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The Problems of Philosophy

The Problems of Philosophy

By: Peter OMONZEJELE

INTRODUCTION

    There are several problems in Philosophy that have defied permanent solutions. These problems have confronted Philosophers from the ancient to he contemporary epoch. Some of these problems are: Freewill determinism, mind and body, the existence of God, appearance and reality, permanence and change, cause and effect, etc. Four of these problems will be analysed.

PROBLEMS IN PHILOSOPHY THAT HAVE DEFIED PERMANENT SOLUTIONS

A. FREEWILL AND DETERMINISM

    It is generally assumed that man is free and consequently has freewill, that is, the freedom to do things and not to, act in one way or another. Despite this claim, it seems man’s freewill is not nearly as free as it is generally assumed. Against this background, there has been a plethora of arguments for and against freewill. For instance, John Searle, in his argument in favour of freewill states that:

…Evolution had given us a form of experience of voluntary action where the experience of freedom, that is to say, the experience of the sense of alternative possibilities, is built into the very conscious, voluntary intentional human behaviour.

On the other hand, John Hospers evaluated human freedom and freewill from a different perspective. According to Hospers, freewill is a mere illusion,

We talk about freewill, and say for example, the person is free to do so-and-so if he wants to and we forget that his wanting is caught up in the stream of determinism, that unconscious forces drive him into wanting to do the thing in question. The analogy of the puppet whose motions are manipulated from behind the wires.. is a telling one at almost every point.

Though Searle accepted freewill, he is unconscious of the difficulty associated with the problem of determinism. Despite the irreconcilable positions between freewill and determinism, Searle thought it was more commonsensical to opt for freewill since man is a rational, free, conscious and mindful agent. But the solution to the problem is not nearly as simplistic as Searle might want us to believe. What precisely is meant by freedom of will?

    Freewill is the capacity to take decisions to act in one way or another. It is the decision to act or not to act at all. According to Echekwube, Freewill is:

the choice of a person to act in a manner suitable to a particular situation. This concept of freedom views it as the deliberate act of a man or woman who acts from personal initiative at all times without being guided.

  According to Clement of Alexandria, the only reason why moral discourse makes sense is because of the freewill humans possess. And if there is nothing as freedom then sanctions and praises become meaningless. In his words,

…praises, reproaches, recompense, punishments, etc, would not be just if the mind had not the faculty to wish or not to wish and perform bad or evil involuntarily…

    Thomas of Aquinas reasoned along the same line with Clement of Alexandria on the subject of freewill. Aquinas argued that man is endowed with reason so that he could use it, and that morality hinges on his endowment. Hence, man can reason, make decisions and act on his decisions. Many other Philosophers and Theologians have argued in favour of human freewill, but most of the arguments are tailored along the above lines of thought.

    It is important to state that just as many philosophers have argued in favour of freewill, so have many others argued against it. For such Philosophers and Theologians, man and his actions are determined. Determinism is the theory that laws outside the control of man govern the Universe. In other words, whatever happens is not by accident or choice. Rather, whatever happens in the Universe is the outcome of something that happened at a previous moment or is guided to happen as such.

    Determinism is of different sorts. These include Religious, Scientific, Economic and Psychological determinism.

B. THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.

    Does God exist? This question has plagued the minds of people since time immemorial. Answers to this question are often very unsatisfactory, particularly outside religious circles. The debate on the existence of God thrived most during the Medieval Era in Europe. In our own time, this debate is ongoing. It continues among groups of Hunan beings any where.

    One of the responses to the problem of he existence of God is that of skepticism. Philosophical skepticism is the urge to suspend judgement on a subject matter, that can neither be affirmed nor refuted. In relation to the problem of the existence of God, it means that the skeptic has no conclusive view on the existence of God. And there are those others (atheists) who deny the existence of God. They cannot be regarded as skeptics because their views are conclusive.

    However, efforts have been made to prove the existence of God from Cosmological and Ontological perspectives. Ontological proof of the existence of God is well articulated by St. Anselm. Anselm in the Proslogium, tried to resolve the problem of the existence of God on the ground that God is that which no other can be conceived; that being which no other can be conceived must exist as it would be self-contradictory to state that God does not exist when the meaning of God includes the concept of existence. Anselm explained further that God is a perfect and necessary Being and existence belongs to Him necessarily. Ontological arguments usually proceed from the idea of God to His reality or existence. Hence, Ontological arguments for the proof of God’s existence are usually criticized on the grounds (according to Guanilo) that having the idea of a being (or something) does not necessarily translate into the existence of that being.

    Cosmological effort (in the Augustinian tradition) in resolving the problem of the existence of God takes off from the sensible World to the insensible World. This implies that with the knowledge that man is finite, imperfect, changing (mutable) to the knowledge of an infinite, perfect and unchanging (immutable) being is a pointer to the fact that God exists. According to Bonaventure, man has apriori knowledge of God,which is embedded, in his desire to know Him. It would be meaningless to desire to know something (or someone) that does not exist. So God must exist. However, it has been argued (as indicated by Aquinas) that the notion of man’s finitude and imperfection cannot conclusively lead to an infinite and perfect being reffered to as God.

    It would seem, after all, that there are no irrefutable proofs of God’s existence, be they ontological or cosmological. And on the other hand, there is no sufficient proof for the denial of the existence of God. Perhaps an agnostic position might suffice. Philosophical therefore, the problem of the existence of God remains unresolved and consequently persists.

C. EVIL

    Loosely speaking, Evil is something bad, harmful and disastrous and thus something not usually wished for. There are various notions of Evil, one of which is generally aligned with Judaic-Christian view of God as represented by St. Augustine. That view is that Evil is a depravity of that which ought to be good. In some Persian religions, the adherents accept Evil based on the doctrine of Theological Dualism and thus view Evil and good as logically real, and present a constant interplay of forces trying to outdo each other. Evil is of two types:

(a) Natural Evil, such as floods, earthquakes, etc

(b) Moral evil involves the choices we make. It is the premeditated intention to do evil, such as stealing, murder, etc.

    The reality of Evil in the world is usually debated based on the attributes of God such as, the omnipotence and living (good) nature of God. The other attributes are necessity, immutability, timelessness and simplicity of God.

    Theists define the omnipotence of God as an all-powerful being. He crested everything out of nothing and He is capable of doing anything. When the omnipotence of God is related or connected to the problem of Evil, there intrudes some kind of problem, which is the fact that God cannot prevent Evil in the world. This means that He could no longer be regarded as an all-powerful God or He is able to prevent Evil but allows it. One of the central attributes of God is that He is a loving and good God. According to the Bible, God is love. The dilemma that immediately comes to mind is, how does a loving God allow Evil? Hick more aptly highlighted the inherent problems associated with a good God that allows Evil as follows:

Does this belief imply a moral standard external to God, in relation to which he can be good? Or alternatively, does it mean that God is good by definition? Is the creator ordered as the final standard of goodness, so that his nature, whatever it may be, is the norm of goodness?

    It would seem that any theory over the various epochs of Philosophy which is intended to resolve the problem of Evil runs into one hitch or the other. For instance, one cannot pretend Evil does not exist, as even the Bible, which is the referral point for Judaic-Christian adherents, depicts good and evil in the scriptures. To solve the problem with a finite deity simply contradicts the notion of an infinite and sovereign God. The problem of Evil, according to John Hick, serves as the greatest challenge to theism. In his words,

As a challenge to theism, the problem of evil has traditionally been posed in the form of a dilemma: If God is perfectly loving, He must wish to abolish evil: and if he is all-powerful, He must be able to abolish evil. But evil exists, therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly loving.

Hence the problem of Evil in the world has no easy solution either from a religious or non-religious point of view.

D. MIND AND BODY

    Most individuals under normal circumstances would admit they have bodies, and perhaps even more, also admit they have minds. However, the problem of mind and body emanates from the relationship and interplay they have with each other. This problem has caused Philosophers in general, and Philosophic Psychologist, in particular, grave concern. Many theories have been proffered in the attempt to solve the problem of mind and body. These are interactionism, materialism, epiphenomenalism, and idealism etc.

    Interactionanism is about the easiest way of illustrating the relationship between mind and body. This is because people can feel their bodies and the mind is used to direct and control our bodies. The implication is that body and mind interact. According to Taylor,

   My body is that physical object that is within my immediate control, that is, that physical object, alone among all others in the universe that events within my mind are capable affecting directly; and similarly, my mind is that mind, among all the others in the universe, that events within my body are capable of affecting directly.

Interactionalism seems to agree with our daily and regular experiences, that is, our physical conditions affect our dispositions. Taylor used pain to explain the interaction between Body and Mind as follows:.

Thus, when there is disorder in my body, such as a severely decayed tooth or a laceration in the skin, it appears clearly to be the cause of a purely subjective, unobservable state called pain. And the fact that such pain is subjective and unobservable to anyone else suggests that it is not, like the decay or laceration, a state of my body at all, but rather something mental. A pain cannot, along with physical changes of whatever minuteness, be observed by any devices whatsoever, simply because it is not a physical change at all but a mental one, and for that reason unobservable.

    The theory of Interactionalism, despite its wide acceptance, has been refuted on the grounds that it is rather too simplistic as human nature is mysterious. Thus, any attempt by Interactionists to explain human nature would be unintelligible. Taylor further explains why this is the case,

…perspiration, everyone knows, is secreted by tiny but complex little glands in the skin. They are cause to secrete this substance, not by any mind acting on them, but by the contraction of little unstrained muscles. These tiny muscles are composed of numerous minute cells, wherein occur chemical reactions of the most baffling complexity.

Even if the theory of Interactional is is to be accepted by everyone, there is still one other problem. At what point does the Body and Mind interact? This is because it has been shown that in Body and Mind interaction,

…it is the precise localization of such activity that presents a great difficulty, ad of course it must, since mental processes are, but the very description that is usually given to them, not localizable in the first place.

Consequently, the problem of Mind and Body remains, in so far ad the locus of interaction remains mysterious.

One thought on “The Problems of Philosophy”

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