…note on parts & wholes with kant, & presence & absence with aristotle


A. How does Kant’s categorical imperative connect to the whole? How is Kant’s categorical imperative a part of the whole?

…okay, let us give a provisional first look into Kant’s practical philosophy by way of a metaphysical account of parts and wholes. Immediately we need to ask: what is a ‘whole’ and what is a part of the whole in terms of Kant’s practical/moral philosophy? With a question of the whole, we have a number considerations, of chief importance is the whole of ethical life. In this sense Kant’s ethical philosophy is connected to the whole of ethical life in terms of the reasoning that the categorical imperative is universal (i.e. theoretically it is able to be applied rationally all the time and in all cases by all rational autonomous agents). Kant’s categorical imperative is a normative principle by which we aim to govern all our ethical life—the whole of ethical life.  

What is a something that is a ‘part’ within the above mentioned ‘whole’ of ethical life? If Kant’s practical/moral philosophy is aimed at encompassing the whole of ethical life, then we as autonomous agents are rationally taking part within the whole as a way to express our freedom whenever we deploy the categorical imperative. Likewise freedom can only be partial and never complete. This should not only be considered as a restriction of freedom, this should also be considered in the light of what is possible within the guidelines of rational thought & rational experience. Rational freedom in this sense is considered to be positive: we are free within the rules and standards of our reason and by extension our community. If we as autonomous agents are a part of the whole, this must be an aspect of how our free will is partly expressed.

B. How does Aristotle’s virtue ethics connect to presence? How does Aristotle’s virtue ethics connect to absence?

…okay, now let us also give a provisional first look into Aristotle’s virtue ethics connection to a metaphysical account of presence and absence? Immediately we ask: what is present and what is absent within Aristotle’s virtue ethics? To consider what is present would obviously have to be rational thought. Yet, how is rational thought present in Aristotle’s virtue ethics? Rational thought is intrinsically present within every rational agent. Rational thought is present within the recognition that we are rational agents that aim for the goodness and Eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία = the good life). To have this present in our lives is to be virtuous of character. To be virtuous is to strike the ‘golden mean’ between the extremes of privation or excess. Virtue is what is made present in the character of the good person who is aiming for happiness and the good life. For virtue to become present, one has to rationally make such behavior into a habit of virtue. To have such virtuous habits requires wisdom, to recognize this is to consider the ‘golden mean’ as a clear and rational distinction, each situation will require a rational evaluation of the ‘golden mean’ enough to know where to place any of our specific moral actions as virtuous behavior.

The question of absence surely must account for vice. This signifies a distortion and deviation from the virtuous life. Going to the extremes of ethical life is an absence of virtue. If immoral actions are departures from virtue, then we must also conclude that immorality is often lacking in rationality (i.e. rationality is absent). A rational accounting of our conscientious behavior must take into account all that it stands in contrast with it—virtue. All the things that pull us away from virtuous action are privations of reason, as they are privations of virtue. The lack of virtue must then be accounted for within the presence of virtue. To know what is virtuous is also to know what it is not.

…what is metaphysics?


six grasses

Six Grasses, colored etching by J. Pass, ca., 1807

What is Metaphysics?

Metaphysics is a philosophical term that denotes a number of varying perspectives. Metaphysics is the study of how we relate to the world and how ideas, concepts, facts and objects are related to one another. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, after his death sometime in the 4th century BC, left behind a great number of philosophical books on the nature of being, existence, causation, particularity, universals, potentiality, actuality, parts, wholes, identity, &c. Of profound significance is the topic of the categories which design the way in which we predicate things into subjects for consideration. Another way of thinking about this would be to focus on what qualifies and what quantifies something to be what it ‘is’. To consider what something ‘is’ provides us with relationships to us, and to things, and how all of these things are related—to us and to each other.

The ancient scholar (Andronicus of Rhodes) who categorized Aristotle’s works, placed these books ‘after’ Aristotle’s book on Physics. The term ‘meta’ (μετὰ) meaning: after, beyond, is simply after-physics, after that which is physical (φυσικά). This gives us insight into the content of the books on being, existence, causation, &c. as just that, beyond-the-physical. For you and I, this has do with what is relational, how ideas, concepts, facts and objects are related to one another. We should note that this is not a justification for relativism, given that metaphysics accounts for objectivity in relation to what is relative. To be clear, relativism is a metaphysical issue, yet it works within the larger structures of inter-subjectivity and objectivity.

For Aristotle, form and substance are related to each other given that a substance takes on a particular form to be what something ‘is’, i.e. what is something? Whether something is made of stone is different than if it is made of paper & a statue is a form of stone as much as a stone takes the form of a brick in a building. This is a metaphysical question and it is an ontological question–ontology is the study of being.

The limitation of physicality only serves to enhance our understanding of the metaphysical as beyond-the-physical. This summation of the beginnings of metaphysics as a fundamental feature of philosophical discourse would be missing something if we forget the significance of the negation of being, non-existence, what is not causal, what is not particular, non-identity, &c.

What else is Metaphysics?

A quick glance at a college text book will typically offer another way to study metaphysics as the relationship between free-will & determinism. Are we completely free? Are we completely predetermined? Is real life a composite of the two? What are the effects of biology and DNA combined with past events on our expressions freedom? Does our freedom derive from the physical world? Here we can see a series of relationships. If we are to consider freedom we must also consider what contradicts it. That is what freedom is not. To know what freedom is not, is to know what freedom ‘is’.

Metaphysics Faces the Question of Nothing

The controversial 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger thought that metaphysics develops as a way for us to contend with the question: what is nothing? At first glance this appears to be a banality, yet when we stop to consider what ‘is’ is, as opposed to what ‘is not’ we get a sense of the profundity of such a question. This entails that we as living creatures have a tough time contemplating and conceptualizing nothingness. In fact, our fear of death encapsulates its philosophical weight into our basic consideration of the being we possess alongside the being that ‘is’ reality on the whole. A negation of being is nothingness—that which is not being. This elicits anxiety within us as well as our thoughts and actions. The fear of nothingness impels us to the action of living, of being alive, of authentically experiencing ourselves as a being that exists.

Metaphysics is the Study of Identity.

Another perspective of metaphysics is identity, personal and of concepts and objects, of who we are and what identifies the world around us. How does our identity uphold throughout the duration of time? How are things identified as unique or universal? Is our identity based in memory and/or the memory of others? We tend to think that immortality is only an issue for religious consideration, while overlooking the importance of the written words by which to either keep ideas alive or to ignore them, thus identifying ancient authors long since gone. This brings us back to issues of quality of life, ethical and otherwise. What is the identity of goodness? What is the identity of what is not good?

Religion is Metaphysical.

We are quickly reminded that all of religion is metaphysical. Religion is intertwined with what is physical, as much as a religious person looks beyond physical matters to take faith in what is real and practical in her life. If religious life serves its practitioners, it does so within the relationships between objectivity and subjectivity. Objectivity is all encompassing and religious life likewise has a similar scope and reach. The mistakes we make have to do with thinking that metaphysics is strictly limited to religious practice. I like to think of the reverse, that our metaphysical understanding of things gives rise to religious thought—yet I admit such conclusions cannot be strictly determined. Likewise, metaphysics leads our thought to the nature of evil as opposed to nature of goodness, and a way that pain, suffering and death can arise in the world.

We cannot leave this side of metaphysics without a sentence on a popular, common sense view of metaphysics as a way of predicting the future, and identifying character traits that accompany celestial activity, sheer chance, lucky destiny, superstition, fortune telling, &c. This is often an area of metaphysics that is not covered in philosophy textbooks. Given that such activities are not often called into question. This is unlike what we usually do in philosophy class, even if our concern is metaphysical, we still should be able to be skeptical and call into question its claims joined with the use of our critical thinking as these ideas are put into practical experience or not.

Metaphysics is Categorial.

Another area of metaphysical interest is the notion that we want to know what is the nature of ultimate reality is. What in our lives is real and what is not real? What do think of as something, and when do we think of something as not something? As mentioned earlier, In Aristotle’s Metaphysics we find the “categories” which are ways in which we predicate things. In the early 20th century, Heidegger’s teacher Edmund Husserl named this type of thinking ‘categorial intuition’. That is to indicate what something ‘is’. To predicate something, means to describe what a thing actually ‘is’. Essentially, when we predicate things we are also considering things as a subject of thought.

To name a quality of someone or something is a metaphysical activity. To count, measure, & weigh things is to quantify items to be understood metaphysically. To situate a relation of things in time and space is to think metaphysically. To determine if something can be of use or not is basically a metaphysical consideration. Indeed the need to categorize, give name to, to situate, to organize, to group, to isolate, to couple with, &c. all are metaphysical activities. Once we take these observations into consideration we suddenly recognize that metaphysics is not a useless artifact only handled within the confines of the written word. Put in the most basic terms: metaphysics is conscious thinking with, combined with, and without the physical world.


Aurelio Madrid

…from myth to philosophy


“From Myth to Philosophy: Examining the Transition by Way of Metaphysics and Epistemology”

When we look to the transition from myth to philosophy, we make use of philosophy as a guide into connections that are not readily apparent. Two primary philosophical modes of inquiry are metaphysics and epistemology. The two are defined in a number of ways and this short essay will only focus on metaphysics as the study of ultimate reality, and epistemology as an inquiry into how we rationally understand things—when connected, both disciplines disclose true knowledge. When we are doing philosophy we are not only asking questions, we work to answer the questions we ask: what is ultimate reality (as with metaphysics)? How do we know things rationally (as with epistemology)?

Once we apply these questions to the transition from myth to philosophy, we immediately are reminded of the long-lived mythologist Edith Hamilton who distinguished the ancient Greek myths as inherently rational. Hamilton also distinguishes the myths as distinctly human. The Greek myths are concerned with human problems—human reality. The Greek legends are answering the ancient need for answers about the natural and human realties that could not be explained any other way. This confrontation of nothingness reveals the myths metaphysically. Likewise the myths are answering causal problems, where does war come from?—Ares! If one cause (Ares) brings about the effect of something else (war), we are answering a way we know something, and this is rational and epistemological.

Friedrich Nietzsche hails the first Greek philosopher as Thales, a Presocratic who thought the origin of everything is water. This is an empirical claim, we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell: water. This is another way of showing how we are perceiving the world, this is a way we gain knowledge of things using our rational faculties. Therefore Thales is, not only answering epistemological questions, where does everything come from?—he answers the question scientifically, with empirical evidence, something the myths did not do. Metaphysically, he’s offering us answers to where everything comes from, and to what (empirically) does reality consist of?—water.

Turning to Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, metaphysics and epistemology gain in philosophical complexity. With Socrates we have the famous dialectic, based in dialogue, and aimed at gaining true knowledge while exposing flaws in common and opinionated reasoning. Socrates is a champion of reason in favor of goodness and true knowledge. This is epistemology and it is curiously ethical. When considering metaphysics, we immediately recognize an answer to the question: what is ultimate reality for Plato and Socrates?—the acquisition of true knowledge.

Aristotle, another scientist philosopher, categorized the way we explain things into distinct categories and components. This tendency to organize knowledge is both scientific and metaphysical. To do philosophy is to look at the components of knowledge which constitute reality. This is metaphysical. As mentioned above, to consider causation is to examine how we come to know things and how to explain things. Aristotle’s causal tools give our knowledge explanatory power. This is epistemological.

To philosophically examine the transition from Greek myth to Greek philosophy by way of metaphysics and epistemology is to see a flowing line of inquiry into the ultimate realty and into the way we rationally know things. Such thinking is abstract and takes a readjustment of our everyday understanding, thus fulfilling a demand of Heraclitus the weeping Presocratic, to find connections in what is unapparent.

…aquinas, immortality, &c.


…then to Aquinas and whether or not he considered the soul to be immortal, and the concurrent issue concerning whether or not the soul is separate from the body. I found an entry to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Richard Swinburne on this issue, http://www.newdualism.org/papers/R.Swinburne/Swinburne-Nature%20of%20Soul.pdf When we read the first few paragraphs, we get good synopsis of the problem. The issue rests on the transition from an Aristotelian version of the soul (psyche, Ψυχῆς) as intrinsically connected to the body. That is, Aristotle believed that the soul is the animating part of a person’s body–when the body died the soul dies with it. Given that Aquinas is Aristotelian, he mentions this very notion in the Summa Theologica, giving all of us the impression that he agrees with Aristotle, that the death of the body entails the death of the soul.

Yet it is not the case that Aquinas thought that the soul simply died with the body, or that the soul was not immortal. The easy way to think of this would be to recall that Aquinas is advocating a notion of resurrection. If a body is to resurrect with the body it once inhabited, the soul must live without the body until judgment day when the soul becomes embodied. Then according to Aquinas, the person resurrects from the dead to live on into eternity in heaven or hell. The questionable part comes with the notion of what the soul consists of while it is separate from its material matrix, its body. Does the soul lose its identity when it is not animating the body? As Swinburne indicates, Aquinas thinks that the soul is somehow “fitted” to its original body, perhaps like a key to a lock. The other point I am not sure of is what happens to the material body after it is judged.

aristotle: metaphysics book XII (Λ), chapters 9-10

medieval manuscript of aristotles metaphysics

Aristotle / Metaphysics Book XII (Λ), Chapters 9-10[1]

Part of the job of reading Aristotle is reading and re-reading till one reaches only a satisfactory understanding of what is ultimately being said. We already know that that the Metaphysics have to do with the question of being, and that with the question of being begs the question of a primary being, which can be said to be the ultimate cause. This means that while we are reading only two short chapters, we are also jumping three-quarters of the way into the complexity of Aristotle’s inquiry about being and a primary mover that looks like God. With all this in mind, it is also difficult to ignore a few of the points Aristotle makes in chapters 6 and 7. For instance, there’s the idea that “actuality is prior to potentiality” (1072a, 10). This in itself is interesting since we typically assume that potentiality must precede the actual, so Aristotle’s claim becomes one where potential is contained within the actual. This is a profound thought indeed, one that anticipates Bergson’s ideas of the virtual, and so on. Another point, similar in its profundity, is brought about in chapter 7, where Aristotle names a “mover, which moves without being moved, being eternal, substance, and actuality” (1072a, 25). Along with this mover, Aristotle also attributes thought, the good, the eternal, and a intricate way that it is necessary without being caused itself (1072b, 1-30). From here we move through chapters 9 and 10, where we find Aristotle trying to qualify what the nature of divine thought consists of. His opening up of the discussion starts with the tail end of chapter 8. Aristotle finds inspiration with the idea that the divine is not anthropomorphic and is better thought of as “the first substances to be gods” (1074b, 10). Aristotle continues with the idea that divine thought must be of a substance, it must also be “itself that thought thinks” (1074b, 34). This must mean that the kind of thought that the divine is, must contain thinking before thought thinks about things—the divine is thought (shades of Xenophanes’ divine). Aristotle also seems to discount the idea that this divine thought can be composite, since human thought is not necessarily composed of parts of thought. Divine thought must then be whole, and not a composite of thought units. In Chapter 10 Aristotle compares the good and the higher good (of the divine) to an army and the leader, respectively. This is a way of saying that the good depends on the higher good, and not the other way around. To suggest that order depends on the higher good suggests a telos to Aristotle’s divine, i.e.: order is informed by to good, to be what it is and what it will be. Another point Aristotle addresses has to do with the Pre-Socratic (probably Heraclitus) notion of contraries. Aristotle finds this view lacking in its lack of full explanatory evidence. There are other views Aristotle covers including Plato’s Forms, with a question of how real things (forms) actually participate with the Forms. Aristotle concludes later in the chapter that “the form and the thing are one” (1076a, 35). Characteristic of this move we find the Homeric quote at the end “the rule of the many is not good, let there be one ruler” (1076b, 5).

[1] Aristotle, Metaphysics from The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, n.d., 1692-1700.

want more than less


Aristotle wrote extensively on the art of persuasion. He easily makes the distinction that rhetoric is not the same as science. Rhetoric is not a scientific demonstration, and rhetoric typically does not try to persuade facts, since facts are understood without any persuasion needed. Aristotle definitively writes: “The function of Rhetoric, then, is to deal with things about which we deliberate, but for which we have no systematic rules […] we only deliberate about things which seem to admit of issuing in two ways […].” [1] He also named three appeals employed to persuade an audience to a particular point of view: pathos: emotion, ethos: character, and logos: logic.

Let’s briefly look to an example of low-brow rhetoric in use today, a bumper sticker. The message is: WANT LESS. The rhetoric is logically [2] implied as: one should curb spending, quell your hunger for material goods, get rid of your over consumption, etc. The assumed rational message targets a consumer, as it also suggests an ascetic ideal, implying that it’s better to be less desirous than to be overindulgent.

Want is a part of our lives. To ‘want less’ is to tacitly suggest that all wants are to be harnessed. Therefore, to be better people, we essentially need less wanting in our lives. A mixed message arises when we logically inquire about the quality vs. quantity of our wants. All wants are not worth reducing. For instance, should we want less out of our lives? Should we want less well being? These questions are answered with an emphatic NO! This quickly leads us the other side of the argument with worthwhile questions about our over/consumption. We can then look at how intrusive these basic wants of ours affect the lives of others we cannot see or know—e.g. how our purchasing power indirectly affects (potentially) exploited third-world laborers.

Logically speaking, want is not something we can get rid of, nor should it be lessened—in and of itself. What’s at stake here is for us to try to better understand our wants and desires, more than less. Only then can we begin to educate ourselves to continually prefer a broad range of wiser choices that progress rather than regress our basic fundamental urge to want more. Our new bumper sticker should then read: WANT MORE, a logical step from having less wisdom to wanting more wisdom.

Aurelio Madrid

want more

[1] Aristotle. The Art of Rhetoric (ΤΕΧΝΗ ΡΗΤΟΡΙΚΗ),trans. J.H. Freese, Cambridge: Harvard U. P., 1967, 1357b 12-13.

[2] The basic logic used for our rhetorical example is identified as an enthymeme. An enthymeme is closely related to a formal syllogism, with a part of its premises missing. The missing premise is to be assumed by the audience. Aristotle names an enthymeme as being closely related to the syllogism rhetorically rather than in a strict scientific logic—re: a ‘rhetorical syllogism’ persuades more with commonly held beliefs, rather than with scientific proofs.

thoughts on karma, cause & effect

mutual possesion of the ten worlds
mutual possesion of the ten worlds
the nine consciousnesses
the nine consciousnesses

(click on diagrams for a better view)

 Thoughts on Karma, Cause & Effect

Within Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism

 Although David Hume said that causation is the “cement of the universe,” I couldn’t use any of what he said on causality for this discussion (other than this little quote).  I also couldn’t talk about Aristotle’s views on causation, his four causes &c., although he did say that “all causes are beginnings…” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book V, Part 1). Both thinkers are not silent on the subject, & I am not suggesting that what they had to say on causality is valueless, but I did have to put them aside, since their brilliant theories (on causation) are ancillary to this month’s gosho: “Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution.” The Buddhist philosophers Daisaku Ikeda & Nichiren Daishonin are of complete relevance here & it is their thoughts I will focus on.

The word Renge in Nam Myoho Renge Kyo means lotus flower (in Sanskrit), it also signifies the concept of the simultaneity of cause & effect.  Simultaneity here suggests that by chanting Nam Myho Renge Kyo one can (with faith) access/cause one’s Buddha nature to be effected immediately.  We believe that we all contain (and can access) our own individual Buddha nature (enlightenment) & that by chanting Nam Myho Renge Kyo we will manifest it in our lives immediately.  The lotus seeds & blooms simultaneously, which is why it’s used as a metaphor for this concept.  The form of causality that is simultaneous is as I just described & it is also related to the concept of the 10 worlds, since (the theory is that) we inhabit all the 10 worlds at once (& we have mutual possession of the ten worlds) & are able to use the nine worlds to propel us to the tenth world of Buddhahood &/or enlightenment (by chanting Nam Myho Renge Kyo).  Non-simultaneous causality is also important here, because all the past actions we’ve taken (in life), (good or bad), are also inevitably contained & manifested in our present lives (karma) & on into our future lives.  The nine consciousnesses concept describes the Alaya (8th) consciousness as the karmic store-house: where all our past actions, thoughts, words (&c.) are stored as latent potential.  Karma might also be seen as an intermediary between cause & effect (in non-simultaneous cause & effect). Karma is where all our latent causes are waiting to be “effected” by some external stimuli in one’s life.  When we look into (note that it is said that karma is unconscious, but let’s say that we can look into) this store-house & rummage through our past causes, we are able to understand our present lives better, we are on the road to enlightenment, & we are enlightening our own lives, by doing so. 

Nichiren Daishonin quotes from The Contemplation on the Mind-Ground Sutra,” that states:

If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present.  And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present” (WND-1, 279).  

So, what does it mean to “lessen one’s karmic retribution?” Daisaku Ikeda writes:

Present effects are due to karmic causes from the past. However, future effects arise from the causes we make in the present. It is always the present that counts. It is what we do in the present moment that decides our future; our past causes do not govern our future as well. Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes that no matter what kind of karmic causes we have made in the past,[it is] through the causes we make in the present we can achieve a brilliant future.”

To face the problems of life with courage & faith is the goal of Buddhist practice, along with doing (& helping) others to do the same (in their lives).  We must see that as Nichiren says: “difficulties will arise, & these are to be looked at as ‘peaceful’ practices” (Nichiren Daishonin, The Record of Orally Transmitted Teachings p. 115).  When one decides to practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, one essentially commits to transforming one’s life, instead of accepting our “destiny,” then we can transform our karma with the Buddhahood that resides within us all.  Ikeda goes on to point out that this act of lessening one’s karmic retribution is at the heart of our practice. 

I also found this interesting distinction on cause & effect (in Living Buddhism March-April, 09, page 77):

“Nichiren refers to two kinds of Buddhist teachings, those that view things from the standpoint of ‘cause to effect’ & those that approach things from ‘effect to cause’” 

This idea/teaching suggests that instead of approaching the practice from a cause to effect position, as Shakyamuni taught to cause the effect of Buddhism; one should effect a cause of Buddhism (as encouraged by Nichiren).  This idea might be related to the (complicated) concept of True Cause & True Effect (two of the Three Mystic Principles, the third is True land):

“In one sense, how we approach life and our Buddhist practice depends on whether we have a perspective of ‘true effect’ or ‘true cause.’ A perspective of ‘true effect,’ only sees enlightenment, or happiness, a result of past causes. From the perspective of ‘true cause,’ enlightenment, or happiness, is an ever-present potential; the cause for bringing it forth can only be made right now, in the present moment. The moment we make the ‘true cause,’ enlightenment reveals itself.” (Jeff Kriger, SGI-USA Study Department vice Leader)

Let us effect the cause of Buddhism in our daily lives as imperfect as we are, as we suffer through our hardships, as we rise to challenge our past mistakes, as we join together to celebrate our victories & as we chant Nam Myho Renge Kyo.

 Aurelio Madrid

April 2009