Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Meditation



One of the phone calls that greeted me this New Year’s Day drove me to some serious contemplation.  The friend quoted the example of Galileo who retracted his scientific theory before the religious Inquisitors and later explained his action: “Science doesn’t need martyrs.”

My meditation led me to the notion of freedom provided by the 17th century philosopher, Spinoza.  He argued that we were not totally free.  We are controlled by certain inescapable laws of nature as well as our genetic makeup.  Evil is also an essential part of nature.  “The evil which ensues from evil deeds is not therefore less to be feared because it comes of necessity;” said Spinoza, “whether our actions are free or not, our motives still are hope and fear.”

Hope for a better future; fear about the present situation.  The martyr is not afraid for himself; his fear is about the future of the society. 

Martyrdom need not be a virtue. To be really great is not to be placed above humanity, ruling or controlling others, counsels Spinoza.  Real greatness lies in rising above the partialities and futilities of uninformed desires, and ruling one’s self. 

Desires or passions drive human beings.  Passion for wealth, power, luxury, assets, fame…  “A passion ceases to be a passion,” says Spinoza, “as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it...”  When we understand our passion adequately, it becomes a virtue.  All intelligent behaviour – i.e., all reaction which arises from an understanding of the total situation – is virtuous action.  Spinoza even goes to the extent of saying that there is no virtue but intelligence.

“Men who are good by reason – i.e., men who, under the guidance of reason, seek what is useful to them – desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind.”  Spinoza’s words.

Can I invert that wisdom?  We don’t live in 17th century anyway.  If you live in a society of human beings who do not desire for the rest of mankind what they desire for themselves, use your reason and find your escape route.  What good would Galileo have done had he accepted martyrdom for the sake of preserving his integrity?  Visualise him in his given situation, of course; it would be absurd to argue that integrity is immaterial.  Intelligence is virtue.  And Galileo was not acting without integrity; he was acting with the virtue of intelligence. 

I’m convinced Spinoza is right even 337 years after his death.

PS. Spinoza’s fate was not much different from that of Galileo at the hands of his contemporary religious leaders.


Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers



17 comments:

  1. Nice one Sir. Loved reading it, as always.

    Regards
    Sammya

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most welcome, Sammya. Life challenges us to become increasingly philosophical these days, it seems.

      Delete
  2. [ Smiles ] Your posts have always given me a lot to think about.

    Do have yourself a wonderful 2014.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy to make you and possibly others think, Renard. Thinking people do much less harm than others :)

      Thanks for the good wishes. I'm in need of them.

      Delete
  3. “Men who are good by reason ...”... Spinoza’s words
    Effective words!! Thanks for this article!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for encouraging me to write such articles, Bhargav.
      Spinoza offers much to ponder about. Can anyone be good without "understanding"? Can "understanding" come only from reason? Well, I think, I should let you meditate on that. :)

      Delete
  4. a nice read. effective words. happy new year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wish you too a Happy New Year, Amar. And thanks for the compliment.

      Delete
  5. Interesting. Have wanted to read Spinoza for long. But never got around to it. Same with Dewey and Thomas Moore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your choice is good, friend, though Dewey and Moore didn't enlighten me as much as Spinoza did. However, the rationalism of the latter too is far better than the ambivalence of our contemporary "intellectuals".

      Delete
  6. As always very nicely written.Liked it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ankita. Glad to see you here with a comment.

      Delete
  7. Very nicely written :-) Happy new year :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, wish you too a great year ahead.

      Delete
  8. I have new read philosophy but now I am thinking I might be missing out on something good!

    ReplyDelete

My India

“Where the king goes, the realm follows,” says a character in Game of Thrones .   It is the leader who shapes the country.   A visiona...