November 5, 2012

Update Philosophical Dictionary - F and G and H

1. Update Philosophical Dictionary - F and G and H
PS. My eye problems


This is about an update for the letters F and G and H in my Philosophical Dictionary.

1. Update Philosophical Dictionary

In the second half of 2011 and the first third of 2012 I have made textual updates to quite a few lemmas in my Philosophical Dictionary, in an editor that I had tweaked wrongly, with the consequence that the items I updated appear with very large or very small fonts, and often both.

This does not look nice. Earlier I had returned the lemmas in the letters A, B, C, D and E to what they should look like, at least, and today I did so for the letter F and the letter G and the letter H.

In case you are not familiar with my
Philosophical Dictionary, here are a few examples of what you can find there:

Faith: Belief or creed that is used as an orientation in the world and society of a philosophical or religious kind.

Man is a creature of faiths, an ideological ape, a rationalizing animal, and the reason is that human beings are too intelligent not to see the past, the future and its dangers, and many kinds of possible explanations for their experiences, and so have much to fear, not only in this life, but in a life to come that they are promised or threatened with by religious prophets, and have the gift of language and abstract ideas to paint all manner of possibilities for them in fantastic colours, that are very well geared to their emotions, needs and prejudices by systematic wishful thinking and are usually not much influenced by rational thinking, intelligence or scientific method, since these three ways to knowledge are only interesting and useful to a small gifted minority.

Thus, the reason that there are so many human beings who feel proud to belong to some religion or political creed or party is that so many human beings are natural born followers without good or great intelligence, and with little true originality or courage of their own. (Since most of this is not a matter of personal choice, and since no one wished himself or herself on the world, all of this is excusable and understandable, even if it also is the foundation of extra-ordinarily much evil in human history.)

As a rule, a faith is a simplified version of a political ideology or a religion, and plays the same role for the faithful as these: It provides ideas about what the world is (a metaphysics) and what it should be (an ethics), and besides it gives coherence, agreement, and possibilities of cooperation for the faithful, whether these are political, such as Marxists or Liberals or Conservatives, or religious, whether Christian, Mohammedan, Buddhistic or Hindu.

Usually, the truly faithful are the none-too-intelligent, who have much to fear and little power of independent individual thought, and who have therefore a strong inclination towards conformism, followership, and the belief in authorities and leaders, and who are, therefore, in times of crisis also easily moved to fanaticism.

Also, by far the best guess about leaders of the faithful is that they do not really believe the faith in which they lead, and certainly not in the way they propound the faith, but are in it for the money, the status, the power or other privileges. (See: Clergy, Priests)

Fallibilism: Thesis about man or human knowledge to the effect that these are fallible - they may be mistaken, even if human beings have good evidence and have done their sincere rational best.

There is much good evidence that fallibilism in the above sense makes sense. And there is also a positive side: Presumed knowledge is corrigible, extendible, partial, incomplete, perfectable, and perhaps outside mathematics and logic never fully certain, precisely because it is revisable. ("What is empirical is not certain. What is certain is not empirical." Einstein.)

Rational men tend to be fallibilists in principle, though they also will insist there are degrees of uncertainty, and more or less fundamental or well-founded theories. But they know they may be mistaken, even in their dearest opinions.

Believers in a faith, fanatics for an ideology, and followers of parties or creeds tend not to be fallibilists where their faith, ideology, party or priests are concerned, which is the reason they often are, in practice if not in their own eyes, totalitarian.

Here is a great experimental physicist on the subject:

"Nothing is more difficult and requires more care than philosophical deduction, nor is there any thing more adverse to its accuracy than fixity of opinion. The man who is certain he is right is almost sure to be wrong; and he has the additional misfortune of inevitably remaining so. All our theories are fixed upon uncertain data, and all of them want alteration and support. Ever since the world began opinion has changed with the progress of things, and it is something more than absurd to suppose that we have a certain claim to perfection; or that we are in the possession of the acme of intellectuality which has, or can result from human thought. Why our successors should not displace us in our opinions, as well as in persons, it is difficult to say; it ever has been so, and from an analogy would be supposed to continue so. And yet with all the practical evidence of the fallibility of our opinions, all and none more than philosophers, are ready to assert the real truth of their opinions."
   (Michael Faraday, quoted in L. Pearce Williams)

Fanatic: Someone who strongly believes in an ideology or religion for which there is little evidence for non-believers in the ideology or religion.

There are proportionally more fanatics than rational persons, it would seem, and two reasons are that most persons do not have an intellect that is good enough to set up their own philosophy, while being a fanatic is intellectually open to all and  tends to be emotionally satisfying and also may come with great if delusive promises of happiness in the after-life or once the millenium has been created, or with rewards for those who fanatically serve a leader in this life.

It should also be mentioned that in some situations it takes great courage or independence of mind not to become - or at least to behave as - a fanatic, for example, under Stalinism, Maoism, in communist North-Korea, or in territories were people are much repressed or persecuted.

Also, two excuses of many fanatics - which they will tend not accept themselves - is that their social environment is totalitarian, and that their intelligence is not very great.

Follower: Practical believer in or supporter of some leader, religion, faith, creed, ideology, or group.

By and large most men are followers because most men are totalitarian ideological apes: Intelligent enough to need some sort of worldview to orient themselves and make choices; not intelligent enough to reason out their own; and emotionally, instinctually, and socially much disposed and pressurized to follow and trust and believe in leaders, and to engage in wishful thinking and groupthinking. (Our Group Good; Their Group Bad.)

It should also be noted that in 'civilized western societies' most men, especially those with a university degree, will in ordinary circumstances disdainfully reject the thesis that most men are followers - until there is some social crisis, war, or catastrophy, and one can see the 'independent individuals' of yore cry loudly for Leadership, Uniformity, Unity etc.

Besides, one sees the nature and large majority of natural born followers in such groups as political parties, religions, sports fans, health food fanatics etc.: For the vast majority of men there seems to be an instinctual basis for their strong liking or need to follow leaders and be a conformist member of some group.

Friendship: Liking of, interest in and benevolence to another person.

Most friendships are based on similarities of interests, ideas, ideals or outlook. Friendship is, next to love, one of the things that make human society pleasant and interesting and worthwile, but it should be remarked that, while there is genuine friendship like there is genuine love, one often sees or meets shows of these rather than the genuine article, and that many persons have had the experience that when their social prospects or riches or health lessen, so does the interest of their friends in them: One is all too often not appreciated for what one is or may be, but for the advantages others expect from one.

Games: What players of the game engage in: Behavior according to certain rules, that characterize the game, that serves some purpose, like amusement, instruction, learning or deceit.

The term "games" is used for many different activities, and in various more specific senses. It is difficult to define it in such a way that the definition accounts for all usages. However, it is taken as more specific than the similar term play, in that a game is a game, and in particular that game, because of its satisfying certain rules, that one has to know in order to be able to play the game.

There is a mathematical theory of games, that relates to games like chess, bridge and poker, and more broadly to strategic behavior in economics and politics, that involves reasoning about possibilities, probabilities and pay-offs, and strategies with which one can optimize one's winnings or minimize one's losses.

There is also a tragic site to games: Very many of the games people play are played while believing them to be something other than games. Indeed, the common social roles - father, mother, boss, clerk, manager, leader, follower, doctor, nurse and so on - tend to be mostly games that the actors play while believing or pretending that the way they play it and think of it is the right way to act out and believe in such a role.

Golden Rule: Form of 'Do not hurt others, except in self-defense'.

Here is a survey quoted from Runes' 'Pictorial History of Philosophy':

The Golden Rule

     What you don't want done to yourself,
     don't do to others

     Hurt not others with what pains thyself.

     In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief,
     we should regard all creatures as we regard our
     own self, and should therefore refrain from
     inflicting upon others such injury as would
     appear undesirable to us if inflicted upon

     Do not do unto others all that is
     not well for oneself.  

Classical Paganism
     May I do to others as I would
     they should do unto me.
     Plato - FOURTH CENTURY B.C.

     Do naught to others which if done thee
     would cause thee pain.
     Mahabharata - THIRD CENTURY B.C.

      What is hateful to yourself,
      don't do to your fellow man.
      Rabbi Hillel - FIRST CENTURY B.C. 

      Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, 
      do ye even so to them.
      Jesus of Nazareth - FIRST CENTURY A.D. 

      Treat others as thou would be treated thyself.

All of this strongly suggest that among human beings there is wide agreement about at least one general ethical principle.

And it is a sensible and humane rule, however it is precisely formulated. It also has the merit to appeal to the common human nature all humans share, but it is clearly not by itself a sufficient foundation for human society, since history shows that the Golden Rule has often been broken, and is easy to break as soon as human beings consider someone else, rightly or not, as an enemy or as a stranger or as a member of faith they don't share or as someone whom one can without punishment maltreat or deceive in one's own interests.

In brief: The Golden Rule in practice holds mostly only between friends and supposed equals, and otherwise has been often and easily broken.

Group in society: Human society is composed of groups i.e. collections of people that know each other personally, and that play roles in that society.

Indeed, "society" is an abstract, theoretical term, and such society as humans know in their own experience is made up of face-groups.

Most of what people believe they know about 'society' is propaganda or wishful thinking, and generally uninformed. Few people realize that, if they are 75 years old, there are - in the 21st Century - some 3 times more human beings in the world than seconds in their lives, namely 2,365,200,000 at age 75.

Also, it is noteworthy that there is little human awareness about their own mammalian and apish nature, although there is both amusing and bitter evidence about this gathered by e.g. Stanley Milgram and Desmond Morris. Some relevant points are

Groupthinking: The kind of thinking, feeling, valueing and desiring that keeps human social groups together.

Much of the thinking that goes into groupthinking is totalitarian in principle, and is made up of principles based on wishful thinking of the following kind:

Usually the members of groups are hardly aware that their membership is to a large extent emotionally and intellectually based on principles such as the above, even though it is very easy to see these principles at work in the mental make-up or the behavior of members of other groups - political parties, religious organizations, soccer supporters, but also firms, schools, universities etc., for one way the human animal is social is by actively belonging to groups and by supporting the ideas, ideals, morals and practices that constitute, regulate or support these groups.

Also, it is noteworthy that the above principles involved in most group-thinking are relatively innocuous, and that most groups also practice such principles as

  • Whoever does not belong to Our Group is less good (perfect, humane, religiously or racially proper) than whoever does
  • Whoever opposes Our Group, Our Leaders, Our Ideologyor Our Faith is, therefore and thereby, morally or humanly or intellectually inferior
  • Whoever does not conform to the practices and principles current in Our Group is immoral or insane

Most groupthinking involves prejudice of all kinds, and the best excuse for this seems to be that, since human beings are social animals, there is an instinctual motivation to wish to belong to and to support a human group.

Happiness: Well-being, satisfaction, contentedness, joy, ecstasy.

There are various modes of and reasons for happiness, but human beings widely though not universally have agreed that it are forms of happiness that make life worthwile. Those who did no agree on such a proposition usually did not do so because they believed happiness is an illusion or because they supposed that it is better to be morally good (in some sense) than to be happy.

1. Aristotelian happiness: There is a fine book by Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, "Analysis of Happiness" that is a serious, well-written, intelligent and informative study of the concept and opinions about it. To quote his analysis, which follows Aristotle mostly:

"Happiness means lasting satisfaction.
Thus happiness has to be defined as 1) complete, 2) lasting, 3) satisfying, and 4) touching the whole of life." (p. 8)

As Tatarkiewicz himself immediately proceeds to point out, the problem is that none of these four marks have a high chance of being satisfied in any one's life, or at least not to a large extent. As he says:

"There is, however, a way out of this dilemma. A distinction has only to be drawn between ideal and actual happiness." (p. 9)

This is true and makes some sense, though on the whole it seems the demand that happiness requires lasting satisfaction touching the whole of life requires too much of "the whole of life", for there are many chances for misfortune and misery in any human life.

2. Gibbon on happiness: There is a lot that may be said about happiness and misery. Here is an instructive quotation from Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (in which one also may learn that "History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind"). It concerns an opinion of an Islamic caliph of Spain of the house of the Ommiades, of ca. 800:

In the West the Ommiades of Spain supported with equal pomp the title of commander of the faithful. Three miles from Cordova, in honour of his favourite sultana, the third and greatest of the Abdalrahmans constructed the city, palace and gardens of Zehra. Twenty-five years, and above three million sterling, were employed by its founder: his liberal taste invited the artists of Constantinople, the most skilful sculptors and architects of the age; and the buildings were sustained or adorned by twelve hundred columns of Spanish and African, of Greek and Italian marble. The hall of audience was encrusted with the curious and costly figured of birds and quadrupeds. In a lofty pavilion of the gardens of one of these basins and fountains, so delightful in a sultry climate, was replenished not with water, but with the purest quicksilver. The seraglio of Abdalrahman, his wives, concubines, and black eunuchs, amounted to six thousand three hundred persons: and he was attended to the field by a guard of twelve thousand horse, whose belts and scimitars were studded with gold.

In a private condition our desires are perpetually repressed by poverty and subordination; but the lives and labours of millions are devoted to a despotic prince, whose laws are blindly obeyed, and whose wishes are instantly gratified. Our imagination is dazzled by the splendid picture; and whatever may be the cool dictates of reason, there are few among us who would obstinately refuse a trial of the comforts and the cares of royalty. It may therefore be of some use to borrow the experiences of the same Abdalrahman, whose magnificence has perhaps excited our admiration and envy, and to transcribe an authentic memorial which was found in the closet of the deceased caliph.

"I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to FOURTEEN; - O man! place not thy confidence in the present world!""

Thus the text. Two obvious difficulties are how one defines "the days of pure and genuine happiness" and next how one counts and recognizes them, all in rational terms, next to the problem that individual temperaments may differ a lot. Gibbon also has, as often, a beautiful and personal note to the above, of which I cite the end:

If I may speak of myself (the only person of whom I can speak with certainty), my happy hours have far exceeded, and far exceed, the scanty numbers of the caliph of Spain; and I shall not scruple to add, that many of them are due to the pleasing labour of the present composition.

Gibbon seems to be right and it seems to me that that there are probably good biological and biochemical reasons, even if they are at the present stage of knowledge largely unknown, why people, if they are free from pain, free from hunger, free from fear, and have a sound mind in a healthy body, therefore and thereby at least will feel well (disregarding those born with a melancholic constitution, as also happens). For if it were otherwise, there would be many more human suicides then there are.

In any case, this is a useful fact that seems to hold for the fast majority of men: For those who are free from pain, hunger, fear and memories of suffering, life feels well.

3. Happiness and society: One reason why happiness is quite important politically, socially, religiously and ethically is that most of the "crimes and follies" of mankind (see above) are strongly correlated with personal unhappiness: If you feel truly happy or joyous, there is no felt reason to kill or persecute others (if you are not a sadist).

  • The harm, misery and suffering that human beings cause other human beings tends to be caused by unhappy human beings.

4. Happiness and pleasure: According to J.S. Mill

"Happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being desirable as means to that end"


"Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness"

These are the basic tenets of Millsian utilitarian ethics. The second statement can be regarded as a definition of "right action", and seems to presuppose the first statement.

One problem with the first statement is what happiness is, and for Mill the answer to that is that in practice happiness comes down to pleasure. The further problem is then that while some pleasures seem worse than other pleasures of precisely the same strength, the Millian approach gives no logical means to explain that apparent fact, and indeed logical reasons to deny the apparent fact.

Another problem is that happiness seems to be the feeling one has if one believes one has reached some end one had, and that it is thus not pleasure in general, but the specific pleasure connected with success, and making an effort, and running risks.

This makes happiness a special kind of feeling related to ends and actions: Any end one has poses a desire to be satisfied, and to satisfy an end generally requires a series of actions and decisions, all of which will have some risk of failing, and all of which require some trouble and effort. The general feeling of satisfaction one has when realizing an end one had accordingly falls apart in the pleasures associated with the end, and the happiness associated with succesfully reaching an end.

Upon this definition, happiness is not "the only thing desirable", but merely the special feeling that accompanies realizing some desire one has, that usually is proportionate to both the importance one attaches to the end, and the trouble and risks one took to reach the end. Also, on this view happiness is not desirable, except in the sense that one desires to be successful in acting towards ends,  since it are the ends one has that are desirable for one, while happiness is the feeling one has if one is successful in realizing an end.

5. Happiness and power: It seems that men (and women, and children) do not so much want happiness as that they desire to do as they please: They want to do as they desire, first and foremost, and often choose for pleasure, but not necessarily so.

This was very well expressed by Sophocles:

"The fairest thing of all is to be just;
The best to live without disease; most sweet
Power to win each day the heart's desire."
   (Quoted in Bowra, "The Greek Experience", p. 92)

In a similar vein there was the ancient Greek inscription at Delos:

 Most noble is that which is justest, and best is health;
 But pleasantest is it to win what we love.

It is not happiness nor pleasure that people seek, but power - the ability to do as they please when they please. And indeed, it is true that the main motive for this is that power gives happiness, which need not be pleasure but may be any feeling of well-being produced by seeing an end one has satisfied.

It is noteworthy, not only logically speaking, that this is second order, in the sense that it is a desire about one's desires, and that it can be defined thus if one wants to conflate happiness and power:

  • One is happy if one does what one desires to do if and when one desires.

And obviously, since this is so for each and all, and all seem to aim at happiness thus defined, it follows cooperation and agreement are  necessary for human society.

Human nature: The set of capacities to think, feel and act that characterizes all and only human beings, as evidenced by human history, science, art, and civilization, including many atrocities and much human misery.

That all human beings - born out of a woman, with bodies developed from human DNA - have a similar set of capacities that enables them to think, feel and act in particular ways, and not in others, seems from a naturalistic or commonsensical point of view an evident assumption or truth, and conforms to the natural presumption that natural things come in natural kinds, and that every individual that belongs to a given kind has the properties and relations that characterize all individuals of that kind, and that human beings may understand and represent by their unique gifts for language and mathematics.

Even so, it is an assumption, and an important one, since it is at the basis of much of the thinking that keeps human societies together, all of which tends to somehow acknowledge that you and I and every other human being, now and as long as we can trace back human history, have been very similar in our natural construction, needs, and intellectual and emotional reactions to very many events that may happen to us.

Where one can learn about human nature? In medicine, biology, history, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, art, music, for it seems all of these have much to say about uniquely human properties, acts, and ideas, and the physical and social conditions of these.

Perhaps the best brief and memorable introduction are Shakespeare's Plays, with the introductions by Johnson and Hazlitt, or Montaigne's Essays, or Gibbons's or Thucydides's histories. A suitable side-reading to these are Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Chamfort's Maximes et Pensées.

Hypocrisy: Acting as if; pretending; playing a part.

In ancient Greek, the name for 'actor' in the sense of stage-player is 'hypocrites'. It is not widely appreciated that the basis of ordinary human social behavior is the playing of roles and the taking of parts, and that hypocrisy, whether mostly cynical, mostly sincere, mostly naive, mostly ironical, mostly conformistic, or mostly out of fear to be seen to deviate or to be abormal is what is best described as 'being social'. As William Hazlitt noted: 'No man is as much himself as when playing a part'.

The basic points here are two.

First, in all things human and social there is much room for hypocrisy of some kind, whether benevolent, as in politeness, or malevolent, as in deceit, and with many intermediate degrees that are difficult to distinguish clearly.

Second, this basic hypocrisy, this cant, this pretense, this acting as if, this role-playing, this deception and self-deception, this combination of collusion, delusion and illusion, is rarely faced fully, honestly and clearly, yet plays a fundamental role in human affairs, from friendship, love and marriage, to politics and religion.

1. Hypocrisy and cant: The distinction between hypocrisy and cant is both easy and difficult, since it is vague and fluent in practice, and much self-deception is based on a refusal to face evidence that goes against one's prejudices.

Both points may be illustrated by Hazlitt, who wrote a fine essay on the subject, namely 'On Cant and Hypocrisy'. First, there is the clear terminological distinction:

"He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves. (..) If anyone really despised what he affected outwardly to admire, this would be hypocrisy. If he affected to admire it a great deal more than he really did, this would be cant. Sincerity has to do with the connexion between our words and our thoughts, not between our belief and actions." 

Next, there is the loosening of terminology, though this may not be directly apparent:

"Thus, though I think there is very little downright hypocrisy in the world, I do think there is a great deal of cant - "cant religious, cant political, cant literary," etc. as Lord Byron said. Though few people have the face to set up for the very thing they in their hearts despise, we almost all want to be thought better than we are, and affect a  greater admiration or abhorrence of certain things than we really feel. Indeed, some degree of affectation is as necessary to the mind as dress is to the body; we must overact our parts in some measure, in order to produce any effect at all."

By contrast, I believe there is much hypocrisy in the world, but I agree with Hazlitt that since duplicity, dishonesty, insincerity and pretense are its basis, whereas its ends may be as varying as profit, safety or the advantages of another's love or liking, it is hard to fairly and precisely distinguish between all cases and kinds of hypocrisy, cant and deception.

In any case, I do not know of any prominent politician or religious leader who is not a consummate hypocrite - a successful flatterer, deceiver of and liar to his followers or flock, purportedly in their interests, but certainly in his own. And indeed, their excuse is valid, to some extent: One cannot lead a large group of people without lies and deception, for the average of a group is much below the average gifts of its individual members, and those who can and want to be lead in the mass must be led mostly by the nose, and by the stick and the carrot.

2. Personal and public character: There is a considerable difference, both in practice and in theory, between the personal character of humans, i.e. what they are and made of themselves, and show to their family, friends or themselves in private, and the public character of humans, i.e. what they show of themselves or of what they like to be seen as when performing some social role, whether this is work or connected to appearing in public.

There tends to be a considerable difference between these (sometimes charted in sociology or psychiatry under names like anomie and alienation), and a considerable hypocrisy in the common public character of humans. See: Character.

And that were just a few bits from my Philosophical Dictionary.


Maarten Maartensz

P.S. My eye problems

I'll leave the  text on my eye problems for the moment as a P.S., to clarify why I use such colors as I do, and why I have, for the time being, mostly stopped editing my site.
Version October 15, 2012: My eye problems are the reason this page has the colors it does have: It is very difficult to look at white and light backgrounds with such eyes as I presently have. See also: Why are the colors as they are?

The diagnosis is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (possibly as a part of Sjoegren's syndrome). It is less than it was, for months, but not as I should like it to be.

The present settings of NOTEBOOK aka NB seem the best compromise between what my eyes can handle, and what most readers like to see.

And they have been changed repeatedly, as have the links below to change the background (but not the color of the text box).

As of October 13, 2012, the standard setting for the text box is white text on a darkslategrey background while the standard background is maroon.

Version October 28, 2012: Black text on #339999.
Version November 8, 2012: Changed background to picture. (Background colors work no more.) I may changes this again, depending on my eyes. I may even return to Nederlog!
Version November 10, 2012: Black text on #CCCCFF, changed background picture.

[*] In fact, most of what is read in Nederlog is written in Dutch and - as far as I can see - most of that got selected because I wrote about something my readers are interested in, which means, as is indeed true, that quite a lot of old Nederlogs are being read daily.
[**] Probably it will not be a constant background, but it is a nice view and a nice memory for me, and indeed I do intend to write some more about Dovre and Norway, and in such contexts it will probably reappear.

                  PS: Any necessary corrections have to be made later.