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Old Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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Default How I See Philosophy


One classical concept of philosophy see it as the mother of all sciences. I will interpret it as a fountainhead of the key-concepts of all the basic sciences, knowledge and beliefs. All systematic knowledge, belief and sciences with their hypotheses and theories presuppose consciously or unconsciously certain assumption as their key concepts or cornerstones. I shall take philosophy to be the study of the fountainhead of such presuppositions and key concepts. Philosophy then emerges as an elucidation of what the genuine key concepts or views corresponding to reality in contrast to those that are fake or spurious ones.

Connected with this approach, there used to be a concept of philosophy as weltanschauung or worldview. There was a time when rationalists and idealists constructed their worldviews. Spinoza, Leibnitz, Hegel, Bradley were great system-builders who gave us a view of the whole universe, the whole of reality or of the really real with which we could draw compare the apparent, the unreal and the untrue. Given such a broad basic framework, our worldly existence was explained as derivative, and our place and response to the principal reality were elucidated. In short, both 'is' and 'ought' were to be accommodated in such a metaphysical weltanschauung, and the proper study of philosophy was thought to be such an intellectual adventure. Particularly the term "my philosophy" was used to connote a personal metaphysical worldview. Those who selected the present topic may have had this conception of philosophy in mind, but I believe such an adventure to be impossible in the present state of our sciences and knowledge.

Older rationalists and idealists thought that there are certain undeniable, irrefutable basic truths or axioms like 'the whole is greater than its parts', 'cogito ergo sum', 'the concept of self-sufficient and self-dependent substance', 'three angles of a triangle together make two right angles', etc. From such axiomatic truths they inferred certain other conclusions, theorems or lemmas, presumably after the manner of a geometric system, and thus erected their metaphysical systems. Now we know that many of their so-called axioms were either not true or that the concept of truth simply was not applicable to them. Hence their metaphysical constructions are inappropriate and unacceptable. Such an approach to metaphysical construction now seems misleading, unfruitful, unscientific and invalid. So I hold the repetition of such an exercise to be useless and unwarrantable.
What then is left as the key concepts and basic areas as the fountainhead of all knowledge are : (1) the philosophy of logic and necessary truth; (2) the methodology of the sciences and the philosophy of science; (3) epistemology; (4) philosophy or religion and metaphysics; (5) ethics and political philosophy. I hold that the basic concepts are rooted in and originate from these.


Mathematical disciplines like arithmetic, geometry, logic, set-theory, number theory, etc., have been regarded as realms of necessary truths above space and time. On the other hand, the world of senses i.e. objects perceivable by senses, have spatio-temporal reference. The question posed was wherein lay the truth of mathematics and logic and what sort of existence had logico-mathematical objects had. What are numbers; what sort of existence has the number "six" and how are the propositions like '2+2=4' always and necessarily true? To account for logico-mathematical truth, it was proposed that the logico-mathematical realm belonged to the realm of reason, over and above our sensuously perceived one. But it seems useless and superfluous to have a separate realm of Logos, a Platonic universe to account for logico-mathematical truth. For the same question may again be posed as to why and how logico-mathematical entities should subsist in such a universe and why and how relations involving number-theory and logical entailment should be true in it. What is the relation of such an exalted non-sensuous, supra-spatial, supra-temporal universe to our sensuous, spatio-temporal universe and why does the latter universe copy or obey the prior one? Duplication of universes serves no purpose.

Some philosophers tried to explain logico-mathematical truth in terms of our convention, or in terms of our deep psychological and anthropological considerations or even in terms of causal or mechanical laws: geometrical truth was adequately explained in terms of our conventions: philosophers and mathematicians realised that the concept of the absolute cannot be applied to geometry. Once basic axioms, better called postulates, primitive ideas and definitions are accepted, theorems and lemmas are logically deduced or entailed therefrom. Geometrical deductions and theorems thus have relative truths depending upon the truth of basic postulates and the relevance or truthfulness of primitive ideas and definitions in connection with the basic postulates. These basic postulates, once called axioms, may not be true, that is they may not ultimately hold good for the sensuous world, they may not correspond to the facts. Selection of basic postulates and primitive ideas and definitions are in the last analysis our conventions, but the question whether or not they are true is a scientific discovery or empirical finding. Clarification of Euclidean geometry in the last century led mathematicians to develop non-Euclidean geometries in which a triangle may have less than or more than two right angles contrary to Euclidean geometrical theorem. It follows that the geometrical truth is relative to the acceptance of basic postulates.

But in the case of logic and arithmetic it is implausible to accept such a conventionalism. Logic and counting, for example, the logical rules of entailment and arithmetical equations like '2+1=3' are the most general rules or generalisations applicable to the world. Whenever there is counting we must have arithmetic and its derivations; whenever and wherever we want to have entailments or logical deductions we must have logic: it is the characteristics of things to be countable and to be reasoned out. The question of necessary truth relates to this very spatio-temporal world; there is no need to invoke a supernatural, supra-rational, supra-sensible or supra-spatial worlds. For example with "colour is extended," "the same spatial point cannot be both red and green simultaneously," "if B is temporaly prior to C, and A is temporaly prior to B, then A is temporaly prior to C," such transitive, intransitive, non-transitive relations arise out of our efforts to understand nature. Symmetrical and asymmetrical, equal and unequal, reflexive and irreflexive and other such relations are actually sensed and found in this actual world. We also generalise these logical relations and create logical concepts and conceptual apparatus to exhibit logical relations and deductions. We create a contradictory concept with a prefix 'non' and say the same point cannot be both red and non-red simultaneously. We further create symbolisms and a symbolic system to express logical deductions in a far more effective way, although they may not faithfully depict the real logical necessities imbedded in the actual world because of the extended generality in symbolism. We should not raise the question as to why there is logical necessity in the world, because such a question can be raised for any world, natural or supernatural, sensible or Platonic. Our sensible world is such that there are some necessary relations in it. The old theses that logical necessity does not belong to existence but to the relationship of ideas and that it is only analytic are misjudgedments.


We may safely and profitably divide this into the methodology of sciences, what may be called scientific metaphysics or systems built on scientific concepts, and principles used in basic sciences. Since his advent on earth, man has been trying to understand his environment and universe. He passed through various stages of animism and mythological and superstitious beliefs in order to explain and understand the workings of nature. Science did not emerge by chance or sprout all of a sudden, man had to learn and is still learning to know and acquire scientific methods. For immediate needs and for the natural and empirical phenomena at hand man applied empirical methods, but the idea of experiment essential to scientific method came much later.

Muslim thinkers did a good deal to apply inductive method and experimentation to nature. After the Renaissance in Europe, the search by the inductive method gained momentum. In late 19th century and early 20th century the Vienna Circle took special pains to develop a scientific language, and the logical positivists announced their 'verifiability principle', according to which a non-analytic statement is meaningful only to the extent of its verifiability by sense-experience. Later a 'falsifiability principle' was added to accommodate some other types of state-ments e.g. generalisations which were not subject to the verifiability principle. But it was soon found that several types of scientific statements, e.g. about sub-atomic particles, about hypotheses, abut electro-magnetic fields still could not be accommodated. Hence, a weak principle of verifiability was put forward i.e., that there should be some sensuous experience to justify the statement. The question about the relevancy of the bulk of sensuous experience was left vague. Thus many sentences, say about God, taken by logical positivists to be clearly metaphysical become meaningful. Such concepts as those of confirmation and probability were developed, but they could not remove the vagueness involved.

In any case the services rendered by logical positivists to tieing reality to sense-experience cannot be set aside. Scientific thinking took centuries to develop and is still developing, looking into facts, connecting them, explaining them through hypotheses or theories or laws contrived for them, predicting certain phenomena and verifying them through observation, performing experiments, etc. We also note through inductive success that an hypothesis which predicts and thus explains more phenomena is to be preferred. So one accepts an explanation or hypothesis having more harmony and consistency, more explanatory power, more reducibility to mathematical computation, more comprehensibility and interconnectedness, more simplicity. This world or cosmos is a universe, an integrated whole each part of which is connected with others, and for this we have inductive proof. On this supposition we are successful in our scientific pursuits and thus in controlling the nature and acquiring better knowledge of the universe. The success of our science and scientific methodology is a good evidence towards their truthfulness and wherever clearly possible scientific methodology should be adopted in every sphere of life.

Scientific methodology cannot be separated from the achievements of science in terms of knowledge. Change in the basic concepts of the basic sciences may lead to the change in methodology and vice versa. Old methodological concepts of causation, uniformity of nature, natural laws, etc., now are replaced by such key methodological concepts as statistical probability, functional dependence and evolutionary change. Such older key concepts as those of space, time, mass and unitary particles are replaced by such concepts as space-time, energy, magnetic fields. I thus hold that the more we know about the cosmos, the better we acquire the methodology of sciences, and the better our methodology the more we know about the cosmos. Furthermore, acquiring the right methodological approach makes possible a better acquisition of knowledge and a better grasp of nature.


There is no absolute demarcation between science and philosophy. The basic distinguishing method of philosophy is logico-deductive reasoning and that of science is sense-experience and experimentation. This contrast is based on the dominant notes of the two. Efforts to base philosophy and metaphysics on self-evident axiomatic truths are bound to fail as they actually have done. We need philosophical analysis in order to harmonize various key concepts which are the cornerstones of the basic sciences, physics and biology, in the subatomic world and in the macrocosm. This task may lead us to the creation of a new conceptual framework and a fresh restructuring. There are areas, e.g., para-psychic phenomena, which defy presently available explanations. A new conceptual system is needed for them and to interconnect with concepts of other sciences. A new structural and conceptual framework can be expected to emerge as soon as para-psychic phenomena become explainable. This will usher in a new era in scientific metaphysics. Such an enterprise is goal-directed, fruitful, verifiable and falsifiable, scientifically plausible and commendable, having all the virtues of good hypotheses and scientific concepts. But such an approach can be handled properly only by those who are well-oriented in scientific fields and able to appreciate key scientific concepts.

There can be another approach towards constructing scientific metaphysics. We may hit upon a most general hypothesis which may be applicable to all scientific fields, empirical facts, and mental or physical phenomena. The example Marx's dialectical materialism may be cited. Marxists assert that this is a key scientific principle, but ultimately it is a matter of definition as to what be accepted as a scientific hypothesis or principle. Such conditions are imprecisely defined as much as is the criterion of meaningfulness after the fashion of logical positivism. But here the vagueness oversteps scientifically desirable limits. Such an adventure is too ambitious and moves predominantly from hypothesis to particular empirical and scientific data. It is much safer and well-grounded to move from the key concepts, data and generalisations of different particular sciences and sense-experiences to the construction of a key principle, which is self-consistent, well-knit and makes an harmonious organic whole with them. The Marxian principle mentioned above and the Marxian economic interpretation of history stand as historically and scientifically falsifiable and refutable. Therefore the first approach to constructing scientific metaphysics seems preferable. Even this approach is still not possible because many areas like para-psychical phenomena are still unexplainable and there remain fields which defy our effort to construct a consistent and harmonious conceptual framework. The present state of scientific knowledge still is not ripe for such a scientific metaphysics. But with scientific progress the time for such an adventure could come.


This inquires about the sources of knowledge and their validity. For knowing reality some rely on reason, others on sense-experience and some others on intuition. Intuition as source of knowledge has proved notoriously inadequate and misleading. Reason as ultimately based on self-evident truths did not fare better. Empiricists tried to base ultimate truths on sense-experience, which they somehow thought to be infallible, but this ultimate infallibility of sense-experience or sense-data proved inadequate and erroneous. The phenomenon of 'referred pain' belies the expectation of infallible sense-experience. For example, sometimes the pain is felt on the medial side of the left arm upto the little finger, although the real pain is in the heart. This means that ultimately it is questions of scientific explanation, consistency and the inter-connectedness of sense-experiences that count. It is the scientific method, which includes senses, reason and intuition (taken in broader sense), that prevails in knowing reality. Thus, the older philosophical discipline of epistemology, which employs special rational philosophical methods seems doomed. There cannot be an independent epistemo-logy without a corresponding relevant scientific investigations or discipline; just as there cannot be a metaphysics without scientific methodology. So, in epistemology we need to have psychology, physiology, neurology, para-psychology, physics, etc., and their interconnected systems, besides logic and deductive reasoning.


Ethics pertains to the realm of values where as an evaluating animal one cannot but value onething in preference to others. In matters of morals he is sensitively concerned. Words like 'good', 'bad', 'right', 'wrong', 'virtuous', 'vicious' betray our preferential judgements, praises or blames, approvals or disapprovals. A primary job of a philosopher is to analyse these concepts by studying their interconnectedness and independence. Such exercises, no doubt, throw some light on another task of ethics, namely, determining ethical principles and ends to be achieved by human beings. As distinguished from socio-political and religious activities, ethic alactivity concerns human individuals and is essentially connected with what they can do. Although ethical judgements are ought-judgements, they arise out of judgements of existence regarding the socio-physical environment and self's hereditary, physical and mental capacities. They are value judgements having some moral excellence or commitment or obligation. Man is by nature moral. His choices and ideals lie before him, and the gap between 'is'and 'ought' is bridged by deciding to move from the existing position or status to the more commendable one.
To say that man is a moral animal is to say that he is moraly-conscious, able to use consciously and conscientiously the moral concepts just mentioned.

But these moral concepts remain contentless unless some guidance is given about particular duties and rights, about particular moral principles and ends. For this we find no decisive rational or intuitive argumentations and injunctions or rules to follow, as is evident from the diversity of moral codes prevalent in different cultures and in different ages. Since his advent on earth, man has been learning to grasp moral rules and goals consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or by trial and error, through philosophical thought and experience, from sages or prophets, by the examples of great men or the magnetic charm and captivating beauty sensed in moral actions. Man is still learning to know the humanity and morality in human beings.

This is no less than a scientific process and has achieved consensus and universality in some ethical judgements. For example, we accept that moral rules should be universally true and that giving unnecessary pain to others is evil. We agree that jealousy, hate, avarice, malice, pride, ignorance and war are humanly undesirable, whereas forgiveness, generosity, humility, helping the needy, world peace and knowledge are desirable. We have come to realise that promise-breaking and the betrayal of truth, thievery and exploitation, usurpation of others' rights and rightful earnings are undesirable in spite of some rare customs prevalent in some parts of the world even in modern times in which a man is honoured or permitted to marry if he performs a skilful act of stealing. Agreement is reached by learning through experience while considering humanity and civilisation at large.

Still there are some ultimate disagreements that cannot be ignored. This becomes pronounced when we have to harmonise teleological and deontological ethical views. Given the deontological maxim: 'always speak the truth', and a teleological ethical end 'save human life', a situation may arise when one needs to tell a lie to save the life of a particular heart patient. There are no hard and fast rules: our ethical code has emerged for finding the best system of compromise in order to suit the well-being and ideals of the human individuals in the society. There have been and are disagreements in asserting what are individual human ideals and preferences in society. But the real ethical judgement concerns the character of the individuals, which is built out of more or less permanent traits or features from which sprout conduct. This is the emotional, conative and mental bedrock for ethical activities.

I take inspiration from the Qur'anic injunction which enjoins imbibing the spiritual attributes of God, xceptions being those which are meant only for God such as eternity. To follow what are called Asmaul Husna, i.e., the excellent names or attributes of Allah, is the hallmark of nobility in character. To be merciful and compassionate, to be a forgiver and unheedful of petty faults of others, to be a helper and generous, to be patient and just, to be creator and innovator, to be wise, etc. are commendable virtues. Again, in the Qur'an there are mentioned specific moral ideals to be followed, like respecting the life and property of others, showing patience and tolerance and avoiding anger while dealing with others. In one place it is said that one unjust murder is like murdering all mankind. The dignity of man as man is one of the moral patterns upheld by the Qur'an. Again it is announced that the better man is he who is better in deeds -- not because of his colour, race or progeny. So the moral models and patterns maintained by the Qur'an, are to be commended, but with the big caution that moral sayings in the Qur'an should be discreetly separated from legal and socio-customary injunctions. Moral injunctions are binding on us in a moral framework, but socio-legal injunctions are changeable with the changes in the social milieu.

This does not imply that a person will be able to make a moral choice automatically! An individual is a conscious and conscientious being. Keeping in view the Qur'anic moral wisdom he has to make moral choices in context. The choices between serving teleological ends and following deontological duties, and between different courses of actions leading to different virtues have to be made by the responsible individual concerned. The difference between a person following Qur anic wisdom and another person is that the former has a set guideline, while the latter is still groping to find moral wisdom, because no strict rational argumentations can settle ultimate issues about moral teleological ends and deontological maxims and duties. We are still learning through historical experience, which I hold points to the validity of the Qur'anic moral wisdom and virtues.


My view is that we should construct a socio-political structure and legal system which promotes the ideals and morality of individuals. That is, one which would help promote the character building of individuals, arouse the higher consciousness promote justice and fairness in the society, and provide better opportunities for the mental and physical development of individuals. Our value judgement on socio-political and legal systems derives from that on individuals, only in a secondary sense do we say that such-and-such a society is morally better or more sound or commendable. Our socio-political and legal systems and other institutions are objective factual phenomena, but ultimately they are constructed of, and refer back to individuals without whom they lose their value. Hence, nationalism and slogans of the superiority of the state over individuals, whether in the shape of Hegelian idealism, Marxism or in any other 'ism', are misguided. The real valuable thing is the higher consciousness and conscience of individuals, whence flows morality, ideals, the search and struggle for human perfection, altruistic regard for other human beings, etc. Such an ideal and struggle for higher human perfection can be achieved better in a democratic society with such democratic institutions as education, liberty, equality, knowledge and justice.

For the establishment of such institutions we need a society free of exploitation, with education, relevant opportunities, health and shelter for all. From an ethical viewpoint democracy in a broad sense and its institutions mentioned above are ethical 'corollaries'. The ethical sphere is not logic-tight, but borders on aesthetics, politics, law, etc. This has to be so not only through analysis of ethical and related non-ethical concepts, but also because ethics flows from the individual self-awareness of higher human consciousness, from conscience and higher ideals which step beyond any limited moral sphere. Law is law-like and by its very nature any generalization is not suited to some individual cases. So, although one tries his or her best to bring harmony between law and morality, some discrepancies and inconsistencies may emerge. But respect for law is also a virtue, and cannot be lightly ignored. Hence, sometimes we need to sacrifice our subjective moral views for the sake of the generalised objective legal code.


Man is not only a moral animal, but also a religious animal. Now, religion is often confused with morality and some people even take for granted that if a person is not religious, he is not moral and vice versa, or again that if a person is moral, he is religious too and vice versa. This confusion arises because of the ambiguity of the word religion'. As in one sense religion and morality belong to higher consciousness, the illusion arises by taking too general and homogenised a view of higher consciousness. But there are differentiations in higher consciousness -- one part may belong to a higher moral consciousness and another to a higher religious consciousness and the different types of consciousness may exist independently from one another. An irreligious or atheistic person may thus show highly commendable virtues. And a person inspired by religious feelings may be unmindful of moral considerations. This sort of phenomenon of separation we occasionally witness in the case of aesthetically gifted individuals like artists who do not care about, or rather are not quite conscious of their moral duties and responsibilities. The same sort of separation between moral and religious consciousness is noted, for example, at the tombs of great saints or sufis.

The phenomena of favours or sefarish and sex-exploitation are notoriously present where mystical religious practices and rituals are performed. A religious person thus may be unheedful of a higher morality or civic sense, or may not even sense the morality involved in the situation.

But this does not mean that there is no connection between the two sorts of consciousness. Religious consciousness appears to have higher authority, more charm and magnetism, a superior binding force. So we see that in certain cases outmoded customs and legal systems, which to an impartial observe appear immoral, gain authority with us because they have religious sanctions, e.g., so-called old religious family and religious evidence laws. This is a vicious aspect of religion. But there can be wholesome effects of religious consciousness on morality. This may be achieved in two ways: one is to take inspiration from higher religious consciousness for the commendable morality we cherish. The succour and encouragement received from higher consciousness can be immeasurably great. The second is to have metaphysical religiou beliefs and faith which give further momentum to our commendable humane and moral convictions, such as moral reliance on God's attributes and Qur'anic ethical principles.

Aother aspect of religious philosophy is the analysis of various religious concepts and their interdependence. We need to analyse such concepts as religion, value, prayer, trust, faith, God, person, freedom, commitment and their interconnections with other concepts and their impact on man and society. This is the job not only of a philosopher of religion, for he needs to assess the truth involved in all religions and in any particular religion. Historically religion has been associated with magic, cults and rituals. There always has been exploitation in the name of religion and the exploiters in various fields collaborate to secure their hold and influence. Three broad-based exploiters and found in: economics, to gain and hoard wealth; politics for the existence, strength and continuance of their government or rule; and religion, to have spiritual hold on people and to strengthen the hands of other sorts of exploiters for their mutual flow of benefits. In order to have religious exploitation there needs to be a system of beliefs and some sort of rituals such that a class, such as clergymen or priests, could claim to have special knowledge of them, or special right to handle them for the sake of the 'spiritual health' of the people. In our own Muslim culture, we have this class in the form of mullas, maulavees, maulanas, pirs, sufis, ulama, etc.

Their claim of having some special knowledge, called religious knowledge, whether in the form of beliefs or rituals, is unjustified.
They claim that their religious knowledge is the specialised sort which is not and cannot be gained by various sciences, rational argumentations and philosophical analysis. And just as we refer matters pertaining to animals to zoologists, matters pertaining to plants to botanists and likewise other matters to physicists, chemists, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, etc., so matters pertaining to religion are to be referred to the above-mentioned religious class. But they suffer self-deception and deceive others wittingly or unwittingly. Their claim is a remnant of magical and superstitious beliefs, just as magic is not a science, but a deception. Again, the claim of mystics or sufis, that through religious intuition they get insight into the ultimate Reality or God, is unjustified, because the same emotional mystical elations are and can be associated with different concepts and views, as is evident of mystics belonging to different religions and creeds. Again, even if their intuitional claim were true and even if certain deductive conclusions follow for human welfare, how can a dead saint be helpful to us now? Hence, what is happening at the tombs of great sufis, etc., is spiritual exploitation and highly to be condemned.

In Muslim culture both mysticism or sufi-cult and religiousness in the sense of beliefs and rites in connection with worship, prayer, salvation etc., have become the dominant note for centuries. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself made jihad in a rational way against all the three above classes of exploiters. But it appears that through planned conspiracies Islam became essentially a system of religious ceremonies, charms and rituals. Instead of seeing into the rationale and reasons, we have been enamoured by personality cults. Books with the pious name of 'Sayings of the Prophet' and of other spiritual heroes, and fiqh were evolved and attained a permanent position in religion. My considered impression is that the Qur'an is better understood through understanding the Arabic root words and their derivatives, and the Arabic idioms used during the time of Prophet (PUBH), seeing the internal consistency and coherence of the Qur'an and how one verse is connected with subsequent ones in a rational and logical way.

Furthermore, being the divine book, we can better understand it if we have more scientific knowledge and find appropriate meanings through new scientific discoveries. For this the more we know about physics, astronomy, history, archaeology, etc., the more we shall appreciate and understand the Qur'an, whereas understanding the Qur'an through the books of Ahadis and old fiqah misleads us. We must drastically change our socio-legal system, of course, paying attention to the moral picture of the Qur'an, and for that purpose we must not pay heed to so-called ulama and maulavees etc.
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