Thursday, June 08, 2017

Arab and Medieval Philosophy, Free Will, and Consciousness

In 80 days and some change, I will be attending class.

In the mean time my current activities have involved getting through the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast. The "without any gaps" component has to do with the fact that it does not skip from Aristotle to Aquinas. Instead, we have spent about 60 podcast hours on the Stoics, Neoplatonists, philosophy in the Arab world, and medieval philosophy before reaching Aquinas.

Let me fill you in on some of the things that I learned so far in this podcast.

First, there's the extensive cooperation that existed between Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars in Islam. Some people may be familiar with the fact that much of the scholarship of the ancient Greeks was preserved in Arab countries while Europe went through its dark age. The reason for this preservation in scholarship had to do intentional efforts to translate Greek philosophical works into Arab. For this, they worked with Jewish and Christian scholars who knew Greek and could help in the translation. Furthermore, the works of Christian and, in particular, Jewish scholars were a part of the philosophical dialogue going on at this time. These were not isolated communities - they shared a common culture.

Second, Arab intellectual culture continued past the Crusades. The way history is generally taught, when the Europeans attacked the Middle East in the Crusades and made off with their books, this sparked a resurgence in philosophy in Europe, while the Arab world went into a rapid cultural decline. It would be more accurate to say that, once the Crusaders made off with the books they captured, they quit paying attention to Arab culture. Therefore, the continuing Arab intellectual activities after the Crusades went unnoticed. However, it is not the case that what Europeans decided not to notice did not exist.

Third, a great many scholars in medieval Europe and in the Middle East during this time period "scriptualized" Aristotle. They thought that Aristotle could not be wrong. They also thought that scripture could not be wrong. Consequently, a great deal of philosophical effort went into trying to discover an understanding of Aristotle that matched their understanding of the Bible. If both were true, then they had to agree with each other. This was difficult considering that, for example, Aristotle argued that the universe was eternal and scripture argued that it was created. This was only one of the struggles that was taking place.

Fourth, a lot of excellent brain power was spent trying to prove the truths revealed in scripture. Humans may be able to come up with some tremendously imaginative ideas to argue that this is the case. In fact, many of those ingenious ideas might even have a place in the real world - for example, aiding in our understanding of the relationship between universals and particulars. However, in the end, it would be like adopting a project to show that the events in The Lord of the Rings were actual historical events. Regardless of how imaginative and innovative those solutions were, it would have been great to have had that intellectual power devoted to real problems.

I am forming the opinion that contemporary philosophers are also working on projects comparable to trying to prove how wine and bread can literally become the body and blood of Christ while showing no indication that such a transformation has taken place. These have to do with free will and consciousness.

I have never found much use for either of these two concepts. I don't think either of them exist.

Proving that something does not exist - unless it involves a straight-out contradiction - is near to impossible. I think that the proof of its nonexistence will come directly from the observation that people have quit talking about it. In the moral philosophy that I defend, I make no reference to free will. It is thought that, after years of discussion of moral theory, with no sign of free will, people may begin to wonder where free will went. In fact, it did not go anywhere. It never existed. I can leave it out of my discussion of morality because it does not do anything. Rather than being disproved, the theories will just fall into disuse. We will also find that consciousness does no good. It is unneeded and, consequently, may be cut out of your most recent efforts.

In its place, we have the physical structure of the brain motivating behavior - structures that can be molded by experience praise, reward, condemnation, and punishment. Reward and punishment have a determined effect, and are motivated by that which is a fact in the brain.

"Consciousness" is another thing that will fall into disuse until we decide that it was not being used for anything. It plays no role that requires its existence.

Well, the next part of my studies - once I catch up on the History of Philosophy - is to brush up on my logic.

I am now in regular communication with the philosophy department at the University of Colorado. As a graduate student, I have been assigned an advisor, and made arrangements to take a class in modal logic this semester. When I took propositional logic, the class was exceptionally easy. But that was two dozen years ago. Now, we get to find out just how rusty my mind is.

No comments: