Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Philosophy Quiz

I just took the “which great philosopher are you?” quiz. I have a few comments about the questions.

The first one asks, “Do we have a soul that is separate from our body?

My answer would have been, “the body is the manifestation of the soul in this reality/universe, and the soul is independent of the body, but in this reality/universe the soul is, practically (although not essentially), identical with the body.” So, the question of “separate” doesn’t really work for me. It’s not separate here, but yeah, I guess if we look across all the realities and times of the various levels of creation, the soul is separate, since it is independent of the body, and continues in other realities after the body perishes in this one. So, what answer do I give?
The quiz gives thirteen possible answers, and the four that seemed closest to my understanding were:

b) Not really. The Human body is the best picture of the human soul. Or
c) No the word “soul” makes no sense, there is only “being” or
d) Yes, a “soul” is the form of every living thing.
f) Yes, an immortal one.

I went with the fourth of those, although I didn’t like saying “yes” to the idea that the body and soul are separate.

The second question asked, “Is there ever such a thing as the objectively “right” thing to do?
My answer would be yes, there sometimes is a “right” thing to do. I think there are standards of right and wrong existing outside human values or invention, and I think we “discover” those when we “invent” them in a way that corresponds to the natural or objective “right” thing. I look to the authentic scriptures revealed by Manifestations of God as the standard by which we determine what is “right” action, but that's still an imperfect standard, especially because Manifestations of God tend to use fallible indicators like human language to describe “right” to us. I'm also not clear on how much "noise" gets into the message filtered through the Manifestations of God, based on Their setting in a historical and cultural context, or the human personalities of the Manifestations. So, in figuring out what we believe about what Manifestations of God tell us also depends partly on our rational intuition or our spiritual intuition (our tendency to naturally recognize what is good and bad). That said, for the vast majority of things that we tend to think of as being “right” or “wrong” I think we’re just following social conventions, which tend to be set by the most powerful persons in our cultures. In those cases, “right” is a social construction rooted in intellectual fashions and habits rather than any reflection of a deeper moral reality in the universe.

Okay, so which answers come closest to my thinking on this one? Again, the quiz-makers give us thirteen choices. This time again four of these looked appealing to me:

b) Yes and it is based on rational intuition
e) No, there are no morals beyond those set by the most powerful rulers
l) Yes and we naturally recognize what it is as human beings
m) No, just the product of customs and habit.

I went with the choice that agreed there are “right” actions (at least in some cases), and that those are “naturally recognized” by us (at least some of us).

The third question asked “Can we ever really know what the world is like outside of ourselves?” The key to that question is what is meant by “really know” and here I guess my answer depends on how I understand that phrase.

The answers that intuitively appealed to me were:

a) Yes and we can build a clear picture of it through empirical science
f) Only God knows so our only mission is to know God.
g) No, we have only our inner “ideas” about what the world is like
h) No, we can only know things as they appear not as they are in themselves

I went with “only God knows” since that seemed less open to contradictions than the other answers (a and h, which both seemed correct to me, seemed in contradiction because they depended on a different understanding of “really know” about “the world” whatever those mean.)

Number 4 was easy. The question asked, “what is the most important purpose of our lives?” There were many fine secondary goals in life, but the primary root was almost nailed by the response “to develop faith and get close to God.” I would have said “to improve our knowledge and wisdom, and in particular our spiritual insight, which is akin to “knowing god,” and to transcend our desires and habits to follow the rites, or obey the laws, or submit to the greater good in a way that defeats self-interest and pride, which is akin to “worshiping God.” Every day I say (in prayer) to God (and most importantly, myself), “Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee,” so I’m pretty clear on what I think my purpose in life is, at least in a general and vague sense.

There were a couple other questions as well. Some of the potential answers were pretty funny.

It turns out the quiz says I’m most like Søren Kierkegaard. That doesn’t surprise me. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure Abū al-Faḍl Gulpāyigānī wasn’t a part of the great philosopher pool from which I could have been identified. I would have liked to know who I was most like after Kierkegaard. I would have liked this quiz better if it had given me a result of 50 great philosophers rank-ordered by how similar my thinking was to each of them. Am I 80% like Kierkegaard, or 90% or 70%? And how close am I to John Stuart Mill, to William James, to Immanuel Kant, to Maimonides, to Paul Tillich, to Reinhold Niebuhr, or to John Rawls? I generally like those guys. And how far am I from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche, or David Hume? I'd like to know.

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