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John Stuart Mill on Limitations to Individual Freedom

John Stuart Mill, English political philosopher and economist

The English political philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill stated that individual freedoms should only be limited to prevent harm to others. Mill wrote, “Over one’s mind and over one’s body the individual is sovereign.”

Philosopher and statesman John Stuart Mill (1806-73) published On Liberty in 1859 as part of his theory of utilitarianism. While Mill’s later Utilitarianism (1861-63) states that the right thing to do is what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people, On Liberty delineates the appropriate limitations of a government in enforcing this principle. Mill argues that politics is necessarily a struggle between liberty (maximizing personal freedom) and authority (maximizing safety). Too much emphasis upon the former produces anarchy, while too much of the latter results in tyranny. The balance between these two extremes is struck by following the harm principle: liberty to pursue one’s own happiness is a fundamental good for all human beings and can only be infringed upon if the exercise of one’s liberty harms other persons.

'On Liberty' by John Stuart Mill (ISBN 0486421309) A state is not justified in making paternalistic laws that restrict citizens’ freedoms for their own good. For example, while the state can ban drink driving because it harms others, it should not outlaw alcohol simply because the drug might harm its user. If the state is to err, it should do so on the side of liberty rather than authority. Mill argues that three types of liberty should always be protected by a just state:

  1. freedom of consciousness, including beliefs and speech
  2. freedom of tastes and pursuits
  3. the freedom to unite for any noninjurious purpose.

On Liberty is one of the most important treatises in the history of political philosophy. The harm principle is a cornerstone of liberal democracy and continues to be used by both lawmakers and political theorists.

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Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry Men

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry MenChakravarti Rajagopalachari was the Governor General of India from 1948 to 1950 and one of the principal leaders in India’s fight for independence from the British. Widely known as Rajaji, Rajagopalachari joined Mahatma Gandhi in the anti-British movement in 1919. An enthusiastic supporter of his Satyagraha passive resistance tactic, Rajagopalachari was imprisoned five times in the years leading to India’s freedom. He departed briefly with the pro-independence Congress party of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1942, saying it took unjust advantage of Britain’s fixation with World War II. In 1959, he left the dominant Congress party for good and coordinated his own Swatantra Party founded on the notions of free enterprise and reduced state control.

Rajagopalachari’s daughter Lakshmi wedded Gandhi’s son, Devadas, in an inter-caste marriage which caused both parents some concern. So close did Rajagopalachari and Gandhi become that, until Gandhi picked the young Jawarharlal Nehru as his successor, Rajagopalachari was regarded broadly as his political heir apparent.

Rajagopalachari had an enormously refined intelligence, astoundingly widely versed in both Indian and Western culture. He was a superb craftsman of English prose. Among his many writings, one might single out his Tamil versions, translated into English, of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Because of the Rajagopalachari’s questioning spirit, Gandhi referred to Rajaji as his “conscience-keeper” on the eve of his 21-day fast in May 1933.

Rajagopalachari as Madras State Chief Minister

As Madras State Chief Minister between 1952 and 1954, Rajagopalachari launched an unusual new educational scheme in 1953. He called it the “Modified System of Elementary Education” and reduced schooling for elementary school students to three hours per day with students expected to learn the family vocation at home during the remainder of the day. The plan came in for sharp criticism and evoked strong protests from the Dravidian parties. Scholar Thanjai Nalankilli writes,

Madras State Chief Minister Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) brought forth a new educational scheme in 1953. According to this scheme, students went to school only for half-a-day and the rest of the day they learned what their parents did. It came as a shock to many non-Brahmin leaders. There were disproportionately far too many Brahmins in white-collar jobs from clerks to chief executive officers to judges to teachers to professors. In contrast there were far more farmers and low-wage blue-collar workers among non-Brahmin castes. According to Rajaji’s scheme, most non-Brahmin students would learn such skills as farming, barbering, laundering, shoemaking and other low-wage skills for half-a-day while most Brahmin students would spend half the day on “white collar skills” leading to higher paying white collar jobs which were already dominated by Brahmins for years. Non-Brahmin leaders feared that this would perpetuate the status qua, thus benefiting the Brahmin caste. (Rajaji was a Brahmin.) Some of the critics called the new education scheme “caste-based education” (in Tamil they called it kula vazhi kalvi thittam orkulaththozhil kalvi thittam or kula kalvi thittam). Many non-Brahmin leaders believed that only a full-day education would bring more non-Brahmins into higher-level jobs and uplift their lives. Opposition to Rajaji’s caste-based education scheme grew. Many non-Brahmin leaders and organizations vocally opposed it. Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) played active roles in the opposition.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari at All India Radio Madras

Rajagopalachari was not an easy political collaborator, so merciless were the moral demands he made both on himself and others; he was no less commanding of his children. He was a man of slight build, always perfectly garbed. In later years, he softened, and his instinctive, aristocratic charm and straightforwardness of manner shone through. His was a far more Indian-based career than those of Gandhi or Nehru. His education was wholly home-based. His first journey outside India was, remarkably, as late as 1962, to visit President John F. Kennedy.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry Men

When one carefully studies the career of Rajagopalachari, one vividly realises that there is a very thin line between success and failure in life. From 1941 to 1946, C. R. was one of the most unpopular figures in the political life of the country. In 1942, many of his colleagues cursed him, because his utterances peered them like arrows. The more he tried to placate the Muslim League and the British, the more he hurt his comrades.

For several years, C.R. ploughed a narrow furrow. During that period he was heckled at meetings, bitterly criticised in the press and once or twice mud and tar were thrown at him. Some angry men even questioned his motives. But undaunted, he faced public wrath with equanimity and patience.

In 1941, he passed through Allahabad and I casually met him in a train. I told him that his speeches and statements were being greatly resented by the public. He replied, “It does not mean that they are right and I am wrong. It only shows, they are angry and I am not. The judgement of angry men is not so sound as those who are not angry.” I could not pursue the argument further. He looked meditative and was lost in thought.

Source: Unknown

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Human Conscience is an Unending Stream of Continuous Thought

William James and his concept of Stream of Consciousness

Although the concept of the mind possessing a streaming consciousness can be found in early Buddhist texts, the first modern approach to the phenomenon was put forward by William James (1842-1910), one of the United States’ first recognized psychologists in his 1,200-word masterwork The Principles of Psychology in 1899.

In this book, James speaks of consciousness as being “unbroken” and states that there are no “gaps,” or as he liked to say no “intrusive alien substances,” that come along to distinguish or break up one period of consciousness from the next. For consciousness to be interrupted by gaps or intrusions, James thought, is like “expecting the eye to feel a gap of silence because it does not hear, or the ear to feel a gap of darkness because it does not see. So much,” he said, “for the gaps that are unfelt.”

Consciousness, rather than being “chopped up,” was likened instead by James to a river or stream, a process that is ever-flowing even in the event of a sudden interruption, such as an explosion or losing one’s footing and falling over. These sorts of things-a clap of thunder or the sound of a gunshot—are about as disconnected from our present thoughts as “a joint in bamboo is a break in the wood.” The thunder clap is as intrinsically a part of our continuing, unbroken consciousness as the joint is a part of the bamboo in which it grows. James believed that our cognitive experiences overlap one another and are linked by what he called “fringes,” subconscious tabs, which act as clasps that are necessary in binding our conscious thoughts together, and prevent us from living in a chaotic inner world of random, unrelated experiences.

James’s theory influenced literature and became a narrative device to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings that pass through an individual’s mind. James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) is one of the best-known examples of the stream of consciousness technique. William James wrote in Principles of Psychology (1890) that, “The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks.”

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Pythagoras’s Philosophy of Vegetarianism

Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism (c. 1618-30) by Peter Paul Rubens

Vegetarianism is a conscious decision not to eat meat and other animal products.

Vegetarianism is the principled refusal to eat meat. The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BCE), who required members of his philosophical society to abstain from eating meat, is often viewed as the first important vegetarian. Before the word “vegetarian” was coined in the 1840s, non meat-eaters were often called “Pythagoreans.”

What is wrong with eating meat? Vegetarians have offered various criticisms for the practice, contending that eating meat is cruel (often, from the twentieth century onward, citing the methods of industrial meat production), unethical (often citing recent work in practical ethics, particularly by Peter Singer), unhealthy (often citing the fact that vegetarians tend to be less obese and less likely to die from ischemic heart disease), unnatural (often claiming, wrongly, that prehistoric humans subsisted on a vegetarian diet), environmentally unfriendly (often citing the relative inefficiency of meat production), and in conflict with the tenets of religious faith (sometimes citing reincarnation, as with the ancient Pythagoreans and several modern Hindu sects).

There are also different degrees of vegetarianism: for example, ovo vegetarians will eat eggs, lacto vegetarians will eat milk, and ovolacto vegetarians will eat eggs and milk, whereas vegans forego all products derived from animals and fruitarians furthermore forego all plant foods that involve killing the plant, eating only fruits, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarianism is typically associated with a similar refusal to use products derived from animals, such as leather and wool.

The modern vegetarian movement is dated to 1847, when the Vegetarian Society was founded in Great Britain. In Western countries, vegetarianism has been increasing since the 1960s, and due to continuing and intensifying ethical and environmental concerns, it is likely to flourish in the future.

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Philosophical Hedonism

Philosophical Hedonism

Philosophical Hedonism holds that human actions should be motivated by the pursuit of pleasure.

How should we live? We pursue education so that we can get a career, so we can make money, so we can buy things, so we can … what? Presumably, we do not want a career or money just to have a career or money, but in order to be happy. The idea that the morally good or “right” motivation for acting is the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain is called hedonism.

Hedonism can be traced to the sixth-century BCE Indian philosophy Carvaka, but its most influential form was in the ancient Greek teachings of Aristippus of Cyrene (c. 435–356 BCE) and Epicurus (341–270 BCE). Epicurus said in a letter to Meneoceus, “[We] do everything for the sake of being free of pain and mental distress.”

Regarding pleasure as the only valuable pursuit, hedonism sets itself apart from other widely accepted moral views, such as that a person has moral duties to do certain things regardless of whether they make them happy (deontology) and that a person has obligations to do whatever God commands, irrespective of the impact on their own welfare (divine command theory).

However, philosophical hedonism should be distinguished from the mere pursuit of pleasure. While some accuse hedonists of advocating a life of debauchery, philosophical hedonists reject this characterization. Epicurus argued that while every pleasure is good, “it does not follow that every pleasure is a choice worthy without qualification.” He extolled traditional virtues of self-sufficiency, prudence, and even a healthy diet, since they too contribute to a lifetime of happiness. Though hedonism was rejected by many influential moral philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant), it continues to play an influential role in contemporary moral and political thought.

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Objectivism: Ayn Rand’s Novel Philosophy

The Religion and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Frustrated with her intellectual climate, novelist and lay philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-82) collected ideas from a variety of philosophers and cobbled them into a unique view that she named Objectivism. She expounded on this personal worldview in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand defends Aristotle’s ideas that reality exists objectively and authoritatively, that the laws of logic guide our understanding, and that consciousness is the seat of humans’ ability to know. She defends the rationalist ideas that morality is objective and that conscious rationality bestows special moral significance. And she also defends the classical liberal idea that each person is obligated to respect every person’s right to pursue her interests, so long as those pursuits do not interfere with another person’s right to do so. Rand then argues that the only sociopolitical system consistent with these ideas is laissez-faire capitalism, that is, a free market economy.

One controversial implication is what Rand calls “the virtue of selfishness.” Since each person is intrinsically valuable, one’s primary moral obligation is to pursue one’s own interests. This pursuit is limited only by the recognition that others are also valuable, and thus no one has the right to deceive or coerce others. Selfish interests cannot conflict because it cannot be in our interests to have something to which we have no right. Although some goods may result from collective action, such goods never justify the use of force.

Rand’s philosophy continues to spark controversy, especially among those who argue that some “social goods” cannot be achieved by individuals and that unacceptable economic inequalities result from unregulated trade. Though not all capitalists would call themselves Objectivists, many cite Rand as a formative influence, including economist Walter Williams (b. 1936) and politician Ron Paul (b. 1935).

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), encompassed her ideas of rationalism, individualism, and capitalism within a dystopian United States.

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The Nature versus Nurture Debate

Nature Versus Nurture

The question of whether characteristics are inherited (nature) or fostered (nurture) was first proposed by Francis Galton.

English polymath Francis Galton (1822-1911) was born into a rich and influential family that included naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82), his cousin. He initially studied mathematics at Cambridge University but became interested in psychology, along with anthropology, geography, statistics, and many other subjects.

In one study, Hereditary Genius (1869), he considered the implications of his cousin’s theories on sociology and psychology. He favored the position that all characteristics, including intelligence, are inherited through natural selection, though he later came to believe that the nurturing environment had an important influence. His work also led him to develop the pseudo-science of eugenics.

Much of the important evidence in the nature versus nurture debate has come from the study of twins, including both nonidentical (fraternal or dizygotic) twins (who, when raised together, possess different natures but share the same nurture), and identical or monzygotic twins (who, when separated at birth or very soon after, experience different nurture but possess the same initial natural inheritance). The results of such studies have highlighted some remarkable instances of natural inheritance, such as the development of Type 2 diabetes in separated identical twins at almost the same time in their mid-life, and have also cataloged the psychological effects of a variety of environmental factors.

Today, the debate initiated by Galton is still very much alive. At one extreme, Nativists such as John Bowlby and Noam Chomsky believe that most or even all psychological characteristics, including those that develop later in life, are governed by the body’s genetic code. On the Empiricist side of the argument, theorists such as Albert Bandura and B. F. Skinner see the human mind at birth as resembling a blank slate, onto which character is engraved by later experiences.

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Confucius on Types of Men

Confucius on Types of Men

Confucius distinguishes four types or levels of man:

  1. The highest embraces the saints, those who possess knowledge from birth. Confucius never saw a saint but he has no douht that they existed in antiquity.
  2. The second level comprises those who must acquire knowledge by learning; they can become “superior men.”
  3. The men of the third level find it hard to learn, but they do not let this discourage them.
  4. Those of the fourth level find it hard and make no effort.

The two middle types are on the way; they progress though they may fail. Confucius writes, “Only the highest wise men and the lowest fools are unchangeable.”

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The Death of Confucius

The Death of Confucius

From age 56 to 68, the Chinese philosopher Confucius wandered from state to state hoping that somewhere he could put his political doctrine into practice. During these years he never lost confidence in his cailling as political mentor of the Empire.

At age 57, when he returned to his native state finally, he lamented in a poem that, “men are without insight, quickly the years pass.” He said, despite all his wanderings through nine provinces there was still no goal in sight for him.

Confucius spent his last years peacefully in Lu. He accepted no government position. He seems to have undergone a profound change. A hermit once said of Confucius: “Is that not the man who knows that striving is without hope and yet goes on?” He studied the I Ching, or Book of Changes, so rich in secrets and completed his systematic groundwork for a new mode of education by committing traditions to writing and by instructing a group of young men.

One morning Confucius felt the approach of death. He walked about the courtyard, humming the words: “The great mountain must collapse, the mighty beam must break, and the wise man wither like a plant.”

When an alarmed pupil spoke to him, he said: “No wise ruler arises, and no one in the Empire wishes to make me his teacher. The hour of my death has come.” He lay down and died eight days later at age 73.

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