Notes on Philosophy and the Baha'i Faith

Jul 2017
245
Kettering, Ohio USA
#1
Form: another term for essence from the point of view of its structure or composition as seen in real things. Form identifies something as the particular kind of thing it is. Everything we know has form because without it we could not distinguish one thing from another. Even ideas have form, or, as `Abdu’l-Bahá calls them, “intelligible form,” i.e. a particular composition by which we can understand them. Form is more than just physical shape.

Matter: is that from which something else is made. “Matter is a relative term, to each form there corresponds a special matter.” For example, paper is matter relative to books and books are matter relative to libraries. Matter can be physical but can also be concepts that are formed into an argument or a plot idea formed into a novel. It is sometimes called ‘substance.’ The same idea/matter can often have more than one “intelligible form” just as certain mathematical ideas can be expressed in different formulas. There is no such thing as actual matter without form.

Hylomorphism: the belief that all actual beings – except God – are composed of matter and form. The Writings support this view. It is evident in `Abdu’l-Bahá’s four-fold causality where formal causality is involved in everything that happens to matter. He also refers to hylomorphism directly:

Then it is clear that original matter, which is in the embryonic state, and the mingled and composed elements which were its earliest forms, gradually grew and developed during many ages and cycles, passing from one shape and form to another, until they appeared in this perfection, this system, this organization and this establishment, through the supreme wisdom of God.

“Original matter” is `Abdu’l-Bahá’s term for what Aristotle’s “primal matter” (see above) i.e. matter without form which is pure potential that has not yet been made actual. `Abdu’l-Bahá’s calls this “the embryonic state,” precisely because it is still pure potential and is impelled by God’s action guided by His wisdom through various forms. Hylomorphism is also the metaphysical basis of progressive revelation in which the (subject) matter – “the eternal verities” found in every revelation – appear in various forms over historical time. As `Abdu’l-Bahá says, “truth is one, although its manifestations may be very different.”10 The actual manifestations are the in which truth can appear.

Substance: has several meanings. It can be plain, simple matter, but its most important meaning refers to anything that is not an attribute of something else, i.e. it is independent, not a part of something else the way an attribute is. As we shall see, in the Writings, even God is said to be a substance. In fact, He is the only absolutely independent ‘thing’ and, therefore, is a substance in the fullest sense of the word.

Four-fold Causality: `Abdu’l-Bahá accepts Aristotle’s analysis of causality according to which everything has four causes:

the existence of everything depends upon four causes -- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker [efficient cause] who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood [material cause], a form [formal cause] which is that of a chair, and a purpose [final cause ] which is that it is to be used as a seat.

In nature, all these aspects of causality work together at the same time and not in sequence but when a conscious maker is involved, the final cause, i.e. the purpose and the formal cause i.e. the plan precede the efficient and material cause.

Prexistence or the Preexistent: is God. The pre-existent has no cause and is absolutely independent of all other things. It includes or embraces everything (see discussion below). Its Essence is unknowable and can only be known by Its attributes as far as human powers allow. It can never incarnate itself in a limited and imperfect carnal body because that would mean the Preexistent can be “qualified with phenomenal attributes.” The Preexistent is perfect.

The pervasive presence of philosophical passages in the Bahá’í Writings leads to an important question: if we are not meant to understand and apply these concepts, terms and arguments in teaching and defending the Faith, why would Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá include them so prominently in the first place?
Besides improving our understanding of the Writings, there are other benefits to be derived from understanding these concepts, terms and arguments. The first is that such understanding enables us to teach the Faith from a rational perspective, i.e. to show while the Writings may superficially appear to be unorganized tablets, letters and treatises responding to particular occasions and requests, they are, in actual fact, based on and informed by a coherent and systematic philosophical method. As `Abdu’l-Bahá says, “in this age the peoples of the world need the arguments of reason.” In other words, reason is a necessary attribute of religion in order to retain its identity as genuine religion.

A third reason for the pervasive inclusion of philosophical material in the Writings is that it demonstrates the underlying connection of the head, i.e. intellect and the heart, i.e. our intuitive and ‘feeling knowledge.’ As `Abdu’l-Bahá tells us, “The world of minds corresponds with the world of hearts. Both must be in harmony for there to be genuine belief. In other words, reason can turn the heart towards God by, among other things, removing obstacles to belief or showing the implicit logic of some teaching.

A fourth benefit of the philosophical formulations in the Writings is such intellectual precision facilitates in inter-religious dialogue with religions that have include great philosophic traditions, such as Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. A clear exposition of the philosophy embedded in the Bahá’í Writings expedites such inter-faith dialogue by clarifying concepts and arguments and, above all, helps identify underlying similarities and agreements.

There is a fifth reason for including these passages. As we shall see shortly, almost all of this terminology is Aristotelian – which raises the question ‘Why did Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’lBahá choose to do this?’ In our view, this is neither an accident, nor a coincidence nor a serendipitous development nor a mere tactic of adaptation. After all, the Manifestation and His infallibly appointed interpreter could have chosen other means to promulgate the divine teachings. The most likely answer – from our perspective – is they are encouraging us to use, develop and expand Aristotle’s method of analyzing and understanding reality. At least three possible reasons for doing so immediately suggest themselves. First, Aristotle’s metaphysics and ethics form a common bond between Bahá’í, Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophical thought. Second, Aristotle’s method of analyzing and explaining reality is based on but not limited to ordinary experience in the natural world. Third, as `Abdu’l-Bahá points out, it explores both them the material and the spiritual aspects of existence – unlike almost all modern philosophers since the European Enlightenment.

These are, truly, puzzling passages. How can man “surround nature” or “all beings” with his “ideal . . . powers”? Indeed, how can a human being or a Manifestation surround “all that exists” physically? Perhaps God can do so – see below – but surely anything less than God, i.e. and ontologically omnipotent God, cannot. In our view, the philosophy of Aristotle, so often referred to in the Writings, offer one possible explanation at least in regard to humans and Manifestations though not in regards to God. The key to understanding these passages lies in Aristotle’s theory of perception. In its most basic terms, Aristotle’s theory of perception states that when we perceive something, we take in its form but not its matter. His example is the impression left by a signet ring in a piece of wax: the form of the ring is impressed on the wax but the material is not. Moreover, the form is what gives the signet ring its essential identifying features, its essential attributes or essence while the gold is only the means by which those features are revealed. With Aristotle’s explanation in mind, we have a rational epistemological explanation for the ability of the Manifestations and humans to surround the objects of perception and thought. They are not materially taken inside us – rather, we take in their forms and make that the subjects of our understanding. We first comprehend in the sense of taking in the form and then we comprehend in the second sense of understanding.

Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being [the Manifestation] He hath assigned a twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself.

We shall discuss this in greater depth further below, but for now it suffices to note that the Manifestation is “born of the substance of God,” i.e. is a formal image derived directly – “born of” – from the real substantial sun just as the mirror image of something is ‘born’ of the real thing itself.

There is, however, potentially one limit to our conclusions about God in regards to ‘surrounding’ nature because God and His powers are unknowable. `Abdu’l-Bahá says,

the Divine Essence surrounds all things. Verily, that which surrounds is greater than the surrounded, and the surrounded cannot contain that by which it is surrounded, nor comprehend its reality.” Although the residents of Flatland cannot look up into our three-dimensional world and see us spying on them, we can look down into their world because the three-dimensional world surrounds or encloses or comprehends the two-dimensional world both physically and formally. While this analogy does not prove anything about the nature of God, it does prove that the concept of God physically and formally surrounding creation is a rational possibility i.e. is without inherent self-contradiction. In short, it is logically tenable. Humanity’s ontological position on the scale or chain of nature is “a quality of the existence of man” and this, in turn, determines what humans can or cannot know. The Writings, in other words, see epistemology determined by position in the hierarchy of being.

Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself.

Surely ‘substance’ cannot mean ‘material’ substance for that would reduce God and the soul to material entities. This cannot be the case for two reasons. First, according to Aristotle, there are two kinds of substances – material, sensible substances like bricks and jellyfish that can perish and decompose because they are made of parts, and nonsensible substances like God, or the rational soul which are not made of parts and, therefore, cannot decompose and perish. Secondly, for Aristotle, the word ‘substance’ has several meanings not all of which concern us here. The primary meaning of the word ‘substance’ in Aristotle is “in the truest and primary and most definite sense of the words, is that which neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject.” In other words, a substance exists independently i.e. is an individual thing i.e. not as an attribute or quality of something else. Obviously, the phrases like “the substance of God Himself” and “the soul is the substance” refer to ‘substance’ in its primary meaning, i.e. that which is independent and does not exist as an attribute of something else. The substance or essence of man is the “rational soul” and the body is its attribute in the material world. In fact, `Abdu’l-Bahá goes further – he suggests that ultimately the body is superfluous by calling it an “accidental” attribute, a viewpoint that makes sense insofar as we only spend a small part of our lifetimes in the material world. God does not have accidental attributes since all His attributes are “identical with His Essence” since otherwise the unity of God would be undermined.

In other words, according to `Abdu’l-Bahá, the rational soul and mind are not emergent properties of matter regardless of how highly organized it is. In short, he rejects that brain and mind are identical – a hot issue today in neurological research and instead sees the soul as the substance, i.e. the independent entity on which the body depends.

However, with God, this unity of attribute and essence reaches a higher level: each of the “names and attributes” are “identical with His Essence” so that each implicitly contains all. Otherwise, there would be disunity in God’s Essence because there would be differences between them and those differences prevent unity.

`Abdu’l-Bahá also uses the impossibility of an infinite regress because everything that is caused is caused by an external cause of motion and this chain of causation must have a first cause (or First Cause) that is itself uncaused. If the First Cause needed a cause – as the question, ‘Who made God?’ implies – then the infinite regress would start again, and we know this cannot actually happen. Without an uncaused external cause there would be no motion in nature – which is absurd because it contradicts common observation. However, the Writings speak of “the infinite worlds of God” or “this infinite creation” and, thereby, seem to contradict the denial of an actual infinity of things. If a real infinite results in irresolvable paradoxes, how can there an infinite number of worlds and how can creation be infinite? And if there can be a real infinite, why is an infinite regress of causes “absurd” as `Abdu’l-Bahá says? Once again, if we look to the Aristotelian sense of infinity, the apparent contradiction can be resolved. As noted before, for Aristotle infinity is potentiality: “the infinite has a potential existence.” In other words, the infinite is “what always has something outside of it,” i.e. the ‘one more’ that can be added (or diminished) as noted previously. The infinite is (obviously) never finished, i.e. is always potential. This fits exactly with the Bahá’í teaching that God creates endlessly, i.e. brings new creations into being, i.e. always adding more to what already exists. This means that infinity here is not a magnitude nor an expanse of space but rather an attribute or quality of being unfinished. Thus phrases like “the infinite worlds of God” and “this infinite creation” refer to this on-going process of creation, i.e. actualizing potentials.

Two of Aristotle’s most foundational concepts are ‘actuality’ and ‘potential’ which are widely used throughout the Writings. What all potentials have in common is that to actualize them, to make them manifest, requires an external cause, an actuality that causes them to transform themselves into a variation of their old identities. This is the rational and metaphysical explanation why Manifestations are necessary to actualize the potentials hidden in humankind. The potentials exist in humanity but without the Manifestation, the fully actualized inspiration and guide Who passes the divine energy into the human realm, humanity’s potentials would remain latent, i.e. un-actualized and, in effect, nonexistent. The Manifestation in His divine aspect is a fully actualized being – that is one consequence of the perfection of His divine nature. Understanding the nature of potentials also resolves an apparent contradiction in the Writings between Bahá’u’lláh’s statement that we come from “utter nothingness” and `Abdu’l-Bahá’s claim that nothing can come from absolute nothingness. As the context makes clear, Bahá’u’lláh’s statements refer to our relative non-existence in comparison with God. In other words, in relation to God’s actuality, the potential existence of humanity is, in effect, nonexistence since potentials cannot actualize themselves and act. Two comments are in order. First, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the teaching that the universe has a purpose brings the Writings into conflict with modern science which simply does not recognize formal and final causality in any form. This is a major challenge for the Bahá’í teaching of the harmony or unity of science and religion. Second, although the foregoing explanation about the iron filings shows how formal and final causation are actually involved in all physical processes, modern science finds it impossible to accommodate these concepts. The reason is simple: formal and final causality could possibly open the door to invoking supernatural causes in nature. Paradoxically, `Abdu’l-Bahá’s four-fold causality is also important because it offers an opportunity to harmonize science and religion: science deals with the material and efficient causes and religion and its ‘handmaid,’ i.e. philosophy, deal with the formal and final causes. Together they provide a complete understanding of natural phenomena. Nor can a purely physical science explain how atoms and subatomic particles gained the attributes that allow them to influence other particles or be influenced by them – without succumbing to infinite regress. At one point or another, a formal and final cause are necessary to stop the infinite regress and to provide a complete – or more complete – explanation of natural phenomena because then we can begin to understand why nature has some of the general attributes it has, e.g. a progress from less organized forms of being to more highly organized forms. In short, formal and final causes are necessary to develop a coherent world-view – which is exactly what religions provide us.
 
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Jul 2017
245
Kettering, Ohio USA
#3
To one degree or another everyone is a philosopher and, indeed, must philosophize. Consequently, there is no basis for the dismissive claim that philosophy “begins and ends” with words and, therefore, is of no practical value in understanding and teaching of the Writings. Indeed, this claim is based on an incorrect quote from Shoghi Effendi who actually provides enormous support for philosophical studies when he states, approach to the Writings, Philosophy, as you will study it and later teach it, is certainly not one of the sciences that begins and ends in words. Fruitless excursions into metaphysical hair-splittings is meant, not a sound branch of learning like philosophy. In other word, Shoghi Effendi does not condemn philosophy as such for “begin[ing] and end[ing] in words” but rather he rejects a certain style of doing philosophy, especially “metaphysical hair-splitting” such as found, for example, in portions of Kant, Marx, Hegel, linguistic analysis, some versions of post-modernism and some modern texts on ethics. Obviously, this criticism does not apply to the philosophical passages embedded in the Writings.

Making the Crooked Straight is an apologetic work par excellence, perhaps the most important apologetic book published on the Baha’i Faith so far in English. It is a translation of Desinformation als Methode, published in German in 1995, which itself was a response to a work published in 1981 by the Evangelische Zentralstrelle für Weltanschauungsfragen [EZW] (Central Office of the Protestant Church for Questions of Ideology). EZW is an agency of the Protestant Churches in Germany that provides information to the church administration, theologians, and church workers. The 1981 work was entitled, Der Bahá'ísmus-Religion der Zukunft? [Bahá'ísm–Religion of the future?], and was written by a Swiss ex-Bahá'í, Francesco Ficicchia. Ficicchia’s work was presented by EZW as a standard introduction to the Faith, and received favourable reviews in some German academic journals. It presented a hotch-potch of polemical materials against the Faith, from attacking the personal integrity of the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith, to highlighting problems in successorship, to criticizing its doctrines and the policies of its current leadership. It gave the impression that the religion is a confused, fundamentalist cult that has rewritten its history, distorted its origins, and has imperialist claims on the world.

There are three possible contributions of this book to the Bahá'í dialogue with other religions. First, by clarifying some misconceptions about the religion, it clears the air and makes it possible to dialogue in a deeper way. Second, by being open about some of the problems that the Bahá'í Faith has faced in its first 150 years, it addresses one of the concessions that John Saliba states that new religions must make in order to participate more meaningfully in dialogue. Third, it gathers together a wealth of foundational academic work on its history and theology that provide a basis for a deeper and more meaningful dialogue between Bahá'ís and others.

Standard, classical or Aristotelian logic is based on three rules: the law of identity; the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. We shall examine in some depth how each of these laws is exemplified in the Bahá’í Writings.

Logical reasoning and all coherent discourse must obey the law of identity (LI) according to which at any given moment, a thing, situation, or process is the same as itself and not something else. A thing can only have one identity, not two at the same time in the same sense and in the same context: When applied to discourse, i.e. discussions and explanations, the LI means that terms must be used consistently; if words change their meanings or slip from one sense of a word into another, confusion ensues and understanding becomes impossible. We are all familiar with disagreements caused by people using a word in different senses, e.g. gendered and ungendered uses of the word ‘men.’ The statement ‘All people are equal’ is another example. We must, for example, be careful to use the word “equal” consistently, i.e. not slip from spiritual to legal to economic to sociological equality. We may, of course, discuss how these distinct forms of equality are related but we cannot conflate one meaning into another. In this sense, the Writings, like every other explicatory text, follow the LI.

More important, the Writings apply the LI to a number of metaphysical and spiritual teachings. For example, the principle of identity underlies the Bahá’í teachings about the unique existence of all things, i.e. the teaching that each thing is what it is and never has been or will be something else `Abdu’l-Bahá also applies the LI when he says, “in the sensible world appearances are not repeated”. He informs us that no two seeds of grain are alike. Elsewhere he applies this principle to the sun: “the sun is one in its essence, unique in its real identity, single in its attributes”

This principle even applies to things involved in processes. For example, `Abdu’l-Bahá sees humankind as involved in an evolutionary process but, as we have seen above, he is emphatic

Reason and the Bahá’í Writings that the human essence is always the same regardless of our stage of development: “Throughout this journey of progression [through the mineral, plant and animal stations] he has ever and always been potentially man”. The inner potentials of our essence are present from the beginning and are actualized or externalized over time — which only makes it appear as if a change in essence or identity had occurred. In his potential, i.e. in his essence “ Man from the beginning was in this perfect form and composition” These ever-present potentials are revealed over time.

The second — and central — law of standard, classic or Aristotelian logic is the law of non-contradiction (LNC). In general terms, this means that a statement cannot simultaneously make two contradictory claims about the same issue. More technically, the LNC says that a thing cannot have and not have the same attributes at the same time in the same sense and from the same perspective or context. There are two main ways of resolving a contradiction to comply with the LNC: the first is to eliminate one part of the contradiction; the second is to show that each statement is refers to a different perspective, or a different sense or time; and the third is to demonstrate an underlying unity.

The Bahá’í Writings are consistent with the LNC and, therefore, exemplify a two-value logic — the two values being ‘true’ and ‘false.’ The law of the excluded middle (LEM) says that a statement or its negation must be either true or false: either an elephant is heavier than a flea or an elephant is not heavier than a flea. There is no middle ground and one of these two propositions must be true. (The difference between the LNC and the LEM is that the LNC says no proposition can be both true and false, and the LEM says that a statement or its specific negation must be either true or false.) There is no middle ground between them.

Deductive reasoning begins with a general or universal statement and then deduces specific consequences entailed in the general statement. For example, the universal statement ‘All birds have two wings’ entails the conclusion that ‘My parrot has two wings.’ This conclusion follows the LI, the LNC and the LEM. My bird cannot both have and not have two wings; it must be either true or false that it has two wings. Deductive reasoning is especially suited to the Writings because it depends primarily on the truth of the initial universal statement. This makes deduction the appropriate mode of reasoning for those in authority with completely trustworthy knowledge. Unlike scientists still looking for the truth, the essentially infallible Manifestation and His interpreter (who has acquired infallibility) are able to give us absolutely reliable universal propositions — e.g. humans are made in God’s image — from which we can draw specific conclusions. Their universal propositions provide the guidance we need for our own reasoning process so that we do not wander too far from the truth. Deductive arguments can be presented formally as one or a series of syllogisms, i.e. a three-part argument in which a conclusion is inferred from first two premises. Here is the most famous deductive syllogism in western philosophy.
  1. All humans are mortal;
  2. Socrates is human;
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
The conclusion is implicitly embedded or entailed in the first universal premise. If the first two premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true; no other answer is logically possible without violating one of the rules of reasoning.

Instead of working from the top down, as deduction does, inductive reason works from the bottom up and draws general or universal conclusions on the basis of specific examples. We observe that in the past, ants were always attracted to the food at our picnics, and conclude that ants are attracted by picnic food. Unlike deductive conclusions which are logically certain, inductive conclusions have only a degree of probability. For example, we could improve the probability of our conclusion by observing 20,000 picnic sites instead of six. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá illustrates inductive reasoning when he writes, “Also [humankind] bringeth to light the past events that have been lost to memory, and foreseeth by his power of induction future happenings that are as yet unknown”. In other words, on the basis of past events, we can reach a conclusion about future events or likely future events. This is exactly what science does which studies numerous examples of a phenomena and then reaches a conclusion. Elsewhere ‘Abdu’lBahá says that “through processes of inductive reasoning and research” we can learn a great deal about humanity. In other words, we learn from or conclude from specific individual events. The Writings nonetheless show us many examples of induction in practice. For example, here is a complete inductive argument with its conclusion stated at the end:

But when you look at Nature itself, you see that it has no intelligence, no will. For instance, the nature of fire is to burn; it burns without will or intelligence. The nature of water is fluidity; it flows without will or intelligence. The nature of the sun is radiance; it shines without will or intelligence ... Man is able to resist and to oppose Nature because he discovers the constitution of things ... all the inventions he has made are due to his discovery of the constitution of things ... It is evident, then, that man rules over Nature.

Bahá’u’lláh also uses inductive arguments. He lists a series of historical examples in which people have yearned for the Manifestation and then, ironically, turned away from Him when He appeared.

The Bahá’í Writings make frequent use of analogical reasoning to explain and support the teachings. In analogies, we observe that two things are similar but not identical, and then reason or draw conclusions about one thing, i.e. the target, by comparisons with something else, i.e. the source. The more similarities between the source and the target, the stronger the conclusion will be. However, while analogical arguments provide good reasons to accept a conclusion, they do not provide logically necessary proof. One of the most striking arguments by analogy in the Writings concerns the organic nature of human society. According to Bahá’u’lláh, we should

Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies.

The underlying analogy is that initial appearances not withstanding, both the human body and the world/society are living organisms. Because they are the same kinds of things, we can transfer attributes from one to the other, i.e. from the source — the human body — to the target — the world/society.

In his guidance to the conduct of consultation by a Spiritual Assembly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says, “The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions” [SWAB 87, emphasis added]. This statement encapsulates the essence of Socratic dialectic reasoning in which we seek the truth by carefully cross-examining all ideas, by trying them against contradictory or alternative suggestions and by analyzing them in light of divine revelation and for logical consistency. Naturally, we must take into account the spiritual context of this intellectual procedure for it is this spiritual context which forms the psycho-spiritual environment that helps us find the truth. This spiritual focus is essential because it discourages human idiosyncrasies, foibles and/or personal agendas from derailing the dialectical reasoning process. Although dialectical reasoning is necessary to Bahá’í consultation, it is not sufficient. Bahá’í consultation makes a key improvement in the process of dialectical reasoning by requiring participants to surrender personal ownership of ideas.

When an idea is put forth it becomes at once the property of the group. Although this notion sounds simple, it is perhaps the most profound principle of consultation ... When followed, this principle encourages those ideas that spring forth from a sincere desire to serve, as opposed to ideas that emanate from a desire for personal aggrandizement or constituency building.

It should be mentioned in passing, that dialectical reasoning requires adherence to the four laws of reasoning discussed in previous sections. A dialogue in which terms are not used consistently, in which the choice of truth or falsity is evaded, in which logical self-contradictions are rampant and in which reasons are not adequate to the subject matter quickly degenerates into nonsense that communicates nothing except confusion.

There are, broadly speaking, three viewpoints about the powers of reason. Rationalism in its strongest form, often associated with empiricism and logical positivism, maintains that reason can tell us ‘everything.’ Whatever cannot be known by reason is not knowledge. Reason alone is both necessary and sufficient. At the other extreme is skepticism, in our time mainly in its as postmodern guise, which says reason can tell us nothing. There is no truth and we only have opinions or viewpoints, none less or more true than any other. Reason is neither necessary nor sufficient. Moderate rationalism lies between these two extremes. It holds that reason can tell us some things but not others; it has the ability to provide some knowledge but it also has limits. In short, reason is necessary but not sufficient. In our view, the Bahá’í Writings espouse moderate rationalism, i.e. the view that reason is necessary but not sufficient.

It is essential to differentiate between the ‘Essence of God’ which Shoghi Effendi describes as the ‘innermost Spirit of Spirits’ or ‘Eternal Essence of Essences’, and ‘ God revealed ’ to humanity. The former is unknowable, while the latter is comprehensible to man.

The “Essence of God” is unknowable but “God revealed’ to humanity” i.e. God as revealed in phenomenal creation — can be known. He is known to us through the revelation of the Manifestations. What the Manifestation reflects is derived from and associated with God — that is precisely what makes him a Manifestation — and what He reveals to us about God, is knowledge about God appropriate to human understanding.

So far we have examined what is called ‘discursive reason,’ i.e. reaching conclusions on the basis of chains of inference based on universal premises, empirical evidence or analogies. Discursive reasoning requires clearly articulated steps according to the laws of logic. In our view, this kind of reasoning is pervasive throughout the Writings — but does not cover all ways of acquiring knowledge and reaching conclusions. The Writings, as noted before, espouse a moderate rationalism which recognizes the validity of non-discursive methods of knowing and finding truth. Some authors such as Ken Wilber21 refer to these methods as ‘transrational,’ i.e. psycho-spiritual processes that include but transcend reason. They do not violate rationality but go beyond it. Before proceeding, it is important to highlight that nondiscursive reasoning is not to be confused with irrationality. The irrational and the non-discursive differ insofar as irrationality involves a cognitive deficiency or confusion in the reasoning process. It may involve setting aside reason in favor of something else, e.g. a personal preference or desire, a political agenda, an advantage to be gained or a sheer assertion of will power for its own sake. On the other hand, nondiscursive reasoning is a way of acquiring knowledge or reaching conclusions about reality that does not involve the chains of inference we have previously examined.
Intuitions are another non-discursive way of knowing according to the Writings. Speaking about the divine origin of the universe, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says,

These obvious arguments are adduced for weak souls; but if the inner perception be open, a hundred thousand clear proofs become visible. Thus, when man feels the indwelling spirit , he is in no need of arguments for its existence.

If we have direct sight or experiential knowledge we have no need of discursive, step-by-step inferential reasoning. Opening our eyes — not devising arguments — will prove the existence of the sun. The direct experience is identified with feelings in this passage, once again suggesting that feelings are the medium of this kind of direct, non-discursive knowledge. After discussing the immortality of the soul, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declares, if the inner sight becomes opened , and the spiritual hearing strengthened , and the spiritual feelings predominant, he will see the immortality of the spirit as clearly as he sees the sun.

Here, too, we observe that direct insight — “inner sight” — and “spiritual feelings” give us non-discursive knowledge about spiritual topics like immortality. However, we must bear in mind that direct “inner sight,” though not subject to inferential reasoning, is not inherently irrational, and thereby, opposed to the “rational soul.”

However, rhetorical devices are persuasive; no matter how logical they might appear, they can never prove logically necessary conclusions. Like logic, they persuade, they elicit assent, they convince and forge commitment - but not by logic. Rather they appeal to our various emotions and to our personal, social and cultural assumptions, prejudices, fears, aspirations and loyalties. They activate personal and cultural responses by strong sensual stimuli, by wit and humor, by shock and outrage and by `seduction'. Rhetoric may use facts, pseudo-logic (See Shakespeare's and Donne's sonnets), a wide variety of linguistic devices such as inversion, incremental repetition or climactic phrasing - but whatever it does or uses, rhetoric's primary goal is personal assent rather than intellectual conviction. The proper use of rhetorical devices in scholarly / academic work is pedagogical, i.e. they should be used to illustrate ideas that have already been proven true or openly accepted as such. Their purpose is to clarify and improve understanding. They must never be used to hide gaps in logical thinking or circumvent it, or to `disprove' a logical argument. The moment such misuses appear in a scholarly / academic work, we must be aware that a non-rational, non-scholarly agenda is at work and that the author is not really proving anything - s/he can't with rhetorical devices - but merely becoming political by trying to create assent and consent by non-logical means. This is utterly inappropriate in scholarship.

The single worst error in logical reasoning is the failure to classify properly, i.e. the failure correctly abstract the essential properties of the objects under study. This is a pre-operational error because it is made before other logical operations such as induction, deduction, analogical or statistical reasoning take place. It is obviously impossible to reason correctly when the essential nature of things has been misunderstood. If we do not understand the essential differences between iguanas and frying pans, we cannot arrive at correct conclusions about them. This inevitably leads to misrepresentation. A good example of essential misapprehension is found in Juan Cole's "The Bahá'í Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997". Cole fails to identify (abstract) two essential qualities of the Bahai Faith: it (1) a voluntary and (2) a purposive organization. This leads him to conflate it with a panopticon, a type of prison in which convicts are visible from all angles at all times (Bentham) or, by extension, a society in which people keep themselves and each other under surveillance by their inward adherence to the rules (Foucault). In one way or another, a panopticon requires compulsion and thus denies individual freedom. The conflation here is either an inadvertent, but fatal error of reasoning or it is intentional, in which case it is nothing other than a propaganda ploy known as "fear mongering". Conflation is one of the most commonly used propaganda devices.

Referring to the Bahá'í Faith as a theocracy is another example of essential misapprehension leading to outright misrepresentation. Unlike any theocracy that ever existed, the Bahá'í Faith has no clergy; all authoritative and executive offices are held by election: LSA's, NSA's, delegates to the annual convention and the Universal House of Justice. Any decision made by appointees such as Auxiliary Board Members and Counselors may be appealed to the elected bodies, which, in the case of the Universal House, have the final word. This is so unlike any historical examples of theocracy that it is a gross misuse of the word to apply it to the Bahá'í Faith. Nor have there ever been examples of theocracies as voluntary organizations. The use of such philosophically and historically inaccurate descriptions is a blatant use of a rhetorical (and propaganda) device called "guilt by association".

A second type of essential misapprehension is the failure to recognize the purpose of the object of study, its final cause. The Bahá'í Faith exists for a purpose, to unify humankind. It has a purpose that extends beyond its own collective self-interest. Consequently, it is a `purposive organization' and even in the most democratic societies, such organizations do not give absolute priority to individualism and civil rights; rather, they balance individual aspirations with common goals. Those who join such organizations, voluntarily set aside some of their preferences, civil privileges and even curtail some of their own civil rights for the good of the organization as a whole. They do so because they have a greater loyalty to the goals of the cause they have chosen than to their own views and `rights'. Such individuals understand - as Cole does not - that restrictions are a necessary and inevitable part of any purposive organization and that personal sacrifices are required for the organization to work. Membership has privileges - but also its duties.

A third type of essential misapprehension is the failure to see the object of study as a whole. For example, the Bahá'í Faith is not a fragmented smorgasbord of teachings but an integral entity, in which all parts must be seen in relationship to each other. The fact that women cannot be elected to the Universal House must be seen in light of women's stated priority in education, their absolute right for economic support and their exemption from military service. This error also underlies many attempts to `prove' the repressive nature of the Faith by means of single quotes taken in isolation.

Essential misapprehension may also lead to the straw man fallacy, i.e. the fallacy of false attribution by which we attribute qualities, intentions, motives and powers that do not really exist.

An example of such false attribution of motive is Cole's claim that "the Bahá'í authorities wish to project an image more liberal than the reality" (ibid.) However, this cannot stand up to rational analysis. The Bahá'í Faith has never hidden its commitment to supposedly less `liberal' teachings, among them the ban on non-marital sex and homosexual acts, the ban on alcohol and illicit drugs, the strong discouragement of abortion, the fact that only men may be elected to the Universal House of Justice, the principle of obedience to the elected institutions and the acceptability of capital punishment in some cases. These `un-liberal' Teachings have always been widely available to seekers.

Indeed, the artificial imposition of foreign categories such as 'liberal' and 'conservative' is a straw man device. This extrinsic attributions must be imposed from without because they have no natural place within the Faith. They are drawn from adversarial party politics and the ensuing political culture and as such are irrelevant to a culture that rejects adversarial politics in all forms. Moreover, as already noted, the Bahá'í teachings on various issues impinge on both "liberal" and "conservative" portions of the political spectrum. This false attribution is a good example of a propaganda ploy known as `divide and conquer'.
 
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False attribution of cause is one of the most common, and serious, logical errors. It is sometimes called 'dog logic' or 'madhouse logic'. Each day the mailman comes; my dog barks and each day the mailman leaves - and once again my dog struts proudly convinced that yet again he has driven off the threat.

According to Cole, "[t]he problem with strict internal controls for missionary religions, however, is that they are most often incompatible in Western societies with significant growth" (Cole, 1998). He blames what he sees as the slow growth in America on 'repression' instituted by the Universal House of Justice. Yet, oddly enough, he recognizes that groups "with strict internal controls" ("Panopticon") such as the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses as well as a wide variety of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have experienced "significant growth".

It is logically obvious that if other religions with "strict internal controls" (ibid.) are experiencing "significant growth", such controls cannot be used to explain why the Bahá'í Faith is not growing as fast as he thinks it should be. Some other factor must be at work. He attributes causal agency without showing any causal connection. At best, one might say that he mistakes a correlation (slow growth and alleged repression) for a cause.

Without reliable sources, any work of research is bound to outrun its evidence. The single most important element in reliability is independent corroboration, and material that does not have at least some corroboration is suspect. Thus, evidence from anecdotes (especially from many years in the past), e-mails, personal communications and rumors is always weak simply because corroboration is difficult, sometimes impossible, to obtain. Any article or argument that relies on such evidence to establish its major points is, for this reason alone, unreliable.

These errors occur when essential information is left out and thus creates a misrepresentation. Critical of the ban on partisan political involvement, Cole leaves readers with the impression that this is somehow an unnatural imposition on the Faith, a deviation Abdu'l-Bahá's instruction to "take part in the election of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic" (Abdu'l-Bahá, 1099-1916, II, 342-343, quoted by Cole). In order to misrepresent the Faith on this matter, Cole leaves out two pieces of information that contradict his assertions.

First, Bahá'ís may perform the most essential of all democratic acts - voting, which, the case of the U.S. means voting for a party. This requires them to be watchful and intelligent observers of the political scene, something which undermines Cole's claims about the political isolation of Bahá'ís. They may be removed from personal activity but are certainly not removed from thoughtful concern which is in itself a form of involvement.

Second, partisanship in the wranglings of political parties is not the only way to "take part in the affairs of the republic" (Abdu'l-Bahá, ibid.) Nothing, for example, forbids Bahá'ís from discussing the philosophical issues that underlie political or social issues, or, for example, publishing an article on the role of government in family matters. What the writer may not do is identify his views with a particular party or publish them in a party forum. Such a discussion or article is certainly involvement "in the affairs of the republic" (Ibid.). Furthermore, Cole assumes that all involvement in public life must be personal, partisan political involvement, ignoring the fact that Bahá'ís can get involved in all kinds of reform groups and committees and in service clubs.

False assumptions are those which are erroneous, unsupported or inappropriate to the object of study. For example, the assumption that the avoidance of partisan politics isolates Bahá'ís more than the large numbers of Americans who, like Bahá'ís, do no more than cast their ballots. Such a far-reaching assumption cannot simply be accepted and built on; it must be proven or, at least, shown as a reasonable possibility.

Another common logical error is special pleading in which one makes an exception. This may be legitimate but there have to be good, i.e. essential reasons to justify doing so. For example, "Bahá'í elective institutions are not beholden to the electorate and may decide as they please" (ibid.). Logically, this statement is true - but trivial because it says nothing more than the obvious. This is true of any elected institution, Bahá'í or non-Bahá'í : they can do as they please until the next election. But if this is true of virtually all elected bodies, why is it evidence of control and manipulation in the case of the Administrative? Consequently, this critique has no rationale, and does nothing to prove the alleged control and manipulation.

A circular argument is one in which the premise depends on its conclusion and vice versa. On the subject of `tripping' "the wire" (ibid.) of the alleged "informant system" (ibid.), Cole writes, "The independent-minded, however, usually discover fairly early on in their Bahá'í careers and then have to decide whether they wish to live the rest of their lives in a panopticon" (ibid.). In other words, anyone who `trips the wire' is independent and anyone who is independent trips the wire. The argument is obviously circular.

This circularity itself leads to the fallacy of false alternatives because it suggests that people are either independent thinkers (and, therefore ex-Bahá'ís or Bahá'ís `in trouble') or they are not genuinely independent thinkers. He rejects out of hand the reasonable possibility that people may independently have come to agree with the Faith or do not interpret the actions of the Administrative Order as he does.

The appeal to patriotism is one of the standard tools in the propagandist's tool-box. It is also regarded as intellectually dishonest since such appeals are rarely relevant to the subject matter. Furthermore, like all propaganda, this technique appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect. As such it has no place in rational and scholarly debate. Below is an example of a blatant patriotic appeal:

"Another way in which many Bahá'ís are isolated from social supports is their disparagement of the institutions and values of mainstream American society. Many Bahá'ís exalt their own community, values and procedures and denigrate those of what they call the "Old World Order". The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights are often criticized by conservative Bahá'ís as embodying the Old World Order values and inferior to those found in the Bahá'í Writings. Bahá'í antagonism to existing American society is expressed in a number of ways."

The use of emotive diction makes it obvious that the author wants to portray Bahá'ís as un-American. Bahá'í disagreement, i.e. difference of opinion with some aspects of American political life is portrayed as "disparagement", i.e. an emotionally dismissive contempt. `Disparage' has a nasty and hostile connotations which are reinforced by Cole's use of two other strongly emotional words: "antagonism" (ibid.), which directly brings up the issue of hostility, and "denigrate" (ibid.), which means to "blacken; defame" (OED). By using the word "denigrate" (ibid.) Cole presents Bahá'í disagreement with some aspects of American political and social life as an odious and hostile attack. This reinforces his suggestion that Bahá'ís - or least, Bahá'ís in good standing - are enemies of the United States. Further reinforcement of this portrait of Bahá'ís as disloyal Americans is the statement that they "exalt their own community" (ibid.) over what currently exists. In other words, not only are Bahá'ís (except `liberals') of dubious loyalty, they also have the gall to believe they have something better from which America may learn. The word exalt means to praise, dignify, ennoble (OED), but it also carries connotations of exaggeration, irrationality and of what today is termed `triumphalism'. This supports the portrait of Bahá'ís as enjoying a fanatic and malicious sense of their own superiority. Here too we see all the standard techniques of demonization.

The purpose of scare tactics in propaganda is to turn readers against the target by making them afraid for their own well-being and/or safety without presenting any rational or adequate reason for such fears.

One of Cole's most obvious scare tactics is guilt by association. He works hard to link the Bahá'ís with the threat of a theocratic dictatorship which would deprive non-Bahá'í Americans of their civil rights. Leaving aside Cole's misunderstanding and misrepresentation of this issue (See above) let us focus on Cole's propaganda. He raises irrational fears, by linking the Bahá'í Faith specifically with the Khomeinist regime in Iran. For example, he writes that Bahá'ís "do not see them [their institutions] - - as Protestants would - - as a mere church, but rather as an embryonic theocracy (in this they resemble the Khomeinists)" (ibid.). `Khomeinist' with its associations with Iran, the hostage crisis of 1979, the failed rescue attempt and Hizbollah suicide bombers is an effective way of making readers, especially those in the U.S., nervous.

Introductions to scholarly articles are intended to prepare readers by providing necessary background information either about the subject and/or the author so that readers can achieve genuine understanding of the topic and evaluate the article rationally. The task of an introduction is to construct a frame of reference that contextualizes the material and provides guidance for understanding; it exists to clarify. Introductions to scholarly work should not aim at arousing emotions since emotionality is not conducive to rational and critical reflection. Such introductions are appropriate to propagandistic, not scholarly works.

"Panopticon" is blatantly propagandistic. To create reader receptivity for his thesis that Bahá'í Faith in the U.S. has become deceptive, controlling and manipulative, Cole begins the article with diction carefully chosen to arouse suspicions and negative emotions. Indeed, his first sentence encourages readers to adopt a suspicious, paranoid mind-set and engage in conspiratorial thinking: "Despite the large literature on American religious bodies, some groups remain curiously off-limits to investigation"
 
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#6
2) God is the Creator. The word creator presupposes or connotes creation. God is the Provider. The word provider implies recipients of provision. Another name for the Creator is the Resuscitator, which demands the existence of creatures to be resuscitated. If He be not the Provider, how could we conceive of creatures to receive His bounty? If He be not the Lord, how could we conceive of subjects? If He be not the Knower, how could we conceive of those known? If we should say that there was a time in past ages when God was not possessed of His creation or that there was a beginning for the world, it would be a denial of creation and the Creator.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 377)
4) By the divine we mean the discovery of the mysteries of God, the comprehension of spiritual realities, the wisdom of God, inner significances of the heavenly religions and foundation of the law.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 181)
10) Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose -- that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from nonexistence into being, or going from existence into nonexistence. So this flower, this hyacinth, during a certain period of time was coming from the world of nonexistence into being, and now it is going from being into nonexistence. This state of motion is said to be essential -- that is, natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement, as it is the essential requirement of fire to burn.

Thus it is established that this movement is necessary to existence, which is either growing or declining. Now, as the spirit continues to exist after death, it necessarily progresses or declines; and in the other world to cease to progress is the same as to decline; but it never leaves its own condition, in which it continues to develop. For example, the reality of the spirit of Peter, however far it may progress, will not reach to the condition of the Reality of Christ; it progresses only in its own environment.

Look at this mineral. However far it may evolve, it only evolves in its own condition; you cannot bring the crystal to a state where it can attain to sight. This is impossible.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 233)
13) It has been proved by exact science that the essence of things does not change, and that all beings are under one universal law and organization from which they cannot deviate; and, therefore, that which is contrary to universal law is impossible.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 100)
Relationalism is the belief that all things exist by virtue of their relationship with God and/or other things. Only God is perfectly independent and does not exist by virtue of His relationship to other things.
15) Some sages and philosophers believe that there are two kinds of preexistence: essential preexistence and preexistence of time. Phenomena are also of two kinds, essential phenomena and that of time.

Essential preexistence is an existence which is not preceded by a cause, but essential phenomena are preceded by causes. Preexistence of time is without beginning, but the phenomena of time have beginnings and endings; for the existence of everything depends upon four causes -- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called the essential and really phenomenal.

Now this world of existence in relation to its maker is a real phenomenon. As the body is sustained by the spirit, it is in relation to the spirit an essential phenomenon. The spirit is independent of the body, and in relation to it the spirit is an essential preexistence. Though the rays are always inseparable from the sun, nevertheless, the sun is preexistent and the rays are phenomenal, for the existence of the rays depends upon that of the sun. But the existence of the sun does not depend upon that of the rays, for the sun is the giver and the rays are the gift.

The second proposition is that existence and nonexistence are both relative. If it be said that such a thing came into existence from nonexistence, this does not refer to absolute nonexistence, but means that its former condition in relation to its actual condition was nothingness. For absolute nothingness cannot find existence, as it has not the capacity of existence. Man, like the mineral, is existing; but the existence of the mineral in relation to that of man is nothingness, for when the body of man is annihilated it becomes dust and mineral. But when dust progresses into the human world, and this dead body becomes living, man becomes existing. Though the dust -- that is to say, the mineral -- has existence in its own condition, in relation to man it is nothingness. Both exist, but the existence of dust and mineral, in relation to man, is nonexistence and nothingness; for when man becomes nonexistent, he returns to dust and mineral.

Therefore, though the world of contingency exists, in relation to the existence of God it is nonexistent and nothingness. Man and dust both exist, but how great the difference between the existence of the mineral and that of man! The one in relation to the other is nonexistence. In the same way, the existence of creation in relation to the existence of God is nonexistence. Thus it is evident and clear that although the beings exist, in relation to God and to the Word of God they are nonexistent. This is the beginning and the end of the Word of God, Who says: "I am Alpha and Omega"; for He is the beginning and the end of Bounty. The Creator always had a creation; the rays have always shone and gleamed from the reality of the sun, for without the rays the sun would be opaque darkness. The names and attributes of God require the existence of beings, and the Eternal Bounty does not cease. If it were to, it would be contrary to the perfections of God.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 280)
16) Each kingdom of creation is endowed with its necessary complement of attributes and powers. The mineral possesses inherent virtues of its own kingdom in the scale of existence. The vegetable possesses the qualities of the mineral plus an augmentative virtue, or power of growth. The animal is endowed with the virtues of both the mineral and vegetable plane plus the power of intellect. The human kingdom is replete with the perfections of all the kingdoms below it with the addition of powers peculiar to man alone. Man is, therefore, superior to all the creatures below him, the loftiest and most glorious being of creation. Man is the microcosm; and the infinite universe, the macrocosm. The mysteries of the greater world, or macrocosm, are expressed or revealed in the lesser world, the microcosm. The tree, so to speak, is the greater world, and the seed in its relation to the tree is the lesser world. But the whole of the great tree is potentially latent and hidden in the little seed. When this seed is planted and cultivated, the tree is revealed. Likewise, the greater world, the macrocosm, is latent and miniatured in the lesser world, or microcosm, of man. This constitutes the universality or perfection of virtues potential in mankind. Therefore, it is said that man has been created in the image and likeness of God.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 69)
19) Therefore, They establish laws which are suitable and adapted to the state of the world of man, for religion is the essential connection which proceeds from the realities of things. The Manifestation -- that is, the Holy Lawgiver -- unless He is aware of the realities of beings, will not comprehend the essential connection which proceeds from the realities of things, and He will certainly not be able to establish a religion conformable to the facts and suited to the conditions
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 158)
25) The worlds of God are in perfect harmony and correspondence one with the other. Each world in this limitless universe is, as it were, a mirror reflecting the history and nature of all the rest. The physical world is, likewise, in perfect correspondence with the spiritual or divine realm.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, P. 270.)
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.[4] Traditionally listed as the core of metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.
Identity is a fundamental metaphysical issue. Metaphysicians investigating identity are tasked with the question of what, exactly, it means for something to be identical to itself, or — more controversially — to something else. Issues of identity arise in the context of time: what does it mean for something to be itself across two moments in time? How do we account for this?
Objects appear to us in space and time, while abstract entities such as classes, properties, and relations do not. What then is meant by space and time such that it can serve this function as a ground for objects? Are space and time entities themselves, of some form, or must they exist prior to other entities? How exactly can they be defined?
The laws of physics are symmetrical in time, so could equally well be used to describe time as running backwards. Why then do we perceive it as flowing in one direction, the arrow of time, and as containing causation flowing in the same direction?
Metaphysicians investigate questions about the ways the world could have been.
Metaphysical cosmology is the branch of metaphysics that deals with the world as the totality of all phenomena in space and time.
There are different ways to set up the notion of number in metaphysics theories. Platonist theories postulate number as a fundamental category itself. Others consider it to be a property of an entity called a "group" comprising other entities; or to be a relation held between several groups of entities, such as "the number four is the set of all sets of four things".
Metaphysics continues asking "why" where science leaves off. For example, any theory of fundamental physics is based on some set of axioms, which may postulate the existence of entities such as atoms, particles, forces, charges, mass, or fields. Stating such postulates is considered to be the "end" of a science theory. Metaphysics takes these postulates and explores what they mean as human concepts.
A number of individuals have suggested that much or all of metaphysics should be rejected. In the 16th century, Francis Bacon rejected scholastic metaphysics, and argued strongly for what is now called empiricism, being seen later as the father of modern empirical science.
Relationalism is any theoretical position that gives importance to the relational nature of things. For relationalism, things exist and function only as relational entities. Relationalism may be contrasted with relationism, which tends to emphasize relations per se.
Relationalism in a broader sense applies to any system of thought that gives importance to the relational nature of reality. But in its narrower and philosophically restricted sense as propounded by the Indian philosopher Joseph Kaipayil[1][2][3] and others, relationalism refers to the theory of reality that interprets the existence, nature, and meaning of things in terms of their relationality or relatedness. On the relationalist view, things are neither self-standing entities nor vague events but relational particulars. Particulars are inherently relational, as they are ontologically open to other particulars in their constitution and action. Particulars, as relational particulars, are the ultimate constituents of reality. Particulars interact and make the very fabric of reality.
In discussions about space and time, the name relationalism (or relationism) refers to Leibniz's relationist notion of space and time as against Newton's substantivalist views.[4][5][6] According to Newton’s substantivalism, space and time are entities in their own right, existing independently of things. Leibniz’s relationism, on the other hand, describes space and time as systems of relations that exist between objects.
Relationalism in colour theory, as defended by Jonathan Cohen and others,[7][8] means the view that colours of an object are constituted partly in terms of relations with the perceiver. An anti-relationalist view about colour, on the other hand, would insist colours are object-dependent.
In relational sociology, relationalism is often contrasted with substantivalism. While substantivalism (also called substantialism) tends to view individuals as self-subsistent entities capable of social interaction, relationalism underscores the social human practices and the individual’s transactional contexts and reciprocal relations. [10]
 
Jul 2017
245
Kettering, Ohio USA
#7
Epistemology answers such questions as Can we know anything? What can we know? How can we know it? What is truth?

1) The power of the rational soul can discover the realities of things, comprehend the peculiarities of beings, and penetrate the mysteries of existence. All sciences, knowledge, arts, wonders, institutions, discoveries and enterprises come from the exercised intelligence of the rational soul. There was a time when they were unknown, preserved mysteries and hidden secrets; the rational soul gradually discovered them and brought them out from the plane of the invisible and the hidden into the realm of the visible. This is the greatest power of perception in the world of nature, which in its highest flight and soaring comprehends the realities, the properties and the effects of the contingent beings.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 217)

4) Know that there are two kinds of knowledge: the knowledge of the essence of a thing and the knowledge of its qualities. The essence of a thing is known through its qualities; otherwise, it is unknown and hidden.
As our knowledge of things, even of created and limited things, is knowledge of their qualities and not of their essence, how is it possible to comprehend in its essence the Divine Reality, which is unlimited? For the inner essence of anything is not comprehended, but only its qualities. For example, the inner essence of the sun is unknown, but is understood by its qualities, which are heat and light. The inner essence of man is unknown and not evident, but by its qualities it is characterized and known. Thus everything is known by its qualities and not by its essence. Although the mind encompasses all things, and the outward beings are comprehended by it, nevertheless these beings with regard to their essence are unknown; they are only known with regard to their qualities.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 220)

8) It is not that we can comprehend His knowledge, His sight, His power and life, for it is beyond our comprehension; for the essential names and attributes of God are identical with His Essence, and His Essence is above all comprehension. If the attributes are not identical with the Essence, there must also be a multiplicity of preexistences, and differences between the attributes and the Essence must also exist; and as Preexistence is necessary, therefore, the sequence of preexistences would become infinite. This is an evident error.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 148)

In Europe I told the philosophers and scientists of materialism that the criterion of the senses is not reliable. For instance, consider a mirror and the images reflected in it. These images have no actual corporeal existence. Yet if you had never seen a mirror, you would firmly insist and believe that they were real. The eye sees a mirage upon the desert as a lake of water, but there is no reality in it. As we stand upon the deck of a steamer, the shore appears to be moving, yet we know the land is stationary and we are moving. The earth was believed to be fixed and the sun revolving about it, but although this appears to be so, the reverse is now known to be true. A whirling torch makes a circle of fire appear before the eye, yet we realize there is but one point of light. We behold a shadow moving upon the ground, but it has no material existence, no substance. In deserts the atmospheric effects are particularly productive of illusions which deceive the eye. Once I saw a mirage in which a whole caravan appeared traveling upward into the sky. In the far North other deceptive phenomena appear and baffle human vision. Sometimes three or four suns, called by scientists mock suns, will be shining at the same time, whereas we know that the great solar orb is one and that it remains fixed and single. In brief, the senses are continually deceived, and we are unable to separate that which is reality from that which is not.
As to the second criterion -- reason -- this likewise is unreliable and not to be depended upon. This human world is an ocean of varying opinions. If reason is the perfect standard and criterion of knowledge, why are opinions at variance and why do philosophers disagree so completely with each other? This is a clear proof that human reason is not to be relied upon as an infallible criterion. For instance, great discoveries and announcements of former centuries are continually upset and discarded by the wise men of today. Mathematicians, astronomers, chemical scientists continually disprove and reject the conclusions of the ancients; nothing is fixed, nothing final; everything is continually changing because human reason is progressing along new roads of investigation and arriving at new conclusions every day. In the future much that is announced and accepted as true now will be rejected and disproved. And so it will continue ad infinitum.
When we consider the third criterion -- traditions -- upheld by theologians as the avenue and standard of knowledge, we find this source equally unreliable and unworthy of dependence. For religious traditions are the report and record of understanding and interpretation of the Book. By what means has this understanding, this interpretation been reached? By the analysis of human reason. When we read the Book of God, the faculty of comprehension by which we form conclusions is reason. Reason is mind. If we are not endowed with perfect reason, how can we comprehend the meanings of the Word of God? Therefore, human reason, as already pointed out, is by its very nature finite and faulty in conclusions. It cannot surround the Reality Itself, the Infinite Word. Inasmuch as the source of traditions and interpretations is human reason, and human reason is faulty, how can we depend upon its findings for real knowledge?
The fourth criterion I have named is inspiration through which it is claimed the reality of knowledge is attainable. What is inspiration? It is the influx of the human heart. But what are satanic promptings which afflict mankind? They are the influx of the heart also. How shall we differentiate between them? The question arises: How shall we know whether we are following inspiration from God or satanic promptings of the human soul? Briefly, the point is that in the human material world of phenomena these four are the only existing criteria or avenues of knowledge, and all of them are faulty and unreliable. What then remains? How shall we attain the reality of knowledge? By the breaths and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which is light and knowledge itself. Through it the human mind is quickened and fortified into true conclusions and perfect knowledge. This is conclusive argument showing that all available human criteria are erroneous and defective, but the divine standard of knowledge is infallible. Therefore, man is not justified in saying, "I know because I perceive through my senses," or "I know because it is proved through my faculty of reason," or "I know because it is according to tradition and interpretation of the Holy Book," or "I know because I am inspired." All human standards of judgment are faulty, finite.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 20)

14) Question. -- One of the powers possessed by the Divine Manifestations is knowledge. To what extent is it limited?

Answer. -- Knowledge is of two kinds. One is subjective and the other objective knowledge -- that is to say, an intuitive knowledge and a knowledge derived from perception.

The knowledge of things which men universally have is gained by reflection or by evidence -- that is to say, either by the power of the mind the conception of an object is formed, or from beholding an object the form is produced in the mirror of the heart. The circle of this knowledge is very limited because it depends upon effort and attainment.

But the second sort of knowledge, which is the knowledge of being, is intuitive; it is like the cognizance and consciousness that man has of himself.

For example, the mind and the spirit of man are cognizant of the conditions and states of the members and component parts of the body, and are aware of all the physical sensations; in the same way, they are aware of their power, of their feelings, and of their spiritual conditions. This is the knowledge of being which man realizes and perceives, for the spirit surrounds the body and is aware of its sensations and powers. This knowledge is not the outcome of effort and study. It is an existing thing; it is an absolute gift.

Since the Sanctified Realities, the supreme Manifestations of God, surround the essence and qualities of the creatures, transcend and contain existing realities and understand all things, therefore, Their knowledge is divine knowledge, and not acquired -- that is to say, it is a holy bounty; it is a divine revelation.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 156)

18) The existence of the Divine Being hath been clearly established, on the basis of logical proofs, but the reality of the Godhead is beyond the grasp of the mind. When thou dost carefully consider this matter, thou wilt see that a lower plane can never comprehend a higher. The mineral kingdom, for example, which is lower, is precluded from comprehending the vegetable kingdom; for the mineral, any such understanding would be utterly impossible. In the same way, no matter how far the vegetable kingdom may develop, it will achieve no conception of the animal kingdom, and any such comprehension at its level would be unthinkable, for the animal occupieth a plane higher than that of the vegetable: this tree cannot conceive of hearing and sight. And the animal kingdom, no matter how far it may evolve, can never become aware of the reality of the intellect, which discovereth the inner essence of all things, and comprehendeth those realities which cannot be seen; for the human plane as compared with that of the animal is very high. And although these beings all co-exist in the contingent world, in each case the difference in their stations precludeth their grasp of the whole; for no lower degree can understand a higher, such comprehension being impossible.

The higher plane, however, understandeth the lower. The animal, for instance, comprehendeth the mineral and vegetable, the human understandeth the planes of the animal, vegetable and mineral. But the mineral cannot possibly understand the realms of man. And notwithstanding the fact that all these entities co-exist in the phenomenal world, even so, no lower degree can ever comprehend a higher.

Then how could it be possible for a contingent reality, that is, man, to understand the nature of that pre-existent Essence, the Divine Being? The difference in station between man and the Divine Reality is thousands upon thousands of times greater than the difference between vegetable and animal. And that which a human being would conjure up in his mind is but the fanciful image of his human condition, it doth not encompass God's reality but rather is encompassed by it. That is, man graspeth his own illusory conceptions, but the Reality of Divinity can never be grasped: It, Itself, encompasseth all created things, and all created things are in Its grasp. That Divinity which man doth imagine for himself existeth only in his mind, not in truth. Man, however, existeth both in his mind and in truth; thus man is greater than that fanciful reality which he is able to imagine.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 46)

21) If it be claimed that the intellectual reality of man belongs to the world of nature -- that it is a part of the whole -- we ask is it possible for the part to contain virtues which the whole does not possess? For instance, is it possible for the drop to contain virtues of which the aggregate body of the sea is deprived? Is it possible for a leaf to be imbued with virtues which are lacking in the whole tree? Is it possible that the extraordinary faculty of reason in man is animal in character and quality? On the other hand, it is evident and true, though most astounding, that in man there is present this supernatural force or faculty which discovers the realities of things and which possesses the power of idealization or intellection. It is capable of discovering scientific laws, and science we know is not a tangible reality. Science exists in the mind of man as an ideal reality. The mind itself, reason itself, is an ideal reality and not tangible.

Notwithstanding this, some of the sagacious men declare: We have attained to the superlative degree of knowledge; we have penetrated the laboratory of nature, studying sciences and arts; we have attained the highest station of knowledge in the human world; we have investigated the facts as they are and have arrived at the conclusion that nothing is rightly acceptable except the tangible, 361 which alone is a reality worthy of credence; all that is not tangible is imagination and nonsense.

Strange indeed that after twenty years training in colleges and universities man should reach such a station wherein he will deny the existence of the ideal or that which is not perceptible to the senses. Have you ever stopped to think that the animal already has graduated from such a university? Have you ever realized that the cow is already a professor emeritus of that university? For the cow without hard labor and study is already a philosopher of the superlative degree in the school of nature. The cow denies everything that is not tangible, saying, "I can see! I can eat! Therefore, I believe only in that which is tangible!"

Then why should we go to the colleges? Let us go to the cow.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 360)
23) In like manner truth is one, although its manifestations may be very different. Some men have eyes and see. These worship the sun, no matter from which point on the horizon it may dawn; and when the sun has left the winter sky to appear in the summer one, they know how to find it again. Others there are who worship only the spot from which the sun arose, and when it arises in its glory from another place they remain in contemplation before the spot of its former rising. Alas! these men are deprived of the blessings of the sun. Those who in truth adore the sun itself will recognize it from whatsoever dawning-place it may appear, and will straightway turn their faces towards its radiance.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 128)

25) The first principle of Bahá'u'lláh is independent investigation of truth, that is, all the nations of the world have to investigate after truth independently and turn their eyes from the moribund blind imitations of the past ages entirely. Truth is one when it is independently investigated, it does not accept division. Therefore the independent investigation of truth will lead to the oneness of the world of humanity.
(Compilations, Japan Will Turn Ablaze, p. 35)
26) Imitation destroys the foundation of religion, extinguishes the spirituality of the human world, transforms heavenly illumination into darkness and deprives man of the knowledge of God. It is the cause of the victory of materialism and infidelity over religion; it is the denial of Divinity and the law of revelation; it refuses Prophethood and rejects the Kingdom of God. When materialists subject imitations to the intellectual analysis of reason, they find them to be mere superstitions; therefore, they deny religion. For instance, the Jews have ideas as to the purity and impurity of religion, but when you subject these ideas to scientific scrutiny, they are found to be without foundation.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 161)

28) The man who thinks only of himself and is thoughtless of others is undoubtedly inferior to the animal because the animal is not possessed of the reasoning faculty. The animal is excused; but in man there is reason, the faculty of justice, the faculty of mercifulness.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 42)

31) Likewise, when you meet those whose opinions differ from your own, do not turn away your face from them. All are seeking truth, and there are many roads leading thereto. Truth has many aspects, but it remains always and forever one.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 53)
33) The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 87)

35) The world of minds corresponds with the world of hearts.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. P. 270)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá points out that human insight comes to fruition in meditation, which “is the key for opening the doors of mysteries . . . Through the faculty of meditation man . . . receives the breath of the Holy Spirit . . . This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts . . . through it governments can run smoothly. (Paris Talks, 175).

Our intuitive abilities allow us to communicate with departed souls.

Intuition is always individuated, that is, peculiar to the person who experiences it. We do not share our intuitions in common with other people and, therefore, we cannot claim them to be generally valid.

There exist five types of philosophical systems – empiricist, rationalist, intuitivist, traditionalist, and scriptural.

John Locke was a pioneer of empiricist philosophy in modern Europe.
Aristotle in ancient Greece and Descartes in modern Europe advocated rationalist philosophy.

The German thinker Schelling developed intuitivist philosophy that before him had flourished in various schools of religious mysticism.

Traditionalist philosophy started with Confucius whose thought was based on the “tradition of the past” and such Chinese classics as the Book of Odes , the Book of Ritual , and others.

Philo of Alexandria is usually considered the first “scriptural philosopher” in the western intellectual tradition.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá belongs to the same tradition of scriptural – or as He calls it, divine – philosophy. Even more so, in the Bahá’í Faith He is regarded as both the infallible interpreter of the writings of His father, Bahá’u’lláh, and as a source of Bahá’í scripture.
The third limitation of knowledge, according to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, refers to the general liability of human cognition. There are four criteria of human knowledge – sense perception, reason, tradition, and intuition or inspiration. All of them are liable to error. The solution that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá proposes is to combine all four standards of judgment in order to come to a more conclusive proof.
Skepticism questions whether knowledge is possible at all. Skeptics argue that belief in something does not justify whether or not it is necessarily true.[7] Characterizing knowledge as strong or weak is dependent on a person's viewpoint and their characterization of knowledge.[7] Much of our knowledge on epistemology is derived from, in particular, rational and philosophical skepticism.
This skeptical approach is rarely taken to its pyrrhonean extreme by most practitioners. Several modifications have arisen over the years, including the following [1]:
Fictionalism would not claim to have knowledge but adheres to conclusions on some criterion such as utility, aesthetics, or other personal criteria without claiming that any conclusion is actually "true".
Philosophical fideism (as opposed to religious Fideism) would assert the truth of some propositions, but does so without asserting certainty.
Some forms of pragmatism would accept utility as a provisional guide to truth but not necessarily a universal decision-maker.

In mathematics, it is known that 2 + 2 = 4, but there is also knowing how to add two numbers, and knowing a person (e.g., knowing other persons[9], or knowing oneself), place (e.g., one's hometown), thing (e.g., cars), or activity (e.g., addition). Some philosophers think there is an important distinction between "knowing that" (know a concept), "knowing how" (understand an operation), and "acquaintance-knowledge" (know by relation), with epistemology being primarily concerned with the first of these.

In recent times, epistemologists including Sosa, Greco, Kvanvig, Zagzebski and Duncan Pritchard have argued that epistemology should evaluate people's "properties" (i.e., intellectual virtues) and not just the properties of propositions or of propositional mental attitudes.

In the Theaetetus, Socrates considers a number of theories as to what knowledge is, the last being that knowledge is true belief "with an account" (meaning explained or defined in some way). According to the theory that knowledge is justified true belief, to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but also have a good reason for doing so. One implication of this would be that no one would gain knowledge just by believing something that happened to be true. For example, an ill person with no medical training, but with a generally optimistic attitude, might believe that he will recover from his illness quickly. Nevertheless, even if this belief turned out to be true, the patient would not have known that he would get well since his belief lacked justification.

Externalists hold that factors deemed "external", meaning outside of the psychological states of those who gain knowledge, can be conditions of justification. For example, an externalist response to the Gettier problem is to say that for a justified true belief to count as knowledge, there must be a link or dependency between the belief and the state of the external world. Usually this is understood to be a causal link. Such causation, to the extent that it is "outside" the mind, would count as an external, knowledge-yielding condition. Internalists, on the other hand, assert that all knowledge-yielding conditions are within the psychological states of those who gain knowledge.

The dictum "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) is also commonly associated with Descartes' theory. In his own methodological doubt—doubting everything he previously knew so he could start from a blank slate—the first thing that he could not logically bring himself to doubt was his own existence: "I do not exist" would be a contradiction in terms. The act of saying that one does not exist assumes that someone must be making the statement in the first place. Descartes could doubt his senses, his body, and the world around him—but he could not deny his own existence, because he was able to doubt and must exist to manifest that doubt.

We generally assume that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief. If so, what is the explanation? A formulation of the value problem in epistemology first occurs in Plato's Meno. Socrates points out to Meno that a man who knew the way to Larissa could lead others there correctly. But so, too, could a man who had true beliefs about how to get there, even if he had not gone there or had any knowledge of Larissa. Socrates says that it seems that both knowledge and true opinion can guide action. Meno then wonders why knowledge is valued more than true belief and why knowledge and true belief are different. Socrates responds that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief because it is tethered or justified. Justification, or working out the reason for a true belief, locks down true belief.

A priori knowledge is knowledge that is known independently of experience (that is, it is non-empirical, or arrived at beforehand, usually by reason). It will henceforth be acquired through anything that is independent from experience.
A posteriori knowledge is knowledge that is known by experience (that is, it is empirical, or arrived at afterward).

Emmanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, drew a distinction between "analytic" and "synthetic" propositions. He contended that some propositions are such that we can know they are true just by understanding their meaning. For example, consider, "My father's brother is my uncle." We can know it is true solely by virtue of our understanding what its terms mean. Philosophers call such propositions analytic". Synthetic propositions, on the other hand, have distinct subjects and predicates. An example would be, "My father's brother has black hair." Kant stated that all mathematical and scientific statements are analytic priori propositions because they are necessarily true but our knowledge about the attributes of the mathematical or physical subjects we can only get by logical inference.
The regress problem is the problem of providing a complete logical foundation for human knowledge. The traditional way of supporting a rational argument is to appeal to other rational arguments, typically using chains of reason and rules of logic. A classic example that goes back to Aristotle is deducing that Socrates is mortal. We have a logical rule that says All humans are mortal and an assertion that Socrates is human and we deduce that Socrates is mortal. In this example how do we know that Socrates is human? Presumably we apply other rules such as: All born from human females are human. Which then leaves open the question how do we know that all born from humans are human? This is the regress problem: how can we eventually terminate a logical argument with some statement(s) that do not require further justification but can still be considered rational and justified?
By contrast with empiricism and idealism, which centres around the epistemologically privileged status of sense data (empirical) and the primacy of Reason (theoretical) respectively, modern rationalism adds a third 'system of thinking', (as Gaston Bachelard has termed these areas) and holds that all three are of equal importance: The empirical, the theoretical and the abstract. For Bachelard, rationalism makes equal reference to all three systems of thinking.

Constructivism is a view in philosophy according to which all "knowledge is a compilation of human-made constructions",[48] "not the neutral discovery of an objective truth".[49] Whereas objectivism is concerned with the "object of our knowledge", constructivism emphasizes "how we construct knowledge".[50] Constructivism proposes new definitions for knowledge and truth that form a new paradigm, based on inter-subjectivity instead of the classical objectivity, and on viability instead of truth.
A more contemporary understanding of pragmatism was developed by the philosopher Richard Rorty who proposed that values were historically contingent and dependent upon their utility within a given historical period.

Closely related to Pragmatism, naturalized epistemology considers the evolutionary role of knowledge for agents living and evolving in the world.[55] It de-emphasizes the questions around justification and truth, and instead asks, empirically, what beliefs should agents hold in order to survive.
In the Indian traditions, the most widely discussed pramanas are: Pratyak?a (perception), Anuma?a (inference), Upama?a (comparison and analogy), Arthapatti (postulation, derivation from circumstances), Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof) and Sabda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts). The Buddhist epistemologists (Dignaga and Dharmakirti) generally accepted only perception and inference.
The main Jain contribution to epistemology has been their theory of "many sided-ness" or "multi-perspectivism" (Anekantavada), which says that since the world is multifaceted, any single viewpoint is limited (naya — a partial standpoint).[65] This has been interpreted as a kind of pluralism or perspectivism.[66][67] According to Jain epistemology, none of the pramanas gives absolute or perfect knowledge since they are each limited points of view.
 
Jul 2017
245
Kettering, Ohio USA
#8
Philosophical anthropology is the theory of human nature. Unlike Sartrean existentialism and postmodernism, the Writings teach that there is such a thing as human nature with which we are born either potentially or in actuality. This common human nature is the basis of the teaching that humankind can be unified into one world federation or commonwealth.

1) In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man's spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. If a man's Divine nature dominates his human nature, we have a saint.

Man has the power both to do good and to do evil; if his power for good predominates and his inclinations to do wrong are conquered, then man in truth may be called a saint. But if, on the contrary, he rejects the things of God and allows his evil passions to conquer him, then he is no better than a mere animal.

Saints are men who have freed themselves from the world of matter and who have overcome sin. They live in the world but are not of it, their thoughts being continually in the world of the spirit. Their lives are spent in holiness, and their deeds show forth love, justice and godliness. They are illumined from on high; they are as bright and shining lamps in the dark places of the earth. These are the saints of God.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60)

2) All his aspirations and desires being strengthened by the lower side of the soul's nature, he becomes more and more brutal, until his whole being is in no way superior to that of the beasts that perish. Men such as this, plan to work evil, to hurt and to destroy; they are entirely without the spirit of Divine compassion, for the celestial quality of the soul has been dominated by that of the material. If, on the contrary, the spiritual nature of the soul has been so strengthened that it holds the material side in subjection, then does the man approach the Divine; his humanity becomes so glorified that the virtues of the Celestial Assembly are manifested in him;
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 96)

3) The same is true with respect to animals: notice that when the animal is trained it becomes domestic, and also that man, if he is left without education, becomes bestial, and, moreover, if left under the rule of nature, becomes lower than an animal, whereas if he is educated he becomes an angel. For the greater number of animals do not devour their own kind, but men, in the Sudan, in the central regions of Africa, kill and eat each other.

Now reflect that it is education that brings the East and the West under the authority of man; it is education that produces wonderful industries; it is education that spreads great sciences and arts; it is education that makes manifest new discoveries and institutions. If there were no educator, there would be no such things as comforts, civilization. 8 or humanity. If a man be left alone in a wilderness where he sees none of his own kind, he will undoubtedly become a mere brute; it is then clear that an educator is needed.

But education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the progress and development of the body, through gaining its sustenance, its material comfort and ease. This education is common to animals and man.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 7)

4) Like the animal, man possesses the faculties of the senses, is subject to heat, cold, hunger, thirst, etc.; unlike the animal, man has a rational soul, the human intelligence.

This intelligence of man is the intermediary between his body and his spirit.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 96)

5) The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names -- the human spirit and the rational soul -- designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings. But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.

But the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit and is its essential quality, as the sun's rays are the essential necessity of the sun.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 208)

9) the world of humanity is in need of the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. True distinction among mankind is through divine bestowals and receiving the intuitions of the Holy Spirit. If man does not become the recipient of the heavenly bestowals and spiritual bounties, he remains in the plane and kingdom of the animal. For the distinction between the animal and man is that man is endowed with the potentiality of divinity in his nature, whereas the animal is entirely bereft of that gift and attainment. Therefore, if a man is bereft of the intuitive breathings of the Holy Spirit, deprived of divine bestowals, out of touch with the heavenly world and negligent of the eternal truths, though in image and likeness he is human, in reality he is an animal;
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 316)

12) Therefore, no matter how much humanity may advance, there are ever higher stations to be attained because virtues are unlimited
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 377)

13) Praise be to God, throughout succeeding centuries and ages the call of civilization hath been raised, the world of humanity hath been advancing and progressing day by day, various countries have been developing by leaps and bounds, and material improvements have increased, until the world of existence obtained universal capacity to receive the spiritual teachings and to hearken to the Divine Call.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 285)

17) Now in the two lower kingdoms of nature we have seen that there is no question of the superiority of one sex over the other. In the world of humanity we find a great difference; the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is due not to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the inferiority of the other, withholding just rights and privileges as though God had given His authority for such a course of action? If women received the same educational advantages as those of men, the result would demonstrate the equality of capacity of both for scholarship.

In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 161)

21) . When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy, no matter what cause they are called upon to defend. There is no doubt that when women obtain equality of rights, war will entirely cease among mankind.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175)

24) 7) Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth. Afterwards, however, the individuals will vary according to what they acquire of virtues or vices in this world. Although all existent beings are in their very nature created in ranks or degrees, for capacities are various, nevertheless every individual is born holy and pure, and only thereafter may he become defiled.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 190)

26) Man alone has freedom, and, by his understanding or intellect, has been able to gain control of and adapt some of those natural laws to his own needs. By the power of his intellect he has discovered means by which he not only traverses great continents in express trains and crosses vast oceans in ships, but, like the fish he travels under water in submarines, and, imitating the birds, he flies through the air in airships.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 41)

Man is in the highest degree of materiality, and at the beginning of spirituality -- that is to say, he is the end of imperfection and the beginning of perfection. He is at the last degree of darkness, and at the beginning of light; that is why it has been said that the condition of man is the end of the night and the beginning of day, meaning that he is the sum of all the degrees of imperfection, and that he possesses the degrees of perfection. He has the animal side as well as the angelic side, and the aim of an educator is to so train human souls that their angelic aspect may overcome their animal side. Then if the divine power in man, which is his essential perfection, overcomes the satanic power, which is absolute imperfection, he becomes the most excellent among the creatures; but if the satanic power overcomes the divine power, he becomes the lowest of the creatures. That is why he is the end of imperfection and the beginning of perfection. Not in any other of the species in the world of existence is there such a difference, contrast, contradiction and opposition as in the species of man. Thus the reflection of the Divine Light was in man, as in Christ, and see how loved and honored He is! At the same time we see man worshiping a stone, a clod of earth or a tree. How vile he is, in that his object of worship should be the lowest existence -- that is, a stone or clay, without spirit; a mountain, a forest or a tree. What shame is greater for man than to worship the lowest existences? In the same way, knowledge is a quality of man, and so is ignorance; truthfulness is a quality of man; so is falsehood; trustworthiness and treachery, justice and injustice, are qualities of man, and so forth. Briefly, all the perfections and virtues, and all the vices, are qualities of man.

33) Now let us consider the soul. We have seen that movement is essential to existence; nothing that has life is without motion. All creation, whether of the mineral, vegetable or animal kingdom, is compelled to obey the law of motion; it must either ascend or descend. But with the human soul, there is no decline. Its only movement is towards perfection; growth and progress alone constitute the motion of the soul.

Divine perfection is infinite, therefore the progress of the soul is also infinite. From the very birth of a human being the soul progresses, the intellect grows and knowledge increases. When the body dies the soul lives on. All the differing degrees of created physical beings are limited, but the soul is limitless!
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 88)
 
Jul 2017
245
Kettering, Ohio USA
#9
The shortest possible definition is that ethics concerns our obligations, i.e. what we are obligated to do and why. To find our obligations we must discover what is ‘the good’ and to distinguish it from evil.

1) Briefly, the intellectual realities, such as all the qualities and admirable perfections of man, are purely good, and exist. Evil is simply their nonexistence. So ignorance is the want of knowledge; error is the want of guidance; forgetfulness is the want of memory; stupidity is the want of good sense. All these things have no real existence.

In the same way, the sensible realities are absolutely good, and evil is due to their nonexistence - that is to say, blindness is the want of sight, deafness is the want of hearing, poverty is the want of wealth, illness is the want of health, death is the want of life, and weakness is the want of strength.

Nevertheless a doubt occurs to the mind -- that is, scorpions and serpents are poisonous. Are they good or evil, for they are existing beings? Yes, a scorpion is evil in relation to man; a serpent is evil in relation to man; but in relation to themselves they are not evil, for their poison is their weapon, and by their sting they defend themselves. But as the elements of their poison do not agree with our elements -- that is to say, as there is antagonism between these different elements, therefore, this antagonism is evil; but in reality as regards themselves they are good.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 261)

3) Know thou for a certainty that whoso disbelieveth in God is neither trustworthy nor truthful. This, indeed, is the truth, the undoubted truth. He that acteth treacherously towards God will, also, act treacherously towards his king. Nothing whatever can deter such a man from evil, nothing can hinder him from betraying his neighbor, nothing can induce him to walk uprightly.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 232)

4) But the heavenly water and spirit, which are knowledge and life, make the human heart good and pure; the heart which receives a portion of the bounty of the Spirit becomes sanctified, good and pure -- that is to say, the reality of man becomes purified and sanctified from the impurities of the world of nature. These natural impurities are evil qualities: anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 92)

8) Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit.

The labourer cuts up the earth with his plough, and from that earth comes the rich and plentiful harvest. The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him. A soldier is no good General until he has been in the front of the fiercest battle and has received the deepest wounds.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 51)

9) 'Does the soul progress more through sorrow or through the joy in this world?'

'Abdu'l-Bahá. -- 'The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.'
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 178)

10) Observe, how those in whose midst the Satan of self had for years sown the seeds of malice and hate became so fused and blended through their allegiance to this wondrous and transcendent Revelation that it seemed as if they had sprung from the same loins.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 112)

11) Therefore, there is no satanic tree whatever -- Satan being a product of human minds and of instinctive human tendencies toward error. God alone is Creator, and all are creatures of His might. Therefore, we must love mankind as His creatures, realizing that all are growing upon the tree of His mercy, servants of His omnipotent will and manifestations of His good pleasure.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 230)

12) Shall we manifest hatred for His creatures and servants? This would be contrary to the will of God and according to the will of Satan, by which we mean the natural inclinations of the lower nature. This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan -- the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 286)

15) Some have unworthy morals; we must train them toward the standard of true morality. Other than this we are all the servants of one God and under the providence and protection of one Father.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 66)

16) Secondly, even if we grant for the sake of the argument that instinctive intelligence and an innate moral quality would prevent wrongdoing, it is obvious that individuals so characterized are as rare as the philosopher's stone. An assumption of this sort cannot be validated by mere words, it must be supported by the facts.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 97)

17) True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the Divine Bounty.

If the heart turns away from the blessings God offers how can it hope for happiness? If it does not put its hope and trust in God's Mercy, where can it find rest? Oh, trust in God!
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 108)

19) Mankind is submerged in the sea of materialism and occupied with the affairs of this world. They have no thought beyond earthly possessions and manifest no desire save the passions of this fleeting, mortal existence. Their utmost purpose is the attainment of material livelihood, physical comforts and worldly enjoyments such as constitute the happiness of the animal world rather than the world of man.

The honor of man is through the attainment of the knowledge of God; his happiness is from the love of God; his joy is in the glad tidings of God; his greatness is dependent upon his servitude to God. The highest development of man is his entrance into the divine Kingdom, and the outcome of this human existence is the nucleus and essence of eternal life. If man is bereft of the divine bestowals and if his enjoyment and happiness are restricted to his material inclinations, what distinction or difference is there between the animal and himself? In fact, the animal's happiness is greater, for its wants are fewer and its means of livelihood easier to acquire.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 335)

22) The East and the West must unite to give to each other what is lacking. This union will bring about a true civilization, where the spiritual is expressed and carried out in the material.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 21)

24) As to the difference between that material civilization now prevailing, and the divine civilization which will be one of the benefits to derive from the House of Justice, it is this: material civilization, through the power of punitive and retaliatory laws, restraineth the people from criminal acts; and notwithstanding this, while laws to retaliate against and punish a man are continually proliferating, as ye can see, no laws exist to reward him. In all the cities of Europe and America, vast buildings have been erected to serve as jails for the criminals.

Divine civilization, however, so traineth every member of society that no one, with the exception of a negligible few, will undertake to commit a crime. There is thus a great difference between the prevention of crime through measures that are violent and retaliatory, and so training the people, and enlightening them, and spiritualizing them, that without any fear of punishment or vengeance to come, they will shun all criminal acts. They will, indeed, look upon the very commission of a crime as a great disgrace and in itself the harshest of punishments. They will become enamoured of human perfections, and will consecrate their lives to whatever will bring light to the world and will further those qualities which are acceptable at the Holy Threshold of God.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 132)

26) O people of God! That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world. Inasmuch as for each day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution, such affairs should be referred to the Ministers of the House of Justice that they may act according to the needs and requirements of the time.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 26)

27) It is incumbent upon everyone to observe God's holy commandments, inasmuch as they are the wellspring of life unto the world. The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion and the canopy of world order is upraised upon the two pillars of reward and punishment.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 126)

29) O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned. It is, however, mandatory that the use of opium be prevented by any means whatsoever, that perchance the human race may be delivered from this most powerful of plagues. And otherwise, woe and misery to whoso falleth short of his duty to his Lord.[1]
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 148)

30) So with regard to political parties: that which is the greatest policy directing the world of mankind, nay, rather, the Divine policy, is found in the teachings of His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh.

Likewise with regard to the party of "equality" [Communism] which seeks the solution of the economic problems: until now all proposed solutions have proved impracticable except the economic proposals in the teachings of His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh which are practicable and cause no distress to society.

So with the other parties: when ye look deeply into this matter, ye will discover that the highest aims of those parties are found in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. These teachings constitute the all inclusive power among all men and are practicable. But there are some teachings of the past, such as those of the Taura, which cannot be carried out at the present day. It is the same with the other religions and the tenets of the various sects and the different parties.

For example, the questions of Universal Peace, about which His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh says that the Supreme Tribunal must be established: although the League of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing Universal Peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh has described will fulfil this sacred task with the utmost might and power. And His plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation -- that is to say parliaments -- should elect two or three persons who are the choicest men of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity of this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly, that is, the parliament, must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so these persons may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, and all mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is fully representative of his nation. When the Supreme Tribunal gives a ruling on any international question, either unanimously or by majority-rule, there will no 11 longer be any pretext for the plaintiff or ground of objection for the defendant. In case any of the governments or nations in the execution of the irrefutable decision of the Supreme Tribunal, be negligent or dilatory, the rest of the nations will rise up against it, because all the governments and nations of the world are the supporters of this Supreme Tribunal. Consider what a firm foundation this is! But by a limited and restricted League the purpose will not be realized as it ought and should. This is the truth about the situation, which has been stated.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablet to the Hague, p. 10)

"... To accept the Cause without the administration is like to accept the teachings without acknowledging the divine station of Bahá'u'lláh. To be a Bahá'í is to accept the Cause in its entirety. To take exception to one basic principle is to deny the authority and sovereignty of Bahá'u'lláh, and therefore is to deny the Cause. The administration is the social order of Bahá'u'lláh. Without it all the principles of the Cause will remain abortive. to take exception to this, therefore, is to take exception to the fabric that Bahá'u'lláh has prescribed, it is to disobey his law."
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, May 30, 1930: Bahá'í News, No. 43, August 1930, p. 3)
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 2)

33) Difference of capacity in human individuals is fundamental. It is impossible for all to be alike, all to be equal, all to be wise. Bahá'u'lláh has revealed principles and laws which will accomplish the adjustment of varying human capacities. He has said that whatsoever is possible of accomplishment in human government will be effected through these principles. When the laws He has instituted are carried out, there will be no millionaires possible in the community and likewise no extremely poor. This will be effected and regulated by adjusting the different degrees of human capacity. The fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil. All must be producers. Each person in the community whose need is equal to his individual producing capacity shall be exempt from taxation. But if his income is greater than his needs, he must pay a tax until an adjustment is effected. That is to say, a man's capacity for production and his needs will be equalized and reconciled through taxation. If his production exceeds, he will pay a tax; if his necessities exceed his production, he shall receive an amount sufficient to equalize or adjust. Therefore, taxation will be proportionate to capacity and production, and there will be no poor in the community
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 217)

35) The Constitutional Government, according to the irrefutable text of the Religion of God, is the cause of the glory and prosperity of the nation and the civilization and freedom of the people.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v3, p. 492)

36) Consider what a vast difference exists between modern democracy and the old forms of despotism. Under an autocratic government the opinions of men are not free, and development is stifled, whereas in democracy, because thought and speech are not restricted, the greatest progress is witnessed. It is likewise true in the world of religion. When freedom of conscience, liberty of thought and right of speech prevail -- that is to say, when every man according to his own idealization may give expression to his beliefs -- development and growth are inevitable.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 197)

37) By it the very foundations of race prejudice are uprooted and destroyed, the banner of spiritual democracy is hoisted aloft, the world of religion is purified from superannuated beliefs and hereditary imitations of forms, and the oneness of the reality underlying all religions is revealed and disclosed. For such a meeting is established upon the very foundation of the laws of God. Therefore, in its constraining spiritual bond it unites all religions and reconciles all sects, denominations and factions in kindliness and love toward each other.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 447)

38) Although a republican form of government profiteth all the peoples of the world, yet the majesty of kingship is one of the signs of God. We do not wish that the countries of the world should remain deprived thereof. If the sagacious combine the two forms into one, great will be their reward in the presence of God.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 27)

40) It is their duty to convene an all-inclusive assembly, which either they themselves or their ministers will attend, and to enforce whatever measures are required to establish unity and concord amongst men. They must put away the weapons of war, and turn to the instruments of universal reconstruction. Should one king rise up against another, all the other kings must arise to deter him. Arms and armaments will, then, be no more needed beyond that which is necessary to insure the internal security of their respective countries.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 30)

43) CLIX. Consider the pettiness of men's minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.

Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench. Thus warneth you He Who is the Reckoner, the All-Knowing. Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal. That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness.

Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth. We approve of liberty in certain circumstances, and refuse to sanction it in others. We, verily, are the All-Knowing.

Say: True liberty consisteth in man's submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things. Say: The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 335)

44) "... Bahá'ís recognize the right and duty of governments to use force for the maintenance of law and order and to protect their people. Thus, for a Bahá'í, the shedding of blood for such a purpose is not necessarily essentially wrong. The Bahá'í Faith draws a very definite distinction between the duty of an individual to forgive and 'to be killed rather than to kill' and the duty of society to uphold justice.
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 407)

45) If a person commit a crime against you, you have not the right to forgive him; but the law must punish him in order to prevent a repetition of that same crime by others, as the pain of the individual is unimportant beside the general welfare of the people.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 153)

47) Each individual has the right to meaningful work and the responsibility to support his or her family and to contribute to the well-being of the community. By engaging in an occupation or craft in a spirit of service, the individual contributes something of value to society. For its part, society recognizes the value of its members by creating opportunities for each to earn a livelihood and to make a contribution to the common good, thus assisting the individual's spiritual development. For, it is by contributing to the common good that an individual acquires true spiritual maturity]
(Bahá’í International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)

48) Man has not the right to take vengeance, but the community has the right to punish the criminal; and this punishment is intended to warn and to prevent so that no other person will dare to commit a like crime. This punishment is for the protection of man's rights, but it is not vengeance; vengeance appeases the anger of the heart by opposing one evil to another. This is not allowable, for man has not the right to take vengeance. But if criminals were entirely forgiven, the order of the world would be upset. So punishment is one of the essential necessities for the safety of communities, but he who is oppressed by a transgressor has not the right to take vengeance. On the contrary, he should forgive and pardon, for this is worthy of the world of man.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 268)
 
Jul 2017
245
Kettering, Ohio USA
#10
Rushworth Kidder states that "standard definitions of ethics have typically included such phrases as 'the science of the ideal human character' or 'the science of moral duty'".[4] Richard William Paul and Linda Elder define ethics as "a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures".

The word ethics in English refers to several things.[8] It can refer to philosophical ethics or moral philosophy—a project that attempts to use reason to answer various kinds of ethical questions. As the English philosopher Bernard Williams writes, attempting to explain moral philosophy: "What makes an inquiry a philosophical one is reflective generality and a style of argument that claims to be rationally persuasive."[9] Williams describes the content of this area of inquiry as addressing the very broad question, "how one should live".[10]

Meta-ethics is the branch of philosophical ethics that asks how we understand, know about, and what we mean when we talk about what is right and what is wrong.[13] An ethical question pertaining to a particular practical situation—such as, "Should I eat this particular piece of chocolate cake?"—cannot be a meta-ethical question (rather, this is an applied ethical question). A meta-ethical question is abstract and relates to a wide range of more specific practical questions. For example, "Is it ever possible to have secure knowledge of what is right and wrong?" is a meta-ethical question.

Studies of how we know in ethics divide into cognitivism and non-cognitivism; this is quite akin to the thing called descriptive and non-descriptive. Non-cognitivism is the view that when we judge something as morally right or wrong, this is neither true nor false. We may, for example, be only expressing our emotional feelings about these things.[14] Cognitivism can then be seen as the claim that when we talk about right and wrong, we are talking about matters of fact.

The ontology of ethics is about value-bearing things or properties, i.e. the kind of things or stuff referred to by ethical propositions. Non-descriptivists and non-cognitivists believe that ethics does not need a specific ontology since ethical propositions do not refer. This is known as an anti-realist position. Realists, on the other hand, must explain what kind of entities, properties or states are relevant for ethics, how they have value, and why they guide and motivate our actions.

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking. Normative ethics is distinct from meta-ethics because normative ethics examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts.

Traditionally, normative ethics (also known as moral theory) was the study of what makes actions right and wrong. These theories offered an overarching moral principle one could appeal to in resolving difficult moral decisions.

Virtue ethics describes the character of a moral agent as a driving force for ethical behavior, and it is used to describe the ethics of Socrates, Aristotle, and other early Greek philosophers. Socrates (469–399 BC) was one of the first Greek philosophers to encourage both scholars and the common citizen to turn their attention from the outside world to the condition of humankind. In this view, knowledge bearing on human life was placed highest, while all other knowledge was secondary. Self-knowledge was considered necessary for success and inherently an essential good. A self-aware person will act completely within his capabilities to his pinnacle, while an ignorant person will flounder and encounter difficulty. To Socrates, a person must become aware of every fact (and its context) relevant to his existence, if he wishes to attain self-knowledge. He posited that people will naturally do what is good if they know what is right. Evil or bad actions are the results of ignorance. If a criminal was truly aware of the intellectual and spiritual consequences of his or her actions, he or she would neither commit nor even consider committing those actions. Any person who knows what is truly right will automatically do it, according to Socrates. While he correlated knowledge with virtue, he similarly equated virtue with joy. The truly wise man will know what is right, do what is good, and therefore be happy.

Ethical intuitionism (also called moral intuitionism) is a family of views in moral epistemology (and, on some definitions, metaphysics). At minimum, ethical intuitionism is the thesis that our intuitive awareness of value, or intuitive knowledge of evaluative facts, forms the foundation of our ethical knowledge.
The view is at its core a foundationalism about moral knowledge: it is the view that some moral truths can be known non-inferentially (i.e., known without one needing to infer them from other truths one believes). Such an epistemological view implies that there are moral beliefs with propositional contents; so it implies cognitivism. As such, ethical intuitionism is to be contrasted with coherentist approaches to moral epistemology, such as those that depend on reflective equilibrium.

Objections to ethical intuitionism include whether or not there are objective moral values- an assumption which the ethical system is based upon- the question of why many disagree over ethics if they are absolute, and whether Occam's razor cancels such a theory out entirely.

Hedonism posits that the principal ethic is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. There are several schools of Hedonist thought ranging from those advocating the indulgence of even momentary desires to those teaching a pursuit of spiritual bliss. In their consideration of consequences, they range from those advocating self-gratification regardless of the pain and expense to others, to those stating that the most ethical pursuit maximizes pleasure and happiness for the most people.

State consequentialism, also known as Mohist consequentialism,[25] is an ethical theory that evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how much it contributes to the basic goods of a state.[25] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Mohist consequentialism, dating back to the 5th century BC, as "a remarkably sophisticated version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human welfare".[26] Unlike utilitarianism, which views pleasure as a moral good, "the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking are ... order, material wealth, and increase in population".[27] During Mozi's era, war and famines were common, and population growth was seen as a moral necessity for a harmonious society. The "material wealth" of Mohist consequentialism refers to basic needs like shelter and clothing, and the "order" of Mohist consequentialism refers to Mozi's stance against warfare and violence, which he viewed as pointless and a threat to social stability.[28]
Stanford sinologist David Shepherd Nivison, in The Cambridge History of Ancient China, writes that the moral goods of Mohism "are interrelated: more basic wealth, then more reproduction; more people, then more production and wealth ... if people have plenty, they would be good, filial, kind, and so on unproblematically."[27] The Mohists believed that morality is based on "promoting the benefit of all under heaven and eliminating harm to all under heaven". In contrast to Bentham's views, state consequentialism is not utilitarian because it is not hedonistic or individualistic. The importance of outcomes that are good for the community outweigh the importance of individual pleasure and pain.

The defining feature of consequentialist moral theories is the weight given to the consequences in evaluating the rightness and wrongness of actions.[31] In consequentialist theories, the consequences of an action or rule generally outweigh other considerations. Apart from this basic outline, there is little else that can be unequivocally said about consequentialism as such. However, there are some questions that many consequentialist theories address:
What sort of consequences count as good consequences?
Who is the primary beneficiary of moral action?
How are the consequences judged and who judges them?
One way to divide various consequentialisms is by the many types of consequences that are taken to matter most, that is, which consequences count as good states of affairs. According to utilitarianism, a good action is one that results in an increase and positive effect, and the best action is one that results in that effect for the greatest number. The major division within utilitarianism is between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. In act utilitarianism, the principle of utility applies directly to each alternative act in a situation of choice. The right act is the one that brings about the best results (or the least amount of bad results). In rule utilitarianism, the principle of utility determines the validity of rules of conduct (moral principles). A rule like promise-keeping is established by looking at the consequences of a world in which people break promises at will and a world in which promises are binding. Right and wrong are the following or breaking of rules that are sanctioned by their utilitarian value.[36] A proposed "middle ground" between these two types is Two-level utilitarianism, where rules are applied in ordinary circumstances, but with an allowance to choose actions outside of such rules when unusual situations call for it.

Deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek d???, deon, "obligation, duty"; and -????a, -logia) is an approach to ethics that determines goodness or rightness from examining acts, or the rules and duties that the person doing the act strove to fulfill.[37] This is in contrast to consequentialism, in which rightness is based on the consequences of an act, and not the act by itself. Under deontology, an act may be considered right even if the act produces a bad consequence,[38] if it follows the rule or moral law. According to the deontological view, people have a duty to act in a way that does those things that are inherently good as acts ("truth-telling" for example), or follow an objectively obligatory rule (as in rule utilitarianism).

Associated with the pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and especially John Dewey, pragmatic ethics holds that moral correctness evolves similarly to scientific knowledge: socially over the course of many lifetimes. Thus, we should prioritize social reform over attempts to account for consequences, individual virtue or duty (although these may be worthwhile attempts, if social reform is provided for).

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has proposed a theory of discourse ethics that he claims is a descendant of Kantian ethics.[44] He proposes that action should be based on communication between those involved, in which their interests and intentions are discussed so they can be understood by all. Rejecting any form of coercion or manipulation, Habermas believes that agreement between the parties is crucial for a moral decision to be reached.[45] Like Kantian ethics, discourse ethics is a cognitive ethical theory, in that it supposes that truth and falsity can be attributed to ethical propositions.

Care ethics contrasts with more well-known ethical models, such as consequentialist theories (e.g. utilitarianism) and deontological theories (e.g., Kantian ethics) in that it seeks to incorporate traditionally feminized virtues and values that—proponents of care ethics contend—are absent in such traditional models of ethics. These values include the importance of empathetic relationships and compassion.

Role ethics is an ethical theory based on family roles.[51] Unlike virtue ethics, role ethics is not individualistic. Morality is derived from a person's relationship with their community.[52] Confucian ethics is an example of role ethics[51] though this is not straightforwardly uncontested.[53] Confucian roles center around the concept of filial piety or xiao, a respect for family members.

Starting from the premise that the goal of ethical philosophy should be to help humans adapt and thrive in evolutionary terms, Kropotkin's ethical framework uses biology and anthropology as a basis – in order to scientifically establish what will best enable a given social order to thrive biologically and socially – and advocates certain behavioural practices to enhance humanity's capacity for freedom and well-being, namely practices which emphasise solidarity, equality, and justice.
Kropotkin argues that ethics itself is evolutionary, and is inherited as a sort of a social instinct through cultural history, and by so, he rejects any religious and transcendental explanation of morality. The origin of ethical feeling in both animals and humans can be found, he claims, in the natural fact of "sociality" (mutualistic symbiosis), which humans can then combine with the instinct for justice (i.e. equality) and then with the practice of reason to construct a non-supernatural and anarchistic system of ethics.[55] Kropotkin suggests that the principle of equality at the core of anarchism is the same as the Golden rule.

Post-structuralism and postmodernism argue that ethics must study the complex and relational conditions of actions. A simple alignment of ideas of right and particular acts is not possible. There will always be an ethical remainder that cannot be taken into account or often even recognized. Such theorists find narrative (or, following Nietzsche and Foucault, genealogy) to be a helpful tool for understanding ethics because narrative is always about particular lived experiences in all their complexity rather than the assignment of an idea or norm to separate and individual actions.
Applied ethics is used in some aspects of determining public policy, as well as by individuals facing difficult decisions. The sort of questions addressed by applied ethics include: "Is getting an abortion immoral?" "Is euthanasia immoral?" "Is affirmative action right or wrong?" "What are human rights, and how do we determine them?" "Do animals have rights as well?" and "Do individuals have the right of self-determination?"[13]
A more specific question could be: "If someone else can make better out of his/her life than I can, is it then moral to sacrifice myself for them if needed?"

Descriptive ethics is on the less philosophical end of the spectrum since it seeks to gather particular information about how people live and draw general conclusions based on observed patterns. Abstract and theoretical questions that are more clearly philosophical—such as, "Is ethical knowledge possible?"—are not central to descriptive ethics. Descriptive ethics offers a value-free approach to ethics, which defines it as a social science rather than a humanity. Its examination of ethics doesn't start with a preconceived theory but rather investigates observations of actual choices made by moral agents in practice. Some philosophers rely on descriptive ethics and choices made and unchallenged by a society or culture to derive categories, which typically vary by context. This can lead to situational ethics and situated ethics. These philosophers often view aesthetics, etiquette, and arbitration as more fundamental, percolating "bottom up" to imply the existence of, rather than explicitly prescribe, theories of value or of conduct.
The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships between social phenomena, the possible existence of social laws, and the ontological significance of structure and agency.

Comte first described the epistemological perspective of positivism in The Course in Positive Philosophy, a series of texts published between 1830 and 1842. These texts were followed by the 1848 work, A General View of Positivism (published in English in 1865). The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology), whereas the latter two emphasised the inevitable coming of social science. Observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.[1] For him, the physical sciences had necessarily to arrive first, before humanity could adequately channel its efforts into the most challenging and complex "Queen science" of human society itself. His View of Positivism would therefore set-out to define, in more detail, the empirical goals of sociological method.

The positivist perspective, however, has been associated with 'scientism'; the view that the methods of the natural sciences may be applied to all areas of investigation, be it philosophical, social scientific, or otherwise. Among most social scientists and historians, orthodox positivism has long since fallen out of favor. Today, practitioners of both social and physical sciences recognize the distorting effect of observer bias and structural limitations.

One underlying problem for the social psychologist is whether studies can or should ultimately be understood in terms of the meaning and consciousness behind social action, as with folk psychology, or whether more objective, natural, materialist, and behavioral facts are to be given exclusive study. This problem is especially important for those within the social sciences who study qualitative mental phenomena, such as consciousness, associative meanings, and mental representations, because a rejection of the study of meanings would lead to the reclassification of such research as non-scientific. Influential traditions like psychodynamic theory and symbolic interactionism may be the first victims of such a paradigm shift. The philosophical issues lying in wait behind these different positions have led to commitments to certain kinds of methodology which have sometimes bordered on the partisan. Still, many researchers have indicated a lack of patience for overly dogmatic proponents of one method or another.

Structure and agency forms an enduring debate in social theory: "Do social structures determine an individual's behaviour or does human agency?" In this context 'agency' refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and make free choices, whereas 'structure' refers to factors which limit or affect the choices and actions of individuals (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, and so on). Discussions over the primacy of structure or agency relate to the very core of social ontology ("What is the social world made of?", "What is a cause in the social world, and what is an effect?").
 

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