Sunday, February 21, 2010

Notes on who we are, where we are going, progress, etc.

Just some thoughts on "who we are" and "where we are going" for consideration for the upcoming Cafe Philo in New York City discussion group that will meet this week on Thursday, February 25, 2010 with a discussion on the topic of "Who are we, where are we going?" There is no intention on my part to promote any of these thoughts as my own or some preferred or correct view.

1) Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do."

2) Jefferson: Referred to "progress of the human mind". Chiseled into stone inside the Jefferson Memorial: "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." See: http://www.monticello.org/reports/quotes/memorial.html

3) Maybe Jefferson picked up the "progress" concept from French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet with his Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progr├Ęs de l'esprit humain (Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit.) " ... the intimate connection between scientific progress and the development of human rights and justice, and outlines the features of a future rational society entirely shaped by scientific knowledge." See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_Condorcet

4) Manifest Destiny. "... a term that was used in the 19th century to designate the belief that the United States was destined, even divinely ordained, to expand across the North American continent, from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. " "... some commentators believe that aspects of Manifest Destiny, particularly the belief in an American 'mission' to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, continues to have an influence on American political ideology".  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_Destiny

5) Recent anxiety and polls suggesting that many Americans feel that "the country is off track." Maybe a lot of people agree with that characterization, but getting people to agree on what exactly the right "track" is may be an impossible task. It may depend your personal and group ideology.

6) Political, social, and religious ideologies and dogmas about "where we are going", or even "who we are". Is there anything objective here, or is it all subjective and up to interpretation and acceptance and promotion by each particular group?

7) Dialectic of history. Is socialism or capitalism a "dialectic of history" (the course of history is predetermined)? In other words, the inevitable end point, regardless of what happens in the mean time or what path occurs until that point? If the end is inevitable, why waste any energy avoiding or even contemplating that inevitability?

8) Determinism. "... the view that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences." Ditto - If the end is inevitable, why waste any energy avoiding or even contemplating the inevitable? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

9) "The journey is the destination." Focusing too much on the destination detracts from what we gain from the journey itself.

10) Are our goals and values inherently subjective and individual in nature, or inherently larger than the individual?

11) Is free will really compatible with some notion that we have some sort of "destination" (other than maybe death of individuals), or is "life" (especially the future of the human species) more of a never-ending journey? Or, maybe the collective destination is so much larger than the individual that individual choice and free will is unlikely to have any real impact on "the big picture".

-- Jack Krupansky

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