Thursday, 29 September 2016

Epistemic relativism

Introduction

            “Relativism is such a vast and a multi- faceted topic that it appears in huge areas of human inquiry, ranging from pop culture to current technical journals in philosophy. In discussions on relativism, the famous quotation from the controversial work of Allan Bloom i.e. The Closing of the American Mind, is often cited, ‘There is one thing a professor can be absolutely sure of; almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.’[1]

Definition

Epistemology or the theory of knowledge is one of the main branches of philosophy.[2] It is concerned with the nature, sources and limits of knowledge.[3] The reflective character of the discipline of epistemology is seen in the very etymology of the word ‘epistemology’. It comes from the Greek episteme and logos both of which mean the same thing (science or knowledge), it gives us the idea of knowledge of knowledge.[4]

Any doctrine could be called relativism which holds that something exists, or has certain properties or features, or is true or in some sense obtains, not simply but only in relation to something else. Relativism is the denial that there are certain kinds of universal truths.[5] Epistemic relativism is an account of what makes a system of reasoning or belief revision a good one as relativistic if it is sensitive to facts about the person or group using the system.[6]

History

            The first articulation of relativism (at least in its epistemic form) from the history of philosophy appears to be given by Protagoras in his work Truth. What he says in his work is that what appears or seems to be true to a person is true to that person and anyone else to whom it seems so. His is an extreme version of relativism. According to him knowledge and truth are relative to the person contemplating the proposition in question. He denies any standard or criterion higher than the individual by which claims to truth and knowledge are made. [7]

            Relativism has been present in various ways and at stretches of time throughout the long history of Western thought from the ‘pre- Socratic’ period up through the 21st Century. One of the famous enlightenment philosophers Giambattista Vico (1688-1744) developed an idea of epistemology in which truth is understood as something that is made. He says that it is reasonable to accept what the ancient Italian sages believed namely “The true is precisely what is made”, and ‘human truth is what man puts together and makes in the act of knowing it.[8] I personally find it difficult to agree with this kind of epistemology.




Epistemology and Relativism

            The relativity of truth and value is a demonstrated fact which many contemporary writers have taken for granted. From the studies done in the past, it has come to be known that valuation, judgement and cognition among varied cultures and also among people of the same culture are quite different and unique from every other person. Relativism makes distinctions between values and norms to such an extent that it destroys the possibility of morality and also of truth. This can eventually lead to skepticism, nihilism, irrationalism and finally return to barbarism. To add to this, human culture is at stake or ceases to survive when people find it difficult to gauge a particular situation and take a firm stand on matters of truth and value. Relativism at the same time also has a positive aspect in which it frees us from considering our personal insights as ones which are necessarily true. It also frees us from thoughts which are rooted in a stagnant, absolutistic design of truth and hence enables us to assimilate some kinds of truth which are otherwise incomprehensible.[9]
                                                                 
            Epistemology is that branch of philosophy which is concerned with human knowledge as mentioned earlier. However this might seem strange because there are very many things that we take for granted as known to us. Skepticism creeps in when we speak about the possibility of knowledge. Skepticism is basically an attitude which holds that true knowledge is doubtful or in other words it is difficult to take a particular stance on any matter. Thus it can be said that epistemology is closely linked with skepticism in a kind of symbiotic relationship. Hence “Epistemology may be defined as a critical and systematic reflection on the possibility, nature, sources and structure of knowledge.”[10]

            The tripartite analysis of knowledge has remained the standard of knowledge among epistemologists and has also inspired me to a great extent. The first condition for anything to be called knowledge is the existence of beliefs i.e. propositions that are judged to be true or false. The second condition for knowledge is truth and the third condition is the evidence or justification for believing something to be true.[11]

Epistemological Relativism

            Relativism is an idea which says that there is no absolute or universal truth. To put it positively, it is good or true for me only when it appeals to or fulfills my interests and biases.[12] Here a situation arises wherein one system is best for one person or group, while another one which is quite different is best for another.[13] Epistemological relativism is seen both in philosophical works as well as in ordinary day to day conversation or debates where a person claims that something that is true for the other person needn’t or is not true for him/ her.[14]

Problem of Epistemological Relativism

            Many philosophers find epistemological relativism to be a dangerous doctrine. However it is difficult to find healthy arguments supporting this kind of a negative attitude. The first problem of epistemological relativism is that it is nihilistic. This problem arises because it simply gives up on the task of clearly distinguishing good reasoning from bad. The second problem is that it threatens the connection or link between cognitive inquiry and truth. If the epistemic relativist is right then the other group holding some other belief can’t be right or true to the same extent as the epistemic relativist is. Both good cognition methods can’t always lead to true beliefs.[15]

Conclusion

            The idea that every truth claim, every item of knowledge has some standard by means of which it is evaluated or understood to be a truth claim, as opposed to merely a belief, seems important for a general theory of what it is to come know something. This point while not unique to relativism about knowledge is one that is important in general for doing epistemology.” However the definition of epistemic relativism is self- defeating or leads to solipsistic consequences and hence it should be rejected.[16]



[1] Timothy Mosteller, Relativism: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2008) 1.
[2] George Karuvelil, “Epistemology (Western),” in ACPI Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1, editor. in. chief. Johnson J. Puthenpurackal (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2010) 452.
[3] Stephen P. Stich, “Epistemic Relativism,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, gen. ed. Edward Craig (London: Routledge, 1998) 362.
[4] Karuvelil, “Epistemology (Western),” 452- 453.
[5] Mosteller, Relativism, 2.
[6] Stich, “Epistemic Relativism,” 360.
[7] Mosteller, Relativism, 3.
[8] Mosteller, Relativism, 4- 5.
[9] Gordon D. Kaufman, Relativism, Knowledge and Faith (London: University of Chicago Press, 1960) 3- 5.
[10] Karuvelil, “Epistemology (Western),” 452.
[11] Karuvelil, “Epistemology (Western),” 453.
[12] Stich, “Epistemic Relativism,” 360.
[13] Karuvelil, “Epistemology (Western),” 454.
[14] Mosteller, Relativism, 11.
[15] Stich, “Epistemic Relativism,” 361.
[16] Mosteller, Relativism, 29.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

See

                 It is very rightly said that what we see is what we get. An illustrious example is of the glass that is half empty while others look at it as half filled. The sense of vision is the same and the eyes both the onlookers have are the same. The essential question that arises is ‘What made the two see, two different things in the same object?’ The answer is Perception.

                We see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear, the same applies to all other cases and situations. When we don’t want to hear something we don’t like we shut ourselves mentally. In the same way we look at others in the way we want to see them. Also we look at situations and judge them according to experience and learning.



                Hence if we want to get something positive out from a person, then we have to see that positivity in that person first. Only when we see, visualize and imagine the other person producing something positive, will that person actually produce something positive.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I'm happy... are you???

‘We are happy Christians, all united in the Lord. We belong to one family……….’Thus go the lyrics of the hymn ‘We are happy Christians.’ We Christians are the bearers of the good news and hence we bring happiness wherever we go. However when I analyze my life I can see that it hasn’t been as easy as singing the hymn. But the important fact that I have realized is that He is always there with me (I’m sure you will also vouch for this with me) in all situations and that’s what makes the difference which makes us Christians.

In his book ‘Happiness happens by choice’ Fr. Joe mentions of a story which made me realize that happiness is an inside job. He says that once he got into a cab in New York City. They were driving in the right lane when all of a sudden another vehicle jumped in front of them. The driver of his cab applied breaks and nearly missed an accident. The driver of the other vehicle stopped his vehicle and started swearing at them. The driver of F. Joes cab did the most amazing thing i.e. he smiled and waved at him.

Obviously you and I would be surprised by this kind of behavior, so was Fr. Joe. On asking the driver, he replied saying that when people are over-burdened they look out for a place to dump their garbage. Once in a blue moon it could be you. The best thing to do is to smile and wave at such people, wish them well and move on. Doing this, one will be happier.



The vital message of this incident that comes to me is that my happiness is something I choose to live by. Nothing or no one can have control over my happiness unless I allow that person to gain control over it. Happiness is something that is very personal to me and it is a choice that I make.

Another important thing to remember is that our happiness sources must be right. Happiness found by being of service to others or by being aware of the fact that one is a child of God gives lasting happiness. On the other hand when happiness is sought by collecting things or by pleasurizing oneself, it becomes a dangerous and a temporary kind of affair. Mark Victor Hansen rightly says “Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight.”


Happiness also lies in being contented. A poet writes:”As a rule, man’s a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. And when it’s cool, he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.” Seeking what we don’t have will only lead to unhappiness and misery. Happiness necessarily means being contented, satisfied and peaceful with what I am and what I have.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Human

‘What is man that you should keep him in mind; mortal man that You care for him.’ Sometimes we really get into thinking as to why does God uphold us human beings as the most important creatures on earth. He could have made the lion as the most important creature or as the center of attraction on the earth. The lion would have definitely been able to do much more than humans, he is strong, sturdy and well built. He gets things done and has a strong sense of control.

                However God chose human beings to be the care taker of all the other creatures. He bestowed this responsibility on us human beings with a great sense of trust. When we assess the situation today, we see that somewhere along the line we have committed mistakes, some of which have been minor and others which have proved to be fatal both to us and to our environment.




                Pope Francis in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ says that God gave us the earth to till and keep, however we have kept tilling and have not taken care of it. What he says is quite powerful and makes a lot of sense. Mahatma Gandhi says,” There is enough and more for everyone’s need, but not enough for a single person’s greed.” Only when we become aware, sensitive and concerned about each other’s needs, will we stop tilling more than what we need.


                ‘Sharing is caring’ must become the maxim of our lives. This will help us to be more human and will help us to reach out not only to others in need but also to our sobbing mother earth. The earth is ready to give off itself freely, the important question is ARE WE READY????

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Soren Kierkegaard

SOREN KIERKEGAARD AND THE MILITANT THEISM OF OUR TIMES


Introduction
            Atheism has been existing from ages past. Right from the beginning there are people who have been denying or doubting the existence of God. However atheism in the past times was not as aggressive as it is now. Now it seems to appear as if it is a kind of faith which is practiced by some; not only practiced but also fiercely propagated. Richard Dawkins feels that people can live in a much better life without God. He goes saying that religious faith in many ways makes human beings behave worse than what they usually do. They become cruel and insensitive to the others pain and suffering. Christopher Hitchens is of the view that human beings have created religion and have established it as an institution that offers false promises. Speaking like Dawkins he too affirms that religion has caused great misery to man and made a cruel beast out of him. Finally, he states that religion is not only a menace to civilization but also a threat to human survival.




Kierkegaard’s life
            Kierkegaard’s father Michael passed on the picture of a revengeful God to his son, due to which he grew up with a sense of guilt. His dad instilled an unhealthy anxiety in him. As he grew older, he felt that his childhood was cruel and crazy. He placed the truth of God’s infinite and unconditional love at the centre of his Christian faith experience. According to him holding such a view would make one free from the two extremes of pride and despair.
            His experience with Regine Olsen brought him to the awareness that his insufficient faith made him doubt whether all things were possible for God and that he had a sense of guilt within him. Later he began criticizing the Church of Denmark especially the bishop, describing him as a “self- serving hypocrite, worldly-wise and pleasure-mad.”

1. Personal commitment and the first hand experience
According to him ‘Faith is discipleship‘ and that faith is not just a matter of knowing prayers but rather it is a personal relationship which we seek to have with Jesus Christ. He was firm in his belief that having second hand faith is of very little value and that personal relationship and experience with Jesus gives one first hand faith.

2. To be Christian is to be Human
He says that only after learning to be good human beings can we be good Christians. He opined that the decline of faith was mainly because Christians didn’t care about the right things in the right way. At one moment he says that man is the most blessed of all creatures and he is made in God’s image and likeness and it is towards God that his whole being tends. He also says that an authentic Christian is one who is ready to reject and die to all that is human.

3. The leap of faith
He believed in the power of reflection but he held that reflection alone could not help one in making a choice. He speaks of a movement from possibility to actuality which he terms as ‘a leap’. This leap he spoke about was a sign of faith and relationship. He continues saying that commitments help us to view our life in a particular manner and live a transforming life.


4. Witnessing and the Gift of Faith
Kierkegaard dwells on the point that one who has had an experience of faith in turn becomes a witness of the faith. He holds the view that faith is a free gift of God and that the faith of a believer can help others who have not had a faith experience. He feels that Christian faith becomes untruth when it falls into the hands of a priest.  Finally he says that the Christianity which is preached is designed to make people comfortable in their mediocrity.

5. Becoming Who we are- Standing before God
Kierkegaard valued the ‘self’ and said that it is a being which is in process. The most important or vital relationships we have is with God. We human beings who are blessed with freedom are dependent on God because He created us. Being human means being dedicated to a task which eventually shapes us towards to the greatest ideal that we can’t reach i.e. God.

6. Suffering, pleasure and a sense of purpose in life
He is of the view that suffering is redemptive; it opens our hearts and makes us ready for challenges. Those who live by the principles of pleasure end up with boredom and suicidal tendencies. He says that Christians must truly live according to the Gospel values.

Conclusion
The 5th and the 6th point caught my attention for a longer duration of time than the other points. I feel that I should be who I truly am before God because there is nothing He doesn’t know. Another point that struck me was that suffering and pleasure is only a passing phase in life. All that matters in life is love of God and love of neighbor.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Pain



Pain and suffering is a reality which is faced by all human beings at some point of time or the other in life. We really feel the pain when it affects us or touches our epidermis.  When we hear about people who have died due to a blast or an accident, most of the times it goes into our heads like any other news article.  The maximum we can do about these things is to have pity for the victims, pray for the deceased and wish that it would have never have had happened.


                The actual sorrow takes place in the hearts of the grieving family members who have lost their loved one. They and only they know how painful it is for them to face the reality of having lost someone so very close to them. There are so many people who are losing their lives every day on account of sickness, terrorist attacks, accidents, abortion, and murder and so on. One may ask ‘What is going on in this world?’

                The main question that can be asked or better still is definitely asked by the suffering person or the family members is:

‘Why me/us Lord?’ or ‘Where is God?’

‘Does He care for our pain and suffering?’

Each of us has asked this question at various moments in time. This question seems to be very basic and simple but at the same time it is a very important and a tricky question.

                The story of the footprints on the shore of the sea is very apt for this question. In moments of our joys we see 2 sets of footprints, one is our own and the other belongs to God. However in moments of pain and suffering we see only 1 set of footprints. We ask God, ‘Where were you when I was in pain and anguish?’ He smiles at us and replies saying, ’The pain was too much for you to bear my child and hence I carried you.’

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The path of Christianity

Even if I don’t manage to find You, I’m sure that You’ll find me. Sometimes I begin to wonder; what would the world be like without Christianity and at other times I really question whether the world needs Christianity. The loud and clear answer that hits back at me is a simple ‘Yes’. Yes the world desperately needs Christianity.

In these times of natural and manmade calamities, destruction, hatred, revenge, war and so on, Christianity has risen up to the situation. Christianity, if I may draw up an analogy has and is being a balm to the injured, solace to the afflicted, courage to the discouraged and love to the unloved. The most powerful statement of Jesus for these current times is’ Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’

Hatred can’t wipe out hatred, love can;
Enmity can’t wipe out enmity, friendship can;
Pride can’t wipe out pride, humility can.

Jesus is the answer to all our problems and difficulties. He will make a way for each one of us because He loves and accepts us as we are.