Monday, April 13, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'Discourse on the Method' by Rene Descartes (1637)

     Reason distinguishes men from animals. Members of the same species share certain essential qualities, so every man has "common sense." (When opinions differ, it's due to a difference in available evidence.)
     Collaborative efforts to find truth are rarely as successful as the efforts of one man. Laws invented democratically aren't as good as laws developed by a single legislator, and laws laid down by God are "incomparably superior."
     Descartes decided to build the first indisputable philosophical foundation. It will consist entirely of his own ideas, rather than a mere reformation of ideas previously given to him. Not everyone should use this philosophical method because they may have difficulty judging what is true or abandon their beliefs without rebuilding them.
     His philosophical method, based on mathematical proofs, has four parts: Delay judgment until certain; Divide the problem into parts; Start simple and become more complex; Enumerate and review fully to prevent omissions. He will question everything he thinks he knows, and consider false anything that is "merely plausible," to distinguish "sand" from "rock" and secure the foundation. While rebuilding his beliefs, he needed a "provisional code of morality," which also has four parts: Obey the country's customs; Act decisively without second-guessing; Change oneself rather than dwelling on what cannot be changed in the world; Choose the best profession.
     The entire world may be nothing more than a dream, but Descartes knows he exists because he is the one thinking. I think, therefore I am is the first principle of his new foundation. Because he can imagine himself without a body, his thinking soul is distinct from his body. We can know things without using the five senses--in fact, ideas which we "conceive clearly and distinctly" through reason are always true, given by God. All concepts are in some way founded in truth, or God wouldn't have given them to us. Belief in God reassures that all perceptions aren't merely a dream.
     The idea of God entails his existence just as the idea of a triangle entails that its angles equal 180 degrees.
     Less perfect beings depend on God and cannot exist without him. The less perfect can't generate the idea of the more perfect. Because Descartes can think of something more perfect than himself (i.e., God), he concludes God exists and put the idea in his head.
     God can't have imperfections like "doubt, inconstancy, sorrow" or dependency. God isn't a body-mind composite because otherwise his parts would depend on each other.
     Even handicapped humans talk or gesture to communicate thoughts, while animals don't. Animals are therefore essentially different from humans, lacking capacity for rational thought. Cardiac circulation of heat and "animal spirits" makes it possible for bodies to move without conscious intent. Humans bodies could have existed like animals, but God endowed us with souls.
     The soul is not apparently vulnerable to any particular thing, so it's immortal. Lack of belief in immortality is the thing most likely to make one stray from virtue.

Rene Descartes. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Field of Science. (1637) Published in Discourse on Method and Meditations. Translated by Laurence J. Lafleur. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1960.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of ‘Meditations’ by Rene Descartes (1641)


     Most people need to be restrained from immorality by fear of God and the afterlife. Atheists may be convinced of religion and virtue if rational philosophy answers questions of God and the soul. Descartes takes up Pope Leo X's challenge to Christian philosophers to convince skeptics that the soul survives the body.

First Meditation

     An "evil spirit" might be deceiving us to think the world exists. Could everything be a dream?
     Realize, however, that even in dreams, reason remains intact.

Second Meditation

     In essence, Descartes is not physical, but a thinking thing. If he stopped thinking, he would cease to exist.
     Sensory perception and contemplation of other objects (in his example, a malleable piece of warm wax) help him comprehend how his mind works.

Third Meditation

     Does God exist and does he deceive?
     A cause is greater than its effect, so only God could have caused Descartes to have the idea of an infinite being. His idea of God is prior to his idea of himself, "very clear and very distinct and contain[ing] more objective reality than does any other."
     His mind wouldn't exist unless God first created it (his parents made only his body) and kept creating it anew at every moment. Anything that created him must have at least the idea of God's perfections, starting an infinite regress of more perfect beings. No regress is possible for his continual re-creation in the present moment.
     One of God's perfections is that his perfections are unified, and the idea of this unification entails knowledge of all his perfections. He is not a deceiver.

Fourth Meditation

     God is no deceiver, having no imperfection of "weakness or malice."
     God gave Descartes the ability to judge truth and falsehood. He can't know all God's purposes for him (e.g. whether it's better for him to be able to make mistakes), but God always wills the best.
     Everything God has is greater than what he has (except free will, which has no degrees). Descartes is grateful that God created him with a few perfections. God chose not to give him the ability to know everything he needs, nor even to know when he doesn't know.

Fifth Meditation

     God's existence is part of his essence. A nonexistent God would be like a triangle without 180 degrees.
"Everything which I conceive clearly and distinctly is necessarily true," he wrote, because God doesn't deceive.

Sixth Meditation

     Physical things probably exist because the senses deliver truth more often than falsehood.
     It is unknown why certain physical sensations correlate with psychological states (e.g. pain leads to unhappiness, hunger to a desire to eat). Unexplained sensory experiences like objects appearing smaller at a distance or phantom limb could cause Descartes to doubt his senses. Knowledge of an undeceiving God is needed for reassurance. God gives us faculties to be able to correct our false beliefs.

Rene Descartes. The Meditations Concerning First Philosophy. (1641) Published in Discourse on Method and Meditations. Translated by Laurence J. Lafleur. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1960.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of ‘Reason in History’ by G. W. F. Hegel (1837)

     History is driven by the quest for self-knowledge from primitive darkness. Rational Spirit is the “substance” of world history. There is a rational cause for all events.
     Spirit strives to penetrate the barrier of nature, physicality, and instinct. Spirit and Matter have distinct essences, the former freedom (as it is self-contained) and the latter gravity (as it seeks outside itself). However, God is not separate from the world, and human nature is universally defined as the intersection of spirit and nature.
     God is the Idea of Freedom and he wills what is like himself. Freedom is the ultimate aim of world history and is "God's purpose with the world.” Although Christianity gave rise to this “highest concept” (Chinese and Indian ethical systems have no concept of freedom), history had to play out before slavery was abolished. Nature is cyclical but humans progress.
     Society, law, morality, and the state are essences to be discovered and are necessary for freedom. The state is the divine Idea on earth, the "medium of historical change” and the subject of history. The ideal of freedom must be developed from the violent state of nature; therefore, the state creates freedom, rather than limiting it.
     All thought, including religion and morality, begins with feeling, the "lowest form" and "worst mode" possessed even by animals. Reducing everything to feeling prevents discussion about what’s right or true. Philosophy is higher, freer, and wiser than Art and Religion because it appeals to reason.
     Knowledge of God is "of supreme value." Everyone is obligated to know the revealed Christian God. The state must be based on God, because freedom depends on the realization of existence in divine Being and because temporal, secular, private interest can only be justified by the universal in God.
     Moral duties are based on social, legal, and familial relationships. Part of who we are is conditioned by our ancestors. We find happiness by choosing to fulfill our culturally determined relationships and duties. Following the law—which is the people’s will, reason, and freedom--makes one free.
     The state enables knowledge, art, and religion. It shapes great individuality; men have value, self-consciousness and morality only within it.
     “World-historical” great men, the “heroes,” "stand outside of morality." They are restless, unhappy nonconformists inspired by mysterious sources. Their personal passion helps them achieve universal goals.
     Freedom isn’t about personal whim but about understanding the people’s evolving, maturing general will. Each people has its own spirit or essence, and adopts a constitution according to its level of development. The highest point of a people's development is its understanding of its state.
     Morality suppresses individual will and creates common will. Morality means (privately) wanting to do what one is supposed to do (publicly). The example of individual virtue in primitive, savage states should not cast doubt on whether the progress of history improves morality. An immoral person may advance history and a moral person may stall it. "World history [is]...the development of...the consciousness of freedom."

G. W. F. Hegel. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953. Lectures on the Philosophy of History originally published 1837.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'The Meaning of Truth' by William James (1909)

     "True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify," James summed up his empiricist theory of pragmatism. "False ideas are those that we cannot."
     There is no epistemological chasm between reality and knowledge. The space is filled with ideas and sensations. The universe is made of relationships as much defined by experience, and therefore subject to debate, as their constituent parts.
     Adding context to experiences--for example, realizing the identity of someone seen--gives knowledge. Knowledge is having an idea that resembles and impacts reality. Solipsistically copying the universe in our minds, such as knowing the number of hairs on a head, achieves no purpose. "All that the pragmatic method implies, then, is that truths should have practical consequences." Scientific laws are a "human device" and "true so far as they are useful." James wrote, "'The true' is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in the way of our behaving."
     "Truth" means connection or relation to "terminal experiences," the "linchpins of all reality." The linchpins themselves are not "true." We think we have knowledge when our propositions are consistent (often achieved by leaving out contradictory or unknown facts). Pragmatism, a method of thinking and behaving, is not necessarily a call to action because ideas can be said to "work" with other ideas.
     Broadly applied, pragmatism can be called humanism, which holds that an experience is "true" if it minimizes contradiction and yields satisfactory results with related experiences. You know a building's location if you can lead someone there. Truth is the event of verification; a belief isn't true until proven. Therefore, "experience and reality come to the same thing." The knower and the known are both parts of experience; "experience as a whole is self-containing and leans on nothing."
     In contrast to pragmatism, "absolutism" or "transcendentalism" maintains that certain propositions are true regardless of any useful consequences to believing them. However, James notes, the only "cash-value" of a transcendent reality is whether there are practical results to knowing it. "The transcendentalist believes his ideas to be self-transcendent only because he finds that in fact they do bear fruits. Why need he quarrel with an account of knowledge that insists on naming this effect?" Pragmatism fleshes out a definition of truth that absolutism phrases only in the abstract. "We offer them the full quart-pot, and they cry for the empty quart capacity." The view that "concrete workings" are irrelevant to truth is "the renunciation of all articulate theory."
     Pragmatism is inaccurately accused of holding that anything is true if one thinks it true at the present moment. Rather, pragmatism emphasizes the context in which idea and object relate. Another objection is that the pragmatist thesis is not itself meant to be pragmatically understood. James responds that it is indeed; an idea is true if it is satisfactory, and the pragmatic thesis is "ultra-satisfactory" to pragmatists.

William James. The Meaning of Truth: A Sequel to "Pragmatism." New York: Greenwood Press, 1968. (Originally 1909.)

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'Evangelium Vitae' by Pope John Paul II (1995)

     Impermissible "crimes against life" include abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, capital punishment, genocide, and suicide. Artificial reproduction, prenatal medical testing, and organ donation are acceptable in some circumstances.
     The full meaning of life is found in eternal Christian life, but life on earth is also sacred. Christ is in everyone, so to attack life is to attack God. Even a murderer has dignity. God, although he punishes, has mercy.
     Killing should not be justified in the name of "individual freedom." Abortion degrades the medical profession and doctors should conscientiously object.
     Young people must be taught the meaning of sexuality, love, procreation, marriage, and chastity to form a pro-life conscience. It is disturbing when the conscience against abortion is missing.
     The materialistic worldview separates the "unitive" and "procreative" meanings of sexual intercourse. A couple should not wish to unite without procreating, nor to procreate without uniting. The married couple are "co-workers with God" as God's image appears in their child.
     New reproductive technology is troublesome because embryos conceived in a laboratory have a high fatality risk, and extra embryos are treated as material and discarded. Prenatal diagnostic tests are acceptable if aimed at the treatment of the baby, but unacceptable if aimed to selectively abort the fetus. Organ donation is "praiseworthy" but should not hasten the death of the donor.
     Although the culture considers suffering itself to be evil, suffering is really a mystery with meaning and value. The blood of Christ represents life and hope. The meaning of life can be learned through dying for one's brothers and sisters.
     Humans were given "dominion" over the world, but this should not be misconstrued as the right to use and misuse natural resources. We have moral responsibilities to the natural world. Man's "lordship" over himself and the world should reflect God's lordship.
     Popular consensus or "relativism" doesn't make a crime acceptable. The Biblical prophets "condemn offences against life" and "awaken hope for a new principle of life."
     Violence should not be used to protect public safety "if bloodless means are sufficient." A pro-life politician may support legislation aimed at limiting the harm of abortion.
     Deliberately killing an innocent person, from embryo to old age, can never be permitted, even as means to an end. No one can ask or consent to be killed or to kill someone in their care. A threat to a mother's health does not justify abortion. Choosing to die in childbirth is "heroic."
     Euthanasia is based on the idea of the elder as a burden. While there is no obligation to share Jesus's passion by refusing painkillers at the end of life, patients should not be drugged unconscious without good reason, so they may fulfill their "moral and family duties." True compassion means sharing someone's pain.
     "Suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder." (3.66)
     Democracy becomes empty if its moral foundation of respect for life is even questioned. Rejection of human life is rejection of Christ.
     Women who've had an abortion may repent and take the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II. Evangelium Vitae [The Gospel of Life]. Papal Encyclical, Rome, March 25, 1995. Official Vatican English translation.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'Perpetual Peace' by Immanuel Kant (1795)

Section 1

1. A truce ends a particular conflict for a short time, whereas a long-term treaty removes the grounds for future conflicts and thus produces lasting peace. Supposed treaties that are mere truces are beneath the dignity of kings.
2. States aren't property and can't be bought or sold. A state is more like a person than a thing, "a trunk with its own roots." If it could be bought, it would have no authority over people.
3. Standing armies (armies amassed in peacetime) encourage war and should be abolished. Mercenaries (soldiers for hire) are engaged in immoral work; soldiers should volunteer without pay in the event of foreign aggression.
4. A national credit system that borrows from other states, with a greater likelihood of bankrupting them than repaying them, encourages war and must be forbidden. States should ally themselves against any state that uses such a credit system (e.g. England).
5. No state has the right or authority to interfere with any other state's constitution or government.
6. War is, by definition, the violent striving of two states to reach agreement on a matter about which there has been no lawful ruling. During war, states should forbid the employment of tactics such as spying and assassinations, because "some confidence in the character of the enemy must remain even in the midst of war" if peace is to become possible. War of total extermination must be forbidden.

Section 2

Threat of war, if not open hostility, is the natural state of human society. Only in a civil state can neighbors agree to treat each other peacefully.

Three Definitive Articles for Perpetual Peace

1. "The Civil Constitution of Every State Should Be Republican"

All men are free, equal, and dependent on common legislation. A republican constitution requires the citizens' consent to fight in a war and pay for a war. "Republican" means that the executive branch is separated from the legislative; the constitution is more likely to be republican if the number of rulers is small, ideally monarchical. In a democracy, violent revolution is inevitable because everyone wants to be king.

2. "The Law of Nations Shall be Founded on a Federation of Free States"

Without losing their distinct identities, states should be bound by a joint constitution similar to their own.

Even warring nations pay lip service to the idea of law, because each human retains the hope of lawful behavior. A league of nations would require states to resolve disputes before a tribunal.

A treaty of peace ends one war; a league of peace ends all war. The idea that there ought to be no war can only make sense if there is a league of nations to generate and enforce the idea.

3. "The Law of World Citizenship Shall Be Limited to Conditions of Universal Hospitality"

Everyone must have the right to temporarily visit any place on earth. Hostility to visitors is contrary to natural law. Universal hospitality is the only way to peace.

Immanuel Kant. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. (1795)

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'The Case for Christianity' by C. S. Lewis (1942)

Part 1: "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe"

     Everyone is aware of basic moral standards, knowing security and happiness depend on fair play, yet we fail to comply perfectly. An objective observer would never guess a Moral Law existed.
     The Moral Law encourages individuals to choose between impulses, but is neither impulse nor instinct. Though we teach it to children, we can't alter its content. Its universality is indicated by our quarrels over questions of fairness.
     Virtues are universal despite different cultural expression. When a moral standard appears to change significantly over time (e.g. executing witches), it is usually because factual knowledge has changed (e.g. witches donÍt exist).
     The "religious" view holds that humans were created by an intelligent being that prefers our good behavior, while the contrasting "materialist" view holds that the world was created through a series of impossibly slim chances.
     Christianity speaks only to people who already recognize the Moral Law and think they need forgiveness for failing to live up to it.

Part 2: "What Christians Believe"

     If the mind was produced by evolution, it is untrustworthy. "Unless I believe in God," Lewis wrote, "I can't believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."
     Injustice does not disprove God's existence because the concept of injustice derives either from God's Moral Law or from personal preference.
     Abrahamic religions believe God made the universe and takes moral positions. Christians may think other religions are partly correct, whereas atheists must believe they're all wrong.
     Jesus talked as if he were God: forgiving sins, judging the world, always existing. He couldn't have spoken pantheistically (believing God animates the world and is beyond good and evil) because he was Jewish. He either told the truth about his divinity, or was crazy or evil; calling him merely a great teacher is not an option.
     The belief in a dualistic battle between good and evil is incoherent because no one is evil for evil's sake and because a third party would have to judge which side is "good." Christianity instead maintains there is "a civil war, a rebellion." The Devil gave Adam and Eve the desire to usurp God.
     It is more important to accept what Christ did--dying to cleanse us and conquer death--than to understand theories about it. Punishing the innocent Christ would have been unfair; rather, he paid our debt of repentance. He was the only one who could repent perfectly because was both God and man.
     We are given a choice to join God willingly before he invades the world. "Christians are Christ's body"; to have "Christ-life" means to be animated by Christ and to be helped by him to do good works. Accepting God is the only path to true happiness.

C. S. Lewis. The Case for Christianity. 1942) New York: MacMillan Co., 1960.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'The Reasonableness of Christianity' by John Locke (1695)

     Because of Adam's disobedience and the punishment of mortality, humanity needs redemption. Jesus, the "Second Adam," restores men to eternal life.
     Was it fair to punish all humans for Adam's sin? It is not exactly a punishment, because immortality was never an entitlement to begin with. The Law of Works (also called the Law of Reason or Nature) is the only rational way to live. It applies to Gentiles as well as Jews because it can be discovered by reason and natural conscience. If people could obey it perfectly, they would be immortal, but they cannot. God cannot soften the law, because it would be against his nature and a slippery slope towards immorality.
     Faith makes up for shortcomings of works. Under the Law of Faith, a Christian is only required to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. (The Epistles include additional doctrines but they are not central to the faith.)
     The Messiah is the Deliverer and a metaphorical King. Jesus himself did not claim publicly to be the Messiah to avoid attracting negative attention from Jews who might have killed him. Until the Last Supper, Jesus did not make the claim to his own Apostles. Instead, Jesus performed miracles so people would realize he was the Messiah.
     Jesus chose Apostles who would trust him rather than question him and who would preach the uncomplicated doctrine that he was the Messiah. He chose, as Locke put it, "a company of Poor, Ignorant, Illiterate Men--but meer Children."
     Acknowledging a popular claim that the identification of Jesus as the Messiah is merely a "historical faith," not a "saving faith," Locke insists the Bible says it is sufficient and says he is not aware of any other doctrine that would be a "saving faith."
     God wants people to come heaven so they can praise him. He accepts people as long as they profess allegiance to Jesus the Messiah-King and make a sincere effort to follow to the Law of Works (otherwise, the Law of Faith would be an excuse for anarchy). Jesus required good works in the Sermon on the Mount and demanded repentance for sins. God would not demand more than is possible for people who lived before Jesus existed.
     People have always wanted to know their moral duty. Philosophers laid codes, but none had authority, and if people cherrypicked their moral beliefs from different philosophers, they would be accountable to no one. No one before Jesus managed to present the Natural Law in its entirety. "He was sent by God: His Miracles shew it; And the Authority of God in his Precepts cannot be questioned," Locke wrote. Another reason no other culture managed to develop virtue was that none had laid a firm belief in eternal life. It's not enough to say virtue is its own reward; the only way to encourage people to be virtuous is to impress upon them a belief in Heaven and Hell.

John Locke. The Reasonableness of Christianity, as Delivered in the Scriptures. (1695) Ed. John C. Higgins-Biddle. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'The Prince' by Niccolo Machiavelli (1516)

     The Prince discusses principalities (ruled by a single man), not republics (democracies), and provides policy recommendation. It is addressed to Lorenzo de Medici, a duke from a ruling family, and closes by advising him to organize Italian troops against hostile barbarians.
     Hereditary rulers benefit from stability and can more easily retain control of their state and enjoy public favor.
     Colonies are "economical, reliable, and do not give excessive grounds for resistance." Subjects of monarchies are used to obedience, but subjects of republics will never forget their former liberty and will try to oust their occupier. Territories submit more easily when they share the same language and customs as their ruling state and are geographically close to it. The colonizing king must eliminate previous rulers and shouldn't impose new taxes or laws on the territory if he wishes to have their favor. It is best if the ruler goes to live in the new territory, where he can supervise more effectively and win his subjects' love and fear. No one will criticize the ruler's attempt to win new territory unless the necessary military capacity is lacking.
     The private citizen can rise to power in four ways: by fortune, virtue, nefarious action, or popular support. Of those who ruled by virtue or skill, the best were "Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and others like them."
     If a ruler subdues his subjects with violence, the violence should decrease, not increase, over time. Public opinion responds well to harm done quickly and good done slowly.
     A ruler should aim to set policies that need never be changed. His foundation is his subjects and he should seek their favor rather than that of the power-seeking elite. He should take care that citizens do not avoid business or property improvements for fear of taxes.
     Ecclesiastical states should not be debated because they were built up by God.
     A ruler should give all his attention to matters of war. Mercenary soldiers are to be avoided, as their commanders seek their own power and the soldiers will desert. Auxiliary armies are a burden. A ruler should know when to fight lawlessly like an animal.
     A ruler should have a reputation as a great man. Some vices are essential to a ruler's "welfare and peace of mind." For example, it is better for a ruler to be thought miserly than generous, and it is not bad to be perceived as cruel if the perception results in keeping the public in order.
     Rulers should be suspicious of their subjects and of other rulers.
     It is always better to be an ally or an enemy than to be neutral. The neutral party faces the wrath of both winner and loser.
     Every decision requires risk assessment.
     A ruler cannot rely on the advice of others; he must be wise enough to know when to take advice.

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. (1516) Translated by David Wootton. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. 1994.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'The subjection of women' by John Stuart Mill (1869)

     While Christian Europe has abolished the enslavement of men, women are still enslaved. Although the enslavement of women is "a milder form of dependence," they may properly be called bondservants. Wives cannot own property and cannot act without their husband's permission. Slaves can be freed for "ill usage" but there is no such provision for English wives "without adultery superadded." They accompany their husbands all the time and have no lives of their own. The "rule of force" has been abandoned in theory, yet is still practiced on women.
     Women are sometimes compensated for their loss of freedom by gaining excessive power in political or family matters. However, the gain of improper rights does not solve the problem of their having been stripped of their proper rights.
     When this issue is debated, it is more rooted in feeling than in reason. People on both sides will come up with new arguments if their side is attacked.
     Most men know nothing significant about the thoughts and feelings of their own female family members. If they know anything about their own wives, they extrapolate it to all women.
     Men claim that women won't marry unless they are compelled. What they really fear is marriage on equal conditions. In primitive societies, "to be an equal is to be an enemy." Men worship themselves because they're in power. Men are not satisfied with their wives' outward obedience, but want them to be wholly devoted in heart and mind.
     Many women don't report "ill usage by their husbands" because they're afraid the abuse will worsen. Moral systems instruct women to live for others and share their husbands' tastes, insisting it's in their nature, and warning them they'll be unattractive if they don't.
     To the contrary, however, the subjection of women is not natural. It is a matter of custom. It has existed in every society since the beginning of civilization. Because no one has ever tried a female-dominated society, no one can say it wouldn't work.
     If women are contriving, it is because inequality pushes them to stand up for themselves in this fashion. Men should try being more unselfish, as they wish women to be.
     Women and "negro slaves" commit crimes less frequently, not because they're morally better, but because servitude strips them of moral autonomy.
     The Bible should not be used as a tool against social progressivism.
     Christianity defends human equality in theory, but unfortunately will never do so in practice.
     Modern society brings increasingly domestic roles for men. As such, they need female companions who are their intellectual equals.
     If women don't create or invent, it's because they haven't had the same scholarly preparation that men have had. Women need to believe they can be involved in the intellectual world. It is neither useful nor just to employ a less competent person just because he is male. All humans must love their occupation to find happiness. Women should not be condemned to boredom.

John Stuart Mill. The Subjection of Women. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2001. Originally London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1869.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of Tolstoy's (b. 1828 - d. 1910) writings on civil disobedience and nonviolence

     A collection of letters and essays published by Bergman in 1967, summarized below, focuses on Tolstoy's opinions on nonviolence. It includes many anecdotes and lengthy quotations.
     Military service is a type of slavery. Men are trained to kill by torture and deception, and they are trained to train their trusting brothers to kill. Soldiers are taught that the Judeo-Christian commandment "Thou shalt not kill" does not apply to national defense. They are told that the responsibility for the killing lies with the commander, not the soldier who fires the bullet. Taking orders from someone else is a dreadfully arbitrary reason to kill.
     The Russian army is particularly offensive because the soldiers mainly harass the peasants. The government sends soldiers to distant regiments to avoid making them shoot their own relatives.
     Conscientious objectors have Christian motives even if they don't claim to be Christian. Men may not realize they follow Christ because Christ's example is now ingrained in human conscience. "True Christians" aren't permitted to kill. Christ enters the world through men who refuse to participate in war.
     The Dukhobors of the Caucasus are waging, in Tolstoy's opinion, a metaphorical Christian holy war against the Russian government because they refuse to serve in the army despite harsh consequences. They obey God before country. It is just as well to refuse to serve, because the punishment of imprisonment or exile is no worse than military service itself.
     Patriotism, the preference for one's own country, can't be a modern virtue because it contradicts the principle of "equality and fraternity of all men." The prevalence of immigration complicates patriotism. Patriotism and peace are incompatible. Men should resist the hypnotism of patriotism and follow their consciences. Spread Christianity, not patriotism.
     He supports troop reduction and disarmament on all sides of a conflict. The government will never approve of this strategy, so troop reduction must be achieved by the public attaching stigma to military service and dissuading men from enlisting. The people who prop up bellicose emperors and join the army are more to blame for war than the emperors themselves.
     Men who think military service is morally acceptable do not think for themselves.
     But not all will accept the law of non-resistance, and it would contradict the spirit of the law to force them to accept it. Christ only wants each man to "fulfill his allotted task."
     Under Nicholas I, soldiers were routinely forced to beat their fellow soldiers to death for deserting or complaining. Soldiers should listen to God's rule on this question, not the government's. The government conceals Christianity's anti-government doctrines because, without soldiers, the poor could usurp the property of the rich.
     The government-mandated Orthodox doctrine and ritual is "stupid and senseless" and "pseudo-Christian" because religion is a relationship with God.
     In one of his letters, Tolstoy noted that Thoreau had written Civil Disobedience fifty years previously. He claims to have been influenced by the Quakers and the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy's Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-violence. New York: Bergman Publishers, 1967.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'Nature, Man, and Woman' by Alan Watts (1958)

     Nature and spirituality are separated in Western Christian culture, which values ideas and is humiliated by dependence on nature. There is less of a dichotomy in Chinese Buddhist culture, which values direct experience.
     Christian philosophy studies God to the exclusion of nature. A culture has difficulty accepting sexuality when nature and spirituality are divorced, or when (as in the West) sexuality is the only area where spontaneity is valued. East and West both value celibacy, "as if the knowledge of God were an alternative to the knowledge of woman." The celibate man thinks of himself as God's property as a woman is considered her husband's property.
     Nature appears blank only insofar as we appear blank to our self-observation; it appears rebellious only insofar as we think we rule it. Its purposelessness should not distress us. Animals do not despair, as they know they are part of nature. We are like limbs of nature's body.
     Increasingly, people hate material things. They value the endpoints of abstract goals instead of what they encounter along the way. Matter is appreciated only for its monetary value.
     Only churches, not the outdoors, make the author feel Christian. He cannot identify the otherworldly, governing Christian God with the creator of this spontaneously growing world.
     We idealize nature as tranquil because we've lost touch with it. It is full of suffering. The promise of eternal joy in heaven makes no sense because feelings are necessarily impermanent. We can accept our revulsion of suffering without trying to escape suffering, which only intensifies pain. Focusing on uterine contractions may reveal them as less unpleasant than they feel when focusing on an assumption that childbirth hurts.
     Omniscience means being an object of cognition even to oneself and thus having "no inside." Omnipotence means having no spontaneity and thus being creatively paralyzed.
     Our bodies and the natural world are simple, but our cognition is too clumsy to understand them easily. Complexity is a function of the instrument of observation. Our brains divide and select information but it is all part of a whole.
     To say that God or spirit is "formless" means not that it is blank or hazy, but that its spontaneity resists logical ordering.
     Self-control prevents moral lapses, but if self-control comes from God, we have to ask who controls God.
     God and an afterlife may exist, but it is suffering and illusion to grasp or wish for them. Consciousness survives in the sense that each new being feels like "I."
     Sex is part of life and can be morally good or bad. Men often train themselves to love particular women, instead of the entire female sex, by practicing courtly love or delayed ejaculation.
     When sex has no goal, touch is never merely preliminary. One should not be distracted by desire for orgasm, as one should not over-think breathing while meditating. Sex should not be thought of as an "act" of purpose or deliberation; it is best when allowed to happen spontaneously.

Alan Watts. Nature, Man, and Woman. (1958) New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.