although Machiavelli makes relatively little comment about the French monarchy in The Prince, he devotes a great deal of attention to France in the Discourses.

Why would Machiavelli effusively praise (let alone even analyze) a hereditary monarchy in a work supposedly designed to promote the superiority of republics? The answer stems from Machiavelli's aim to contrast the best case scenario of a monarchic regime with the institutions and organization of a republic. Even the most excellent monarchy, in Machiavelli's view, lacks certain salient qualities that are endemic to properly constituted republican government and that make the latter constitution more desirable than the former.

Machiavelli asserts that the greatest virtue of the French kingdom and its king is the dedication to law. “The kingdom of France is moderated more by laws than any other kingdom of which at our time we have knowledge,” Machiavelli declares (Machiavelli 1965, 314, trans. altered). The explanation for this situation Machiavelli refers to the function of the Parlement. “The kingdom of France,” he states, “lives under laws and orders more than any other kingdom. These laws and orders are maintained by Parlements, notably that of Paris: by it they are renewed any time it acts against a prince of the kingdom or in its sentences condemns the king. And up to now it has maintained itself by having been a persistent executor against that nobility” (Machiavelli 1965, 422). These passages of the Discourses seem to suggest that Machiavelli has great admiration for the institutional arrangements that obtain in France. Specifically, the French king and the nobles, whose power is such that they would be able to oppress the populace, are checked by the laws of the realm which are enforced by the independent authority of the Parlement. Thus, opportunities for unbridled tyrannical conduct are largely eliminated, rendering the monarchy temperate and “civil.”

Yet such a regime, no matter how well ordered and law-abiding, remains incompatible with vivere libero. Discussing the ability of a monarch to meet the people's wish for liberty, Machiavelli comments that “as far as the … popular desire of recovering their liberty, the prince, not being able to satisfy them, must examine what the reasons are that make them desire being free” (Machiavelli 1965, 237). He concludes that a few individuals want freedom simply in order to command others; these, he believes, are of sufficiently small number that they can either be eradicated or bought off with honors. By contrast, the vast majority of people confuse liberty with security, imagining that the former is identical to the latter: “But all the others, who are infinite, desire liberty in order to live securely (vivere sicuro)” (Machiavelli 1965, 137). Although the king cannot give such liberty to the masses, he can provide the security that they crave.

    “As for the rest, for whom it is enough to live securely (vivere sicuro), they are easily satisfied by making orders and laws that, along with the power of the king, comprehend everyone's security. And once a prince does this, and the people see that he never breaks such laws, they will shortly begin to live securely (vivere sicuro) and contentedly”(Machiavelli 1965, 237).

Machiavelli then applies this general principle directly to the case of France, remarking that “the people live securely (vivere sicuro) for no other reason than that its kings are bound to infinite laws in which the security of all their people is comprehended” (Machiavelli 1965, 237). The law-abiding character of the French regime ensures security, but that security, while desirable, ought never to be confused with liberty. This is the limit of monarchic rule: even the best kingdom can do no better than to guarantee to its people tranquil and orderly government.

Machiavelli holds that one of the consequences of such vivere sicuro is the disarmament of the people. He comments that regardless of “how great his kingdom is,” the king of France “lives as a tributary” to foreign mercenaries.

    “This all comes from having disarmed his people and having preferred … to enjoy the immediate profit of being able to plunder the people and of avoiding an imaginary rather than a real danger, instead of doing things that would assure them and make their states perpetually happy. This disorder, if it produces some quiet times, is in time the cause of straitened circumstances, damage and irreparable ruin “(Machiavelli 1965, 410).

A state that makes security a priority cannot afford to arm its populace, for fear that the masses will employ their weapons against the nobility (or perhaps the crown). Yet at the same time, such a regime is weakened irredeemably, since it must depend upon foreigners to fight on its behalf. In this sense, any government that takes vivere sicuro as its goal generates a passive and impotent populace as a inescapable result. By definition, such a society can never be free in Machiavelli's sense of vivere libero, and hence is only minimally, rather than completely, political or civil.

Confirmation of this interpretation of the limits of monarchy for Machiavelli may be found in his further discussion of the disarmament of the people, and its effects, in The Art of War. Addressing the question of whether a citizen army is to be preferred to a mercenary one, he insists that the liberty of a state is contingent upon the military preparedness of its subjects. Acknowledging that “the king [of France] has disarmed his people in order to be able to command them more easily,” Machiavelli still concludes “that such a policy is … a defect in that kingdom, for failure to attend to this matter is the one thing that makes her weak” (Machiavelli 1965, 584, 586–587). In his view, whatever benefits may accrue to a state by denying a military role to the people are of less importance than the absence of liberty that necessarily accompanies such disarmament. The problem is not merely that the ruler of a disarmed nation is in thrall to the military prowess of foreigners. More crucially, Machiavelli believes, a weapons-bearing citizen militia remains the ultimate assurance that neither the government nor some usurper will tyrannize the populace. “So Rome was free four hundred years and was armed; Sparta, eight hundred; many other cities have been unarmed and free less than forty years” (Machiavelli 1965, 585). Machiavelli is confident that citizens will always fight for their liberty—against internal as well as external oppressors. Indeed, this is precisely why successive French monarchs have left their people disarmed: they sought to maintain public security and order, which for them meant the elimination of any opportunities for their subjects to wield arms. The French regime, because it seeks security above all else (for the people as well as for their rulers), cannot permit what Machiavelli takes to be a primary means of promoting liberty.

The case of disarmament is an illustration of a larger difference between minimally constitutional systems such as France and fully political communities such as the Roman Republic, namely, the status of the classes within the society. In France, the people are entirely passive and the nobility is largely dependent upon the king, according to Machiavelli's own observations. By contrast, in a fully developed republic such as Rome's, where the actualization of liberty is paramount, both the people and the nobility take an active (and sometimes clashing) role in self-government (McCormick 2011). The liberty of the whole, for Machiavelli, depends upon the liberty of its component parts. In his famous discussion of this subject in the Discourses, he remarks,

    “To me those who condemn the tumults between the Nobles and the Plebs seem to be caviling at the very thing that was the primary cause of Rome's retention of liberty…. And they do not realize that in every republic there are two different dispositions, that of the people and that of the great men, and that all legislation favoring liberty is brought about by their dissension” (Machiavelli 1965, 202–203).

Machiavelli knows that he is adopting an unusual perspective here, since customarily the blame for the collapse of the Roman Republic has been assigned to warring factions that eventually ripped it apart. But Machiavelli holds that precisely the same conflicts generated a “creative tension” that was the source of Roman liberty. For “those very tumults that so many inconsiderately condemn” directly generated the good laws of Rome and the virtuous conduct of its citizens (Machiavelli 1965, 202). Hence, “Enmities between the people and the Senate should, therefore, be looked upon as an inconvenience which it is necessary to put up with in order to arrive at the greatness of Rome” (Machiavelli 1965, 211). Machiavelli thinks that other republican models (such as those adopted by Sparta or Venice) will produce weaker and less successful political systems, ones that are either stagnant or prone to decay when circumstances change.

Popular Liberty and Popular Speech

Machiavelli evinces particular confidence in the capacity of the people to contribute to the promotion of communal liberty. In the Discourses, he ascribes to the masses a quite extensive competence to judge and act for the public good in various settings, explicitly contrasting the “prudence and stability” of ordinary citizens with the unsound discretion of the prince. Simply stated, “A people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a prince” (Machiavelli 1965, 316). This is not an arbitrary expression of personal preference on Machiavelli's part. He maintains that the people are more concerned about, and more willing to defend, liberty than either princes or nobles (Machiavelli 1965, 204–205). Where the latter tend to confuse their liberty with their ability to dominate and control their fellows, the masses are more concerned with protecting themselves against oppression and consider themselves “free” when they are not abused by the more powerful or threatened with such abuse (Machiavelli 1965, 203). In turn, when they fear the onset of such oppression, ordinary citizens are more inclined to object and to defend the common liberty. Such an active role for the people, while necessary for the maintenance of vital public liberty, is fundamentally antithetical to the hierarchical structure of subordination-and-rule on which monarchic vivere sicuro rests. The preconditions of vivere libero simply do not favor the security that is the aim of constitutional monarchy.

One of the main reasons that security and liberty remain, in the end, incompatible for Machiavelli—and that the latter is to be preferred—may surely be traced to the “rhetorical” character of his republicanism. Machiavelli clearly views speech as the method most appropriate to the resolution of conflict in the republican public sphere; throughout the Discourses, debate is elevated as the best means for the people to determine the wisest course of action and the most qualified leaders. The tradition of classical rhetoric, with which he was evidently familiar, directly associated public speaking with contention: the proper application of speech in the realms of forensic and deliberative genres of rhetoric is an adversarial setting, with each speaker seeking to convince his audience of the validity of his own position and the unworthiness of his opponents'. This theme was taken up, in turn, by late medieval Italian practitioners and theorists of rhetoric, who emphasized that the subject matter of the art was lite (conflict). Thus, Machiavelli's insistence upon contention as a prerequisite of liberty also reflects his rhetorical predilections (Viroli 1998). By contrast, monarchic regimes—even the most secure constitutional monarchies such as France—exclude or limit public discourse, thereby placing themselves at a distinct disadvantage. It is far easier to convince a single ruler to undertake a disastrous or ill-conceived course of action than a multitude of people. The apparent “tumult” induced by the uncertain liberty of public discussion eventually renders more likely a decision conducive to the common good than does the closed conversation of the royal court.

This connects to the claim in the Discourses that the popular elements within the community form the best safeguard of civic liberty as well as the most reliable source of decision-making about the public good. Machiavelli's praise for the role of the people in securing the republic is supported by his confidence in the generally illuminating effects of public speech upon the citizen body. Near the beginning of the first Discourse, he notes that some may object to the extensive freedom enjoyed by the Roman people to assemble, to protest, and to veto laws and policies. But he responds that the Romans were able to

   “ Maintain liberty and order because of the people's ability to discern the common good when it was shown to them. At times when ordinary Roman citizens wrongly supposed that a law or institution was designed to oppress them, they could be persuaded that their beliefs are mistaken … [through] the remedy of assemblies, in which some man of influence gets up and makes a speech showing them how they are deceiving themselves. And as Tully says, the people, although they may be ignorant, can grasp the truth, and yield easily when told what is true by a trustworthy man” (Machiavelli 1965, 203).

The reference to Cicero (one of the few in the Discourses) confirms that Machiavelli has in mind here a key feature of classical republicanism: the competence of the people to respond to and support the words of the gifted orator when he speaks truly about the public welfare.

Machiavelli returns to this theme and treats it more extensively at the end of the first Discourse. In a chapter intended to demonstrate the superiority of popular over princely government, he argues that the people are well ordered, and hence “prudent, stable and grateful,” so long as room is made for public speech and deliberation within the community. Citing the formula vox populi, vox dei, Machiavelli insists that

   “ Public opinion is remarkably accurate in its prognostications…. With regard to its judgment, when two speakers of equal skill are heard advocating different alternatives, very rarely does one find the people failing to adopt the better view or incapable of appreciating the truth of what it hears” (Machiavelli 1965, 316).

Not only are the people competent to discern the best course of action when orators lay out competing plans, but they are in fact better qualified to make decisions, in Machiavelli's view, than are princes. For example, “the people can never be persuaded that it is good to appoint to an office a man of infamous or corrupt habits, whereas a prince may easily and in a vast variety of ways be persuaded to do this” (Machiavelli 1965, 316). Likewise, should the people depart from the law-abiding path, they may readily be convinced to restore order: “For an uncontrolled and tumultuous people can be spoken to by a good man and easily led back into a good way. But no one can speak to a wicked prince, and the only remedy is steel…. To cure the malady of the people words are enough” (Machiavelli 1965, 317). The contrast Machiavelli draws is stark. The republic governed by words and persuasion—in sum, ruled by public speech—is almost sure to realize the common good of its citizens; and even should it err, recourse is always open to further discourse. Non-republican regimes, because they exclude or limit discursive practices, ultimately rest upon coercive domination and can only be corrected by violent means.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Skepticism Philosophy


The Greek word skeptikoi means investigator or examiner. Skepticism is a position of denial. Refuse to rule on the existence of objects. Judgement is suspended, perhaps permanently.

Definition of “Skeptic”
Sextus Empiricus summarizes this philosophy as follow:

“Skepticism is the ability to face to face things that appear as well as those thoughts in any manner whatsoever, in which capacity, because of equal strength there is in objects and opposing arguments we arrive first at the suspension of assent, and after that the peace” Sextus Empiricus

Skeptic Guide

Skepticism is a philosophy based on the criterion of life, experience and phenomenon. The phenomenon, according to the Greeks at the time of Pyrrho, a physical reality that we can feel. E.g. an object emits (or reflects) the light. The eye emits radiation. The meeting of these two flows creates a kind of body, a physical object that constitutes the phenomenon.

The main consequence is that the object is never seen as itself. What we see is a kind of screen, which contains a mask, however, something of the subject (eg, bloodshot eye sees a phenomenon red). The perception is relative. When Plato concludes that we must be wary of the vision and know the ideas, he concludes that Pyrrho can not know at all. Skeptics do not deny the existence of only the appearance of being, of truth. So I can say, not that honey is sweet, but it seems like. We must therefore remain undecided.

Ænésidème develop a series of arguments to show that we can not perceive the essence of things. These are the tropes. For example, the sense organs are not the same depending on the animal species will therefore have different sensations. It can be concluded that the feeling is on the topic (first trope). Depending on the circumstances one man does not necessarily see the same object in the same way. Thus, according to a man is young or old, healthy or sick, in motion or at rest and so on., The sensation will vary. But it also varies by location, the position of the object, its distance (second, third and fourth tropes). Another argument points out that the customs, laws, beliefs vary. All these arguments show that sensible knowledge is relative and should therefore suspend its decision.

New skeptics (Agrippa, Sextus Empiricus) invent a new logic to prevent the soul of dogmatic based on five arguments:

The opinions clash, disagree. Any argument requires proof that, itself, must be proven and so on, so you can never get to the end (infinite regression). Objects are related to each other and any representation relates to a subject. For example, the left is on right, father to son and so on. and thus no universality is possible.

To escape the infinite regress, it must be from an unprovable and all reasoning is based on something unproven (argument of the hypothesis) or fall into the vicious circle in which A is shown by B and B by A (argument of diallel).

Note that Sextus Empiricus, far to reject any science, admits the validity of an experimental astronomy to address agricultural work or talk about how to measure time by the water clock. He criticized, however, uncompromising astrologers considered charlatans.
Morally, the skeptics deny the existence of an absolute good but admit the existence of better lives than others. The wisest course is to follow the customs of the most widespread and to be guided by experience and life.

The skepticism of the past, however, was considered a rule of life for its followers. Their goal was ataraxia, peace of mind, a state of perfect equanimity. Deny contributed appearances there in nothing but reject the dogmatism, though. Find ways to combat dogmatism has remained the central element of philosophical skepticism. Absolute certainty is not necessary, according to the skeptic, either in science or in everyday life. Science can manage very well, even limited to appearances and probabilities. You can find guidelines for daily life without resorting to absolute certainty. We are able to find the principles that lead us to what we want: a happy and peaceful. Many skeptics of the Greco-Roman period advocated a very conservative lifestyle, maintaining that it was better to rely on the nature and customs, including religious customs. They believed that following our natural appetites was generally a good rule of life. However, it seems that the social and political conservatism, while allowing most probably skeptical achieve ataraxia, leads to a false conclusion. Such a position is not a reasonable inference to moral skepticism or sensory. In addition, probabilism advocated by science seems to be sufficient for practical life.