Kierkegaard 1- Have Faith

Soren Kierkegaard was a modern philosopher from 19th century Denmark. For each of his writings, he created a different pseudonym with a different personality/ view point appropriate for the topic. He wrote as Johannes de silentio (John the Silent) for the book “Fear and Trembling.” In it, he talked about the Bible story of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 22:1-18, God tested Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his favorite son. Abraham complies, and God provides a ram to take Isaac’s place at the last moment. Because of this, Abraham is known as the Father of Faith.

Kierkegaard tells the story of a man who used to like the story of Abraham when he was a boy, but as he got older, he found that he understood it less and less (p. 7). He admittedly does not understand this seemingly blind faith that Abraham displays by following God’s orders without question. He presents different reasons to try to explain this behavior. One version is that Abraham tells Isaac it was his idea, rather than God’s will, so that Isaac will not lose his faith in God. Another possibility is that the whole thing was a test to see if Abraham to see if he would actually murder his son.

He also talked about three ways of being in the world. You can love yourself and live the aesthetic life, love others and live the ethical life, or you can love God and live the religious life. Aristotle had a similar idea: the choice between the life of pleasure, the life of politics/ virtue, or the life of wisdom/ philosophy/ contemplation.
After proving his faith, “Abraham emigrated from the land of his fathers and became a foreigner in the promised land. He left one thing behind and took one thing with him. He left his worldly understanding behind and took faith with him” (p. 14). Kierkegaard suggests that we all live in a similar way: We need to be in the world, not of it. We need to be strangers, not exiles.

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Nietzsche 2- Modesty is the best policy?

When Nietzsche talks about his views on modesty, two books come to my mind. The first is “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” by Azar Nafisi. The other book is “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. I recommend both books, but don’t read “Suns” unless you are prepared to cry. As you might guess by the names of the authors, both books take place in the Middle East.

“Lolita” takes place in Iran from the start of the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. The author leaves America and returns to Iran during the revolution. She taught Western Literature at the University of Tehran (the capital), until she was fired for not wearing the veil in accordance with the post-revolution rules and regulations. She forms a secret book club where she and several female students can meet and openly discuss the literature that the strict new government will not let her teach.

During one session, the girls in the book club relate their different experiences dealing with the Morality Police: “One student, a girl who had returned from the United States the previous year with her family, was taken to the principal’s office: her nails were too long. There, the principal herself cut the girl’s nails, so close that she had drawn blood. . . Once Nassrin had been sent to the disciplinary committee to have her eyelashes checked. Her lashes were long, and she was suspected of using mascara. . . During lunch three of the girls were in the yard eating apples. They were reprimanded by the guards: they were biting their apples too seductively!” (p. 58-9).

“Suns” takes place in Afghanistan and spans from the 1960s, through the Russian invasion during the Cold War and the subsequent rise of the Taliban, and ends a short time after September 11, 2001. After the Taliban took over the country, they installed many harsh rules for the citizens to follow, and created Morality Police to ensure the laws were followed, no matter how ridiculous and one-sided.

The one scene in the book that came immediately to my mind was when two characters, Tariq and Laila, meet each other again after being separated for ten years. Tariq is explaining what he has been up to, where he has been all this time, and how he has survived under the new laws. He tells an anecdote about visiting an artist friend who got in trouble with the Morality Police for having a painting of flamingos in his house. “When the Taliban had found the paintings, Tariq said, they’d taken offense at the birds’ long, bare legs” (p. ???). So, the artist painted pants on all of the flamingos, and the police, being satisfied with this solution, left. However, since the artist used watercolor paint, he simply washed the pants off after they left.

I am all for modesty, as long as it is my choice. I choose to dress the way I dress. I do not like when some external power dictates what is acceptable for me to wear (halal) and what is off limits (haram). I understand that part of Middle Eastern culture is for women to cover up, hide their bodies, either out of shame or modesty. I respect that that is part of their culture. However, it is one thing to want to wear a burqa, and it is another thing to be forced to wear it to adhere to man’s law. Forced modesty? My understanding of the rationale behind the short nails, the no mascara, the seductive apple-biting, and the flamingo pants is that the men want to remove the temptation from their sight. But according to Nietzsche, removing the temptation is not the same as having good/ higher instincts. Instincts are not bad. Rather than rejecting their instincts or hiding temptation, they should attain higher instincts.

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Nietzsche 1- The Rebel Philosopher

I love how Friedrich Nietzche is like the rebel philosopher, going against all the previous thoughts on life and how to live it. Something always bothered me about how Socrates believed life was a sickness, and the only cure is death and the subsequent separation from your flesh prison. I also did not like his suggestion that everyone should do philosophy all the time, because the unexamined life is not worth living. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone in the world stopped what they were doing so they can ponder their existence?

By disagreeing with everything we learned so far, Nietzche has created a whole new philosophy, going against the nihilism of the past. The other philosophers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Berkelely, Dopey, Sneezy, Donner, and Blitzen) were concerned about reaching death and what happens after death, and resting in God, etc. He clearly states in the opening line of his book, “Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ” that “in every age the wisest have passed the identical judgment on life: it is worthless. . . .” (p. 39). These philosophers are so concerned with death that they are forgetting to live life. Nietzsche wants people to focus more on living life; he does not see it as a sickness at all.

He also feels that one should not need to examine one’s life in order to be fulfilled. After all, if you need to examine it, then your life must suck. Life is not something we should have to think about, we should just do it. We should not have to prove anything using reason. Nietzsche goes against all the previous philosophers when he claims that pride is a good thing, and modesty/ humility is undesirable. People should take pride in their lives, live good lives, and be good people.

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Berkeley 2- Mirror, mirror, on the wall . . .

George Berkeley states that things like color and temperature are relative, meaning that they depend on the perspective of the human experiencing them. He says, “Suppose now one of your hands hot, and the other cold, and that they are both at once put into the same vessel of water, in an intermediate state; will not the water seem cold to one hand, and warm to the other?” (p. 128). Of course, the cold hand will feel warmer, and the hot hand will feel cooler by comparison.

The temperature we feel depends on our experience. I just went out to eat, so here is an example in a restaurant setting: imagine that one waiter has spent an hour trapped in a meat locker, and another waiter has spent an hour locked in an oven. Assuming they both survive to walk into the main dining room, the former will feel warmer, and the latter will feel colder, even though they are walking into the same room at the same time.

There is a chapter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling, called The Mirror of Erised. The Mirror of Erised is a magical mirror that “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts” (p. 157). When the title character looks into the mirror, he sees himself standing with his mother and father who died when he was too young to remember them. However, when his friend, Ron Weasley, stands in front of the mirror, he sees himself standing alone holding many trophies and accolades. This is his greatest desire, because throughout all of his life, Ron has been overshadowed by his older, smarter, funnier, and more talented brothers.

The Mirror shows what a person desires, and everyone desires something different. Therefore, everyone’s experience when they stand in front of the mirror will likewise be different, even though they are standing in the exact same spot in front of the exact same Mirror. The reflection is dependent on the person’s perspective, life experience, and personal wishes, etc. For example, when I look into the Mirror of Erised, I see myself passing Introduction to Philosophy and all of my nursing classes, and then graduating from Houston Baptist University this summer. What do you see?

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Berkeley 1-Can you hear me now? Good!

The philosopher George Berkeley wrote, among other things, “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Skeptics and Atheists.” In it, he claims that Descartes, another philosopher has the wrong idea about philosophy. Descartes says there are two kinds of things in the world, which are the real things and ideas. Berkeley disagrees. He says that there are only ideas about things, and the ideas themselves are real.

At first, I had trouble understanding where he was coming from. For example, this bottle of water in front of me is real, isn’t it? I am actually drinking water, aren’t I? But by simply thinking about the object, as you and I are doing now, it is an idea. Everything that exists is an idea, because someone is thinking about it.
Berkeley writes, “I am content to put the whole upon this issue. If you can conceive it possible for any mixture or combination of qualities, or any sensible object whatsoever, to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so” (p. 149). He believes that it is impossible for an object to exist without the mind to think of it first. As soon as you think/ conceive of something, it becomes an idea.

This topic is also related to the example of the tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it—does it make a sound? The two characters in the dialogue, Hylas and Philonous, talk about sound and how it is perceived by humans. Hylas says, “You must distinguish, Philonous, between sound as it is perceived by us, and as it is in itself; or (which is the same thing) between the sound we immediately perceive, and that which exists without us. The former indeed is a particular kind of sensation, but the latter is merely a vibrative or undulatory motion in the air” (p. 131). Sound is what we perceive it to be. You need the human element present to contribute the human perception of the sound. The sound is in your head.

If the sound is in my mind, then perhaps it sounds different to me than it does to you. When I hear the professor’s voice, I can recognize it and know whose voice it is. Likewise, my classmates can also hear and recognize his voice. But does it sound the same to both of us? If he is wearing a green tie during lecture, does everyone else see a different color, which they cal green? There is no way to test it because these ideas, colors and sound are in our minds and depend on our perspective and perception.

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Descartes 2- home sweet home

“Behind These Hazel Eyes” is a song by Kelly Clarkson. I was reminded of this song when Descartes described the metaphorical house that is built on a foundation of beliefs in his First Meditation in his book, “Meditations on First Philosophy.”

“Behind These Hazel Eyes”
Seems like just yesterday
You were a part of me
I used to stand so tall
I used to be so strong
Your arms around me tight
Everything, it felt so right
Unbreakable, like nothin’ could go wrong
Now I can’t breathe
No, I can’t sleep
I’m barely hanging on

In the beginning, the singer has what seems to be a good life; she is dressed in a beautiful wedding dress and about to marry her boyfriend. She sings about how everything was good in their life and nothing could go wrong, but then the mood of the song changes when she realizes something is wrong and he is not the man she thought he was.

[Chorus]
Here I am, once again
I’m torn into pieces
Can’t deny it, can’t pretend
Just thought you were the one
Broken up, deep inside
But you won’t get to see the tears I cry
Behind these hazel eyes

Descartes says, “Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and by the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice that I had subsequently based on them. I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last” (p. 12). In the song, the singer discovers that her boyfriend/ fiancé has been cheating on her with one of the wedding guests. This realization causes the destruction of the metaphorical house she built on all of her false beliefs about this man. She can no longer trust him, and decides to leave him standing at the altar so he won’t see her cry.

I told you everything
Opened up and let you in
You made me feel alright
For once in my life
Now all that’s left of me
Is what I pretend to be
So together, but so broken up inside
‘Cause I can’t breathe
No, I can’t sleep
I’m barely hangin’ on

[Chorus]

Now the singer has the option to find a new man and build a new house on true beliefs about him. I do not think Descartes would recommend for her to return to the first man to give him another chance, since “it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once” (p. 12).

Swallow me then spit me out
For hating you, I blame myself
Seeing you it kills me now
No, I don’t cry on the outside
Anymore…
Anymore…

[Chorus x 2]

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Descartes 1- no doubt

“First Meditation: What can be called into doubt” is one of six meditations found in Renee Descartes’ book Meditations on First Philosophy. In it, he discusses the existence of God and the difference between the human soul and the body. He states, “Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once” (p. 12).

He feels that he was deceived in his childhood by believing in false information, and now, rather than pick through all of his knowledge to find the truth, he has decided to scrap everything and start all over from scratch with new beliefs. He does not trust the senses and starts to wonder if this is all just a dream. How does he know if it is real? He views “the sky, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds and all external things” which are experience through the bodily senses, to be “merely the delusions of dreams which [the malicious demon] has devised to ensnare my judgment” (p. 15).

When he says, “I am like a prisoner who is enjoying an imaginary freedom while asleep” (p. 15), it reminds me of how Socrates viewed the body as a prison, with death being the release/ escape. People think they are free right now because they are alive, but true freedom comes when the soul is freed from the body at the end of life, when it is finally awakened from the sleep. Descartes goes on to say, “as he begins to suspect that he is asleep, he dreads being woken up, and goes along with the pleasant illusion as long as he can” (p. 15). This reminds me of the old saying “ignorance is bliss.” Sometimes, it is easier to keep things the way they have always been, even if it is the wrong way, because people are resistant to change, even if it is good for them. Descartes does not want to fall back into his old pattern of beliefs, now that he knows they are not right.

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Aquinas 2- I know, I know

“Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars is a song about how the singer loves his girlfriend . . . just the way she is. This reminds me of when Aquinas talks about knowing and being in a relationship with God.

Oh her eyes, her eyes
Make the stars look like they’re not shining
Her hair, her hair
Falls perfectly without her trying

She’s so beautiful
And I tell her every day
The singer describes the girl physically, talking about her eyes and her hair. He has to use his sight, one of the five senses, to see and describe her. Seeing this beautiful girl makes the singer happy, but this kind of happiness is not the end/goal that Aquinas and the philosophers before him were talking about.

Yeah I know, I know
When I compliment her
She won’t believe me
And it’s so, it’s so
Sad to think she don’t see what I see

But every time she asks me do I look okay
I say

Chorus:
When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
Cause you’re amazing
Just the way you are
And when you smile,
The whole world stops and stares for awhile
Cause girl you’re amazing
Just the way you are

Again, he uses his eyes to know and understand her face and her smile, and this also makes him happy to be with her. These are examples of sensible knowledge, meaning the singer used his five senses. However, you cannot experience God through any of the five senses, and understanding God is the ultimate happiness, according to Aquinas. The other kind of knowledge is intelligible, which includes things you can only know through your mind. To know God, you must get rid of all of the sensible knowledge you have accumulated and have only intelligible knowledge.

Her lips, her lips
I could kiss them all day if she’d let me
Her laugh, her laugh
She hates but I think it’s so sexy

She’s so beautiful
And I tell her every day

Oh you know, you know, you know
I’d never ask you to change
If perfect is what you’re searching for
Then just stay the same

So don’t even bother asking
If you look okay
You know I’ll say

Humans are born with senses. They use them to achieve worldly happiness by looking at a beautiful person, smelling a fragrant flower, or sleeping on a soft, warm bed. The singer focuses on describing the girl he is in a relationship with, trying to convince her she is beautiful and perfect. If the singer can let go of the senses and separate from his body, he may be able to contemplate God and know that God truly is beautiful and perfect.

(Chorus)

The way you are
The way you are
Girl you’re amazing
Just the way you are

(Chorus)

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Aquinas 1- Reunited and it feels so good

The goal of human beings, according to Augustine, is to love God more than any other thing because God is the greatest good. The goal of human beings, according to Thomas Aquinas, is to be united with God by understanding God. Both agree on the importance of having a good relationship with God, the Supreme Being. Augustine claims this unity with God is forged through love, while Aquinas is certain it is more of an intellectual bond. Augustine uses faith, while Aquinas prefers human reasoning to come to his conclusions.

Chapter 25 in Summa Contra Gentiles is one of the selected writings in the aptly named book, Selected Writings, by Thomas Aquinas. In it, he says that “to know God is the end of every intellectual substance” (p. 265). This means the ultimate goal of intellectual creatures (human beings) is to have a good intellectual relationship with God.

“God is the ultimate end of every thing, as has been shown” (p. 264). Now recall Plato’s theory of the Forms. Everything has its own function and everything has its own way and degree of being in a relationship with God, depending on the purpose it was given by Him. What I mean is, a hamster cannot know God in the same way and to the same degree that a man can. Aquinas concludes that “it is that a thing seeks to be united with God as to its ultimate end to the degree this is possible for it” (p. 264).

Having intellect sets humans apart from other creatures who might know God. Although every intelligent substance wants to know God, humans have a more intimate connection with Him, because we were created in His image, and therefore bear some resemblance to Him. Aquinas agrees that “a thing is more intimately united with God insofar as it attains to his substance, which comes about when it knows something of the divine substance, which requires some likeness of him (p. 264). I think it makes sense that two things that have something in common will have a more intimate relationship, compared to two things with no visible similarities.

Instead of saying function, like Aristotle, Aquinas refers to it as the proper activity: “something is called virtuous insofar as it performs its proper activity well” (p. 264). The proper activity for humans/ intellectual creatures is understanding God. Aquinas references Aristotle and Matthew to back up and support his statements. He reiterates once more that intellectual creatures/ substances (human beings) want to know God. Happiness is the ultimate end/ goal of the Form of human beings. Therefore, happiness to a human being means knowing God. Take that, Augustine.

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Augustine 2: “Na na na na – na na na na- Batman!”

In his autobiography, St. Augustine discusses his belief “that the incorruptible is better than the corruptible” (p. 161). When I read Augustine’s take on the corruptible vs. the incorruptible, I immediately thought of a conversation from the movie Batman Begins. In this scene, our hero Bruce Wayne tells his trusted butler Alfred about his plans to create an alter ego to fight corruption:

Alfred Pennyworth: Are you coming back to Gotham for long, sir?
Bruce Wayne: As long as it takes. I’m gonna show the people of Gotham their city doesn’t belong to the criminals and the corrupt.
Alfred Pennyworth: In the depression, your father nearly bankrupted Wayne Enterprises combating poverty. He believed that his example could inspire the wealthy of Gotham to save their city.
Bruce Wayne: Did it?
Alfred Pennyworth: In a way. Their murders shocked the wealthy and the powerful into action.
Bruce Wayne: People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne, as a man I’m flesh and blood I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.
Alfred Pennyworth: What symbol?
Bruce Wayne: Something elemental, something terrifying.
Alfred Pennyworth: I assume that as you’re taking on the underworld, this symbol is a persona to protect those you care about from reprisals.
Bruce Wayne: You thinking about Rachel?
Alfred Pennyworth: Actually, sir, I was thinking of myself.

Wayne wants to become a symbol, an idea that transcends mortality. The symbol of Batman is immortal/everlasting in the sense that it will still be around long after Bruce Wayne the Man is gone. For example, after a TV show and six movies, there have been five actors to play Batman on screen, but the character/role of Batman has outlasted all of them. While the actors who play him age, the persona of Batman remains unchanged over time.

In The Dark Knight, Gotham City has two separate yet equally important heroes: Bruce Wayne/ Batman, who fights crime and captures criminals, and District Attorney Harvey Dent, who prosecutes the offenders. They work together to bring the Joker to justice. In the second half of the movie, the Joker causes the death of Rachel Dawes, the love interest of both Wayne and Dent. According to Augustine, “What can be corrupted is inferior to what cannot be corrupted, and what cannot be violated I unhesitatingly placed above what is violable, and what suffers no change I saw to be better than what can be changed” (p. 157). While Wayne becomes more determined to defeat the Joker and continue to fight corruption, Dent becomes corrupted, and as a result, transforms into the criminal known as Two-Face.

In one of the final scenes, Batman captures the Joker, and the Joker declares, “Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You are truly incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” These lines about the eternal struggle of good versus evil, incorruptible versus corruptible, makes me think of God versus the Devil.

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