|| Date: 19-07-22 || Back to index ||
|| Tag: book-summary ||
|| Author: Kenan Malik ||
Book cover

The Quest for a Moral Compass

On the Capriciousness of Gods and Fate of Men

Helen manipulated but still accepting. Hector walked into single combat knowing that he will die, still accepting the hand of fate

There was a different air of how things were portrayed long days gone. Humans were destined by powers they could not control. They called those powers Gods and made myths about them. The good life, “Agathos”, a word that was mentioned by the Old Man Nestor to King Agamemnon, meant the “Good Life”, “Morality” and “Standing in Society”. That word was tied to one’s social status and moral status. It was basically how one says “This is the way things are”. It was inclusive since a brave fighter can reach this level. The role of a person in there was to accept their fate, just like Helen did when she went to bed with Paris, a man she despises. Similarly, Hector went to single combat with a demigod, Achilles, knowing that he will die but he accepted his fate with honor and dignity. King Agamemnon yelled that he was not to blame for the Trojan Wars since he was “Blinded by the Gods” and it was not his fault.

David Olson, a psychologist who wrote World on Paper, said that those characters never used the words “decided” or it’s synonyms since they did not really have an inner life, but dramatized one.

The Orestia and the rise of democratic Athens

The Orestia, an epic taking place right after Homer’s work by Aeschylus, talks of certain wrathful creatures called the Furies that would hunt down a victim that committed a cardinal sin: the killing of kindred blood, his mother. Those Furies could very well represent the old order of Homer’s world. Orestia sought, however, justice at the temple of Athena which gave him a trial by 12 of his peers and they have decided that he is an innocent man and that the Furies shall not kill him. The Furies were later enjoined as citizens of Athens and they were commanded the best of respect.

This is crucial, it means that 800 years after Homer’s work was done, the values of his day were not nuked, “despised” and a considered “a speck from the past”; they were enjoined to form a “better” world that fits this day.

On Human Flourishing

The Stoic notion of suicide

The stoics believed that a life where one cannot continue to live and serve his life as a virtuous human being is a life that always has the option to retire itself. “I will be the master of the path I take”, said the Roman statesman Cato when his treacherous opponent Julius Ceasar took the throne and he knew that he cannot stop him. He had dinner with his friends, read a part of Plato’s work and then asked for a sword to disembowel himself. When the doctor tried to help, he rends himself even deeper and fell to his death.

Universal Humanity and Concentric Circles

The second-generation Stoic philosopher Heirocles believed that a Stoic would always regard all humans as brothers and sisters, not separated by state, creed or nation. One must put himself as the center of a series of concentric circles. At the very center is one’s self. Outside of that lies one’s family and close friends. Outside of that lies one’s relatives and distant acquaintances, and so on and so forth.

Epicurean Untroubled Existence

The notion of Epicureans is to always have an “untroubled existence”. The less one does, the more they can have

“empty are the words of a philosopher that does not provide a remedy to human suffering” - Epicurean

“Virtue Theory”

The ancient Greeks were labeled to have created “Virtue Theory”: how would a person behave and act in accordance with their community. How one would focus on enhancing their own character and weigh things based on their own practical wisdom and not betray it.

One of the pillars for this theory is Artistotle’s “Eudaimonia”: the supreme good that one can attain if they practice practical wisdom (phronesis) in their everyday life, enhance their moral character. It is basically the Flourishing of one’s own soul to achieve a higher class of existence than the one they had previously.

Speaking of Phronesis: it is the unexplained practical wisdom that stems from one’s own experiences. It is the knowledge of how to entertain the virtues and know to which end to take them; when to be angry and when to be sad and when to be courageous and when to be empathetic and when to be detached.

“The good exists in many forms, so there is no universal single good - The good is whatever one aims at” - Aristotle

Heaven and Hell


And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’”This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. – Exodus 3:5->16

Ends and means as terms of defining and following morality

The author mentions that morality can be defined in terms of ends and means to what it entails

“God said so” was the innovation of the monotheistic religions “The means for the Greeks were to live a virtuous life. The ends differed: Homer had glory and honor. Plato had justice. Aristotle had happiness and eudaimonia” The ends also differed in the Hellenistic period. One that was fragmented after the death of Alexander the Great. Social life was fraught and the people turned into the ones that resembled most what one could call a “pseudo-religion”: a set of rules to give you rule-bound means and ends of morality and how to live one’s own life"

The author says that the Monotheistic religions had books like Deuteronomy which says “Follow or I, the Universe, will kill you”. It did not allow too much room for discovery and leniency. Most of the commands there took the form of orders rather than weave a story and drama.

“Mythos gave way to Logos, poetry to theology, allegory to orthodoxy”

Story of Jesus

He was born in Bethlehem, to Joseph the Carpenter and Mary. He was a deeply charismatic man who took 12 Jews from Galilee to be his loyal “apostles”. He loved the Jewish scriptures and preached them to whomever he saw. He went to Jerusalem to attend a ceremony, he and his followers. Crowds immediately recognized him as the savior of mankind and flocked around him. The Roman guards saw that at and heard him call himself the Son of God and immediately persecuted him, ordered his crucifixion in between two thieves. Crucifixion was a common way to persecute people back then.

Jesus, like Socrates, wrote nothing and all we know is what his apostles tell of him. There is even little to know about what was his exact charge and who took it out and who persecuted him.

Story of Paul

He was born as Saul. He had a deep hostility to the followers of Jesus. One day, on his travels from Jerusalem to Damascus, he had a vision of Jesus. “Saul, Saul why persecutest thou me?” Saul heard from the deep echoes of the desert and he fell mad for three days. Afterward, he changed his name to Paul and became one of the leading figures in Christianity.

One of the issues on the table during his time was “How could a religion so pure and a God so merciful allow for the Messiah of Mankind to be flogged and hung in this bestial manner?” Paul’s answer was that Jesus was willing to die and be hung in this manner to atone for all human sins, past, present, and future, just like, in the past, the blood of bulls and calves was sacrificed in the temples to “purify the flesh” and “appease the gods”, so was the “eternal redemption and sacrifice” of Jesus, the most beloved of all God’s creatures, was made to atone for all human sins.

Christianity and it’s issued with “Reason” or “Faith”

“The one thing one cannot say is that Jesus was a great moral teacher but I don’t accept his claim to be God,” said C.S Lewis, a very famous Christian writer.

There is this issue with Christianity, starting from St. Augustine, that Christianity must always exist with “Faith” rather than “Reason”

St. Augustine was a deeply learned man, starting from his earlier tendencies for Manichaeism: a dualistic Persian religion that focused on Evil being in the body and Good being in the spirit, locked in an eternal fight together. His next influence came from Neoplatonism, which preached that the Platonic Cosmology is a true and very real thing, in which sits at the top of it “The One”; a perfect and supreme entity that is above all material beings, contained no divisions or distinctions, is self-caused and absolutely “good”.

St. Augustine was the connection between Greek philosophy and Christianity. It was not a very good connection since his answer was to preach for “Authority, supremity of the strong towards the weak and faith above all, especially, reason”.

There was a discussion between him and Pelagius, a Welsh monk, during the 5th century in which Pelagius preached that reason and free will would act in accordance with the transcendent and that humans are not inherently depraved and the only way forward is a guilt-ridden notion of human nature. Pelagius’s argument was also that humans can achieve grace independently of God’s grace and only through their own acts of goodness and exercise of reason and free will. His was a very Aristotelian view of the world.

Augustine won the argument and ordered the expulsion of Pelagius and all his followers, to which we never heard from them again.


Random Recall until section 3

Hinduism recalls an epic battle between two armies where one of them won and the other was forced to surrender. There were Gods and Heroes and that battle. The battle, along with the stories of the gods and heroes, were encapsulated in a large book called the Mahabatama. That one is not just a religious text but an entire philosophy and theology. It is three times as big as all of Homer’s work.

One of the ideas discussed in the books is the goals one should attain in their life: Duty, Pleasure, Enlightenment (Moksha) and one more.

The opposite of Moksha and the only goal that has an opposite is Maya; the cosmic “decaying” power which makes everything fade away. It is basically “time”. This is the power where talents fade away, bodies whether, relationships harden, and things eventually return to their natural state when they run a full circle. One must recognize that cosmic power and it’s effect to achieve enlightenment.

Another idea is that the self and the universe is actually one and the same.

The Hinduists answers to “Why bad things happen to good people?” is that whatever happens, happens because of “Karma”: the eternal dynamic scale that shifts to the right or left to balance out whatever happened in one’s collection of lives. If one is suffering now, it might be because they did something bad in a previous life and the scales are balancing themselves out.

The view from the Mountains

The Focus of Chinese Philosophy and comparing it with Greek’s

Fung yu Lan, a famous Chinese philosopher, who tried to bridge the world of Chinese philosophy and Greek’s says that the Greeks enjoyed a maritime civilization where they had communications with the outside world in abundance. The Chinese were restricted by geography which served them to focus more on practical and pragmatic approaches to how one should live their lives and organize themselves around society (ethics) rather than metaphysical questions. “All Chinese philosophers are different shades of Socrates,” a critic on Chinese philosophy once said, Lawrence Yu.

Another important factor in Chinese philosophy is language. The Greeks enjoyed a language that aided themselves to arguments and pondering questions regarding the nature of things and how they logically relate to one another. Chinese languages, on the other hand, are symbolic, suggestive and do not merit themselves to such clear distinctions between noun, verb, adverb, adjective, or even singular and plural. This is why one can say that Chinese is a great language for poetry but not so much for logical and dialectic arguments.

Kongzian’s Ren and Li

Kongzian, most famously known in the West as Confucius, lived in the 550 BCE in Zho, a province of Lu in the eastern seaboard. He was born at a time when the Zhou dynasty was enflamed in a fight with the fiefdoms and outside the Zhou dynasty. He was born in almost a complete state of anarchy.

Most of his time was spent as a petty official. Later on, he became a teacher and begot almost 3000 followers. He wrote a lot and his students learned and interpreted his works.

Kong’s focus was mainly on two factors which lent themselves to two principles. The factors were Ren and Li.

Ren could very much be translated to mean Aristotle’s “Agape”, Kant’s “Goodwill”, or the Christian “Love”. It is an encompassing emotion to contain the “humaneness” one would feel towards their neighbors and fellow humans.

Li is ritual and tradition. Kong gave the following examples

If one is courteous but does without ritual, then one dissipates one’s energy. If one is cautious but does without ritual, then one becomes timid If one is bold but does without ritual, then one becomes reckless If one is forthright but does without ritual, then one becomes rude – Analects, Confucius

Ren and Li would lend themselves to Yin and Yang: the attracting opposites of order and chaos.

It is important to make the following derivations from Ren and Li:

Later on, many Chinese philosophers would interpret what Kongzian say in many ways and to fit different social structures. Mo Tzu, for example, did not restrict the concepts of Ren to only encompass family and friends and neighbors, but all fellow humans one would encounter in as high of a quantity as it could.

Mo Tzu’s Philosophy and Confucius acceptance

One man had one view two people had two views Ten people had ten views the more men the more views Moreover, each man believed that he was right and disapproved of others They could not live in harmony They resorted to fire, water, and poison to destroy each other – Mo Tzu

Mo criticized Kongzian for having fetishized tradition to the extent it went to. His philosophy was more pragmatic and a tad bit authoritarian. He preached that one must live to a unified moral ideal where all humans were put no higher than others in rate or virtue.

Kongzian’s philosophy has seen a lot more acceptance in mainstream China, however. It helped train government officials to the “proper” way and its conservatism has seen the good political appeal. It would remain to be the official religion for more than two millenniums. It received a good amount of reformation in the form of “Neo-Confucianism”, but remained, nonetheless, the same.

Invasion of Buddhism & Daoism

Buddhism, weirdly enough, did not get introduced to the China mainland through its Indian originators, but through Silk Road trades from South East Asia and China. It was introduced around the first century BCE and spread like wildfire. The form of Buddhism, Mahayana, that dominated revolved around achieving Nirvana– the eternal enlightenment– by compassionate acts as much as wisdom and meditation. One does not need to enter the monkhood to achieve so.

Around the same time, a new form of philosophy enters the stage: Daoism, which had existed in one form or another for many years. The ideas of Daoism are around letting nature take it’s complete and natural course without any intervention from one’s side. Any intervention would be considered a breakage of Nature’s order. The unexamined life is very much worth living, and it’s the only way to do so in Daoism.

The two major works about Daoism was written by Lao Tzu: a semi-mythical character that wrote the first canons by 6th century BCE. The second major work was by Chuang Tzu, a historical character that lived and preached the same form of Daoism as did Lao Tzu.

To name the Dao is to miss the Dao To address the Dao is to miss the Dao

Reason and Revelation

Arabic Translations of major Greek works

Around the 8th to 10th century, Arabia had gone through a major literary translation movement of mostly Greek and Latin works. There came to be a schism between two schools of thought: the traditionalists and the rationalists.

The Rationalists and the Traditionalists

The rationalists, the Failasufs, were influenced heavily by the works of the Plato and Aristotle. They had the idea that there’s nothing in Islamic tradition that could not be understood rationally. The questions posed by the Greeks of old have a perfectly logical and rational explanation that echoed the spirit of the Quran.

The traditionalists had a very different train of thought and they insisted that rationalism, falsafa, was a corrupting influence that burrows deep into society. Their natural response was “Bila Kefaya” – “Don’t ask”

The rationalists had to face down a debate that occurred long ago in Plato’s Euthyphro: either virtues are arbitrary but divinely defined or they exist independently of divinity. The idea of a rational morality and a rational God pulled the rationalists from the seems.

One of the leading figures of the rationalist movement was Ibn Rushd. He was even portrayed in Dante’s Inferno as stuck in Limbo, not in hell, because of the amazing contributions he made to society and the world in his Greek translations and commentaries. He posited the idea that one can arrive to God through pure rationalism. Scripture only exists to help the “uneducated remaining masses”.

The exact opposite end of the rationalist spectrum bled into the nihilist regime: Abul Ala Al-Maari:

They all err – Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians: Humanity follows two world-wide sects: One, man intelligent without religion, The second, religious without intellect – Abul Ala Al-Maari (Taken from Nicholson’s Literary history of the Arabs)

Traditions come from the past, of high import if they are True; Ay, but weak is the chain of those who warrant their truth, Consult thy reason and let perdition take others all; Of all the conference Reason best will counsel and guide

He was a man with a deep registration to the idea of rationalism, not authority or tradition. He had a great belief in the sanctity of life that almost resembles a Stoic view of the world and Nature.

One can easily register themselves to be a “Modern, Secular Humanist” in today’s world of technological, economic, political, and social human-driven progress. It was a lot harder in tenth-century Arabia when everyone you look at would conform to a specific, conservative mindset. Those early Arabian rationalists had a harking for a non-religious truth but could only find it in the works of the early Greeks and Latin thinkers who are now hunted down, prosecuted and killed during a pseudo-inquisition that occurred during the period of Caliph Al-ma’mun (titled Al Mihna). What could those thinkers do was subscribe to whatever school of thought they could, stare down the darkness, alone, and face the consequences of living without scripture or divine providence?

Not too long after that, Al-Ghazali, one of the leading Ulema of his time, published a book called “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” in which he brought down a rebukation of all rationalist arguments and declared those who do not conform to the ideas of:

As a heretic that should be prosecuted and punished.

P.S: None of those folks declared themselves as either true “Traditionalists” or true “Rationalists”. Those terms came afterward by historians. They did, however, subscribe to the term of “Falsafa” and “Failasufs”

Passion and Responsibility

David Hume wrote his first book, Treatise on Human Nature, around 1738. He was the one to posit the idea that an ought can be derived from an is: a value or ethics can be derived from a fact of life, or, in this case, human nature.

He said that human thinking tends to oscillate in the direction of two thinks: - The tendency to think in patterns: the sun rose yesterday so it would most probably rise tomorrow as well - The tendency to think in cause-and-effect: there “must” be a reason why someone killed that person

His philosophy is about the idea that human beings recognize morality in terms of virtues and vices. A virtue is whatever arouses approval and vice is whatever arouses disapproval. Some virtues are universal, or “classical”, such as generosity, benevolence, clemency, moderation. Some are “artificial”. This means that they came to humanity because of an outside reason. In the case of justice, it came from the lack of resources that society faced when the population increased.

Kant’s arguments appended to Hume’s. His idea was that Empiricism (only things that one can observe are true) and Rationalism (only things that are argued by logic are true) can come to a halting crash since they are both true to an extent but, put together, they are doomed. He rejected the idea that morality came from “somewhere out there” but it all came from humans, the moral agents.

The counter-argument to Kant during the 19th century was Utilitarianism: the idea that morality can be argued in terms of how many people would benefit from it, rather than by any deep moral “divinity” that exists in any human.

the Challenge of History

Socrates pretty much drained all arguments about Piety from Euthyphro. Issue (is it an issue?) is that he didn’t replace the argument with anything. Ever.

Plato, the writer, cut the conversation short by having Euthyphro leave mid-way.

Socrates did, however, make an important point he wanted to pursue: that knowledge of love and goodness has an objective nature to it and that it exists despite the love of Gods and independent from them.

Plato’s Republic The idea behind Plato’s Republic stems from Socrates, the hero of the story he’s about to tell. Socrates goes into a conversation with Thrasymachus, a cynic that professes that “all justice is the rule of the higher in power over the ones who don’t have it” and that “all one has to do is to look out for their own skin”.

Plato responded that there are societies one can model a perfect and Utopian“Republic” that is unaffected by such individualistic self-interest. It would even harm oneself to do that.

Such model society would look like Sparta; a timocracy, where the state is headed by the military and it would only care for what would empower the military. Mass enslavement is totally okay since it would give the prisoners “time for unaffected asceticism”. All the soldiers are imbued with a sense of honor and the common people are born into their role to enrich the state.

Plato’s model republic would contain 3 classes: - Commoners: driven by base desires - Soldiers: driven by a sense of honor - philosopher Kings: embued and trained by the dictum of reason.

From the above, Sparta is the model society but it lacks the ruling of reason over honor.

Furthermore, Plato added that a healthy soul is one the has a balance between all three desires: base, honor and Piety, and reason

The presocratic thinkers had the only misfortune to be born before Socrates, which had set their place in history as the ones that led to the thinking of the man who understands and preached human morality.

Many of those thinkers tried to use earthly reasons to describe the world around them rather than rely on, as homer did, on divine intervention and workings to explain the world. One of those thinkers was Herodotus who mentioned that the differences between different people come from the differences in their environment and surroundings rather than from what the heavenly bodies bestowed upon them

On Descartes

Descartes discussed two elements: the self as a defining feature of a human being. The second is how nature is connected to humans as a machine is connected to its an individual part. Nothing enchanting about it or mystical.

This was the age, in the 17th and 18th century, when Christiaendome was undergoing a holy war and Europe was torn asunder. It was an age of moral skepticism, of market growth, of exploration and adventure (Magellan, Columbus and the rest). Descartes found himself interpreting a world where one can see himself, alone, by himself, rather than with a community or tribe.

Thomas Hobbs was pretty active in the 1600s. Hobbs was an interesting man. He had the idea that all-natural human state was chaos and impoverishment. He also talked about how a “social contract” and a “what am I getting out of this?” The mentality is how one should organize a society.

Most humans are equal in terms of body ability and thinking capability. There are relative differences and outliers but, as a collective, we’re pretty similar. We also have very similar needs and goals. This means that there is no possible way we can ‘play’ the game together without killing each other.

His second idea was that society was composed of the individuals, which means that the players dictate the game, not that the game has any rules apart from the ones the participants agree to play with. Such needs and aims can arise usually from base human values like fear of death and a yearning towards comfort.

Baruch Spinoza’s world view followed Descartes’ mechanical nature but he had a scary twist to it: the world is broken and full of human necessities. You have to play the game that is rigged and nothing good would come out of it but there is no other way to play the game. Virtue and beauty come from ‘suffering gracefully’ under the shroud or necessities rather than wallow in the impotence of the impossible, that lies outside the capabilities of human will.

Kant had a visit from his physician. He got up, made him tea, and refused to sit down until the doctor says down. The only problem was that Kant was on his death bed and could barely hold objects at this point. “Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen”, he said.

On Hegel and the Phenomenology of the Spirit

Hegel was active in the late 18th century. His ideas revolve around the opinion that human beings are not born self-conscious and ready to be used ‘out-of-the-box’, but have to be “made” into self-conscious, self-realizing human beings through a process of “thesis” -> “antithesis” where all the contradictions of the spirit manifest themselves in a heightened form. And finally -> “Synthesis” where a meeting of the opposites adjourn and a better understanding of how to move forward is achieved.

Hegel thought that the Reformation was a great extra touch that would illuminate a schism between the imperfect self in the ‘real’ side of traditional religions and the ‘spiritual’ side of traditional religions. Illuminating this schism would hopefully throw away the broken baggage of traditionalism and reach a better human state.

I become conscious of my self as I become conscious of others and my relationships with them. Humans are not individuals who become social but social beings whose individuality emerges through the bonds they create with each other… In which ‘the spirit’ achieved self-realization

Death of God and Declarations of War

Dostoyevsky everything is permitted - Christianity itself destroyed morality - false spirituality Inferior values prevented into that of the superior - starting with Socrates

The author started talking about Nietzsche. Born in 1844 to a devout Protestant family with a long line of Lutheran pastors. He rebelled and became a professor of Philology at the age of 24.

He suffered a mental breakdown around 1889 and died in 1900.

Mr. Nietzsche’s idea is that God is dead and the code of morality that his time had preached had decimated. It started with Socrates and Socratic thought, that stopped preaching and glorifying the Gods and human instinct and being driven by the Spirit of The Olympians and, instead, is driven by reason, dialectic, and logic, which he considered like grabbing a sword without a hilt: eventually, it will cut through the holder.

To Nietzsche’s eyes, Socrates shot the first arrow towards morality, which progressed with Aristotle and Greek thought and their embrace of reason and tunneled through to the Jews and Christianity.

“The Jews have made an awe-inspiring contradiction come true: good=true=Noble=Beauty=Loved by God turned into”The wretched alone will inherit the earth and are Good while the powerful and the Noble are the accursed, the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity, the unblessed, accursed and damned"

The Christian values and “After Life” morality led to a false spirituality was a false God with a broken set of codes was being followed and overturned the true meaning of the story.

Anguish of Freedom

Kierkegaard was born in 1813, beginning of the 19th century. His philosophy centered around bringing the ideas of understanding religion in a rational argument to a halt. Logic and arguments can only present a myriad of choices to the individual, who must make the choice based on instinct or whatever inner caliber one has away from reason and rational understanding. This is, in his words, the choice that Abraham was plagued with when God asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Kierkegaard retells that story 4 times: - Abraham hides that God has told him to sacrifice Isaac and pretends to be a monster - Abraham goes through with the deed but loses his faith - Abraham does not go through with the deed and wonders what was a worse sin: going through with it or not, which drives him mad. - Abraham is about to go through with the deed when he loses his wits and stops. Isaac now loses his faith since he embellished his father as an icon and that icon just failed, forcing Isaac to lose his faith.

In Kierkegaard’s vision, the only possible scenario was what occurred in the Bible: Abraham sacrificed Isaac and had complete faith in God to preserve him from damnation. Such that, he became a moral hero, just like Socrates, who just as well believed in a higher, unexplainable power that he surrendered to.

The author makes a point that post 9/11, it has become impossible for one to make the defense of ‘i had to do it because of an unexplainable power I have to adhere to’.

Faced between the choices of rational arguments and their trails, religion, Kierkegaard believed, brings an individual truth that reason does not and cannot possess, effectively transforming religion into a sealed vessel, beyond rational apprehension.

Ethics of liberation

Toussaint L’Overture was a black Haitian slave that led one of the biggest and most successful slave revolutions. He used the ideals of the universalist and humanist ideals of the french revolution as a base to launch and fuel his people for the attack.

The author speaks of how this successful ideology could lead their creators to enslave and transport an innumerable number of people from one continent to another AND lead, at a relatively short interval, the enslaved people to use this as an argument, and a weapon, against imperialism and colonialism.

The conclusions of the progressive liberalism of John Locke and JS Mill and the radical reactionary movements of Marx was a shared of radical hope that people in the 20th century almost reached, it did, however, create one of the biggest massacres in human history, along with the biggest weapon caching and the most horrific mass imprisonments that occurred in human history.

In the end, what we Toussaint L’Overture used as a weapon to wield against his enemies that created it is now deemed, if taken to its fullest extent, as a barbaric weapon.

The Unraveling of Morality

The Metaphysical Club (circa 1870) was a foundational location in modern philosophy. It included among its members William James who posited alongside John Dewey, the idea of Pragmatism: Context is God and usability, goodness and truth are molded together into a singular shape that would be the beacon to guide its followers towards a better human condition.

Pragmatism posits that instead of a single, fixed ideal, one would have different ones that fit the situation to “resolve conflict” as efficiently as possible for the maximum amount of people it can. There is no “a priori” answers or foundation stones since that would constitute an anchor in the changing and swift shape of Pragmatism. The term ‘Social Technology’ comes very fitting to describe how Pragmatism evolves to undertake the challenge of a situation, given different variables.

Emotivism can be understood, on the other hand, as the opposite of Pragmatism. Where the latter mentions that context is everything, the earlier makes the case that even mentioning that the “fittest solution” is the best way forward is, in and of itself, a moral judgement that is an ‘error’ since there can be no way one can make a moral judgment on any situation, given the vagueness and uncertainty of objectivity.

“Do you see a flying spaghetti monster holding your answer on a stone tablet? So you cannot say that what you’re saying is true”. That would be a good example of what an emotivist would say. Their first writings, which as professor MacIntyre mentions, summarizes the entirety of the postmodern corpus, was published in the year 1903 by G.E. Moore.

Professor Macintyre was an ardent opponent to the Emotivism idea. His book, After Virtue, describes a scientific disaster where scientists became hunted for making a global catastrophe (read Chernobyl but way bigger!). All the scientists became universal outcasts and refugees, hiding their identities and surviving namelessly under a world that is now run by a know-nothing political movement that promises never to repeat the same mistakes as their past did.

Given enough time, a group of young explorers comes into contact with the buried artifacts, papers, textbooks, labs equipment and flasks of what their ancestors considered ‘Science’. They see words like ‘Atoms’, ‘Gravity’, and ‘Cryptography’. They read the description underneath it but they fail to understand its roots, its history, where did it come from, and what reason brought it up and why. They understand the terms but the meaning is hollowed-out.

MacIntyre argues that this is the case in morality for our modern world. No global catastrophe had occurred but there was an ongoing witch hunt on moral purpose, what Aristotle calls “Telos”, since the beginning of the Enlightenment and it reached it’s critical mass not too long ago.

Telos, as Aristotle describes it as well as most ancient thoughts, ranging from Confucianism, Mohism, Buddhism, as well as all monotheistic religions and Hellenistic philosophies, is the idea that all human beings exist to serve a purpose and they would fulfill their human objective given they’re striving to achieve that objective.

Instead, Macintyre argues, we have entered a post-enlightenment age that posits that “all human beings are not moral agents that should fulfill a purpose but as agents who neither possess nor have ever wielded a true purpose other than what they have concocted out of their own volition, inner reasons, and, desires, for themselves. The endpoint of which is emotivism”.

“Ethics can only have meaning if there is a distinction between ‘man-as-he-happens-to-be’ and ‘man-as-he-could-be’” – After Virtue - MacIntyre

The Search for Ethical Concrete

“Do the Gods love the Good because it is Good, or is the notion of Good as such because it is loved by the Gods?”, so did ask Socrates to Euthyphro, which is the same question our author asks to New Atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who posit that morality and ethics can be reached and rooted in scientific thought rather than scripturally grounding.

Harris posits that Wellbeing can be understood and observed from fMRI scans, observation of neurotransmitters, brain activity and pharmacological measures. Our author argues that if Wellbeing can be arrived at through brain scans then it is arbitrary since many people would yield similar results but arrive there in very different ways.

If, on the other hand, one would say that Wellbeing is not arbitrary, then that means that whatever brain activity observations should remain as “observations” and the individuals in question have arrived at that state independently from the brain scans.

Science cannot determine values because one cannot scientifically asses what is right and wrong without already having an “a priori”construction of a moral framework within which to evaluate the empirical data. Science may teach us how the good and evil tendencies of man may have come about, but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.

Neo-Confucianism and Communism

Where Confucianism embraced the tradition of the old and allowed a few autonomous warlords and elites to impose the only two acceptable forms of moral authority to the people– family and state–, Communism, especially Mao’s Communism, reinvented the idea of the beaurucratic state.

Around 1840, Britain had launched the Opium Wars which left China not only broken politically but destroyed philosophically and socially. By the end of the Opium Wars, the allied forces gave themselves a free pass to extraterritoriality: entire militaries, police, trade, and warships were allowed on Chinese waters without a say from the landowners.

China moved to become a republic in 1911 which didn’t last long before the communist revolution in 1949.

The Great Leap Forward, Mao’s ambitious project to turn all of China’s agriculture to industrial resources, resulted in nearly 20 million dead. This was followed by his Cultural Revolution, which put almost 4 million to death.

The Fall of Man

We shall not cease from.exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time – T.S. Elliot’s the Little Gidding

C.S. Lewis wrote that Man’s final conquest would be the abolition of Man. How one defines man-as-he-happens-to-be depends on how one arrives at that statement. It is true that universalism exists in monotheistic religions, Hellenistic philosophies, ancient Greek thought, and Chinese Taoist tradition as well as Confucianist belief; however, not all arrived at that point using a transcendental deity. Chinese society had a strong ethical framework that did not come from God. It’s a very Western subjective lens that one must look through to say that Chinese philosophies’ Tao is God.

In the ancient world, fate was seen as the ultimate reality and there was no evading it; dictated by the Gods of the Iliad and the Vedas. From the 6th century, Socrates and Buddha and Kongzi and Mo Tzu formed a new philosophy based on human reason that went away from the heroic age. It found its greatest advent in Aristotle.

The monotheistic religions, all of them, came as a way to turn the voice moral authority towards a new reason: because “God”.

The emergence of the modern world put together a new religion, based on individuality, that forgot the God it created and killed him in the process. What could’ve been a moral backbone to rely on after the death of God in the 16th century was weakened and exposed to what limits humans can become terrifying. The optimism of the 18th and 19th century was eaten away by two world wars, a weapons race, a Holocaust, a nuclear disaster, the depression, climate change, Auschwitz and the Gulags, and ethnic cleansing. Nobody wants to dream anymore because of how bad we got it the first time we did.

The Victorians believed that humans are closer to Angels than Apes. Throughout the course of the 20th century, Apes have become more angelic and humans more apish.

Lastly, we come to Viktor Frankl’s masterpiece, what was described as a ‘religious hymn not to a transcendental deity but the human spirit’. A book that teaches that man cannot exist without making his own decision and shaping his future. This is the purpose of man: to create and shape and make Gods and heroes and ideas and religions, all to leave his mark on the stone.