There may be rhetoric about the socially constructed nature of Western science, but wherever it matters, there is no alternative. There are no specifically Hindu or Taoist designs for mobile phones, faxes or televisions. There are no satellites based on feminist alternatives to quantum theory. Even that great public sceptic about the value of science, Prince Charles, never flies a helicopter burning homeopathically diluted petrol, that is, water with only a memory of benzine molecules, maintained by a schedule derived from reading tea leaves, and navigated by a crystal ball.
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[... ] like any human practices, those of religions are not exempt from ethical questioning. Rituals and rites in groups change behavior, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. For the madness of crowds is a very close cousin to the fervor or congregations and the martial spirit of armies.
WORTH IT? It is no credit to our phase of civilization if it is fear rather than ambition that drives most of those who bankrupt themselves on the vanities, or who end up under the surgeon's knife. It is the fear of falling short, of being inadequate in the eyes of others, including loved ones. [... ] It is unfitting, one might say, improper, treating one's owm body as a tool rather than a part of oneself. [... ] The bottom line is that it dishonors ourselves, for we ought to think better of ourselves than that.
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It is the thought that the least efficient way of of finding either happiness or pleasure is to pursue them. Put in terms of happiness, we can see it like this: To be happy you must quite literally "lose yourself". You must lose yourself in some pursuit; you need to forget your own happiness and find other goals and projects, other objects of concern that might include the welfare of some other people, or the cure of the disease, or simply in the variety of everyday activities with their little successes and setbacks.
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There are normal times when it is wholly admirable to be steadfast, resolute, unconflicted, and therefore when integrity is unmistakenly a virtue. The person of integrity knows what to do, and does it. But as we have been exploring, there are also times when certainty and single-mindedness indicate something less admirable: a deafness to voices that should be heard or a blindness to aspects of a situation that need to be considered.
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One peculiarity of our present [ethical] climate is that we care much more about our rights than about our 'good'. For previous thinkers about ethics, such as those who wrote the Upanishads, or Confucius, or Plato, or the founders of the Christian tradition, the central concern was the state of one's soul, meaning some personal state of justice or harmony. Such a state might include resignation or renunciation, or detachment, or obedience, or knowledge, especially self-knowledge. For Plato there could be no just political order except one populated by just citizens... Today we tend not to believe that; we tend to think that modern constitutional democracies are fine regardless of the private vices of those within them. We are much more nervous talking about our good: it seems moralistic, or undemocratic, or elitist. Similarly, we are nervous talking about duty. The Victorian ideal of a life devoted to duty, or a calling, is substantially lost to us. So a greater proportion of our moral energy goes to protecting claims against each other, and that includes protecting the state of our soul as purely private, purely our own business.
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The gods we make in our own image are tribal gods. They tell you how very, very little you should tolerate outsiders, who are less favoured of the Lord. Amazingly, there are no recorded cases of the holy man going up the mountain and finding that it's the others who are right. It always turns out that God wants unbelievers to suffer, and what could be more noble than to help him a little? When religion rules, toleration disappears, for you cannot cherish the verdict of death to the infidels, yet also tolerate those who disagree - for those are the very same infidels...
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The absolutist lays down the law, but the relativist hears only roaring and bawling. Or, when the relativist voice, as it is heard from philosophers such as Nietzsche or James, itself starts to grate and sounds shrill, as it often does, and when the relativist then offers concessions, the absolutist hears only insincerity. The war of words can often turn into a dialogue of the deaf, and this too if part of its power to arouse outrage and fury.
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Wittgenstein imagined that the philosopher was like a therapist whose task was to put problems finally to rest, and to cure us ofbeing bewitched by them. So we are told to stop, to shut off lines of inquiry, not to find things puzzling nor to seek explanations. This is intellectual suicide.
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It is sometimes said that one of the casualties of the general suspicion and mistrust that permeated the old Soviet Union was that the distinction between truth and other motivations to believe tended to break down. Upon hearing a purported piece of information, the reaction was not 'Is this true?' but 'Why is this person saying this? - What machinations or manipulations are going on here?' The question of truth did not, as it were, have the social space in which it could breath.
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