Category Archives: philosophical

To what Extent can we Consider Kierkegaard’s Ethics to be a Synthesis of Aristotle’s and Kant’s?

Kierkegaard formed a system of ethics based upon the notion that we ought to hold a teleological suspension of the ethical in order to enter a higher realm of morality, referred to as the religious life. The purpose of this essay to determine whether we can consider this to be a synthesis of Kant’s and Aristotle’s moral philosophy, to which I shall argue we can but only as a partial synthesis since Kierkegaard omits elements of both Kant and Aristotle.

In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard draws out a system of ethics where we ought to move towards what he considers to be the highest virtue, faith, by means of a teleological suspension of the ethical. Before I go on further it would be best if I point out that by virtue Kierkegaard does not mean an excellence of character in the sense Aristotle does, instead the term virtue is implemented to mean something more along the lines of what we ought to have in order to be considered noble. So To avoid confusion between these two terms I shall use the term arête when referring to virtue in the Aristotelian sense.

One of the fundamentals to Kierkegaard’s ethics is that man has three modes of living; the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthetic life is one in which we pursue a hedonistic lifestyle constantly chasing pleasure, consequently never staying with any one thing for too long. The ethical life is sometimes referred to as living in accordance with the Universal (this is done within Fear and Trembling), by which it is meant living in accordance with some form of universal moral law, such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Finally the religious life is one in which we have removed any sense of duty to the ethical life and become a self-legislating body which obeys only the law it gives itself in such a way that allows us to become “a relation that relates itself to itself” [Kierkegaard, SD, XI:127], by which it is meant that we become capable of reflecting upon ourselves in order to receive autonomy making us free from universal maxims as we become able to decide our own path. It is by deciding what path to take and sticking to it ‘religiously’ that Kierkegaard argues that we acquire faith, thus faith does not necessarily mean belief in a deity (although it can), but instead sticking to a decision without doubt, as Rudd states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment” [Rudd, pg:71].

The idea of faith being the highest virtue is demonstrated through what is known as the four sub-Abrahams within Fear and Trembling [Kierkegaard, FT, pp:8-13], and later on where he states “but he who strove with God is greater than all [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:16], but it is within the third sub-Abraham that Kierkegaard reveals to us a second theme vital to the overall system…the virtue of love…we briefly see this virtue within the following passage: “when the child is to be weaned the mother is not without sorrow, that she and the child grow more…apart” [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:12], it is possible to read this passage in a way which means that love is bittersweet for even though the mother loves her baby and draws the warmth from that bond, there will be times when the same love will cause pain. Yet we ought not to abandon love because of this possibility of pain, but embrace it as it is through sacrifice that we are able to move from the ethical to the religious, via a teleological suspension of the ethical, which Rudd explains as “refusing simply to take his standards of good and evil from his society” [Rudd, pg:121].

This notion of love now needs to be explained in more detail for Kierkegaard uses love in a very specific way, one in which could be synonymous with the Confucianist virtue ren or the Greek term agape, both of which mean a universal, unconditional form of love. The notion of love is described in Works of Love where the importance of love is made explicit in the passage: “to cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception, it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity…one who is self-deceived has locked himself out and continues to lock himself out of love” [Kierkegaard, WL, pp:23-24]. Later on a description of what love is comes to us as Kierkegaard says “by its fruits one recognises the tree …in the same way love also is known by its own fruit” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25] meaning that we do not know love in any other way than through the acts of love made by others, but more specifically it is the acts of Christian love which Kierkegaard is referring to for he states “the love of which Christianity speaks is known by its own fruit- revealing that it has within itself the truth of the eternal” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25].

This is why it could be argued that Kierkegaard’s view of love is synonymous with ren and agape for Christian love, according to Kierkegaard, is universal “the Christian teaching is to love one’s neighbour , to love all mankind, all men, even enemies, and not to make exceptions, neither in favouritism nor in aversion” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36] and unconditional “God you are to love in unconditional obedience, even if what he demands of you may seem to you to be your own harm” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36]. Hence the leap from ethical to religious is made by abandoning any universal moral laws, and/or conformities to social norms, in order to serve our own moral maxims (God, the eternal) with unconditional obedience whilst also treating all others equally for if we “love a human being more than God…this is a mockery to God – the same holds true of friendship and erotic love” [Kierkegaard, WL, Pg.36]. Therefore once we have entered the religious life we ought to show respect to every element of mankind equal to the unwavering respect we show to our self-made moral maxims otherwise we risk slipping back into the ethical or aesthetic life.

To summarise Kierkegaard’s ethics is not one of universal maxims, or a system devised to tell us how to act (unlike Kant’s), but one which tells us to choose our own path and stick by it just like we would stick to our religious faith in a deity. This does sound similar to Nietzsche’s concept of divorcing ourselves from the herd morality in order to determine our own path through life, a concept which I argue is fundamentally Aristotelian (I shall return to this later). But in order to make this movement from ethical to religious we ought to learn to love ourselves and others in equal measure for if we did not we would see no reason to unconditionally obey our moral maxims, or care for the society around us which brings us the things necessary for a life of contentment (food, water, shelter, companionship and so on). Now I shall move on to demonstrate how this model of ethics is similar to, and different from Aristotle’s in order to show how close the two systems are.

Aristotle argues that the moral hero is one who pursues happiness as happiness is the end goal in itself, “happiness on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor…for anything other than itself” [Aristotle, 1097b], which bears some semblance with Kierkegaard who in part two of Either-Or writes “the beautiful was that which has its teleology within itself” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:245], so the ‘beautiful’ or noble agent is one who has the end goal within themselves. Kierkegaard later adds that happiness can be found within his work, his calling, for “our hero works for a living; this work is also his delight; he carries out his calling” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:266], hence Kierkegaard, like Aristotle, believes that each agent has a function and it is by working within your function that we become heroic for “all things have a function…the good and the well is thought to reside in the function” [Aristotle, 1097b]. This claim is strengthened further when we consider Rudd’s claim that “one can only avoid the necessity of judging one’s life in moral terms by evading long-term commitments. But to live such a life is to be in despair, for a life without commitments is one without purpose” [Rudd, pg.69] . Therefore the moral agent is one who follows his commitment to his function.

However where Kierkegaard and Aristotle deviate is at the point where Aristotle holds that man has no choice over his function within society, whereas (as demonstrated above) Kierkegaard argues that we are able to decide for ourselves what function it is we are to commit to. I speak of functions, in regard to Kierkegaard, here not just as jobs but also roles and relationships following on from Rudd who states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment to roles and relationships”. So when I talk about functions in relation to Kierkegaard I use the term is a broader sense than when in relation to Aristotle who specifically means a role within society. As a result of this we can consider the agent’s function, for Kierkegaard, is to commit to his role within the workplace (following E-II, II:266) and to commit to his relationships with his neighbours (following WL, pg.36),

Although Rudd argues that there is a more important end goal and it is this which separates the religious from the ethical, “an absolute telos…is the primary overriding task for each individual to bring him-or herself into the right relationship with God” [Rudd, pg.134]. But if we take Kierkegaard from a non-Christian perspective and equate God with the absolute good then we Rudd’s statement becomes one which means the primary end goal to bring himself into the right relationship with their own moral maxims and not a set of universal laws or socially constructed ethical code.

To summarise Kierkegaard’s system follows Aristotle in the sense that both accept that the good can be found in pursue your social roles, as this is part of the love for one’s neighbour as by fulfilling your social role you help society as a whole progress. Also by living in accordance with a self-devised system of morality we can find similarities between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who as I stated earlier is arguably Aristotelian in essence within his moral system. Although Kierkegaard is not completely Aristotelian as there is no mention of habituating virtues, and Kierkegaard believes that social roles are not pre-ordained but freely chosen and this is where the two thinkers differ within their systems. I shall now go on to discuss Kierkegaard in relation to Kant.

Pattison argues that Kierkegaard’s system contains some links with Kant’s since “figures who remove themselves from the moral accountability of their contemporaries and act as if they are beyond good and evil…would seem to be anti-Kantian, they also, in another way give expression to another Kantian theme, the pursuit of maximum autonomy” [Pattison, pg.106], and for Kant autonomy is “the property of the will by which it is a law to itself” [Kant, 4:440]. Pattison also adds “If one sees the argument of The Critique of Practical Reason as a genuine attempt to establish the requirement of belief in God via the concept of the supreme good…the Kantian analogy is strengthened still further” [Pattison, pg. 101]. Thus Kierkegaard’s concept of moving from the ethical to the religious if seen as a notion which brings us closer to God, and since the religious life is the ultimate good for Kierkegaard, then it does show Kierkegaard to be Kantian.

However Pattison does recognise that there are also differences between the two systems as he acknowledges the faults within Kant’s categorical imperative. The example he gives us is based upon the idea that to do only what is universalisable can result in situations which undermine the maxim which has been universalised, such as “in feeding the cat I am neglecting all the cats who may be dying even now of malnutrition” [Pattison. Pg.113], therefore ‘I ought to feed the cat’ as an universalisable maxim would be ‘I ought to feed every cat’ or ‘Everyone ought to feed the cat’. The former results in an impossible maxim since no single person could feed every cat on the planet (especially if we count every species of cat such as lions and tigers). The latter on the other hand results in everyone feeding the single cat you own which would result in the cat becoming ill through overfeeding. Thus this is why Kant’s system fails and why Kierkegaard argues that the ultimate good lies beyond the ethical and in the religious, based upon just the one imperative “helping the neighbour to love God, rather than ameliorate any concrete worldly problems” [Pattison, pg.118].

Another difference between the two systems is that Kierkegaard does not tell how to act or which rules to follow, but instead tells us that we ought to break away from the ethical systems of the herd, move beyond good and evil, and become a law onto ourselves in a movement that brings us closer to maximum autonomy. Whereas Kant explicitly tells us how to act for he says “act that use humanity always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” [Kant, 4:429] and “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” [Kant, 4:402].

To conclude Kierkegaard’s system of ethics can be seen as a partial synthesis of kant’s and Aristotle’s as it contains Kant’s notion of pursuing maximum autonomy, and Aristotle’s concept of fulfilling your social roles as a way of loving your neighbour whilst being a law only unto ourselves. However Kierkegaard has not made a complete synthesis of the two as he omits the categorical imperative from Kant and the notion of habituating arête in order to pursue happiness. Arguably this would a deliberate omission since the two concepts are incompatible as Kant classes any pursuit of happiness as a hypothetical imperative as he says “the imperative that refers to the choice of means to one’s own happiness…is still always hypothetical” [Kant, 4:416].

• E-II – Either-Or Part II
• FT – Fear and Trembling
• SD – Sickness Unto Death

• WL – Works of Love


• Aristotle, (1995), ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, in Barnes. J, The Complete Works of Aristotle (Sixth Reprint), Chichester: Princeton University Press
• Kant. I, (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (translate by Gregor.M), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1987), Either-Or Part II (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New Jersey: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (2005), Fear and Trembling (translated by Hannay. A), London: Penguin Books
• Kierkegaard. S, (2009), Works of Love (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New York: Harper-Collins
• Pattison. G, (2005), The Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Chesham: Acumen
• Rudd. A, (1993), Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical, New York: Oxford University Press
• The Holy Bible (King James Version), (2000), Michigan: Zondervan


Will Robots mean the Extinction of Humankind?

At the moment is there talk about artificial intelligence and whether or not it will be able to one day rise up and dominate mankind crushing it underfoot. We have all seen such things occur in the relam of science-fiction for example the Terminator films, the Cybermen from the Doctor Who universe, and in literary works such as those by Isaac Asimov. This fear is a real one and one that is growing in acadmic circles. In April 2014 Stephen Hawking and a group of other scientists got together to discuss the future of artificial intelligence in order to stop the apocalyptic future from coming to fruition.

The danger stems from the fact that A.I is already deeply ingraved with every aspect of our lives today. It is used to make our medicines, build our cars, electronics and household items, it is used in our transportation to help us be better, safer drivers/passengers, it rests in our computers and phones helping us communicate and work with data at speeds we could never hope for before. It has even helped us radically iboost the rate as which our research is done allowing us to look into things such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology. But this boost is close to reaching the point where research goes faster than our brains, meaning that soon A.I will be in the know more than we will giving them an advantage.

Some have even warned that as we are now constructing A.I with near human intelligence that it may be capable to thinking like humans, which means it may be able to play dumb hiding its actual intelligence until it has formulated a plan to bring us to our kness. Also as A.I now approches human intelligence it is close to being able to do things we currently do such as pay the stock markets and even manipluate them, should this happen A.I could destablise the world economies creating global debt on a scale never seen before.

There is also the possibility that since A.I is capable of constructing things faster and more uniform than humans they could easily build an army of droids armed with highly advanced weapons, even weapons human understanding as yet to dream of or comprehend. How could mankind against an army of weapons it has never encountered before? The Spanish slaughtered the Native Americans with their fireamrs and smallpox, weapons they have never encoutered before, would it be much different it A.I did the same to us?

Again if A.I got to the point where it understood research more than we did and had control over industry then it could easily engineer purpose beild nanotech to carry out genetic engineering inside our bodies. Once this is achieved they could make us docile, weaken our bodies and slow down our minds making us eaiser to dominate and enslave. Or worse still they could control our lungs, heart and other vital organs shutting them off at will.

In 2012 a study done by Oxford University stated that the point at which research starts going so fast we cannot comprehend what is going on will have come by 2040. This leaves us only 25 more years (providing it does not happen earlier) before the extinction begins.

Finally there is a more tamer worry. A.I is increasingly taking over humans in the workplace putting more and more of us out of work. This is putting a bigger strain on goverments who are having to fork out more and more in state benefits to aid those out fo work, which in turn puts a greater pressure on the nation’s economy as less and less tax gets paid in but more and more tax is handed out in the form of benefits. We have recently seen the economies of Latvia, Greece fail. Then we have Argentina’s contantling struglling economy, and the global trouble recently blamed on ‘Toxic banks’. Just how much of this has A.I been responsible for?

The meeting in 2014 I mentioned earlier laid down rules as to how A.I from now on must be build with a ethical code, but what about A.I before then? And what exactly is this ethical code? Who does the code benefit? Can we trust A.I to carry on being harmless background tools aiding us in our lives everyday? Are these worries all just paranoia or is there really something to fear?

The Implications of Freudian Theory Within Moral Philosophy

Freud is one of the key thinkers of modernity within philosophy of mind after he introduced a theory of mind, known as the psychodynamic model, based upon a divided self made up of unconscious, preconscious and conscious. This was later built upon to produce a topography of mind consisting of an unconscious Id, unconscious Ego, preconscious Ego, conscious Ego and a Superego which interacts with the other parts but is not specifically located within any of the earlier divisions of the mind. The model is usually referred to as the (human) psyche, although Freud sometimes refers to it as the psychic apparatus. The purpose of this essay is three-fold; first to explain Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mind, secondly to highlight the implications this has on the notion of free will and to determine whether or not free will is compatible with Freud’s theory. Finally to demonstrate the implications the compatibility of free will within Freud’s theory and has on moral philosophy in order to show that if Freud’s psychodynamic theory is found to be true then any feasible ethical model would have to fall upon the concepts I shall show throughout this essay. From this I shall conclude that free will is compatible with Freud’s psychodynamic and can support ethical systems based upon free will.

Before I begin with my explanation of Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mind I would like to point out that this essay is not intended to prove whether Freud is correct or not, nor is it intended to highlight any flaws within the model, although some flaws may become apparent throughout the following sections.

Freud’s earlier topography of the mind consisted of unconscious, preconscious and conscious, where “the nucleus of the unconscious consists of instinctual representatives which seek to discharge their cathexis; that is to say, it consists of wishful impulses” [Freud, UC, pg:582]. The term cathexis plays a vital part in Freud’s theory and can be used to mean psychic energy. Thus the unconscious exists as a collection of impulses, each of which has a cathexis of its own and interacts by discharging the cathexis around the topography of the mind. The unconscious is also the first point of call for external stimuli once it passes through the perceptive faculties for “in the first phase the psychical act is unconscious” [Freud, UC, pg:578].

Cathexis, as stated above, can be considered as a psychic energy which allows the parts of the mind to interact with each other by discharging quantities of cathexis. Therefore Freud’s psychodynamic model can be seen as a system of sinks and flows with the unconscious, preconscious and conscious being the passive parts of the system (the sinks). And the cathexis, in its multiple forms, acting as the flows hence the dynamic part of the psychodynamic model. Cathexis can manifest as sexual impulses towards certain erogenous zones, such as the mouth or anus, which Freud argues is part of the psychosexual development of the psyche.

Once external stimulus has passed into the unconscious it then undergoes a screening process to determine whether the discharge of cathexis is safe. “if, on testing, it is rejected by the censorship it is not allowed to pass onto the second phase…if, however, it passes this testing, it enters the second phase and thenceforth belongs to the second system…the preconscious” [Freud, UC, pg:578]. The preconscious then acts as a memory bank holding any latent impulses which may be recalled by the conscious at any given point, in a way it is both conscious and unconscious as it not fully conscious but not blocked by the defence mechanism of repression, which is another vital concept for Freud. Essentially is the bridge between the unconscious-conscious schism.

Freud argues “under certain conditions…the impulse then passes into the state of repression…for the ego cannot escape from itself” [Freud, RP, pg:569], therefore repression acts as the defence mechanism which blocks the impulses which, having failed the screening process of the unconscious, prove harmful to our conscious psyche. There are also two types of repression, or at least two stages to it, “there is a primal repression…which consists in the psychical representation of the instinct being denied entrance into the conscious” [Freud, RP, pg:569], in other words the primary censorship of impulses. Then “the second stage of repression…affects mental derivatives of the repressed…or such trains of thought as originating elsewhere” [Freud, RP, pg:569], this latter act of repression censors impulses which bear some resemblance with the impulse originally censored to avoid any harm coming to the conscious.

Conscious is the remaining part of the psyche. It acts the system which contains the impulses we are aware of at a given moment in time. When we become aware of an impulse it means the impulse has discharged its cathexis from the preconscious system to the conscious. However the conscious only has a small capacity, due to the limited range of focus we possess, consequently when we become aware of another impulse the cathexis of the former is discharged back into the preconscious allowing the cathexis of the latter to be discharged into the conscious. This tripartite model of the psyche later gave way to a new topography, although still carrying these three systems, the new model had three new systems which acted as an extra layer on top of what Freud had already established.

One of these three systems is the Id which is entirely unconscious and is responsible for many of our impulses which come from two drives; Eros and Thanatos . The Id is completely egotistical as its only purpose is to achieve the actualisation of its impulses regardless of all other entities (both physical and psychical). The Id’s impulses are centred around obtaining pleasure and self-preservation for “the pleasure principle is proper to a primary method of working on the part of the mental apparatus…from the point of view of the self-preservation of the organism” [Freud, BP, pg:596].

The Eros and Thanatos drives were a late revision to Freud’s model where they replace the pleasure principle. The Eros drive takes the role of self-preservation, reproduction and directing the person towards higher states of existence. On the other hand the Thanatos drive takes the role of destroying unnecessary components of the entity and external entities which threaten the existence of itself. Or as Freud puts it “we put forward the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate states; on the other hand, we suppose that Eros…aims at complicating life and at the same time, of course, at preserving it” [Freud, EI, pg:645]. Hence the two drives often come into conflict as one tries to destroy the self whilst the other preserves it.

In order to keep the Id under control the psyche has another system known as the Ego which spans across all three regions of the old division, “the ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression” [Freud, EI, pg:635]. The Ego, like the Id, also has a drive known as the reality principle. The reality principle acts as a balance between the external world and the discharges of cathexis from the Id, the role of this principle is to resolves conflicts between incompatible impulses by way of a compromise which is acceptable within the external world for “when two wishful impulses…appear to us incompatible…they combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise” [Freud, UC, pg:582].

Finally there is the Superego which develops later on as a consequence of the Oedipus complex. During the Oedipus complex the Id discharges its cathexis in hope of mating with the parent/guardian of the opposite gender. The Ego denies this as the reality principle deems it inappropriate but allows a compromise by taking on the essence of the same gender parent/guardian in order to win the affections of the source of desire. This becomes the Superego which represents the moral standpoint and social beliefs of the same gender parent/guardian. The role of the Superego is to act as a further level of censorship alongside the reality principle and repression to ensure that the Id never actualises its most destructive impulses within the external world.

Now Freud’s topography of the human psyche has been explained I can begin to address the question of whether free will is compatible with the psyche. Beforehand a definition of what is meant by free will is necessary since free will is a notion which has been a matter of debate for some time, with each thinker providing his/her own definition of the term along the way. I, however, shall take free will to mean what Spinoza defines it as, “that thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone” [Spinoza, pg.2]. By this what is meant is something possesses free will if it is self-driven, as opposed to being driven by a causal nexus. In this sense we can consider the Id to be free since Freud does not offer any explanation as to why it discharges its cathexis towards objects, it simply does, and hence it appears as if the Id does so by its own free will. Following this the Ego cannot be free as it acts only in response to the Id, therefore its actions are caused by the Id and so not caused by itself and consequently not by the Ego’s free will. Then there is the Superego which constantly behaves in such a way as to get the Ego to permit the discharges of cathexis that our parent/guardian of the same gender would permit without any consideration for the other two systems, thus the Superego could also be considered to possess free will. If this is true then the greater part of the human psyche is free but our conscious choices are not, meaning we are only free to choose what we do not know we want to choose as a portion of our free choice has been repressed. However so far this has been mere speculation to determine whether this is the case or not further evidence needs to be considered.

O’Shaughnessy argues that the Ego does possess free will as “the will, in the romantic sense of mental force, is the manifestation of an ego” [O’Shaughnessy, pg.110], he also believes the Id and Superego to possess free will as “those subordinate mental processes have a life of their own, and while they move only because we set them in motion they are not mere instruments of our purposes. They do our bidding but go their own way” [O’Shaughnessy, pg.111]. This is also supported by Thalberg who says that “when we perform an erroneous action…control over the body passes from one’s ego, and its will, to an opposing counter-will” [Thalberg, pg.243], this both the Id and the Ego possess free will but they also oppose each other. This gives rise to a further problem…if our psyche consists of separate systems each capable of free choice but disagree then which system can truly be called the self? It would seem absurd to argue that I, that is my ‘self’, wants X yet simultaneously wants not-X as this goes against the law of non-contradiction, which states “it is impossible for the same thing at the same time both to be and not to be” [Aristotle, 1005b]. So in order to answer the problem of free will within Freud’s model we need to clear up the problem of the self.

Kierkegaard was puzzled by the problem of the self but gave a explanation of it within Sickness Unto Death in which it is argued that “the self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relations relating itself to itself…a human being is a synthesis…of freedom and necessity” [Kierkegaard, XI:127]. By this it may be possible to see how we can resolve the problem with regard to Freud. If we replace the term itself with the names of parts of the mental apparatus then Kierkegaard reads as follows: ‘the self is a relation that relates Id to Ego or is the relations relating Id to Ego’. In the first part the self can be equated to cathexis as it is this which relates the Id to the Ego via its being discharged between the two systems. In the second part the self can be equated to Superego as it is creating out of the individual’s relations, as demonstrated above, and the Superego relates the Id to the Ego by means of a secondary screening process for the discharges of cathexis. Therefore the self is the Superego and the psychic energy which interacts between the Id and the Ego, and since the impulses originate in both the Id (from the Eros and Thanatos drives) and the Ego (from the reality principle) then by extension the self is also the Id and the Ego making the self as Kierkegaard stated ‘a synthesis’. Yet it appears that the problem of the law of non-contradiction still remains if this is the case. This is not necessarily the case as it was previously stated that “when two wishful impulses whose aims must appear to us incompatible…they combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise” [Freud, UC, pg:582], this allows the Id and Ego to have their own free will without breaking the law of non-contradiction. It also solves the last piece of Kierkegaard’s claim that the self is a synthesis of freedom and necessity, the freedom comes from the free will of each part of the system in conflict but the necessity comes from its necessary adherence to the law of non-contradiction. And so the self can be considered the human psyche in its entirety capable of freely choosing a number of desires yet bound by the law of non-contradiction so only the desires which are compatible with each other are permitting, whilst the others become repressed.

To sum up what has just been said the self is a synthesis of Id, Ego and Superego relating to each other via the psychic energy of cathexis. Secondly each of the three systems contains its own free will but is bound by the law of non-contradiction so are determined to compromise whenever two opposing wills come into conflict. To put it another way we are free to do as we please so long as we do not contradict the actions and choices which have gone before, hence Freud’s model is compatible with soft determinism, also known as compatibilism.

But what is compatibilism? Compatibilism can be described as a solution to the free will problem as it allows free will to be compatible with determinism, thus enabling us to be held morally responsible for our actions even they we had no actual choice over what action we were to take [SP]. By actual choice I mean one that is chosen freely without any constraints on our choosing, as opposed to a perceived choice which is freely chosen from within a range of options from within a set of constraints. The former would be the exercise of total free will, libertarianism. The latter is the exercise of free will bound by pre-determined criteria, compatibilism. For example an actual choice is being able to choose between a cup of tea or a glass of fizzy pop whereas a perceived choice is being able to choose between the two but only being able to choose the cup of tea as every time this choice has occurred before you have desired the tea over the fizzy pop. Now it has been established what compatibilism is it can be discussed at which ethical systems work alongside Freud’s model.

Socratic ethics is built upon the notion that no man freely does evil they only do evil acts through ignorance, thus cannot be held morally responsible as it is stated within the Apology “you have discovered that bad people always have a bad effect…upon their nearest neighbours. Am I so hopelessly ignorant as not even to realize that…because nothing else would make me commit this grave offense intentionally” [Plato, 25e] and because the evil act was not committed intentionally Socrates claims “I cannot fairly be held responsible, since I have never promised” [Plato, 33b]. This would appear, at first, to be acceptable since evil desires are repressed into the unconscious, as demonstrated above, therefore become unknown to us so if we do act in an evil way it is because our unconscious has overpowered the Ego making us act in a way in which we were not aware of.

This view has been supported by some thinkers such as Sagan who argued “If reason were not fused with libidinal energy- the desires to love and create order- it would remain impotent against the destructive drive…without Eros, reason has as much commitment to morality and an orderly social life as a stick of dynamite” [Sagan, pg:139]. What Sagan refers to here when she uses the term reason could arguably be the Ego as it follows the reality principle, hence can be seen as the rational agent within the system ensuring the Id’s selfish desires are compatible with the external world. This would mean that the Ego and the Eros drive work in tandem to subdue our inner evil derived from the Thanatos drive. However there may be a hidden layer to the dynamite metaphor used by Sagan suggesting something beyond the initial reading which argues that an Ego without the Eros drive to support it cannot be adequate enough to stop the destructive desires of the Id. Dynamite can be used as a tool for good, as well as bad, as it can destroy objects with explosive force yet with that same destructive force act as a means to a greater end. For example when dynamite is employed within quarries so that marble (or some other mineral) can be excavated and used to construct monuments elsewhere. Therefore by using dynamite in her analogy there may be an implicit claim that an Ego working on its own can freely choose to work with the Thanatos drive or work against it. Only when combined with the Eros drive does the Ego lose this actual choice and replaces it with a perceived choice. Further supporting the notion that the psyche is one designed upon compatibilism. And because every psyche comes with the Eros drive, it is not something created later on as opposed to the Superego, and then the Ego can only ever be capable of actual choice if there is some fault within the psyche weakening the Eros drive, or strengthening the Thanatos drive. In either case evil can only be freely and intentionally committed by the psychologically abnormal as they are the only ones capable of being aware of their actions, following what was said above about Socratic ethics.

This idea is strengthened further by the idea that the Superego is the basis for morality within in the psyche as “he (Freud) consistently used the designation superego for the large psychical entity and assign it three basic functions: self-observation, conscience and maintaining the ego” [Sagan, pg:5], and it is conscience which makes us feel guilt when we have evil desires or act in a way which is socially perceived as evil. Consequently it is the conscience which aims at directing our choices towards the morally good, thus we are free to choose how to act but will only act in such a way as our conscience allows again feeding back into the notion of a psyche built upon compatibility.

Furthermore if we have a damaged psyche, one in which we failed to move beyond the Oedipus complex, thus not being able to construct a fully functioning Superego, then we become psychologically abnormal and therefore incapable of guilt and remorse which removes the limitations of our actions giving us the capacity of actual choice, or at least a wider range of options within our perceived choice. Hence evil can only intentionally be done through psychological abnormality for no normal psyche would permit the destructive desires of the Id to get through; a compromise would always be made. This is supported by Pears who argues “someone has reasons for judging a particular course of action best and yet he yields to the temptation to do something else. If he yields intentionally and freely, this counts as akrasia; not being in command of oneself” [Pears, pg:264] and if one is not in control of oneself then society commonly deems them as possessing some form of psychological abnormality.

In conclusion Freud’s psychodynamic model of the human psyche is one built upon compatibilism, when the psyche is functioning normally, in which case the agent will only ever act in such a way as is socially perceived as being morally good, for the Superego was created out of the social norms held by the parents during the time of Oedipus complex as demonstrated above. However should the psyche become damaged in any of the three ways mention, that is a weakening of the Eros drive, a strengthening of the Thanatos drive, or an absence/weakening of the Superego, then the psyche becomes imbalanced and therefore abnormal in which case the psyche becomes built upon libertarianism, hence capable of actual choice and perceived choice. Only then is the agent capable of evil which they can be held morally responsible for.

• BP- Beyond the Pleasure Principle
• EI- The Ego and the Id
• RP- Repression
• SP- Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Online
• UC- The Unconscious

• Aristotle, (2004), Metaphysics (translated by Lawson-Tancred. H), London: Penguin Classics
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Repression’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘The Ego and the Id’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Unconscious, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), The Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• O’Shaughnessy. B, (1982), ‘The Id and the Thinking Process’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press
• Pears. D, (1982), ‘Motivated Irrationality, Freudian Theory and Cognitive Dissonance’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press
• Plato, (1954), The Last Days of Socrates the Apology; Crito; Phaedo (translated by Tredennick. H), London: Penguin Books
• Sagan. E, (1977), Freud, Women and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil, New York: Basic Books
• Spinoza. B, (1996), Ethics (translated by Curley. E), London: Penguin Books
• Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Online, (accessed at 12:55 03/04/11)
• Thalberg. I, (1982), ‘Freud’s Anatomies of the Self’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press

What is the relation of Spinoza to Schelling?

To identify these correlations we will conduct a contrast of Spinoza’s and Schelling’s philosophies and investigate their pantheistic systems. In order to convey the differences between the two philosophers, we will start by inquiring into the meaning of pantheism as it is a topic that Schelling sets out to unravel near to the beginning of his freedom essay. To begin we will introduce what pantheism is and the way it may be misinterpreted namely by reviewing Schopenhauer’s view. Further an overview of Spinoza’s pantheistic approach will be provided using passages from his Ethics, after which we will refer to Schelling and follow on to discuss the system that Schelling adopts in the freedom essay. We will then contrast the two and it will be argued that Spinoza’s mechanical system suggests everything that is, is determined as God or Nature which is in all things since God or Nature is primal cause which differs from Schelling’s system as substances themselves do not make up the system but it is rather acts, forces and motions that determine things into existence. We will also inquire into the differences of freedom, as the best system is the one that can explain the universe adequately i.e. the necessary relations between components and unite it with freedom, without excluding either. We will present the way in which Schelling’s theory grounds freedom in his pantheistic system which in contrast seems to be limited in Spinoza’s to the first cause. The discussion will determine Schelling’s striving to prove that freedom exists throughout the system where we will argue Spinoza fails. In addition, we will seek to utilize Schelling’s references to Spinoza to highlight that they serve to argue and clarify the misunderstandings that have been ascribed to Spinoza and produce an opening for Schelling’s freedom that he claims to exist in the universe which produces God-Nature.
The word Pantheism originates from the Greek “Pan” translated as all and “theos” (theism) indicating to God, so all is God. What does it mean to say God is all? Schopenhauer’s essay “A few words on Pantheism” (Schopenhauer, 2007; 40) maintains that “calling God the world (…) says nothing” as it does not explain anything and he denotes that the concept uses theism as its basis, which Levine argues to be “inaccurate” as the concept refuses theism and “pantheism never has been a simple identification of the world with God” (Levine, 1994, 28). Though Levine does not provide an example, if we took Spinoza’s so-called pantheistic doctrine in contrast to the Christian teachings it becomes apparent that the Christian God is a “personal God who by act of will created the universe” (Hampshire, 42) and is outside of the system which he created where Spinoza’s Nature or God is the system, it does not separate itself from that which it has self-created, but instead unifies all what is. Levine implies that Spinoza’s natura naturans and natura naturata is the defence against that which Schopenhauer identifies pantheism to be “god is the world”, although Levine does not explain why, we discover in Kashap’s literature entitled “Spinoza & Moral Freedom”. He claims some understand Spinoza’s God to be “identical with Nature, in the sense of the universe as a whole (i.e. the physical world)” which is similar if not identical to Schopenhauer’s view that was pointed out by Levine.
Kashap disagrees with such understandings because the “interpretation appears to be a consequence of a failure to take into account the distinction between the kind of existence ascribed” to natura naturans and natura naturata which he sustains not to be identical (27). Kashap reasons that Spinoza’s God “is an independent reality which needs nothing other than nature to exist in the sense of being eternal”, he assures that natura naturata is an aftermath of “this nature of God”, which is natura naturans and therefore not the same. In other words, God is Nature but there are two parts to it Natura Naturans, the antecedent which is nature naturing (self-creating or producing) identifying the cause of the system that is God or Nature and the passive (Natura Naturata)(nature created or product) which is the consequent and are therefore modes of the system. As Hampshire explains “God or Nature as the unique creator (Natura naturans) and as the unique creation (Natura Naturata)” both of these are identities of “the Creator and his creation” which are logical necessities in the explanation of the universe as one causal system (Hamphsire,37). So calling “God is all” does not mean “nothing” as Schopenhauer suggests due to his misunderstanding but a means to provide a logical explanation of the forces in the universe as a unity of cause and effect, ‘God is all’ is a concept uniting all that is; explaining everything within a single rational theory.
Furthermore, in Spinoza’s Ethics, in particular proposition XIV he determines that “God is one, that is (by Def. vi.), only one substance can be granted in the universe” so in other words it suggests that nothing exists other than God including his attributes and therefore God is nature as it is necessarily part of the one substance which is evident in proposition XX; “The existence of God and his essence are one and the same”. God is (Prop. VI) substance meaning it is the essence of God to exist and following proposition XV from the Ethics he denotes that “whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived” suggesting that God determines all things to be, this also is important contribution to the body and soul argument which puts forward that both are attributes of God as a consequence of everything existing in him.
Consequently, if everything exists is God it begs to question where did God come from? Referring to proposition XVI “God is absolutely the first cause” meaning that Spinoza’s system doesn’t necessarily have a beginning i.e. a theory of God’s existence nor end; as the proposition XIX declares that “eternity appertains to the nature of substance (…) therefore eternity appertains to each of the attributes, and thus are all eternal”, in other words God just so appears to exist. We discover from these passages and that of proposition XX that since God and his attributes are eternal “it follows that God, and all attributes of God, are unchangeable”. This must be the most concerning part relating to the Ethics as if things do not change then they are consequently fixed with no freedom as everything is determined which is posited in XXVI “a thing which is conditioned to act (…) has necessarily been conditioned by God”. Although Spinoza does not assert his system to be mechanical it is evident that since everything is related and works as part of one system just like the mechanism of a clock, we can argue that God-Nature has no freedom. Nevertheless, it will be argued that freedom exists in Spinoza’s system as the natura naturans, in relation to the clock its watchmaker, that is God-Nature creating at the beginning after which everything is eternal and unchanging, therefore the system itself eradicates the possibility of the modes of the system to have freedom. Turning to Wirth who has written extensively on Spinoza and Schelling, he mentions that Schelling aimed to release the “absolute sovereignty” of God that exists in Spinoza’s system avoiding Spinoza’s “mechanistic physics” and replace it with freedom as absolute sovereignty of nature (Wirth:2003; 68).
Suggesting that of a similar system posited by Spinoza as Schelling adopts a pantheistic system stating “(…)individual freedom is surely connected with the world as a whole (…) some kind of system must be present, at least in the divine understanding, with which freedom coexists” (SW 7:337), however it is freedom(the sovereign) that rules. In Schelling’s system there necessarily exists freedom within it and alongside it. In the introduction of the freedom essay, Schelling resurrects the meaning of Pantheism identifying some misunderstandings which he claims to have obscured its real identity. The misunderstanding he argues is of the term pantheism (Spinozism) treated as a label believed “the only possible system of reason is pantheism, but this is inevitably fatalism” (SW 7:339) and the reason it is fatalism is because the system is thought to be already predetermined by God as he is omnipotent. Schelling’s interpretation of the concept as fatalistic is not directly associated to pantheism as it “emerges from those with the liveliest sense of freedom, pantheism must itself be recognized as a product of freedom” (Freydberg:19). Schelling does not oppose pantheism he thinks Spinoza was right to suggest a unity, however the misunderstanding that flows from Spinoza’s work which has given the term pantheism a deterministic quality needs to be clarified so that Schelling’s work is not misread. He provides three arguments against Spinoza’s understanding so that he can show pantheism is a plausible system that does not entail determinism or fatalism.
Schelling’s first of the three arguments is that pantheism is associated with “a complete identification of God with things” (SW 7:339), which he finds problematic taking into account the quantity of things that exist as God-Nature which is of a qualitative property. In addition, when Schelling measures Spinoza’s account on God; “things are obviously not different from God” he immediately argues against by stating “they are absolutely separate from God (…) all things together cannot amount to God” (SW 7:341) because things that derive from God in any manner are not God in the “genuine and eminent sense”. He secondly identifies “in Spinoza the individual thing is equivalent to God” (SW 7:340) suggesting that the individual thing “a modified god” is a product of God and is God itself which can be interpreted as meaning that God is the same as the thing(s) he created, a blending of creator and created into a single unity in which the created is creator of itself. This cannot be, as it is not possible for created (dependent) thing to be the creator (independent) of what created it that is independent. Schelling argues it is a misunderstanding law of identity, which we will return to but it can also be argued that “the idea of the absolute contradicts the idea of things and vice versa”(Wirth, 2003:69) breaking the law of non-contradiction as Aristotle states “it is impossible for the same thing at the same time both to be-in and not to be-in the same thing in the same respect” 2005b, God-Nature cannot be the creator and the created thing it created at the same time. In other words, God cannot be God and not God. At best the created can be creators but of their creations and not of themselves i.e. organic reproduction – the child is dependent on the mother for being born but independent as it has freedom to act on with its own nature.
The two arguments are reasoned by Schelling using the law of identity, the subject-predicate form, which accordingly denies the predicate to be the subject. Using the law of identity, the tautology “The body is body” reflects the first body as subject is different to the second as predicate, therefore “in no possible proposition which in the explanation expresses the identity of subject and predicate as sameness”. Using the tautology example of the six that Schelling produces in his freedom essay (White Alan), Wirth notes that “the claim is never made that in pantheism there is a tautology between God and things (God = things)” as they are not the same (Wirth, 2003: 69). It is through the law of identity we understand that God and things are not the same as God is the antecedent (subject) and things are the consequents (predicate).
Thirdly, since Schelling has shown that Spinoza’s identicalness of things as God is misunderstood he argues for those “defenders of the foregoing claim will now say that pantheism does not speak at all about the fact that God is everything, but rather about the fact that things are nothing (SW 7:343)”. The argument claiming things are nothing follows that there is nothing but God therefore it is a paradox to God-Nature being all things, this destroys freedom by declaring God-Nature as nothing which is non-productive and misleading as there must be an antecedent and consequent, as we cannot identify nature producing no-thing, rendering it eternal and without a function.
Schelling argues that freedom has been missed due to misunderstanding the form of dependency of beings to God. Our existence maybe dependent on God but this does not abolish freedom, just like our organic existence is dependent through another but we ourselves are independent to act with freedom. It becomes evident that pantheism is not determined, it is not fixed but rather has independencies with freedom from that which created it. Freydberg interprets the pantheism of Spinoza suggesting “the absence of eros leaves the system of reason bereft of life and therefore abstract (…) (which) dooms the system to incompleteness even in the formal sense”(Freydberg 20). The system of reason indicates to pantheism and the eros that Freydberg is concerned with is the liveliness of motion, forces (freedom) which lack in Spinozism which Cottingham demonstrates by asserting “the motion and rest of a body must arise from another body, which in turn has been determined to motion and rest by another body….mind and body are the same thing” (Cottingham: 2011:228). The underlying basis of spinozism determines everything that exists is connected to everything as part of a whole and that whole is a divine entity that is responsible for those parts just as those parts are responsible for the divine entity, however the dynamic element introduced by Spinoza is contradictory as natura naturata cancels the natura naturans. If God-Nature is eternal, then it must be continuously productive and if it finalizes its product then it becomes finite and not eternal.
We have attempted to show through Schelling that dependency is not determination, therefore pantheism is not determined as the dependent cannot be responsible for the independent’s existence and we have reasoned Spinoza’s Naturans and naturata failure along with the other misunderstandings. Furthermore, Schelling offers that “through freedom a fundamentally unlimited power is asserted next to and outside of divine power” (SW 7:339) meaning real freedom is an unconditioned power and not determined by Nature like in Spinoza, but has its own place throughout the system that is the driving force that enables things to exist. Schelling’s system is that of essence, the unity of everything hence all is one (pantheism), yet it is divided into two forms similar to antecedent (subject) and consequent (predicate). The logic of subject and predicate are ground of existence. From that which we have incurred we recognize things come into existence through the will (freedom), in Schelling’s terms the ground, the primal being. The ground in which there is no existence, but the willing of forces that strive to existence and to be consequent, that is existence. The consequent cannot be the ground just as in the organic form the child cannot be the mother therefore God-nature is all in Spinoza’s understanding is misleading.
In conclusion to the relation of Spinoza to Schelling we identify the link to be pantheism, a system that is unified; all is one, however the underlining question we have tried to evaluate is whether freedom is dependent on God-Nature or not. For Spinoza God-Nature is eternal, which we have argued to be invalid by naturans naturata, secondly since God-Nature is the first cause it has been asserted that freedom is dependent and determined, but we realize by using the law of identity introduced by Schelling should freedom be dependent on nature then freedom would be a consequence of it, which would necessarily not mean to be determined by Nature but a product which could still continue to be free. Furthermore, if Schelling is right to suggest that freedom must be an unconditioned power and if we argue this to be the “first cause” of the system, then it is reasonable to state that as willing (primal being) exists throughout the system it may be its very first stage from which everything derives from. Freedom must be necessary because it is the action of willing that gives the necessary force, the liveliness of existence and the power that drives the system. The freedom value gives Schelling’s system a constant change supported by reason, unlike Spinoza’s unchanged system that we have argued to be determined and seems to be dogmatic. For if freedom did not exist throughout the system, the system would be determined, and consequently a “dead dog” as Spinoza/Spinozism has been described to be by the militant establishment (Wirth:2003; 67). However, it appears that since there are so many possibilities available, free acts at least to us humans, freedom does exist. Surely if everything had been predetermined then freedom of choice would not be possible. After analyzing the relations between Spinoza and Schelling, it is evident that Schelling enforced a corrected ontological theory deduced from Spinoza’s misunderstandings to produce a system that allowed freedom (the primal will) to be the ground of existence.

Kirk G., 1954, Heraclitus the cosmic Fragments, Cambridge University Press: New York
Levine M., 1994, Pantheism a non theistic concept of deity, Routledge, London
Schopenhauer A and Saunders T, 2007, Religion: A dialogue and other essays, New York: Cosimo
Wirth J., 2003, The Conspiracy of Life Mediations on Schelling and His Time, State University of New York Press: New York

Is Boethius Platonic, Aristotelian or Stoic in his View on Foreknowledge?

The medieval philosopher Boethius became puzzled by the problem of divine foreknowledge and attempted to answer this conundrum in the form of a dialogue between him and philosophy that is given the guise of a lady known as Lady Philosophy. Being educated in the Neo-Platonic tradition Boethius had knowledge of Platonic and Aristotelian modes of thought, both of which can be seen within his arguments on the topic of divine knowledge. However the purpose of this essay is to determine whether Boethius’ position is Platonic, Aristotelian or Stoic, as elements of Stoicism can also be found throughout Boethius’ dialogue with Lady Philosophy.  In order to achieve this I shall begin by highlighting the parallels between Plato and Boethius, then the parallels between Aristotle and Boethius before moving onto the parallels between the Stoics and Boethius.

However the issue is a complex one due to the complications within Boethius’ style of writing so I shall draw my conclusion to two possibilities, one being based on the notion that the character of Boethius and Lady Philosophy are the same person that is Boethius the author, with the other being centred around the idea that they are two separate entities; Boethius and a manifestation of the views he argues against played by Lady Philosophy. I do not intend to answer the question as to whether or not we ought to or ought not to read the text as two separate entities or as both belonging to the same person, I merely acknowledge that this is a concern which can confuse my main focus so needs to be made clear. By the end of this essay I hope it shall become clear than Boethius can be argued to be Aristotelian in his views on divine foreknowledge regardless of whether you take Lady Philosophy’s arguments to be views separate or part of Boethius’ own views.

First let us look at the similarities between Plato and Boethius starting with one which although may seem trivial could hold deeper implications later on. The style in which Boethius goes about writing, in the form of a dialogue, is characteristic of Plato within a number of his works including The Republic and Timaeus, suggesting that Boethius has some Platonic leanings. Although by writing in this way it does also raise the issue as to whether we can attach what is said by Lady Philosophy to Boethius or whether he is using this second character in order to distance himself from views separate from his own.

In the first book of Consolations of Philosophy we are provided with an account of the character of Boethius’ early life as a public figure, which does bear some small resemblance to Plato’s concept of a philosopher king in book seven of The Republic, although it also shares some similarity to Aristotle’s argument that the life of the philosopher is a political one within The Nicomachean Ethics [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095b-1097b ]. So it can be said that in his earlier years Boethius showed some Platonic tendencies. Equally it can be argued that Boethius, in his early years, showed some Aristotelian tendencies, however, in order to determine which is more prevalent more evidence is required.

There are a number of passages within book three which hint at the possibility of Boethius being a Platonist, firstly there is the line “to that true happiness your soul dreams of but cannot see because your sight is distracted by images” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pp.59-60] the notion of man being distracted from the truth by way of images is one which appears in The Republic, specifically in the simile of the divided line [Plato, The Republic, 509d-511e].

Also a little further on in the dialogue appears the line “it isn’t the human body then, that is attractive, but only the weakness of human vision that makes it seem so” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.78], this could be interpreted to be an attack of those who concern themselves with aesthetics rather than truth in itself as they allow themselves to be carried away by the senses instead of appealing to reason. This is also argued similarly by Plato when he attacks the lovers of art, “for those who love looking and listening enjoy learning about things…but they’re a peculiar lot to class as philosophers, because nothing would induce them to spend time on any kind of serious argument” [Plato, The Republic, 475d].

Thirdly it is argued that “everything that exists is unitary, and that oneness itself is good” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.118], which in this case Boethius argues to be God and so a section of his argument for God’s foreknowledge is because we are part of him and he of us that he possess knowledge of us in the present, past and future and to him all occurs simultaneous being an atemporal being [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.170]. Plato also argues that everything is unitary “since beauty and ugliness are opposites, they are two…and as they are two, each of them is single…the same is true of…all qualities, each of them is in itself single, but they seem to be a multiplicity because they appear everywhere” [Plato, The Republic, 476a], even though at the beginning it looks like Plato is saying that everything is divided into individual pieces the final phrase “but they seem to be a multiplicity because they appear everywhere” [Plato, The Republic, 476a] shows that Plato realises that every individual is connected to something more unified higher up the chain of order within the cosmos, for Plato this would be the form of the Good within the intelligible realm of the Forms, for Boethius it would be God both of which are considered the Good which links back to the end part Boethius’ statement “and that oneness itself is good” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.118]. However all of these lines are written for Lady Philosophy so as to whether we can attribute these to Boethius as his views or not remains at question.

There is one line which has Platonic resemblances and is spoken by the character of Boethius within the dialogue, “the universe is composed of so many different parts that it could never have come together unless there was one to join all these elements” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.99]. Again this hints as the idea that Boethius accepts Plato’s view that everything is part of a unity which is higher than any of its individual parts, but also it hints at the idea that Boethius argues that there is an intelligent design to the universe, for if there were no grand intellect to design such a perfect system then the parts would not work as smoothly with each other than they appear to do. A similar concept is forwarded by Plato in Timaeus “in his delight planned to make it still more like its pattern; and as this pattern is an eternal Living Being, he set out to make the universe resemble it in this way too as far as was possible” [Plato, Timaeus, 37d], thus Plato argues that the universe is made to be as similar to the perfect pattern of the Forms as is possible, just as Boethius argues the universe is made to be as similar to God’s perfection as possible.

 It would seem then if we are to take both Lady Philosophy and the character of Boethius as representing Boethius’ views then we do not have a worthy case for Boethius being a Platonist on the subject of foreknowledge, since there are no actual arguments on divine foreknowledge based upon Platonic ideas. Alternatively if we take only what the character of Boethius says within the dialogue to be the views of Boethius we still do not have a worthy case to argue that Boethius is a Platonist, as he argues against Lady Philosophy who is made, at least to some extent, to represent the views of Plato. The only part in which both characters are in agreement is that everything is part of unity, although given the nature of what Boethius is discussing within this text should he argue against a divine unity to the universe, denying God’s existence in the process of doing this, then any discussion on divine foreknowledge becomes a moot point, therefore Boethius must accept this point within this context whether he agrees to it or not.

Now we have observed the case for Boethius being a Platonist, which is unconvincing, let us look at the evidence which may suggest Boethius is an Aristotelian. Again I shall first look at the statements made by Lady Philosophy starting with book two where she utters the line “avarice is not admirable, but liberality is generally praised” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.43]. Here it shows a sympathy for Aristotelian ethics, although it does appear to be somewhat out of place within a text on divine foreknowledge, which argues that any characteristic when in excess is considered a vice [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a, 1104b and 1173a], and avarice being an excess of desire for power or material objects would be considered a vice under an Aristotelian system of morality. Since Boethius seems to show Aristotelian ethics a case, albeit a weak one as there is little evidence to show it to be the case, could be made that Boethius may be Aristotelian in other areas, although to do so off this piece is troublesome given Boethius’ background as a Christian and some models of Christian ethics, particularly Catholic based doctrines, preach that it is a sin to partake in avarice. Thus it is unclear here as to whether Boethius argues in support of an Aristotelian ethics or a Christian ethics.

Another line used by Lady Philosophy is “since men want happiness, and since happiness is in itself divinity, then it follows that men in the pursuit of happiness are actually in the pursuit of divinity” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.89] which bears resemblance with Aristotle’s view that “we assume the gods to be blessed and happy” [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1178b] but also that happiness for Aristotle comes from living a contemplative life and a contemplative life is the life of the gods [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1177a-1178b]. What this does is brings up the idea that we are somehow joined to God in that he is happy and we wish to join him in his happiness although this holds no direct relation to divine foreknowledge so even though it does link Boethius to Aristotle it is not a strong argument to claim Boethius is Aristotelian in his stance of divine foreknowledge.

 Marenbon points out “Philosophy considers that…only what is necessary is certain. It follows that…future contingent events are not certain. But Philosophy also believes that…if someone knows something, he thereby knows it as something certain. If God knows future contingent events, it follows…that he judges them as being other than they are. But…if something is judged otherwise than it is, it is not known” [Marenbon, Medieval Philosophy, pg.44]. Meaning that if God knows future contingents then he knows them as certain which they are not, yet if he does not know future contingents then he cannot be omniscience and therefore cannot possess foreknowledge. Consequently Lady Philosophy must be mistaken on this occasion, which Boethius points out in his argument through the mouthpiece that is Lady Philosophy, “God has an eternal and omnipresent nature, his knowledge surpasses time’s movements and is made in the simplicity of a continual present” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.170], hence God does not know future contingents because for him there is no future so all events must be necessary from God’s perspective. This can be supported by Aristotle who says “what is, necessarily is, when it is” [Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 19a] and since everything is present for God then everything is when it is so everything must be necessary.

 The point of God knowing future contingents means he knows them as something they are not, for he would know what is uncertain as being certain, if he holds foreknowledge is expressed by the character of Boethius when he states “if anyone thinks that something is different from what it really is, then that is not knowledge but a false opinion” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.154], this can be taken to mean two things. Firstly Boethius is arguing that should God think future contingents are known with certainty then God is mistaken. Secondly if God thinks future contingents are known with certainty then it is us who are mistaken when we say they are uncertain, what we should be saying is that they are future necessities. Given that in the end Boethius accepts God as having foreknowledge then it is likely that Boethius is arguing for the second meaning rather than the first. In which case when we talk of future contingents as being uncertain we speak falsely for we are saying that they are known certainly and uncertainly (or to put it into a simplified formula F is X and not-X).

 This would mean that Boethius is accepting Aristotelian logic in his approach to determine whether God holds divine foreknowledge because, according to Aristotle, to say something is both X and not-X simultaneously goes against the law of non-contradiction so one of the claims must be false. The law of non-contradiction can be found in Aristotle’s metaphysics where he states in chapter three of book gamma of Metaphysics, “It is impossible for the same thing at the same time to be-in and not be-in the same thing in the same respect” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1005b]. The character of Boethius then goes on to say “once we have accepted this…there cannot be punishment for evil or reward for good if there are no free and voluntary actions” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.155], this suggests that he takes the second interpretation of the previous passage so that it is us who are mistaken when we talk about future contingents. Since God sees them as future necessities or simply just necessities as from his viewpoint there is no future, as pointed out earlier, then the notion of free will cannot be accepted as there is no room for random action coming about as a result of choice or chance. Again this is similar in a sense to Aristotle’s take on foreknowledge when he argues “nothing of what happens is as chance has it, but everything is and happens of necessity” [Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 18b], however Aristotle later makes room for free will as he states “it is not necessary for there to be or not to be a sea-battle tomorrow; but it is necessary for one to take place or not take place” [Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 19a]. This is where the similarity between Boethius and Aristotle stops since Boethius has trouble holding free will and divine foreknowledge whereas for Aristotle the problem does not appear to cause too much difficulty.

 There is a line within De Anima which may be able to link Boethius to Aristotle as it states “the soul knows everything” [Aristotle, De Anima, 405b]. If we are to assume that Boethius believes Plato’s claim that the universe is made from parts, and each soul then being be a part, joined together in and by God then God, knowing everything and having made the universe as close as possible to his own state of nature, would have handed down as much of his omniscience as possible. Also as our souls are part of God then through the soul he knows us and the decisions we have made, are making and will make, this would allow God to possess foreknowledge.  However as a consequence of accepting Plato’s claim of all being joined as part of a unity this passage only links Boethius to Aristotle so long as it links Boethius to being a Platonist

 Based on what has now been said on the parallels between Boethius and Aristotle it would seem that Boethius is Aristotelian, to a degree, within his stance on foreknowledge as he uses the same laws of logic set up by Aristotle and comes to a similar conclusion, although fails to reconcile free will and divine foreknowledge. Also Boethius makes statements which sound close to Aristotelian ethics which as said previously suggests that Boethius has Aristotelian sympathies. Although the passages relating to Aristotelian ethics are expressed by Lady Philosophy so may not be the views of Boethius, but instead be views he opposes which would suggest that he more Platonic in his ethical views, which could explain why Boethius has trouble accepting free will since Aristotelian ethics relies on free will to a certain extent. Whether or not the views are to be taken independently of each other or not there is a stronger case for Boethius as an Aristotelian than there is for him being a Platonist.

 Now the evidence for Boethius being Platonic and Aristotelian has been covered it is time to look at the small traces of evidence which highlight arguments which sound Stoic. First I shall look at the Stoic passages, before moving onto the sceptical ones. Once this has been done we can draw the whole thing together to determine whether Boethius is a Platonist, Aristotelian, Stoic or sceptic in his stance on divine foreknowledge.

Very early on in the text we see a direct reference to Stoicism as Lady Philosophy, when questioned about the state of her dress, which the character of Boethius refers to as being “a miracle of fine cloth…some ruffians had done violence to her elegant dress…bits of fabric had been torn away” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.3] , answers Boethius by saying “the squabbling mobs of Stoics and Epicureans fought to claim his[1] legacy and each side tried to carry me off, tearing this lovely dress” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.8]. What is being shown here is contempt for the Stoics and Epicureans, both by Lady Philosophy and by the character of Boethius. Furthermore is shows Boethius’ view that the Stoics and Epicureans are not to be considered philosophers in the same sense that Plato and Aristotle are, if at all, since Lady Philosophy is portrayed to be the manifestation of philosophy and it is said that the Stoics and Epicureans have damaged philosophy. This contempt for the two schools suggests that Boethius would try and argue against them and therefore prove that he is nether Stoic or Epicurean in his view on divine foreknowledge.

What happens instead is that Boethius offers no further argument against either the Stoics or the Epicureans and does not argue against Lady Philosophy with arguments from either school, even though Lady Philosophy tries to reason with him using Stoicism during book two. Lady Philosophy reprimands Boethius by saying, “you thought you were a philosopher, but let me tell you a story. There was a man who made such a claim…somebody came along to taunt him…this critic said that he would believe the claim if the man could bear all the injuries fate heaped upon him in calm and in silence” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.54-55]. This bears some semblance to Stoicism in the sense that it asks the character of Boethius to face the hardships of life without letting his emotions overpower his reason as according to the Stoics the “definition of the good, as follows: that which is perfectly in accord with nature for a rational being, qua rational” [Diogenes Laertius 7.94] and the Stoic concept of the soul is divided into eight parts; “the five sense organs and the vocal part and the thinking part[2] and the generative part. And corruption afflicts the intellect because of falsehoods and from such a mind there arise many passions…passion itself is, according to Zeno, the irrational” [Diogenes Laertius7.110], thus we ought to not allow the emotions[3] get in the way of reason.

 However this brief section of Stoic argument bears no significance on the main argument on divine foreknowledge thus is out of place within this text. Secondly the Stoicism comes from Lady Philosophy so if we are to take the two characters as being separate then Boethius is removing himself from Stoicism, either way we cannot make any claim to Boethius being Stoic in his view on divine foreknowledge therefore it is fair to say that Boethius is not Stoic whether we take Lady Philosophy’s arguments to be part of Boethius’s views or not.

To conclude if we take the two characters, Boethius and Lady Philosophy, to be holding the views of Boethius then we have a stronger case for him being Aristotelian in his view on divine foreknowledge than the case for him being Platonic. Alternatively if we consider the views of Lady Philosophy to be separate from the character of Boethius then even though Boethius argues more in line with Platonic modes of thinking there is little which is significant to the argument at hand against Lady Philosophy. Whereas the arguments made in line with Aristotelian modes of thought against Lady Philosophy are stronger due to their relevance, then we still have a strong case for Boethius being an Aristotelian in his view on divine foreknowledge. As for the brief resemblances to Stoicism there is so little and of what there is it fails to bear any relevance to the argument at hand, therefore there can no defendable argument that Boethius is a Stoic in his views whether or not we take the two characters to be separate or not.


·         Aristotle, 1995, ‘De Anima’, in Barnes. J, ‘The Complete Works of Aristotle Volume I (sixth edition)’, Chichester: Princeton University Press

·         Aristotle, 1995, ‘De Interpretatione’, in Barnes. J, ‘The Complete Works of Aristotle Volume I (sixth edition)’ Chichester: Princeton university Press

·         Aristotle, 2004, Metaphysics (translated by Lawson-Tancred. H), London: Penguin Books

·         Aristotle, 1995, ‘Nicomachean Ethics, in Barnes. J, ‘The Complete Works of Aristotle Volume I (sixth edition)’, Chichester: Princeton University Press

·         Boethius, 2008, Consolations of Philosophy (translated by Slavitt. D), Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

·         ‘Diogenes Laertius’ in, 1997, Hellenistic Philosophy Introductory Readings (second edition (translated by Gerson. L and Inwood. B)), Indianapolis: Hackett

·         Marendon. J, 2007, Medieval Philosophy an Historical and Philosophic Introduction, Abingdon: Routledge

·         Plato, 2007, The Republic (second edition (translated by Lee. D)),London: Penguin Book

Plato, 1970, Timaeus and Critias, London: Penguin Books

[1] Referring to Socrates

[2] which is the intellect itself

[3] Or passions as the Stoics called them

On Perception and Reality.

The other day on the bus into work I was thinking to myself ‘How do I know what the world really looks like?’

Since I have had to wear corrective lenses since I was nine I have no memory of what the world looked like without needing my glasses. Without them the world appears as an amorphous gathering of globules of varying colours all merging together seamlessly. A world without form. But how do I know this is not what the reality is actually like? Without memory of perfect vision I can only rely on, as I am not able to perceive the world through another’s eyes, I have only the word of the optician to believe. And of course the optician would not necessarily tell me the truth if it meant he’d be able to charge me for another pair of expensive lenses and a frame to house them.

I can of course ask you about how you see things, assuming you all have twenty-twenty vision. Then again can I trust you to answer me honestly? And even if you do answer me honestly how then can you prove what your telling me is true? As I already said I have no means of seeing through your eyes to back up your words.

So is it actually possible to purpose any certain truths about the nature of the external world given this predicament? Maybe there is no such objective external world, merely a collective approximate of gathered subjective overlaps? Your views on this topic would be much appreciated so please feel free to comment 🙂

The Medieval Problem of Universals: Boethius and Ockham

First off a big Happy New Year to you all and I hope 2014 brings you a proprous year ahead 🙂

To kick off 2014 here is some medieval philosophy, a look at the problem of universals has debated between William of Ockham and Boethius. It was this argument that helped push metaphysics forward from the classical teachings of Aristotle and Plato into its next age where it would soon make way for Renaissance thinkers to revive philosophy in a glourious burst of light surging forward Western Civilisation:

In his categories Aristotle says that things can be named in three ways: equivocally, univocally and derivatively. By equivocally he means two things that have a shared name but their definition is different like a bear and a cuddly bear, they are both animals but plainly are not the same thing. Univocally is when two things share a name and a definition like cat and dog, they are both animals and share that name and definition. Finally things that are named as derivatives are objects that get their name from an unrelated subject like a musician, a musician is still an animal and a human etc. they just happen to play a musical instrument but they do not fit into the category of music (Categories 1). There are also two types of speech, simple and composite, this is pretty straight forward, simple is individual words like ‘cat’, ‘dog’, ‘eats’, and ‘sleeps’, and composite is when they are combined to form sentences like ‘the cat sleeps’ and ‘the dog eats’. The other semantic confusion that is cleared up is that when he writes ‘present’  he means a thing being incapable of existing without it’s subject, like colour (Categories 2).

            Aristotle then goes on to discuss the four fold division (Studtmann 2007). Firstly when something is predicable of a subject, but never present within it e.g.  ‘cat’ is predicable of an individual cat and is never present in the subject. Others are present in a subject and never predicable of a subject like the tabby pattern of a cats coat, it is present in a tabby cats coat but without the cat there would be no tabby pattern. The third possibility is being present in an subject and predicable of a subject, Aristotle’s example here is very good, he says that knowledge is present in the human mind and at the same time is predicable in grammar. Lastly there are things that are neither present in the subject or predicable of a subject like an individual cat. (Categories 2)

             Section 3 of the categories discusses how predicates work and how they relate to genus and species. “When one thing is predicated of another, all that which is predicable of the predicate will be predicable also of the subject” (Categories 3). So a cat is predicated of an individual cat, and at the same time ‘animal’ is predicated of ‘cat’ and therefore it’s predicable of the individual cat as well, this is because a ‘cat’ is both ‘cat’ and ‘animal’.

            If we look at the genus ‘animal’ and ‘knowledge’ as examples to help the explanation. ‘four footed’, ‘has a tail’ ‘aquatic’ are all differentiae of the genus ‘animal’, and whilst ‘knowledge’ is not defined by the same differentiae does not stop it from having both ‘knowledge’ and ‘with tail’. This shows that genera are different and co-ordinated, and their differentiae can be different in kind. Genuses are subordinate to each other in a certain respect, they can also share differentiae because “the greater class is predicated of the lesser class” (Categories 3). For instance ‘cat’ will be part of the genus ‘animal’, ‘with instinct’, and ‘living’ but we know that ‘living’ will contain the genius ‘animal’ which in turn will contain the genus ‘instinct’. This means that all differentiae  of predicables will also be differentiaes of subjects. (Categories 3)

            Aristotle’s  fourth chapter in the categories does warrant a mention, more to list his categories and clear up a few semantics than to clear up his argument on universals. His ten categories are substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action and affection.  Statements that only contain one of these does not involve an affirmation of that statement, a combination of the categories must be present to be able to get a positive or negative statement. Every assertion has to be true or false meaning that composite statements cannot be true or false because they have no quality to judge them on as they are not quantified in any way.   

            Boethius was an Italian philosopher writing around 480-524/5. He translated  Aristotles logical works from the Greek to Latin to give more people access to them. Among these he translated Aristotle’s categories and Porphyry’s third century Isagoge (meaning ‘introduction’) to Aristotle’s categories, this is where the problem of Universals is first bought up, Porphyry says “I shall decline for the present to say (a) whether, if they subsist or are posited in bare understandings only, (b) whether, if they subsist, they are corporeal or incorporeal, and (c) whether they are separated from sensibles or posited in sensibles and agree with them.” (Spade 1994 pg20). Porphyry says that there are five main categories or predicates; genus, species, difference, property and accident and also their possible combinations. These come from  Porphyry who states that there are three levels of Aristotelian predication, the first is the genus and their differences, the second species and how the differences from the first level influence this, and the third is the subject or substance of which they are predicated (Categories 1b15-24). These possess the properties of accidents and essentials. Species and genus are secondary substances, that can be predicated of the subject or substance proper (Categories 2a13-18). Each increase in generality must have a corresponding decrease of substantiality, within the category of substance, because it is in the primary substance that these individual substances are predicates.

            In his secondary commentary Boethius first argues that the likenesses of members of a species is what the mind tells us constitutes said species, secondly that a genus is made of similarities that are perceived in our mind between member species, and, thirdly that both genera and species exist only in our minds but they must be thought of as real or else they would be empty and inconsequential.

            In section 10 Boethius said that “Genera and species either exist and subsist or are formed by the understanding and by thought alone” (Spade pg 21). This outlines the problem that Boethius faces. He then puts forward his arguments against universals, he says that their existence is not possible because things that are common to a number of objects at the same time cannot possibly be one. Boethius then argues that if there are more than one genera which gets round the separability problem there will still be no genera that everything belongs to. This would result in each individual thing having it’s own genera as must each similarity, by this Boethius means that if an object is both red and round e.g. a ball and there is a balloon that is both red and round then there needs to be a genera for red and for round as well as one for ball and one for balloon etc. this process unfortunately continues ad infinitum and is the main problem with this theory.

            Boethius follows this with the case for universals,if genera and species are grasped by understanding alone, and that these understandings come from subjects, then they are not in understanding alone but actually exist in reality. He quickly counters this with the claim that if this understanding comes from the object itself, but not as it is in itself, then the understanding itself is false and that as genus and species don’t exist, then debating the existence of the five predicables must be discarded. He claims that it is “not inquiring about a thing that exists, or about a thing about which something true can be understood or stated” (Spade pg 23).

            Boethius’ solution agrees with Alexander (of Aphrodisias), false reasoning does not necessarily occur when we misinterpret a subject, but occurs when composition is mistaken, when we compose something in our brain that is not possible in nature e.g. horse and horn results in unicorn, we know this is a false impression. But if division and abstraction is where this understanding arises from, then the object is not understood in the way that it is in itself,  but the understanding is still not false. This is because there are several things which exist only as part of something, if they are separated from that object they can no longer exist but our minds can see them separately even though they cannot be e.g. the marking on a tabby cats coat, it cannot exist apart from the cat. The sense faculty gives us all the incorporeal things which subsist within such objects, the mind then sees the incorporeal qualities along with the corporeal ones and can separate them or join them as it decides. This is because the incorporeal qualities are separate from the corporeal ones even if they cannot be separated and both still exist in physical reality.

            Boethius says that because of that, genera and species can be found in both corporeal and incorporeal things. When found in incorporeal things then an incorporeal understanding of the genus is gained. However if the genus and species of corporeal things are observed then the mind separates them and sees them as pure form. Everything we learn from incorporeal qualities is not false and falsity should not be assumed, in fact it is through the minds division and abstraction that we can discover what is actually true. Therefore things like this are understood separately from sensibles but they do exist in corporals and sensibles, this means that they can be observed and their individualities understood. Because of this when we think of genera and species the information we consider is always sourced from the individual objects they exist in. “For example, from single men, dissimilar among themselves, the likeness of humanity is gathered.” (Spade pg 24). This similarity is the species and this likeness which cannot exist except in the species or it’s individuals is what makes up the genus.

            Consequently these things exist in singulars and are thought of as universals, so species is simply the likeness of if individuals that are unlike in number whilst genus is what the mind gathers as the likeness between species. “This likeness becomes sensible when it exists in singulars, and becomes intelligible when it is in universals” (Spade pg 25)

            Boethius gives succinct answers to the three questions that Porphyry decided to omit from his Isagoge. The answer to (a) is that both genera and species are understood one way and subsist in another. For (b) he says that they are incorporeal but are a part of sensibles and therefore joined to them but they are understood as individuals that are separate from the individual objects. Finally for (c) Boethius outlines Plato’s theory that these exist as universals but contra to what both Boethius and Aristotle say, Plato thinks that they also exist as physical entities separate from their original objects, where Aristotle thinks that they are understood as incorporeal and universal whilst subsisting in sensibles as parts or qualities of objects, not apart from them.

            William of Ockham begins by setting up the case for realism, before arguing against it until he is in a position to advance his nominalist account. Ockham is the author of ‘Ockham’s Razor’ which is a simple rule where we must not multiply entities beyond necessity; this rule allows Ockham to build on the Aristotelian criticisms of Platonic Ideas within the third man argument.

            To do this he uses three main arguments. The first argument concerns single substances in regard to universals. A universal cannot be a single substance else every single substance would require a universal. This cannot be the case else universals would be meaningless. Also there is no reason for some single substances to have universals and not others. This leads to his second argument. If single substances are not universals then universals must contain multiple single substances of the same type, but this would be a collection of particulars rather than a universal so this does not work either. The other way to understand this would be as multiple universal things. However as has been shown with Platonic forms this leads to infinite regress and as a result is still not a satisfying answer. This again leads us to the final argument, if universals are neither single nor multiple substances, it appears to lead to a dead end. Ockham suggest a novel way of resolving what universals could be. He poses the idea that universals can be a single substance within multiple single things. If we take the universal cat and apply this idea , two objections arise, the first is that the universal will pre-exist each instantiation of itself, so the cat would exist before the cat exists. This clearly is not an option. The objection is that when a cat dies part of the universal will be destroyed with it. Again this doesn’t work.

            So Ockham comes to the conclusion that universals do not have substance, they are incorporeal to tie it in with Boethius’ terms. Ockham argues that the universal is not a product of the mind but is really in the things that share it as it is one and the same in each, and is really distinct from each of them. A second argument of his follows the same point but rejects it is one and the same but multiplied an argument similar to Boethius’.

            Later on Ockham changes his argument again so that all that remains from the original position is the only difference between universals and particulars is the difference in our reason not in reality.

            After this Ockham starts to advance his own theory on metaphysics by claiming that universals are inside the mind and they are only universal in the sense of being predicated of many. A claim which reflects Aristotle’s nominalist position,

            Ockham’s next stage is to pose the question ‘Is a universal really outside the soul, distinct from the individual, although not really distinct?’, this question is an attack against Scotus who argued that universals are the subjects existing outside the soul where are different from the individual but only because each is made of a different type of material.

            Ockham answers his question by saying that anything which is individual by nature cannot be universal, which contradicts Scotus’ argument. Ockham then goes on to demonstrate how a substance can either be or not be a universal but never both as it breaks the law of non-contradiction, if (on the off-chance) that it is possible for universals and particulars to be one and the same then one will be left incomplete due to the nature of the other, thus we end up with something that is less that what we grasp of it.

            Ockham provides four ways that the universal nature causes contradiction either: it is a particular, or it is a numerical unity, if not then it is a universal, and finally if none of the first three then it must be a less than numerical unity. By rejecting the notion that it is a singular Scotus argues that the nature of the substance is prior to the contradiction so that its nature and contraction form two separate things. Hence the nature is not a numerical unity, yet is numerically one breaking the law of non-contradiction. Therefore it must be a universal in which case the nature of the universal is less than universal (according to Scotus). Hence the nature of a universal cannot be singular, numerical or universal leaving only the possibility that it is less than numerical but still many things.

            One of the prevalent theories of Ockhams time was that of Walter Burley who was like Scotus a moderate realist. He appeared to try and soften both Ockham and Scotus. Burley agrees with the first half of Scotus’ argument but not the later here he reverts to Aristotle by saying that the “Indiscernibility of Identicles is our chief criterion of distinction among real things.” (Kretzmann 1982 pg423).

            Burleys next step is to state that universals exist or partake in many particulars and are defined, but that particulars do not and are not defined either. This means that for Burley universals and particulars are distinct from each other. He still holds that different categories are distinct from one another and like Scotus thinks that these differences and indeed similarities must also have something in common but that this thing is again distinct.

            Added to this Burley states that it is universals and individuating principles that make up particulars, but that they do not separate the particular, instead “The whole universal (secundum se totum) exists in each of it’s particulars and is not numerically multiplied  by its existence in numerically distinct particulars” (Kretzmann 1982 pg423).

            Ockham has two main criticisms of this theory, firstly that arguing that universals and particulars are distinct and that “both the nature and the contracting differences exist in reality as constituents of a particular and they can exist in reality only as such” (Kretzmann 1982 pg414) would mean that universals can exist without particulars and vice versa. Now the one side of this is perfectly acceptable, for example courage can exist without an individual particular exemplifying it at a particular moment. The second statement taken from this by Ockham that he rejects is that the individual adds to the nature of a thing and that added with the universal which then makes the ‘one’ this leads to the statement that given that there is no universal nature there is no reason why God should not preserve what is added. Whilst these criticisms are interesting and do apply, they do not dismiss Burleys position completely, they more cause him an inconvenience

            For Ockham, the only universal entities it makes sense to talk about are universal concepts, and derivative on them, universal terms in spoken and written language. Metaphysically, these universal concepts are singular entities like all others; they are universal only in the sense of being predicable of many. So to conclude it is stated that there are particulars and universals, however universals exist only within the mind and particulars within nature, therefore Ockham is a nominalist and agrees with Boethius.


  • M. M. Adams, ‘Ockham’s Nominalism and Unreal Entities’, Philosophical Review 86 (1977), 144-76
  • P. Boehner, Ockham: Philosophical Writings (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1957; repr. Hackett, 1990)
  • A. Hyman & J. J. Walsh, Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1973)
  • A. Kenny, Medieval Philosophy, A New History of Western Philosophy II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005),
  • N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, J. Pinborg, eds, The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)
  • J. Marenbon, Medieval Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2007),
  • J. Marenbon, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Boethius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • M. J. Loux, Ockham’s Theory of Terms: Part I of the Summa Logicae (South Bend: St Augustine’s Pres, 1998)
  • P. V. Spade, Five Texts on the Mediaeval Problem of Universals (Indianapolis:

Hackett, 1994)

  • P. V. Spade, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ockham (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1999)


Madness: Unreason or Beyond Reason?

The concept of madness is one that has been around in one form or another since antiquity, however exactly what is meant by the term mad has never been laid down instead it has changed with each passing era. In some it has been the height of wisdom in others a disease on humanity’s reason, but despite the term mad being relatively new its characteristics have been around for millennia. By analysing madness from a genealogical viewpoint it should become clear that madness is less real than we first assume it to be, it is in actuality a mechanism used by institutions power to separate a conceived ‘norm’ of society from the remainder in a bid to increase their power and control over societies. Therefore madness is neither a heightened form of wisdom, nor a diminished form, but simply a tool for segregation. As already mentioned this is to be argued from a genealogical viewpoint so to begin let us first look at how madness was perceived during antiquity.

Within antiquity there was no concept of the term madness nevertheless the traits usually associated with madness still existed within society. Ancient Greece had its ‘mad’ placed within temples of worship, segregated from the rest of society, where they would be sought out for their divine wisdom. A number of these oracles existed, although the best known one is that of Delphi, the Oracle was considered to be a women, known as the Pythia (a form of high priestess), whose wisdom transcended Earth as she “was chosen to speak, as a possessed medium, for Apollo, the God of prophecy”[1], in other words she heard the voice of the gods, a trait which is often associated with the schizophrenic. Hence we can see even in this early age that the segregation of the mad occurred and it was the integrated institution of the city-state and religion which was responsible for the separation of the norm and the wise.

This view of madness as being a form of wisdom inspired by the gods continued on throughout the Roman era as soothsayers and state-augurs were held in heavy esteem for their prophecies, although both the Greek oracles and Roman soothsayers often presented their wisdom in cryptic messages, such as the famous one claimed to have been said to Julius Caesar “Beware the ides of March!”[2]. In the same way the Greek Oracles were employed by the state so too were the soothsayers, so they too were products of the institution although were integrated more within society than their Greek counterparts. In modernity such cryptic messages are often posited to be the wisdom of the drunkard and therefore ought to be disregarded as nonsense, a mirror image of the Ancient view. Now we have established of the position of madness within antiquity it is time to look at its position during the medieval and early-modern periods where Christian institutions and the Occult took madness into its next stage of evolution.      

Prymus notes that the Middle Ages was a period of significant change when regarding the view of madness as the previous mystical beliefs came into conflict with a new religious order, the rise of Christendom. Both sides still held “the common characteristics of madness…to be signs of a veiled wisdom”[3], although they regularly came into conflict with each other as the two spheres of institutionalised power clashed.

On the one side there was the old mysticism which remained in the form of the Occult and Paganism where Druids replaced the oracles and soothsayers, and new tools of divination came into existence such as tarot cards. One of the more important cards in the tarot deck is The Fool which can be used as either a symbol whereby it “represents ideas…which endeavour to transcend Earth”[4], thus a higher form of wisdom, or “if badly dignified, folly, eccentricity, even mania”[5], an irrational form of wisdom. The Fool could also be used to directly represent the person asking the question to the deck’s interpreter, hence the person was claimed to be a madman bearing either intellect or mania depending on the fall of the card in relation to the others, although the interpretation of the fall was left to the discretion of the interpreter so madness was still the mechanism used by institutions to control sections of society.

The other institution of power during this period, vital to understanding the concept of madness, is the Christian Church. Prymus claims that “the transformation from insanity as veiled wisdom to madness…begins with Christian views of the…human inability to comprehend the reason of God…those who come too close to such understanding will be driven insane”[6]. What can be said about Christianity is it tried to alienate those who practised the Occult methods by teaching in The Bible that such methods were the work of The Devil, for it says in the book of Deuteronomy “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.”[7], however this view of divination, prophecy and witchcraft as being madness and a plague on humanity was not a one-dimensional view since it was permissible to suffer from hallucinations, both visual and auditory, and be regarded as speaking the word of God, and consequently the highest possible form of wisdom. There are numerous occasions when the schizophrenic have been esteemed for their madness during the height of Christendom, for example Saint Joan of Arc who led the French to war after hearing God speak to her. So it can be argued that there was a divide between institutions of power and their view of madness during this period, however both sides held a dualistic view as to what madness was allowing them to redefine it when necessary. This dualistic interpretation of madness died out during the Enlightenment when madness was seen largely as a disease on humanity rationality. 

From the seventeenth century, and to some extent for the following two centuries, Europe saw a transformation of how power was used by institutions, Foucault documented these changes in his works in which two texts are of great significance; Discipline and Punish following the story of the prison, and Madness and Civilisation following the story of the asylum. The message behind both is clear, power is used by institutions to divide and control sections of society by means of labelling them with terms such as; mad, criminal and normal[8]. It is here that the concept of madness becomes real.

Foucault points out to us that the Enlightenment era was the age of ‘The Great Confinement’ where an established norm was held and anyone who deviated from it, in any way, was to be segregated from society for these abnormalities were “aspects of evil that have such a power of contagion…that any publicity multiplies them”[9], in other words madness was a plague which needed containing before man’s rationality was corrupted. The mad during this period were, once diagnosed, placed into asylums on which it had been said “one thing is clear: the Hôpital Général is not a medical establishment. It is rather a sort of semi judicial structure”[10]. So Foucault argued that madness had been invented during the Enlightenment as a means of controlling those whose behaviour differed from the norm, when in fact there was nothing medically wrong with them. Foucault himself even pointed this out by stating, when talking about the mind of a madman, “the marvellous logic of the mind which seems to mock that of the logicians because it resembles it so exactly, or rather because it is exactly the same”[11]. This view of madness as that which does not follow the norm has lasted, to some degree, into modernity and it is modernity which shall be the next point of focus.             

Finally we come to modernity where the term madness has become quite broad in its scope as “we often call folks crazy when we simply find their behaviour odd”[12], so madness needs to have no medical background it only needs to be considered different from the established norm. Some of the Enlightenment’s medical view has remained since “the therapeutics of madness…whose chief concern was to sever or to ‘correct’ continued to develop”[13] in a number of guises including psychodynamic psychology, developed by Freud and Jung.

There have also been attempts to return back to the mysticism of antiquity and The Middle Ages, often referred to as new age movements, which like the druids, mystics and witches of the old regime who were condemned as mad by the influential institutions of their day, so too are the druids, mystics and witches of modernity to some lesser and greater degree. Nonetheless these new age movements have helped to highlight a point brought up by Foucault, “madness fascinates because it is knowledge. It is knowledge…of a difficult, hermetic, esoteric learning”[14] said to be associated with the wisdom of the cosmos, nature or higher entities depending on which institution you happen to find yourself within.

So it seems that modernity holds a broad spectral view of madness where it serves as both unreason and wisdom which is beyond reason, as well as everything in between so long as it differs from a perceived normality imposed by an institution of power which on occasion come into conflict for “it has become popular for psychiatrists to assume…witches were unfortunate women who ‘fell ill’ with ‘mental illness’[15]. This point has been noticed by Szasz who said “anything and everything…based on no matter what norm…agoraphobia… homosexuality…divorce…crime, art, undesired political leadership, participation in social affairs or withdrawal from such participation – all these things and many more are now said to be symptoms of mental illness”[16].

It seems to be then that madness is not something which can be regarded simply as unreason or wisdom which goes beyond reason for it depends upon the institution of power you happen to find yourself in. This suggests that there is no such thing as madness, and from this mental illness, the whole concept is down to imposed suggestions by those at the head of power within the institution. “During Charcot’s lifetime…it was suggested…that the phenomena of hysteria were due to suggestion…a charge that has since been fully substantiated”[17], this has been supported by Szasz, Foucault and Laing, amongst others, in a movement known as the anti-psychiatry movement.    

Laing argued that madness was a concept devised by others in an attempt to control and correct those who went against the norm by stating in his book The Divided Self “the technical vocabulary currently used to describe psychiatric patients is that it consist of words which split man up”[18] allowing the normal to be segregated from the mad. He also noticed that within the institution of psychiatry the guidelines for what were considered normal where not properly defined as “the textbook ‘signs’ of schizophrenia vary from hospital to hospital”[19], suggesting two things; firstly that institutions can be broken down into micro-institutions who are able to redefine normality to suit their localised needs, and secondly that there is no such thing as madness, it is a man-made construction. This may provide an answer as to why the term had never been used until the time of The Great Confinement previously mentioned.

Further support for the notion that madness is an imposed conception used by institutions to exercise their power over society in order to retain some sense of normality comes from Szasz who claims “we construct – and then ourselves come to believe in –various types of mental illnesses”[20]. In other words once we have been picked out by society as abnormal by our “failure to learn or comply with imitative rules”[21] then institutions place conceptions upon us, each with its own name and label, which we then absorb into our identity and subconsciously act within whatever framework is expected of our associated label having the belief that we have been told we are X so we must be X, and if I am X then I must act in the way an X would.

Consequently the concept of madness is strengthened as it becomes ingrained into our schemas and cognition of the world, or as Foucault puts it “the discursive movement of reason reasoning with itself, and which addresses madness as error”[22]. Once this self-cognition and acceptance has been established we fall under the control of institutions, and therefore more susceptible to their power which is exercised over us through disciplinary mechanisms[23]. Szasz and Foucault argue that these labels, disciplinary mechanisms and to some extent even our actions belong to the institutions as “the names and hence the values…depend on the rules of the system…that we use…all systems are made by people”[24].    

To conclude madness cannot be simply defined as either unreason or beyond reason, instead it needs to be looked at from a different viewpoint. If we look at madness as a man-made conception rather than a medical phenomenon then we come to see that madness is a shape-shifting term used by institutions of power to segregate and control sections of society who fail to comply with their imposed normality. This view of madness has existed since antiquity and since then it has been evolving into the complex network of disciplinary institutions we have in the modern western world.   


  • Foucault. M, 1991, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin
  •  Foucault. M, 2001, Madness and Civilization, Abingdon: Routledge
  • Laing. R, 1969, The Divided Self, London: The Camelot Press Ltd
  • Prymus. K, 2009, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M & Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 20-33
  •  Robichaud. C, 2008, ‘The Joker’s Wild: Can we Hold the Clown Prince Morally Responsible?’, in Arp. R & White. M, Batman and Philosophy, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, pp 70-85
  •  Szasz. T, 1981, The Myth of Mental Illness, St Albans: Granada Publishing Ltd
  • The Holy Bible (King James Version), 2000, Michigan: Zondervan
  • ·Wasserman. J, 1978, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck, New York: Noble Offset Printers

[2] Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, 15–19

[3] Prymus. K, Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI, Pg. 23

[4] Wasserman. J, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck. Pg. 6

[5] Ibid

[6] Prymus. K, Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI, pp 23-24

[7] Deuteronomy 18:10

[8] Further discussion of this position can be found in both of the mentioned texts by Foucault

[9] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 63

[10] Ibid, Pg. 37

[11] Ibid, Pg. 89

[12] Robichaud. C, The Joker’s Wild: Can we Hold the Clown prince Morally Repsonsible?, Pg.73

[13] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 151

[14] Ibid, Pg. 18

[15] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg. 191

[16] Ibid, Pg. 58

[17] Ibid, Pg. 46

[18] Laing. R, The Divided Self, Pg. 17

[19] Ibid, Pg. 35

[20] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg. 125

[21] Ibid, Pg.166

[22] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 174

[23] See Foucault’s  Discipline and Punish  for more detail on this

[24] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg.55

Is Seeing Believing?

I awoke this morning to spy out of my window the same sturdy oak that I do each and every day only this time I noticed something. It’s leaves were not the dark green typical of an oak, instead they were a sort of greenish-yellow.

A couple of minutes later the same tree displayed dark green leaves as the sun withdrew behind some cotton-white clouds. When the sun peered out once more the leaves returned to the thier yellwosih-green hue they had shown previously.

So what colour exactly are the leaves? Yellowish-green? Dark green? Perhaps something in the middle or not even green at all, after all during the night hours they appear black?


They cannot be yellowy-green, dark green and black for that would contradict the principle first set by Aristotle; the law of non-contradiction (for those of you who follow my work regularly will know by now that is a favorite law of mine and Aristotle is a passion of mine). Equally it cannot be none of the aforementioned as that begs the question why then would a substance display a property it does not possess?


It also raises another problem. How can we trust our senses as a reputable source for information when we see dark green leaves on a tree and then moments later the same treacherous eyes bemuse us with leaves of a different quality?

Ach! So many questions not enough answers!

The Ethical Dilemmas of Time Travel … Relationships

Given that time travel is an actual possibility for the sake of this argument I would like to broach the subject of relationships.

Lets imagine that our time-traveller; Mr.X; embarks on a relationship witha stunning young blonde; Miss.Y;  from London in the month of May 2013, now it turns out things didn’t exactly work out between them (insert whichever reason you want here).

After some travelling around in the 15th century to get over the breakup he returns to May 2013 and finds himself in a London bar where he meets a brunette in her thirties; lets call her Miss.Z; and tries again at having a relationship believing the time is right to let go and move on after the Miss.Y incident.

Unfortunatly whilst Mr. X is out of town…and in fact of the time zone…Miss.Y and Miss. Z happen to meet up and discuss their new boyfriends…turns out they work together in the same office block and decided to lunch together that day. They soon come to realise that Mr.X is in fact seeing both Miss. Y and Miss. Z simultaneously. But is he two-timing?

Well to answer this we must first realise that what we are talking about is a problem involving three seperate time streams. First is Mr.X’s where he has gone from being single, in a monogonous realtionship with Miss. Y, break up wtih Miss. Y, single again, in a monogonous realtionship with Miss. Z. In his time stream at no point has in been with both Miss. Y and Miss Z simultaneously so within his time stream he has not cheated on either of them.

Let’s now examine Miss.Y’s perspective she has gone from single to in a realtionship with Mr.X, find out he is in a relationship with Miss. Z, break up with Mr.X, single. So it seems to her he has wronged her by seeing her workmate whilst seeing her.

Finally there is the viewpoint of Miss.Z to take into account. Miss.Z’s time stream shows her going from single, in a relationship with Mr.X, discovery of Mr.X dating Miss.Y. Again Miss.Z has every reason to believe Mr.X has not been as faithful as he thinks he has.

So has Mr.X really been two-timing? Or does the fact that his time stream proves he has never dated both simultaneously let him off the hook?

It would appear that Mr.X is both two-timing and not two-timing simultaneously. Yet even taking this stance proves its own problems, the most obvious of which being that it breaks Aristotle’s famous law…that of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states in its third form (its logical form as opposed to its ontological or psychological forms) “The most secure of all beliefs is that mutually contradictory statements cannot be jointly true” [Aristotle, ‘Metaphysics’, 1011b]. So in order to resolve this problem we must accept one of the following:

  1. Mr.X is two-timing
  2. Mr.X is not two-timing

Seeing as we cannot hold both the primary problem rears its head once more. Has Mr.X really been two-timing? Or did Aristotle, in devising his law, fail to realise that there could be some examples where it is necessary to hold contradictory statements can both be true simultaneously?


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