Personal Opinion, Philosophy

On ends and their means…

“If two people arrive at the same conclusion from two different sources of knowledge, would it be necessary to differentiate or discern the validity of these sources?”

For example, one person becomes a vegetarian after reading Buddhist scriptures and another becomes a vegetarian after thinking through utilitarian ethics and the rationality and morality behind suffering of animals for dietary gains, would it still warrant skeptics to be skeptical of Buddhist values or vice versa? Would ends justify the means?

To those who say we shouldn’t and that all schools of thoughts should be given equal importance in terms of values and outcomes, what if in the next few lines of some Buddhist scriptures it is mentioned that only men can attain enlightenment and not women because they are not higher up the spiritual hierarchy? (This is just an example I made up, but many, not all, traditional Buddhist scriptures do limit women’s enlightenment status and proclaim that women can never truly become the enlightened Chakravartin or the Buddha).

I would assume that defendants would come to the rescue of Buddhism by saying those are “not true words of the Buddha but later interpretations by his numerous disciples through the ages”. A perfect “no true Scotsman fallacy”. And others may add that “we ought to accept the good values and reject the old and redundant ones”. I would perfectly agree with the latter statement of defense, but a question would definitely come to my mind: If we were indeed to cherry-pick what we deem ‘good’ and filter out what we deem ‘bad’ from established documents of an idea, what is the point of accepting or adopting the identity of the whole doctrine itself? Haven’t you clearly contradicted from the original doctrine yourself? Are you being unaware of your double-thinking? Are you not uncomfortable having to live with the evident cognitive dissonance that you’re displaying?

This was an effort to highlight one fundamental problem with eclecticism or syncretism  that are prevalent in the current globalized world, thanks to John Lennon’s Imagine and the 60’s hippy-movement. In short, these are schools of thought that equate every human idea or philosophy to be of similar value and importance. But the fact of the matter is that, this cannot be consistently true. In that sense, can we rightly equate the core tenets of Nazism to those of the Quakers? Can we equate the fundamental principles of Islam to those of Buddhism? Can we equate Advait Vedanta to Hindutva? Can we equate superstition to science? Can we equate the values of Democracy to Maoism or Freedom of speech to Fascism? No we cannot!

For a careful thinker, there are flawed ideas and there are sound and valid ones. The conclusions derived by the latter of the sort follow through cogent and valid premises themselves. All ideas cannot be given equal weight, even if we do consider going through them to broaden our perspectives. (You cannot logically try to match the core ideas of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf to those of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty). This much should be well evident and well thought, and not to be confused upon.

It is important to give every idea a chance, but more importantly, there is a dire necessity (and perhaps also a great responsibility) these days for us to be able to distinguish between good ideas and bad ones. We definitely need to ‘train’ ourselves to do so because we aren’t born good thinkers. All in all, we definitely need to learn to not confine ourselves, as much as possible, within boxes of unchecked biases.

2 thoughts on “On ends and their means…”

  1. What a thought provoking read! But who is to say which ideas of a philosophy should be deemed “good” and “bad”? Surely it is a matter of personal and social opinion. I don’t think a philosophy should be seen as any less important than another one if it’s had less followers and you disagree with. If you assign importance only to what you think is “good,” wouldn’t it lead us to become narrow-minded? Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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