The Allegory of the cave by Plato

We are but shadows and dust floating in interconnectivity, divided by individual conciousness, and confused by the social order.

 

[Socrates:]  And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon:]  I see.

 

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, — will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

Certainly.

Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

Certainly.

He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

 

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

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Political Virtue

This argument comes from the conflicting claims to authority in the city.

 

The politician’s job is to create the regime that will best promote the good life within the city.

 

In order to do this he must give the authority of the city to the ruler or rulers that would best promote virtue within the citizens.

 

However all of the competing claims to authority over the city are incomplete in the truth of their claim. 

 

As a result the politician must use distributive justice and divide the city between the groups based on each individual’s contribution to the good life of the city.  Those who contribute the most to the good life should get authority over the city in proportion to their contribution.  Thus equality and justice are achieved.

 

The politician must use the idea of distributive justice when deciding who is to have authority over the city.   

 

  1. The city comes into existence for the sake of the good life this is why none of them are right in their claims about justice.

 

 

 

Aristotle contends that the promotion of virtue in the citizens of a city is the nature of political life and that distributive justice within the city is the only way to attain this end.    

 

 

 

  1. Human nature is inherently connected to the political association and this connection makes the promotion of virtue the end of politics.

 

 

  1. It is the concern of the politician to create a regime that best promotes virtue in its citizens, for this reason distributive justice is necessary to combine the conflicting claims of the citizens.

Proof of God’s existence

I’m not personally convinced but it is an interesting argument.

Courtesy of St. Thomas Aquinas:

I answer that it can be proved in five ways that God exists.

The first and plainest is the method that proceeds from the point of view of motion. It is certain and in accord with experience, that things on earth undergo change. Now, everything that is moved is moved by something; nothing, indeed, is changed, except it is changed to something which it is in potentiality. Moreover, anything moves in accordance with something actually existing; change itself, is nothing else than to bring forth something from potentiality into actuality. Now, nothing can be brought from potentiality to actual existence except through something actually existing: thus heat in action, as fire, makes fire-wood, which is hot in potentiality, to be hot actually, and through this process, changes itself. The same thing cannot at the same time be actually and potentially the same thing, but only in regard to different things. What is actually hot cannot be at the same time potentially hot, but it is possible for it at the same time to be potentially cold. It is impossible, then, that anything should be both mover and the thing moved, in regard to the same thing and in the same way, or that it should move itself. Everything, therefore, is moved by something else. If, then, that by which it is moved, is also moved, this must be moved by something still different, and this, again, by something else. But this process cannot go on to infinity because there would not be any first mover, nor, because of this fact, anything else in motion, as the succeeding things would not move except because of what is moved by the first mover, just as a stick is not moved except through what is moved from the hand. Therefore it is necessary to go back to some first mover, which is itself moved by nothing—and this all men know as God.

The second proof is from the nature of the efficient cause. We find in our experience that there is a chain of causes: nor is it found possible for anything to be the efficient cause of itself, since it would have to exist before itself, which is impossible. Nor in the case of efficient causes can the chain go back indefinitely, because in all chains of efficient causes, the first is the cause of the middle, and these of the last, whether they be one or many. If the cause is removed, the effect is removed. Hence if there is not a first cause, there will not be a last, nor a middle. But if the chain were to go back infinitely, there would be no first cause, and thus no ultimate effect, nor middle causes, which is admittedly false. Hence we must presuppose some first efficient cause—which all call God.

The third proof is taken from the natures of the merely possible and necessary. We find that certain things either may or may not exist, since they are found to come into being and be destroyed, and in consequence potentially, either existent or non-existent. But it is impossible for all things that are of this character to exist eternally, because what may not exist, at length will not. If, then, all things were merely possible (mere accidents), eventually nothing among things would exist. If this is true, even now there would be nothing, because what does not exist, does not take its beginning except through something that does exist. If then nothing existed, it would be impossible for anything to begin, and there would now be nothing existing, which is admittedly false. Hence not all things are mere accidents, but there must be one necessarily existing being. Now every necessary thing either has a cause of its necessary existence, or has not. In the case of necessary things that have a cause for their necessary existence, the chain of causes cannot go back infinitely, just as not in the case of efficient causes, as proved. Hence there must be presupposed something necessarily existing through its own nature, not having a cause elsewhere but being itself the cause of the necessary existence of other things—which all call God.

The fourth proof arises from the degrees that are found in things. For there is found a greater and a less degree of goodness, truth, nobility, and the like. But more or less are terms spoken of various things as they approach in diverse ways toward something that is the greatest, just as in the case of hotter (more hot) which approaches nearer the greatest heat. There exists therefore something that is the truest, and best, and most noble, and in consequence, the greatest being. For what are the greatest truths are the greatest beings, as is said in the Metaphysics Bk. II. 2. What moreover is the greatest in its way, in another way is the cause of all things of its own kind (or genus); thus fire, which is the greatest heat, is the cause of all heat, as is said in the same book (cf. Plato and Aristotle). Therefore there exists something that is the cause of the existence of all things and of the goodness and of every perfection whatsoever—and this we call God.

The fifth proof arises from the ordering of things for we see that some things which lack reason, such as natural bodies, are operated in accordance with a plan. It appears from this that they are operated always or the more frequently in this same way the closer they follow what is the Highest; whence it is clear that they do not arrive at the result by chance but because of a purpose. The things, moreover, that do not have intelligence do not tend toward a result unless directed by some one knowing and intelligent; just as an arrow is sent by an archer. Therefore there is something intelligent by which all natural things are arranged in accordance with a plan—and this we call God.

In response to the first objection, then, I reply what Augustine says; that since God is entirely good, He would permit evil to exist in His works only if He were so good and omnipotent that He might bring forth good even from the evil. It therefore pertains to the infinite goodness of God that he permits evil to exist and from this brings forth good.

My reply to the second objection is that since nature is ordered in accordance with some defined purpose by the direction of some superior agent, those things that spring from nature must be dependent upon God, just as upon a first cause. Likewise, what springs from a proposition must be traceable to some higher cause which is not the human reason or will, because this is changeable and defective and everything changeable and liable to non-existence is dependent upon some unchangeable first principle that is necessarily self-existent as has been shown.

“The Fog of War” five lessons from Robert Macnamra

Five Lessons

note: These comments are for WWII inclusive

 

 

 

“Belief and seeing are both often wrong.”

            Agree. They are always wrong; the real difference comes from perspective.

 

“Proportionality should be a guideline in war”

            Disagree. In order to win, it may be necessary to destroy the enemy’s moral and this may not be possible to do with a proportional guideline.

 

“Rationality will not save us”

            Agree. The smartest most intelligent calmest person will be completely irrational under the right circumstances.

 

“Emphasize with your enemy”

            On the Fence.  On a policy level, empathy should play a part. Once a war is in progress, however, empathy may cause hesitation to inflict the necessary damages.

 

“Maximize efficiency”

            Disagree. Historically efficiency causes many side effects and by-products. In war we may call these collateral damage or unnecessary civilian deaths.

Death Speaks

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

-W. Somerset Maugham

The subject of “Death Speaks” is fate and its relationship with death.  Fate is shown to be undetermined but inevitable and outside the exact knowledge of death.  The theme in this story is the inevitability of death and the fate that brings death to one’s door.  Death is detached from this notion of inevitability because she is not aware of the path leading to the servant’s death.  Death is even surprised by the path the servant follows to his.  The Servant, however, is unaware of death’s ignorance and can not avoid his fate.  The actions of Death and the servant at the marketplace point to the predestined nature of fate.  Death would have met the servant in Samarra in any event but the marketplace had to be a stop along the way.

                Looking at the concept of fate in this story raises some questions about weather fate is an active force or a passive one.  The immediate question is why does fate have such a complicated plan?  It would be a lot easier for death to come to the servant’s house instead of meeting him Samarra.  Fate determines the end result but is still subject to the greater force that is life.  The seemingly random collisions that make up our world propel these two characters towards each other, both unaware of the undercurrent that drives them.

 

 

funny quote from I don”t know where

Any man, in the right situation, is capable of murder. But not any man is capable of being a good camper. So, murder and camping are not as similar as you might think.

Effects of colonialism upon Native Americans–1997

Effects of colonialism upon Native Americans

 

The question of intrusiveness by European powers upon newly “discovered” Native Americans is not a question of which colonial style did or didn’t damage the lands they stumbled upon, but who comparatively was the most harmful.  Focusing on Spain, England, and France will show how deep the impacts of colonialism were.  For example, one of these three countries’ languages is spoken in the majority of North and South America.  Limiting the time frame to the beginning of the colonial period, Spain emerges as the most violent, opportunistic, and ultimately harmful power to colonize the Americas.  They accomplished this feat by utilizing all the assets of found land, particularly free labor.  England used methods that were initially less intrusive on Native American communities and the bulk of genocidal behavior in North America was committed by the United States at a later point.  France was the least intrusive of the three because they sought the consent of natives before declaring them subjects of the French crown.  The free, undeveloped lands of the Americas were ravaged by many nations in the period followed their revelation to Europe, but none was more savage in their domination than the Spaniards.

          England pursued the technique of sending people to settle on new lands and the idea of living in a place as supposed to ruling in a place made English settlers initially the least intrusive. This is not to say that the English had great respect for Native Americans and wanted to live side by side in a diverse community, rather they just didn’t view the indigenous people as conquered.  English settlers established authority the same way their lords had done, by making fences and planting gardens.  This concept is common to all the colonial powers because all “These historic cultural assumptions stemmed from three fundamental things: ‘everyday life’, a common colloquial language, and a shared legal code”.[1]  These three things are important in understanding the way in which different countries behaved in the new world and the subsequent impact on the native population.

          The building of a settlement, starting with a house, was the first and most important thing English settlers did when coming to a new land.  Communication with the natives and acquisition of resources always came second.  Establishing what was meant to be a permanent object, such as a house, showed a clear “intent to remain”[2] that communicated to the natives the intentions of the English.  The Native Americans could have seen these acts as a non-violent encroachment of territory but one that didn’t set off any alarm bells.  With the large amount of uninhabited land in North America, the natives might have foreseen a peaceful cohabitation.  This peaceful cohabitation was not an English aim, but served to pacify the indigenous people and block their knowledge of the inevitable.  The English house in the new world gained both a strong foothold and a delay of real communication with the natives.

          The English system of acquiring ownership of land is the first example of native subjugation and sets a trend whereby a large settlement can be established without force being immediately necessary.  Following the age old laws established in England during enclosure which stated that “when property was not fenced voluntarily, local and even royal officials demanded that English settlers put up fences”[3], and so colonists were quick to demonstrate ownership over specific tracks of land.  The other way English colonists showed ownership was by using the land they claimed for planting a garden or crops.  This was particularly important because becoming self-sufficient by providing their own food relinquished any dependence on native peoples.  It was then very simple to plant settlers and watch them grow over the land.  The garden was therefore a perfect metaphor for the English, not only because they as a people were enamored with it, but also because it reflected their style of conquest perfectly.  Once this “planting” began, the detrimental effects on the native people became more evident.  Indigenous lands became a part of England and because the English did not recognize any Native American claim to land, the natives had to move to accommodate the settlers, or try and fight for their land.  Given the technological advancements of the English over the natives, it was often the former option they pursued.

          The French took possession of unencountered land with the aid of an alliance with indigenous people, whether the natives were aware of it or not.  French colonists decided that it would be good for the crown, Christendom, and the natives themselves if the natives would respond favorably to a French declaration of dominion.  To this end “French speeches persuaded the natives whose emotional responses clearly registered approval”[4].  This “approval” could really have been any numbers of emotions on the part of the natives.  The French came in with lots of pomp and gifts, threw a party, and then proclaimed that the general good mood existed because French rule had begun.  All this was simply a way to legitimize colonialism because of course there was no way for the natives to understand any of the French speeches.  The assumption of an alliance with the natives was very harmful to the natives simply because they had no idea they were now subjects to a new king and also a new religion.  The only thing natives knew was that there were new and silly looking people in town, creating a dangerous atmosphere as the French started to rule their new “subjects”.  Seeking “at least the appearance of approval for their political authority in the new world”[5] was an act staged for the benefit of rulers in France as supposed to one for the benefit of Native Americans.

          The intricate processions and ceremonies the French undertook in a new land were necessary for the French to be legitimate, but did nothing for the indigenous people, save putting on a good show.  The ceremonies were put on for the same reason the English made fences, because that is what everyone did in France.  Processions of prestigious people in France were important in “creating and cementing the political power of French monarchs (among others)”[6].  This carried over to the mentality of colonists who had to first show their authority before exercising it.  The problem again was the language barrier between colonists and natives, making the French ceremonies useless as a declaration of power and dominion, except in their own minds.  In fact the ceremonies could only have added to confusion and misinterpretations, however impressive.

          Spain was the most destructive influence on the natives they encountered because they “created a fully ritualized protocol for declaring war against indigenous peoples”[7].  Instead of a slow encroachment on native territory or a formalized agreement with them, the Spanish stated bluntly that the land and the people themselves were subject to the rule of the Spanish crown and of the pope.  It was also made quite clear that failure to acknowledge Spanish authority would result in death and warfare.  Spain also had different aims than the French or English in that they wanted the native people to work for an increase in Spanish wealth. They were therefore more directly involved in changing the formerly peaceful lives of the people they encountered in the new world.

          The Requirement was a speech read to the indigenous population upon the arrival of Spanish explorers in unknown lands, expecting and enforcing a submission to Catholicism and the crown of Spain.  In this statement, it is expressed that the lands found were actually given to Spain by the pope and so the occupation and use of these lands was perfectly legitimate as long as the requirement was read to the people.[8]  The Requirement was most likely as confusing to the natives as the French speeches and processions were, but the consequences were much more severe for non-obedience.  An important idea in the requirement was that Catholicism was to be spread as well as the knowledge that the natives were now subjects of Spain.  This means that not just the way of living for the Native Americans had to be changed upon punishment of death, but also their way of thinking about the world.  Though the killing of Native Americans was no doubt harmful to their society, the change in ideals is even more harmful to a culture in the long run.  The Spanish did not force all natives to convert because this would hurt tribute incomes, as Catholics did not have to pay tribute.

          This tribute system was not only a strong incentive to conversion but was also “the economic basis of Spanish colonial rule over indigenous peoples of the new world”.[9]  Spain was the only colonial power to impose such a tax, as well as later requiring the natives to work for the conquistadores.  This shows a unique approach to the goal of all colonies; the greater acquisition of wealth for the home country.  This particular technique of immediate and forceful subservience to a new religion and country, taxes, and forced labor was almost as harmful as simply making everyone into Catholic slaves.  Thus Spain set out to make a fortune and if the people of the new world had a problem, they would simply be executed.

          The destructive impact of colonialism on Native Americans in North and South America was evident with all European incursions, none being more detrimental than the rule of the Spanish.  The misleadingly benign settlements of the English and the confusing ceremonies of the French certainly led to many native deaths and displacements, but the greatest change in indigenous culture as a whole came from the actions of Spain.  It is really the intent to change the natives’ way of thinking that was most harmful because even the initial deaths and servitude could be overcome and freedom could be returned, but the destruction of native beliefs and language is something that can not be fixed. 

         


[1] Seed p.4

[2] Seed p.18

[3] Seed p.21

[4] Seed p.43

[5] Seed p.62

[6] Seed p.50

[7] Seed p.70

[8] Seed p.69

[9] Seed p.82