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Modern Philosophy

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Throughout the development of Western Philosophy, several philosophers (beginning with Plato) have created a higher level of understanding the world. Plato believes and states in his work, The Republic, that humans can vertically ascend to find a higher truth. He proposes the concept of dualism, which states that sentient beings can essentially overcome their inherent empirical thoughts in the physical realm and find self evident truth in the metaphysical realm. Nietzsche proposes a different position in his works Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist, in which he argues that Plato's theory of dualism is not possible and denounces metaphysics. William James in his speech, which was later published, The Will to Believe presents the idea in which people accept beliefs and customs without prior evidence of their truth. He says Plato's ascendance theory creates a false image in the mind and presents his mountain theory in which people see all of the pathways down the mountain toward each individuals truth, and then take a "leap of faith" to discover their true self.

Ethical relativism is the concept that different groups of people (societies) have different standards for evaluating acts as right or wrong, that there is no universal moral principle. This concept states that the idea that ethical terms such as "right" and "wrong" might have meaning, but their meaning cannot be established on a universal level. The belief systems in different societies are true solely in their respective societies and the moral standards of a society are individually created and judged. Plato's position attempts to overcome this theory with his concept of the governance of society and dualism.

In his work The Republic, Plato introduces the idea of the forms and his theory of dualism. Plato believes that there is a vertically ascending pathway to universal truth and backs his claim with his example of the Allegory of the Cave. He says, "The upward journey and the viewing of the upward world as the soul's ascent to the intelligible" (Plato 177). Plato believes that there is one universal truth and that beings gain understanding of this as they ascend an analogical "ladder" through experience. He argues that there is only one true society, that what people view as society in present time is solely a form. He presents the question, if there is no true individual society, how can its system of beliefs be recognized as its own?

He relates back to this concept later in his text, with his society governance theory. He states that in the truest form of society, which remains in the metaphysical realm, the population is divided into three categories and a beings status is determined at birth. The three population groups are recognized as rulers, soldiers, and people. In this ideal society, the rulers should be philosophers and these "chosen" people are given the gift of wisdom to lead and the capacity to comprehend reality and to make impartial judgments about it. Where he begins to overcome ethical relativism in this realm is that each society of the world is led by those who share the ability to see the higher truth, a common truth. This gift allows these philosophers to gain a higher understanding of what is right and wrong or just. In a platonic world, each society is created off of this concept which is essentially how he overcomes this theory. "A city whose future rulers are the least eager to rule will necessarily be the best governed and freest from strife, and the one with opposite rulers the worst" (Plato 181).

In his work, The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche addresses several pre-conceived beliefs, including several Platonic ideals, which society has accepted blindly. Nietzsche denies many of Plato's ideas, specifically that of Being and Becoming related to the world of the forms. He does not believe that one should refute the senses, as Plato did. He rejects Plato's theory of dualism with his central argument that without physical and personal evidence of a metaphysical world, it cannot exist. He states that this blind acceptance of the concept of what is right and what is wrong has led to perpetual eternal occurrence of society without change. Nietzsche promotes in his text that humans need to challenge the construction of a bourgeoisie society. "The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently." (Nietzsche) He negates Plato's notion of a metaphysical realm citing the inability to ever actually experience it. Good and evil, or right and wrong, only mattered to Nietzsche in the sense that they were obstacles to be overcome to prevent the continuation of a state of eternal occurrence. He contends that philosophy has operated within a dualistic appearance/reality system where reality is deemed to be an extra-empirical realm of truth whilst the actual physical world of our ordinary experiences is deemed to be a realm of deception which leads to what Nietzsche refers to as bad faith.

William James, in his work The Will to Believe, creates the theory of pragmatism. The pragmatist proceeds from the basic premise that the human capability of theorizing is integral to intelligent practice. He states in his argument that theory and practice are not separate

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