Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

“A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.”  *


The argument of communication and the mind centers on the use of language; the development of human understanding; and the derivation of meaning (especially in philosophical literature). Wittgenstein says that language in itself creates philosophical arguments. Many theorists have debated the complex problem of human language and communication, but none have come close to Wittgenstein and his ability to untangle the complexities that have arisen. Descartes and Locke have also written about language and more contemporary theories have come into fashion, such as semiology, which is concerned with signs. The greatest contribution to the study of signs is Saussure. One of the great troubles of communication and language is the interpretation of sensations and dispersal of ideas throughout subjects such as intellectual writings, philosophical problems and ideas.

Cartesians mystify human understanding, while semiology over-simplifies it.

In the next few blog posts I am going to discuss the philosophy of human communication and meaning, through an examination primarily of Locke, Saussure and Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein’s argument of Private Language in the Philosophical Investigations has had a profound impact on theories and theorists alike. He argues that language understood by its user can not exist objectively, as a necessary confusion arises. This idea is commonly misunderstood which accounts for the controversy surrounding Wittgenstein’s writings.[1] The confusions that are supposedly integrated in human language also underlie and are subjected to philosophical language, notions, theories and method. This accounts for the lack of substantial movement from Platonic and Aristotelian thought. We cannot move forward because our language is deceiving us.


Wittgenstein moves away from the previous Cartesian thought that it is internal processes that guides the interpreter to understand the message confronted to them. The message cannot be private, Wittgenstein argues. The processes of meaning and understanding are thought to be immaterial and taking place in a ‘spiritual’ recess of the brain. Wittgenstein argues that meaning and understanding are not processes at all. The language surrounding the description of mental processes needs clarification. Wittgenstein goes on to say that mental processes are processes in so far as they have a beginning, middle and an end, can be interrupted and described, but what is important is that they are not perceptible by others.[2] Articulating sensations and experiences are what make the whole process possible. Mental images in our minds do not give rise to language or words to describe these images, but the words in our vocabulary give rise to the meanings we prescribe objects. As Wittgenstein argues “Language is itself the vehicle of thought”.  It may be the case that we have no natural descriptors or expressions for all of the sensation that are perceivable by human consciousness, but Wittgenstein is saying that our language restricts us from accurately describing them. The problem is that one may not know if what an individual describes as a sensation is an accurate descriptor of it. While we describe sensations, we merely ascribe names to the sensation. However, the Private Language argument has been highly contested by commentators. Some believe it is supposed to prove something about language, others think it is supposed to prove something about  the following of rules, and some think it is supposed to prove something about sensations. Some think he was not trying to prove anything at all.[3]

[1] The Private Language Argument, First published Fri Jul 26, 1996; substantive revision Fri Nov 30, 2007. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 04/04/08. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/private-language/

[2] Kenny, Anthony John Patrick. 1931 – Wittgenstein. Pp 140-141.

[3] Teichman, J, 1988. Philosophy and the Mind. Pp. 50.


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For Feuerbach, religion is the dream of the human spirit. He maintains that all religious belief is essentially based on and derived from human error and misunderstanding, maintaining that all religious belief is a product of anthropomorphic projectionism. The concept of God is an anthropomorphic projection of the human mind, and as such embodies man’s conception of his own nature.  This was originally conceived of by Xenophanes and Lucretius, and by Spinoza. However, this does not take from his achievement: he clearly articulates the philosophical relevance of man projection God.

The danger, as Feuerbach sees it, is that we are denying our own nature and thus alienating ourselves from what is truly human, by believing that our values are derived from a moral order which is divine in nature. The superhuman deities of religion are in fact involuntary projections of the essential attributes of human nature, and this projection, in turn, is explained by a theory of human consciousness heavily indebted to Hegel.

Hegel’s influence is great: for Feuerbach, what marks man off from the ‘brutes’ is precisely our awareness of ourselves as species-teings, which is not simply an additional fact of which we are aware: it is rather recognition which qualitatively changes the very nature of human consciousness itself. As Hegel states: consciousness is intentional, hence to be conscious at all is of necessity to be conscious of something. For Feuerbach: God is man’s awareness of himself as a species being. His whole though arises from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

Each attribute of God expresses an aspect of the hope humans have to be free from their limitations. For example: God’s holiness is a projection of human desire to be free of sin; God’s creativity is a projection of human sense of finitude and vulnerability; God’s presence is a projection of human sense of loneliness and mutual separation; God’s Trinitarian nature is a projection of the human need to be whole through being an ‘I’ participating in, though distinct from a ‘Thou’; The same method is applied to each of the doctrines of Christian Theology: incarnation, trinity, sacraments, prayer, the Holy Spirit, resurrection etc…

For Feuerbach, the process of ‘mystifying’ human nature begins with theology, with the projection of human species-attributes onto an abstract, but personal, bewing called ‘God’, and is continues by philosophy, which switches the projection from ‘God’ to ‘Nature’, and finally to that ultimate metaphysical abstraction, ‘Being’.  His aim is to change: “the friends of God into friends of men, believers into thinkers Christians… from half-animal and half angel, into men…”

We treat the existence of God as if it were distinct from the question of the nature of God, when in fact the two are part of one and the same thing. We make this mistake because human existence seems to be a necessary precondition for the possibility of possessing human attributes. We see Hegel’s influence: distinction between subject and predicate is a logical or conceptual rather than an ontological or metaphysical one. One could not exist if it didn’t have any attribute at all. Thus, the existence of any entity and its possession of attributes are necessarily connected. We are misled into thinking that we can accept that the predicates which we ascribe to God are anthropomorphisms, while denying that God himself, the subject, is an anthropomorphism, because we mistake the conceptual distinction for an ontological one.

This equation of man and god, this identification of god with human nature, is absolutely fundamental to Feuerbach’s thesis: religious individuals are not aware of the fact that in asserting the existence of God he is apotheosising human qualities.

Religion and Philosophy as anthropology

Feuerbach maintains that philosophy and religion are highly-evolved forms of anthropology. In this, he emphasises the progression of thought through the ages of religious and philosophical texts. The both vary in culture as culture is central to understanding of human nature. Religion is a rudimentary form of man’s awareness of himself as a species being, and is therefore by virtue of that a primitive anthropology, no less than philosophy.

One of his greatest strengths is that he points out that religion applies only to human subjects. The environment is never quite the same from one culture to another, and for this reason man’s conception of God, and, what for Feuerbach amounts to the same thing, his conception of himself varies greatly. We morally evaluate attributes in their own right before we ascribe them to God. Our moral norms determine our conception of God, our very religion, not the other way around: religious person fails to see this.

Feuerbach’s belief in God

Feuerbach was not an atheist: “He alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being – for example, love, wisdom, justice – are nothing; not he to whom merely the subject of these predicates is nothing.“ He argues that god (or any other logical subject) is simply the sum total of his properties – if the latter are anthropomorphisms then God himself is an anthropomorphism.

A society’s conception of god is a function of the moral value system of the society’s concerned, a fact that which indicates that morality is logically prior to, and independent of, religion. The genuine theorist is, therefore, the individual who values the good whether it has been obtained by God or not. A quality is not divine because God has it; that God has it because it is itself divine: because God without it would be a defective being.

“We have reduced the otherworldly, supernatural and superhuman essence of god to its particular foundations in the essence of man. Thus we have in the end arrived back at our starting point. Man is the beginning of religion, Man is the centre of religion, Man is the end of religion.”

His uncritical acceptance of the assumptions that religious discourse is factual in nature, which may be assessed in purely theoretical terms, blinds him to the nature of the web of logical interconnections which obtains between such terms in religious discourse, and to critical differences which exists between it and that which obtains between these in terms of their factual discourse.

Also, his argument is not strong enough to convince a believer. He is possibly being too analytic and objective. It doesn’t solve anything, but raises more questions.

I admire Feuerbach’s shift from Man created by God to God created by Man. I find it a bit of a cop out to sum up the traits associated with God to suggest that God lies in these traits – but that’s just my perspective! Overall, Feuerbach is a fascinating read: some of his quotes remain my favourite: “…Man is the end of religion.”


Thornton, S. (1996). Facing up to Feuerbach. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion , 103-120.

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(First of all, if you would like to take a look at an excerpt of The Brothers Karamazov, please take a look at the PDF at the end of the blog! I refer to the passage a few times. Thanks)

In the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky describes the problem of evil in great detail. We can also get a clear view of his atheism. The protagonist of this novel is Ivan and will be discussed in this piece.

Ivan accepts God, but rejects God’s world, and it is in this sense that he is an atheist. He speaks of the human mind operating within the parameters of the Euclidian mind and how it understands space and time. He refuses to alter the facts of heinous acts committed against children; he states that he does not wish to see them in transcendental or ‘godly ways (i.e. attribute them to god’s plan). The specific evils are, as he determines, hard facts

Turning specifically to The Brothers Karamazov, he describes 6 evil acts committed against children. The evil acts are:

  • The atrocities of the Turks in Bulgaria
  • Richard’s story in Geneva
  • The peasant flogging his horse around the eyes
  • The father whipping his daughter as a source of sensual pleasure
  • The parents abusing their 5 year old daughter, locking her in the privy for the night (the detail of the mother putting excrement in the daughter’s mouth is particularly horrifying, as he describes the daughter whimpering in pain for the night as the mother slept soundly)
  • The serf boy torn to pieces by his landlord’s hounds

Religious people try to justify or understand these crimes and states that it is immoral to use god as justification – we are bound by the parameters of a Euclidian mind. He is approaching it in an emotional way before an intellectual way, this he sees as a ‘human’ way. Intellectualising evil acts evades the problem completely.

He says ‘he will not be healed’. He uses the arguments derived from cruelty of children to give his position strength and power. He accepts God, but refuses to accept God’s world. He bases this on the manner in which suffering is inflicted in children. He makes the reader question their own views – Alyosha’s reaction to the serf boy. The cases were derived from contemporary news reports – factual instances not fictional.

Dostoevsky’s purpose was to link God with any attempts of justifying the atrocities. Doing so alters the facts. It alters the facts as it changes the nature of the situation and what actually happened.  The Euclidian mind cannot speculate or conceive of God, it is unanswerable and meaningless. Religious arguments to the children’s suffering are dismissed as he says they might as well come from ‘another world’. It is incomprehensible to the human hear (based on the Euclidian mind) emphasising emotion over intellect.

The function of is atheism

  • Moral responsibility/ethical response to justify by God emotional responses. The justification of the future happening is purely for the harmony of our minds: not-yet-known changing the facts of what has happened (diminishing the evil acts) bound by parameters of a Euclidian mind.
  • Rebellion. He ‘returns the ticket’ to the world created by God, yet he accepts god. The two follow from Euclidian mind and moral outrage from the acts of evil done to children. His atheism stems from moral outrage
  • No alternative. He accepts god yet he is not religious. He denies the validity of life of worship or religious belief. There are no other possibilities and he cannot accept God’s world. He rebels against god that allows the suffering of innocent children, as he sees it is ‘senseless suffering’.

“Evil is the price of freedom”

The story I wish to focus on is the serf boy torn to pieces by his landlord’s hounds, in particular, Alyosha’s response. The serf boy threw a stone which hit the landlord’s favourite hound – the landlord reacted brutally ending in the boy being torn apart in front of his mother. Ivan asked Alyosha if the landlord deserved to be shot to which he replied yes. It is clear from here that he is pleading for an emotional response. Such a response from Alyosha supports Ivan’s enquiry. It is clear that he is looking for support for the Euclidian mind and this response confirms it.

He states that he doesn’t understand and that he gave up on trying to understand. Trying to understand leads to intellectualising the acts, which ends up distorting the facts, and he is ‘determined to stick to the facts.’

Ivan cannot use the case of adults. Adults have: ‘eaten the apple and know good and evil.’  The children haven’t eaten anything. Children are so far innocent.  “For anyone to love a man, he must be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.”

Stating that children are born with sin is completely insufficient. For if children were born with the sins of their fathers’ crimes, ‘such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension.’ He states that it is not worth the tears of one tortured child. “What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured?”

Stating that the children would grow up to perhaps commit heinous crimes is insufficient also and distorting the facts, for they did not grow up. To see such acts as a whole is altering the facts – it cannot be seen as a whole it detracts from the fact that these were acts of senseless suffering

Alyosha states that he is living in rebellion by not accepting God’s world, but accepting God, ‘respectfully returning the ticket’. He does not see it as rebellion – ‘one could hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live’. If the torture and death of one tiny creature is the cost of human freedom, how could god consent to be the ‘architect of those conditions’. Alyosha claims that he would not consent on those conditions. There has to be moral repugnance at the very idea. Yet we see in an orthodox view of religion, human freedom has been purchased in the actual world at the cost of countless millions of such tortures. Such a view would contribute to a non-anthropomorphic account of god

We can also see a Nietzschian (“what is man capable of”) and indeed, there has been quite a lot of work done looking into this perspective on Dostoevsky’s work.  We see the moral rule: ‘Everyone is responsible for everyone else’.  That evil is a cost of human freedom is rejected by the Euclidian mind.

Hope you enjoyed my critical look at Dostoevsky’s atheism. Feel free to comment, make suggestions etc…

Excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov: Fyodor Dostoevsky on the Problem of Evil

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