Bayle on the rights of erroneous conscience (Curley)

Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) on the rights of erroneous conscience (from Bayle vs. Spinoza on Toleration, by Edwin M. Curley, Mededelingen vanwege het Spinoza Huis #95, Voorschoten 2009)

[P]erhaps his most distinctive and interesting argument occurs quite late in the Commentaire [philosophique sur ces paroles de Jésus-Christ, constrains-les d’entrer], where he contends, in replying to an objection, that an erroneous conscience has the same rights as an enlightened conscience. Here’s a summary of this argument:

I. To say that your conscience judges an action to be good or evil is the same as saying that your conscience judges it to be pleasing or displeasing to God. (Volume II of Pierre Bayle, Ouvres diverses, ed. Elisabeth Labrousse [OD II], p.422b; Pierre Bayle, Ouvres diverses, ed. John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas [KK], p.220)

II. If a man’s conscience tells him that an action is evil and displeasing to God, and he nevertheless does it anyway, he acts with the intent of offending and disobeying God. (OD II, 422b-423a; KK, 220)

III.Whoever acts with the intent of offending and disobeying God necessarily sins.

IV. So, if a man’s conscience tells him that an action is evil and displeasing to God, and he nevertheless does it anyway, he necessarily sins. Or more succinctly: whatever is done against the dictates of conscience is a sin. (OD II, 422b; KK, 220)

Bayle recognizes that this argument will not be persuasive to an atheist, but that may not be a problem for his purposes. His primary opponents are Christians, who may not be troubled by the theistic aspects of his assumptions. I presume most Christians – and most theists in general – would readily grant that if you act with the intent of offending and disobeying God, you sin. The first premise of Bayle’s argument will be more controversial. As he formulates it, it requires a commitment to what we might call ‘analytic theological voluntarism’, the theory that the meaning of ethical terms is to be analyzed by using the concepts of what is or is not pleasing to God. Many Christian philosophers would grant that Plato’s Euthyphro showed that analysis of ethical language to be faulty. But perhaps there is a way of reformulating I [the first premise] which would avoid the commitment to voluntarism.

[Note: According to Advayavada Buddhism, what human beings experience and identify as good, right or beneficial, indeed as progress, is, in fact, that which takes place in the otherwise indifferent direction that wondrous overall existence flows in of its own accord.]

Metaphysics in Henri Bergson (Takatura)

Metaphysics in Henri Bergson (from Metaphysics – A Critical Survey of its Meaning, by Takatura Ando, second enlarged edition, The Hague 1974)

Being a radical dualist in the French tradition since Descartes, Bergson maintained that intelligence and intuition were quite heterogenous. The function of intelligence is analysis and interpretation by means of symbols, and this kind of knowledge constitutes positive science.The function of intuition is immediate sympathy with the object, and this is the method of metaphysics. To go from intuition to analysis is easy, but the opposite direction is impossible. For this reason metaphysical knowledge is considered to be superior to and more profound than science. Bergson says repeatedly that scientific knowledge is ruled by practical interest – and this is also the fundamental idea of William James’ pragmatism. What distinguishes Bergson from James is that he makes much of the disinterested knowledge of metaphysics whilst James sticks to pragmatic knowledge. Science is an instrument for action, but philosophy or metaphysics is pure contemplation. This is not a new idea. The idea of dividing knowledge into theoretical and practical, philosophy being theoretical, is classical, whereas that of making practical knowledge the essence of science can be traced back to Francis Bacon. What is peculiar to Bergson is only his special use of the concepts of intuition and intelligence – [in French and] best translated as ‘Understanding’. Intuition is the method of philosophy, intelligence the method of science.

French philosophers generally do not distinguish Understanding and Reason. This neglect of our heritage from ancient and mediaeval times, to say nothing of Kant and Hegel, is a great disadvantage to them. It may result in their making the notion of Understanding too wide, so as to contain Reason. But in Bergson’s case intelligence [Fr.] in general has an extremely restricted role and cannot include intellectual activities other than that of understanding. Besides understanding he admits no faculty other than intuition, so that the intellectual activities excluded from intelligence [Fr.] are forced into intuition. Bergson seems to be a little ashamed that he is forced to use the term ‘intuition’. He confesses that he hesitated for a long time to use the word, and apologizes for using it to express metaphysical activity, which is mainly the inner cognition of spirit by spirit, and secondarily the cognition of [the] essence which exists in matter. We understand what Bergson means by the word ‘intuition’: it is above all immediate consciousness. “Intuition signifies first of all consciousness, immediate consciousness, a vision which is hardly distinguished from the object seen, knowledge which is in contact and even coincidence.” But as far as it is immediate consciousness, it is not even distinguished from sensation or perception, whereas metaphysics is by no means mere sense-perception. Bergson is therefore forced to invent another kind of immediate consciousness. “This experience, when it is concerned with a material object, will be called vision, touch, or in general external perception, and when it tends to spirit it will take the name of intuition.” This is a “super-intellectual intuition”. As an example of intellectual intuition, we have Aristotle’s ‘nous’ [intellect], also immediate consciousness like sense-perception but yet concerned with intelligible objects. Does Bergson really mean that his metaphysics is a system of intellectual ‘nous’-like intuition? This is quite implausible, for he is a firm anti-Aristotelian, though in fact his thought is not so divergent from Aristotle’s as he imagined. Anyhow, the difference between Bergson’s intuition and Aristotle’s ‘nous’ is that intuition and its object, spirit, are in time and movable, while ‘nous’ is concerned with eternal forms. According to Bergson, “the intuition of which he is talking is concerned first of all with inner duration. It seizes succession, which is not juxtaposition, a growth from inside, the uninterrupted prolongation of the past into the present which encroaches upon the future. This is the direct vision of spirit by spirit”. With regard to the ordinariness of this concept of time, we only suggest reference to Heidegger’s criticism [in his Sein und Zeit]. What is most important for the moment is to see how Bergson’s spirit is situated in a lower order than is Aristotle’s ‘nous’. Instead of an eternal and universal principle, spirit is a formless entity changing and floating in time. It is a rather indefinite material principle which the Greeks called ‘hyle’ [matter, stuff]. In other words, it is nothing but consciousness as a purely psychological phenomenon. Consequently, metaphysics which is yielded by such intuition is reduced to psychology, not the psychology as an objective positive science, but psychology in the vulgar sense of the word as a description of subjective consciousness. We wonder if it is really necessary to distinguish intuition from sensation for the sake of such a kind of metaphysics. We may distinguish spirit from matter by the differentiae of time and space. But to characterize spirit by its intelligibility, as distinct from our sensible consciousness, we cannot dispense with concepts. This way is, however, closed to Bergson by his own rejection of all intellectual elements from metaphysics.

Karma’s Ontological Work in Buddhism (MacKenzie)

The Concept of Karma does Important Ontological Work within Buddhist Philosophy (from Enacting Selves, Enacting Worlds: On the Buddhist Theory of Karma, by Matthew MacKenzie, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, April 2013)

In addition to the important role it plays in Buddhist moral theory, moral psychology and soteriology, the concept of karma does important ontological work within Buddhist philosophy. Self, world, and action are taken to be three interdependent aspects of an ontologically and phenomenologically more basic and universal process of [inter]dependent co-arising (pratityasamutpada). Thus, not only do actions, as common sense would have it, arise from selves interacting with the world, but also, Buddhist philosophers insist, selves and the world are enacted in and through the process of dependent origination. It is perhaps not clear which idea is more paradoxical – that we enact ourselves or that we enact the world – but in any case I will begin with the former idea and take up the latter in the next section. [Neither exposition in this short excerpt.]

One central focus of Indian Buddhism is the examination of the structure and dynamics of lived experience in the service of identifying and addressing the distortions and afflictions that perpetuate human suffering (duhkha). What is distinctive about Buddhist thought – both within its own historical and intellectual milieu and, to some degree, within the context of philosophy more generally – is its radical rejection of substantialism in favor of an ontology of interdependent events and processes. In the Buddhist view, phenomena arise in dependence on a network of causes and conditions. Thus, the Buddhist analysis of any particular entity, event, or process will not be based on the categories of substance and attribute, agent and action, or subject and object. Rather, the analysis will focus on the dynamic patterns of interaction within which events arise, have their effects, and pass away. The identity of any persisting object, then, is determined by its place in this vast pattern of relations. Indeed, even what we would normally conceive of as enduring substances are reconceptualized as more or less stable patterns of more basic and more ephemeral events and processes. It is against the backdrop of these basic analytical and ontological commitments, then, that we can understand the Buddhist account of the self and the claim that we create and recreate ourselves through karma.