Will

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  1. Wow, great discussion! I'd gotten a bit behind and was amazed to see there were about five more pages than where I'd left off. It's been interesting to read the references to Mahayana Buddhism (or at least some variation of it). I remember when I read about Buddhism in prior years (before my philosophical craze began!) I hadn't really understood the notion of there not being a "self," at least in the sense we normally think of it. But now this is a really striking idea to me because I now believe that determinism rules the world, i.e. that all our actions are predetermined (are theoretically predictable based on knowledge of all natural laws, etc.) This is not to say that we don't have free will, but rather that there's no "deeper self" with total autonomy -- we can make decisions, and must, but every decision is pre-determined. This seems at least a bit similar to some of the ideas expressed in this thread.
  2. In some sense that would make sense. Indeed, the way I view the world has changed, but my actions haven't. In your opinion, what might this balancing entail? Being kind? Exercising?
  3. Yeah, great job tying in The Matrix. Saw those films for the first time this summer and they quickly became some of my favorites. You definitely pinpointed something I've struggled with since watching them: Namely, would I really want to be "freed" by Morpheus? As one character (Cypher) says in the first film, "You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss." Since Cypher is not portrayed sympathetically, I desperately want to reject that statement. Yet, really, what reason do I have to reject it? Isn't Cypher right? What is there to be gained from causing yourself more suffering? I suppose, however, the ultimate answer to my question is something along these lines: Since anxiety hurts your happiness level, there is little good to be found in getting worked up about whether one should be happy or not in a certain situation. Some things don't have to have a reason. They just are. I suppose if one is getting legitimately angsty over how they should feel about enlightenment (i.e. the question of whether happiness, even ignorant happiness, is the ultimate good, or whether there is something else), then it's time to stop worrying. That's not completely satisfying, however, as I still have to make a choice, and when I stop worrying about it I am no closer to an answer. Perhaps an answer will come to me someday, however (wu wei?) I didn't really get my definition of enlightenment from anywhere, although I think Lost in Translation summed it up pretty well in his Matrix analogy, enlightenment being the discovery of the dystopian real world. While I'm not really into energy work at the moment, I would be curious what factors you think would lead to nihilistic/discontented feelings.
  4. This is a very interesting, provocative question I've been pondering intensely over the last few days. Is it really desirable to become enlightened? By enlightenment, I don't mean becoming a true sage or anything like that, but merely coming to realize basic Taoist "truths" (about how most dualities and desires are simply meaningless human inventions). Now, many people are very content with their lives when they are not enlightened. Perhaps they work for a charity or have ambitions to become a social activist. They believe that what they are doing is the right thing, and matters a lot. Contrast that with me, who's currently "enlightened" in the sense previously described, and is feeling like nothing has meaning. This does not make me feel very content. Of course, Zhuangzi felt very content, but it took a lot of practice and dedication for him to reach that point. Whereas for those who aren't enlightened, I get the sense that many of them are pretty content without having to put in that kind of dedication. In other words, isn't enlightenment the harder road to contentedness? Might I be better off trying to "forget" Taoism and postmodern philosophy and make myself like a "normal" person? Because what is really the benefit of all this uncertainty and nihilism? I suppose another question that ties in with this is, "Is happiness the only thing I should want?" I know I've discussed this here before, with no clear answer coming out of it. But, basically, if happiness is the only thing one can really strive for, what benefit have I gained by adding uncertainty and meaninglessness to my life? By contrast, if there is some "higher purpose" than my personal happiness, then perhaps the uncertainly associated with Taoism is okay. I'm not actually considering leaving Taoism; it's just that questions like this really bother me.
  5. @acdbox Glad I'm not the only one asking this question. It's been really bothering me for the last few months, usually at least once a day. Very tricky, as it leads inevitably to an endless loop of "Why?" questions. ("Why should I be good?" "Because it should make you happy to see others happy." "Why should I be happy when others are happy?" Etc...) Ultimately, I think that the Taoist has three reasons for being virtuous (other faiths are different of course - are you a Buddhist or a Taoist - or even something else?): 1. As @Marblehead noted, there are practical benefits to staying on people's good side. 2. Perhaps you just find joy in seeing other people be happy. When you think about it, there's no reason you shouldn't find joy in that, any less than you might find joy in movies, or music, or books, or chatting with friends, etc -- however difficult it can be for me to justify this sometimes, to legitimately, truly feel happy about others' joy. 3. If you get rid of most of your materialist desires as the Taoist sage did, then I'm not sure how many reasons you have left not to be virtuous (although this is debatable, since being virtuous generally requires involvement in the community which may not bring peace of mind as easily as the sage would like). If you think about it, probably most of our reasons not to be nice are things like, "I want to do _____ instead of this 'good' action." If you eliminate the want, which is often an attachment to a possession of some sort, then suddenly the obstacle disappears (although there is still not necessarily an actual affirmative reason to do good). In regard to @Earl Grey's point above: I get what he's saying, but, technically speaking, is there really any reason why an "evil" person can't have peace of mind? I think the only reason why people feel shame is because they have been imprinted with an image of what they are supposed to be like by society -- and they have done something the society considers opposite of that image. If one realized that, I think peace of mind might be attainable. However... I thought of another reason, related to Earl's peace of mind argument, why one might want to be good: Would a true Taoist really be sure that there was no right or wrong, or that there was no God? If they acknowledge that there is a possibility of God's existence, then there's a chance that by being at least somewhat virtuous they could avoid eternal damnation. This dynamic is really tricky to ponder and, IMO, shakes Taoism (and any other belief system) to its core. When I get the chance I'm planning to start a thread about some related issues that have been bugging me.
  6. I tend to think that those two sides may not be easily distinct. Yes, there are choices that we make that feel "autonomous." And they are, really, but not in the way that we think. I can make choices, but I is just a combination of beliefs, desires, and lessons imprinted by society, combined with my genes and perhaps a degree of random neuron firings in my brain. There is nothing fundamental that is completely autonomous. Everything has a cause, everything is influence by something else. Or at least that's what I believe at the present time! Anyway, this is why I've come to believe that there is no such thing as moral responsibility, at least in the strict sense -- a natural result from determinism. The really hard question for me is, once you realize that many of your passions and beliefs are really completely contingent, that many of your decisions are "made" before you consciously decide (see this crazy study), that many of your talents are simply products of genetic chance, etc ... do you keep moving on normally with your life? Or do you start to stop desiring things? Determinism is tricky to reckon with because it contains some paradoxes. The most frustrating is that: 1) Determinism postulates that the future is destined to occur in a certain way 2) You cannot know what that way is 3) You thinking about determinism was destined to happen (if you believe in determinism, of course) I'm not sure if that's a "paradox" in the traditional sense but it's still hard to really grasp. In other words, you might think, "Ah ha, I'm going to prove determinism wrong by exercising my free will to do something totally unexpected." Unfortunately, if determinism holds, then even that very thought was destined to occur, based on the prevailing laws of physics, your brain chemistry, etc. Yeah that was what I thought was possible. Liberalism isn't at odds with postmodernism per se, but postmodernism does tend to take a bleak view of politics in general.
  7. Just wanted to say that this quote has been running through my head repeatedly over the last week. Brilliant! I'm not sure if this was your intent, but it helps me cope with the growing (shocking) realization that determinism likely rules the universe -- in other words, that I have a destiny that could theoretically be determined if you had all the variables measured, even if in practice it feels like I have free will and the future can't be predicted. Viewing myself as an actor playing a part is a good way to describe determinism.
  8. This is from pg. 182-183 of postmodernist philosopher Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, which I read over the summer. Here's a related passage from pg. 189: This is one of the most important questions that comes out of the postmodernist/Daoist realm of thinking. The question is, "Is it worth holding beliefs or having desires if you know that these desires are completely contingent on your circumstances, on your inherited genes, etc., and that there's nothing particularly 'special' about them?" I assume that many of you agree with Rorty's position -- that all that's necessary is becoming conscious of the contingency of your desires and beliefs, not giving them up. Is that the case? I have to say I find it a bit difficult to agree with it, although I want to. This line of thought could very easily lead to an attempt to essentially eliminate desire, which *I believe* is often found in Asian spiritual thought, although I'm not sure about Daoism.
  9. I can't say I disagree with most of your points. Your thoughts here are actually quite interesting because I'd been thinking about some of these same things a couple weeks ago. Essentially, it boils down to this: Postmodernist thought, at its core, is not really about helping the oppressed, etc. For example, Nietzsche was arguably the first major Western postmodernist thinker. Yet he wasn't particularly interested in helping oppressed groups. This issue is that, in more recent times, postmodernist ideas have been selectively picked up by many liberals. They love to use the parts about power relations being constructed by society, etc., but evidently choose to ignore the parts about how you can't ever really be sure what the "right" thing to do is (otherwise they probably wouldn't fight so strongly for their causes). Don't let any political opinions about those that use postmodernist ideas to their advantage keep you from appreciating the wonderful mounds of underlying thought! Much of it really is quite Taoist.
  10. I don't have much to add to this thread, having read barely any of Nietzsche's work, but I just wanted to say I'm very happy to see that others here have noticed Taoism's deep connection to postmodernism. It's incredibly fascinating to notice all the parallels between the ancient words of Zhuangzi and the modern ones of Nietzsche, Rorty, Derrida, etc. In many senses I think a lot of this stuff can be read as an extension of the Taoist canon, as a further exploration of those ideas.
  11. This is not related to this thread topic at all LOL, but I like the quote in your signature, @TheWhiteRabbit. Where's it from?
  12. I suppose you could take the view that killing someone in a war isn't necessarily bad for the simple reason that some other soldier probably would have killed them if you hadn't participated yourself. (Of course, that does seem like the kind of "ends justify the means" logic that Daoism, or at least its libertarian side, doesn't seem to support...) By that type of logic, you could also argue that, if you get killed in the war, it will have essentially been for nothing because someone else could have fought in your place and would most likely have been just as successful, and possible more-so. Of course, if you don't get killed it's a different story. But you can't be sure what will happen beforehand.
  13. My great grandfather was actually a Quaker so he conscientiously objected during World War II.
  14. Wow, didn't realize so many of you guys had served. Thank you. I will admit I'm a bit surprised by most of you not being pacifists. However, that may be based on a misunderstanding of Taoism. I have a few specific points I want to raise in regards to some of your posts: Just because I don't have them now doesn't mean I might not in a few years! I'm still in the formative stage of my life (second year of high school). Yes, that is true. Everyone has to register. But I've seen it suggested that if you plan on objecting if a draft takes effect, you should write as such on your registration form in order to establish an early paper trail of your belief. From some quick research it seems to me that there are two types of conscientious objectors: Those who are okay with serving in the military but don't want to be in combat, and those who aren't okay with being in the military at all (they are given civilian service jobs in the US). Good point. The issue is that the U.S. only allows conscientious objection based on broad belief systems, not merely personal convictions. The key difficulty that I think Taoism presents in this discussion is that, as I understand it, Zhuangzi (and others?) throw some shade on the right-wrong duality. Thus, saying that "I am a Taoist and I think violence is wrong" seems to arguably be a contradiction. Maybe there's a different way it could be phrased that would be more consistent with the faith's teachings? Yes, I am from the U.S. Indeed, perhaps it's not really worth bothering with preparing an objection if the chance of actually getting drafted is really low. We would probably have to be in a truly massive war for that to happen (i.e. World War III ).
  15. I'm still a few years away from having to register for the draft (although the draft is not currently in effect, so if things stay peaceful in the world I won't actually have to enter the military). However, I've seen it recommended that if you want to conscientiously object to service, you should start preparing evidence early, so I've been thinking a little about this decision over the past couple days. My understanding of Taoism is currently basically limited to the Zhuangzi. In that regard, it seems to me that wu wei would obligate non-participation in all wars, although it's possible that I'm misunderstanding the concept. (As a side note, FYI current U.S. law only allows an exemption for those who are opposed to all wars, not just certain ones) What do you guys think? Do you interpret Taoist texts (the Zhuangzi and others) as providing an obligation to object to killing fellow human beings under any circumstances?