Another Skeptical Question

The Skeptic Troythulu has posted yet another thought provoking question:

“Are there ever times when life just doesn’t seem to go how you want it to?”  (Click Here for the blog entry)

Troy, to answer your question, truthfully, I’m at the point in my life (pushing 50… wow…can’t believe it…), where I can say “very rarely” life doesn’t seem to go the way I want it to. I can, almost, but not quite, take pride in saying I’ve gained a large measure of ataraxia. It has been extremely difficult in many ways, but I’m able to accept just about everything as it is. Note that in one sense there’s a tension between “acceptance” and “skepticism” (acceptance of everything requires “surrender” while the skeptical attitude requires that one hold out), but in a strange way the two are also similar. Eckhart Tolle–pure genius, the guy is incredible–says it best when he says it’s downright illogical not to accept what IS. No one wants to spill hot coffee into their lap and no one wants a rainstorm to ruin a day at the Hawaiian beach, but to rebel against these events makes no sense on many levels–logical and spiritual.


Another TNQ (Troythulu’s Noontide Query):  “What is the Highest Virtue of All?”

My answer:

Excellent question, Troy.  I would say it’s artificial to think of virutues separately, because in life various aspects of being human constellate into a particular way to comport oneself.  This is why Plato thought there was only one virtue, but that it defied a limited definition.  This one virtue was really many qualities put together.  Separate virtues are really connected at a more fundamental level.  In order to do justice to the idea of any one particular virtue, in other words, one must think synoptically.  So, I’d have to say the seven classical or cardinal virtues are all-important: Prudence, Justice, Restraint, Fortitude, Faith, Hope, and Charity.  A person’s subjective world is more enjoyable and more harmonious internally, and the person enjoys better relations to the external world of things and people, as measured by the amount of each of the seven virtues the person is able to employ in a practical sense.

Aloha!  (BTW, “Aloha” is the virtue of “Charity”)

Bruce Lee & Philosophy



 Even though Bruce Lee is best known as a martial artist and actor, Lee majored in philosophy at the University of Washington. Lee himself was well-read and had an extensive library. His own books on martial arts and fighting philosophy are known for their philosophical assertions both inside and outside of martial arts circles. His eclectic philosophy often mirrored his fighting beliefs, though he was quick to claim that his martial arts were solely a metaphor for such teachings. His influences include Taoism, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Buddhism” (from  Enter the Dragon Video Clips:

Pics, videos, and other information on Bruce Lee (from

#3: Experience and Turtles

On p. xxxi, Jude says:

“W’s philosophical interests from the beginning were driven by a concern to explain the existence and conceivability of the order that seems to be resident in the course of affairs we know as our universe. In this sense, religion amplifies some of the same themes as science, and thus must conspire with the insights of science…”

It’s important here to point out two things:

1) W. is always trying to explain our given experience of the world, and he uses that experience as a constant touchstone. He’s not drawing circles in the air, or speculating in a vacuum. We have religious experience, and religious intuition, and W. is looking for an explanation. In this sense he’s a radical empiricist in the vein of William James. E.g., we feel, and some people feel strongly, that it’s good to do the right thing (or at least not an evil thing). We feel there is an order in the universe, and we want to get at the gist of that order. And that order is not only out there, in the Big Bang and in the Cosmic Background Radiation. It’s in the very molecules of our bodies, and in the atoms and subatomic entities that make up those molecules. W. wants to look at that order and determine why it’s there.

2) W. is talking about the extreme fundamental structures of the universe. He’s not only talking about religion, but about the laws of science. And not only about scientific law, but about the structures, even if theoretical, that make scientific law possible. Some say he’s too much of a foundationalist because of this. In a discussion about what is perceived by some as too much foundationalism in W., and about “first cause” and other related issues, Dr. Greg Tropea once said to me in jest: “It’s turtles all the way down.” (Wikipedia)


#2: Back Up A Bit

Let’s back up and bit and look at Dr. Jones’ Introduction:

“RM is very much a book about the challenges that face dogmatic statement in both religion and metaphysics; it is also a book which itself challenges the construction of either religion or metaphysics around highly suspect networks of assumptions which act as truths but fail to accurately represent the world as experienced.” (p. xi)

W. is against purely dogmatic ideas—truth claims based on little evidence—in religion and metaphysics (and science). He wants to base claims on our experience of the world. To hazard an example, I don’t experience an omnipotent being controlling my every action, against my will. As a God worthy of worship should be all-good, this would mean I’d always be feeling forced to do good things…and I’d always be doing them. I’d never be coerced to walk into a liquor store with a shotgun and kill the clerk, and take the $130 in the register. But this happens every day. So, since our experience isn’t of an omnipotent God controlling things in that sense, then maybe God isn’t omnipotent in that sense.

Beginning on page xviii, Jude points out that RM is an excellent introductory process philosophy text. In order to explain a bit about W’s treatment of religion in RM, she has to explain a bit about W’s philosophy (metaphysics) first. This is because for W. metaphysics is the explanation about how everything, including religion, happens. Reality is a dynamic process and religion and everything else issues forth from that process.

Most metaphysics asks about the “nature” or “essence” of things in the world—as if each thing has or possesses a unique nature. Traditionally, the philosophical job was to crack that thing open and see the unique, diffeent, fundamental reality or essence inside. This analysis implies a substance ontology—it started with the ancient Greeks. W. rather posits that things are much more alike than they are different—all things share certain “characteristics” or “common features” at a fundamental level. If you crack something open and look at the core level, you see the same thing as when you crack something else open. Rather than analyzing different substances, he intuits that so-called “different things” are really inter-connected entities, all part of the same, large, holographic process that is in continual development. (W. never said “holographic” as he was writing in the 1920’s. )

“Being” implies a static situation at the fundamental level based on substance. And different “things” have different “beings.” On the other hand, “becoming” implies a dynamic situation based on a common flow of energy or data at the fundamental level. In other words, everything is connected in a sense. It’s easy to crack a thing open and try to see the fundamental reality inside, but it’s different if a “thing” is fundamentally a dynamic process interconnected with everything else:

Each moment, each thing (e.g. each person) pulls (or “prehends”) elements from the past and incorporates those things into its present self. The entity then makes a decision about which way to go, and goes in a new direction. As a result of this new direction, new and different possibilities are open to it in the future, and it considers those new possibilities, and then looks again to it’s past, and picks out, prehends again, the things it will need to arm itself for it’s new future, and takes another step into that new future. Thus the phrase “character of a process” describes this dynamism better than the phrase “nature of a thing.”

Next post, we’ll say a few more things about this metaphysics, then try to tie it to religion.

#1: Let’s Begin…Religion in the Making

   whitehead-larger.jpg  The full text is available online at: Mountain Man

Whitehead’s short book on religion is intriguing in that he presents a synoptic view of religion within the larger context of his over-arching metaphysical system.  It’s not just a book about religion, but it’s a book about the very structure of the universe.  It’s about the INHERENT VALUE of the universe.   All Whitehead’s books are complex and difficult (because he challenges the very way we’re used to thinking about the universe), but relatively speaking Religion in the Making is fairly accessible.

From the back cover:  “This classic text in American philosophy by one of its foremost figures offers a concise analysis of the various factors in human nature which go toward forming a religion.”

From Whitehead’s Preface:  “The aim of the lectures was to give a concise analysis of the various factors in human nature which go to form a religion, to exhibit the inevitable transformation of religion with the transformation of knowledge, and more especially to direct attention to the foundation of religion on our apprehension of those permanent elements by reason of which there is a stable order in the world, permanent elements apart from which there could be no changing world.”

I’m using the Fordham Univ. Press 1996 edition of Whitehead’s “Religion in the Making” (RM), with an introduction by Judith Jones, and Glossary by Randy Auxier. The text itself is 147 pages. If you want to access an online version of the book, go to: Mountain Man.

In the Preface, Whitehead (hereafter, “W.”) intimates that his metaphysical system (an explanation of the universe as a matrix of interconnected drops of experience rather than “things” in the traditional sense) is the basis for both science and religion. He refers to “permanent elements” that give a stable order to the world. RM isn’t a book about a particular religion or even various religions and their interconnections, but about how religion arises out of the permanent or fundamental structure of the universe.

Thus, this text isn’t written to convert people to religion, for is it an argument for the existence of God. It’s not even about the desirability to believe in religion as opposed to being an atheist or an agnostic. W.’s view of God doesn’t posit God as controlling the universe, wielding omnipotent power, casting down thunderbolts, and sending millions at a time to damnation with a wave of his judging hand. This book, as Jude says in the introduction, is about metaphysics–the consideration of the fundamental elements of the universe, and about religious or spiritual intuition.