Posts Tagged ‘Aristotle’

Aristotle on Using Paranoia and Conspiracy Theories To Counter Domestic Discontent

February 21, 2015

One of the other pertinent passages in Brady’s book The Structure of German Fascism is in the chapter on Nazi pseudo-scientific racism and anti-Semitism. Brady argued that Nazi anti-Semitism was an ‘invented terror’, deliberately created to make the Jews scapegoats for the general problems of German society. This view of the origins of the Nazi persecution of the Jews has also been rejected. Historians now point out that the Nazis were genuinely anti-Semitic, and did not simply persecute the Jews from simple political opportunism. They trace the origins of Nazi anti-Semitism to organizations such as the League of Anti-Semites in the late 19th century, and specifically to the emergence of the ‘Stab in the Back’ conspiracy theory. This blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in the First World War.

Brady cites Aristotle’s advice to rulers to use paranoid fears of conspiracies in order to distract citizens from domestic crises and unrest. Brady states

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, offers this advice to the sovereign who is faced with unrest and the threat of revolution from his subjects: if all other means have failed to settle the trouble, divert attention by “inventing terrors”. Find some insidious plot against the state; whisper that the wells are being poisoned, the food destroyed, the daughters secretly ravished, high official about to be assassinated, the banks subtly undermined, the farmers gouged, military secrets being given away. Find anything that will arouse the people to a pitch of excitement against some common malefactor; then invent a terror against this destroyer of the common weal.

This reminds me of some of the scare stories about immigrants from the right-wing press. I also wonder how far the current rhetoric and tension between NATO and Putin’s Russia has been ramped up on both sides to distract the citizens of both sides from the economic and political failures of their governments.

And it also raises the question of how far reasonable fears about the real dangers posed by Islamist terrorism are also being exaggerated and manipulated as a distraction from the domestic hardships inflicted by the Coalition.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project

Click to access A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.

The Medieval Christian Origins of Western Democracy: Response to ‘Loki’

July 10, 2013

‘Loki’ has posted this comment on my blog piece, The Medieval Christian Origins of Western Democracy: Part Two:

The government of the USA is based partly on Rome’s model, which is centuries older than Jesus. Direct democracy existed in Athens, Greece centuries before Christ was even born.

Christianity was a speedbump for Western democracy, not it’s origin.

Let’s deal with the individual statements in the post.

Firstly, the point

‘The government of the USA is based partly on Rome’s model, which is centuries older than Jesus. Direct democracy existed in Athens, Greece centuries before Christ was even born.’

I don’t dispute that. Indeed, I say that the Patristic writers, such as St. Augustine, took their contract view of the origins of society from classical writers, like Plato. Furthermore, when constitutional writers and political theorists like Algernon Sidney went on to discuss these issues in the 17th and 18th centuries, they frequently made use of events in the classical past. Sidney uses Roman history to justify popular rebellion against a tyrant. The anonymous author of England’s Misery and Remedy cites classical authorities, such as Camillus and Pliny. So no, I don’t actually deny that modern democracy is based on ancient Roman and Greek precedents.

However, there are strong differences between ancient democracy and our own. Ancient Greek society was strongly oligarchical. Women, slaves and resident aliens – metics – did not possess the right to vote. Neither labourers, artisans or merchants. When Aristotle talks about democracy in The Politics, he actually refers to the condition where the vote is still restricted to individuals with incomes from their land, in other words, leisured gentlemen. He did not believe that the hoi polloi – ordinary people, who had to work for their living – should have the vote as they did not have the time or education to devote to politics.

Now we come to your second point:

Christianity was a speedbump for Western democracy, not it’s origin.

Firstly, this assumes that the autocratic character of medieval and early modern politics was solely due to Christianity. This is not the case. Christianity may have reinforced the power of the king through St. Paul’s dictum that rulers should be obeyed, but democracy or popular politics had declined in the ancient world before Christianity became the state religion. To most people in the early modern period, when modern theories of government were being formed and constructed, democracy was a failed experiment. It was associated with political instability and civil war. If you remember, the first Roman Emperor, Philip Augustus, took power after a series of popular rebellions, which he put down. He closed the political clubs, though to prevent anyone becoming suspicious of his own political ambitions, called himself ‘First Citizens’ – princeps, rather than a title like ‘king’. The period of democracy in Athens was actually quite short-lived, perhaps only twenty years or so. More recently a book has been published stating that the ancient Greek’s legacy to medieval Europe wasn’t democracy, but sacral kingship. As for medieval feudalism, Fernand Braudel and other historians of medieval European society have shown that it arose through the retreat of the ancient Roman senatorial aristocracy to their estates on the one hand, and the military aristocracies of the invading barbarians on the other. Economic and social forces from the Second Century onwards worked to force the free Roman classes into a position where they were no better than slaves. The result was the rise of feudalism, where political power and military service are collapsed together in the power of the local landlord. By the 16th century, the view had arisen that nations were free to choose whichever system of government most suited them. However, they felt that monarchy was the best, as it gave the king absolute power to check dangerous rebellions and threats to public order. In practice it was expected that the monarch would not do so, and would respect his subjects’ liberty and property.

The Reformation and Wars of Religion brought issues of government, its forms and the power of monarchs and their legitimacy to a head. As a result, theologians and political philosophers drew on ancient and Biblical history to explore these issues, and this included arguing for representative government and popular liberty.

So no, I don’t deny that modern American democracy is ultimately based on that of ancient Greece and Roman. However, these classical precedents were revived, modified and expanded in the largely Christian culture of late medieval and early modern Europe.

John Wise and the Christian Congregationalist Origins of the American Democracy

July 7, 2013

For most people, the origins of modern American democracy lie in the Revolution of 1775. In fact, American clergymen and political philosophers had been advocating democracy almost from the beginning of the 18th century. One of the first was the Congregationalist minister, John Wise (1652-1725). Wise was the pastor of the second church at Ipswich in Massachusetts. He was imprisoned during the Andros regime for urging his congregation to withhold their taxes. He wrote his two books, The Churches Quarrel Espoused of 1712 and A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches of 1717 in defence of the Congregationalist system of church government. In Congregationalism, every church is independent, and the congregations choose their own ministers. At the time Wise was writing, there was a movement within the Church to replace that system with a Presbyterian organisation. Wise rejected this and defended the Congregationalist system of church government as that had been the form of ecclesiastical government established by New England’s founding fathers. He went further than merely defending democracy in church, however. He advocated that it should also be established as the secular political system as it was based on ‘right reason’.

Sovereignty Lies in the People through the Social Contract

Like Locke, the basis of his argument for democracy is the idea of a social contract: that sovereignty lies with the people, who surrender their freedom to a king or other authority in order to preserve order. He states:

‘The first human subject and original of civil power is the people; for as they have a power every man over himself in a natural state, so upon a combination they can and do bequeath this power unto others, and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine. For that this is very plain, that when the subject of sovereign power is quite extinct, that power returns to the people again. And when they are free, they may set up what species of government they please; or if they rather incline to it, they may subside into a state of natural being, if it be plainly for the best. In the eastern country of the Mogul, we have some resemblance of the case, for upon the death of an absolute monarch they live so many days without a civil head; but in that interregnum those who survive the vacancy are glad to get into a civil state again, and usually they are in a very bloody condition when they return under the covert of a new monarch; this project is to endear the people to a tyranny from the experience the have so lately had of an anarchy’.

‘A civil state is a compound moral person whose will (united by those covenants before passed) is the will of all, to the end it may use and apply the strength and riches of private persons towards maintaining the common peace, security, and well-being of all, which may be conceived as though the whole state was no become but one man; in which the aforesaid covenants may be supposed, under God’s providence, to be the divine fiat pronounced by God, “Let us make man.” And by way of resemblance the aforesaid being may be thus anatomized.’

The Position of Magistrates and other State Servants and Officials Depends on the Sovereign Power

‘As it takes in ministers for the discharge of business, so it is called the right of appointing magistrates. So that all great officers and public servants must needs owe their original to the creating power of sovereignty; so that those whose right it is to create may dissolve the being of those who are created, unless they cast them into an immortal frame, and yet must needs be dissoluble if they justly forfeit their being to their creators.’

Human states are formed by People to Protect themselves from Harm from Other Humans

The chief end of civil communities is that men thus conjoined may be secured against the injuries they are liable to from their own kind; for if every man could secure himself singly, it would be great folly for him to renounce his natural liberty, in which every man is his own king and protector.’

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Communities Where All Men are Equal

A democracy, which is when the sovereign power is lodged in a council consisting of all the members, and where every member has the privilege of a vote. This form of government appears in the greatest part of the world to have been the most ancient. For that reason seems to show it to be most probable that when men (being originally in a condition of natural freedom and equality) had thoughts of joining in a civil body, would without question be inclined to administer their common affairs by their common judgment, and so must necessarily , to gratify that inclination, establish a democracy; neither can it be rationally imagined that fathers of families being yet free and independent, should in a moment, or little time, take off their long delight in governing their own affa9irs and devolve all upon some single sovereign commander; for that it seems to have been thought more equitable that what belonged to all should be managed by all, when all had entered by compact into one community. The original of our government, says Plato (speaking of the Athenian commonwealth) was taken from the equality of our race. Other state there are composed of different blood, and of unequal lines, the consequences of which are disproportionable sovereignty, tyrannical or oligarchical sway, under which men live in such a manner to esteem themselves partly lords and partly slaves to each other. But we and our countrymen, being all born brethren of the same mother, do not look upon ourselves to stand under so hard a relation as that of lords and slaves, but the parity of our descent inclines us to keep up the like parity by our laws, and to yield the precedency to nothing but to superior virtue and wisdom. And moreover, it seems very manifest that most civil communities arose at first from the union of families that were nearly allied in race and blood. And though ancient story makes frequent mention of kings, yet it appears that most of them were such that had an influence rather in persuading, than in any power of commanding. So Justin describes that kind of government as the most primitive which Aristotle styles an herioical kingdom, namely, such as is no ways inconsistent with a democratical state.’

A democracy is then erected when a number of free persons do assemble together in order to enter into a covenant for uniting themselves in a body. And such a preparative assembly hath some appearance already of a democracy; it is a democracy in embryo properly in this respect: that every man hath the privilege freely to deliver his opinion concerning the common affairs. Yet he who dissents from the vote of the majority is not in the least obliged by what they determine till by a second covenant a popular form be actually established, for not before then can we call it a democratical government, namely, till the right of determining all matters relating to the public safety is actually placed in a general assembly of the whole people; or by their own compact and mutual agreement, determine themselves the proper subject for the exercise of sovereign power. And to complete this state and render it capable to exert its power to answer the end of a civil state, these conditions are necessary.

(1) That a certain time and place be assigned for assembling.

(2) That when the assembly be orderly met as to time and place, that then the vote of the majority must pass for the vote of the whole body.

(3) That magistrates be appointed to exercise the authority of the whole for the better dispatch of business of every day’s occurrence; who also may with more mature diligence search into more important affairs, and if in case anything happens of greater consequence, may report it to the assembly; and be peculiarly serviceable in putting all public decrees into execution. Because a large body of people is almost useless in respect of the last service and of many others, as to the more particular application and exercise of power. Therefore it is most agreeable with the law of nature that they institute their officers to act in their name and stead’.

It’s clear from the above that Wise’s model of democracy was based on the direct democracies of the ancient world, such as Athens. While this is some way away from modern, representative democracy, where MPs, senators and congressmen actually pass the laws as the people’s elected representatives, it nevertheless shows the beginning of American democracy and particularly the Town Hall meetings that are a vital part of it.

Six Arguments for the Existence of God

June 20, 2013

I’ve posted below six arguments classic and interesting arguments for the existence of the Almighty. The list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Thomas Aquinas produced five arguments, of which the Prime Mover, taken from aristotle, and the Uncaused Cause are only two. They don’t prove that God exists, as there are objections to them, and objections to the objections. Most philosophers consider that the arguments for and against God’s existence are very finely balanced. For a good historical overview of the debate on the existence of God from ancient Rome to the present day, with extracts from the original works, see Paul Helm’s Faith and Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999). What these arguments do is demonstrate that it is rational to believe in the Lord. It is not simply a case of blind faith, as is frequently alleged by atheist polemicists such as Richard Dawkins. I’ve kept the description of the arguments simple, htough many of them are already quite straightforward, so that they can be printed out on a single sheet of paper for use in a service or meeting, and can be easily used and memorised.

6 Basic Arguments for the Existence of God

1. God is ‘Prime Mover’ – first put forward by Aristotle.

Everything in the universe is in motion. Something must have originally set this all in motion. This must originally have been God.

2. God as ‘First Cause’ or ‘the Uncaused Cause’.

Everything in the universe has been caused. Therefore there must originally have been a first cause, which itself was not caused by anything else before it. This cause is God.

3. Kalam Cosmological Argument – First put forward by Muslim philosopher Al-Kindi, revived by William Craig Lane

Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe has a beginning, because it would be impossible to traverse the infinite amount of time to get to the present if it had no beginning. This cause must be immaterial and outside the universe, as it created the universe. This cause is therefore the Lord.

4. Ontological Argument for the Existence of God – by St. Anselm of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury under William Rufus.

God is the most perfect being. Anything that is the most perfect cannot not exist, as non-existence is imperfect. Therefore, God exists.

5. The ‘Sensus Divinitatis – ultimately from St. Paul, revived by Reformed philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga

The human race has an intuitive sense that God exists, implanted by God himself in the human race. For Alvin Plantinga, this sense of the existence of God comes from one’s own knowledge of one’s own existence. It is properly basic, which means that it is automatically correct knowledge.

6. Every Culture that has Existed has had Gods – first put forward Lord Herbert of Cherbury, 17th century.

Every people throughout history and around the world has believed in gods. Therefore, belief in God is rational and natural.

Medieval Kingdoms of Infinite Space

April 27, 2013

There’s a little bit in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Q says to Picard ‘What is it your beloved Shakespeare said? ”All the Galaxy’s a stage, and all its people only players’.
‘World’, Picard corrects him. ‘It’s world, Q’.
‘Well,’ retorts Q sniffily, ‘it’s what he would have put.’ Yet a century before Shakespeare, European Natural Philosophers were discussing the possibility of other worlds and extraterrestrial life.

Medieval philosophy and science was based very much on Aristotle. Aristotle believed gravity was a universal force produced by each element seeking its own place in the universe. Thus, things fall to Earth because Earth is their natural place. He ruled out the possibility that there were other worlds, because he felt that if there were, this would mean there was no natural place. Other ancient Greek philosophers, such as the Pythagoreans and Plato, had a different view of gravity. According to Joannes Stobaeus, writing in the 5th century AD, Heraclides of Pontus and the Pythagoreans believed that each star was a world consisting of an earth surrounded by air. Plato in the Timaeus believed that objects naturally sought to rejoin their own kind, in whichever world it was situated. During the fifteenth century there was a revival of interest in Platonism. The leading churchmen Nicole of Oresme and Nicholas of Cusa both believed that gravity was a local phenomenon, and that each star was a centre of attraction holding its constituent parts together through gravity. Nicholas of Cusa went even further, and believed that every star was inhabited, just like Earth. There’s a myth that it was the belief in an infinite number of inhabited worlds which led to the Church burning Giordano Bruno for heresy. It wasn’t. The Church did not have an issue with that. It was Bruno’s pantheism and belief in magic which led to his condemnaiton by the ecclesiastical authorities.

Nicholas of Cusa went even further than believing the universe was inhabited. He considered that while the universe was not infinite, it had no boundaries, and thus had no centre, therefore denying that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. It’s a profoundly modern conception of the nature of the cosmos, even if he shared the medieval belief that each world was surrounded by rings, each ring composed of one of the four elements. It makes you wonder what someone like Nicholas of Cusa would have produced if, rather than writing tale of Romance, they had written Science Fiction instead.


A.C. Crombie, Augustine to Galileo 2: Science in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern Times 13th – 17th Century (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1959).