Tag Archives: philosophy

Geodes

Have you ever noticed how somethings are only nice from within? How you can’t see the beauty of certain things from the outside, how you have to be on the inside to understand? Kind of like a Geode. An ordinary grey rock on the outside, but mesmerizing on the inside. Or like Love. Just another feeling when you’re out of it, but a fly-me-to-the-moon kind of sensation when you’re deep in it.

Consider that for a moment. Maybe it’ll restore your hope. Maybe it’ll remind you that there’s always another side to things. I don’t know. It just seems worth considering.

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Is Political Propaganda Morally Justifiable?

I recently wrote this essay for my philosophy class. It was for one of my final marks in philosophy and represents a large part of my philosophy grade. We each got to choose our subject and this is one in which I take a personal interest (as you will see when I start talking about PM Erdogan who is the corrupt leader of my home country). I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave a comment. 

Is Political Propaganda Morally Justifiable?

By definition, propaganda consists of the planned use of any form of public or mass-produced communication designed to affect the minds and emotions of a given group for a specific purpose, whether military, economic, or political. In today’s society, the word “propaganda” has many negative connotations as people often associate it with dishonesty. This is mainly due to things such as allegedly independent radio commentators taking money to spout the government line, fake news reports being produced and distributed to promote partisan agenda and journalists abandoning neutrality and objectivity to become cheerleaders for a political doctrine. The nature of “truth” and how words disclose a “reality” are issues of critical importance in today’s world which is full of propaganda. As the modern world has shown us, anyone can call a lie a truth: an aggressive and unnecessary war can be defined as a struggle against terrorism; a con-man can be seen as a great leader; and fascism can be disguised and promoted. Propaganda is all around us. But is cheating the masses through propaganda morally justifiable? Throughout the years, many political philosophers such as Plato, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Karl Marx, have sought to theoretically build a perfectly functioning society in which certain forms of propaganda would be both necessary and accepted in order to maintain harmony in the state.

In Plato’s Republic, Plato presents the Noble Lie in a tale wherein Socrates speaks of a socially stratified society. He explains his belief that the best city would have three distinct classes: Rulers, Soldiers and Workers. The Rulers, he said, would be chosen from the military elite because of their ability to care for the interest of the community; the Soldiers are essentially Rulers in training and the Workers form the lowest class of the society. In order for the society to maintain this order, the three classes need to be educated to perform their respective jobs without aspiring to become anything more than what they are in the interest of their society. Thus, Socrates explains that the Rulers must tell the people of the city a Noble Lie. He says, “‘All of you in the city are certainly brothers,’ we shall say to them in telling the tale, ‘but the god, in fashioning those you who are competent to rule, mixed gold in at their birth; this is why they are most honored; in auxiliaries, silver; and iron and bronze in the farmers and other craftsmen.  So, because you’re all related, although for the most part you’ll produce offspring like yourselves, it sometimes happens that a silver child will be born from a golden parent, a golden child from a silver parent, and similarly all the others from each other.  Hence the god commands the rulers first and foremost to be of nothing such good guardians and to keep over nothing so careful a watch as the children, seeing which of these metals is mixed in their souls.  And, if a child of theirs should be born with an admixture of bronze or iron, by no manner or means are they to take pity on it, but shall assign the proper value of its nature and thrust it out among the craftsmen or the farmers; and again, if from these men one should naturally grow who has an admixture of gold or silver, they will honor such ones and lead them up, some to the guardian group, others to the auxiliary, believing that there is an oracle that the city will be destroyed when an iron or bronze man is its guardian.’”[1]Thus everyone’s place in society will be dictated and maintained from birth. Plato would argue that this lie is necessary in order to keep a stable social structure and indeed, the Noble Lie can be considered as a form of propaganda.

Plato’s conception of a socially standardized society has many advantages. The Noble Lie prevents the formation of a corrupt society. Since the “Phoenician tale”[2] discourages any upward mobility, corruption is avoided. The rulers cannot use their status to make business deals, as many people in a position of power do today. Socrates emphasizes that the Rulers should never own any private property or be in possession of any excessive material wealth. He asserts that this will be maintained through another Lie: “always have gold and silver of a divine sort in their souls as a gift from the gods and so have no further need of human gold. Indeed we’ll tell them that it’s impious for them to defile this divine Gold by any admixture of such profane gold.”[3]  Thus the Rulers cannot use their power for any kind of personal gain. Furthermore the Lie convinces the masses that the class system is fair by explaining that some people are simply born “Bronze” and some people are simply born “Gold” and that if you are born with a Gold soul to Bronze parents, then the state will recognize this and move you up to Soldier training.

Thus, Plato justifies propaganda on the grounds that it is solely controlled by the Rulers (the philosopher kings), who have no personal gain from lying to the citizens. He believes this is the sole way to create a good, functioning society as some people are simply incapable of judging what is both in their own best interest and society’s best interest.  Ultimately, whether or not the Noble Lie, or any form of propaganda is a successful philosophy depends on whether the ends justify the means. If the truth is not always beneficial and if falsehood is not always detrimental then it stands to reason that in a moral setting in which the ends do justify the means, it is obligatory to lie. In a moral setting in which the means are more important than the ends, such that it is imperative to always tell the truth even though it might lead to a bad outcome (as in Kantian ethics), then Noble Lies are not permissible. In Plato’s Republic, the ends do justify the means, thus the Noble Lie is morally justifiable. However, it seems highly unlikely for such a society to be able to function on these grounds today. History has shown that humanity has a predisposition towards upward mobility, thus it seems highly improbable for the Republic to maintain itself with its people remaining within their boundaries. The Noble Lie would only serve as a temporary fix in our ever-prospering and developing, money-thirsty society.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) was a social contract theorist who lived and wrote during what was arguably the most overwhelming period in the intellectual history of modern France: the Enlightenment. Like Plato, Rousseau would agree with the idea that the perfect society ought to be administered by an impartial ruler who cannot use their power for personal gain. Furthermore, Rousseau believed that prior to private property people lived solitary, uncomplicated lives, their few needs being satisfied by nature. He called this the State of Nature: a state in which the abundance of nature and the small size of the population prevented competition, conflict and fear. With the arrival of private property, he argued that society became more complex, divisions of labour were introduced and most importantly the state became characterized by greed, competition, vanity, inequality and vice. According to Rousseau, eventually, those in possession of property became aware that creating a government would be in their interest as it would allow them to protect their property.  Thus a government, which claims to be egalitarian but is in fact in favour of the proprietors, is established.

Rousseau views the formation of this state as responsible for the conflicts and competitions we face in our world today. Hence Rousseau proposed The Social Contract (1762), which begins, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains”[4]. Since a return to the State of Nature is not feasible, Rousseau proposes The Social Contract in which the purpose of politics is to restore our freedom, thereby reconciling who we truly are. Rousseau’s belief was such that “all men are made by nature to be equals, therefore no one has a natural right to govern others, and therefore the only justified authority that is generated out of agreements or covenants.” Collectivity is key to Rousseau’s philosophy. Thus Rousseau believes that the sovereign must be a formation of free and equal persons come who have come together and agreed to create themselves anew as a singly body, directed to the good of all considered together: The General Will. However, for this society to function there are two fundamental necessities: the sovereign must be committed to the good of the individuals who constitute it, and each individual must likewise be committed to the good of the whole society. Given this, each person must conform to the General Will; as Rousseau says, they must be “forced to be free”[5].

Therefore, despite that Rousseau himself is pro-democracy, the General Will cannot be employed democratically. In order for Rousseau’s society to function, everyone needs to take part and trust the General Will for both the individual and collective interest. In pursuance of the Social Contract, Rousseau would most likely suggest implementing different forms of propaganda in order for the contract to be installed. Thus, propaganda can only be used in favour of the General Will. This renders Rousseau’s political philosophy is rather paradoxical. Indeed, there is no bigger contradiction than being “forced to be free”. However, ultimately, he argues that it will result in a healthier society in which each man is free and equal, and thereby he morally justifies propaganda.

Both Rousseau’s General Will and Plato’s Noble Lie have of one fundamental danger: they place the rule in the hands of one sovereign. To this day, many leaders have demonstrated how, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and this threat is true for Plato and Rousseau’s societies too.

In our world today propaganda is not used in the proposed ways by Plato and Rousseau and is definitely not used in favour of society. Throughout history we have witnessed numerous occasions in which the abuse of propaganda has led to grave consequences for a state. Propaganda is a very powerful tool which eludes the truth and brainwashes the masses through language. This is especially threatening for a society consisting of an ignorant populace since language is directly linked to intellect. Politicians and propagandists, such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkish Prime Minister since 2003) for example, give the false name of democracy to the form of government in Turkey, with a clear intention of deceiving the masses. In response to this Plato would put forward that there are names and actions with a fixed nature: a name is an instrument for separating one kind of reality from another, a horse from a human for example. Thus, although Turkey is definitely not a democracy, by ruling under the false name of a democracy, Erdogan is still referring to the same objective realities. False and deceptive names are used by leaders globally in order to fool the populace into believed they are referring to a reality, when in fact, they are not. Indeed, dialogue would not really be possible with any politician today, as they have no commitment to an objective truth and are simply driven by their own personal goals. Ultimately, it is possible for a society, such as the Turkish society which is largely plagued by a weak educational system, to become so intellectually dazed and misled that people lose the ability to comprehend reality.

Overall, the moral justifiability of political propaganda depends largely on whether the ends justify the means. On a global scale, most politicians, like Erdogan, use propaganda for self-gain. Since all leaders are only human, they will have flaws like any other. Moreover, politicians have ideological biases and will inevitably alienate some of the population. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that a ruler can remain pure and impartial during the course of the reign as well as objectively and universally judging whether the means they use are in line with the greater good. Reflecting back to 2003 when Prime Minister Erdogan was first elected, we can see how he has evolved and progressed as his charisma and cult of personality has grown. This exemplifies how power corrupts, especially over time, as the ruler gains more and more confidence and enjoys more and more of the luxuries of being at the top of an entire country. Thus, it may be that Plato and Rousseau’s political philosophies are too ambitious in that there is no such thing as an impartial ruler and healthy propaganda. Although there are specific cases in which Rousseau, Mill and many other philosophers justify the use of propaganda, it will always be used to manipulate the masses as there is no omniscient, impartial ruler who will look out for the greater good of a population in existence.

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

 

[1] Plato, Republic, (circa 360 B.C.) http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/relpol/noblelie.htm

[2] Plato, Republic, (circa 360 B.C.) http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/relpol/noblelie.htm

[3] Plato, Republic, (cira 360 B.C.)   http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/relpol/noblelie.htm

[4] Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762

[5] Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762

 

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I ask myself this question every single night and never seem to find the answer. I wish I was more of an early morning person – sometimes I feel like I miss out.

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Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice

This is very on topic – I watched this as part of my research for my essay, and it’s clear and concise. If you read my essay, you will probably find that it echoes some of the ideas that Schwartz puts forward.

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Is Choice A Good Thing?

Hey! So, I recently had an assignment to write an essay on Marx and I chose ‘choice’ as my topic. I was quite proud of the final result… I found the subject very intriguing and applicable to my reality. Here it is:

Society has a positive outlook on choice, because we are taught to believe that more choice equals more freedom. In today’s western capitalist societies, in order to maximize welfare, it is thought that individual freedom must be maximized, which can be achieved through maximizing choice. Marx, however, argues against this. The Marxist view dictates that choice is only an illusion – one which allows capitalism to prosper, imprisoning us in the capitalist ideology. Marxism rejects the idea that choice creates freedom and welfare, and presents the negative impact it can have on the citizens of a capitalist society.

Ludwig Feuerbach was a German philosopher of the nineteenth century. He was famous for his critique of Christianity (The Essence of Christianity) which greatly influenced Marx’s and Engels’ thoughts. Feuerbach is considered to be the bridge between Hegel and Marx. Marx discovers in Hegel the concept of the idealistic dialectic which helps him understand historical change but he uses Feuerbach’s materialism as a tool to fathom it correctly. This is why Marx’s philosophy is referred to as dialectical materialism.

Feuerbach held the opinion that religion “poisons, nay destroys, the most divine feeling of man, the sense of truth.” He believed that all forms of religious expressions are projections of the strongest desires of humanity. According to Feuerbach, the appeal of Christianity lies mainly in its promise of immortality. Humanity, amongst many other things, fear death. Christianity promises us eternal life. Karl Marx agreed with this idea that “man makes religion, religion does not make man.” He called religion “the opium of the people” as it anaesthetizes the masses. For example, religion promises justice in the afterlife, thus suspending it until then. Influenced by Feuerbach’s ideas, Marx believed that religion was a device used by the ruling classes to give the working classes false hope. For Marx, religion is wholly determined by material and economic realities. Marx views choice as similar to religion and as the new ideology: choice is the opium of the people.

Choice desensitizes us to the realities of capitalist ideology. There is an excessive amount of choices in today’s society which connote individual freedom and social change. The capitalist ideology is promoted in this way: capitalism promises freedom, which is presented as choice. The same could be said for religion in the past in that it promises justice in the afterlife. This creates a false hope for the proletariat, implying that they are free to make choices and be in control of their own fate, preventing them from rebelling against the system.

Thus, choice awards us with the feeling that each individual is in control of their own life. The working class believes that they are free to make their own choices in life, rather than identifying themselves as proletarian slaves, trapped in a capitalist system. Consequently, each individual believes to bear all responsibility to succeed, and blames only themselves for their failures. For example, if an individual is unemployed, they do not question the education system that locked them out of getting qualifications with high fees, or the welfare system that does not support them, but immediately blame themselves for being inadequate. As a result, the self becomes very critical of their own actions.

This kind of anxiety extends to what can be called our belief in the belief of others. Through fear of offending another individual’s belief nobody opposes it. As previously stated, the ideology of choice forces the individual to accept themselves as culpable for their failures. One specific example of a realm in which we consider ourselves to be freer is sexuality. In recent decades, the media has created a fantastical perception of sexuality and we have come to believe that we need to live up to this. Exercising sexual freedom and enjoying all our perverse desires is now perceived as routine and mundane thus, if we are unsuccessful in engaging in these types of activities we feel embarrassed.

Contrary to the belief that choice benefits social change, this type of self-criticism prevents it. This belief places all of the responsibility to be a successful member of society on the individual and can lead to obsessions and addictions such as bulimia, anorexia, workaholism etc. But as we are directed to believe that everyone is a maker of his or her own life, we become pacified and never move together to make a critique of capitalist society.

Therefore, not only does choice prevent social change but choice and choice making accommodates anxieties. This is the main paradox of choice. An overwhelming explosion of choice creates the feeling of anxiety as well as pacifying people.

In the past we had little to no choice in most areas of life. Throughout the past centuries, people usually inherited their identities and the course of the individual’s life was more or less set in stone.  However, this pattern changed during the 20th century as capitalism flourished. Choice is now the foundation of capitalism. We have the choice to study, the choice to pursue a career, the choice to have a family – we have the choice to invent and even reinvent ourselves. This excess of choice has various negative and anxiety provoking consequences.

Firstly, in today’s society, the choices we make are often not our own. When making a choice we are conscious and aware of how it will be perceived by other members of society. An obvious example of this is clothing. Clothing sends a message about who we are, and invokes the need to be recognized by others in a positive light. Appearances play a part in the way that we are perceived, and no individual wants to be judged or frowned upon for what they wear. We fear looking too cheap, or overly expensive. We try to ease our anxiety and guilt by making immense efforts to look like we’ve not made an effort. We also have a tendency to be influenced by what others around us are choosing, so as not to have our own choices frowned upon.

Furthermore, the burden of being responsible for our choices puts pressure on us to make the ideal choice. Consequently, we find ourselves in a state of indecisiveness and we are constantly trying to upgrade ourselves materially. Whether it’s buying the newest iPhone or changing washing detergent brands. Most often, there is such a variety to choose from it becomes too difficult and we find ourselves in paralysis. Subsequently, we end up less satisfied with the choices we make. Essentially, the more choice you have, the greater your expectations are and therefore the greater the chance of disappointment. By this token, the real answer to happiness is low expectations ergo less choice. If you are only given a single option, its dissatisfaction is not your fault.

Another anxiety created by choice involves loss. By choosing one thing, you inevitably lose the other. This creates distress for the individual, fearing making the wrong choice.

Through these examples, choice proves to be a lot less attractive than it seems. It appears to appeal to misery rather than freedom and happiness.

Choice also promotes the idea that anyone can “make it big” through simply making the right choices. Young boys and girls grow up thinking that fame is desirable, and entirely within their reach. The same can be said for adults who have a below average income. Television shows give people the opportunity to become famous overnight, creating an impression of freedom, possibility and choice, while in fact creating a society of individuals who want to be famous for the sole purpose of being famous.

Overall, the ideology of choice is a lot less optimistic than it appears to be at first glance. The ideology of choice is promoted as one which encourages freedom and social change. However, it’s quite a deceptive concept. It deludes us into a false feeling of liberty. Through choice we are lead to believe that each individual is a maker of their own life. Instead of liberating us, it burdens us with anxiety and paralyzes us. Moreover, it conceals the negative aspects of a capitalist society in a similar way to religion. We become myopic, focusing on fighting our own fights and failing to realize the ideological, institutional roots of choice and what it signifies for society at large. Thus, there is no rebellion against capitalism. Perhaps it is true that some choice is better than none, but this does not mean that more choice is better than some.

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Who Am I?

My assignment for philosophy is to write an essay and choose which perspective I am.

I have to choose whether I am Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, AJ Ayer or simply a naive realist.
I’ve come to realize that this is definitely not as easy as it sounds…
Not to mention how much this class has added to me. I mean, to think that I spent most of my time being a naive realist when here I am, unable to choose which philosopher I agree most with…

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Plato Potato

So, I’m writing an essay for philosophy class which really isn’t easy considering the little amount of sleep I’ve had. 
I’ve been typing words and going on and on and I’m not even sure I’ve reached the point yet. 
What are the Forms? Well they’re an explanatory theory except that Plato hasn’t been very clear has he now? So many questions and undefined things hovering. How am I supposed to know if I’m a Platonist? I mean, his theory isn’t even settled. I suppose he’s leaving unanswered questions to oblige us to question things – which is what both him and Socrates wanted. 

I never realized how challenging this would be…

P.S. The title is a pun on a monologue I wrote for my theatre class in which I was portraying Plato the Potato… 

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