‘Pause, reflect and stay home’: how to look after yourself and others in self-isolation https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/17/pause-reflect-and-stay-home-how-to-look-after-yourself-and-others-in-self-isolation?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress
‘Dogs have a magic effect’: how pets can improve our mental health https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/17/dogs-have-a-magic-effect-the-power-of-pets-on-our-mental-health?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress
On top of the world: Europeans say they are happier than ever
Ancient Philosophy – The First Philosophers
When I was starting this course I had a lot more problems trying to gather the correct background material and overview of the subject matter. I missed some lecture course like Grim’s Philosophy of Mind from the Great Courses. I find also that the Pathways course will assume you have the pre-requisite background and GK asks a lot of questions in each unit, which is to prompt discussion of the relevant subject. One must have a good background of the subject being discussed of course, and it took me a while to get my head around the full story and spirit of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. For this course I decided to just stick with GK’s brief reviews of my essays, as I was, at this stage, happy with their general structure. I got Martinich’s book on Philosophical Essay writing and have read some of it, and plan to come back to it again.
I read in fivebooks.com about Angie Hobbs best five books on the Pre-Socratics. Apart from KRS, which is quite extensive, I do not think they may be apt for this level, especially Kerford. KRS is good though. I got Barnes Ancient Philosophy also, which is a dumbed down version of KRS. In this respect I would read the chapter in Barnes first, then KRS. I found the intro in KRS quite intimidating, as it referenced the old myths as a background to the first philosophers. As a result I looked at the first 4 Yale lectures on the Introduction to Greek History by Donal Kagen. I got the text book on Greek history by Pomeroy also. These were quite accessible and I plan to come back to them as I find this whole subject in itself quite involving. Additionally since then I have listened to Homers Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Cosmogeny, all on Audible.com (a useful way to get through books that you are not used to reading). I also read some background chapters on the Greeks from Russell’s History of Philosophy together with Peter Adams first chapters in the History of Philosophy without any gaps. Only then I got a grasp of how to engage with the ancient philosophers and attempt to look at the world through their eyes.
For my first essay I discussed the theories of how the world stays stable, from the Ionian point of view. KRS, in this instance, proves to be indispensable, as the fragments (the bits of information, mostly incomplete left behind by the Pre-Socratics) can be ambiguous and at times can appear contradictory when read from different sources. My second essay related to Heraclitus’ treatment of the world as flux and his statement that “you can never step into the same river twice”. Again KRS came to the rescue. I also found the questions in Ask a Philosopher were useful and I think that such queries about the exact nature of discussion in philosophy are quite common. It is at this stage one can get quite frustrated with the lack of fragments as one feels there were more there (as there was) , but one is just left to guess about it all, rather than interpret what was said or written (as most of it is gone). GK like the first two and I was quite please with them also.
We moved from Portsmouth up to Harrogate in October and my third essay, which began in September was not finished til January. It is important not to have much change in ones life when doing study as any changes in lifestyle can really interrupt ones thought process. I discussed Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox in the third essay. I bought a book Space and Time by Barry Dainton, which dedicated two chapters to Zeno. I think this was overkill as I did not use much of it in the essay and I think, for a 1000 word essay, one should not go into this much background reading. I am sure it will be useful in the future. Through writing about Zeno and his defence of Parmenides’ theories, I began to realise how significant Parmenides is in ancient philosophy, and until Plato comes along World of Appearance and World of Truth are by far the yard stick by which other theories are measured. I was not that please with this essay.
An appreciation of Parmenides was needed for my next essay, which dealt with Atomism. I found initially reading about this quite frustrating, but then appreciated it for the piece of elegant rational thinking that it is. My final essay also discussed Atomism and its effect on the perspectives of the use of rationalism vs empiricism in philosophical debate and whether Democritus is really advocating scepticism, in pointing out that Ato
mism shows us the limits of the senses.
Along the way I did read Thaetetus in the hope of answering a question on it. I found I wanted to deal with Atomism more, and not spread the net too wide. I have spent enough time on this course and was becoming less interested, most likely because of the move and also because of the lack of any lecture syllabus to adhere to, like I had with Grim in Philosophy of Mind.
Philosophy of Mind – Searching for the Soul
When I started this course I had an external tuition source critique my essays. Not that GK
is not helpful, but Pathways as it currently stands does not give involved tuition. As a result GK will give pointers when submitting essays to the essay cabinet and also may ask for the essay to be submitted again with certain improvements. However there is no active mentoring or tuition anymore.
As a result I had my 5 previous essays from the Introduction course reviewed in more depth. Basically I was told (among other things ) to structure my essays with a definite introduction, main and conclusion. Additionally I was told not to be overly descriptive, argue for a certain point and not quote too much as I was doing this mostly “for adornment”, which did not strengthen my case.
Before starting the Pathways course I bought the Philosophy of Mind course from the Great Courses. This was about $30 (they regularly discount their courses) and was presented by Professor Patrick Grim, who was very clear. This gave me a good overview before reading the Pathways material. PFA did a lecture on Philosophical Zombies, so I picked that option for my first essay. I found this interesting as I could work in ideas from Cartesian Dualism from the Descartes Meditations book (this is quite short and easy to read). The second essay revolved specifically around Descartes sixth Meditation, so all in all I got a good introduction to Descartes. I look forward to reading his other work, Discourse on Method.
The third essay was on the change of personal identity over time. I read Introducing Persons by Peter Carruthers for this, but did not finish the whole book, as I found it hard going (though I do plan to come back to it to cover Hume’s bundle theory). Again I found Grim’s course a good reference point. I was familiar with the ideas from the Introduction to Philosophy course and also referred back to Shelly Kagen’s course on Death on the Yale courses web site. I had to refer to John Locke also, whose ideas I find practical, though he does not write so clearly as Descartes. I came back to Locke for the discussion on Qualia which served as my fourth essay. Again Grim proved a great reference point and his example of Dennett’s thought experiments were excellent.
For my last essay I read Three Dialogs by George Berkeley to investigate how subjective idealism relates to free will. GK did not like my interpretation of compatabilism so I had to amend the essay and re-submit it. All in all I liked Berkeley and this rounded off a good course. Overall I felt I learnt a good deal, but really needed to learn a lot more. Martin Jenkins from the ISFP also reviewed my essays and provided good feedback also, together with GK’s comments. Again I had some of my essays reviewed by an external tutor, but was not sure at what level his remarks were aimed at (and did not exactly agree with some of them). As a result I may come back to them if I start studying Philosophy at a higher academic level.
I found Grim’s course of lectures provided a good overview. I later found out that John Searle has Philosophy of Mind audio lectures freely available on the web, but I found the Great courses option worth the money, as it provides a guide book also which summarises the lectures and suggests further reading. I find that having a set of lectures as a reference (together with the Pathways guides) essential as the Pathway guides sometimes appear to presume previous knowledge. I think that is because they were originally presented as material which would come together with definite tuition. I have definitely missed a good course of lectures while beginning my current course on the Pre-Socratics and will buy Great courses lecture series on Ethics and MetaPhysics for Pathways E and F courses, as these form a more definite self contained curriculum than the Pathways courses currently do. They do not have any on Philosophy of Language, but I will use Searles Philosophy of Language lectures for that.
Buddhism Plain and Simple (Steve Hagen)
This blog is supposed to cover well being, health and mental health as well as philosophy and this is something I have forgotten in the last few months, with the move up north.
I have been meditating for the last 2.5 years since June 2016. I started with Southsea Sangha in Portsmouth ( a crowd who deserve a whole article in themselves, more on that in future blog posts). I miss them and since moving to Harrogate I meditate every Saturday and some Wednesdays with Dechen buddhism on Granville Road near the town centre. They do Buddhist study sessions also which are interesting, but I have so far not attended these much as I have always thought I should have a good overview on Buddhism before tackling particular issues like they do.
For this reason I read Buddhism Plain and Simple over the weekend. Its quite short at 160 pages and tries to get to the point, or essence, of what Buddhism is all about. In summary the author tells us its generally about awareness and to be awakened (Buddha means the enlightened one btw). We must centre on the world of now rather than be carried of by distractions (my interpretation anyway). In this respect it covered how Buddhism came to be. The buddha-dharma (teaching and advice) is grounded in the four Noble Truths
1. Human life is characterised by dissatisfaction (duhkha).
2. This dissatisfaction originates within us.
3. We can realise the origin of this dissatisfaction and so put an end to it.
4. There is a means to get to this point, nirvana.
In short we have to be able to see the world for what it really is and is not.
It then devotes a chapter to each of the four truths.
The duhkha is not exactly suffering as most will interpret it, but can viewed as dissatisfaction.This duhkha can be broken down into pain and change, which are explained quite well and come back to several times in the book.
The origination of duhkha within us is then summarised in the parts of sensual desire ,survival instinct and non-existence (release from annoyances of the world). Among the arguments made Hagen points out that there is duhkha through choice and more with more choice. I found that rang a bell. We are obsessed with options (the saying ‘paralysis through analysis’ comes to mind). Some may think that the quest for enlightenment may carry some moral imperative, but that is not the point or aim, as rules in themselves will lead to contradictions.
The third truth says that any duhkha which arises can also subside. The origins of duhkha (as discussed before) are them referred back to in this context, and how we have to live with them. This deals with right view and I found this part of the book more difficult to grasp. I definitely miss something about being awake.
The fourth truth is then broken up in the the eight fold path, namely right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
The second part of the book then tells us how to go about doing these right things and explains each point in depth with good examples. This provides good indicators how how to see and behave. Morality has its own chapter, which I find quite interesting as it does not adhere to any real rules such as Christianity does, but tells us to be as aware as possible to make the best decision for each individual situation that arises. Kant, with his Moral Imperative, duty bound ethics would be appalled at the apparent leeway we are given, but I absolutely agree with the approach. As Hagen points out, there will always be exceptions to the rule (if we have them) and this creates confusion and contradictions.
The Practice chapter then re-iterates the importance of living in the now and using mindfulness and meditation to do this. The two types of knowledge : beliefs and opinions and the true knowing.
The third part of the book discusses soul (atman) and tells us it neither exists or does not exist. It then goes into issues of the the self which I found reminiscent of the philosophical issue of personal identity over time. I agreed with the authors views on the word “I” and the definite perspective here, also with the individual as ‘stream’. One can only try to be awake in the moment, as a buddha is. He then finishes by saying that we cannot objectify anything in any real sense.
The cycle of dependent arising is summarised in the appendix then with a table of how each influences the other.
All in all I found the book quite easy to read, but I cannot say all of it seemed natural. Otherwise I would be a buddha.
Last nite I went to a philosophy meeting of the North Yorkshire Humanists. The title is as the above, with a reference work called Free Will by Sam Harris. David was chairing the meeting and his main question revolved around how we can know, if at all, that we have free agency and control over our decisions. I thought his intial question to each of us what good.
Think of any city in the world!
Most people picked something random, which reflected their own experience and outlook, which is unsurprising. As I was tired I was not being inventive and chose London. I found it quite odd that most other people had said they had thought of London first but wanted to put “something of themselves” into the decision. I thought the fact that that was the first choice really indicated how much is pre-determined for us. It was almost as if the majority had to fight against their initial decision to demonstate to themselves that thay had a choice.
David was interested how Harris seemed to align liberalism with the determinist ( we do not have control) view while the conservatives with the Libertarian view , which is related to a Christian view that we have choice to do good or bad etc (I really think this was a bit of a Democrats vs Republicans rant myself). It is wothwhile that this was only in the chapter on politics.
Harris generally posited the idea that we have no free will and the sooner we get used to it, the better. He layed out the thought experiment of 5 scanarios in which a murder is committed, in a sliding scale from 1 to 5, 1 being the case of a small 4 yr old boy shooting a woman dead with his fathers gun on through more 3 greyer areas (a man with a brain defect killing her, a man with a terrible childhood killing her) onto a man from a good family killing her for no reason other than the fun of it. Of course everyone agreed the kid was not cuplable and the the man from a good family definitely was. Its the areas in between where the grey contentious areas lie. Harris was also quite dismissive of Compatabilism (there is pre-determination , but we still have choice withing this) as:
“a puppet is free as long as it loves its chains”
which I interpret as rather too emotive a statement for a rational argument ( does Harris secretly resent the lack of free will?)
David then returned to the main question. He mentiioned the experiments outlined inHarris’ book that indicate our brains action our intentions and movements microseconds before we are concsious of what we intend to do. Many did not agree that this provided conclusive evidence, including myself. Most other people said they did agree with the Compatilist view, that 98-99% of the time we have choice. I mentioned that we are on automatice pilot for most of our lives. When I was learning the violin my teacher told me I would only really play when I did not have to think about it. He did not like that, saying we will always have automatic reflexes and the like. I do not agree with that. I think we do have auto reflex actions, ok, but we are not aware how many of our actions and decision happen this way. Otherwise , if we had to make every decision, or work well in groups, we would get nowhere (not sure if I explained this well as I was tired from a bad nites sleep before).
The convesation then centred around the punative vs rehabilitative perspectives of prison. We discussed the Jamie Bolger case, the tabloids outrage in the UK at the time in comparison with a similar case in Sweden, where the perpetrators were merely viewed as mentally ill and not wicked, as was the case in the UK.
A novel called The Diceman by Luke Reinhart was then recommended. David summed up in the main conclusion was that we cannot fully know if we do have free will and full agency, but we can only witness it, as sometimes our consciousness drives us and not the other way around. I agree.
Basically this , as I see it , is an attempt to explain the nature of the world we live in and a treatise of how to live in it.
You can find it at:
This was a book to read for the North Yorkshire Humanist’s Philosophy book club at:
I am glad I had to read it for this meeting as I found it hard going and had to read secondary sources on the net to get an explanation. One explanation can be found at
The above should be a preview (you have to be a full member to hear everything) but it gives you an ok summary of the main points, notably about the nature of God.
The Ethics is divided into 4 parts.
Part 1 – Concerning God
(broke up into Axioms, Propositions, Appendix)
Summary: God is nature, all around, in us, is infinite, but not a conscious being like one of traditional monotheism. God is the cause of our existence, though not our essence (not sure if this is meant that God does not exert influence over the will).
Part 2 – On the Nature & Origin of The Mind
(broke up into Definitions, Axioms, Propositions, Appendix)
Summary: mind as part of mass consciousness of nature, and by extension , God.
Part 3 – On the Origin and Nature of The Emotions
(broke up into Definitions, Postulates, Definitions of the Emotions, General Definitions of the Emotions)
Summary: Emotions are part of the body’s functions (in 3 parts – stimulation, merriment, pain), instinct is everywhere, even in animals. Emotions and self interest can work against us, must be able to identify the emotions and rise above them.
Part 4 – Of Human Bondage, or The Strength of the Emotions
– Of The Power of Understanding, of of Human Freedom
(broke up into Preface, Axioms, Propositions)
Summary: Influences of the emotions can be good or bad, depending on your situation and perspective. We are influenced by everything, but the highest good is the knowledge of God (this again does not comply with any traditional monotheistic beliefs). Do not live by the emotions , or be restricted by them. The way forward is through rationalism.
Overall, Spinoza meant the Ethics to be an organised approach, based on Euclidean geometry. In this respect, it’s not surprising that I found it too logical in parts
and too detached to have any real practical value. It’s a good book to study for from a strict philosophical point of view, but may have restricted practical value.
This sentiment was mirrored in the group and there is a sense in the book that Spinoza is denying the emotions than trying to live with them. This is impossible and Spinoza does come across a bit harsh at time, notably when talking about such emotions as pity. The group found similarities to Buddhism and Schopenhauer. Spinoza’s view on knowledge , as divided into 3 parts – imagination (bad), reason and intuition, was favourable though. Everyone thought it did need some explanation through reading secondary sources. I liked the idea of God as nature and infinite (as did most others). I found the idea of mind and body (extension) in agreement with nature to be a coherent argument also. The idea of rationalism as a guide to living is naive though. It definitely needs a few reading and a few diagrams.
I went to the book club meeting run by North Yorkshire Humanists in the week. I will outline by own take on the book and then describe how the meeting went.
As I told the group I found the book very readable and was pleasantly surprised by this. I read it while I was staying in the B&B after my first week in my new job up here. I had a bad cold and was happy to get some entertainment. Hitchens argues his point well. I was only disappointed with the chapter on Buddhism as he did not question it from a theological perspective (as he did with the other main religions), but merely pointed out that Buddhists have committed crimes also. His last chapter calling for a new enlightenment was not up to the same level as the rest of the book also.
A rough summary , line by line of its chapters:
1. A good introduction to his confrontational style.
2. Religion sits on the fence, does not really stand up for the people.
3. Why all the fuss about pigs?
4. Religion is no moral guide, quite the contrary; Its sex obsessed and hypocritical, e.g Islamic extremists proposing a life of denial in hope for an after life of debauchery.
5. Reasoned philosophy from antiquity just an afterthought reprocessed by the church to complete with the Greeks; religion only appearing flexible nowadays as it does not have the upper hand any more.
6. Reality is more fascinating than anything the argument from design can come up with.
7. Old Testament God: what kind of guy are we dealing with? It’s a man made fable to oppress people.
8. New testament is just a rehash of the Old.
9. Koran is just a rehash of the earlier two books.
10. Church is frigging miracles as the evidence does not stand up (Mother Theresa); using divine intervention as an excuse for calamities just a method of targeting parties who do not agree with the church; there is more to be learned from other literature with regard to the argument from authority; Judas is an example of someone who has been written out of history of possible events.
11. It is a means of deception for gain where even the deceivers may begin to believe their own rhetoric, example of Mormonism; it may be easier to believe in something and that may be what gets people.
12. Look at the example of Sabbati, which whittled away without any martyrs to perpetuate a myth.
13. Looking at the Korans approval of slavery; humanism drives decency, not religious belief; Ghandis over emphasis on Hinduism stifling full Indian unity; current religions have only been fortunate due to good fortune, e.g Contantine and Christianity; the example of Waugh swayed badly by religion.
14. And Buddhists can behave badly too!
15. Abraham ready to sacrifice son counters reason. What are we atoning for (Christ)? Laws impossible to obey only intimidate (sex as forbidden idea).
16. Joyce anecdote of priest getting the intimidation in early; circumcision as an idea to impede sexual function.
17. Papal acquiescence in WW2; Fascism thriving better in Catholic countries.
18.Socrates healthy scepticism and first cause; all overturned by fervour of early Christians (Augustine), Spinoza ostracized.
19. Everyone needs to thing for themselves.
Several other people in the group found the tone of the book a bit too judgemental, but accepted this is part of Hitchens’ style. He did seem to even have issues with people’s personal beliefs, which may found difficult. Generally the group agreed that religion may only be used as an excuse for social ills and if it did not exist, some other excuse would be used. Most people in the group seemed to be confirm atheists (I would would describe myself as more of an agnostic), though that did not seem to get in the way of my agreeing with the overall view. Generally a good meeting with nice people in a good atmosphere where its easier to listen and be heard.
This is more of a diary entry. I have moved to Harrogate in Yorkshire for work reasons. Its a lovely place and closer to Leeds and York, which have lots of activities and stimulation. I gave up going to the PFA meeting in London in the end while living in Southsea, as it was just too much hassle. Unlike down south we are no longer in the South East / London ecosystem any more. I have attended one meeting of the North Yorkshire Humanists
and York was quite easy to get to (and beautiful of course). So hopefully going ahead I will be updating this blog again twice a month as originally hoped.
Settling in has stifled my Pathways study as bit (on their essay of Pre-Socratics now and will upload summary of Philosophy on Mind soon), but am getting a bit of a routine back now.