October 26, 2008

Philosophical Balance

Is the phrase philosophical balance an oxymoron?  Yes, and perhaps no.  We'll see.

But as an immediate digression, don't you just love the word oxymoron? It just rolls off your tongue and makes you feel good, and maybe a little sinister at the same time. That's it, good and sinister. Now that's an oxymoron, isn't it?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Ed., oxymoron means 'a rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in a deafening silence ...'  It comes from the Greek, oxy, which means 'sharp,' and moros, which means 'dull.'  I like that.  But what does that have to do with philosophy?  Maybe nothing.

Here are the names of some famous philosophers, in no particular order:

       Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Plato, Locke, Spinoza,
       Augustine, Aquinas, Rousseau, Schopenhauer,
       Kierkegaard, Pascal, Bacon, Russell, Descartes,
       Emerson, Camus, James, Wittengstein, Hume,
       Dewey, Pierce, Sartre

Here are the names of some famous religious writers and figures, in no particular order:

       Abraham, Lao-tzu, Karl Barth, Confucius,
       Jesus Christ, Augustine, John Wycliffe,
       Muhammad, Thomas Aquinas, Moses,
       Martin Luther, Apostle Paul, John Calvin,
       Buddha, Joseph Smith, Gandhi, Billy Graham,
       Brigham Young, John Wesley, John Knox,
       Blaise Pascal, Max Weber, Dalai Lama,
       Mother Teresa, Paul Tillich

I could make similar lists of world renowned artists (Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso), authors (Elizabeth Barret Browning, Honore' de Balzac), political figures (John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan) and scientists (Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr), but the point would always be the same:

        Great minds do not think alike.

Okay, so maybe I have thrown you a curve, here, and maybe I have not.  Maybe I have even offended you (by including the names of Jesus Christ, Muhammad or Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Moses and perhaps several others on the same list of "great minds").  If so, it is not my intention to offend here.

The point is, as you peruse the above lists of great personages, how is it possible for us to determine what the truth is ... about anything?  I mean, as John Stossel of ABC might say (and yes, I'm just speculating here as to how John Stossel might ask this question), if all these great minds can't agree on what the truth is, how are we to do it?

That's a good question.  Maybe we should give up.  After all, we, like these great personages, perceive the world around us in different ways, from different points of views, with different values and different experiences.

Yes we do. To what conclusions should that logically lead us?

        That there are no truths?
        That all truth is relative?
        That my view of truth is better than your view of truth?
        That some of the things we think of as truths are perhaps
        best categorized as beliefs, rather than as truths?
        That some of the things we think of as truths are perhaps
        only individual subjective opinions which are not based on
        any underlying universal truth?
        That some of the things we think of as truths are perhaps
        only subjective reflections of something that is in fact based
        on a universal objective truth?
        That discovering the truth about a matter is in fact at times
        a pretty difficult thing to accomplish?
        That my neighbor's view, about at least some things, may
        have as much claim to validity, or truth, as my view about
        those same things?

Philosophy, according to one definition sent to me, means 'the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.'  I determined that this definition of philosophy comes from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary.  So I proceeded to check the definition of balance.  According to the third definition by the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, balance means 'mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment.'  That works for me. So, combining these terms, philosophical balance might be defined as 'the emotionally stable and rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge and conduct.'

Maybe philosophical  balance is not an oxymoron after all.  Maybe it's something we can all endeavor to engage in together, as we try to tell the truth, as we're best able to determine the truth, about ourselves and each other, while we try to figure out where to take this planet.

As I said, or at least implied, in my previous posting, this is not something the dinosaurs were able to attempt.  I mean specifically that dinosaurs lacked the ability to determine the truth about themselves.  While we, on the other hand, possess the ability to determine the truth about some things about ourselves, right?  Even if it's only that 'great minds do not think alike.'  Learning even that much must mean something.  Yes?


  1. You are really hard to understand sometimes. But after a lot of thnking, I think if Obama is elected we are really going in the wrong direction and I'm right about that. I think that's the truth.

  2. I was trying to avoid connecting philosophical balance with presidential election, but okay, let me ask you: (1) Has the country gone in the wrong direction before during it's 232 year history and is it still here, in reasonably good shape? (2) Why is it in America that approximately 50% of Americans always seem to support one side of a political debate while 50% of Amercians always seem to support the other side of the debate? (3) What truth, if any, does that suggest about the rightness of either side of the debate, and about the strength of the Amercian culture, regardless of who is elected as the next president? (4) What if there is a crisis looming in the future, not solely related to our political, ideological or religious differences, that is so big it threatens the entire ecological balance for humans to survive on the planet? (5) What then? Please add your comment and email it to 10 people. Soon.


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