PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 119 18th July 2006
I. 'The Truth Craze' by D.R. Khashaba
II. 'The Problem of Evil' by Namita Kalita
III. 'Philosophical Society of England: Philosophy Workshop' by M.C. Bavidge
In his latest article for Philosophy Pathways, D.R. Khashaba looks at cases where the philosophers insistence on finding out 'the truth' is on balance harmful. This is the realm of spirit and the 'inner reality', where there are no facts or theories, no methodology or decision procedures but only the struggle for meaning and understanding.
From the Indian Institute of Technology, Namita Kalita offers a refreshing new look at the problem of evil, placing this age-old philosophical and theological debate within the context of Eastern as well as Western religions.
The Philosophical Society of England is organizing a series of workshops. The first takes place on 9th September at Alnmouth, an attractive village on the Northumberland coast, where Michael Bavidge and Ewan Porter will guide discussion on ''Knowledge and Acknowledgement: the interdependence of knowledge and personal relations', with reference to the work of Hegel, Wittgenstein, Irigaray and Davidson.
I. 'THE TRUTH CRAZE' BY D.R. KHASHABA
There has recently been a craze for Truth. Books, articles, websites, weblogs, have been preaching the importance or necessity of 'truth'. The advocacy has been carried out with something like religious fanaticism -- excusably, because its main incentive has been to counter an opposed religious position that seeks to bypass or transcend the claim of science to be the sole arbiter in deciding factual questions. Since, under the circumstances, any attempt to examine the claims of the friends of 'truth' exposes the daredevil who makes the attempt to the charge of standing in the camp of the religionists, I have to make clear at the outset that I am as opposed to the religious camp as any empirical materialist. Kant put an end to theological pretences when he explained that theological claims can neither be validated by empirical methods nor justified by pure reasoning.
Permit me also to put forward two other preliminary remarks. The first is that I am not here dealing with the flurry of academic interest in the Theory of Truth. This is a subject I hope to come back to some other time. I expect that most of the advocates of 'truth' I mean to address in the present paper would lump the academic controversies raging about the definition of Truth with theological controversies and apologetics. My second preliminary remark is that while questioning the universal relevance of 'truth' I would emphasize the absolute importance and necessity of truthfulness and rationality, by which I mean sincerity, rejection of deception, above all self-deception, and unqualified submission to the jurisdiction of reason.
Well, then, what issue do I take with the advocates of Truth? It is, first, that they speak as if there were one clearly defined concept of 'truth', and, secondly, that they maintain or imply that that concept is equally relevant in all fields of human thought.
Suppose we take truth to be that quality which attaches to acceptable answers to meaningful questions. A trial jury, a historian, a doctor, a medical researcher, a physicist, a biologist, an economist, would seek answers to questions that are unlike to each other. The acceptable answers in each category are to be sought by applying distinct methodologies and have to satisfy different criteria. But they share one common character: they all relate to objective fact. And in all of these cases we can sensibly speak of truth, approximation to truth, or probability.
But let us look at other areas where I say the concept of truth is not only inapplicable but may be positively injurious. I will give three samples.
ONE: Debates surrounding such issues as euthanasia, abortion, security versus civil/human rights, etc., are being interminably conducted with crusading vehemence, to no avail. Why? To my mind the reason is that the opposing sides to such controversies believe that their position is susceptible of logical demonstration and rests on true propositions. If we realize that in such issues we deal with values that are only absolute and inviolable in the intelligible realm (the Platonic celestial sphere of Ideas) but which in our actual imperfect world will often clash, then we see that such issues cannot be resolved by pure logic, but only by a spirit of toleration, by giving due weight and consideration to the opposed values involved, by moving tentatively, by trial and error, towards a balance, shifting and adjustable. The adversaries in such controversies err gravely when each tries to prove one side right and the other side wrong. What each side should do is to make sure the values they defend are not overlooked or neglected while at the same time acknowledging the importance and necessity of the values on the other side. There is no call for Truth here, for in an imperfect world there can be no 'true' solutions to practical problems. What we need is sympathy and understanding and reasonableness.
TWO: When Socrates says that it is better to suffer injury than to perpetrate injury, this statement can neither be proved nor disproved; it cannot therefore be said to be true. Is it therefore meaningless? Is it mere rhetoric? My answer is a most decided No. It is meaningful because it expresses an attitude that generates in us a fuller life. Since this view has been central to all my writings, I do not find it necessary to expand on it here.
THREE: Spinoza in his great posthumous Ethics gives us a majestic system of interwoven concepts, forming an internally coherent ideal whole, an intelligible world in its own right. Spinoza, the mathematician, who came of age under the shadow of Descartes, prided himself on presenting his system ordine geometrico demonstrata. But nobody has ever believed that Spinoza's towering system has been proved true or could ever be proved true. I could have taken for my example Berkeley or Schopenhauer or Bradley or A. N. Whitehead „ to pick up names at random. Are such metaphysical systems therefore valueless? Such philosophers wrong themselves and wrong their philosophies by making a claim to truth and by making a show of demonstration and proof. Indeed they have given the whole of philosophy a bad name by so doing. The value of such metaphysical systems resides in their creating imaginative conceptual worlds in which the givennesses of our experience and the mysteries of human life find meaning: not 'true' meaning but vital meaning or spiritual meaning if you will, the meaning we find in a sonata, a landscape painting, a poem. Hence I maintain that the truth-claim is as pernicious in what I term philosophy proper as it is in religion.
It is true that science also, especially in its highest reaches, creates imaginative conceptual systems that give intelligibility to phenomena, but there is an important difference. It is always with timidity that I even make mention of science because I claim no scientific knowledge. But let me venture to say that science is concerned with the objective: objectivity is the sine qua non of science. Hence I say that science has for its province the actual or, to use a phrase dear to empiricists, what is the case. There the value of Truth reigns supreme. Philosophy and poetry and art are concerned with our inner reality, and there, if we speak of truth, it is only in the sense of Shakespeare's 'to thine own self be true'.
So it seems that I have no quarrel with the Truth Party after all. My complaint is that in our enthusiasm for a Truth which is the hallmark of empirical knowledge we tend to overlook realities, experiences, and values which will not submit to the empirical tests required for obtaining the Truth Licence, while I, foolishly no doubt, believe that these unlicensed realities and values are what our ailing and suffering humanity most needs.
(c) D.R. Khashaba 2006
II. 'THE PROBLEM OF EVIL' BY NAMITA KALITA
The oldest and most formidable weapon in natural atheology is the existence of evil. Most religious believers themselves have felt the force of this issue in their own minds. If they have not, then the story of the agony of Job serves as a sharp reminder that they cannot set it aside lightly. For Job the issue is in part existential and intimate, for Job has to wrestle personally with the ravages of pain and misery. This aspect is one dimension of evil which religious believers, like all human beings, have to face. Clearly evil poses a problem of pastoral care, and within religious communities much energy is devoted to this matter.
We are not proposing, that is, to offer advice on how to cope with evil. Nor are we interested in many of other questions evil provokes, e.g., Will there always be evil? Is my sickness due to my sin? Does God heal everybody who has faith? Is demon possession another name for psychiatric disorder? These are entirely legitimate and important matters, but they are not what are at stake here. The issue here is evil as an argument in natural atheology. We wish to know whether the existence of evil disproves the existence of God or whether the existence of evil makes it unreasonable or implausible to disbelieve in God.
Rather than attempt to define 'evil' in terms of some
theological theory, it seems better to define it
ostensively, by indicating that to which the word refers.
It refers to physical pain, mental suffering, and moral
wickedness. The last is one of the causes of the first two,
for an enormous amount of human pain arises from people's
As a challenge to theism, the problem of evil has traditionally been posed in the form of a dilemma: if God is perfectly loving, God must wish to abolish all evil; and if God is all-powerful, God must be able to abolish all evil. But evil exists; therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfect loving.
There is no gain saying the fact that evil and suffering do exist in this world and they do on a sufficiently large scale; that is one of the main reasons for the existence of religion, ethics or state. This fact leads to some important questions: Why do the evil and suffering exist? Is the world all suffering or all evil or is there any place for good in it also? Who is responsible for this? What can be the measures for eradicating or controlling the evils? Theologians and political philosophers have given theoretical bases for different moral codes advocated by them that vary from universal love to some lunatic doctrines of racial superiority, nationalism, caste divisions, etc. A brief review of some of them is necessary for drawing the final conclusions.
Hindu thinkers have ignored the problem of evil and suffering, for the world is unreal and consequently the existence of evil should not be of much concern. The proper course for the human soul is to seek Moksa, Liberation or union with God by renouncing and discarding the vain show of appearance called the world. Since the world is only a dream, the evil in the world cannot be of a more enduring substance. So a man of religion should not be worried about evil.
Suffering in the world is a hard fact; nobody can deny. Opinions differ regarding their causes and consequently their remedies.
In Buddhism the very existence is considered to be an evil; life means sorrow and the only escape from sorrow is to escape from life. There is no God; there exists only an impersonal and inexorable Law of Karma which attaches fitting consequences to a merit and demerit. When a disciple ceases to desire he escapes and attains Nirvana. Life is thus evil and suffering.
In Islam we find a counter part of Satan in the angel Iblis, although his position is a bit different from that of Satan. Iblis simply refuse to obey God when God commanded all the angels to worship man as the highest creation. Iblis dared to refuse but said that he so loved God that he could not bow down before any other creature, even though he was the best creation of God. So Iblis was a devil who worshiped God and therefore it is not an operative principle of Evil. The evildoer of the Quran is not the man who believes in Evil but the man who does not believe in God. So the dualism of God and Satan establishes one fact that the Semitic religions believe in principle of evil.
This dualism is found in certain philosophic systems of India also, as Sankhya, which hold spirit and Prakriti (Maya) to be separate eternal entities, the love of Maya resulting in Evil and that of the spirit in good, each having no control over the other.
The Semitic religions believe in the principle of evil, which is represented by Satan. The presence of this negative, defiling and diabolic principle is considered to be as eternal as God. The good and Evil exist side by side, each supported by supreme power, God in case of the former and the Satan in case of latter. It was Satan, according to Christian mythology, who through a serpent made Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which resulted in all kinds of evils and suffering in the world. Zoroastrianism believes in two different Gods: Ormuzd of good and Ahriman of evil.
Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, calls the world a will and therefore it must be a world of suffering. Will to live indicates want whose grasp is greater than its reach. For every wish that is satisfied, there remain ten that are denied. Desire is infinite, while fulfillment is limited. As long as our consciousness is filled by our will, we can never have a lasting happiness or peace.
It needs to be emphasized that evil poses a serious problem to theists only because they are committed to the view that God is both omnipotent and all good. Clearly if God is omnipotent he should be able to eliminate evil from the world. Equally if God is all good it would seem that he would want to eliminate evil from the world. How then is there any evil at all in the universe?
J.L. Mackie states the problem this way:
In its simplest form the problem is this: God is
omnipotent; God is wholly good, yet evil exists. There seems
to be some contradiction between these three propositions,
so that if any two of them were true the third would be
false. But at the same time all three are essential parts
of most theological positions; the theologian, it seems, at
once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all
If Mackie is correct, theism is in serious intellect trouble. Not surprisingly Mackie and many others have argued that theism is so inconsistent that it is best from a rational point of view to reject it entirely. We could, of course, avoid this conclusion by exercising our logical rights to abandon or modify any of the three propositions, which seem to be in conflict, or all of them. But none of these options are particularly attractive.
We could, for example, try to argue that evil does not exist. It only appears, that is to exist. This is manifestly false, for evil does exist, and most religions put a strong emphasis on its reality and power. In any case, the widespread illusion about evil demanded by this solution would itself be a gross evil, so the basic premise of the atheist's argument remains secure. Equally we could abandon either the omnipotence or goodness of God to resolve our dilemma.
I believe in God. But I do not believe the same things
about Him that I did years ago, when I was growing up or
when I was a theological student. I recognize His
limitations. He is limited in what He can do by laws of
nature and by the evolution of human nature and human moral
freedom. I no longer hold God responsible for illnesses,
accidents, and natural disasters, because I realize that I
gain little and I lose so much when I blame God for those
things. I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot
eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who
chooses to make children suffer and die, for whatever
exalted reason. Some years ago, when the 'death of God'
theology was a fad, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that
read, 'My God is not dead; sorry about yours.' I guess my
bumper sticker reads, 'My God is not cruel; sorry about
The problems in this solution are all too obvious. First, it involves abandoning a central tenet of the Judaic-Christian conception of God, which seems to be well grounded in the biblical tradition.
Secondly, although initially it seems quite an attractive position, for it construes God in more sympathetic terms, it offers no markedly better conception of God in the end. Kushner, in fact, even suggests that we may need to forgive God for not making a better world. He asks very pointedly at the close of his sensitive discussion:
Are you capable of forgiving and loving God even when you
have found out that he is not perfect, even when He has let
down and disappointed you by permitting bad luck and
sickness and cruelty in His world, and permitting some of
these things to happen to you?
Thirdly, this solution becomes less inviting when one asks how God's power is now to be specifically delimited. What in the revised theology can God do and not do? Presumably God cannot rid the world of various diseases like rapid aging. But suppose in twenty years' time some doctor discovers a cure for this disease and cures someone. Then God turns out to be less powerful than human doctors. But why should we limit God's power only in terms of the power of human doctors? But why should limit God's power only in the case of certain diseases? If we revise our conception of God in a finite direction to resolve the evil cause by rapid aging, there seems no good reason not to revise further in the face of all the varied evils we meet. In that case we end up with a thoroughly incompetent deity, who deserves more of our pity than our forgiveness. It is surely not surprising that religious believers have not been very keen to worship such an agent. They have been even less enthusiastic about partially good deities, for similar reason. In both cases the problem of evil seems to drive one out of the frying pan into the fire.
It is generally agreed that this is also the case where the proposed solution is more complex. Thus posing some kind of eternal, malevolent force over against God as the cause of evil or arguing that the concepts we apply to God are incomprehensible have fallen on hard times of late. Certainly most theists look elsewhere for a solution to the dilemma posed by modern atheologists. As we explore their work, we need to pause and give a brief analysis of the kinds of evil that confront us.
It is usual to distinguish between two broad classes of evil. There are moral evils and natural evils. The former refers to those evils states and processes brought about by the deliberate choice of human agents. Examples of moral evil would be murder, bank robbery, and cruelty to animals. Nature evils are those evils, which are not brought about by the deliberate choice of human agents. Examples, in this case, would be earthquakes, diseases, inflation, and animal pain. One reason for making this distinction is that it allows the protagonists to focus the issue more sharply. In turn the theist can attempt to turn the edge of the atheological argument from evil by showing that each kind of evil is compatible with belief in God.
There are three main Christian responses to the problem of evil:
The Augustinian Theodicy
The main traditional Christian response to the problem of evil was formulated by St. Augustine (354-430 A.D). It includes both philosophical and theological strands. The main philosophical position is the idea of the negative or privative nature of evil. Augustine holds firmly to the Hebrew-Christian conviction that the universe is good, that is to say, it is the creation of good God for a good purpose. Evil -- whether it be an evil will, an instance of pain, or some disorder or decay in nature -- has therefore not been set there by God but represents the going wrong of something that is inherently good. Thus Augustine could say, 'All evil is either sin or the punishment for sin'
The Irenaean Theodicy
Even from before the time of Augustine another response to the problem of evil had already been present within the developing Christian tradition. This has basis in the thought of the early Greek-speaking Fathers of the Church, perhaps the most important of whom was St. Irenaeus. He distinguished two stages of the creation of the human race. In the first stage human beings were brought into existence as intelligent animals endowed with the capacity for immense moral and spiritual development. In the second stage, human beings through their free will make themselves into the divine likeness.
Process theology is a modern development in which a number of Christian theologians have adopted as their metaphysical framework the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead (1861-1947). For a number of reasons, including the fact of evil in the world, process theology holds that God has not created but is nevertheless able to influence. According to the main Christian tradition, God is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe ex nihilo (Out of nothing), and God's ultimate power over the creation is accordingly unlimited. However, in order to allow for the existence and growth of free human beings, God withholds the exercise of unlimited divine power, thereby forming an autonomous creaturely realm within which God acts non-coercively, seeking the creatures' free responses.
Process theology likewise holds that God acts noncoercively, by 'persuasion' and 'lure', but in contrast to the notion of divine self-limitation, holds that God's exercise of persuasive rather than controlling power is necessitated by the ultimate metaphysical structure of reality. God is subject to the limitations imposed by the basic laws of the universe, for God has not created the universe ex nihilo, thereby establishing its structure, but rather the universe is an uncreated process, which includes the deity. However, Griffin follows Chares Hartshorne, another leading process thinker, in holding that those ultimate principles are eternal necessities, not matters of divine fiat.
For a theist however the presence of evil poses the dilemma:
Epicures, old questions are still unanswered. Is deity
willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is
malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is
Thinkers have tried to escape from the dilemma in various
Evil, when looked at rightly, may be really good. According to McTaggart, this refusal to see evil as evil runs counter to facts. We can refuse to see evil only on the basis of complete moral skepticism, according to which human beings are incapable of determining the rightness and wrongness of human conduct.
According to St. Augustine and Leibnitz, whatever exists is good, when it is viewed in a total perspective. Pain and sin appear to be evil from a partial viewpoint.
Pain and sin, if they existed, would be bad. But it is maintained that they do not really exist. In its most pronounced form this view is attributed to Christian Science in America. However, the view of Christian Science is so unrealistic, that it may be omitted from discussion. As noted above the fact of evil cannot be ignored on the plea of its being treated as a delusion. McTaggart continuing his criticism writes:
If, again, the existence of the delusion is pronounced to
be a delusion, then this second delusion, which would be
admitted to be real, must be pronounced evil, since it is
now this delusion, which deceives us about the true nature
of reality, and hides its goodness from us.
Why do evil and suffering exist?
The answer lies in the constitution of man. Man consists of five senses and Ego; lust, anger, avarice, attachment and pride are a part of his nature. Besides these, man is gifted with intellect, mind and spirit. With the help of intellect and guidance of spirit he can judge whether a certain thing is good or bad. He has been endowed with free will and he can avoid the evil if he so likes. So the nature has thrown the whole responsibility of action on him; suffering is his own creation. The suffering ends when the individual achieves union with God by pulling down the wall between the not-Self and Self. Man took the responsibility on himself when Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Most of the degenerative diseases man suffers from are due to the fact that the civilized human beings do not live in harmony with the Divine Nature. They love to intensify their physical selfhood and separateness through gluttony, excitement, craving, over stimulation, chronic anxiety over money etc. along with all these alternatives there is another choice available -- the desire to unite with God. So it is the wrong use of intellect and the free that leads to suffering. Those who fall prey to these wrong motives suffer; others do not.
This brings us to the need of Ethics and sound basis of society. Neither natural science, nor philosophical intellectual speculation can rescue man from suffering. The world is not illusion to sleep over human suffering. Something must be done to alleviate the suffering of common man, especially the suffering for which an individual cannot be held responsible. The social evils have to be fought tooth and nail. A religion, closing eyes over such ills in society, cannot remain a living religion; it loses its right to be a religion. It must establish some socio-ethical values compatible with its teaching and methods to enforce them.
1. John H. Hick, Philosophy of Religion, fourth edition, published by Prentice-Hall of India private limited, New Delhi-110001, p.n.39
2. J. L. Mackie, 'Evil and Omnipotence,' in The Philosophical of Religion,ed. Basil Mitchell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 92. Emphasis as in original
3. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New york: Shocken, 1981), p. 134. Reprinted by permission of Shocken Books Inc. Copyright © 1981 by Harold S. Kushner
4. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New york: Shocken, 1981), p. 134. Reprinted by permission of Shocken Books Inc. Copyright © 1981 by Harold S. Kushner, p. 148.
5. John H. Hick, Philosophy of Religion, fourth edition, published by Prentice-Hall of India private limited, New Delhi-110001, p.n.42
6. Irenaes, Against Heresies, Book _, chaps.37 and 38
7. John Cobb and David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster press, 1976).
8. J.M.E. McTaggart, 'Why God must be finite' in APR, pp.278-79.
9. J.M.E. McTaggart, 'Why God must be finite' in APR, p.278
(c) Namita Kalita 2006
Research scholar Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati Guwahati-781039 Assam
Department of philosophy Nowgong Girls' College Nagaon-782002 Assam
III. 'PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF ENGLAND: PHILOSOPHY WORKSHOP' BY M.C. BAVIDGE
'Knowledge and Acknowledgement: The interdependence of knowledge and personal relations'
10.30am - 6 pm, 9th September 2006 Methodist Hall, Alnmouth, Northumberland
Hegel: Self, Others and Recognition Wittgenstein: Engaging with Language Irigaray: Recognising Different Subjects Davidson: Environments and Worlds
Alnmouth is an attractive village on the Northumberland coast, an ideal place to think, discuss and take the sea air. It is on the main London to Edinburgh line.
Everyone will be encouraged to take an active part in the discussions which will be led by Michael Bavidge and Ewan Porter.
The fee for the day is £10. If you would like to join us or if you would like more information, please contact
Michael Bavidge 6 Craghall Dene Avenue Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1QR