Man is the Measure of All Things

The truth is as I have written, and that each of us is a measure of existence and of non-existence. Yet one man may be a thousand times better than another in proportion as different things are and appear to him.

And I am far from saying that wisdom and the wise man have no existence; but I say that the wise man is he who makes the evils which appear and are to a man, into goods which are and appear to him. The sophist accomplishes by words the change which the physician works by the aid of drugs. Not that any one ever made another think truly, who previously thought falsely. For no one can think what is not, or think anything different from that which he feels; and this is always true.

But as the inferior habit of mind has thoughts of kindred nature, so I conceive that a good mind causes men to have good thoughts; and these which the inexperienced call true, I maintain to be only better, and not truer than others. And so one man is wiser than another; and no one thinks falsely, and you, whether you will or not, must endure to be a measure. On these foundations the argument stands firm.

Plato – Theaetetus

Success of Solipsism

Thinkers obsessed with a vision of monistic order, who are trying to reduce all kinds of human behavior, all thoughts and all responses to one type of motivation, invariably succeed.

We can, for example, decide that human self-affirmation in their significance (“the will to power”, the pursuit of excellence, etc.) is the basic impulse which dominates all patterns of behavior, including sexual; we can also carry out the reduction in quite a different direction… There are no such facts imaginable (not to mention actually known) that could ever make a stubborn monist not to be right, no matter how he determines his fundamental principle of explanation.

Monistic reductions are always successful and convincing: Hegelian, Freudian, Marxist, Adlerian – each of which is resistant to allegations, while consistently closed in its dogma, and not trying to make any concessions in favor of common sense; its explanatory mechanism can function indefinitely. This also applies to the vicissitudes of myths, symbols, rituals and religious beliefs.

Leszek Kolakowski

Behold the Man

“God,” “immortality of the soul,” “redemption,” “the next world,” all concepts to which I have given no attention, no time either, even as a child — perhaps I was not childish enough for them? I am too curious, too incredulous, too supercilious to put up with a rude and crude answer. God is a rude and crude answer, an indelicacy to us thinkers — basically even a rude and crude prohibition to us: thou shalt not think!…

Friedrich Nietzsche – Ecce Homo


The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories. Ita is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own. But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence. Its becoming manifest is conditional on very special goings-on in very special parts of this very world, namely on certain events that happen in a brain.

Erwin Schrodinger


What philosophers busily try to put in abstract and often abstruse terms, a mystic simply sees. From time to time, he describes his experience of accidentality of the things created, saying that the world is an illusion. So bluntly expressed, the thought is, of course, unacceptable to the Judaic, Christian or Islamic faiths, because each of them invariably proclaims the reality of all that God has called into existence (otherwise Jesus would only be a phantom), but is traditionally embedded in the Buddhist and Hindu heritage.

What is in the present, on closer examination shrinks to an elusive point, which by definition disappears as soon as we try to catch it. Thus, anything that is “in” time, never “is”; you can talk about it as something that was or will be, but these expressions are only meaningful when the perceiving subject is assumed. Things that do not have memory, owe their continuous identity only to our minds, but in themselves they hold no past and no future, so no identity whatsoever.

We bestow perseverance to the world of things that are subject to destruction, and thus keep it in existence; but in the very act of mental creation of the world, we become aware of the lack of our own identity, if it has to be something more than the content of individual memory. This in turn means that whatever is, is timeless. In this way, we go back to the great initiators of European metaphysics, Parmenides and Heraclitus, who, from two opposite sides, set in motion this dizzying carousel of concepts: what changes, is not; what is, is beyond time; if there is nothing out of time, nothing exist.

Leszek Kolakowski – If there is no God

The Powerlessness of Words

GorgiaszFor how could any one communicate by word of mounth that he has seen? And how could that which has been seen be identical to a listener if he has not seen it? He who speaks, speaks, but does not speak a color or a thing. When, therefore, one has not a thing in the mind, how will he get it there from another person by word or any other token of the thing except by seeing it, if it is a color, or hearing it, if it is a noise? For he who speaks does not speak a noise at all, or a color, but a word.

But even if it is possible to know things, and to express whatever one knows in words, yet how can the hearer have in his mind the same thing as the speaker? For the same thing cannot be present simultaneously in several separate people; for in that case the one would be two.

But if the same thing could be present in several persons, there is no reason why it should not appear dissimilar to them, if they are not themselves entirely similar and are not in the same place; for if they were in the same place they would be one and not two. So a man can scarcely perceive the same thing as someone else.


The Power of Words

The power of words is bound up with the images they evoke, and is quite independent of their real significance. Words whose sense is the most ill-defined are sometimes those that possess the most influence. Such, for example, are the terms democracy, equality, liberty, &c., whose meaning is so vague that bulky volumes do not suffice to precisely fix it. Yet it is certain that a truly magical power is attached to those short syllables, as if they contained the solution of all problems. They synthesise the most diverse unconscious aspirations and the hope of their realisation.

Reason and arguments are incapable of combatting certain words and formulas. They are uttered with solemnity in the presence of crowds, and as soon as they have been pronounced an expression of respect is visible on every countenance, and all heads are bowed. By many they are considered as natural forces, as supernatural powers. They evoke grandiose and vague images in men’s minds, but this very vagueness that wraps them in obscurity augments their mysterious power. They are the mysterious divinities hidden behind the tabernacle, which the devout only approach in fear and trembling.

It was by invoking liberty and fraternity — words very popular at the time — that the Jacobins were able to install a despotism worthy of Dahomey, a tribunal similar to that of the Inquisition, and to accomplish human hecatombs akin to those of ancient Mexico.

One of the most essential functions of statesmen consists, then, in baptizing with popular or, at any rate, indifferent words things the crowd cannot endure under their old names. The power of words is so great that it suffices to designate in well-chosen terms the most odious things to make them acceptable to crowds.

Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The claim that beliefs in themselves do not have a grain of truth, and at the same time that an important or even guiding social role of religion is to meet the needs of cognition, is logically impeccable. We never lack arguments to justify the doctrine in which, for whatever reason, we want to believe.

Of course, faith would not be needed, if the course of world affairs applied directly and reliably to the norms of justice, as this would mean that we live in Paradise. Adam and Eve did not believe in the existence of God in the sense in which their descendants believed, as they lived in a real theocracy under direct and visible rule of God.

There is no such thing as rational worship. If we talk about God’s qualities and works as objects that can be conceptually separated, it is only because in this way our finite minds try to capture Infinity, which we can not understand.

Neither party was convinced, nor will probably ever find the arguments of the opposing party convincing, which is also a common fate of all the fundamental questions in philosophy for the past twenty-five centuries.

Leszek Kolakowski – Religion: If there is no God

The Influx of Metics

It would seem that all the possible solutions had been proposed, and that any others were inconceivable. The principles are one, many, infinite, or even do not exist; everything is in motion, everything is motionless; everything depends on the ordering intelligence of Mind, everything is derived from a mechanical movement. Thus it is possible to proceed in the list of the antithesis.

Let us remember, above all, the slow but inevitable crisis of the aristocracy, which went hand in hand with the always increasing power of the demos, of the people. Theses factors must also be kept in mind: the affluence in the cities, especially Athens; of an increasing number of metics, the widening of opportunities for commerce that surpassed the limiting restrictions of individual cities bringing each of them in contact with a much wider world, and the widening of experience and knowledge of the voyagers who brought to the fore the inevitable comparison of usages, customs, and laws in relation to wholly different usages, customs, and laws. All these elements must have constituted the first premise of relativism, causing the conviction that what was eternally stable and valid was instead lacking value in other circumstances and environments.

[In V in. BC,] the Sophists completely welcomed these attitudes of this period of turmoil in which they lived. And this explains why they achieved such a great success especially among the young. They answered to the real needs of the moment, they spoke to the young who were no longer satisfied with traditional values that their elders proposed nor with the manner in which they proposed them, and they gave the young the new language for which they were waiting.

Giovanni Reale – History of Ancient Philosophy

Neti! neti!

From the time of the Upanishads, India rejects the world as it is and devalues life as it reveals itself to the eyes of the sage: ephemeral, painful, illusory. A concept such as this leads neither to nihilism nor pessimism. This world is rejected, this life depreciated, because it is known that something else exists, beyond becoming, beyond temporality, beyond suffering. Neti! neti! cries the sage of the Upanishads: “No! no! Thou art not this, nor art thou that!”. In other words, you do not belong to the fallen cosmos, as you see it now, you are not necessarily engulfed in this creation.

Human suffering has its roots in an illusion: the man thinks, in fact, that his psycho-mental life — the activity of their senses, feelings, thoughts and volition — is identical to the spirit, the ego. It confuses two realities so opposite and wholly autonomous, among which there is no real connection, but only illusory relationships, since the psycho-mental experience belongs not to the spirit, but to the nature. The misery of human life is not due to divine punishment, or an original sin, but ignorance. Not any ignorance, but only ignorance of the true nature of mind, ignorance that makes us confuse the spirit with the psycho-mental experience.

“Freedom” of suffering that is the goal of all philosophies and of all Indian mysticism. Whether this deliverance is obtained directly through “knowledge” (according to the teachings of Vedanta and Samkhya, for example) or by means of techniques (as Yoga and the majority of Buddhist schools hold), the fact remains that no value unless it pursues the “salvation” of man. “Through knowledge” means practicing the withdrawal, which will have the effect of him recover their own midst. so that they coincide with his “true spirit” (purusha, atman). Knowledge is transformed into meditation and metaphysics becomes redemptive.

No philosophy, no Indian gnosis falls into despair. The disclosure of “pain” as the law of existence there may, on the contrary, be regarded as the conditio sine qua non of the liberation: this universal suffering is therefore intrinsically. a positive value, stimulating. It constantly reminds the wise and the ascetic that but one way remains for him to attain to freedom and bliss – withdrawal from the world, detachment from possessions and ambitions, radical isolation.

Mircea Eliade – Yoga: Immortality and Freedom

Contrary Objects

In dreams we all experience contrary objects. We are often asleep in a room, and actually not in the room, just up the street, talking to a man who turns out to be a plant or an edifice, without ceasing to be human. Still, apart from the nonsense of logic, we live through, without surprise, the nonsenses of nature, fantastically stuck characters and events, we do miracles and experience them with remarkable ease, and above all, without a trace of surprise, doubt, anxiety, without the need for scrutiny from the other senses and others sentient.

At home we read Ovid and experience with him clusters of trees and people, the transformation of stones and animals, deities in human and animal bodies do not offend us at all – yes: we are amused and occupied by sirens, chimeras, dragons, angels, devils, metamorphoses, incarnations and ascensions.

In religious beliefs we also have an inexhaustible source of clusters with so brightly self-excluding characteristics: we have passions of the innocent in the name of justice, and even love, we have responsibility without guilt, and next to the impossibility of logical and moral paradoxes, infinite series of natural impossibilities in the form of miracles and legends. The whole world, so vivid in childhood and natural in the mind of primitive men, compatible with all the childish, fairytalelike view on things – persists in many mature minds.

Wladyslaw Witwicki – The philosophy of science

The Grand Inquisitor

‘Judge Thyself who was right — Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: ‘Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread — for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.’

But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee. Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’

They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man?

So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov

Value System

According to the Greek skeptics, generally do not differ in any way from their modern fellows, good accessible to the true philosopher is neither happiness nor bliss, nor wisdom, nor any other purpose, but only a kind of spiritual lethargy, so called ataraxia (literally: fearlessness). In order to achieve this good, the wise should practice the following virtues: the greatest indifference to everything (adiaphora), dispassion (apátheia), refraining from any firm judgment (epoché) and silence (afasia).

Wladyslaw Debicki – Great mental bankruptcy


We have been told that all paths lead to truth – you have your path as a Hindu and someone else has his path as a Christian and another as a Muslim, and they all meet at the same door – which is, when you look at it, so obviously absurd. Truth has no path, and that is the beauty of truth, it is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it is static.

When you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, nobody can lead you to – then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are – your anger, your brutality, your violence, your despair, the agony and sorrow you live in. In the understanding of all this is the truth, and you can understand it only if you know how to look at those things in your life. And you cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears.

So you see that you cannot depend upon anybody. There is no guide, no teacher, no authority. There is only you – your relationship with others and with the world – there is nothing else. When you realize this, it either brings great despair, from which comes cynicism and bitterness, or, in facing the fact that you and nobody else is responsible for the world and for yourself, for what you think, what you feel, how you act, all self-pity goes. Normally we thrive on blaming others, which is a form of self-pity.

When you act according to your principles you are being dishonest because when you act according to what you think you ought to be you are not what you are. It is a brutal thing to have ideals. If you have any ideals, beliefs or principles you cannot possibly look at yourself directly.

Jiddu Krishnamurti – Freedom from the Known

The One

MelissusThis argument then provides the strongest proof that there is one only. If there is earth and water and air and fire and iron and gold, and one living and another dead, and again black and white – each must be such as we first decided, and they cannot change or become different, but each is always as it is.

But as it is we say that we do see and hear and perceive correctly, and yet it seems to us that the hot becomes cold and the cold hot, and the hard becomes soft and the soft hard, and the living dies and there is birth from what is not living, and all these things change around and what a thing was and what it is now are not at all the same.

So it happens that we don’t see or understand what there is. These claims do not agree with each other. We say that many things are constant, but they all seem to us to become different that we were not seeing correctly, and that those many things do not appear as they rightly are, for they would not change if they were real, but each would be as it seemed. Therefore, if there were many things, they would each have to be as the one is.


Faith of the Crowd

Crowds are only cognizant of simple and extreme sentiments; the opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not less absolute errors. This is always the case with beliefs induced by a process of suggestion instead of engendered by reasoning. Every one is aware of the intolerance that accompanies religious beliefs, and of the despotic empire they exercise on men’s minds. Fanaticism is the necessary accompaniment of the religious sentiment. It is inevitably displayed by those who believe themselves in the possession of the secret of earthly or eternal happiness.

Authoritativeness and intolerance are sentiments of which crowds have a very clear notion, which they easily conceive and which they entertain as readily as they put them in practice when once they are imposed upon them. Crowds exhibit a docile respect for force, and are but slightly impressed by kindness, which for them is scarcely other than a form of weakness. Their sympathies have never been bestowed on easy-going masters, but on tyrants who vigorously oppressed them.

A crowd may be guilty of murder, incendiarism, and every kind of crime, but it is also capable of very lofty acts of devotion, sacrifice, and disinterestedness, of acts much loftier indeed than those of which the isolated individual is capable. Appeals to sentiments of glory, honour, and patriotism are particularly likely to influence the individual forming part of a crowd, and often to the extent of obtaining from him the sacrifice of his life. How numerous are the crowds that have heroically faced death for beliefs, ideas, and phrases that they scarcely understood!

Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind


Some therorize about the end of philosophy because they have lost the meaning of philosophy. Philosophical problems arise and develop as an attempt to understand and explain the whole, that is, the totality of things, or at least as the problematic of the totality. Philosophy remains such if and only if it searches for the perspective of the meaning of the whole. On the contrary, the sciences have arisen as rational considerations restricted to the parts or sectors of reality. They have an elaborate methodology and technique of inquiry that changes in function of the structure of these parts, and their value resides in these parts, and hence they are not of value for the whole of reality.

But what purpose is there to philosophizing today, in a world in which science, technology, and politics seem on the whole to divide the power, in a world in which the scientist, the technocrat, the politician become the new magicians moving all the levers? The purpose, in our judgement, remains always the same for philosophy as it has from its beginning, the aim of demythologizing. The ancient myths were those of poetry, of fantasy, of imagination; the new myths are those of science, of technology, and of ideology, that is to say, the myths of power.

Certainly the task of demythologizing is more difficult today than it was with the ancients. The new myths of today are constructed by reason itself, at least in great part, since science and technology would seem to lead directly to the triumph of reason. But it is a reason that, once it has lost the meaning of the totality, the sense of the whole, risks losing even its own identity.

Giovanni Reale – Preface to A History of Ancient Philosophy

Fear: Laws, Gods

SextusThere was a time when the life of men was without order and like that of the beasts, subject to the rule of strength, an there was no reward for the good or any punishment for evil men. And then, I think, men set up laws for punishment, so the justice would rule and violence would be her slave. And if someone were to do wrong they would be punished. Then, since the laws prevented them from doing violent deeds openly, they continued to do them in secret.

I think that then some sound and clever-minded man invented fear of the gods for mortals, so that evil people would have some fear, even if they were acting or saying or thinking something in secret. Thereupon he introduced the divine being, saying: “There is a divinity, endowed with eternal life, who with his mind hears and sees and understands and attends to these things, bearing a divine nature, who will hear everything that is said amongst mortals, and be able to see everything that is done. If ever you plan some evil in silence, you will not escape the notice of the gods. For they are able to keep that in mind.”

Speaking these words, he introduced the most pleasant of lessons, concealing the truth with false speaking. He then claimed that the gods lived where he would terrify people the most. He knew the origins of mortals’ fears as well as benefits for their wretched life: from the revolving sky above, where they knew there was lightning and there were terrible rumblings of thunder. Around mortals he set up such fears, through which this man, by his words, nobly established the divinity in an auspicious spot, and he extinguished lawlessness with laws. Thus, I think, someone first persuaded mortals to believe that there is a race of gods.

Critias, Sextus Empiricus


“There aren’t any standards. The purpose of philosophy is not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn’t any. It is this insistence of man upon meaning that makes him so difficult. Once he realizes that he is of no importance whatever in the vast scheme of the universe, that no possible significance can be attached to his activities, that it does not matter whether he lives or dies, he will become much more tractable.”
“But it stands to reason that if—”
“Reason, my dear fellow, is the most naive of all superstitions. That, at least, has been generally conceded in our age,”
“But I don’t quite understand how we can—”
“You suffer from the popular delusion of believing that things can be understood. You do not grasp the fact that the universe is a solid contradiction.”
“A contradiction of what?” asked the matron.
“Of itself.”
“How’s that?”
“My dear madam, the duty of thinkers is not to explain, but to demonstrate that nothing can be explained. The purpose of philosophy is not to seek knowledge, but to prove that knowledge is impossible to man.”
“But when we prove it,” asked the young woman, “what’s going to be left?”
“Instinct,” said Dr. Pritchett reverently.

Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged