Nihilistic Philosophy
(05-Oct-2012, 04:20 PM)Soorya Sriram Wrote: I am not attempting to judge anything as worthwhile/worthless. But how can the purpose of life be made up in similar terms?
In short, what is the motivation to live at all?

Doesn't an acknowledgment of possible worth in human endeavour assume value in human life and a stake in human welfare?

To the question, "Why live at all?", an answer is, "To figure out the answer to that question!"
It is oft-quoted that "The purpose of life is a life of purpose." The epigrammatic nature of such response in fact exposes the rhetorical nature of questions like "What is the purpose of the Universe?", which to Prof. Dawkins are of as much value as asking "What is the colour of jealousy?". Belief in a single purpose that is a property of the Universe, from which our lives' purposes maybe derived, is based on a teleological myth which is argued against in a spirited fashion by Prof. Dawkins' team in this debate, and elaborated at length both in this 2009 lecture and this 1991 lecture.

To ask "What is the purpose of life?" instead of "How can purpose be found in life?" is a false start due to two faulty assumptions of teleology and exceptionalism. Any philosophical or practical progress on this question first requires dropping the 'the' before 'purpose'.The humorous extract from Michael Sandel cited here exposes how primitive and indefensible teleological arguments are. How the notion of exceptionalism can be similarly risible can be seen in this light-hearted exchange in Episode 257 of Real Time with Bill Maher:

Quote:Bill Maher: I am as patriotic as the next guy, but who started the flag-on-the-lapel thing and when is it going to stop?

Ron Christie: I've been wearing a flag on my lapel for 20 years and I love my country and I love the fact that we are in the greatest country in world and I express that by wearing a lapel pin.

Bill Maher: Have you been to all the others?

Ron Christie: I have been to a lot of them. I have traveled around the world and I think this is the greatest place in the world and I like to show that everyday.

Bill Maher: But why do we have to? I always say... I love America too and I don't want to leave. But it seems childish to always say "We are the best". It is like saying "I have the best wife"...
She is the best wife for you. Is she the best wife in the world?

What is called for is to find a purpose for you rather than submit to some supposedly enjoined purpose in the world. The purpose of human life according to the Quran is worship of the creator of the universe, and according to the Bhagavad Gita is performance of the duty of the varna one is born into. Religion is the enterprise of answers and science is the enterprise of questions, as Babu Gogineni says here, and the answers religion provides about what is the purpose of life, are affronts to Reason and Compassion.

To address the question of "How can you find your purpose in life?", we must first recognize that since beliefs have consequences, the answer which will be a prescription of priorities and conduct, will depend to a significant degree on our description of who we are, our place in the world and how the world operates. Accepting a description of ourselves as 'creatures born to worship' or as 'members of a caste' and a results in obeying a prescription of submission and segregation.

Attempting to make our description of the world and ourselves more correct and complete, requires first of all the acknowledgment that our abilities are limited like that of the inhabitants of Plato's Cave, and that the tools we have to promote understanding are models of which all are wrong and some are useful, and experiments which can only falsify and not verify. Notwithstanding these apparent limitations, this attitude of epistemic humility is sufficient to reject on grounds of insufficient evidence such descriptions of ourselves as products of a creator or members or congenital members of a caste, or for that matter, as beings endowed with contra-causal free will.

Evidence supplies a criterion for examining our stance on such factual claims about such as whether there is a creator or whether there is free. As for choosing our stances on questions which are not factual claims, such as whether we ought to value human rights or ought to accord sanctity to human life, a recognition that we are fully caused beings means that our stances on what we ought to do are themselves not of our choosing! Our values or how well we are able to live up to them may well not be of our choosing, and this absence of choosing does not in anyway dilute the distinction that humanistic values make between a criminal psychopath and a conscientious pediatrician. These distinctions matter, as Sam Harris explains in this recent blog post, and continues that whether or not these behaviors were willed or fully caused, "Diligence and wisdom still yield better results than sloth and stupidity."

Due diligence and an avoidance of sloth in standing up for and working for what matters to us, unchosen by us though it maybe, first of all requires us to be fully present, at the very least to be there. To find our purpose in life, we must be fully alive to possibilities; and every effort to fulfil the purpose that has become ours, is itself an affirmation of life.
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(06-Oct-2012, 01:02 AM) Wrote: But, I understand that this blends well with the second question and not much with the first question “purpose of life”

So, let me ask you why should there be a purpose at all, isn’t it so nice the answer to that is 'nothing'?

What a boring life it could be if there was a single purpose, like any one of those religions preaches. A place in heaven, karma, nirvana, etc.
Everyone living the same life with same set of rules for centuries and thousands of years again and again.

How beautiful it is to live with a freedom to choose and live?

In my opinion, or for me it’s a great pleasure that there is no ‘single purpose’ and this freedom motivates me to live as long as possible.

So i guess the answer to the original question,
Quote:Does studying Nihilistic philosophy make one pessimistic?
is no.... Cause the moment one is able to derive meaning (such as art) from the surroundings, the person is no longer a nihilist, but an atheist existentialist. If this is the case, then the whole point of motivation to live becomes an entirely personal reason, rather than something which can be discussed rationally. Am I right? Huh
(06-Oct-2012, 08:51 PM)Soorya Sriram Wrote: ...Cause the moment one is able to derive meaning (such as art) from the surroundings, the person is no longer a nihilist, but an atheist existentialist. If this is the case, then the whole point of motivation to live becomes an entirely personal reason, rather than something which can be discussed rationally. Am I right? Huh

It would be an indifferent and in fact inhuman form of public reasoning that treats personal reasons as inadmissible by definition. Quoting from an earlier exchange from different context, but making a similar point:
Quote:How can we assume right off the bat that the moment an argument features a ‘personal tale’, it is automatically devoid of ‘considered analysis’?

eg. A Sunita Krishnan or an Ayaan Hirsi Ali often relate ‘personal tales’ and can we say that those conclusions are unsupported by ‘considered analysis’?

Here is an excerpt from another exchange acknowledging that the secular humanist discourse on life and living is guided not only by Reason, but also Compassion:

Quote:The social imperative to ‘hear out’ a grievance granting for a moment that is genuine, and the diagnostic imperative to ‘make sense’ of a lament treating every incident reported as a claim to be tested, can be at odds with each other. The possibility of being a ‘compassionate skeptic’, like a psychotherapist disabusing a hypochondriac without resort to superciliousness or mockery, seems to have been all but edged out of the popular imagination by the cliched image of a skeptic as a bulldozer-riding myth-busting demolition squad member. A reminder that our decision needs to account for the social, empathic imperative too besides the science-based diagnostic imperative, is therefore quite timely and for this purpose, a phrase like ‘educated feeling’ does seem an inspired coinage.

While our normative ethics are influenced by empirical findings and a rational assessment of their consequences, such facts are not the only constituents of ethics, because moral premises which are indispensable foundations of ethics are undeniably influenced by more primal drives and emotions.

An upfront acknowledgment that is in order, is that the classical dichotomy between reasoning and emotion is being challenged, and that our ostensible rational discourse is circumscribed by evolutionary drives. Among the dictates of our evolutionary first draft of morality is a concern for harm and care, which impels us to value life, and such a deep-seated concern is evident in how our conceptions of human rights are always implicitly subservient to the 'imperative of survival'. While our desire to preserve, promote and prolong life has not been exempt from critical scrutiny, its persistence is something that is a force to reckon with during any reality-based and yes, reason-based inquiry into the purpose of life.
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Quote:Cause the moment one is able to derive meaning (such as art) from the surroundings, the person is no longer a nihilist, but an atheist existentialist.

Yes, but nihilism is like your schooling (there’s “no meaning”- you have learnt that and passed out of school, but that is not the end, what next?) you graduate from there to say existentialism again that’s not the end you keep learning. Pragmatism, Phenomenology, Empiricism, Structuralism, utilitarianism, logical positivism (not in any order) there's plenty. Most of the concepts in them are the outcome of rationalism. (There are counter and inter arguments)

Why should we stop somewhere and label ourselves with some “ist”?

Marcus Tullius Cicero says

Quote:“Rightly defined philosophy is simply the love of wisdom.”

So don’t take everything that philosophy offers

We had argued that “to be or not to be?” is still a question and we are thrown in this world with that question therefore bound “to be” without choice till we answer that question.

In this process, as the “Why” question has been already answered (nihilism), the pressing question is “How”, because you have already started living.

When we apply our logic, reason and empiricism (Freethought) in answering the “how” question (this process gives the Moral values), it is important that it doesn’t contradict with your “Personal reason (for ‘why’)” that motivates you to live. Therefore rationality does apply in making your “free choices”

Quote:Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.

Said C. S. Lewis

The quote is out of context here but I brought here to say that

Like we have different friendship, we appreciate different art, we can pick from different philosophy and try to reason it ourselves.

Now tell me when shall we go for coffee? Hungry
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(06-Oct-2012, 10:45 PM) Wrote: Yes, but nihilism is like your schooling (there’s “no meaning”- you have learnt that and passed out of school, but that is not the end, what next?) you graduate from there to say existentialism again that’s not the end you keep learning.

Nihilism can perhaps be thought of as a clearing of the table before studies begin. Clearing a desk of good-luck charms and deity pictures may to a believer convey a lack of reverence for learning, but to someone not appealing to supernatural intervention, this is only about letting a desk be a desk! Clearing is not what desks are for, but without clearing the clutter, the desk cannot serve its purpose in the study.

Descartes counsels us to begin by accepting nothing as true and doubting all things:
Quote:If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
Doubt is what we need to sweep the desks of our beliefs before we make full use of them, clear of knick-knacks to which we maybe sentimentally attached. In Sagan's words,
Quote:For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

Using doubt as a reality check is misconstrued as life-denying nihilism by folks who feel entitled to a check-free reality. As the oft-quoted quip by Josh Billings goes,
Quote:The trouble with people is not that they don't know but that they know so much that ain't so.
The contribution of philosophers like Nietzsche has been to knock over all altars and all desks and force a rethink on how things have always been and whether they are really so, and whether there is a way of figuring out in the first place. Once our desks are gotten in order after this dust-up, there is nothing stopping us to use it for the purpose we deem best for it. The break and the dust-up are of course not the end of our inquiry, for as Kant says:
Quote:Thus scepticism is a resting place for reason, in which it may reflect on its dogmatical wanderings and gain some knowledge of the region in which it happens to be, that it may pursue its way with greater certainty; but it cannot be its permanent dwelling-place.

The challenge of nihilism therefore forces us to take time out for stock-taking, and not to opt out of trading in meaning. When we clear our desks, it doesn't always mean that we are calling it a day. It can very well mean that the stage is set for our life's work.

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Thank you folks for your detailed replies! I realize I am not even a beginner - just in the stage of testing waters. Will take the plunge soon but before that, Balu and Soorya count me in for the coffee session.

Quote:The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent.

But if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them, our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment.

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