Introduction to Modern Philosophy Essay

Question #1: Explain Socrates’ view of himself as a philosopher. Answer: From the Oracle representing the God of Delphi, Socrates firstly got the message that no one is wiser than him. Considering both the facts that it’s impossible for him to be the wisest man and also impossible for god to lie, Socrates starts thinking and tries to figure out what god really meant. Then, he decided to challenge god’s statement by searching for someone who is undoubtedly wiser than him. After talking with several elders who are known for their knowledge, Socrates concluded that they are not that wise at all while believing themselves to be the wisest ones.

At this point, Socrates finally realized that by saying no man was wiser than him, god didn’t mean that he is the wisest man in the world. Instead, what god actually meant is that no one knew better than him about how ignorant people are. Knowing the fact that most people are unaware of their own ignorance, Socrates decided to teach and inspire others to learn better about themselves. As Socrates believes, his efforts actually helped some Athenians to examine the meanings of their lives, however, majority of fellows still didn’t trust his ideas, and some of them even set him as their enemy because of his weird opinions.

As a result, Socrates received the death penalty in the end, but still, as he said, “The difficulty, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death” (17). Question #3: What does Ryle mean by the “official doctrine,” and why he disagree with it? Answer: Basically, the “official doctrine”, which has been mentioned several times in Ryle’s book, is the idea that every person has both a body and a mind. While each human body has a limited life, the mind one owns can still functions even after the death of the body. On the one hand, one’s bodily life is visible and can be influenced by thers’; on the other, mind is more likely a private space which cannot be seen through (36). According to the “official doctrine”, a person actually has two lives going on at the same time. Because this idea was commonly accepted by philosophers after Descartes’ period, Ryle called it “official doctrine”. Even though many philosophers at that time believed in mind-body dualism, Ryle pointed out “the absurdity of the official doctrine”(40) directly. While everyone has two lives going on at the same time according to the “official doctrine”, there seems to be no relationship between them at all.

As Ryle stated, if the body in the “official doctrine” functions as a “machine”, then the mind can be described as “ghost in the machine” (39). And those who believe this doctrine to be true, are actually committing “category-mistake” (39). A category-mistake, is a semantic error in which things of one kind are presented as if they belonged to another. The traditional dualism sets body and mind as two opposites, however, it’s absolutely wrong to treat mind as an object because it doesn’t belong to that category. Since it doesn’t make any sense at all from the beginning, it’s clearly unreasonable for the “official doctrine” to be established.

And that’s the reason why Ryle called the “official doctrine” absurdity. Question #4: What does Lewis mean by “naturalism,” and what are his two main reasons for rejecting it? Answer: Naturalism, in Lewis’s opinion, is an argument that “nothing exists except Nature”(49). In general, nature is a whole running according to certain stable laws; everything in the nature is rational such that miracles have no possibility to exist. Moreover, all things are effecting each other that none of them is totally independent. After explaining the naturalism, Lewis rejected it by pointing out two difficulties in the naturalist’s position.

Lewis’s first reason is human rational thinking. According to naturalism, all things are determined and has no freedom from the nature. Therefore, the way a thing happens is the only way it can be. Same principle is being applied even among human thoughts. As a result, “the thoughts a person has, are the only thoughts he or she could have had” (56). However, it then seems impossible to tell whose thoughts are right and whose are wrong since their thoughts cannot be changed. If so, how can naturalists convince others that their thoughts are right. In this situation, naturalism is actually self-defeating.

The second reason stated by Lewis is moral conduct. As naturalists believe, everything is reasonable without violating the laws of nature, but they neglected human moral certainly, such as the example of “borrow and return” given by Lewis. Based on naturalism, every human has no responsibility for others at all, then it makes no sense for people to lend their own stuff to others and it is the borrowers’ duty to return things. In Lewis’s opinion, moral cannot be judged so simply through some certain laws, and that’s why he disagreed with naturalism.

Question #5: Explain any one (and only one) of Aquinas’s five attempts to prove God’s existence. Answer: Aquinas’s first attempt to prove God’s existence is a way taken from “the idea of motion”(176). There’s no doubt that change plays an important role in our lives, since we see things changing all the time. When talking about motion, there are two types of motion: potential motion and actual motion. As its name shows, potential motion is like a preparation for actual motion, but in order to convert a potential motion into an actual motion, there must exists something to effect it, more specifically, an actual motion.

A common example given by Aquinas is the relationship between fire and wood. Indeed, wood is something potentially hot which can be moved by something actually hot such as fire. In order to turn the potentially hot wood into actually hot wood, something actually hot like fire is always needed. Another fact regarding motion is that nothing can be in both actuality and potentiality in relation to the same thing at once. Hence, nothing can be changed by itself. In other words, things can only be changed by something else. But this leads us to another serious puzzle.

The thing which causes another thing to change must be moved by something else as well. As we look back, this kind of sequence repeats forever and it seems that it’s impossible to find the first mover. If this turns into infinity sequence which the first mover can never be located, how can the second thing be moved and move other things. Therefore, it’s important to find a mover which is not moved by anything else. Clearly, the only possible answer to this is god. In the end, Aquinas proved the existence of God through the argument from motion.

Question #6: Explain Pascal’s “wager” concerning belief in God’s existence. Answer: Pascal started his talking by dividing people into three classes: first class, wise and happy people who found the god; second class, wise but unhappy people who were searching for god; and third class, foolish and unhappy people who didn’t believe in the existence of god. Indeed, Pascal’s purpose was very simple. Through his arguments, he was trying to convince persons in the third class and convert them into second class.

Surprisingly, he started by rejecting traditional proofs for the existence of god by old thinks. Then, he stated the littleness and loneliness of human being which most unbelievers agree. And the happiness, which all men are seeking, is not easy to find, but can be obtained from god. So far, Pascal had not made any change in unbelievers’ minds, but soon he started his “wager” strategy. As he said, unbelievers have two choices, “either God is, or is not” (187). Since every person needs to choose, either one or the other, it’s always better to “weigh the gain and the loss” (187) before final decisions.

Assuming you wager god doesn’t exist, no matter he really exists or not, you have no chance to gain the happiness. On the other hand, if you wager god does exist, and he actually does, you win happiness; even if he doesn’t exist, you won’t lose anything. Therefore, your choice should be clear: wager the existence of god and take a chance to win happiness for free, instead of wasting your chance. Pascal’s whole strategy is quite smart. By establishing the situation “win everything or lose nothing”, people from third class can easily be convinced.

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