Archive for the ‘My Philosophical Musings’ Category

Here are two reasons high schools should support teaching philosophy.

1. It looks great on college applications. Colleges are looking for mature students who will buckle down and focus intensely four years—rather than 1.5, maybe 2 rustling together credits and a senior thesis. A (good) philosophy class offers students a kind of birds’-eye view on the whole of human knowledge, allowing them to carefully consider the overwhelming number of majors available to them in college, rather than haphazardly falling into one because the deadline is approaching.

2. Many, not all, philosophers claim to have been that student in high school who drastically underperformed and was always bored. Philosophy is boredom’s consolation. With the right teacher, truly bored students may find that intellectual excitement they need to reach their academic potential.

Universities and philosophy programs should also be embracing and promoting this movement. If more students in high school take philosophy, more will enroll in philosophy classes in college—and maybe even enjoy them, rather than commenting in their later years, “Yeah, I took a philosophy class; it was really interesting.” Furthermore, if more high schools taught philosophy, there would be more jobs for philosophers, who may steer undergraduates to philosophy courses in college, which in turn stimulates the applicant pool to graduate programs. This makes philosophy financially viable, encouraging bureaucratic university administrators to fund philosophy—another example of the grand circle of life.

Many high schools are already doing a wonderful job of integrating nuance and variety into the curriculum. They are teaching bioethics in science classes, CSI forensics, economics, and capital-investment classes, none of which I saw or could have imagined happening even a decade ago. However, something is still missing. We are showing our students how cool math and science can be, but at the heart of learning is a passion for knowledge, not simply a bag of tricks to impress our friends.  Let the kids into that world: teach them philosophy, or, even better, learn about philosophy with them!


Today in society, most people nearly always expect love to fail. They believe that if they get too close, do too much, or fall too hard, there will be heartbreak right around the corner. If love always fails, how can we explain those few couples that have been together for 20 years plus? Most of us declare that they simply got lucky and that it could never happen to us. Well I beg to differ…

The problem with being in love starts within the self. Of course we hear many people say this, but when you’re in a relationship, the problems within yourself will resurface no matter how much you try to hide it, if not dealt with. The magic question then arises…”does true love exist within yourself”? The next question being, “if not, why is it so hard to love yourself”?

With most of us growing up in the burst of social media age, we find ourselves comparing ourselves to others instead of looking at who we are and liking what we see. Instead of dealing with our flaws,  it’s easier to go on Instagram or Facebook, Vine or YouTube, and simply turn who we are looking at, into who we want to be. We can all be our own kind of great if we were to put just as much effort into ourselves and what we put into the lives of others. If you’re different, embrace your difference. Feed off of the gifts that we were uniquely bestowed with and then you can truly become who we were always meant to be. Love, laugh, and become liberated knowing that you were made this way on purpose.

Before you go judging that special person in your life thinking he or she is too good to be true, trust your instincts, your mind, and your heart. You deserve JOY, so don’t sabotage your chance at something real by thinking you’re not good enough to receive it. True love DOES exist, but you must first love yourself enough to even take that first step. Don’t compare him or her to your past lovers, don’t dwell on the future, but just enjoy the present and who you are as an individual. After all, we were never created to conform. You are beautiful or handsome just the way you are, but let the evolution of yourself be your guide.



Some principles of Sufism, the role of the “Sheikh”, The Covenant, “Dhikr” and Sufism’s stance on the interpretation of the Quran; all of which strongly contradict the teachings of Islam.


Principles of Sufism


‘Willful and total submission to the Sheikh’, is probably the motto of Sufism.  From a glance, it is clear that a special and complete bond is formed between the head of the Sufi order (the ‘Sheikh’) and the Mureed (follower); understanding the principles of Sufism lies in understanding its basic structure.  So what is it all about?

Basically, the follower gives a pledge of allegiance, whereby he pledges to obey the Sheikh, and in turn the Sheikh promises to deliver the follower from every problem or calamity that may befall him.  The Sheikh also offers the sincere follower lucrative fringe benefits.  Once a follower agrees, he is blessed and assigned a set of Dhikr (chants).  The follower is also to carry on with his life in a manner that is laid out by the Sufi order.  If a conflict arises between his duties within the order and outside duties, the follower is to act upon the instructions of the Sheikh.  In this manner the Sheikh’s hold over the follower becomes absolute.

All in all, the follower is separated from the outside world and is exploited in many ways.  As Muslims we believe that no human has a special power or ability to deliver us from the calamities of the grave or the Hereafter.  Each of us will stand before God and will be judged individually.

God tells us:

“And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.” (Quran 7:164)

We also believe that as Muslims we are not to submit and surrender ourselves to anyone but God, Almighty.  Besides the Creator, all else is apt to make error.  The Prophet, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, said:

“Every son of Adam makes mistakes and the best of them are those who repent.” (Tirmidthi)

The Sheikh

He is the ‘supreme authority’, the head of ‘job’ distribution within the Order and gives each of the followers their necessary Dhikr.  It is to this individual whom the follower pledges full and total obedience; thereafter, the two universal laws of the Sheikh-follower bondage will come into effect:

a.     The follower must never argue with the Sheikh, nor ask him for a proof in relation to the actions he does.

b.    Whoever opposes the Sheikh, will have broken the ‘covenant’ and is thus debarred from all fringe benefits offered by the Sheikh, even if he stays a close friend to him.

As Muslims we believe that all acts of worship are ‘Tawqeefiyah’, i.e. not subject to opinion; thus must be substantiated with textual evidences that are both authentic and decisive.  God, Almighty, tells us:

“Say (to them), ‘produce your proof if you are truthful.’” (Quran 2:111)

We believe that there is no middle-man between God and His slaves.  We are to call unto Him directly.  God tells us:

“And your Lord says, ‘Call upon Me; I will respond to you.’ Indeed, those who disdain My worship will enter Hell [rendered] contemptible.” (Quran 40:60)

In Sufism, the Sheikh is thought to be ‘the inspired man to whose eyes the mysteries of the hidden are unveiled, for the Sheikhs see with the light of God and know what thoughts and confusions are in man’s hearts.  Nothing can be concealed from them.’[1]  Ibn Arabi, claimed that he used to receive direct revelation from God, similar to the way that Prophet Muhammad did, and was quoted as saying: “Some works I wrote at the command of God sent to me in sleep, or through mystical revelations.”  M. Ibn Arabi, “The Bezels of Wisdom,” pp.3

We believe that the knowledge of the unseen is restricted to God alone.  Anyone who claims the knowledge of the unseen has indeed told a lie.  God tells us:

“And who is more disbelieving than he who forges a lie against God, or says, ‘It has been revealed to me,’ when nothing has been revealed to him?”(Quran 6.93)

The Prophet said:

“Do not forge lies against me, because he who does so enters the Fire.” (Saheeh Muslim)

The Covenant

This is an interesting ceremony, which by far, is the most important principle of Sufism as it is common among all Sufi Orders.  Here the Sheikh and the follower hold hands and close their eyes in solemn meditation.  The follower willfully and wholeheartedly pledges to respect the Sheikh as his leader and guide to the path of God.  He also pledges to adhere to the rites of the Order throughout his life and promises never to walk away, along with this the follower pledges complete and unconditional allegiance, obedience and loyalty to the Sheikh. After this the Sheikh recites:

“Verily, those who take the allegiance to you take it to Allah.” (Quran 48:10)

The follower is then given his specific Dhikr.  The Sheikh asks the follower: “Have you accepted me as your Sheikh and spiritual guide before God, Almighty?” In reply, the follower is to say: “I have accepted,” and the Sheikh responds saying: “And we have accepted.”  Both of them recite the Testimony of Faith and the ceremony is ended by the follower kissing the Sheik’s hand.

This entire ceremony was unknown during the Prophet’s life and the best three generations that preceded him.  The Prophet said:

“Whoever lives after me shall see many differences (i.e. religious innovations); so adhere to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of my Rightly Guided Caliphs.” (Abu Dawood)

The Prophet also said:

“Verily, the best of speech is the Book of God, and the best of guidance is the guidance of (Prophet) Muhammad and the evil of all religious matters are the innovations.  Every innovation (in religion) is a bid’ah and every bid’ah is misguidance, and every misguidance will lead to the Fire.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Imam Malik, may Allah grant him His Mercy, said: “He who introduces aninnovation in the religion of Islam and deems it a good thing in effect claims by that Muhammad betrayed (the trust of conveying) the Divine Message.”

The Dhikr

It is also known as the ‘Wird’ and in Sufism it is the practice of repeating the name of God, and the repetition of a set number of invocations.  These invocations may include beseeching the dead or seeking help from other than God for needs that only God Almighty can grant.

Ahmad at-Tijani, a Sufi Elder, claimed that the wird was withheld by Prophet Muhammad; he did not teach it to any of his Companions.  At-Tijani claimed that the Prophet knew that a time would come when the wird would be made public but the person who would do that was not yet in existence.  As a result, Sufis believe that there is an ongoing chain of transmission between Prophet Muhammad and their current Sheikh.

Dhikr is categorized by the Sufi elders into three categories:

  1. Dhikr of the commoners, in which they are to repeat ‘La ilaaha ill-Allah Muhammad-ur-Rasoolullah’ (i.e. there is no God worthy of being worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is the slave of God.)
  2. Dhikr of the high class, which is to repeat the name of God, ‘Allah’.
  3. Dhikr of the elite, which is to repeat the Divine pronoun ‘Hu’, (i.e. He).

At times, the Dhikr is chanted in melodic hymns with eyes closed, rich music may be played (to some this is essential); moreover, some will dance before the Sheikh while saying the Dhikr.  Many a time the Dhikr includes open polytheism (the greatest sin in Islam).  God tells us:

“And it has been revealed to you and to those before you: If you attribute partners to God, your deed shall surely be in vain and you shall certainly be among the losers.” (Quran 39:65)

Interpretation of the Quran

In Sufism, studying the exegesis of the Quran or pondering the meanings of its verses is discouraged, and at times, even forbidden.  Sufis claim that every verse of the Quran has an outward meaning and an inward meaning.  The inward meaning is understood solely by the Sufi elders.  On account of this, Sufis have introduced concepts and words that are totally foreign to the teachings of Islam.

In the Quran God, Almighty encourages us to properly understand His words.  God tells us:

“(This is) a Scripture that We have revealed unto you, full of blessing, that they may ponder its revelations, and that men of understanding may reflect.” (Quran 38:29)

The exegesis of the Quran is accomplished by studying the Quran along with the Sunnah; these two sources of Islamic law must be taken hand in hand as one integral unit.  We are to understand and interpret the Quran and the Sunnah the way they were understood by the first generations.


As can be seen from the above, Sufism varies quite drastically from the true spirit of Islam.  Sufism inculcates in the follower the will to stop using the basic faculties given to him by God, the Creator of the world and to submit himself to a form of slavery.

Islam, on the other hand, is very simple; there is no need for intermediaries or any saints between man and God, and one is only to submit and surrender themselves to God, Almighty.





[1] Saif an-Nasr, Seera of Hamidiyyeh, 1956

A brief look at how Sufism differs and contradicts the teachings of Islam.  This first part defines Sufism, mentions its origins and how it differs from Islam in the concept of belief in God, belief in the Prophet Muhammad (may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him) and belief in Heaven and Hell.

Whether it’s from a documentary on TV or a beautifully designed website, the majority have heard something about ‘Sufis’ and ‘Sufism’; programs on TV have aired, talk show hosts have made mention of them and politicians are taking a keen interest in this group… one has only to type the word ‘Sufi’ on any search engine to be overwhelmed with the videos and pictures that are available.  In cyberspace one can view images and videos of Sufi mystics and elders dancing in rhythmic forms to the background of vibrant melodies.  Disturbing images of mystic Sufi elders jabbing their heads with knives or submitting themselves to various means of torture are all too common as well.  One interested in Islam may get a wrong idea about Islam and Muslims, for to the occident ‘Sufis’ and ‘Sufism’ is just a synonym of Islam and Muslim.

The question that arises, are they really Muslims, and are they practicing Islam? Before jumping the gun, I have to make mention that there are many sites, articles and books that have been written and put together, but most talk about Sufism in an emotional manner, which will lead one to think that they are impartial.  In this humble endeavor, I attempt to write about ‘Sufism’ in an informative manner, far from any biases.

Though only a tiny minority, Sufis can be found in many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim.  But contrary to the belief that Sufism is one ‘group’, Sufism is divided into ‘orders’; each differs from the other in terms of belief and practice.  Some groups are larger than others, and others have gone to rest with the passage of time.  Among the surviving groups today, there is the Tijaani order, the Naqshabandi order, the Qadiri order and the Shadthili order.

Origin of Sufism

In its earliest form, Sufi teachings stressed that an individual should give more emphasis to the spiritual aspects of Islam, a result of many losing sight of this lofty goal of Islam.  After a period of time, however, infamous Sufi elders introduced practices foreign to Islam which were welcomed by its followers.  Practices introduced included dancing, playing music, and even consuming hashish.

The Scholar Ibn al-Jawzi, wrote in his book ‘Talbis Iblis’ about the origin of the name used by this group, saying: ‘They are called by this name in relation to the first person who dedicated his life to worship around the Ka’bah, whose name was Sufah.’

According to this, those who wanted to emulate him called themselves ‘Sufis’.

Ibn al-Jawzi also mentions another reason, he said: ‘they would wear woolen clothes.’ Wool in Arabic is called ‘soof’ and woolen clothes were the sign of an ascetic during those times, since wool was the cheapest form of clothing and was very rough on the skin; in short it was a symbol of a asceticism.  In any case, the word Sufi was not present at the time of Prophet Muhammad and his companions instead first appeared at about 200 Hijrah (200 years after the migration of the Prophet from Makkah to Madinah).

The well known scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, mentions that the first appearance of Sufism was in Basrah, Iraq, where some people went to extremes in worship and in avoiding the worldly life, such as not seen in other lands.[1]

So what is Sufism?

Sufism is a series of concepts and practices that range from poverty, seclusion, deception, depriving the soul, singing and dancing; and is based on a mix of many different religions and philosophies such as Greek philosophies, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as Islam.  It is often referred to by Sufis themselves or by Orientalists as “Islamic mysticism”, in order to give the impression that Islam is either wholly or partly an dogmatic religion with a set of meaningless rituals.  The very nature of Sufism (or Tasawwuf) opposes what a Muslim is to believe in, this will be explained further when I make mention of Sufi beliefs in general.

Traits of a Muslim

A Muslim always refers back to the Quran and narrations of Prophet Muhammad, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, called the Sunnah, in matters of religion.  God tells us in the Quran:

“It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when God and His Messenger have decided a matter, they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair.  And whoever disobeys God and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.” (Quran 33:36)

Prophet Muhammad stressed the importance of following the Quran and Sunnah and the danger of introducing any innovations into Islam.  It is known that the Prophet said: “Whoever does a deed which is not in accordance to my commands (i.e. the Islamic Law), it shall be rejected.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Ibn Mas’ood (a companion of the prophet), may God be pleased with him, said:

“The Messenger of God, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, made a straight line on the ground with his hand, then he said, “This is the straight path of God.”  Then he made a (short) line on each side of the straight line; then he said, ‘These (short) lines, each one has a devil inviting people to it.” Then he recited the verse (of the Quran):

“And this is My path straight.  So follow it, and do not follow (other) ways, lest they lead you away from My path.” (Quran 6:153)

Saheeh: Reported by Ahmad and an-Nasaae’e.

A Muslim therefore is required to obey God and His Messenger.  This is the highest authority in Islam.  One is not to blindly follow religious leaders; rather, we as humans are required to use the faculties given to us by God, to think and reason.  Sufism, on the other hand, is a binding order that strips one of free thought and personal discretion and puts him at the mercy of the Sheikh of the order… as it has been said by some Sufi elders, ‘one must be with their Sheikh as a dead person is while being washed’, i.e. one should not argue, or oppose the opinion of the Sheikh and must display total obedience and submission to him.

True Muslims are content with the name “Muslim” given to them by Almighty God, as He says:

“He has chosen you (to conform to His religion) and has imposed no difficulty upon you in religion, the religion of your father Abraham.  He named you ‘Muslims’ both before (in the preceding Divine Scriptures) and in this Book.” (Quran 22.78)

Sufis may insist that they are Muslims, but at the same time some insist on identifying themselves as Sufis rather than Muslims.

Islamic Beliefs at a Glance: Belief in God

In short a Muslim believes in the Uniqueness of God.  He has no partner; no one is like unto Him.  God, Almighty, says:

“There is nothing like unto Him[2]  and He is the all-Hearing and the all-Seeing.” (Quran 42:11)

God is separate from His creation and not a part of it. He is the Creator, and all else is His creation.

Sufis hold a number of beliefs in relation to God, Almighty; of these beliefs are the following:

a)     Al-Hulool: This belief denotes that God, Almighty, dwells in His creation.

b)     Al-It’tihaad: This belief denotes that God, Almighty, and the creation are one, united presence.

c)     Wahdatul-Wujood: This belief denotes that one should not differentiate between the Creator and the creation, for both the creation and the Creator are one entity.

Mansoor al-Hallaaj, a figure much revered by Sufis, said: “I am He Whom I love,” he exclaimed, “He Whom I love is I; we are two souls co-inhabiting one body.  If you see me you see Him and if you see Him you see me.”[3]

Muhiyddin Ibn Arabi, another revered figure in Sufism, was infamous for his statements: “What is under my dress is none but God,” “The slave is the Lord and the Lord is a slave.”[4]

These above beliefs strongly contradict the Muslim belief in the Oneness of God, for Islam is a strict monotheism.  These cardinal Sufi doctrines are not far from some of the Christian beliefs or the Hindu belief of reincarnation. S. R. Sharda in his book, ‘Sufi Thought’ said: “Sufi literature of the post-Timur period shows a significant change in thought content.  It is pantheistic.  After the fall of Muslim orthodoxy from power at the centre of India for about a century, due to the invasion of Timur, Sufism became free from the control of the Muslim orthodoxy and consorted with Hindu saints, who influenced them to an amazing extent.  The Sufi adopted Monism and wifely devotion from the Vaishnava Vedantic school and Bhakti and Yogic practices from the Vaishnava Vedantic school.  By that time, the popularity of the Vedantic pantheism among the Sufis had reached its zenith.”

Belief in the Prophet of God

A Muslim believes that Prophet Muhammad was the Final Prophet and Messenger of God.  He was not divine, nor is he to be worshipped; but he is to be obeyed and one cannot worship God except in a manner that has been sanctioned by Prophet Muhammad.

Sufi orders hold a wide variety of beliefs in relation to Prophet Muhammad.  Of them are those who believe that he was ignorant of the knowledge the Sufi Elders possess.  Al-Bustami, a Sufi Sheikh said: “We have entered a sea of knowledge at the shore of which the Prophets and Messengers stood.”

Other Sufis ascribe some type of divinity to the Prophet saying that all of creation was created from the ‘light’ of Prophet Muhammad.  Some even believe that he was the first of creation and that he is resting upon the throne of God, which is the belief of Ibn Arabi and other Sufis who came after him.

Belief in Heaven and Hell

In short, Muslims believe that both Hell and Heaven are existent now, and are two actual abodes.  Hell is where a sinful person will be punished and Heaven is where a pious person will be rewarded.

Sufis in general believe that one should not ask God to grant them Paradise; they even claim that the Wali (guardian) should not seek it, for it is a sign of one’s lack of intellect.  To them ‘Paradise’ holds an immaterial meaning, which is to receive the knowledge of the unseen from God and to fall in love with Him.

As for Hell, a Sufi believes that one should not try to escape from it.  According to them, a true Sufi is not to be fearful of the Fire.  Some even believe that if a Sufi elder were to spit on the Fire, it would be put out, as Abu Yazid al-Bustami claimed.


[1] Al-Fataawaa (11/6)

[2] There is no similarity whatsoever between the Creator and His creation in essence, in attributes or in deed.

[3] At-Tawaaseen by Al-Hallaj

[4] Al-Fatoohaatul-Makkiyyah & Al-Fatoohaat


They say ”Endings are the new beginnings”. Such people are actually right. I agree with this notion. It’s because when something ends, it denotes new beginning. For example, when a person dies i.e. his life ends, but actually his dreamy and full of fantasy temporary life ends, and a new beginning i.e. the eternal life hereafter begins as soon as he dies. No, I’m not brushing up my philosophy, but actually stating the TRUTH.

Take another example, how the night falls and a stony silence creeps in the whole atmosphere. Come to think of it?!

After darkness, there is always LIGHT. IT’S THE TRUTH AS WELL. The most common epitome that illustrates this statement is the blessed phenomenon of Allah The Almighty upon us that after the night, dawn comes and morning emerges with the sound of the traffic enmeshed with the chirping and tweeting of the birds in the clear, blue sky. The stars and the moon have hidden themselves in a veil, and Mr. Sun appears. 🙂

Too many times, I encounter such people who lose their optimism down to a cellular level when they suffer from a ‘betrayal, fraud or a breakup of their relationships’, or when they flunk in any subject(s) at the school exams.

The aftermath of such loss of hope, loss of love, loss of humanity, and care and respect is very detrimental. Most of the people (like me) can’t bear up the pain of separation and end up as mental patients, depression patients in the mental asylum. Some of them even succumb to committing suicide!! :'(:(

Suicide is becoming a common aspect among teenagers in our society. Even I suffered from loss of love and loneliness and breakup and failures. The pain of getting betrayed is far worser than it seems. Research shows that the pain of breakup/betrayal causes severe pain/damage to the brain, even more severe than an injury. But from what I’ve gathered from my experiences of life is that only the sincere one i.e. A true lover/friend weeps and gets himself/herself afflicted with the injury of brain and heart after a breakup/betrayal. Instead of worrying over bad grades, you guys should even focus harder on your ACADEMICS… Work hard and prove to your teachers and enemies that u are not a garbage. YOU are YOU.. And YOU are a MARVEL.. Keep your morals HIGH. AIM FOR THE HEIGHT. SO, BEGIN YOUR OWN BEGINNING. AND AS FOR THE VULNERABLE ONES, WHO GOT THEIR TRUSTS BROKEN, THEY SHOULD ALSO MOVE ON AND CARRY ON WITH THEIR FOOTSTEPS..THEY SHOULD WALK FURTHER UNTIL THEY REACH THEIR DESTINATION..BECAUSE, THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD (P.B.U.H.) SAID: ”THE ONE WHO CHEATS IS NOT ONE OF US.” …




I am at once very poetic and extremely analytical when I write about love. I dissect this highest of human feelings with superb perception. I consider pure, true LOVE as SACRED and before I give myself the pleasure of writing about it, I must purify my lips with what I call a ”Sacred Fire”. I have to feel the inner energy, the glow of my eyes….

When I came to know LOVE, the songs in my heart became a deep silence, and I needed to ask for advice from someone to tell my heart about my heart and myself about myself. LOVE, according to me, consumes our emotions and passions…. Its hand is rough and sweet, takes hold of us in our loneliness and pours into our heart a drink in which bitterness and sweetness mingle….
The real feelings of LOVE are made of tears and laughter, of sorrow and happiness. It is a strange force that brings to our soul both death and life, sorrow and happiness, generating a dream stronger than life and deeper than death.
When love touches our soul with the tips of its fingers, we gather enough energy and strength to cross valleys, climb mountains to meet the one we love and travel from afar to meet the beloved of our life!…
I divide life into two halves: one half is frozen and the other half burning, and love is that burning half. This divine flame comes from the throne of divinity and I prayed that I be consumed by it. Love, according to me is not created by us but is sent from above and directs everything in our life, as it sees fit. . We are merely a plaything in its hands, knowing not where to go or what to do. When we love we should not say that (Allah/God) is in our heart, but rather that we are in the heart of Allah.
Real and geniune love for me is a self-consuming and self-nourishing fire. The flame is as strong as death, which changes everything and gives nothing but itself and takes nothing but from itself….


Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), was a brilliant German philosopher. These 38 Stratagems are excerpts from “The Art of Controversy”, first translated into English and published in 1896.

Schopenhauer’s 38 ways to win an argument are:

  1. Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow his or her propositions remain, the easier they are to defend by him or her.
  2. Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.
  3. Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to a particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than that which was asserted.
  4. Hide your conclusion from your opponent till the end. Mingle your premises here and there in your talk. Get your opponent to agree to them in no definite order. By this circuitious route you conceal your game until you have obtained all the admissions that are necessary to reach your goal.
  5. Use your opponent’s beliefs against him. If the opponent refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage.
  6. Another plan is to confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.
  7. State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions. By asking many wide-reaching questions at once, you may hide what you want to get admitted. Then you quickly propound the argument resulting from the opponent’s admissions.
  8. Make your opponent angry. An angry person is less capable of using judgement or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.
  9. Use your opponent’s answers to your questions to reach different or even opposite conclusions.
  10. If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises. This may confuse the opponent as to which point you actually seek them to concede.
  11. If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion. Later, introduce your conclusion as a settled and admitted fact. Your opponent may come to believe that your conclusion was admitted.
  12. If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable in your proposition.
  13. To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him or her an opposite, counter-proposition as well. If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical.
  14. Try to bluff your opponent. If he or she has answered several of your questions without the answers turning out in favor of your conclusion, advance your conclusion triumphantly, even if it does not follow. If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the trick may easily succeed.
  15. If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment. Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true poposition, as thoug you wished to draw your proof from it. Should the opponent reject it because he or she suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject a true proposition. Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your own for the moment. You can either try to prove your original proposition or maintain that your original proposition is proved by what the opponent accepted. For this, an extreme degree of impudence is required.
  16. When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions, or lack of action.
  17. If your opponent presses you with a counter proof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction. Try to find a second meaning or an ambiguous sense for your opponent’s idea.
  18. If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him or her to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.
  19. Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his or her argument, and you have nothing much to say, try to make the argument less specific.
  20. If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion. Rather draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.
  21. When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial, refute it by setting forth its superficial character. But it is better to meet the opponent with a counter argument that is just as superficial, and so dispose of him or her. For it is with victory that your are concerned, and not with truth.
  22. If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question.
  23. Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating his or her statements. By contractiong your opponent you may drive him or her into extending the statement beyond its natural limit. When you then contradict the exaggerated form of it, you look as though you had refuted the orginal statement your opponent tries to extend your own statement further than you intended, redefine your statement’s limits.
  24. This trick consists in stating a false syllogism. Your opponent makes a proposition and by false inference and distortion of his or her ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not intended and that appear absurd. It then appears the opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies, and so appears to be indirectly refuted.
  25. If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary. Only one valid contradiciton is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition.
  26. A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against him or herself.
  27. Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal. Not only will this make the opponent angry, it may be presumed that you put your finger on the weak side of his or her case, and that the opponent is more open to attack on this point than you expected.
  28. This trick is chiefly practicable in a dispute if there is an audience who is not an expert on the subject. You make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes the opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If the opponent must make a long, complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen.
  29. If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had bearing on the matter in dispose. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.
  30. Make an appeal to authority rather than reason. If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those which he or she generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have invented entirely yourself.
  31. If you know that you have no reply to an argument that your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.
  32. A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.
  33. You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.
  34. When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, or evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is a sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without knowing it. You have as it were, reduced the opponent to silence. You must, therefore, urge the point all the more, and not let your opponent evade it, even when you do not know where the weakness that you have hit upon really lies.
  35. This trick makes all unnecessary if it works. Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect, work on his or her motive. If you succeed in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem distinctly to his or her own interest, the opponenent will drop it like a hot potato.
  36. You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If the opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as ife he or she has no idea what you are talking about, you can easily impose upon him or her some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.
  37. Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position. This is the way which bad advocates lose a good case. If no accurate proof occurs to the opponent or the bystanders, you have won the day.
  38. A last trick is to become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular trick, because everyone is able to carry it into effect.

(abstracted from the book:Numerical Lists You Never Knew or Once Knew and Probably Forget, by: John Boswell and Dan Starer)


Why Physicists Need Philosophers


There’s a spat brewing between some theoretical physicists and philosophers of science recently, and NPR’s Adam Frank has all the details. It started when one philosopher of science, David Albert, questioned the notion that the universe came “from nothing,” as the title of Laurence Krauss’ new book claims. This quickly escalated into a debate over whether philosophy of science was even a worthwhile endeavor, or just a distraction from the hard, nuts-and-bolts work of figuring out the nature of the universe.

Frank has a great explanation of just why these physicists are wrong to dismiss philosophy out of hand:

Richard Feynman was famously scornful of the philosophy of science. He thought it was immune to finding relevant results or making real progress. But the problem is that we aren’t living in Richard Feynman’s age of physics anymore. Something strange happened on the way to the modern intersection of cosmology and foundational physics. Some measure of philosophical sophistication seems helpful, if nothing else, in confronting this new landscape.

Its one thing for physicists exploring carbon nanotubes to say they have no use for philosophy. Their work lives or dies by experimental data that can be collected tomorrow. But over the last few decades, cosmology and foundational physics have become dominated by ideas that that appear to take a page from science fiction and, more importantly, remain firmly untethered to data.

Concepts like hidden dimensions of reality (string theory) or hidden infinite possible parallel universes (the multiverse) are radical revisions of the very concept of reality. Since detailed contact with experimental data might be decades away, theorists have relied mainly on mathematical consistency and “aesthetics” to guide their explorations. In light of these developments, it seems absurd to dismiss philosophy as having nothing to do with their endeavors.

Read the rest over at Frank’s NPR blog.



8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

Philosophy goes where hard science can’t, or won’t. Philosophers have a license to speculate about everything from metaphysics to morality, and this means they can shed light on some of the basic questions of existence. The bad news? These are questions that may always lay just beyond the limits of our comprehension.

Here are eight mysteries of philosophy that we’ll probably never get to solve:

1. Why is there something rather than nothing?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

Our presence in the universe is something too bizarre for words. The mundaneness of our daily lives cause us take our existence for granted — but every once in awhile we’re cajoled out of that complacency and enter into a profound state of existential awareness, and we ask: Why is there all thisstuff in the universe, and why is it governed by such exquisitely precise laws? And why should anything exist at all? We inhabit a universe with such things as spiral galaxies, the aurora borealis, and SpongeBob Squarepants. And as Sean Carroll notes, “Nothing about modern physics explains why we have these laws rather than some totally different laws, although physicists sometimes talk that way — a mistake they might be able to avoid if they took philosophers more seriously.” And as for the philosophers, the best that they can come up with is the anthropic principle — the notion that our particular universe appears the way it does by virtue of our presence as observers within it — a suggestion that has an uncomfortably tautological ring to it.

2. Is our universe real?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

This the classic Cartesian question. It essentially asks, how do we know that what we see around us is the real deal, and not some grand illusion perpetuated by an unseen force (who René Descartes referred to as the hypothesized ‘evil demon’)? More recently, the question has been reframed as the “brain in a vat” problem, or the Simulation Argument. And it could very well be that we’re the products of an elaborate simulation. A deeper question to ask, therefore, is whether the civilization running the simulation is also in a simulation — a kind of supercomputer regression (or simulationception). Moreover, we may not be who we think we are. Assuming that the people running the simulation are also taking part in it, our true identities may be temporarily suppressed, to heighten the realness of the experience. This philosophical conundrum also forces us to re-evaluate what we mean by “real.” Modal realists argue that if the universe around us seems rational (as opposed to it being dreamy, incoherent, or lawless), then we have no choice but to declare it as being real and genuine. Or maybe, as Cipher said after eating a piece of “simulated” steak in The Matrix, “Ignorance is bliss.”

3. Do we have free will?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve1

Also called the dilemma of determinism, we do not know if our actions are controlled by a causal chain of preceding events (or by some other external influence), or if we’re truly free agents making decisions of our own volition. Philosophers (and now some scientists) have been debating this for millennia, and with no apparent end in sight. If our decision making is influenced by an endless chain of causality, then determinism is true and we don’t have free will. But if the opposite is true, what’s called indeterminism, then our actions must be random — what some argue is still not free will. Conversely, libertarians (no, not political libertarians, those are other people), make the case for compatibilism — the idea that free will is logically compatible with deterministic views of the universe. Compounding the problem are advances in neuroscience showing that our brains make decisions before we’re even conscious of them. But if we don’t have free will, then why did we evolve consciousness instead of zombie-minds? Quantum mechanics makes this problem even more complicated by suggesting that we live in a universe of probability, and that determinism of any sort is impossible. And as Linas Vepstas has said, “Consciousness seems to be intimately and inescapably tied to the perception of the passage of time, and indeed, the idea that the past is fixed and perfectly deterministic, and that the future is unknowable. This fits well, because if the future were predetermined, then there’d be no free will, and no point in the participation of the passage of time.”

4. Does God exist?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

Simply put, we cannot know if God exists or not. Both the atheists and believers are wrong in their proclamations, and the agnostics are right. True agnostics are simply being Cartesian about it, recognizing the epistemological issues involved and the limitations of human inquiry. We do not know enough about the inner workings of the universe to make any sort of grand claim about the nature of reality and whether or not a Prime Mover exists somewhere in the background. Many people defer to naturalism — the suggestion that the universe runs according to autonomous processes — but that doesn’t preclude the existence of a grand designer who set the whole thing in motion (what’s called deism). And as mentioned earlier, we may live in a simulation where the hacker gods control all the variables. Or perhaps the gnostics are right and powerful beings exist in some deeper reality that we’re unaware of. These aren’t necessarily the omniscient, omnipotent gods of the Abrahamic traditions — but they’re (hypothetically) powerful beings nonetheless. Again, these aren’t scientific questions per se — they’re more Platonic thought experiments that force us to confront the limits of human experience and inquiry.

5. Is there life after death?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

Before everyone gets excited, this is not a suggestion that we’ll all end up strumming harps on some fluffy white cloud, or find ourselves shoveling coal in the depths of Hell for eternity. Because we cannot ask the dead if there’s anything on the other side, we’re left guessing as to what happens next. Materialists assume that there’s no life after death, but it’s just that — an assumption that cannot necessarily be proven. Looking closer at the machinations of the universe (or multiverse), whether it be through a classical Newtonian/Einsteinian lens, or through the spooky filter of quantum mechanics, there’s no reason to believe that we only have one shot at this thing called life. It’s a question of metaphysics and the possibility that the cosmos (what Carl Sagan described as “all that is or ever was or ever will be”) cycles and percolates in such a way that lives are infinitely recycled. Hans Moravec put it best when, speaking in relation to the quantum Many Worlds Interpretation, said that non-observance of the universe is impossible; we must always find ourselves alive and observing the universe in some form or another. This is highly speculative stuff, but like the God problem, is one that science cannot yet tackle, leaving it to the philosophers.

6. Can you really experience anything objectively?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

There’s a difference between understanding the world objectively (or at least trying to, anyway) and experiencing it through an exclusively objective framework. This is essentially the problem of qualia — the notion that our surroundings can only be observed through the filter of our senses and the cogitations of our minds. Everything you know, everything you’ve touched, seen, and smelled, has been filtered through any number of physiological and cognitive processes. Subsequently, your subjective experience of the world is unique. In the classic example, the subjective appreciation of the color red may vary from person to person. The only way you could possibly know is if you were to somehow observe the universe from the “conscious lens” of another person in a sort of Being John Malkovich kind of way — not anything we’re likely going to be able to accomplish at any stage of our scientific or technological development. Another way of saying all this is that the universe can only be observed through a brain (or potentially a machine mind), and by virtue of that, can only be interpreted subjectively. But given that the universe appears to be coherent and (somewhat) knowable, should we continue to assume that its true objective quality can never be observed or known? It’s worth noting that much of Buddhist philosophy is predicated on this fundamental limitation (what they call emptiness), and a complete antithesis to Plato’s idealism.

7. What is the best moral system?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

Essentially, we’ll never truly be able to distinguish between “right” and “wrong” actions. At any given time in history, however, philosophers, theologians, and politicians will claim to have discovered the best way to evaluate human actions and establish the most righteous code of conduct. But it’s never that easy. Life is far too messy and complicated for there to be anything like a universal morality or an absolutist ethics. The Golden Rule is great (the idea that you should treat others as you would like them to treat you), but it disregards moral autonomy and leaves no room for the imposition of justice (such as jailing criminals), and can even be used to justify oppression (Immanuel Kant was among its most staunchest critics). Moreover, it’s a highly simplified rule of thumb that doesn’t provision for more complex scenarios. For example, should the few be spared to save the many? Who has more moral worth: a human baby or a full-grown great ape? And as neuroscientists have shown, morality is not only a culturally-ingrained thing, it’s also a part of our psychologies (the Trolly Problem is the best demonstration of this). At best, we can only say that morality is normative, while acknowledging that our sense of right and wrong will change over time.

8. What are numbers?

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve

We use numbers every day, but taking a step back, what are they, really — and why do they do such a damn good job of helping us explain the universe (such as Newtonian laws)? Mathematical structures can consist of numbers, sets, groups, and points — but are they real objects, or do they simply describe relationships that necessarily exist in all structures? Plato argued that numbers were real (it doesn’t matter that you can’t “see” them), but formalists insisted that they were merely formal systems (well-defined constructions of abstract thought based on math). This is essentially an ontological problem, where we’re left baffled about the true nature of the universe and which aspects of it are human constructs and which are truly tangible.


In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.

One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him  excitedly and said,
“Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me,
I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three.”

“Test of Three?”

“That’s correct,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man replied, “actually I just heard about it.”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him even  though you’re not certain it’s true?”

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, “You may still pass though because there is a third test – the filter of Usefulness.
Is what you want to tell me about my student  going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really…”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor  good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and  ashamed and said no more.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high  esteem.