THE GREAT QUESTIONS Course outline for an Eikaiwa Philosophical Course I ) METAPHYSICS: [See Knowledge and Understanding Needs; Transcendence Needs] -concerns the ultimate nature of the universe and reality and how they work.
1) How did the universe come into existence and what is its ultimate fate, if any?
a) -did it come into being by the Big Bang? Divine Creation? Has it always existed?
b) - is matter, the physical, material world, all there is?
c) - are there non-material planes or realms?
d) - what are the basic laws of this universe? Are there any basic laws?
e) - is there such thing as spirit?
f) - are there other ‘dimensions’ higher than our 4-D world?
2) Ontology: what is the nature of things?
a) - do we discover reality? Do we construct it? Both?
b) - is reality ‘real’ or is it some kind of illusion or (maya)?
c) - is change real or an illusion?
d) - do things have an essence ( set of traits they need to be what they are)? Do we discover these essences or do we construct them?
e) - can ‘essences’ change? Can you change your ‘essence’ as a human being?
f ) - what is ‘change’? What do we mean when we say something ‘changes’?
g) - does everything change? Can we step into the same river twice?
h) - what is time? Is it real? Does it flow like a river? Is it a circle or a spreading ripple?
II)Religion and Spirituality [Transcendence / Spirituality Needs]
1) Are there superior beings, gods, God, goddesses, angels, demons, spirits and/or ghosts who guide, control and/or dictate or influence the way the universe works and our actions?
a) - how much power do they have?
b) - are they good, evil, neutral? Some of each?
c) - what role do they play in humankind history?
d) - can they be trusted?
e) - can we really get to know these beings?
f) - are there people with special gifts for being in communication with the superior beings?
g) - are their techniques (rituals, prayer, meditation) by which we can communicate with the superior beings?
2) Is there such a thing as life after death in another realm or plane?
a) - what, if any, is their image of life after death?
b) - who or what decides what happens to people after death ?
c) - do we re-incarnate? always as humans?
d) - is there further spiritual growth/evolution/development after death?
e) - is there a heaven or hell? Are they in some place or are they something different like a state of mind?
III ) EPISTEMOLOGY: [Knowledge and Understanding Needs]
What is truth and how can we discover it?
a) -there such a thing as (absolute) truth? can humans know it?
b) -are there different kinds of truth, e.g. artistic truth, religious truth, scientific truth?
c) - can we rely on the senses to give us absolutely true knowledge?
d) - can we rely on reason to give us absolutely true knowledge?
e) - do some people have special talents, gifts for finding certain kinds of truth?
f) - does divine revelation (if it exists) give us truth?
g) -does intuition give us truth?
h) - is all truth a matter of opinion?
i) - what kinds of evidence do we regard as legitimate?
j) - can dreams tells us truths?
k) - can emotions and feelings tell us truth?
l) - does a culture limit us in what truths and what kinds of truths we are allowed to know?
m) - what defines your own circle of truth* ?
m) - can animals or machines think?
n) - what is meant by 'thinking'? Is being logical the same as ‘thinking’?
* ‘The circle of truth’: the boundary of the kind of evidence a belief system or person will accept. For example, even if Einstein bore personal witness to the existence of angels, many would reject his claim because the evidence was not (a) material; (b) mathematical; (c) duplicable; (d) falsifiable. Einsteins’ past record as a scientist and his personal credibility is outside the ‘circle of truth’ drawn by modern science.
IV ) ETHICS: [Belonging and Love Needs] the study of what is right or wrong, morally appropriate or inappropriate, and why? 1) What do we mean by good or bad? Evil? a)- what makes things good or bad?
b)- how do we decide if something is good or bad? Who decides? Individuals? Society?
God? Gods? Nature? Our individual or collective preferences?
c) - do people have a natural, innate knowledge of basic morals?
d) - are there universal morals or standards of moral conduct?
e) - is all morality simply opinion?
f) - are there moral absolutes that must never be violated?
g) - why do bad things happen to good people?
h) - can what is good or bad change from situation to situation, or person to person?
i) - does such a thing as the devil (Mara, Satan, etc ) exist? Or is s/he just a symbol?
j) - why do people do evil?
k) - can non-human things be evil? Or are they only ‘bad’?
2) Are all bad things evil? E.g.. is an earth quake or a disease evil?
a) - can only people be evil? Can animals be evil?
b) - is evil just a matter of opinion?
c) - is there an embodiment of evil like Satan or Mara?
d) - are people evil or only their actions? e.g. Stalin, Mao, Hitler?
e) - can evil lead to good?
f) - can good lead to evil?
3) What is the moral code by which to live in harmony with these superior beings?
a)- what is allowed? Forbidden? Why?
b) - what duties are required to live a good life?
4) What is the "good life"? How do re recognize a life worth living?
a) - what makes a life ‘worth living’?
b) - what is happiness?
c) - is there such a thing as one kind of happiness for all?
d) - is physical comfort the same as happiness?
e) - do we have a right to happiness?
f) - is happiness a goal or a by-product of the way we live?
g) - can all humans ever be happy? Can we be happy all the time? Should we be?
i) - is there value in sadness, dissatisfaction, fear, grief, disgust, hatred?
j) - how important is thoughtfulness to being happy?
k) - can we be happy alone? do we need others to be truly happy?
l) - can we be happy making others miserable?
m) - do people knowingly and intentionally do evil or do they confuse evil with good?
5) What are the greatest humankind virtues? What are the worst vices? Try to put them in order of priority. Feel free to add your own.
gentleness courage modesty good will self-sacrifice
a)- how will this goal be achieved? What kind of a curriculum? What subjects?
b) - why those subjects? What benefits do you expect from each subject?
c) - who should or should not be educated?
d) - who should control education? The individual? Parents? Society? Teachers?
A combination of these? Who decides what will be learned?
e) - should schools teach morals?
f) - should all opinions be welcome in a school?
g) - should there be tests? Failing? Passing?
h) - should all get the same education? Streaming or division into ability groups?
i) - should universities and colleges be for the elite?
VII ) THE PHILOSOPHY OF POLITICS: [Collective and Individual Need for Order] deals with questions relating to the organization and rule of society. The need for government is obvious to and accepted by all societies.
1) Who should lead? What qualities do we need in leaders?
a) - how shall we choose leaders? Election? By whom? On the basis of age and experience? Heredity? Tests? Morals?
b) - should all be eligible for leadership?
c) - what makes a government legitimate? Illegitimate?
d) - who should follow? What are the qualities of a good follower?
e) - what kind of governmental organization do we want or will serve us best? Democracy? Dictatorship? Monarchy? Oligarchy? Plutocracy? Benevolent despotism?
f) - what are the advantages and disadvantages of the kind of government we have chosen? Its weaknesses? Its strength?
g) - how should society protect itself?
h) - how can we balance the powers of government with other powers in a society?
i) - how much power should government have?
j) – how much power should government have to regulate individuals? Economic life?
k) - how much should government do for people?
l) - how do we change governments (if we do)?
VIII) SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY: [Belonging / Social Order Needs] -deals with questions about how a society as distinct from government should be organized.
How shall we deal with the seemingly natural humankind distinctions in intelligence, talent, will power, character, charm, appearance?
a)- shall we 'equalize' all these things or let them develop as they will? shall we legislate equality? How much?
b)- in what ways are or should all people be equal? Legally? Socially? Economically? Spiritually? Politically? Artistically?
d) - is elitism an inevitable part of all societies?
e) - do social classes and roles reflect natural differences among humans, or are such classes imposed upon us by those in power?
2) How should wealth be distributed?
a) - should all people be roughly equal in wealth, status and power?
b) - how could such equality be achieved?
c) - should there be upper and/or lower limits on how much people can earn?
d) - how can we justify economic differences among people?
e) - why are some people (and nations) poor and others well off?
f) - does wealth equate with intelligence? Talent? Fitness? Social usefulness?
What should be the individual's relationship to society? Whose needs come first in event of a conflict?
4) What are the causes of personal and social conflict? How do D and B needs explain them and help us find solutions?
5) How many kinds of freedom are there? Economic? Personal? Intellectual? Political?
a)- can there be too much freedom for individuals? When? For whom? Who decides? Are there reasonable limits to freedom?
b) - who should regulate freedoms? Individuals? Society? Religion?
IX) AESTHETICS and SELF-EXPRESSION: [Aesthetic Needs] -deals with the arts, the pursuit of beauty and the cultivation of thought and feeling.
Why do all societies spend so much time, energy, attention and wealth on art and the arts?
What benefits do individuals and society receive from the arts?
a) - what humankind needs do the arts fulfill?
b) - how the arts help our mental, emotional and social development?
c) - is the artistic expression fundamental need to one extent or another in all people?
d) - what is beauty?
e) - are there universal standards of beauty?
f) - is beauty only a matter of opinion or is there such a thing as objective beauty?
g) - why do beautiful objects of whatever kind makes us feel good?
h) - can works of art makes us do bad or evil things?
i) - what are the specific roles of poetry? stories? music? art? architecture? decoration? what do they do for us?
X) PHILOSOPHY OF LOVE [belonging and love needs]; -deals with questions about the nature and kinds of love, the role of love in our lives,
How many kinds of love are there? (The ancient Greeks suggest four loves (eros – or -romantic, erotic love; storge love – or nurturing love; philos – or friendship love given in reciprocity; and agape – spiritual selfless love or love of God.)
Can you think of other kinds of love? What about “patriotism” or love for one’s country or group? Or love for an idea or belief? Or “aesthetic” love for a work of art or beautiful object? The adulation given a pop idol or a great leader, thinker, writer?
Is there such a thing as loving too much? (Think of obsessions.) Does the object of love matter?
Can love lead to suffering? Can we suffer from love? Were the Greeks right in giving
Eros a sharp arrow?
Are there inappropriate forms of love?
6) Are there things or even people who should not be loved? Should we love such criminals as Hitler or Stalin?
Is love truly all you really need? Does loving and/or being loved make life worthwhile?
8) Is love the only basis for marriage? (Remember other cultures!)
What makes two people ‘fall’ in love? Is it ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ or ‘Opposites attract’ or a bit of both? Is it possible to ‘fall’ in love with someone who brings out the worst in you or is ‘bad’ for you?
XI) PHILOSOPHY OF MAN (Philosophical Anthropology) : [Knowledge and Understanding Needs] -deals with questions relating to humankind nature, psychology, attitudes, family life, and history.
1) How much of humankind nature is natural, in-born, hereditary or genetic (and therefore unchangeable in any significant way) and how much is cultural and educational (and therefore changeable)? Consider this question in regard to
a) - sex and gender differences; gender roles
b) - physical attributes like strength, endurance etc.
c) - aggressiveness
d) - kindness and compassion
e) - competitiveness
f) - acquisitiveness and sharing
g) - intelligence
h) - ambition and perseverance
2) What is the nature of sex and gender?
a) - are men and women fundamentally different? The same? Half and half?
b) - are these differences innate or encultured? To what extent?
c) - how shall gender roles be decided? should there be gender roles?
d) - how are male and female brains different in structure and function?
e) - to what extent does biology affect male and female nature?
f) - can male and female nature be significantly changed?
g) - are some activities more male or female than others? How do we know?
3) Do humankind beings have free will? If so, how much?
a) - do all have the same amount of free will?
b) - can people over-ride their cultural, personal and genetic heritage?
c) - is there fate? Are we pre-destined? By society? Genes? Powerful institutions?
4) Why are humans so religious?
a) - what benefits does religion provide?
b)- why so many 'ridiculous' beliefs last for so long?
c)- are there things that all religions have in common?
d) - what are the personal costs of having religious commitments?
5) What is our society's and our own personal life-image?
The life-image’ is an individual’s image of what life is all about. This image helps explain their actions. For example,
The Medievals thought life was a pilgrimage from earth to heaven; they were pilgrims.
Renaissance people often thought life was a journey of exploration; they were explorers.
Today many people think of life as a tour; we are tourists.
Many Romantics thought life was a period of exile; they were exiles.
6) Do our individual lives have a purpose?
a) - are all people here for a 'mission' of some sort? Are we all here for a reason?
b) - do individuals have greater purposes than the pursuit of personal advantage?
c) - what do we mean by a ‘wasted life’? Is there such a thing?
7) What is more important to us, the outer world of 'real', 'practical' things or the inner world of dreams, feelings, ideas and imaginations? Which is primary: internal or external motivation?
8) What is freedom and how much do we need?
a) - are there different kinds of freedom?
b) - how do we balance ‘freedom for’ something with ‘freedom from’ something?
c) - is freedom the highest value?
9) Why is there war?
a)- how do wars actually get started? What are the main causes of war? Consider individual and collective D and B needs, i.e. the role of scarcity and subsistence.
b) - would a society ruled by women have wars?
c) - why have we never discovered a truly peaceful society?
d) - is all war evil? can there be a 'just' war?
e)- is war a legitimate way to pursue national or personal goals? Never? Sometimes?
10) How should families be organized?
a)- what is a family? People who are genetically linked? Friends? People who
care about each other?
b) - are all forms of family equal? Are all equally successful now or in our
c) - what are 'family values'?
d) - what is the proper relationship between husband and wife? Parents and
children? Siblings? Extended family?
e)- how far out does the family spread in time and space? Would you include ancestors,
descendants and remote cousins?
11) What shall we do about sex and love?
a) - are sex and love too important to be allowed absolutely free reign?
b) - how should they be regulated? By whom?
c) - how many kinds of love are there?
d) - is all love good? Are there bad forms of love?
e) - are there limits to love?
f) - why do all societies have marriage?
g) - what is the ‘proper form’ for marriage?
h) - why do some societies practice polygamy and (rare) polyandry?
i) - how sacrosanct should marriage be?
j) - is personal love the only possible basis for marriage? The best?
12) What is humankind’s place in the natural world?
a) - is there a dividing line that separates humankind from the rest of nature?
b) - is humankind just another animal?
c) - what is and should be our relationship to the non-human natural world?
d) - how does humankind differ from animals, if it does?
e) - is humankind superior to nature in some way? Inferior? Equal?
13) Has the human race made progress? Stayed the same? Showed a decline in
a) - individual morality?
b) - social or collective morality?
c) - economics?
d) - the arts?
e) - science and technology?
f) - human rights?
g) - forms of government ?
h) - education?
i) - tolerance?
APPENDIX – HUMAN NEEDS I will now provide the framework of this “choices and values” approach to the study of history and literature. (This version of Maslow’s needs hierarchy is based on William G Huitt.) Transcendence / Spirituality Self-actualization Aesthetic Needs Knowledge and Understanding Needs Esteem / Ego Identity Needs Belonging and Love Needs Safety Needs Physiological needs The expansion shown below is compiled from work by Abraham Maslow, Alfred Adler, Kazimierz Dabrowski, Norman Kune, Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, Clayton Alderfer, William G Huitt, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, Francis Maurice Bucke with some additions by the author of this paper. 1) Collective and /or Individual Physiological Survival Needs: “deprivation” needs, that is, things needed for bare physical survival air / clean air water / clean water /sufficient and proper food / adequate shelter / heat / fairly constant body temperature / reproductive success 2) Safety /Security Needs adequate defense against (a) natural disasters; (b) non-humankind predators; (c) humankind predators freedom from fear stability and order; rules and regularities in personal and collective life 3) Belonging and Love Needs (friends, family spouse, personal network) the ability to get and give love, acceptance (basic trust, cf. Erik Erikson) family network (group membership) an adequate extended social network (group membership; community) sense of loyalty satisfactory personal relationships esp. in regards to love, sex and marriage justice and fairness in personal and collective relations play feels and displays adequate social interest (cf Alfred Adler) need for as behavior / moral code 4) Ego or Esteem Needs (achievement, mastery, recognition, respect) able to get and receive respect / adequate sense of identity and knowing who one is able to display and experience competency (power, cf. Alfred Adler) appropriate and adequate work / ability to experience a feeling of value, worth, self-confidence; a sense of person ‘rightness' / sense of self-sufficiency and autonomy 5) Knowledge and Understanding Needs / basic rationality i.e. the ability to understand and/or devise reasons for personal and collective actions knowledge adequate to social functioning and personal satisfaction need for an adequate ‘map of the world’; able to understand / explain the natural and human environment to personal needs and satisfaction; answers to the ‘Great Questions’. - knowing the truth about things and/or people; wonder and curiosity - contributing knowledge 6) Aesthetic Needs need to find and the ability to experience find beauty, elegance, symmetry, disinterested, non-utilitarian satisfaction in nature or products of human imagination - ability to find inner balance, peace, serenity / self-expressive needs 7) Self-Actualization Needs / necessity to develop and externalize one’s unique inner resources / need to feel at one with ourselves; need to feel ‘as one’ 8) Transcendence or “Peak Experiences” Needs - the ability to experience “highs”, “flow experience” (Csikzentmihalyi), ego-boundary breaking; boundary breaking at the personal and/or collective, cultural level sudden moments of growth, creativity, insight, understanding a sense of completion feeling of connection with something larger, greater than self, “cosmic consciousness”