From Socrates To Sartre; #1; The Indestructible Questions
That's it for a full video, and it will definitely come with some villain. several words, there's no words as they all do. You can't Horsea not any sort of thing. The minute you know something about one another of those words. It's a hair t cu t Do you sometimes ask what is real, what is reality and what is mere surface fluff? Is this material thing, this rock real, is the world of physical things real, the world in which there are cows grazing silently in a green field under a bright blue summer sky?
Are the city streets real, the shops and office buildings, the people crowding sidewalks, the huge metal plains whizzing through the clouds overhead, is the real only what is physical material tangible, or is all this physical reality only the surface only what appears to the senses only an illusion after all. Is reality to be found elsewhere, in the world of the mind, in eternal truths such as the golden rule, or in the mind and purpose and goodness of God? And what about your own reality? Are you only a body, a material organism which avoids pain and seeks pleasure? Are you only a collection of atoms programmed to grow, to mature, and to self-destruct? Are you only a product of the genetic material you inherited from the past and a product of the environment in which you have lived?
But if you refuse to regard yourself as a material body, genetically and environmentally determined, then what kind of reality do you have? Does your reality consist in your being a mind or a soul? But what kind of reality is that? And how can a mind or a soul inhabit a material body as a ghost? Do you ask what is real? These are the questions of the branch of philosophy called Metaphysics. Metaphysics asks these questions about reality. What is appearance and what is real? What kind of reality does the universe have? Is it mind or matter, or is it some kind of spiritual being? What kind of reality do you have as a human being? These are the questions that Metaphysics asks. Do you sometimes ask what can we know? Is there any truth that we can believe?
Is a statement true only if it is based upon what your senses tell you, upon what you can see or touch? But is there any guarantee that what we observe by our senses can establish truth about the world? Is truth eternal and absolute as some philosophies and all the great religions say, or can truth be subject to change? The sciences are largely based on observation by the senses, and they are also constantly changing, revising themselves, contradicting themselves, producing more and more numbers, charts, and computer printouts, and more and more experiments with electrons and rats? Is science true? Or shall we turn for truth to the great religions of the Judeo-Christian tradition, or to the great philosophies of the Western world? The defenders of science sneer at both religion and philosophy in their claims to truth, to them science provides truth. As for the religions and the philosophies, they not only are attacked and condemned by the defenders of science, but they also attack each other.
Do you then ask what can we know, what is truth? These are the questions of the branch of philosophy called theory of knowledge, or epistemology. It asks, what is mere opinion and what is truth? Does true knowledge have its source in observation by the senses, or in human reason, or in a supernatural being? Is truth fixed, eternal, absolute, or is truth changing and relative? Do you sometimes ask, why should I be moral? What does it mean to be moral, to do right? Do you often notice that among the people you know that the righteous and good people seem to suffer all kinds of grief that their lives are lived in the pits, and how often it is at the selfish and the cheats of prosperous and happy, and seem to have it made? Why not then live the playboy life, in which pleasure is the highest good? Why not live the life of pleasurable indulgence in food and drink and sex and drugs and sleep and all the titillations of the body that can be produced?
What after all is ultimately good, worth living for, worth fighting for? What if anything can be said at the present time in history to be right or wrong? What standards are there to judge that an act is wrong? And who is to say? Are all standards of what is right and wrong merely relative, relative to the individual person, or to a particular social group, and nothing more than their biases, serving their own interests and needs? These are the questions of the branch of philosophy called ethics. Ethics asks, is there a highest good for human beings, an absolute good? And if so, what is its nature, and how can it be proven? What is the meaning of right and wrong in human action? What are our obligations, and why should we be moral? Do you sometimes ask, what is the best kind of government? You could not avoid the question, what is the best kind of government when the United States waged war unsuccessfully to stop the communists of North Vietnam from taking over
South Vietnam? Now that war is over, and South Vietnam has become another communist nation. The question remains, is democracy the best form of government in the world today? Is communist totalitarianism the worst? The principles of justice, truth, freedom, equality, do they have any firm, identifiable meaning? Or are they only high-sounding inflammatory words which propagandists for democracy, dictatorship, and totalitarian governments use in order to manipulate and control us? Today, serious problems have been raised for government by atomic bombs overpopulation, the using up of our natural resources like oil and coal, the pollution of air and water. These problems confront governments, as well as do the problems of maintaining health care, welfare, social security, public education, military defense, and attack structure, and
these problems have given to the federal government an enormous role in our lives. A crucial question that we cannot help asking now is, how much control should government have over the lives of its citizens? What is the function of government, is it to protect our equal rights, or is it to provide equal welfare for all? Political philosophy is the branch of philosophy which asks, what is the best form of government, what are the principles which justify government, who has power or control, and how is this justified, what are the proper functions of government? Do you sometimes ask, does human history have any meaning, does the history of human beings in the world have any purpose, does it show any pattern, or are the generations upon generations of human beings with all their activities, beliefs and hopes, a meaningless scurrying about, an empty chatter soon dust unto meaningless dust.
The hopes and struggles of individual men and women soon seem to come to nothing, think of the struggles of Hubert Humphrey, the rise of great nations seen inevitably to lead to their decline and fall, think of the fall of the Mayan civilization of South America, think of the fall of ancient Rome, the dirty tricks of politics seem to undo the ideals of a nation to have honesty in government. One thinks of course of Watergate, can you bear the torture of thinking about the miseries and frustrations that are the repeated events of personal history and of world history. Does history have any significance that can justify its endless horrors and frustrations? Do you ask these questions about history, these are also philosophies questions, these are the questions of the branch of philosophy called philosophy of history. Do you ask all of these questions sometimes, but are they not always somewhere in the
back of your mind, are they not always simmering away slowly on a back burner, someday you will find that they are no longer simmering but have suddenly burst into flame. Of these questions one may say that they may be thought of as figures who are standing off stage in the shadows of the theatre of your mind, usually these questions stand silently off stage in the darkness of the wings, but there are times when they come to the front of the stage and shout and scream at you when you have a personal crisis or when your whole society is in crisis and a revolution seems about to break out. Sometimes these questions will come to the center of your stage and scream at you when there is no crisis in your life or in the society around you, but when you suddenly feel that you have lost your bearings, that you don't know what you believe anymore, that you have no convictions and that you have a sense of a vast inner emptiness, a sense
of nothingness. These questions will then thunder loudly in that emptiness within you, but in no case will these questions go away, they never go away, time will not banish them or get rid of them for you, they can't be ruled out of your thoughts by you or by anyone else. What is real? What can we know? What does it mean to be moral, to live a good life? What is the difference between right and wrong? What is a good government and what are its functions with respect to the citizens? As human history have any meaning, pattern, purpose, these are also the questions which the great philosophers of the Western world have asked for over 2,500 years since the days of ancient Athens in the 6th century BC. To be a human being is to ask these questions. If we human beings are only material bodies, if we are only meaningless collections
of atoms, it is, however, the case that we are the only known collections of atoms in the universe that can reflect upon the universe and ask such questions as what is real and what does it mean to be moral. Can you imagine a world in which nobody asks the philosophic questions, in which nobody was philosophical, it would be a world in which nobody penetrated below the facts of every day life, to think about what is real, true, valuable, just and meaningful in human life. It would be a world of mechanical men, women and children, moving among physical objects, a world in which we would have become hollow men going through meaningless motions and our speech would be empty chatter. Nothing would be questioned because it would have become pointless and hopeless to question anything anymore.
What the great philosophers of the Western world are no hollow men. They are filled with enormous vitality and hope and with the profound conviction that it is a fundamental importance to raise these questions and to answer them in the way that they do. We shall in this course be looking at six major philosophers of Western civilization, Plato, Descartes, Hume, Hegel, Marx and Satre. Most of them would be on anyone's list of the greatest minds of the world, each of them gave over his whole life to probing into the questions of philosophy and each worked through to his own ways of responding to them. With each of these philosophers, in the course of his building of philosophy to answer these questions, some interesting things develop along the way. Let's look at a few of these developments in historical sequence. First, there is the Great Plato, born in Athens and ancient Greece in the 5th century before Christ, celebrated as the greatest of the philosophers that Western civilization
has produced. In the book called The Republic, Plato is concerned with the questions of political philosophy. He offers a blueprint for an ideal government of an ideal society, a utopia, a perfect society, the first utopia of the Western world. The best government Plato argues is a government which is based upon knowledge of the truth and especially upon the truth of the meaning of justice. Therefore, Plato argues governments should be ruled by the most intelligent who will know what is best for a society and they should thus have absolute control over everyone else. Plato calls for a government by an elite of the intellect and a elite of the most rational. Plato bitterly attacks democracy which he regarded as destroying the great civilization of Athens, but what is wrong with democracy, a political arrangement in which everyone has a vote, everyone has his say in the governing of society.
Plato replies that when you are an ill health, you go to the most competent medical specialist you can find, don't you? You don't ask everyone you meet on the street for advice, you don't take a vote among all the people you know to determine what your illness is or what to do about it. Why then with regard to political problems that affect the health of the state, problems of the utmost importance should we consult the advice of the ignorant many? Plato's point is that governing a society is a skill that requires specialized and intensive training, far greater than does the training of the shipbuilder or the opposition. How are the rulers? The members of this elite of intelligence to be chosen by testing all children even from the lowest class for natural intellectual capacity of the highest caliber, but Plato believes that heredity is the prime factor in intelligence and he expected that the children of the most intelligent would inherit a high IQ from their parents.
His plans accordingly for the breeding of intelligent rulers of the republic are utopian beyond anything foreseeable in our own society. Our society is terrified at the prospect of the idea of test tube babies or of cloning. But Plato plans to breed human beings of superior intelligence and body as scientifically and with as much care as we breed prize cattle or prize dogs. Would you be in favor of using our growing scientific knowledge of genetics to produce humans of superior mental and physical capacity? Plato worked out the details of what he called sacred marriages in which the best males were carefully mated with the best females to produce the best possible children for the republic. He mentally defective or physically deformed infants born from these makings would be put
away immediately to die. Are you revolted by Plato's recommendation of infanticide? Or do you think that in certain cases it is moral and can be made humane? From Plato we move over 2,000 years. To Rene Descartes, the most honored philosopher in the history of France who lived in the first half of the 17th century. When the great new sciences of astronomy and physics were rapidly developing and challenging all the beliefs about the universe that humans had held for over a thousand years. The new Capernican theory denied that the earth is the center of the universe and offered proof that the sun is the center around which the earth and the other planets revolved. In the severest opposition to Capernican theory stood the Church of Rome which censored excommunicated, imprisoned and burned at the stake many of the new scientists. Descartes, who was himself an excellent scientist and mathematician, tries to offer a philosophy
for the new age of science which will at the same time not offend the Church. And so he constructs a theory of reality, a metaphysics which divides reality into two kinds. There is first of all the material universe which the new sciences of physics and astronomy are describing. The entire physical universe says Descartes consists of physical objects which move on impact from other objects according to the laws of mechanics. The physical universe is a machine, a world machine, the parts of which move mechanically. Much like the workings within a clock, for Descartes all living organisms are also mechanical clockworks. Descartes' famous also for his view that animals are automatic mechanisms. He denied that animals have intelligence or any feelings other than those that arise from the mechanical motion of their bodies.
Animals are only mechanisms, he says, and if machines were constructed to look like animals, he could not tell them apart. As for human beings, the beating of our hearts, digestion, respiration, the circulation of the blood in all of these, we too are mechanical clockworks. Is Descartes looking ahead to a clockwork orange world? But Descartes' theory of reality contains more than the clockwork mechanism of the physical universe. There is also another kind of reality, the reality of souls or minds, which are not in space, not in motion, not part of any clockwork, and which have the power of thinking and also have free will. And there is also God who created both matter and mind. Thus Descartes says there are two kinds of reality, mental and material. The material clockwork is to be studied by physics and astronomy. And in the soul are to be studied by church theology and by philosophy.
And so Descartes cuts the big pie of reality in half, giving the mental hop to the church for its domain over the soul, and the material hop to the sciences for the growth of science. Was Descartes' dual theory of reality merely a strategy to pacify the church, or was it a true description of reality, as having two aspects, mental and physical. Rubbish, pure rubbish. That's what our next philosopher has to say about Descartes' metaphysics. For David Hume, who lived in Scotland in the 18th century, a full century after Descartes, theories of reality, such as that of Plato or Descartes, offer nothing but falsity and illusion, which they voiced upon the gullible public. Hume's focus is upon theory of knowledge, upon the question, what can we know? We can know, as Hume, only what the senses, seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tell us. An idea can only arise from the senses.
If your idea cannot be shown to have its origin in what you have perceived by your senses, your idea is worthless. Hume used this principle as a powerful wrecking ball, as a demolition machine. All he needs to do to demolish or to wreck an idea is to ask, from what sensory experience does your idea come? And if you cannot show that your idea comes from your senses, from what you have perceived, your idea is demolished, it is worthless. Hume swings his wrecking ball. That's the ideas of material things, the mind, the soul and God. For not a single one of these is it possible to show that the idea has come from the senses. Thus all these ideas that a world exists, that you have a mind or a soul, that God exists, all of these are demolished by his wrecking ball, all are worthless, they count for nothing as knowledge.
He cannot says Hume even have any certainty in the knowledge that the sun will rise tomorrow. One hundred years later, undaunted by David Hume's wrecking of metaphysics, the formidable German philosopher George Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, becomes one of the great master builders of metaphysics. Along the way, Hegel made some startling discoveries. In discussing our knowledge of objects, Hegel reveals that human beings relate to objects, not merely because they satisfy our needs, but primarily because we find enormous gratification in dominating objects, in mastering them, in making them serve us, in teaming them as we do with animals, or in devouring them as we do with apples or with stakes. We are beings who take mastery over objects as our goal. And this is especially the case when the object is another person. Our primitive impulse is to kill the object to with another person.
But then we learn that it is more gratifying to our sense of mastery, not to kill him, but to make him our slave, so that we have the satisfaction, not only of mastering him, but having him recognize that we have mastered him, that we are his two periods. For Hegel, all human relations are of masters and slaves, male and female, husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, rulers and the ruled. As for the religious, the religious as Hegel are also slaves who bow down before their master who is God. And in his political philosophy, Hegel makes it clear who are the masters and who are the slaves. For Hegel, the individual citizen exists only to serve the state. We turn next to Karl Marx, born in Germany in 1818. Marx constructs a great metaphysics, which claims that all of reality is material. But Marx's most influential contribution
is his philosophy of history. Marx regards Hegel's discovery of the master's slave relationship as Hegel's most brilliant contribution, and Marx makes it the key to his own philosophy of history. All of human history, Marx argues, is the history of class conflict between a master's class and a class which it enslaves. In the capitalist economy of the modern world, capitalists are the masters and the workers are their slaves. A successful revolution of the workers against the masters is now inevitable, and the destruction of capitalism is a necessary outcomes as Marx of the workings of the inevitable laws of history. This is the powerful appeal to revolutionary action of Marx's philosophy, which has been heard around the world. Lastly, let us turn to Jean Paul Satre and to 20th century Paris in the dark days of World War II. Satre is above all a moralist, and his focus is on human existence
and upon concrete human individuals. Satre is a master of human psychology, as well as an advocate of existentialism, his own philosophy, and Satre makes many of his philosophical points in novels and in plays, as well as in philosophic texts. But even when Satre is writing as a philosopher, he makes brilliant use of anecdotes, little case studies of individual personality, and these sparkle like gems in his philosophy. For example, he offers the concept of bad faith. As a description of the way we practice self-deception, bad faith as Satre is my deceiving myself by pretending that something I do is necessary. When in actuality, it is voluntary on my part. I can choose not to do it. A human being, as Satre, should recognize his or her freedom, and not try to escape from freedom, and from responsibility for what he does, by pretending to be a thing, to be a part of nature,
not responsible for what happens. Bad faith is the way we live most of our lives, as Satre. Who can forget his case study of the courtship, the homosexual, and the waiter? In the courtship scene, probably taking place in the theatre, the woman lets the man sitting beside her, touch her hand. But she pretends that this is only an accident. It is only a fact that his hand has happened to slip into her's, and so she lets her hand stay in his. But this is bad faith on her pot. She pretends not to be responsible for what is happening, but of course she is. Then there is a case of the homosexual, who deceives himself by pretending that his homosexuality is not voluntary, not something that he chooses and is responsible for, but is the result of his conditioning of his past his fate. This is also bad faith. And then there is the waiter, who transforms himself into a perfect mechanism, so perfect in his carrying out the functions of the trained waiter, that it
is obvious that he has escaped from his freedom as a person into becoming a perfect mechanism in which he feels nothing. But what is good faith? What moral principles should guide me in my concrete existence as a human being, in love, in work, in all of my human relationships? It is shocking to discover that in the philosophy of Satre, that there are no moral principles to guide me. There is no ideal of an absolute good. There are no ideals of any kind. There is no moral standard to distinguish right from wrong. There is no ideal of the good life. For truth and clarity about what is the good life for human beings, we must look to Plato in his formulation of the Greek ideal of the development of human beings who are excellent in mind and body and character. Western civilization has been in love for more than 2,000 years, with the Greek ideal of the good life and with Plato's version of the good life
as one of balanced fulfillment of our complex human nature. The good life is a life of healthy, honorable, vital, and intelligent happiness under the sun, which is the symbol of perfect truth and beauty and goodness. It is to Plato that we turn next time. Dream accorded in the studios of the Maryland Center for public broadcasting.
- From Socrates To Sartre
- Episode Number
- The Indestructible Questions
- Producing Organization
- Maryland Public Television
- Contributing Organization
- Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- #1: Introduction - Indestructible Questions What is philosophy? What does philosophy try to know? Philosophy in relation to science, art, history, religion. The main branches of philosophy and the problems they try to solve. Philosophy in relation to the individual person: Is every one his or her own philosopher? Why study philosophy? Try to imagine a world without philosophy. Classics, museum pieces, messages. In this course, six philosophers whose works appear to be classics and their views of God, man, history, politics, truth, ethics, free will and determinism.
- Created Date
- Media type
- Moving Image
Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Maryland Public Television
Identifier: 36569.0 (MPT)
Format: Digital Betacam
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- Chicago: “From Socrates To Sartre; #1; The Indestructible Questions,” 1978-12-15, Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-74cnphjd.
- MLA: “From Socrates To Sartre; #1; The Indestructible Questions.” 1978-12-15. Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-74cnphjd>.
- APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #1; The Indestructible Questions. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-394-74cnphjd