Albert's Philosophy Page

By Albert Fried-Cassorla albert@fried-cas.com

This page last updated 3-9-16

Dear friends,

These pages are part of what I hope will be a lifelong continuation of an intellectual adventure. Philosophy can give added meaning to life. I have recently begun re-organizing this page to make it a systematic response to basic questions. Please let me know what you think... and thanks!

 

 

 

Albert's History of Philosophy Timeline and Resources

 

 

The Basic Questions of Life and Philosophy

 

 1. How can we be happy? Click HERE for answers or resources

 2. How can we be wise?

 3. What are the meanings of life?

 4. What is truth or knowledge?

 5. What are the right or moral courses of action?

 6. How can the interests of the individual, society and the family be balanced?

 

If you have thoughts to offer, comments, or corrections to my wrong-headedness, do let me know at albert@fried-cas.com. Thank you!

I enjoyed studying philosophy in college. Now, I am returning to it. With a friend, I recently began a study of the history of Philosophy - not an in-depth study, but an overview of various thinkers, with special emphasis on those who seemed important, relevant or interesting.

Resources: The following are some of the general or encyclopedic resources we are using in our club and studies. If we have sources to recommend for particular philosophers or schools of thought, we will list them in that section.

The Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy - This is a wonderful web site, which provides a full encyclopedia, selected readings by particular philosopher, and a time line, which serves as a history of philosophy. Visit: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/

The Oxford Illustrated History of Western Thought - Edited by Anthony Kent. This book is filled with wonderful and interesting illustrations. In fact, that's why I bought it. However, the first section on Ancient Philosophy is written in a very convoluted style. It takes much work to penetrate, though it is rewarding if you expend the effort.

Treasury of Philosophy by Dagobert D. Runes - This wonderful book offers sections from philosophers of all eras. I bought it at age 14 for $2.99 in Greenwich Village, and it has been a wise companion to me for most of my life. Each philosopher is presented with an overview and then a few pages of selected original text, plus a bibliography. Of course, then you can then turn to the original book for more in-depth reading. Invaluable and wonderful!

The highest goal of philosophy, as I see it, is to help people achieve happiness.

Epicurus

Happiness Is It

There are no values higher than happiness. Wisdom, by contrast, assists in the achievement of a happy or joyful state.

Happiness, as I view it, is more than simple pleasure. It involves deferred pleasures and the greater good.

Oneness and Multiplicity

The pre-Socratics debated whether the world was One great unity, or an assemblage of unending multiplicities.

That this could even be debated is hard to comprehend.

Simply put, here is one world with many parts.

We clearly have one world, with multiplicities of entities within it. As physicists now speculate, there may be opposing universities, perhaps on thee other wide of black holes.

Even if this is so, because we can conceive of it, the alternate universe is ipso facto a part of the one universe we can conceive.

On disaster and fatality

Knowledge that disaster can happen can only partially insulate us from shock when it does occur.

The "philosophical attitude" can carry us for part of the distance, and then its powers wane.

For example, every day there is a disaster in the world. A ferry sinks in Malaysia, a rain falls off a bridge in India, and so on.

 

On altruism and philanthropy

If we are honest, we admit that we say to ourselves, "That's horrible. I feel sad for those people and their relatives."

But then we find a way to go on with our lives and our thoughts. In essence, we have said, "Oh well, there's nothing I can do" and moved on emotionally.

What I feel would be helpful and remedial is if everybody (myself included) did something to help people in need both near and far. Because by replication, such acts as a totality could mitigate the effects of disasters worldwide.

By do something, I mean donate to a charity such as Care, or UNICEF, and do something positive in one's own neighborhood as well.

By extension, if everybody did his part, the world would be a better place. (Now doesn't that sound special?)

 

Thales of Miletus
(about 640 B.C.)

He is the Father of Greek Philosophy. Also, he is the father of materialism.

Miletus is on the western coast of modern-day Turkey, also called Ionia.

He was revered and considered one of the great Seven Sages of Greek antiquity.

Thales believed in the primacy of water, that it was the origin of all living things. Even today, that assessment is not so far off the mark, as living things are mostly composed of water.

 

 He monopolized olive trade in a time of shortage and thus got rich. I don't know if this means he got rich from the great misfortunes of others; I believe beans were thee main staple and olives a valued extra food.

Thales on friendship

He said men ought to remember friends ho are absent as well as those present. I agree with this, mostly because it pleases me to do so. I am not sure there is a moral imperative.

Heraclitus

(about 540-480 B.C.).

Heraclitus is for me a philosopher who makes many assertions I disagree with. Yet what he says is very interesting and usually contains a valuable truth buried in an excessive generalization.

Heraclitus on change

One of his most famous quotes is this; "you cannot step twice into the same rivers; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you."

Source: Fragments by Heraclitus, from Early Greek Philosophy, edited and translated by John Burnet, A. U C. Burnet, Ltd. 1930.

The above fragment is an exaggeration but a powerful, beautiful one.

 

Several views of Heraclitus - I love the dreamy look and even the disappeared nose in some views. Is this the same Heraclitus? Has his shape changed too much?

For example, some aspects of a river remain basically the same over a human lifetime. The riverbank's contours and general physical location remain similar. The persistent physical similarity enables us to say that body of water is, say the Hudson River and not the Thames.

The basic message of this fragment is that things change. Life changes. We'd better recognize it and adapt. Reckon what is different, what we've lost and what the newly exposed opportunities are.

Of course, I am reading all of this into the fragment, which simply observes change. Objects can change so that they no longer match their original definition.

For example, in our neighborhood of Melrose Park, we have a memory of a lake but not the lake itself, which sadly was drained about 1910. The lake became a dry lake bed which in turn became an apartment building.

So you can never step into the same lake twice -- especially if it is becoming a condo!

Dealing successfully with change is another matter entirely, and I don't think Heraclitus offers us much there. But this is like complaining that the Mona Lisa does not smile broadly enough.

Elsewhere, Heraclitus says: "We step and do not step into the the same rivers; we are and we are not." That is more credible.

Heraclitus on wisdom

He writes; "Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things."

To him, wisdom has nothing to do with how to live life successfully and happily. It pertains more to the notion of order, which I believe is equivalent to the laws of nature and of DNA.

Heraclitus makes the mistake of saying that all things are one. For example, he believes that day and night are one. Day is defined in part by night but is not the same as it. As Jim Morrison of The Doors said: "Night divides the day, day divides the night."

Heraclitus on war

Like Nietzsche who would follow him millennia later, Heraclitus believed that war is a good thing.

"War is the father of all and the king of all."

Here's a less than temperate viewpoint: That attitude is disgusting!

On the other hand, he said,"It is opposite that brings things together." That at least, is comprehensible.

Heraclitus on organization and leadership

"Even the ingredients of a posset separate if it is not stirred."

(A posset is drink of hot, curdled milk and vinegar or wine. Sounds disgusting!) How true of organizations! Having been president of a neighborhood organization, I know that if I do little or nothing the organization falls apart. There's a strict relationship of action and reaction.

You could say that Heraclitus was an elitist. He said: "One man is as ten thousand to me, if he be best."

But I take this as an evaluation of the importance of leadership, talent and genius. A Washington, Jefferson, or Lenin would make the same valuation: people who get jobs done well are critical to organization.

Heraclitus on Fear of the Unknown

"Dogs bark at everyone they do not know."

My dog Bailey agrees. After all, most people are terrorists and deserve to be hunted down like, well, dogs.

But in truth, we all have or internal "dogs" barking at what we do not know or understand. We would do well to run off our "internal dogs."

"One day is equal to another." This is a variation on carpe diem. Every day has its possibilities. Making best use of them is a key to happiness and wisdom.

"Man's character is his fate."

One of Heraclitus's best! Think of how our mentalities give rise to possibilities on a daily basis. Or think of how our "hangups" prevent us from staking out new ground daily.

Our personal character at once holds all possibility and all limitation.

To summarize the lessons I take from Heraclitus (these above statements come from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

Everything is in flux.

However, flux is regulated by logos, or word logic, argument or reason.

This worldview summarizes the fact that things change, but they do so according to the laws of nature.

Heraclitus is all very interesting. but he does not teach us how to be wise or happy. For that we need to find other, even wiser teachers...

 

Epicurus
(341-240 BC)

Epicurus seems to me to be he greatest and wisest of the Greek philosophers, apart from Aristotle. He was the wisest of the pre-Socratics because, he worked out a worldly system for happiness.

For him, pleasure is the absence of pain, a somewhat constricted view. He believe that ethically, we should aspire to "quietude of mind and steadfastness of faith."

 

Epicurus

 He believed in the ethical goals of simple pleasure, friendship and retirement. (I take retirement to mean the simple life of reflection, and absence from politics, but I am not certain.)

 

 

Voltaire - The Portable Voltaire, edited by Ben Ray Redman, Penguin Books

Thoughts by Albert Fried-Cassorla 2-15-05

This book is a compilation containing parts of many of Voltaire's works. Here are reflections on a tiny selection from the book…

 

The Lisbon Earthquake

The Lisbon Earthquake is a 3-page work that concludes the collection. This poem has particular resonance for today. By today, I mean 2005, right after the great tsunami that took over 150,000 lives recently.

The earthquake of the poem's title took place in 1755 and took about 40,000 lives.

In the poem, Voltaire, who was a believer, questions God's wisdom in killing all of these people.

He asks: "Should not God towards mercy be inclined?"

In so doing, he presaged modern questioning of belief that followed the recent tsunami disaster.

In the Philosophic Dictionary, Voltaire dispenses his views on a variety of subjects in series, all done in alphabetic order.

He is very charming and of course very learned. How his factual knowledge holds up in the light of modernity, I am not sure. Yet he said in his essay on atoms, that it "appears" that they are indivisible. He was wise enough to hedge his bet with that qualifier. Pretty smart for an 18th century man (an understatement).

 

Voltaire on Destiny

Destiny - Voltaire seems to believe that whatever has happened has happened by necessity. Frankly, I find the truth or non-truth of this to be puzzling. But I do think that human will in many past situations could have been different and therefore could have yielded different outcomes.

I COULD have chosen in the past to say or do something differently. The result would have been different. But perhaps I did NOT say something differently because of the build-up to who I was psychologically at that last time. In that case, I could not have done nothing in the past differently, even though I might in similar circumstances do something differently in the FUTURE.

So in pondering this, I think I agree with Voltaire in this: all that happened in the past had to happen that way by necessity, or destiny.

This is very different from saying either:

This is the best of all possible worlds. Or…

All that will happen is destined. So using WILL is futile.

 

Voltaire on Dog

Note, not dogs plural, but dog singular, as in the character of a dog.

Who can disagree of Voltaire's assessment of the creature that is man' best friend and guardian?

No wonder he expostulated against such derogation as as: "You French dog!" or "Turkish dog!" Now as a dog owner, I understand Voltaire's affection for these great animals more directly.

=============
Here I end my comments on Voltaire's Philosophic Dictionary, before the letter F.

 

 

 

Bertrand Russell

 

The Problems of Philosophy - By clicking on the hypertext link to the left, you will get a copy of the book in Word form.  This book chiefly reflects on epistemological, or theory of knowledge, questions.  Within that field, it gives a good introduction.  You need to have an appetite for careful investigations into such questions as:

  1. What is an object?
  2. How do we truly know an object?
  3. Is it the sum of its properties?
  4. Is there a think in itself?
  5. Does it exist apart from our knowing it?

Those are interesting questions, but they are limited in scope compared to the totality of philosophy, and Russell admits to this in his introduction.  The reading is lucid if difficult. However, his final chapter is extremely eloquent and wise.  That is chapter 15: The Value of Philosophy.  It begins on page on page 103 and ends on page 119 in the book, as I have paginated it for you.

 This is broad and almost reads like a Nobel Prize speech, along the lines or copy of say, William Faulkner's.  So if you can only read one part of the hook, do read these 16 most worthwhile pages!