I found this interesting philosophical prompt on Diotima’s Ladder the other day.
How do you weigh in on the free will/fate debate?
There’s nothing of any practical value to be gained from believing in predestination. If we accept this idea, then we must also conclude that the Nazis weren’t responsible for the Holocaust; they were simply acting out the roles they were given. This brings us into some extremely dangerous territory. If we are to be held responsible for our own actions, then we must assume that we do indeed have at least a fair amount of control over them (since we can only be responsible for things we can control). Even if free will doesn’t exist, it’s necessary for us to believe that it does.
How do you determine right from wrong?
Morality is best understood in terms of actions. Right actions contribute to the well-being of oneself, one’s family and friends, one’s community, one’s country, one’s planet and ultimately one’s universe. These include things like treating others (including plants, animals and the dead) as one would like to be treated, helping those who can’t help themselves, and protecting those who are weaker than oneself. It also involves reciprocity, fairness, and good will. Wrong actions accomplish the precise opposite of these things; they contribute to the destruction of self, family, community, country, the planet at large, and possibly even the universe.
Are you a rationalist or empiricist or both? (If you don’t know these terms, don’t worry about it. Or just Google ’em.)
It depends on what kind of epistemology we’re talking about. If we’re talking about secular epistemology, I’m probably a combination of the two. When it comes to religious epistemology, however, I’m a gnostic. True knowledge of the Divine must begin with a direct personal experience of Divinity (however this may be experienced by the individual), not with any particular religious scripture. However gnosis may be explained (either as an authentic spiritual experience or as some kind of delusion), there’s no point in being religious in the first place without it.
How would you solve the mind/body problem? (Clue: You can reduce things to one or the other, or…actually solve the problem. Good luck.)
I really can’t solve this problem. The most I can say is that I think human beings are ultimately just another kind of animal, but that I also think animals have souls and are spiritual beings.
Does God exist?
For someone like me, this is an extremely loaded question.
If we’re referring to the concept of Divinity in general, then yes. In fact, I believe in the existence of multiple Gods (and Goddesses, too). I explain why I’m a polytheist here and here.
If we’re referring to the idea of a single omnipotent and omnipresent transcendental Creator God, then no. I can’t pretend to know what Gods actually are – whether They’re Jungian archetypes, mere personifications of natural forces, or perhaps even schizophrenic delusions – but while I choose to treat Them as real paranormal beings, I don’t think any of Them are necessarily omnipotent. Nor do I think that any of Them really exist apart from nature.
If we’re specifically referring to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, then yes. However, I don’t believe in Yahweh the same way Jews, Christians or Muslims do. I don’t think He’s really the Creator of the universe, and I don’t think He’s any more “authentic” or powerful than any other Deity that people believe in and worship.
If God exists, does that mean there is life after death?
I believe so, yes – but aside from my personal hopes and theories, I don’t claim to have any certainty or dogmatic knowledge on the subject.
What is a soul? Does it exist?
I believe so, yes. I can’t really describe what the soul is, but I do think it’s different from the spirit. I think of a creature’s spirit as its vital life force, an invisible extension of its visible body (or perhaps an “astral body”). But I think of the soul as having something to do with the innermost core and personality of a thing. It’s what makes me me, as opposed to being just “a person.”
Do dogs have souls?
Again, yes. All animals – and even plants – have souls in my opinion.
What about parameciums?
As well as being a polytheist, I’m also an animist; I believe everything in nature has a soul and a spirit.
What is Justice?
In my opinion, it’s what I described above as being “right.” However, as a person of faith who emphasizes orthopraxy (“correct practice”) over orthodoxy (“correct practice”), I consider goodness, rightness and justice to be a matter of what people do, not necessarily of what they think or believe. You can believe that Elvis is a space alien all you want, but as long as you treat people, animals and plants well enough, you’re a good person in my book.
What is Love?
Generally, love is an emotion that brings people together. Whether it takes the form of affection, friendship, romance or unconditional love, it’s all about bringing people together (either as a family, as friends, as lovers, or just as human beings). Unfortunately, love is not the strongest emotion in humans; it seems to be trumped in this regard by fear, which has the opposite effect.
What is happiness?
Happiness is different from contentment. In its truest sense, it’s a state of euphoria or even ecstasy that’s caused by some form of physical, material, emotional, social, intellectual or spiritual gratification. In my experience, true happiness isn’t a constant and can only be triggered periodically. Contentment, on the other hand, is the state of not quite being happy, but of feeling like one has enough of whatever one needs to get by.
What is courage?
Courage is the inner strength to do something which you are actually terrified to do. In some cases, it’s considered heroic; in others, it’s almost indistinguishable from recklessness.
Does happiness factor into ethics? (In other words, does being a good person mean being a happy person?)
Somewhat. As I wrote above, to do what’s right partly means to do things that contribute to your own well-being. But again, this is only right sometimes. There are other times when it’s better to delay or even deprive yourself of gratification for the well-being of others. This is a matter of balance between the self and others, and it depends entirely on the context of a given situation. But no, being a good person does not categorically mean being happy.
What is the purpose of art?
Some say it’s to enlighten or inform, but for me personally, the primary goal of art is to entertain. If I’m not entertained by a work of art, then it doesn’t matter how enlightening or informative it might be; it’s not going to stick with me. On the other hand, art which is entertaining doesn’t necessarily have to be enlightening or informative (though this certainly counts as a bonus).