Monday, December 19, 2022

Phil 415 - Stoic Threads in Hobbesian Philosophy

 Stoic Threads in Hobbesian Philosophy

On November 28, 2022, the world’s largest active volcano erupted for the first time in almost 40 years (Derrick). As the world witnessed the hot, fiery lava spew out and flow down the mountain, it was reminded, albeit on a small scale, that the universe loves to change and be in constant motion. One can’t help but observe in awe the hot lava settling and pondering how long it will take for the first biological life to emerge once the lava cools, decomposes and becomes the rich soil in which life will grow. While this fiery substance proves to be a key ingredient for life, the Stoics and Hobbes theorized on another substance which is the cause in all motion in the universe, including human passions: the substance of God.

Hobbes’s ideas on the materialism of God and the passions have their roots in Stoicism. While the Stoics viewed pneuma as the essence of God and motion in all bodies, Hobbes conceived God as “subtle fluid or spirit” (Gorham, 38). As God is the source of existence, things remain in motion by self-perpetuation. Both Hobbes and the Stoics claim oikeiosis, or self-preservation as the prime mover of people and that it is inherent in all living things. Yet, if this impulse for self-preservation is left unchecked by reason, it leads to unbridled passions (Santi, 67). As to how reason should be applied to rein in passions, Hobbes’s and the Stoics’ views part ways and diverge widely. Whereas the Stoics would teach the individual to be rational and to perhaps stamp out passions, Hobbes sees passions playing a pivotal role prior to the formation of the State and then having the absolute ruler manage people’s passions via an “enlightened sovereign” (71). One might say the Stoics prefer a bottom-up approach to dealing with passions while Hobbes would be a top-down approach (i.e., the Leviathan). Regardless of which paradigm for passion management is used, all lives begin with motion. Hobbes’s own inception of motion begins with fear. 

The Spanish Armada appeared over the horizon off the English coast – war! Close to 130 ships attacked England between July 31 and August 4, 1588 (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). The sight of the armada must have instilled fear in many as it was “an awesome spectacle to behold … [each ship] with lofty turrets like castles” (Hanson). Leading up to the clash, the people of England were in the grips of terror, including Thomas Hobbes’s mother.  Hobbes wrote, “rumor went everywhere through our towns that the last day for the nation was coming by fleet. And at that point, my mother was filled with such fear that she bore twins, me and together with me fear” (Martinich, 2). Hobbes and his “twin” were born April 5, 1588 – close to 4 months before the armada was to be seen off the coast of Plymouth. Hobbes would smartly observe of his birth, that the harrowing circumstances would affect him throughout life and would explain his “hatred for the enemies of [his] country” (2). The cause of the Spanish armada sailing to England is a complicated web of multiple causes and effects and lots of motion, both actual and political.

As with many philosophers of his day, Hobbes would have been familiar with multiple ancient and contemporary theories as to the ultimate cause of all motion. Most of these theories go on to attribute some force - calling it God - as the source cause of all motion. Among the many philosophies with which Hobbes was familiar was that of the Stoics and their theories on metaphysics. The Stoics noted both active and passive elements in the universe. The active was associated with the “rational principle (logos)” and they called this “God and Mind and Fate and Zeus” (Gorham, 37). More specifically, the Stoics called the essence of the substance of God pneuma and they likened it to “sperm or seed which contains the first principles or directions of all the things” (Baltzly). Hobbes, who would have encountered many Stoic ideas via his time tutoring and working with the Cavendishes, conceived the essence of God “as an infinitely subtle fluid or ‘spirit’ … [which is] ‘thin, fluid, transparent, invisible body” (Gorham, 38-39, 44). To remove all doubt as to his possible source of his ideas of the essence of God, he also wrote that his definition of “spirit” means “breadth, air, wind” in Latin and pneuma in Greek (39). If Hobbes’s spirit of God and the Stoics’ pneuma are the primal cause of existence, what is the next chain in the grand causal effect? Both Hobbes and the Stoics align on “the doctrine of oikeiosis … the principle of self-preservation” as the explanation of the cosmos’s perpetual motion (Santi, 67).

 In his article, Psychology and Politics: Hobbes, Chrysippus the Stoic and the Passions, Santi quotes Diogenes Laertius, who wrote that a “living being has, as first impulse, that of conserving itself … [pushing] away what is harmful … and [getting] near to what is proper as well as familiar” (67). In the same article, he quotes Hobbes: “necessity of nature makes men to will and desire bonum sibi, that which is good for themselves, and to avoid that which is hurtful” (67). This impulse to survive is the cause of many actions and movements in the universe, which sustain life and cause change. Is it any wonder, then, when an individual, or a family face dire circumstance, or even perceived threats to their survival, that they begin to take action to ensure their existence? This type of thinking is precisely at the root of the cause and effect of the English Civil War.

As with the invasion of the Spanish Armada, the causes of the English Civil war were complex and tangled. But the fundamental cause of grievances between the English monarchy and the English parliament was about money and the viability of citizens’ existence. While the monarchy wanted to raise funds to support its lifestyle or even start a “war against Scotland,” the “majority of members” of parliament wanted to address and manage their “grievances about ship money, forced loans, coat and conduct money” – things which they had been complaining about for more than a decade (Martinich, 122). Even though Hobbes’s livelihood would not be greatly impacted by demands from the king, he had written things in “defense of absolute sovereignty” and he had seen other people, who were in favor of an “absolute monarch,” be charged and arrested by Parliament (161). When Hobbes witnessed “the king’s chief ministers” as well as “the king’s chief counselor and the highest-ranking clergymen” being charged and arrested, he knew “Parliament wasn’t [acting] logical” and in a matter of days, he made arrangements to flee to France and then left in such a hurry, “he did not even wait for his luggage to be packed” (161-162).

While historians may debate as to whether Parliament, the monarchy or even Hobbes were acting logically or not, it does not take much imagination to see how an impulse to survive can be taken to an extreme. Returning to Santi, he makes the connection between the impulse for self-preservation and passion. Quoting Chrysippus the Stoic, he writes, “an impulse can also be rational, following right reason, but in the majority of people it is irrational and ‘contrary to nature’: it is ‘an excessive impulse’ that originates the passions” (68). Similarly, Hobbes agrees that passions are based on “memories of the past” or “expectations of the future” and that these passions “originate, in the mind” (68). Alas, this is where Hobbes and the Stoics cease in agreement, and subsequently depart into different directions regarding the management of passions.

Without getting into the full explanation of the Stoic theory of passions, the Stoics believe that passion is something the sage would never experience, since the Stoic sage would not have any “false beliefs about what is good and bad” (Brennan, 38). In other words, a practicing Stoic would not hold the belief that desire for money, or the fear of pain is either good or bad. If applied to Hobbes when he faced the threat of arrest from Parliament, instead of fleeing to France, perhaps he would have remained to perform his duties in England.

While the Stoics would recommend the individual work to hold correct beliefs about the world and to rationally control passions, Hobbes views passions as a force to be joined with reason in a “positive alliance” (Santi, 69). The key aspect of his idea is the “contrast between what drives conflict and what allows cooperative endeavor, rather than any quasi-Stoic view about how reason can overcome the passions” (Schmitter). Hobbes writes that “competition of riches, honour, command, or other power, inclines to contention, enmity, and war” but he also holds that “desire of ease, and sensual delight” along with the desires for learning and a “love of the arts” and fame, cause “men to obey a common power” (Santi, 69). He sees passion as the driving force both leading up to the creation and the sustaining of the State. For him, the telos of humankind is to live in a state of obedience to an ultimate sovereign who would preserve their security and ensure their passions are satisfied rationally (69-70). In fact, in his Leviathan, he “hopes that his theoretic principles will be embraced by an enlightened sovereign” who also is “the only legitimate moral philosopher … be it a king or an assembly” (71). If any additional nails are needed to close the coffin on an endorsement of a personal philosophy, as opposed to a State philsophy, Santi notes that Hobbes thought the “ancient philosophers were wrong and presumptuous in proposing their personal philosophic view as the true way of living” (71). For Hobbes, “the laws of the commonwealth … are the ground and measure of all true morality” (71).

In his masterpiece, Leviathan, in the first part of On Man, he gloomily described the human life as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 102). But as one reflects on Hobbes’s life, one comes to find the countless people with whom he worked – he was never alone.  One learns he was well compensated and connected to powerful people – he was never poor.  One further learns that his life was most assuredly not short – he died at age 91 on December 4, 1679. But as for life being brutish, perhaps he was correct. Because of the perpetual motion of unreasonable passions, he felt the effects of foreign powers at home and abroad, he witnessed a civil war in his homeland and “lived in a time of upheaval, sharper than any England has since known” - in a time of great division amongst the government, religions, militaries and economies (Williams). Given this “brutish” context, it is no wonder Hobbes advocated for a Leviathan to rule over people who could not rule themselves.

In conclusion, a few key threads in Hobbes’s philosophy can be traced back to Stoicism – namely his ideas on God and human passions. The Stoics and Hobbes identified fine, pervasive substance as the essence of God. This essence, in turn is the catalyst for self-preservation, which they both indicate as the prime mover of people and that it is inherent in all living things. Both agree that unchecked self-preservation can lead to passions. However, Hobbes and the Stoics part ways as to how the passions ought to be managed. The Stoics advocate for individuals to be rational and to perhaps eradicate passions, but Hobbes sees passions performing a crucial role prior to the formation of the State. The State then rules over her subjects and manages people’s passions via an “enlightened sovereign” (Santi, 71).  In sum, the individual lives for the State, and the State is “the ground and measure of all true morality” (71). 

Works Cited

Baltzly, Dirk. “Stoicism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2019, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2019,

Brennan, Tad. The Stoic Life : Emotions, Duties, and Fate. Oxford Oxford University Press, 2005.

Derrick, Bryson T., and Oliver Whang. Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii Erupts for the First Time in Nearly 40 Years. ProQuest, Nov 28, 2022,

Gorham, Geoffrey. "Mixing Bodily Fluids: Hobbes's Stoic God." Sophia, vol. 53, no. 1, 2014, pp. 33-49. ProQuest,, doi:

Hanson, Neil. The Confident Hope of a Miracle. Vintage, 2007.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, edited by Karl Schuhmann, and G. A. J. Rogers, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Martinich, A. P. Hobbes : A Biography. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Santi, Raffaella. "PSYCHOLOGY AND POLITICS: HOBBES, CHRYSIPPUS THE STOIC AND THE PASSIONS." Agathos, vol. 8, no. 2, 2017, pp. 57-73. ProQuest,

Schmitter, Amy M. “17th and 18th Century Theories of Emotions > Hobbes on the Emotions (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2021,

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Spanish Armada | Definition, Defeat, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 14 June 2017,

Williams, Garrath. “Hobbes, Thomas: Moral and Political Philosophy | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Phil 415 - Baruch Spinoza: Plunging into the Cosmos

Baruch Spinoza: Plunging into the Cosmos

Seeing clearly and comprehending reality correctly is critical for ensuring one’s actions are appropriate. A humorous Sears Optical commercial demonstrated this point by showing a woman letting a racoon into her home, thinking it was her cat. The implication was that her eyesight was so poor, she could not distinguish a wild racoon from her pet cat! (“Sears Optical Racoon Spot”). Spinoza was not only a lens crafter who helped people physically see correct reality, but he also was a philosopher who endeavored to help people comprehend an accurate understanding of God or nature. Spinoza was a contemporary to Descartes – noted for his cogito ergo sum - however Spinoza did not stop at acknowledging individual existence but strived to grasp “philosophical truth” from the view of an eternal, “rational observer” and not so much from a petty, egotistic perspective (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 48).

Born on November 24, 1632, in Amsterdam, Spinoza lived in an epoch of not only enlightenment, but one of challenges where people were vindictive and egocentric. One specific example of the degree to which people went to hold such strong beliefs was that of Uriel Da Costa; whose beliefs over which Spinoza “probably meditated long and hard” (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 66). Da Costa’s family and Spinoza’s family were connected as far back as when they lived in Portugal, before many of the Jews fled to Amsterdam (66). As for Uriel, his father was a Christian and his mother was a “Judaizer” (66). Having been raised Christian, he greatly feared for his salvation to the point of “sadness and pain”, and he deeply questioned his faith wondering if it “[agreed] with reason” (66-67). He abandoned his Christian faith and converted to Judaism in 1612 (67). But after some time living among the Jews in Amsterdam, he found their sect to be too Pharisaical. He moved to Hamburg in 1616 and published his quarrels with Judaism, railing against the “vanity and invalidity of the traditions and ordinances of the Pharisees” (68). Besides rejecting and deriding Jewish rites such as circumcision and the use of phylacteries and prayer shawls, Da Costa denied the immortality of the soul, the afterlife and eternal reward, all of which, he thought, caused great errors in thinking and “superstitious behaviors” (69). The Jewish religious leaders banned him, and he was exiled from the community; but after several years, he repented. He confessed his sins to the congregation, was then stripped to his waist, tied to a pillar and whipped thirty-nine times, then laid down at the threshold of the synagogue and walked over by every congregant as they exited the building. A few days later, Da Costa killed himself (71-72). Who is to blame for the anxieties of Da Costa? Was he in the right? Were his lay ministers rightfully justified in this brutal repentance process? Or were Da Costa and the rabbis all tragically in error?

Perhaps Spinoza thought they were all in error and attempted to correct these ideas. One historian of Spinoza wrote that having an “anthropomorphic conception of God can have only deleterious effects on human freedom and activity” (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 229). Furthermore, a modern author noted a similar sentiment when she wrote, “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Lamott). To rebut this erroneous perspective, Spinoza intended to elucidate a philosophy which would help society see reality from “the aspect of eternity” and to comprehend nature as an enduring and infinite entity in “which we participate because in it we are dissolved.” (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62).  Dissolution of oneself is synonymous to what Seneca wrote when he suggested the human soul "[inject] itself into the cosmos as a whole” (see Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius 66.6 and Hadot, et. al., The Present Alone Is Our Happiness : Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson, 230). Consequently, if we have a correct understanding of God or nature, we minimize emotions and are free to not only plunge ourselves into nature, but to also participate with God by acting virtuously. In brief, Spinoza claims “our happiness and well-being lie, not in a life enslaved to the passions and to the transitory goods we ordinarily pursue, nor in the related unreflective attachment to the superstitions that pass as religion, but rather in the life of reason” (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 227). The crux of Spinoza’s philosophy is God as substance.

Spinoza’s God is not meant to be anthropomorphized. As he states in the scholium of proposition 15: “some imagine God in the likeness of man, consisting of mind and body, and subject to passions” (Benedictus De Spinoza et al. Ethics, Part 1). Rather than a personal God, like that found in Abrahamic religions, Spinoza argued God is “infinite … (self-caused), [and a] unique substance of the universe” and that God is this substance, and all else that exists in the universe is in God (Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”). Since everything is God, humans and objects in the cosmos are simply modes or affections (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 1, proposition 15). There are two types of modes.  The first are “infinite and eternal” and the second are “finite and temporal” (Dutton).  The first are like the laws of motion which are “pervasive features of the universe” while the second are individual objects which inhabit the universe (Dutton). Lastly, Spinoza defines God as deterministic, when he stated, “nothing in nature is contingent, but all things are from the necessity of the divine nature determined to exist and act in a definite way” (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 1, proposition 29). As for free-will, he bluntly wrote, “men believe themselves to be free, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined” (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 3, proposition 2, scholium). In all these aspects of defining God, Spinoza remained totally committed to helping humanity comprehend reality from “the aspect of eternity” and to avoid the cruel, emotional behavior which many, including Da Costa, suffered in his time (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 241).

How does this understanding of God help the individual to minimize emotions? An awareness of “the universe in its totality cannot produce confused ideas, since the idea of the universe in its totality is the idea of God, which, to the extent that we grasp it, is adequate in us” (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62). This seeking and comprehension of how the cosmos operates unshackles us “from the troublesome emotional ups and downs of this life” by freeing us “from a reliance on the senses and the imagination” (Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”). No longer tied to the puppet strings of religious dogma, fear of death, fame, riches and a myriad of other external things beyond our control, our emotions are not pulled and manipulated by others, but rather we freely choose how to act virtuously and with equanimity (see Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.29 and Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 242).

Once we become unchained from externals, we exit the proverbial cave and enter the cosmos as an active agent instead of a passive entity (see Plato, et. al. 516a-517b). “The attempt to understand reality through that idea necessarily leads us to the love of reality … this love is active and intellectual, not passive and emotional; in acquiring it we come to participate in the divine nature” (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62). As an active agent in the universe, we see reality from a timeless and limitless perspective. Our actions and attitude, in a sense, are unified with God and we are free to choose a virtuous life which aligns itself with the morality of God.  This entire concept is perfectly captured in the Greek word eudaimonia, which means one’s daimon – or deity within – is flourishing well or “good” (eu) (see Hadot, The Inner Citadel, 120-124).

Having attained this realization and enlightenment via this leap into reality, we begin to comprehend how every event and interaction becomes a way to practice and live a virtuous, moral life, which “happiness … is strictly its own reward” (Scruton A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62). Our egotistical identity becomes transformed – we realize we are a part of God – and God’s reason becomes our reason. Pierre Hadot, in his analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, succinctly explains this realization and inner transformation.  The individual passes from the “domain of necessity to the domain of freedom, and from the domain of freedom to the domain of morality” by assuming the perspective of God or nature and realizing one is only an “infinitesimal point within the immensity” (Hadot, The Inner Citadel, 182). Realizing how little is in one’s control, he is liberated to focus solely on his own attitude; responding with justice, courage, temperance or wisdom to circumstances placed before him; refraining from judging something to be good or bad, and holding on to a higher perspective – these are the choices one makes to inject oneself into the universe and become dissolved in and unified with God.

Spinoza embodied his philosophy. In a poignant letter with a colleague in England, while the Dutch Republic and the United Provinces of England were at war, Spinoza wrote,

these troubles move me neither to laughter nor again to tears, but rather to philosophising, and to a closer observation of human nature. For I do not think it right to laugh at nature, and far less to grieve over it, reflecting that men, like all else, are only a part of nature, and that I do not know how each part of nature harmonises with the whole, and how it coheres with other parts. And I realize that it is merely through such lack of understanding that certain features of nature - which I thus perceive only partly and in a fragmentary way, and which are not in keeping with our philosophical attitude of mind - once seemed to me vain, disordered and absurd. But now I let everyone go his own way. Those who wish can by all means die for their own good, as long as I am allowed to live for truth (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 220).

On another occasion, when financial stakes were high, Spinoza’s sister Rebekah tried to prevent him from acquiring his share of his father’s inheritance after he had died. Spinoza, out of sheer principal, took her to court, “established his claim, and then calmly renounced it” thus maintaining justice, while not grasping at externals (Scruton, Spinoza : A Very Short Introduction, 9).

In conclusion, Spinoza was an honorable soul who observed the barbarities of his time and tried to do his part to rectify them. He worked all his life explaining his vision of universal harmony as well as establish a path away from superstition and one toward unity with the cosmos. His friends closest to him bear witness to Spinoza’s embodiment of his philosophy, noting his “personal charm, nobility of outlook, and affectionate disposition” (18). He never relented in advocating a comprehension of nature as an enduring and infinite entity, into which we plunge, are dissolved and actively participate in a virtuous and moral life.  

Works Cited

Benedictus De Spinoza, et al. Complete Works. Hackett Pub, 2002.

Dutton, Blake D. “Spinoza, Benedict de | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Hadot, Pierre, and Michael Chase. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, Mass. London Harvard University Press, 2001.

Hadot, Pierre, et al. The Present Alone Is Our Happiness : Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson. Stanford University Press, 2011.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books, 1994.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, et al. Letters on Ethics : To Lucilius. The University Of Chicago Press, 2015.

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, et al. Meditations. Penguin Classics, An Imprint Of Penguin Books, 2014.

Nadler, Steven M. “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2016,

---. Spinoza : A Life. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Plato, et al. A Plato Reader : Eight Essential Dialogues. Hackett Pub. Co, 2012.

Scruton, Roger. A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, Taylor & Francis Group, 1995. ProQuest Ebook Central,

---. Spinoza : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2002.

“Sears Optical Raccoon Spot.”, 23 Jan. 2014,

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Quotes and Review of Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

For my own reference, I'll simply be consolidating all the highlights I made from the book.  I may make some commentary as needed.

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

He notes that he has seen too many people die because they judged that life is not worth living.  The book is to help them dispel that idea.

"Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined."

"killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it"

"A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and this life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."

"it often happens that those who commit suicide were assured of the meaning of life."

"We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking."

"Hope of another life one must 'deserve' or trickery of those who live not for life itself but for some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it."

"It is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end."

"The climate of absurdity is in the beginning. The end is the absurd universe and that attitude of mind which lights the world with its true colors to bring out the privileged and implacable visage which that attitude has discerned in it."

"It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. “Begins”—this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery. In itself weariness has something sickening about it. Here, I must conclude that it is good. For everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it."

"At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise."

"Just as there are days when under the familial face of a woman, we see as a stranger her we had loved months or years ago, perhaps we shall come even to desire what suddenly leaves us so alone."

"This discomfort in the face of man’s own inhumanity, this incalculable tumble before the image of what we are, this “nausea,” as a writer of today calls it, is also the absurd."

"The mind’s first step is to distinguish what is true from what is false."

"Understanding the world for a man is reducing it to the human, stamping it with his seal."

"If man realized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be reconciled."

"That nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute illustrates the essential impulse of the human drama."

"It is essential to consider as a constant point of reference in this essay the regular hiatus between what we fancy we know and what we really know, practical assent and simulated ignorance which allows us to live with ideas which, if we truly put them to the test, ought to upset our whole life."

This is a very important point Camus makes and one which is not made explicit in day-to-day conversations.  It is a point not explicitly made, but strongly implied when talking philosophy.  What we know is very little.  Much of the rest is conjecture.  Just the other evening, I was talking with my sister about the period of time in history between John Wycliff (d. 1384) and the Münster rebellion (~1535).  In that 150 year period alone there was horrible violence all because of a few philosophical ideas on God and church.  Millions (perhaps billions?) have died for ideas which can be categorized as "simulated ignorance."

Camus goes on to say, "So long as the mind keeps silent in the motionless world of its hopes, everything is reflected and arranged in the unity of its nostalgia. But with its first move this world cracks and tumbles: an infinite number of shimmering fragments is offered to the understanding. We must despair of ever reconstructing the familiar, calm surface which would give us peace of heart."

I think that the yearning - the nostalgia - for certainty is what people cling to and over which they start wars and bloodshed.  In searching for the familiar, simulated ignorance which they think gives them a 'calm surface' and 'peace of heart' they find uncertainty ... when they have that realization, it disrupts their world and in some cases, violence ensues and for some, suicide.

"If the only significant history of human thought were to be written, it would have to be the history of its successive regrets and its impotences."

"Of whom and of what indeed can I say: “I know that!” This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers."

"This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled."

"Socrates’ ”Know thyself” has as much value as the “Be virtuous” of our confessionals. They reveal a nostalgia at the same time as an ignorance. They are sterile exercises on great subjects. They are legitimate only in precisely so far as they are approximate."

"You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts?"

a good definition of the absurd"A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only by refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes. Everything is ordered in such a way as to bring into being that poisoned peace produced by thoughtlessness, lack of heart, or fatal renunciations."

"despite so many pretentious centuries and over the heads of so many eloquent and persuasive men, I know that is false. On this plane, at least, there is no happiness if I cannot know. That universal reason,
practical or ethical, that determinism, those categories that explain everything are enough to make a decent man laugh. They have nothing to do with the mind. They negate its profound truth, which is to be enchained. In this unintelligible and limited universe, man’s fate henceforth assumes its meaning."

"what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart."

"On the plane of history, such a constancy of two attitudes illustrates the essential passion of man torn between his urge toward unity and the clear vision he may have of the walls enclosing him."

"Chestov, for his part, throughout a wonderfully monotonous work, constantly straining toward the same truths, tirelessly demonstrates that the tightest system, the most universal rationalism always stumbles eventually on the irrational of human thought."

"Of all perhaps the most engaging, Kierkegaard, for a part of his existence at least, does more than discover the absurd, he lives it. The man who writes: “The surest of stubborn silences is not to hold one’s tongue but to talk” makes sure in the beginning that no truth is absolute or can render satisfactory an existence that is impossible in itself."

"Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment."

"I want everything to be explained to me or nothing."

"The world itself, whose single meaning I do not understand, is but a vast irrational. If one could only say just once: “This is clear,” all would be saved. But these men vie with one another in proclaiming that nothing is clear, all is chaos, that all man has is his lucidity and his definite knowledge of the walls surrounding him. All these experiences agree and confirm one another. The mind, when it reaches its limits, must make a judgment and choose its conclusions."

"Absurd is not in man (if such a metaphor could have a meaning) nor in the world, but in their presence together. For the moment it is the only bond uniting them. If wish to limit myself to facts, I know what man wants, I know what the world offers him, and now I can say that I also know what links them."

"A man who has become conscious of the absurd is forever bound to it."

"'the unthinkable unity of the general and the particular.' Thus the absurd becomes god (in the broadest meaning of this word) and that inability to understand becomes the existence that illuminates everything. Nothing logically prepares this reasoning. I can call it a leap."

"'The only true solution,' [Chestov] said, 'is precisely where human judgment sees no solution. Otherwise, what need would we have of God? We turn toward God only to obtain the impossible. As for the possible, men suffice.'"

"Chestov discovers the fundamental absurdity of all existence, he does not say: “This is the absurd,” but rather: “This is God: we must rely on him even if he does not correspond to any of our rational categories.” So that confusion may not be possible, the Russian philosopher even hints that this God is perhaps full of hatred and hateful, incomprehensible and contradictory; but the more hideous is his face, the more he asserts his power. His greatness is his incoherence. His proof is his inhumanity. One must spring into him and by this leap free oneself from rational illusions. Thus, for Chestov acceptance of the absurd is contemporaneous with the absurd itself."

"the absurd is the contrary of hope."

"The moment the notion transforms itself into eternity’s springboard, it ceases to be linked to human lucidity."

"This leap is an escape."

"The intoxication of the irrational and the vocation of rapture turn a lucid mind away from the absurd. To Chestov reason is useless but there is something beyond reason. To an absurd mind reason is useless and there is nothing beyond reason. This leap can at least enlighten us a little more as to the true
nature of the absurd."

"The absurd man, on the other hand, does not undertake such a leveling process. He recognizes the struggle, does not absolutely scorn reason, and admits the irrational. Thus he again embraces in a single glance all the data of experience and he is little inclined to leap before knowing. He knows simply that in that alert awareness there is no further place for hope."

"Kierkegaard likewise takes the leap. His childhood having been so frightened by Christianity, he ultimately returns to its harshest aspect ...  Christianity is the scandal and what Kierkegaard calls for quite plainly is the third sacrifice required by Ignatius Loyola, the one in which God most rejoices: “The sacrifice of the intellect.” ... “In his failure,” says Kierkegaard, “the believer finds his triumph.”

"through a strained subterfuge, he gives the irrational the appearance and God the attributes of the absurd: unjust, incoherent, and incomprehensible."

"I want to know whether I can live with what I know and with that alone"

"The absurd, which is the metaphysical state of the conscious man, does not lead to God. Perhaps this notion will become clearer if I risk this shocking statement: the absurd is sin without God."

"god is maintained only through the negation of human reason. But, like suicides, gods change with men. There are many ways of leaping, the essential being to leap. Those redeeming negations, those ultimate contradictions which negate the obstacle that has not yet been leaped over."

another key quote which defines absurdism"In fact, our aim is to shed light upon the step taken by the mind when, starting from a philosophy of the world’s lack of meaning, it ends up by finding a meaning and depth in it." ... "Thinking is learning all over again how to see ... the act of attention"

"Reason and the irrational lead to the same preaching. In truth the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices. The abstract philosopher and the religious philosopher start out from the same disorder and support each other in the same anxiety. ... It is constantly oscillating between extreme rationalization of reality which tends to break up that thought into standard reasons and its extreme irrationalization which tends to deify it."

"Just as reason was able to soothe the melancholy of Plotinus, it provides modern anguish the means of calming itself in the familiar setting of the eternal. The absurd mind has less luck. For it the world is neither so rational nor so irrational. It is unreasonable and only that. ...  The absurd is lucid reason noting its limit."

"Sin is not so much knowing (if it were, everybody would be innocent) as wanting to know. Indeed, it
is the only sin of which the absurd man can feel that it constitutes both his guilt and his innocence."

"It is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity,
this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together."

"Is one going to die, escape by the leap, rebuild a mansion of ideas and forms to one’s own scale? Is
one, on the contrary, going to take up the heart-rending and marvelous wager of the absurd?"

"At a certain point on his path the absurd man is tempted. History is not lacking in either religions or prophets, even without gods. He is asked to leap. All he can reply is that he doesn’t fully understand,
that it is not obvious."

"It was previously a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear, on the contrary, that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning. Living an experience, a particular fate, is accepting it fully."

"The theme of permanent revolution is thus carried into individual experience. Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all, contemplating it."

"One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world
anew every second. Just as danger provided man the unique opportunity of seizing awareness, so metaphysical revolt extends awareness to the whole of experience. It is that constant presence
of man in his own eyes. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainly of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."

"Suicide, like the leap, is acceptance at its extreme. Everything is over and man returns to his essential history. His future, his unique and dreadful future—he sees and rushes toward it. In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in order to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. It escapes suicide to the extent that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death. ... That revolt gives life its value."

"Consciousness and revolt, these rejections are the contrary of renunciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one’s own free will. Suicide is a repudiation. The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance. This is a first consequence."

"either we are not free and God the all-powerful is responsible for evil. Or we are free and responsible but God is not all powerful."

"The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the State. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action. Now if the absurd cancels all my chances of eternal freedom, it restores and magnifies, on the other hand, my freedom of action. That privation of hope and future means an increase in man’s availability."

"Thinking of the future, establishing aims for oneself, having preferences—all this presupposes a belief in freedom, even if one occasionally ascertains that one doesn’t feel it. But at that moment I am well aware that that higher liberty, that freedom to be, which alone can serve as basis for a truth, does not exist. Death is there as the only reality."

"The absurd enlightens me on this point: there is no future. Henceforth this is the reason for my inner freedom."

"The absurd man thus catches sight of a burning and frigid, transparent and limited universe in which nothing is possible but everything is given, and beyond which all is collapse and nothingness. He can then decide to accept such a universe and draw from it his strength, his refusal to hope, and the unyielding evidence of a life without consolation."

"But what does life mean in such a universe? Nothing else for the moment but indifference to the future and a desire to use up everything that is given. Belief in the meaning of life always implies a scale of values, a choice, our preferences. Belief in the absurd, according to our definitions, teaches the contrary. ... Knowing whether or not one can live without appeal is all that interests me."

"belief in the absurd is tantamount to substituting the quantity of experiences for the quality. If I convince myself that this life has no other aspect than that of the absurd, if I feel that its whole equilibrium depends on that perpetual opposition between my conscious revolt and the darkness in which it struggles, if I admit that my freedom has no meaning except in relation to its limited fate, then I must say that what counts is not the best living but the most living. It is not up to me to wonder if this is vulgar or revolting, elegant or deplorable. Once and for all, value judgments are discarded here in favor of factual judgments."

"The most living ... quantity and variety of experiences ... there must also be taken into consideration the individual’s spontaneous contribution, the “given” element in him ... on the one hand the absurd teaches that all experiences are unimportant, and on the other it urges toward the greatest quantity of experiences. How, then, can one fail to do as so many of those men I was speaking of earlier—choose the form of life that brings us the most possible of that human matter ... Being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum ... The absurd and the extra life it involves therefore do not defend on man’s will, but on its contrary, which is death. Weighing words carefully, it is altogether a question of luck. ... The present and the succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man."

"Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion.  By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death—and I refuse suicide."

"For the spectator, if he is conscious, that leap is still absurd. ... the point is to live."

"What, in fact, is the absurd man? He who, without negating it, does nothing for the eternal. Not that nostalgia is foreign to him. But he prefers his courage and his reasoning. The first teaches him to live without appeal and to get along with what he has; the second informs him of his limits. Assured of his
temporally limited freedom, of his revolt devoid of future, and of his mortal consciousness, he lives out his adventure within the span of his lifetime. That is his field, that is his action, which he shields from any judgment but his own. A greater life cannot mean for him another life."

"There is but one moral code that the absurd man can accept, the one that is not separated from God: the one that is dictated. ... “Everything is permitted,” exclaims Ivan Karamazov. That, too, smacks of the absurd. But on condition that it not be taken in the vulgar sense."

He then paints a picture of various absurd characters who embody the philosophy.

Don Juanism

"There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional."

Drama (the actor)

"The everyday man does not enjoy tarrying. Everything, on the contrary, hurries him onward. But at the same time nothing interests him more than himself, especially his potentialities. Whence his interest
in the theater, in the show, where so many fates are offered him, where he can accept the poetry without feeling the sorrow."

"Choosing between heaven and a ridiculous fidelity, preferring oneself to eternity or losing oneself in God is the age-old tragedy in which each must play his part."

Conquest (the conqueror)

"Conscious that I cannot stand aloof from my time, I have decided to be an integral part of it. This is why I esteem the individual only because he strikes me as ridiculous and humiliated. Knowing that there are no victorious causes, I have a liking for lost causes: they require an uncontaminated soul, equal to its defeat as to its temporary victories."

"deprived of the eternal, I want to ally myself with time."

"Conquerors know that action is in itself useless ... I have chosen this absurd and ineffectual effort. This is why I am on the side of the struggle."

"Victory would be desirable. But there is but one victory, and it is eternal. That is the one I shall
never have."

"Conquerors sometimes talk of vanquishing and overcoming. But it is always ‘overcoming oneself’ that they mean."

in sum of the characters ... "Let me repeat that these images do not propose moral codes and involve no judgments: they are sketches. They merely represent a style of life. The lover, the actor, or the adventurer plays the absurd. But equally well, if he wishes, the chaste man, the civil servant, or the president of the Republic."

"Being deprived of hope is not despairing. ... They are not striving to be better; they are attempting to be consistent."

"The imagination can add many others, inseparable from time and exile, who likewise know how to live in harmony with a universe without future and without weakness. This absurd, godless world is, then, peopled with men who think clearly and have ceased to hope. And I have not yet spoken of the most absurd character, who is the creator."

Absurd Creation

"War cannot be negated. One must live it or die of it."  This quote reminds me of Heraclitus, war is the father of all.

"Creation is the great mime."

"Even men without a gospel have their Mount of Olives. And one must not fall asleep on theirs either. For the absurd man it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing. Everything begins with lucid indifference."

"The philosopher, even if he is Kant, is a creator."

"Today when thought has ceased to lay claim to the universal, when its best history would be that of its repentances, we know that the system, when it is worth while, cannot be separated from its author. The Ethics itself, in one of its aspects, is but a long and reasoned personal confession." This is his way of saying one must embody their philosophy.

"I want to know whether, accepting a life without appeal, one can also agree to work and create without appeal and what is the way leading to these liberties. I want to liberate my universe of its phantoms and
to people it solely with flesh-and-blood truths whose presence I cannot deny. I can perform absurd work, choose the creative attitude rather than another. But an absurd attitude, if it is to remain so, must remain aware of its gratuitousness. So it is with the work of art. If the commandments of the absurd are not respected, if the work does not illustrate divorce and revolt, if it sacrifices to illusions and arouses hope, it ceases to be gratuitous."

"What holds for creation, looked upon as one of the possible attitudes for the man conscious of the absurd, holds for all the styles of life open to him. The conqueror or the actor, the creator or Don Juan may forget that their exercise in living could not do without awareness of its mad character."

"There is so much stubborn hope in the human heart. The most destitute men often end up by accepting illusion. That approval prompted by the need for peace inwardly parallels the existential consent."


"What distinguishes modern sensibility from classical sensibility is that the latter thrives on moral problems and the former on metaphysical problems. In Dostoevsky’s novels the question is propounded with such intensity that it can only invite extreme solutions. Existence is illusory or it is eternal."

"Convinced that human existence is an utter absurdity for anyone without faith in immortality, the
desperate man comes to the following conclusions:

“Since in reply to my questions about happiness, I am told, through the intermediary of my consciousness, that I cannot be happy except in harmony with the great all, which I cannot conceive and shall never be in a position to conceive, it is evident...”

“Since, finally, in this connection, I assume both the role of the plaintiff and that of the defendant, of the accused and of the judge, and since I consider this comedy perpetrated by nature altogether stupid, and since I even deem it humiliating for me to deign to play it ...”

“In my indisputable capacity of plaintiff and defendant, of judge and accused, I condemn that nature which, with such impudent nerve, brought me into being in order to suffer—I condemn it to be annihilated with me.”

"There remains a little humor in that position. This suicide kills himself because, on the metaphysical plane, he is vexed. In a certain sense he is taking his revenge. This is his way of proving that he “will not be had."

"“I shall kill myself in order to assert my insubordination, my new and dreadful liberty.” It is no longer a question of revenge, but of revolt. Kirilov is consequently an absurd character—yet with this essential reservation: he kills himself. ... he wants to kill himself to become god. ...  “If God does not exist, I am god,"

"Kirilov in fact fancies for a moment that Jesus at his death did not find himself in Paradise. He found out then that his torture had been useless. “The laws of nature,” says the engineer, “made Christ live in the midst of falsehood and die for a falsehood.”" ... He is the complete man, being the one who realized the most absurd condition. He is not the God-man but the man-god. And, like him, each of us can be crucified and victimized—and is to a certain degree."

"If God exists, all depends on him and we can do nothing against his will. If he does not exist, everything depends on us."

"Kirilov must kill himself out of love for humanity ... it is not despair that urges him to death, but love of his neighbor."

"Kirilov’s pistol rang out somewhere in Russia, but the world continued to cherish its blind hopes."

"Consequently, it is not an absurd novelist addressing us, but an existential novelist. Here, too, the leap is touching and gives its nobility to the art that inspires it. It is a stirring acquiescence, riddled with doubts, uncertain and ardent. Speaking of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky wrote: “The chief question that will be pursued throughout this book is the very one from which I have suffered consciously or unconsciously all life long: the existence of God."

"It is not an absurd work that is involved here, but a work that propounds the absurd problem."

"what contradicts the absurd in that work is not its Christian character, but rather its announcing a future life. It is possible to be Christian and absurd."

"The surprising reply of the creator to his characters, of Dostoevsky to Kirilov, can indeed be summed up thus: existence is illusory and it is eternal."

Ephemeral Creation

"To work and create “for nothing,” to sculpture in clay, to know that one’s creation has no future, to see one’s work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries—this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions."

"At the moment of death, the succession of his works is but a collection of failures. But if those failures all have the same resonance, the creator has managed to repeat the image of his own condition, to make the air echo with the sterile secret he possesses."

"human will had no other purpose than to maintain awareness. But that could not do without discipline. Of all the schools of patience and lucidity, creation is the most effective. It is also the staggering evidence of man’s sole dignity: the dogged revolt against his condition, perseverance in an effort considered sterile. It calls for a daily effort, self-mastery, a precise estimate of the limits of truth, measure, and strength. It constitutes an ascesis. All that “for nothing,” in order to repeat and mark time."

"Thus, I ask of absurd creation what I required from thought— revolt, freedom, and diversity. Later on it will manifest its utter futility. In that daily effort in which intelligence and passion mingle and delight each other, the absurd man discovers a discipline that will make up the greatest of his strengths."

"The final effort for these related minds, creator or conqueror, is to manage to free themselves also from their undertakings: succeed in granting that the very work, whether it be conquest, love, or creation, may well not be; consummate thus the utter futility of any individual life."

The Myth of Sisyphus

"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor."

"You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing."

"Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he
will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me."

"If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious."

"The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn."

"Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth."

"the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols."

"The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing."

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Phil 303: John Wycliff: Cornerstones of Heresy

John Wycliff: Cornerstones of Heresy

Ages come and ages go.  With the hindsight of history, figures can be squarely placed in various epochs.  However, there are figures who act as seams between the fabric of eras who instigate and facilitate transition between one age and the next.  John Wycliff was such a figure and was named the “evening star of scholasticism and the morning star of the Reformation” (Michael, 343).  Wycliff was considered the “greatest secular philosophical theologian in Oxford of his day” because of his controversial ideas which had a profound impact on many people over the next one hundred years (Lahey, 7).  In a sense, Wycliff was a strong advocate of removing power from the Church and giving it to the people.  Those who had power tried to stop him, while those without power supported him.  Two of his ideas, which acted as catalysts for transferal of power, were heretical cornerstones for the coming Reformation.  First was his philosophical thoughts on logic and how one ought to approach God, which led him to produce a vernacular Bible making it more accessible to the people.  And second, his beliefs on metaphysics, which led to his highly controversial views on transubstantiation.  Both ideas, in principle, remain relevant today.  What ties the two ideas together is the notion of removing intermediaries between the worshiper and God.

John Wycliff was born in either Hipswell or Wycliff-on-Tees in Yorkshire England, sometime in the 1320s (Lahey, 3-4).  Roughly 20 years later, he began his studies in Oxford, during which he would have witnessed “the Black Death in 1349” (5).  Through the next 20 years, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and then went on to work as a priest in various parishes (5-6).  By 1363 he began theological training, while continuing his parish duties; and he completed his theology and doctorate degrees by 1372 (6).  Much of his work and schooling became the impetus for his writings and agitation against the Church.  The last decade of his life is marked with work on the translation of the Bible, political work and conflict with the Church.  Two of the cornerstones of that conflict are his work on a vernacular Bible and his controversial views on the sacrament.  He died, after a series of strokes, on December 31, 1384 (29).

The first cornerstone was Wycliff’s elucidation of a logical system which was tightly related to metaphysics.  Conti, a medieval philsophy professor and researcher at the University of Salerno, succinctly notes Wycliff “firmly believed that language was an ordered collection of signs, each referring to one of the constitutive elements of reality.”  These signs were further clarified with the tripart division of universals.  First are ideal universals or “the ideas of God;” second are formal universals or “common natures shared by individual things;” and third, intentional universals or “mental signs” (Conti).  In a sense, intentional universals refer to formal universals which refer to ideal universals or the ideas of God.  Lahey, a professor who has written extensively on Wycliff, summarizes a letter Wycliff wrote, regarding the importance of focusing on universals and scripture: “if we have access to something so universal, so perfectly connected to the divine mind, as a written record of truth, we must surely use it if we are to love God in all that we do” (142).   Therefore, to learn of these universals and to understand the ideas of God, one must look to the supreme philosopher, Christ, and one learns from Christ through scripture, which “is the source of every valid system of logic and the eternal source of truth in creation” (138).  Furthermore, Wycliff maintained “that the many terms and propositions” in the Bible would retain “their logical veracity as long as they are read as originally intended by their Divine Author” (The Wycliffite Bible, 31).  To this end, Wycliff sought to translate scripture to make it the most clear and meaningful to the reader (44).

If the clergy and the members of the Church had access to the complete law of Christ and if it were clear in meaning to them, then they would have the complete “Law of Love” and consequently would fully grasp and live by the “perfect law of charity” (43).  Indeed, they would have access to ideal universals (ideas of God) and as a result, would live the laws of God because they understand the mind of God.  This concept of attaining direct access to God’s laws through scripture would have an immediate effect on society as it would be evident to all (lay people and clergy), that the leaders of the Church ought to more strictly follow the admonition of Christ and become mendicant.  For this reason, among others, Wycliff was the target of persecution.  If the people fully grasped Christ’s teachings, they would demand clergy relinquish their wealth, therefore, the “friars and bishops [shuddered] at the notion that the gospel might be known in English” (45).  Up to this point in history, they acted as gatekeepers of God’s law to the people, and consequently propagated inaccuracies in meaning of scriptures “at an alarming rate” (30).  To slow the rate or cease this trend, Wycliff essentially labored to hold clergy accountable to the Laws of Love and to strip the powers from the gatekeepers and facilitate direct access to God’s words to the people.

The second cornerstone would appear towards the end of his life, when Wycliff would advance another controversial idea based on his ideas of metaphysics.  In his day, the prevailing view of the Lord’s Supper was that after the blessing of the actual bread and wine, they were transformed into Christ's body and blood respectively, and what remained were simply “outward appearances, or accidents, beneath which [existed] the body of Christ” (Levy, 22).  Wycliff objected to this view based on his ideas of essence and being.  He argued that essence and being were one and the same.  Conti summarizes the view as, “essence without being would imply that an individual could be something of a given type without being real in any way, and being without essence would imply that there could be the existence of a thing without the thing itself.”  To connect this to the idea of transubstantiation, Wycliff would argue that bread and wine are exactly and precisely bread and wine; and to believe these essences could be transformed into the body and blood of Christ would amount to the “annihilation of a particular thing [resulting] in the destruction of its entire genus” (Levy, 23).  To further emphasize this point, Wycliff argued that God had established the law and processes of the universe (i.e. God creating the essence of something), and for God to sidestep “the processes that he himself put in place” would be gratuitous and turn God into a “deceiver” and make the “cosmos unintelligible” (24).  Wycliff makes a solid argument against transubstantiation, when advancing the idea that God cannot sidestep the physics he has established.  But one cannot help but wonder why the supporters of the idea of transubstantiation, in order to refute Wycliff, did not compare Christ’s miracle of converting water to wine to the concept of transubstantiation.  If Christ could convert the essence of water into wine, they why would it be impossible for God to convert sacramental tokens into flesh and blood?

Woven in the heretical cornerstones of scripture accessible to the common people and a non-literal transubstantiation, is Wycliff’s overarching aim at seeing the world as it really is, without an intermediary, or at least an intermediary with less influence (i.e., a less influential Church).  If the Church had the power to define meaning of scripture while the people did not have access to it and if the Church leaders and members were indulging in idolatry by staunchly defending transubstantiation, then their very souls were being led astray (Levy, 24).  Therefore, Wycliff wanted to explain things as they really are, to reclaim power over his own eternal fate rather than leave it to the whims of fallible leaders.  When his philosophical concepts are viewed in this light, one may grasp sound principles of what it means to philosophize.  Seeking and attaining access to primary sources and questioning the physics of the sacraments are sound ideas which led the individual to comprehending the world as it really is.

In sum, Wycliff advocated the transferal of religious power to the people.  His heretical ideas, which promoted an understanding of the world as it really is, act as cornerstones for the coming Reformation.  His theories on logic and how one ought to approach God, led him to produce a vernacular Bible making it more accessible to the people.  And his viewpoints on metaphysics led to his highly contentious views on transubstantiation.  Both general ideas, in principle, remain applicable today.  What ties the two ideas together is the notion of removing veils which stand between the worshiper and the divine. 

Works Cited

Conti, Alessandro. “John Wyclif.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2017, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2017,

Lahey, Stephen Edmund. John Wyclif. Oxford University Press, 2009. EBSCOhost,

Levy, Ian C. "John Wyclif and the Eucharistic Words of Institution: Context and Aftermath." Church History, vol. 90, no. 1, 2021, pp. 21-44. ProQuest,, doi:

Michael, Emily. "John Wyclif on Body and Mind." Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 64, no. 3, 2003, pp. 343. ProQuest,

The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation, BRILL, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Phil 303 Alcuin: Reason in Service of Revelation

Alcuin: Reason in Service of Revelation

At the time of Charlemagne, the Roman Empire was fragmented between East and West, with the power residing in the East in Constantinople.  The balance eventually shifted with Charlemagne assuming power.  When he was coronated as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III, there was a “transferral of the imperium Romanum from the Greeks [in the East] to the West” (Lamers).   Leading to his coronation, Charlemagne consolidated power and ensured “the acceptance of orthodox doctrine as well as a uniform liturgy throughout the empire” (“Charlemagne”).  As part of instituting a uniform liturgy, he recruited clergy and scholars throughout Europe.  One of the key individuals was Alcuin.

Born around 735, Alcuin of York had the mental acumen to be noticed at a young age and was appointed as “master of the cathedral school” in 766 (Ruud).  As schoolmaster, Alcuin worked on establishing a significant library and would travel to continental Europe to acquire or copy manuscripts.  Through these and other types of travels, fate would bring Charlemagne and Alcuin together; and in 781, Alcuin accepted Charlemagne’s invitation to live in Aachen and assume responsibilities of schoolmaster (Burns).

Alcuin was more of a “teacher rather than a thinker” and therefore was not an “originator of knowledge” (Burns).  However, three of Alcuin’s key philosophical beliefs were centered around, subjecting philosophy and liberal arts to revelation, the applied use of logic to strike down heresies to unite diverse and competing cultures, and lastly, structuring and reforming a system for a liberal education.  Foremost in his mind was ensuring all studies and application of education only served revelation.  Keeping this priority in mind, Alcuin applied rhetoric and logic to convince various archbishops and students to abandon unorthodox ideas such as Adoptionism (Alberi).  While the importance of arguing against Adoptionism may not be a critical task to modern students, the framework of learning and promoting a classical liberal education remains significant today.  This third key philosophical belief focused on the structure of a classical liberal education and was part of a larger effort in a first attempt at a European renaissance.  However, the Carolingian renaissance did not endure.  What endured and still remains viable today was Alcuin’s efforts in the promotion of education and the use of logic.  Perhaps what does not remain as practical today is the philosophical concept of revelation taking priority over reason.

At Charlemagne’s behest, Alcuin continued his work of training the clergy and “accurately translating ancient literature” as well as creating programs of learning at the school in Aachen (Brooks).  As he established curriculum for liberal arts, Alcuin never forgot to keep the priority of God and revelation first.  While it may seem that Charlemagne was endeavoring to create a ‘new Athens,’ in actuality, the prevailing perspective was Aachen already “possessed in Christ’s teaching the key to wisdom superior to ‘all the wisdom of academic exercise’” (Alberi, 36).  For Alcuin specifically, he “preferred to advocate reform of politics and scholarship according to the standards of the Bible and the Fathers” (41).  The real power of a liberal arts education was in its application to strike down heresies which ensured Charlemagne’s kingdom remained unified and aligned with the Pope.  By aligning with the Pope, Charlemagne ensured a successful consolidation power in the western empire.

Always mindful of the power of logic and rhetoric, Alcuin was vigilant in ensuring liberal arts supported the word of God.  As long as reason was advised by “the Bible and the Fathers” then the use of logic and rhetoric to tear down heresies was appropriate (Alberi, 37).  One example of using logic to tear down a heresy was Alcuin fighting the idea of Adoptionism. Adoptionism was the revival of “Nestorian ideas about the dual substance of Christ (i.e., Christ was ‘adopted’ as the son of God) [and] was declared anathema by the papacy” (Carlson).  It was of great import for this heresy to be eradicated as it threatened Charlemagne’s “military and political control” in the regions where this idea was being propagated (Alberi, 39).  Alcuin leveraged his rhetorical skills and “composed a number of treatises against the Spanish Adoptionists, including a small book” (Carlson).  In these writings, he defined terms and constructed syllogisms and successfully proved the “logical impossibility” of Adoptionism (Carlson).  One supporter of Adoptionism was still not convinced of his errors and was subsequently summoned to Aachen to argue with Alcuin before Charlemagne and the bishops.  Alcuin’s excellent skills were too much for this advocate and he subsequently was forced to make a “public ‘confession’” (Carlson). 

Alcuin’s motto in life was “disce ut doceas (learn in order to teach)” (Burns).  To this end, Alcuin and his peers tirelessly worked to attend to, safeguard and expand the libraries in York and Aachen.  He often traveled Europe acquiring or copying books.  This work laid the foundation for the real Renaissance.  As Burns notes, Alcuin was pivotal in “the revival of learning which distinguished the age in which he lived, and which made possible the great intellectual renaissance of three centuries later.”  Because of Alcuin’s efforts, western civilization’s Renaissance possessed libraries from which it would bloom.  And because of the Renaissance, modern society’s higher institutions of learning enjoy continued success in educating today’s students.

The institutionalization of the study of liberal arts endures today, thanks to the work of Alcuin.  One modern-day Master of Theological Studies described the “classical modes of learning,” which were divided into two groups: trivium and quadrivium (Brooks).  The trivium was comprised of grammar, logic and rhetoric; and the quadrivium was comprised of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.  These seven areas of study formed a liberal arts curriculum and were the basis for further studies in theology and medicine, as examples.  Alcuin “popularized the liberal arts and paved the way for the later creation of the universities by the Church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries” (Brooks).  Because of Alcuin’s promotion of libraries and a curriculum, society today enjoys the benefits of higher learning.

Are Alcuin’s philosophical ideas regarding revelation trumping reason, the application of logic to strike down heresies, and the promotion of education still practical today?  Because of his efforts in promoting education, many today enjoy a strong foundation from which to apply reasoning and critical thinking, therefore his idea of promoting education remains viable.  Critical thinking and logic go hand in hand.  In the age of misinformation, one must have all the reasoning skills at one’s disposal to not be led astray by extremism.  While capable of sound reasoning, humans often are sluggish in decision making.  In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt noted a research study which demonstrated humans have the capacity for sound reasoning, but when not held accountable (i.e., “know in advance that they’ll have to explain themselves”), they devolve into “errors, laziness, and reliance on gut feelings” (Haidt).  In a related way, humans ought to be mindful of how much faith they place in revelation.  Is it practical to subjugate our reasoning to revelation?  One science fiction author bluntly cautioned when he wrote, “One of my most valued friends believes in astrology; I would never offend her by telling her what I think. The capacity of humans to believe in what seems to me highly improbable—from table tapping to the superiority of their children—has never been plumbed. Faith strikes me as intellectual laziness” (Heinlein, 249).  Today, Alcuin may not find himself in familiar territory, as appeals to unproven varying opinions, including revelation, are widely not seen as viable.

In sum, Alcuin’s key philosophical beliefs were centered around, subjecting the study of philosophy and liberal arts to revelation, the applied use of logic to strike down heresies, and structuring and reforming classical education.  Alcuin applied the use of rhetoric and logic in the service of revelation to defeat heretical ideas.  He also ensured a strong framework for classical education endured, and today, modern society enjoys the fruits of his labors.  While the viability of revelation over logic may not exist today, his other ideas around the practical use of logic and education endure in a society which appreciates their value. 

Works Cited

Alberi, Mary. “Alcuin and the ‘New Athens.’ (Intellectual Life in Charlemagne’s Court).” History Today, vol. 39, no. 9, 1989, pp. 35–41.

Brooks, Tyler. “If You like Philosophy, Thank This Guy.” Catholic Answers, 22 Dec. 2021,

Burns, James. "Alcuin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 17 Sept. 2022 <>.

Carlson, Laura M. “Carlson—the Rhetoric of Heresy: Alcuin, Adoptionism, and the Art of Language.”, 2015,

"Charlemagne." Gale Biographies: Popular People, edited by Gale Cengage Learning, 1st edition, 2020. Credo Reference, Accessed 17 Sep. 2022.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012.

Heinlein Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. Ace Books 1961.

Lamers, Han. Greece Reinvented : Transformations of Byzantine Hellenism in Renaissance Italy, BRILL, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Ruud, Jay. "Alcuin of York." Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature, Jay Ruud, Facts On File, 2nd edition, 2014. Credo Reference, Accessed 17 Sep. 2022.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Phil 302 Four Epictetian Analogies Explaining Stoicism

Four Epictetian Analogies Explaining Stoicism

Born in 55, Epictetus was enslaved early in his life or even from birth, as he was taken to Rome “as a boy” by Epaphroditus (Seddon).  As a slave, he was introduced to and studied Stoicism with Musonius Rufus, who some modern scholars call “the Roman Socrates” (Gaius Musonius Rufus and Lutz, 4). Prior to 89, he was freed and then sometime between 89 and 95 he was part of the group of philosophers who were expelled from Rome by the emperor Domitian (Long, 9).  From Rome, he fled to Nicopolis where he founded his philsophy school and taught there for the remainder of his life (Seddon).  Epictetus’ student Arrian wrote much of what survives of his teachings today.  Arrian wrote them “as a literal record of Epictetus’ teachings, based on the notes he took as a student” (Epictetus, et al., ivvv).  If nothing else could be said of Epictetus, the one idea he relentlessly taught was to live Stoicism.  In the Handbook, he emphasizes that the only pride one ought to have is not for the ability to read and understand the teachings, but to apply them (Handbook 49).  Because of his impact on his students, he earned a legendary reputation and was more popular in his day than Plato was in his (Seddon).

Stoicism is learned and lived in three parts: logic, physics, and ethics.  All three work together to explain the whole philosophy.  Early founders of Stoicism used analogies to explain the three topics.  One analogy is that of an egg where the shell represents logic, the egg white represents ethics, and the yolk represents physics.  Two other analogies compared philosophy to the body (bones and sinews as logic, flesh as ethics, and the soul as physics), and a fruit field (wall as logic, fruit as ethics, land, and trees as physics) (Long and Sedley, 158).  The point of these analogies was to show that all three are necessary and one could not truly understand or live Stoicism with only one or two topics.

In similar fashion, Epictetus used analogies to teach his students how to learn and apply various aspects of Stoicism.  This essay will focus on four examples, which provide a rough explanation of the philosophy.  The first will focus on logic as a standard for knowledge and the analogy of knowing what a measurement is and how to use tools to measure.  The second and third will focus on physics and how one can live in agreement with Nature or God, as well as living in agreement with one’s individual nature by using the analogies of visiting one of the seven wonders of the world as well as being a vivid thread.  And lastly, the fourth analogy will focus on how ethics ought to be lived and not merely discussed, by using an analogy of a carpenter who truly builds something rather than merely discussing it.

Logic and the use of senses help one learn how the world works and really is, which help an individual to use his volition to make the best choice.  Epictetus compares logic with understanding how to measure or weigh something.  If an individual’s goal is to build or bake something, then that person must have a sound understanding of the concepts of measuring and weighing, as well as how to use the tools to accomplish good measurement and weighing.  If one does not know what measurement or weight is, or what a ruler or scale does, then how could he begin to build or make something?  In Discourses 1.17.7, he teaches, “unless we start off by establishing what a unit of measurement is, and what a balance is, how shall we ever be able to weigh or measure anything?”  Applied to philsophy, one must know the standard of knowledge and how to use the tool humans have been given (their mind) to demonstrate sound judgement and volition.  Equipped with standards and the correct use of his mind, the individual begins to distinguish the things which up to him and which are not.  From this knowledge, the person begins to comprehend how he is a minuscule part of the Whole and begins to gain an appreciation for the spectacle of the Cosmos, or the Stoic god.

Because much of the world and Cosmos is “not up to us” the individual ought to assume the wise attitude of following and seeking to understand Nature as opposed to seeking to control it or complain about it (Handbook 1).  Part of living this wise attitude is to appreciate Nature rather than wasting time complaining about it.  In another analogy Epictetus compares one’s attitude to that of visiting a sculpture of Phidias, who sculpted one of the seven wonders of the world (Jordan, 77).  While many people would endure heat, crowds, rains, shouting and “other irritations” just for the chance to see the work of Phidias, when it comes to appreciate the works of Nature directly in front of them, they have no desire to comprehend them, but would rather complain about the trials and hardships of life (Discourses 1.6.23-28).  Therefore, just as people endured all types of hardships for the chance to see one of the seven wonders of the world, so too should they endure much to learn, appreciate, and live according to Nature.  And not only are people to follow Nature, but they are to align their individual wills or their inner daimon with the greater Cosmos (Bonhöffer and Stephens, 13)

Part of aligning one’s will with Nature is to determine who one really is and stand out by performing his own unique part in life.  In the third analogy, Epictetus teaches that one ought to learn his unique role and then be the distinctive thread in a cloth.  One should say to himself, “I want to be the purple, the small gleaming band that makes all the rest appear splendid and beautiful” (Discourses 1.2.18).  Epictetus similarly teaches one should learn his unique talents and not ignore them (Handbook 37).  Lastly, one learns that he may have an assigned role which he is to play and rather than complaining about what parts he does not get to play, he ought to learn his part and play it well (Handbook 17).  The unifying concept in many of these analogies is action.

Philosophy is to be lived, not merely studied.  If one were only to study philosophy, but not live it, he is no better than a person who expounds about the process of building, but never actually builds something.  “A builder doesn’t come forward and say, ‘Listen to me as I deliver a discourse about the builder’s art,’ but he acquires a contract to build a house and shows through actually building it that he has mastered the art” (Discourses 3.21.4).    In the same passage, Epictetus continues by enumerating many duties a Stoic ought to perform in order to live an ethical life, including how to eat, drink, take care of oneself, rear a family, participate as a citizen, endure insults, and tolerate family and neighbors when they behave badly.  All duties relate back to the core virtues.  The best practiced volition is one that demonstrates justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom regardless of circumstances (Hadot, 233).

While this essay only focused on four analogies, Epictetus’ wide and varied use of parallels can be seen throughout all his works.  This essay focused on a subset of comparisons, which guide the reader in a general direction of how Stoicism can be explained and lived.  Epictetus used measuring to demonstrate how one ought to be familiar with logic, concepts, and tools.  He compared visiting one of the wonders of the world, as well as a vibrant thread for how one ought to view life in general.  And lastly, he compared living one’s philosophy to a carpenter who truly builds something rather than merely talking about it.  When the student actually sees the wonders of life, or a vibrant thread, or a measuring ruler or a carpenter, then perhaps he will be more likely to remember Epictetus’ teachings and strive to live them.

Works Cited

Bonhöffer, Adolf Friedrich, and William O. Stephens. The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus : An English Translation. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc, 2021.Epictetus, et al. Discourses, Fragments, Handbook. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Epictetus, et al. Discourses, Fragments, Handbook. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Gaius Musonius Rufus, and Cora E. Lutz. Musonius Rufus - “the Roman Socrates.” Yale Univ. Press, 1947.

Hadot, Pierre, and Michael Chase. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, Mass. London Harvard University Press, 2001.

Long, A. A. Epictetus : A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life. Clarendon Press, 2013.

Long, A. A., and David N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers Commentary. Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Jordan, Paul. Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Taylor & Francis Group, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Seddon, Keith H. “Epictetus | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 3 Jan. 2003,

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Phil 302 - Anonymity and Justice

 Anonymity and Justice

There is no universally agreed-upon definition of justice.  Since humanity and various cultures hold different meanings of justice and injustice, the Ring of Gyges thought experiment can be leveraged to explore this topic and how it still plays out in modern society.  The movie Batman Begins offers multiple character examples of how anonymity is like wearing the Ring of Gyges, and how anonymity is used to commit injustices as well as to fight injustices.  Perhaps anonymity simply demonstrates the on-going challenge of defining justice and Heraclitus’ claim that “strife is justice” and “war is father of all” aptly sums up the problem (Graham).  Or perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in empathy in how to apply justice by way of another thought experiment called the empathy machine (Groothuis).  Thought experiments like the Ring of Gyges and the empathy machine, and movies like Batman Begins, are valuable because they prompt discussion and dialogue of what it means to be just and how to act accordingly.

Glaucon and Socrates discuss the concept of justice in book two of  Plato’s Republic.  Glaucon contends that the just person would ultimately run the same course as an unjust person.  He explains through the thought experiment, called the Ring of Gyges, that the wearer of the ring could become invisible and commit any act they wish; and subsequently a person claiming to be just would ultimately commit injustice if granted invisibility (Plato, et. al., 359c – 361a).  Does anonymity make everyone unjust?  Or are there examples of people who use anonymity to fight injustice.  The film Batman Begins offers insight into various characters who have the power of quasi-anonymity.

Batman Begins is a 2005 film which explores the origins of the comic book hero Bruce Wayne, whose parents were murdered when he was a boy (Nolan).   When Bruce was a college student, the murderer of his parents, Joe Chill, was to be released on parole.  At the hearing, Bruce comes prepared with a handgun with the intent to kill Chill.  He is about to shoot Chill, when an assassin for the mobster Falcone, kills Chill.  Bruce watches intently as Chill dies.  Later, his close friend, Rachel Dawes, discovers Bruce’s intent.  When she learns this, she slaps him across his face, telling him that his father would be ashamed of him for bypassing the justice system.  Feeling the sting of shame, Bruce vows to fight injustice by immersing himself in the criminal underworld for seven years.

While exploring the criminal underworld, Bruce is recruited by a man named Henri Ducard, who belongs to the League of Shadows and whose leader is Ra’s al Ghul.  As a member of the League of Shadows, Bruce learns martial arts and arts of deception and disguise.  At the pinnacle of his initiation, he is forced to decide whether to behead a murderer or part ways with the league.  Having determined that he would never kill, he escapes the League of Shadows, saving his friend Ducard and thinking that Ra’s al Ghul dies in a fire at the home of the League of Shadows.

Bruce returns to his home in Gotham and crafts his alter-persona: Batman.  As he assumes anonymity, he begins to fight the Gotham criminal underworld, using his quasi-invisibility to exact justice on the mobsters of Gotham.  Through the course of his detective work, he learns that Ra’s al Ghul still lives, and in fact, is his friend Ducard.  Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows have plotted to destroy Gotham, intending to commit injustice.  Batman fights Ra’s al Ghul, who dies in a train wreck, and subsequently, Gotham is saved.

Both the protagonist and antagonist of Batman Begins wrap themselves in invisibility and disguise.  Bruce Wayne does so to fight injustices on the streets of Gotham which the police department is powerless to fight because of corruption.  Bruce’s choices demonstrate that a cloak of invisibility does not align with Glaucon’s contention that a proverbial Ring of Gyges corrupts the wearer.  On the other hand, while the antagonist Ra’s al Ghul has a warped sense of justice by destroying everything to force civilization to reboot, he is willing to commit significant injustices to accomplish some justice in the world.  Ra’s al Ghul is an example of what Glaucon contends: that invisibility only encourages the person to commit injustices.

It does not take much imagination to make the leap from the fiction of Batman Begins to the non-fiction of the real world.  Today, cyber criminals and malicious actors work in hidden shadows and the dark web to steal people’s identities and commit all types of injustices from buying and selling drugs to human trafficking.  Also cloaked in anonymity and invisibility are justice warriors from governments and military organizations and even vigilantes.  Like Batman, the cyber world is full of invisible actors, many committing grave crimes, and others, such as vigilantes, fighting them in the name of justice (e Silva).

Is Glaucon’s thought experiment, resolved?  Does invisibility turn all people into actors of injustice?  Applying the analysis of Batman Begins and the battles being fought on the Internet, it can be stated that invisibility does not turn all into actors of injustice.  Therefore, what is to be learned from this thought experiment?  Perhaps the real lesson from Batman Begins and the gift of anonymity is that it reveals humanity will always be locked in a struggle to define what is just and unjust.  What happens overtly also occurs anonymously as the fight for justice and against injustices simply moves to a meta world.  Consequently, when Heraclitus says, “We must recognize that war is common, strife is justice, and all things happen according to strife and necessity” and that “war is father of all and king of all” it simply denotes the endless fight over the definition of justice (Graham).  Ra’s al Ghul felt compelled to fight injustice in his own way, and in turn Batman felt compelled to fight Ra’s al Ghul and the criminal underworld.  Humanity is trapped in a perpetual struggle to define and execute justice and how to fight injustice.  But is humanity truly trapped in this unending battle?

To begin to address injustice, all people need to gain self-awareness and empathy.  One University of Sydney academic philosopher wrote, “invisibility may be self-induced through self-justifying rationalizations, and ignorance may be manifested and expressed as lack of self-reflection and self-knowledge” (Edward, 564).  This idea of ignorance and lack of self-examination and reflection may be key to unlocking a universal understanding of justice.  What if justice began with self-examination and reflection?  If more people were to be instilled with empathic awareness, could humanity step closer to universal justice?  Two scenes from Batman Begins show two characters with a sense of empathy and how these acts of kindness had knock-on effects.

One scene shows a young Bruce at the police station, shortly after his parents were murdered by Chill.  With empathy and kindness, a police officer named James Gordan took time to think of the feelings of a frightened child.  His act was to simply put a coat around the young boy and offer comfort.  Later in the film, in difference scene, the hero similarly shows empathy for a young boy whose life is full of stress.  While surveilling a rough part of the city, a young boy walks onto the balcony to leave a heated argument between his parents.  To his surprise, he sees Batman on the terrace.  He explains to Batman that none of his friends would believe him if he told them he saw Batman.  Without saying a word, Batman hands the boy a surveillance tool and the boy breaks out in a wide, happy expression.  Having the ability to understand what it feels like to be in another person’s shoes and then to treat that person, accordingly, may be the right thought experiment to advance the conversation of justice.

One professor of philosophy proposes that moral virtue, including justice, may be better understood with a thought experiment called the empathy machine.

When one is hooked up to the empathy machine, there is a radical shift from the third-person and second-person to the first-person; from propositional knowledge to experiential knowledge … from hearing about pain and observing pain to being in pain and thus knowing it from the inside out. It is a shift from hearing-about or being-near to being-there (Groothuis, 86).  

Experiencing the pains of injustice may begin to shape humanity to reconsider actions which may be unjust.  Instead of allowing baser instincts of protection, revenge and survival to guide humanity, perhaps there ought to be greater focus on tapping into emotional intelligence in an effort to expand not only self-awareness, but other-awareness.

While humanity may long argue over what justice is and is not, the thought experiments of the Ring of Gyges and the empathy machine, along with the plot of Batman Begins help to sort out how humanity can apply justice at the interpersonal level.  Indeed, Heraclitus may always be correct about humanity being trapped in a perpetual cycle of strife and war.  Or, perhaps there may be some hope in a more enlightened civilization, in which the citizenry taps into the rich potential of empathy and reaches escape velocity from the ceaseless cycle of conflict. 

Works Cited

e Silva, K. K. “Vigilantism and Cooperative Criminal Justice: Is There a Place for Cybersecurity Vigilantes in Cybercrime Fighting?” International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, vol. 32, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 21–36. EBSCOhost,

Edward, Howlett S. "The Sixth Estate: Tech Media Corruption in the Age of Information." Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society, vol. 18, no. 4, 2020, pp. 553-573. ProQuest,, doi:

Graham, Daniel W. “Heraclitus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2019,

Groothuis, Douglas. "THE EMPATHY MACHINE: A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT." Think, vol. 19, no. 55, 2020, pp. 85-94. ProQuest,, doi:

Nolan, Christopher. Batman Begins. Warner Bros., 2005. 

Plato, et al. A Plato Reader : Eight Essential Dialogues. Hackett Pub. Co, 2012.