What did Hegel mean by "Rational"?

In answer to Quora question: "What did Hegel mean by "Rational"?"

IMO to understand what Hegel included in "rationality," you would have to decide a few things about how to interpret Hegel. For example:

1) Is Hegel's understanding of God or Spirit rational (in his own view, or as we would define "rational" today) as it pertains to his own metaphysics? Does it reflect non-rational presuppositions?

2) What does Hegel mean by "intellectual intuition" and what are his views regarding it (in contrast to or harmony with Kant and Fichte)? Similarly, what are Hegel's views about Kant's "intuitive intellect?"

3) Is Hegel's dialectic supersession analytical or immanent? Does it exist in itself, of itself, or as a projection of subjective thought?

4) How does Hegel relate individual, subjective consciousness to a) universal, pure consciousness, and b) ultimate spiritual reality (absolute knowledge)?

5) What does Hegel mean by "essence" or "real substance" or "ground" (and how does he routinely arrive here or contextualize these things), and what does he mean by "Wesen?"

Now there is certainly an easier way to answer to your question, and that would be to quote a passage where Hegel discusses the "rational," but by doing so we truncate a fuller appreciation:

"The development of the Idea is the proper activity of its rationality, and thinking, as something subjective, merely looks on at it without for its part adding to it any ingredient of its own. To consider a thing rationally means not to bring reason to bear on the object from the outside and so to tamper with it, but to find that the object is rational on its own account; here it is mind it its freedom, the culmination of self-conscious reason, which gives itself actuality and engenders itself as an existing world." (from the introduction to The Philosophy of Right.)

Since there is still debate about many of these issues - including the terms Hegel uses in the quote above - it is really for you to decide.

My 2 cents.

Immanuel Kant argues that it is always immoral to lie what is a situation where it would be immoral to tell the truth?

In answer to the Quora question: "Immanuel Kant argues that it is always immoral to lie what is a situation where it would be immoral to tell the truth?"

Thanks for the A2A.

I believe Kant would say that this perceived dilemma is grounded in conflating "the good" with "the right," that is, sidestepping categorical imperatives that have universal moral objectivity (i.e. "the right," or something which is intrinsically good without qualification) with hypothetical imperatives that are intrinsically subjective (i.e. "the good," or something which is situationally advantageous). Thus what one person perceives as good for themselves isn't necessarily the morally right thing to do, and the morally right thing to do does not always result in what is good for the person doing it; in this respect moral duty supersedes self-interest. As a result Kant felt a normative, rules-based system of ethics was achievable (in contrast to moral relativism, pragmatism, or consequentialism).

Initially, this kinds of makes sense, especially since the primary absolute in Kant's moral system was good will towards all of humanity, which could therefore be the basis of all law, and a reason for conformance to that law. Human beings are not just a means, he argued, they are an end in and of themselves. This principle is, in fact, reflected in much of the modern formation of law (consider that any conception of basic human rights or civil liberties captures this moral universality). So far so good.

Where his reasoning begins to break down, however, is in how Kant believed categorical imperatives should be derived. His persisting error was that "pure practical reason" was the only reliable method. And, as you have pointed out in your question, Kant's reliance on his own "pure practical reason" regarding lying led him to an untenable conclusion: that all lying was immoral. For him, there was no conceivable qualification, exception or variation to this conclusion. And that is clearly a problem, in that he did not consider values hierarchies in his calculations (as others who have posted answers in this thread - about hiding Jews from Nazis, for example - have demonstrated). This does not necessarily mean that pragmatism or relativism are correct, but that Kant had invested in a faulty method of discerning absolutes.

So while many people (including philosophers throughout history) would agree that there are moral absolutes, they might disagree about how to arrive at them - and with Kant's hyperrational and somewhat egotistical method of derivation. I myself am a fan of virtue ethics, but also agree that certain virtues are both universal and absolute, and that our values hierarchies must cascade down from those. In other words, that ethics cannot be inverted or situationalized for the convenience of self-interest or expediency, and that Kant's differentiation of "the right" and "the good" can and should still be supported. With some degree of irony it can be noted that Kant himself believed cultivating virtues that supported moral imperatives was extremely important - but he did not recognize that his own moral reasoning may have issued from precisely this same process. In any case, I hope I have adequately described how Kant could both be correct in some of his primary postulations, and mistaken in his secondary assumptions and applications.

My 2 cents.

Why does life involve solving so many problems? Why did the universe develop in such a way that we constantly have to be solving problems?

In answer to Quora question: "Why does life involve solving so many problems? Why did the universe develop in such a way that we constantly have to be solving problems?"

Thanks for the A2A.

Would you like a simple answer, or a complicated one? :-)

One really simple answer: Life on Earth - and within human societies and relationships - has always been this complex. We're just becoming more aware of it both individually and collectively.

One still relatively simple answer: No other species currently offers us competition for the same resources, nor do any of the environments on Earth currently present much difficulty for our survival. And yet we are biologically designed, in terms of evolutionary fitness, to compete with other species and survive in challenging environments. So what do we humans do? We create situations where we end up competing with ourselves and the complexity of our inventions to generate the same "environmental tensions" and inter-species competition that the natural world used to provide us. Without those tensions, after all, we would become bored, depressed, obsessive and compulsively self-destructive both as individuals and as a species.

One slightly more complex answer: Our consciousness is an awe-inspiring gift that we have yet to learn how to fully utilize or appreciate. In the meantime, we're doing some really cool stuff with that consciousness (the arts, philosophy, mathematics, deepening compassion, subtler and more nuanced insights, unconditional affection, big science, big questions, etc.) and some really nasty and unfortunate stuff with that consciousness (nuclear bombs, environmental destruction, hatred and conflict, black-and-white reasoning, control behaviors, over-stressed urban lifestyles, etc.). Over time, we will either learn how to de-energize the destructive uses of consciousness and expand its constructive uses, or we will irrevocably ruin our own planet and civilization. If we can achieve the former, perhaps this will mean that our gift of consciousness will contribute to the evolution of something much greater than ourselves.

I suspect that the most complete answer involves a portion of all of these ideas...combined with many more perspectives. In the meantime, we can at least acknowledge that how we use our consciousness has far-reaching impacts, and train ourselves toward the greatest good for the greatest majority for the greatest duration. Or not. We could also just hitch a ride on someone else's thought stream, or immerse our consciousness in the commercialistic spectacle that numbs us to our better selves.

My 2 cents.

Moral Development: What influences and drives moral development?

In answer to Quora question: "Moral Development: What influences and drives moral development?"

Thanks for the A2A Jeff. Great question as always. :-)

This is a complex question in my view, but here are some top-level "influences and drives" as I see them:

1) Societal expectations are a strong influence, and for someone wired to please others or who is driven to conform socially (as many of us are), this can become an internalized motivating force as well - for good or ill, depending on the culture in which we are immersed.

2) Family, peer and mentor modeling and programming are also a strong influence, and can likewise be internalized as a motivating force.

3) Prosocial tendencies, which according to a growing body of research appear to be evolutionary and genetically predisposed, will also drive and influence moral development.

4) Spiritual practices can both expose us to new strata of moral development, and experientially validate those strata. For example, practicing gratitude and generosity, or encountering peak experiences in meditation, or aiming to relinquish egoic selfhood in favor of more inclusive and compassionate being.

5) Multidimensional nourishment (that is, nurturing every aspect of our being in a balanced, harmonious way) has a profound influence on moral development because it creates a stable, safe foundation for each transition into a new, more sophisticated and unitive moral orientation.

6) Our closest relationships (with partners, family, children, etc.) tend to challenge us to advance morally - if they are healthy and constructive relationships! They can likewise impede our moral development if they aren't.

7) Personal experiences of both moral success and failure will, over time, help us understand where we operate in the moral spectrum, and where we might desire to operate, introducing new perspectives and goals.

8-) New memes that shift our moral sense up a notch can have a surprisingly robust influence. For example, the golden rule meme, the "pay it forward" meme, the mindfulness meme, the "judge not lest ye be judged" meme, the "an it harm none, do what thou wilt" meme and so on.

Ultimately, it seems to be the maturation of our own being across multiple dimensions - along with the expanding appreciation of our interconnectedness with all things and the felt sense of affectionate compassion accompanying that appreciation - which ultimately propels us toward higher, more inclusive and constructive moral imperatives. All of the "influences and drives" that I listed are merely doors into that process, or stepping stones within it.

My 2 cents.

Why do we care so much about people being real or authentic?

In answer to Quora question: "Why do we care so much about people being real or authentic?"

Thanks for the A2A.

In my view authenticity (or genuineness) is a moral as well as aesthetic characteristic, and is akin to integrity and transparency in contrast to attitudes and behaviors which deceive, or are synthetic and shallow, or are simply dishonest in emotional as well as intellectual and factual ways. Consider that there is emotional honesty, intellectual honesty, artistic honesty, factual honesty and even spiritual honesty, and all of these are valued both culturally and have proven to be prosocial traits that enable improved evolutionary fitness for us highly social and interdependent humans. Thus many spiritual traditions encourage us to find our True Self, just as our fellow artists will encourage us to find our authentic creative voice, and our closest friends and family (and any competent psychotherapist) will encourage us to be emotionally honest with ourselves and with them, and a well-educated person will expect us to be intellectually honest - adhering to certain guidelines of critical thought or scientific reasoning - when discussing complex topics. Thus if we avoid such authenticity we will be perceived as either superficial or a fraud - someone who does not really know what we are talking about, or who isn't in touch with our underlying emotions and motivations, or whose identity and persona are constructed from expedient social conventions rather than actual experience or a depth of self-awareness.

However, although authenticity is an almost universal spiritual, artistic, philosophical, therapeutic and scientific standard, it is certainly not a culturally universal standard. In some cultures, the ability to deceive other people is considered clever and valuable; just examine some of the folklore from around the globe, or the practices of advertising and marketing in Western capitalism, or the writings and practices of Gurdjieff and his followers, or the deceptions and dishonesty of everyone from politicians and televangelists to used car salesmen and people in bars who want to get laid. I would say that culture often persuades people to abandon authenticity and integrity so that they can achieve short-term "successes." In the long term, however, authenticity and integrity lead to a much deeper, more enduring and more profound relationships, and a much deeper, more enduring and more profound fullness of being.

From Psalm 7:
"Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends."

My 2 cents.

Can generosity be destructive?

In answer to Quora question: "Can generosity be destructive?"

Absolutely. If generosity is enabling or codependent in nature, or is compulsive, or instigated by guilt or fear, or does not skillfully calculate outcomes...really if it is not carefully, wisely and compassionately considered...then generosity can be extremely destructive. Some examples:

1) If I have given money to a homeless man out of reflexive guilt or sympathy, and he uses it to purchase recreational drugs or alcohol to satisfy a harmful and debilitating addiction, then my generosity was destructive. If, instead, I had given him some food, or perhaps an article of clothing if he was cold, or a hat to protect him from the sun, etc. then my giving might have been more skillful.

2) If I give money to a missing children's agency that is actually a scam (and not a legitimate charity) because I am too busy or don't care enough to investigate them, then I am being destructive by not making that money available to legitimate charities.

3) If I give money to a friend who has a compulsive gambling habit, I am enabling their self-destructive habit. If instead, I offered to pay the same amount for them to see a gambling addiction counselor, then my generosity would likely be far less destructive.

Essentially, when we are "generous" without fully appreciating the ramifications of our giving, then we can be destructive without even knowing it. This is why having ongoing relationships with those in need ends up being much more effective than giving blindly to anyone who asks.

Along these lines, I recommend reading this essay: Compassion and Codependence

My 2 cents.

How do you cope with the darkness of the world?

In answer to Quora question: https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-cope-with-the-darkness-of-the-world/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Assuming that by "darkness" you mean all that is negative, destructive, antagonistic or "evil" in the world, it seems as though we have a limited number of options...

1) Avoid differentiating between darkness and light, constructive and destructive, good and bad from a place of naive ignorance...so that we can envelop ourselves in denial and self-imposed moral paralyzation, otherwise remaining as passive as possible.

2) Rail against darkness, attempting to exorcise it from our lives and from the world, and aim to amplify the light in all of our thoughts and actions.

3) Honor and amplify the darkness itself, striving to exclude the light altogether, so that we become the devoted servant of the dark, acknowledging and embracing its important purpose in the great journey of being.

4) Accept the darkness as part of ourselves, without judgement, and begin to heal the impulses and patterns within that contribute to destructive, harmful and antagonistic outcomes, hoping to continually transform darkness into light.

5) Gain insight that perceives all darkness as containing light, and all light as containing darkness, so that the co-infusion and harmonization of both - and maintaining that balance over time - is the most constructive response.

6) Gain insight that darkness is just love trying unskillfully to be, and that the more we engage darkness with love, the more it can help it mature into the first glimmerings of light.

7) Abandon ourselves to the light stream of affectionate compassion, so that darkness becomes a mere shadow, a projection of things we do not understand as we pass by them, but which do not affect our course or the radiance of our liberated consciousness.

These were hurriedly composed and are likely incomplete, but I'm sure you get the idea. I believe your question invites a choice - one that we all must engage as we pass from childhood to adulthood, and one that keeps presenting itself in new ways as we continue to mature.

My 2 cents.

Why death? What's the point of it? How did it evolve?

In answer to Quora question: "Why death? What's the point of it? How did it evolve?"

Thanks for the A2A. The conventional evolutionary answer to this has been that, without older organisms dying off to make room for new organisms with improved fitness as a result of natural selection, and the amplification of this process over generations, a species would not be able to effectively adapt to changing environments or expand its avenues of survival. This answer seems to be further supported by our more recent understanding of epigenetics and how genes are expressed in a given organism (see Epigenetic Modifications Regulate Gene Expression), and how that genetic regulation gets passed on. Death is actually a very elegant stimulus, especially when coupled with consciousness, which can pass on non-genetic, fitness-improving information to the next generation as well. Hey...maybe that's why consciousness, tools and language evolved! Without death defining fitness (i.e. survival of the fittest), would there be a need for adaptive intelligence? "Death implored the evolution of consciousness, tools and language, so that adaptive behaviors could be conceived, remembered and communicated across generations of the species to enhance fitness. Instead, without the certain end to an organism, epigenetic mechanisms might have become so robust that consciousness, tools and language provided no distinct advantage." How about that for a quotable? :-)

My 2 cents.

Why do people keep getting more and more destructive and evil?

In answer to the Quora question: "Why do people keep getting more and more destructive and evil?"

Thanks for the A2A.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with how you stated your question - I think we humans are, as individuals, probably as "destructive and evil" in part, and as "compassionate and creative" in part, as we ever were. As an increasingly homogenized global culture and species, however, I could easily agree that we are collectively becoming more "destructive and evil," in terms of the scope of our impact en masse, and callousness and lack of compassion you describe at a societal level. I find this condition easily attributable to five central factors:

Exploitative, growth-dependent, highly commercialized corporate capitalism and its attendant consumerism. In service of this brand of capitalism, we have become conditioned to over-consume to the point of harming ourselves, each other and our environment. We have also become conditioned to care more about our own immediate gratification, and this arrests our development in an I/Me/Mine egocentric immaturity which, in turn, disconnects and isolates us from each other. This flavor of capitalism also rewards us for inverting our prosocial values and priorities, allowing material things, competitiveness and urgent acquisitiveness to have primacy over everything else (i.e. our other natural impulses like kindness, generosity, collaboration, compassion, self-sacrifice, etc. are suppressed or ignored).

Industry and technology. Our destructive capacity as a species - either intentionally or incidentally - has ballooned over the course of the industrial and technological revolutions. We simply have a lot more destructive power because of our new toys. These revolutions have also inherently separated us from any relationship with the natural world, so that many people have no concept at all of where their food, clothing or any other goods come from. So, in combination with factor #1, our actual destructive impact has accelerated, while at the same time we tend to care a lot less about that impact.

Increased urbanization. As people live in increasingly concentrated urban populations, the perceived and actual competition for the same limited resources becomes amplified, and, in combination with factors #1 and #2, this exacerbates both isolation from our fellow humans and separation from nature, and consequently reinforces our indifference to both our own destructiveness and the suffering it causes.

Information overload and accelerated change. The information revolution has produced far more information than human beings can parse in an orderly way, and the industrial and technological revolutions have exponentially expanded that deluge of information by accelerating the process whereby much information becomes less valuable or out-of-date, and ever more new information becomes the most important. Without a comprehensive, values-based filtering mechanism to help us evaluate new information, we simply can't cope with all of this. So many people will tend to revert to simplistic, black-and-white, tribalistic groupthink as a protective response; they will blindly follow the herd rather than thinking independently or critically. This, in turn, amplifies the I/Me/Mine impulses that undermine a broader social cohesion and the collective will to do the greatest good for everyone in a thoughtful, conscious and wisely compassionate way.

Increasing population. The more people their are, the more the first four factors are amplified, to the point where we have crossed a "tipping point" with respect to recovering harmony with the natural world and each other. I suspect we have a very rough patch ahead of us as a species.

In response to your last point, "why can we not do the same," we can. We can make a choice to escape the irrational thrall of consumption, to live simply, to actively care about the natural world and our fellow human beings, to not have children (or to raise them in a developing country where they will not contribute to the consumption and destruction cycles of developed economies), to advocate positive changes in political economy, technology and urban development, to evolve our moral consciousness beyond the I/Me/Mine reflexes of a toddler, to limit the quality and quantity of information we expose ourselves to, and to practice the prosocial traits that have created communally supportive human culture for millennia. We can exercise compassion, and we can influence positive change, and we can grow in wisdom - but of course it all begins with our own personal choices and the values and relationships we encourage in ourselves.

I hope this was helpful.

What are your favorite original thought experiments?

Answer to Quora question: What Are Your Favorite Original Thought Experiments?

I like Schrödinger's Cat and Einstein's "Chasing a Beam of Light," but I also have a few of my own creation. Here's one from my book The Vital Mystic:


Imagine a bubble of nothingness. Absolute nothingness. Not even a thought can penetrate this bubble. Not even an all-powerful Deity, for the non-space and non-time inside this bubble don’t even exist, and have never existed. It is, in fact, a nonexistence that preceded even our conception of it, in the moment before these sentences were written or read. Inside this bubble of nothingness lives a fellow named Fred. For my own entertainment, I like to imagine him wearing a burgundy sweater and gold wire glasses, sitting at an immense roll-top desk of some richly grained hardwood. Fred is humming to himself and thinking about the essence of his reality, as it flows in all directions around him; he does not perceive himself to be in a finite bubble at all. What to us is a non-concept of nonexistence is, in fact, Fred’s ever-expanding universe – albeit of “nothingness.” Taking a sip of hot chocolate, Fred imagines a realm that utterly contradicts his own: a realm of existence, complete with galaxies, spiritual forces, and and sapient beings. He even imagines you reading about him right now. But from Fred’s perspective, his own universe occupies everything that has meaning and reality for him, and all that exists for you and me is trapped within Fred’s bubble of rich – but objectively finite – imagination. Just as we view Fred as a negation of all that is for us, Fred views us as a negation of all that is not for him.

Then Fred moves on to other thoughts, and you yourself finish reading this description of Fred. Soon, both of you have pretty much forgotten about each other, but a question remains: what is the meaning of Fred to you? And what is the nature of everything in our Universe – everything that we can ever imagine or experience, even an all-encompassing, all-powerful Deity – to Fred? Clearly, with a shrug and another sip of hot chocolate, Fred can dismiss everything that we are, and all that we dream we are, as completely insignificant, just as we can easily dispense with everything that Fred imagines he is – Fred doesn’t exist, after all! This shows us how the contrast between our conception of reality and our direct experience of reality necessitates meaning, and how all meaning is therefore interdependent – that is, created by the context of one thing relating to another. This is not only true for the extreme dichotomy of existence and non-existence, but also for every subtle gradient of differentiation we perceive both in the external Universe, and in ourselves. Externally we differentiate a beautiful flower from a bothersome weed, a refreshing rain from an overwhelming deluge, a pleasant fragrance from a cloying stench, or an exciting adventure from a terrifying crisis. Internally we compare and contrast the inspiring flame of passion and the destructive heat of anger, overconfident knowledge and humble wisdom, a humorous observation and a demeaning jibe, a brilliant insight and deluded insanity. And with each choice to separate and evaluate what we encounter, we perpetually construct and support all of our most fundamental beliefs."

Thanks for the A2A.

Why is there so much violence in the world? What can be done to eliminate it?

From Quora discussion: "Why is there so much violence in the world? What can be done to eliminate it?"

There is a growing body of research that suggests that, historically, societies that developed in environments with consistently abundant resources, low human populations and little competition (i.e. few predators or other humans who invaded the area), tended to be less war-like or aggressive, with less evidence of violent tendencies and an equal valuation of the contributions of men, women and the elderly. Many of those cultures, however, did not remain peaceful when more aggressive populations migrated into their region, or when changes to their environment or their population density made resources less plentiful. So there seem to be gross correlations between population, resource availability and cultural valuations of physical strength and the skills of violence. These are broad generalizations, mind you, and there are plenty of exceptions and ways to interpret these correlations differently, but there is sufficient evidence over the course of human civilization to invite closer scrutiny and a few interesting hypotheses. Personally, I believe that we can - and in fact must - morally mature as individuals and as a global society, so that how we view property, wealth, status, work and so on becomes more cooperative and communally-oriented, and less competitive and individualistic. Capitalism will need to be replaced with more advanced political economies, human population will need to be stabilized or decreased, inequalities of influence, privilege and wealth will need to be diluted, and "us verses them" tribalistic groupthink will need to attenuate. I also think that, when the population on planet Earth has interbred enough that distinct racial traits are more universally distributed, the artificial boundaries of nation states and their accompanying nationalism will naturally begin to dissolve. It's a ways off, to be sure, but I can see how humans will learn to live peacefully with each other. Well, at least until the violent, predatory aliens arrive from outer space....

Habermas's distinction between ethics and morality

From Quora discussion "What is the real connotation of Habermas's distinction between ethics and morality?"

Hopefully someone with greater expertise can refine an answer, but my understanding of Habermas's differentiation goes something like this:

1) "Morals" are fundamental conceptions of what is universally good or right for all people; they are both intuitively understood and can be arrived at through rational discourse between any and all parties.

2) "Ethics" are pragmatic, facilitative rules that define efficacious choices within limited spheres of interaction (an institution with its own unique charter, a group with a shared ideology, a cooperative process that aims for specific outcomes, etc.). So such "ethics" will be framed by the cultural milieu of a given sphere.

For Habermas "morals" are universal, but "ethics" are situational - and in fact may contradict the ethics operating in another sphere.

I hope this was helpful.

Ayn Rand's Ethical Principles

From the Quora discussion "Was Ayn Rand's application of her ethical principles a reflection of their validity?"

Was L.Ron Hubbard's application of his ethical principles a reflection of their validity?

Scientific consensus at this point in time is that we humans develop our ethical compass through observation and imitation of the social behaviors of our family and social groups. Speculation over extant principles of moral behavior throughout much of human history has also been derived from observation and experience, and eventually the testing of those hypotheses using reason (in the case of Philosophy), controlled behavioral experiments (in the case of Psychology/Sociology), brain function in response to stimuli (such as fMRI in Neurology), and parallel correlations across different species (as in Evolutionary Biology). All of these approaches add to the cumulative, constantly revising soup that validates or invalidates a given perspective.

If we treat Ayn Rand's ethical speculations as entertainment - akin to say, reading an Ursula K. Le Guinn science fiction novel - then I would agree that there is no need to evaluate her embodiment of her proposed principles. In the same vein, if Ayn Rand had expressed her views with the same humility and intellectual openness as, say, Aristotle or Spinoza, then we might also be willing to cut her some slack regarding their implementation; although Aristotle and Spinoza seem honest and earnest about their views, a reader gets the impression that they are often just "thinking aloud," discussing an array of tentative conclusions from observations they have made, rather than employing the emphatic forcefulness of, say, a prophet or a politician.

But Ayn Rand was not humble - she instead tended toward the pedantic, self-aggrandizing and arrogant, and to a degree that she emulated the initiation of intellectual force of many prophets and politicians throughout history. And, similar to the way in which L.Ron Hubbard created a religion from his fantastical imaginings, Ayn Rand nurtured a devoted following of her speculations, which ultimately resulted in a cultish ideology mired in irrational groupthink - a cult of personality that relied more on charismatic authority than intellectual honesty if you will. In other words, a following that was not rational in its self-interest. So in Rand's case, unless we view her beliefs and works entirely as entertainment, then our natural tendency as human beings will be to contrast and compare the way she lived with the ideals she promoted, and from all accounts her life embodied incongruence and hypocrisy in this regard. And so, because this is how humans have "validated" professed beliefs over millennia, and how we continue to do this in the scientific age, in Rand's case we can't help but conclude that her application of professed principles clearly falls short of her ideals.

At the end of his life, Jean-Paul Sartre abandoned his writing and speculation, and committed himself to social action instead. He felt that his previous intellectualizations were a bourgeois preoccupation, a poor substitute for making a real difference in society. He even went so far as to decline a Nobel Prize for his writing, and instead lived simply and with a passionate commitment to humanitarian principles and activism. Why did he do this? I think because he intuitively recognized the point I have been arguing here: that to profess the validity of certain ideals, but not live them, is the surest way to damage the credibility (and viability) of those ideals. In this way integrity, credibility and viability are intimately connected.

My 2 cents.

Do Human Accomplishments have long-term meaning?

From the Quora question "Do human accomplishments have long-term meaning?"

Thanks for the A2A.

To answer your question I would separate “meaning” into three categories: 1) cascading consequences, 2) inherent cultural value, and 3) evolutionary significance.

In all of these categories, my suspicion is that we can’t ever really know for certain if human accomplishments will have enduring meaning. Our personal beliefs may inform some guesses on the matter, but we lack the perspective to have certainty. For example, as a species we are pretty inept at anticipating both intended and unintended consequences of human activities. Likewise, even the accomplishments that have enduring cultural value now may not have much value to humans in 10,000 years. And how can we know for certain which of our accomplishments will influence the evolution of our species or consciousness itself over the next millennia?

But this uncertainty does not negate the possibility of meaning propagating on its own, beyond the contexts we impose. For what if some TV broadcast from the 1950s has a profound impact on an alien culture millions of light years away (and therefore millions of years from now)? Or what if learning how to discipline our consciousness in certain ways will allow us to evolve into advanced beings, beings that can shape reality in ways that are beneficial to all life? What if what begins as human-engineered “artificial intelligence” becomes the dominant form of consciousness in our galaxy, for good or ill? Just because we can’t grasp the importance of our individual or collective choices in this moment does not mean they aren’t meaningful – again, we just may not know what that meaning is.

This is also relevant to “spiritual” or metaphysical matters. Although it seems many people would more readily accept personal belief as the basis for long-term spiritual consequences, as I see it the same would apply to all human accomplishments. Our experiences and the meaning we generate around those experiences are all cut from the same cloth – the pattern of our consciousness. Is that meaning “real?” If it becomes the context for our reality, how could it not be (at least for us)? So this is how many metaphysical perspectives would frame the answer to accomplishment and meaning, implying a more intimate relationship between mind and matter than mainstream scientism currently embraces.

For me all of this converges on a central theme: the importance of our intentionality. If we decide our accomplishments should have meaning, if we want our choices to have positive consequences, if we believe contributing something that has cultural value is important, and if we aim to impact the evolution of our consciousness and our species in positive ways, then cultivating a guiding intentionality seems crucial. In my own praxis, that intentionality is defined by the greatest good for the greatest number for the greatest duration - "the good of All" if you will. And of course what that looks like is constantly evolving as I continue to learn, grow and (hopefully) incrementally increase in wisdom, but it is grounded in a felt experience of compassionate affection for both the mystery and mundanity of existence. For me, the basis for all meaningful action is love - and more specifically agape (benevolence, kindness, charity, love-in-action) as driven by that felt experience of compassionate affection. Is this just one more self-justifying belief? One more avenue to meaning-making? Of course it is, but acknowledging that does not dilute its effectiveness as a guiding intentionality. In this way courage and doubt, humility and confidence, creativity and existential angst - all of these can all peacefully coexist in subordination to love.

A couple of final thoughts…You may be interested in the approaches to this question offered by Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) and Joseph Campbell (Transformation of Myth Through Time). Both of their works touch on the pragmatic significance of human meaning-making.

I hope this was helpful.

Non-Recursive Definition of "Truth"

In Response to Quora Question: "Can anybody provide a non-recursive definition of "truth?" If not, does that mean truth is nonsensical?"

Many humble, thoughtful and insightful folks have taken a crack at this question over the centuries and come up empty-handed, so you may be in good company there.

My take is that you can approach truth from any one of the positions below, and, given the context and desired outcome, one or more may have utility for you. Will they provide some escape from a recursive or self-referential trap? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. I suppose you'll just have to try them out and see for yourself.

1) Functional, pragmatic, empirical "truths" can be operationalized so that no matter how often those operations are repeated, and (almost) no matter what perspective an observer of those operations maintains, the outcomes remain consistent. In other words, they can be tested and verified by (almost) anyone.

2) Intersubjective "truths" are those that are actively or tacitly emerge within a collective as the shared thought field of that collective - its operational beliefs - and thus the quality and veracity of those truths will depend on the quality of evaluative discernment and breadth of shared experience the members of that collective possess. This can be an extremely useful concept in plotting an evolving course for "truth."

3) Integral "truths" are observations, conditions, projections, propositions and so forth that agree with a constantly expanding noosphere of all-inclusive, multidimensional information. And when I say "agree" what I really mean is that they resolve the multidialectical tensions of all perspectives into a virtual trajectory where the greatest agreement among the greatest number has the greatest probability.

4) Intuitive "truths" include a felt sense of knowing, without understanding how we know. It is sad that these are so often excluded from our map to "truth," since they offer great utility, especially in combination with the other approaches here.

5) Mystical truths, which a number of the other comments have touched upon, are the result of disciplined practices that allow us to encounter highly abstracted principles that - although they may be ineffable - override and transcend all other experiences of "truth." They simply are, and their "rightness," no matter how difficult or contradictory to the truths encountered in our other modes of consciousness, is inescapable.

Now...with all this said, there remains the inherent fallibility of the human mind and its functions - our perceptive and reasoning capacities are rather flawed in this regard. Which means, I think, that we should approach questions like "what is truth?" with both great courage and persisting doubt.

I hope this was helpful.

Faith and Methodology

In Response to Quora Question: "Is faith, as a methodology, good, bad, or indifferent? Please include how you define faith."

Thanks for the A2A. Faith, as the primary component of predictive confidence, is central to all human behavior. None of us can operate effectively without faith, because (if we are being intellectually honest) we know that humans are fallible critters with perceptions, understandings and abilities that are malformed or incomplete - regardless of our methodological rigor. The question is simply where our locus of faith resides and how it is synthesized and maintained over time. Along these lines there appears to be a spectrum of faith, where at one end we have rigid, reactive, exclusive, dogmatic, tribalistic and self-protective faith, and at the other we have more nuanced, self-critical, intuitive, openly inclusive and perpetually evolving and adaptive faith. So as a component of any methodology, faith that tends toward what we might call the critical-intuitive-inclusive end of the spectrum would seem productive and beneficial, but faith that tends toward the dogmatic-protective-exclusive end of the spectrum would seem to cripple methodological efficacy. But faith, as predictive confidence, is going to be inherent to almost any methodology...even when someone claims that it isn't. So, to my mind, it would seem wisest to consciously refine where in the spectrum of faith we would like to operate. My 2 cents.

Proposed Stages in Reinventing Society

In Response to the Quora Question: "Any idea on how to reinvent human society?"

Thanks for the A2A. This has been a central topic of my writing and thinking for almost as long as I have been writing and thinking. I will try to summarize my take on your question, but will probably need to point you in the direction of some in-depth explorations for a more complete answer. So here goes...

1) I believe the first stage of reinvention requires individual and collective moral maturity (i.e. what is most prosocially beneficial for the greatest number). Without becoming more sophisticated, inclusive and compassionate in our moral valuations of self, human interactions, natural systems, etc. we will tend to return to previous modes like the ones our society operates in now, many of which are grounded in moral immaturity.

2) As a second stage we would need to propose a cohesive and detailed vision of new cultural institutions, processes and structures that echo this morally advanced values hierarchy. This includes new forms of government, economy, education and so on.

3) In the third stage of reinvention, we would need to de-energize existing cultural institutions, processes and structures so that they can be transitioned or abandoned. This will likely entail a certain level of disruption and destabilization, but using methods that likewise reflect our new moral orientations, avoiding regressive methods upon which past "revolutionaries" have frequently relied.

4) The fourth stage involves establishing and energizing the new, more advanced cultural institutions, processes and structures. This will demand a lot of experimentation, regional variation, continuous adjustment, and careful metrics and self-awareness to assess success.

5) The fifth stage is stabilization of reinvented society as it takes a more formal shape, while still allowing for variations and ongoing adjustment and evolution.

6) Concurrent with all of these stages - and with the aim of ongoing stabilization into the future - we must develop effective methods of neutralizing morally regressive memes; methods that, once again, align with advanced moral valuations. Primarily this will mean constantly returning to stage one in a disciplined and conscious way, so that not only does devolution into antisocial traits and structures have clearly and widely understood collective consequences, but the benefits of choosing ongoing personal and collective moral evolution are equally clearly and widely understood to be more attractive and persuasive.

As for developing these ideas, many others have written about aspects of each stage (though perhaps not referring to them the way I have here), and I reference many of those thinkers in my own work. Here is some of my writing intended to address some of these stages:

Stage One: True Love: Integral Lifework Theory & Practice, "Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism" (essay), "Functional Intelligence" (essay)

Stage Two: True Love, and Political Economy and the Unitive Principle

Stage Three: "Escaping the Failures of Capitalism" (essay)

Stages Four, Five & Six have not been fully developed in any of my writing...but I hope to address these in future work.

I hope this was helpful.