Category Archives: philosophy

Subjective vs. objective belief

I shared a funny Onion article I found on Facebook some months ago. The article describes a fictional boy returning home after receiving his undergraduate philosophy degree. The boy remarks to his father that: “There is no rational justification for belief!” Today, this has gotten me thinking about a more subjective view of belief versus the one I engaged with as an undergrad in philosophy. In the latter, knowledge is equated with justified true belief (in mathematical form–K=JTB).

Certainly, K=JTB is the preferred formula for scientific belief. Empirical science relies on the shared sensory perception of data, and established analytic procedures to run it through. K=JTB seems a useful philosophical companion to this hypothetico-deductive approach to reaching knowledge*.

K=JTB clearly shows that–in order to attain knowledge–belief should be (rationally) justified. But it occurred to me that there are certain kinds of belief of the more subjective kind that cannot be plugged into K=JTB, yet are nonetheless indispensable. I am thinking particularly of religious knowledge, or more appropriately conviction. Intuitive knowing of this kind might seem risky at the outset, yet we are always operating under a certain degree of uncertainty. Conviction is what pushes us through such moments to make a decision and be open to its consequences.

And while experience might not be empirically falsifiable (though it can be dismissed), it may still be shared meaningfully between participants. Such individuals can trust their experience and share interpretations of it with the involved other; these interpretations can meld into a common understanding of what has taken place. Experience seems to demand subjective belief if we are to view the former as inherently meaningful.

*Of course, data science has its own hierarchy of knowledge, where data becomes information which becomes knowledge. Belief’s role is unclear here.

Self-actualizing well-being

Self-actualization for Maslow consisted of 12-13 characteristics. These were:

  1. Superior perception of reality
  2. Increased acceptance of self, of others and of nature
  3. Increased spontaneity
  4. Increase in problem-centering
  5. Increased detachment and desire for privacy
  6. Increased autonomy, and resistance to enculturation
  7. Greater freshness of appreciation, and richness of emotional reaction
  8. Higher frequency of peak experiences
  9. Increased identification with the human species
  10. Changed (improved) interpersonal relations
  11. More democratic character structure
  12. Greatly increased creativeness
  13. Certain changes in the value system

PERMA well-being defined by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. consists of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement.

When we put the above two models together, we can learn to be well as we actualize. In an individualistic democracy, we can live spontaneously, taking solace in our independence and objectivity. We can focus on building meaningful and intimate relations with others (item #10) whom we accept as we do ourselves. We can achieve superior understandings of reality and solve important problems. We can reach the highest levels of rich, positive emotion (appreciation being one such state of being) through the elusive and mystical peak experience. We can engage in our own evolution as our values–and hence, our characters–change. And we can find meaning in creative endeavors that set our spirits free, igniting our souls with passion that leads us to our ultimate purpose.

Existentialism’s limit: relationality

One of existentialism’s givens is isolation (or alienation). Another is death; we are mortal beings who inevitably perish.

In a relational universe, how can it be that we are inherently alone? This fact would imply that we each die alone, also.

Yet we come into being–are thrown into the world–birthed through the love shared by two individuals. We ultimately die, following a path shared by every living being whose lives already ceased.

We are never truly alone, contra-modern existentialism.

Balancing power and potential

Potential is the possibility of success. It lies latent, letting us know that we have a chance to succeed someday. How does potential relate to power?

Power and potential can be either rivals or allies. These must be balanced in order to achieve victory and defeat evil.

At any point, potential is the precursor to success. While it does not guarantee victory, it is requisite for such. Power necessitates responsibility, which then gives way to meaning.

Perhaps potential occurs when we gain knowledge of our possibilities for becoming! Then, we must pursue power through the cultivation of skills necessary for reaching our goal. We also need strength to endure tough challenges.

Potential is born from the desire to follow our dreams!

Can we have a science of ourselves?

This question is tantamount to asking whether we can possess knowledge of ourselves. That we can to some extent is trivial, despite the endeavor’s hurdles (many of which–ironically–the human study of psychology has revealed).

We have developed such successful sciences of physics and chemistry due perhaps to our advantage over their subject matter. This is that we have at least a greater degree of consciousness than do particles, waves, and elements.

It may be argued that human scientists have a greater consciousness of people than the average person does. If this is so, then the epistemology of social science is on somewhat comparable grounds to that of physics and chemistry.

However, it is quite probable that human scientists are not so different from laypeople as all people are from physical objects. This represents an asymmetry worth pausing on in answering this post’s question.


Keeping the magic alive

I recently watched two video game reviews on YouTube. Both videos made me circumspect about how, for some, the magic in once enjoyable immersion can flounder amidst conflicted feelings.

Keeping the magic alive is something I learned was important at the early school age of 1st grade. I have my teacher to thank for exposing our class to The Polar Express, the popular Christmas story following a boy for whom the magic of the holiday never dies.

Never let the magic in your lives wane! Let your free, childlike spirits relish in delights eternally their birthright. Fear not the condemnation of those for whom “the bell no longer rings”: keep your flame well-tended and lit.

Let the magic of family, life, and friendship grow with each passing year.

Plato’s cave and Buddhist suffering

Plato used his allegory of the cave to demonstrate man’s attachment to the ideal forms. After spending his life in a cave, coming to the surface and seeing the sun was a new kind of experience.

In Buddhism, it is said that desire is at the root of human suffering.  What if the desire for perfection–i.e., for life to take on the shape of Plato’s forms–is an example of this?

Perhaps proving the Buddha’s noble truth #4, that we can overcome suffering, consists in shedding our fantasy of becoming ideal humans. Assuming this, transhumanism and posthumanism may go too far!

Destiny and free will in anime

In anime series Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, protagonist Judai Yuki duels destiny at least three times.

The first time, he goes on a voyage to rekindle his spirit, infusing his deck with power from outer space (“Neo-Space”) to defeat Edo Phoenix.

Next, Judai defeats Sartorius, antagonist of Season 2 who plays with a deck focused on determining outcomes that favor him and put Judai at a disadvantage. Sartorius wonders beforehand whether Judai is unique in his ability to defy destiny.

In Season 4, Judai and Sartorius duel again. Judai says Sartorius of all people should know that destiny cannot be controlled. This does not stop Sartorius from attempting to determine Judai’s fate: a loss, so that Sartorius’ sister Mizuchi can be saved.

With his back against the wall, and with his destiny all but decided, Judai turns things around with the Monster “Miracle Flipper”. Miracle Flipper allows him to tip the scales and escape Sartorius’ fate-deciding combo and win the duel.

Miracle Flipper’s card art

Judai is simultaneously able to fight destiny, but recognizes the futility of trying to controlling it. Still–he shows that one can overcome seemingly-hopeless situations, ones that may be imposed on us from the outside.

Philosophically, exercising our free will in a deterministic universe consists of choosing between genuine alternative paths (even if the end is already decided). If destiny cannot be controlled, determinism’s role is set in stone.

Perhaps being able to affirm our free will and win life’s games means pulling out a miracle when losing seems inevitable?

Power, knowledge, meaning

How are these three concepts related?

Many of us have heard the adage: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” (Thanks, Uncle Ben!)

Adding to the adage above, knowledge is often equated with power–knowledge is power.

If knowledge is power, and with great power comes great responsibility…well, maybe great knowledge is required for great power.

We can achieve great knowledge, thereby attaining great power (and so, great responsibility). How does meaning fit in?

For psychologist Jordan Peterson, meaning derives from the responsible life. If we achieve great responsibility from the above chain, we should expect great meaning!