Philosophers Plato Mill Descartes Hume Mill Term Paper

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Neoclassical Philosophy

Plato, Censorship, Mill

In Book Four of Plato's Republic, the philosopher argued that the ideal city will have a tripartite structure in it - linked to Plato's argument that the ideal human soul is divided into three parts. Plato believed that the individual is connected to city and to community through the soul, and the most efficacious way to ensure that the individual will be connected to the city most effectively if the soul and the city have the same basic structure.

For the city, this tripartite structure consists primarily of three different classes. Each person belongs to the class to which his or her particular skills best suit: Those best suited to intellectual labor to one class, those best suited to manual labor another. (Not, one hopes at least, our current understanding of the nature of the democratic state.) Likewise is the soul divided into three - an "appetitive" or irrational part, a rational part and a "spirited" part.

Plato's world is an inherently orderly one, one in which it is far more important that things be in their proper place than that liberty be untrammeled. Plato believed very firmly in a distinction between the masses and their leaders, and believed that censorship was one of the necessary tools that the leaders had at their disposal to ensure that the masses were kept in line.

Mill believed in no such essential or inherent distinction between classes of people and so denied the legitimacy of any such paternalistic tool. Censorship implies a legitimacy of inequality that is simply not compatible with democracy, Mill would argue.

Part One: Socrates and Happiness

Socrates anticipates Thoreau in arguing that the "unexamined life is not worth living." For Socrates this meant that happiness and moral living were linked to each other. He argued that each one of us as humans seeks happiness; that (as the framers of the Constitution would in turn argue) that this is part of the universal make-up of human nature. We all desire to be happy and we all pursue those things that we believe might make us happy.

But, Socrates argued, this pursuit of happiness is not merely the idle pursuit of pleasure (or at least not necessarily so). It can also be and indeed many times is the pursuit of the virtuous as well. For, as we find Socrates arguing in The Republic, the goal of human life that is most worthy of desire is in fact virtue, which will also bring us happiness. Therefore it is that w may pursue both happiness and virtue at the same time because while we are pursuing virtue we are in fact pursuing happiness, since to be virtuous is also to be happy. (Certainly, other philosophers have disagreed with this assessment of the relationship between human virtue and human happiness, but Socrates makes it seem both very appealing and quite possible.) For Socrates happiness is truly possible only when the soul has been perfected, and so all but the most virtuous are denied happiness, and therefore we shall all strive to be virtuous that we might also be happy.

Part Two: Descartes's Meditations

One of Descartes's guiding principles for his own life was never to accept as true anything that he had not himself determined to be true. An adherence to this high standard of intellectual activity may be seen to be the central concern and purpose of his Meditations. He begins Meditations in doubt, which seems to be the most and indeed the only appropriate position from which he might write. Mediations then becomes an investigation into the nature of knowledge and (which are certainly related questions) into the ways in which knowledge and doubt are bound to each other and the ways in which the opposite of Truth can be seen in many cases to be not falsity but doubt.

Descartes argues that one cannot be certain of anything until one has doubted it; this might seem to be a contradictory stance but is so only for a moment. We ourselves have each experienced this phenomenon, of doubting something, then determining that it is in fact true, and then believing afterwards in its truth far more profoundly than we would have if we had not had to work out the proof for ourselves.

It is imperative to note that Descartes's doubt was not simply that of the cynic but rather what the philosopher termed "methodic doubt," which was for Descartes a method or way of searching for the certainty of any proposition by beginning with a systematic doubting of every element and aspect of that proposition and then proving or disproving each one of these elements until the proposition as a whole was proven or disproved.

Part Two: Descartes and the Doubtmaker

In the First Meditation, Descartes introduces what is to prove to be a very important concept, which is the demon (as he terms) it that is the cause for all doubt. In introducing this concept, Descartes is arguing that we might well be living in a world that is entirely different from the way that we imagine it to be. The entire physical fabric of the universe, as we perceive it empirically, may not in fact be the way we have experienced. It could all be the creation of some demon being who has implanted in us thoughts and beliefs and ideas about the nature of the world that we believe to be true but that are in fact false.

If such a diabolic force could exist in the world, Descartes argues, that it might well have the ability to control everything: That what we take to be accurate sensory impressions of the world around us could be no more than the hallucinations, chimera, illusions with no connections to the reality or truth. Any being so much more powerful than we are could well not only create such false images of the world but then use its powers to convince us that these were legitimate.

In other words, as Descartes argues at the end of the First Meditation, everything that we have ever or that we now believe in could be false. And - which is perhaps an even more disturbing message - we would not even know that they were false for the same power that implanted these false images within our consciousness also has the same ability to make us believe that they are real.

Part Three: Hume and Evil

In Hume's Dialogues Part X and XI, Philo argues (and of course this is an argument that has been made over and over again) that the existence of evil is a problem for anyone who wants to believe in the existence of a benign God.

In fact, Hume's argument in these parts is a complex one and also a somewhat more abstract one than it at first appears to be. Hume is not precisely arguing that the presence of evil in the world makes it impossible to believe in a caring and beneficent God. What Hume's proxy (or devil's advocate, for he seems to be both) Philo is arguing here is that if we assume that there was an intelligent (and caring) designer for the universe and for all the rich complexity that we find in the natural world around us then we have to admit to the fact that such a designer is responsible not only for goodness and for beauty but also for all of the evil that we see in the world.

We cannot, in other words, argue that there is a God who made this world without acknowledging - or blaming - that God for also having introduced into this world all that is wrong with it. The God who is responsible for sunsets and rosebuds is also responsible for the most terrible kinds of suffering. This negates many aspects of the idea of the Christian God. But it is a logically sound and morally compelling argument, for Christianity (along with a number of other of the world's important religions) has never been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation of the reason why a compassionate God should make the innocent suffer.

Part Three: Hume and the Design Element

Hume's design element argument is one that we have heard before posed by other philosophers: Perhaps its most famous rendition is that there can be no clock without a clockmaker.

The essentials of Hume's design argument can be boiled down to the following series of propositions:

Any design requires a designer.

There is design in the universe.

Therefore, someone designed the universe.

This seems quite clear, although of course it is arguable that this is not in fact true: We do not, of course, have to accept the argument that there is in fact the need for there to be a designer for there to be a design. This design argument is a tautological one, and for this reason alone is rejected out of hand by many - even…[continue]

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