The Story of Civilization: Political Elements – Law

“When to this natural basis of custom a supernatural sanction is added by religion, and the ways of one’s ancestors are also the will of the gods, then custom becomes stronger than law, and subtracts substantially from primitive freedom.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 26.
(“Execution of a Moroccan Jewess”, paint by Alfred Dehodencq, 1860. Sol Hachuel, 17, was decapitated by the false accusation of apostasy, that is, the resignation of her previous religion. Thirteen countries, even today, apply the death penalty for such “crime”. Yes, it’s 2019.)

SUMMARY: In the beginning, laws were customs, and man did not have individual rights, but with property, marriage and government, laws evolved, and the individual emerged.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 7: The Skepticism of the Sophists

“Gorgias, who was the perfect example of a 20th century skeptic transplanted into ancient Greece […] maintained three basic propositions: one, nothing exists; two, if anything existed, you couldn’t know it; three, if you could know it, you couldn’t communicate it. Now that is what you call skepticism.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 7.
(I don’t like modern art. But if we look hard, there might be something to learn from it. The steel sculpture “Protagoras”, by Charles Ginnever, could well be considered the concretization of a philosophic idea. The sculpture changes shape as viewers move around it, the play of light and shadow on its triangular forms giving life to the massive structure. “The senses deceive” I’d say is the message. But, now, try to imagine someone jumping from this malformed idea (because it’s not the senses that are wrong, but the concepts we generate from them) to the conclusion that nothing exists. Perhaps some of the federal judges working at the Burger building, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where “Protagoras” is installed, would like it to vanish. But to assert it never existed would be a bit farfetched. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what sophists like Protagoras and Gorgias did.)

The sophists have been branded throughout history as greedy and imoral teachers, but that’s polemics for a history course, or one on Plato and his obsession with them. Leonard Peikoff focuses instead on the ideas they put forth — even if their main idea is the negation of all ideas.

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Bound to the Wood

The “Shield of the Trinity” or Scutum Fidei (Latin for “shield of faith”).

Clement (150 – 215) and Origen (184 – 253) were the great exponents of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, the “Fathers of the Church” who initiated the Patristic period and were enormously influential in the formation of Christian doctrine and in the attempt of synthesis with the greco-roman philosophy.

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The Impossible Synthesis

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers”, by Michael Pacher (c. 1483).

Bertrand Russell, in his “History of Western Philosophy”, introduces the second part of the book by saying that the Middle Ages is the history of “growth and decay” of the Catholic synthesis. He knows so well what is being synthesized that he forgets to say it. But now, as I reread portions of the book, I know that the synthesis sought was between faith and reason. My “Medieval Philosophy” teacher thinks that it has been successful. I, for one, can not imagine where he got that idea from.

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The Story of Civilization: Political Elements – Origins of Government and the State

“Societies are ruled by two powers: in peace by the word, in crises by the sword; force is used only when indoctrination fails.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage“, page 22.
(Student waves a flag in Tiananmen Square, in Pequim, China, 1989. Such a “violent” protest generated retaliation from Deng Xiaoping’s government: it is estimated that more than 10,000 people were killed.)

SUMMARY: Man only associates with others for self-interest; it was war that stimulated a level of organization sufficient for the centralization of power into a government. The state is the result of conquest by force, of the substitution of kinship ties for domination, but is only maintained by the indoctrination of man, who allows himself to be indoctrinated — through family, church and school — to satisfy his interests.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 6: Atomism and the Death of Mind

“If there’s no such thing as a mind capable of observing evidence and reasoning according to the laws of logic, then every man’s conclusions express nothing but blind mechanistic reactions. Each man is then a machine — he’s a physical puppet guided by the laws of motion. […] He’s a little billiard ball system, in effect, rattling and quivering by mechanistic necessity.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 6.
(Materialism implies determinism, which, in turn, denies the mind. I wonder how a mind could have had the idea of denying itself. Original source of the image: Min Then.)

The Pythagoreans attempted to solve the problem raised by Heraclitus and Parmenides by postulating two worlds: one in constant flux, this world; and one eternal and immutable, the world of number. The Atomists attempted a very different reconciliation. In the process, they made possible the birth of modern science. They also caused the destruction of the mind.

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The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – Economic Organization

“It was a great moral improvement when men ceased to kill or eat their fellowmen, and merely made them slaves.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 20.
(A slave in Louisiana or Mississipi, 1863: in spite of slavery in Brasil “being over” for longer than in the USA, I can’t find any Public Domain images. I wonder why…)

SUMMARY: Agriculture has led to property, to inequality, to slavery, to industry, to class struggle, to the State; that is, to “civilization.”

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 5: Pythagoras and the World of Numbers

“…the crucial point is the vital importance of mathematics in discovering the laws of the world, in making sense of the universe […] modern science is in part a development of this discovery of the Pythagoreans.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 5.
(The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible. How crazy is that? I bet Drake would not have come up with that idea if it weren’t for the Pythagoreans. Original source: Kevin Gill; CC BY 2.0 / Desaturated from original)

So, Parmenides created a problem. The world was made of one single stuff but it appeared to change, while Logic asserted that was impossible. How to reconcile this in one single world? Well, you don’t. There are two worlds: the “world of appearances” here below, always changing and apprehended by the senses; the “real world” high above, immutable and hidden. And the real one, believe it or not, is made of numbers.

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The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – The Foundations of Industry

“Man, said Franklin, is a ‘tool-using’ animal.”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 12.
(A “knapper” from Irian Jaya, in West Papua, New Guinea: studies suggest that this kind of stone tool production skill was acquired by hominids at least 500 thousand years ago — and that also indicates the presence of some kind of language already at that time.)

SUMMARY: Beginning with the discovery of fire, man starts to build tools and produce more and more material goods and food, thus improving his living conditions. Initially, such improvement is given by the direct use of the goods; later, by the accumulation of wealth through the sale of surplus.

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The Story of Civilization: Economic Elements – From Hunting to Tillage

“The moment man begins to take thought of the morrow he passes out of the Garden of Eden into the vale of anxiety…”
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 6.
(Ju/’hoansi “bushmen” in Namibia: hunter-gatherers that, until today, live the moment and survive with fifteen weekly hours of work.)

SUMMARY: The discovery of agriculture by women frees man from hunting by providing a dependable supply of food, while the domestication of animals improves his life — man learns the concept of time and, with it, meets anxiety and begins to be human.

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