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Buddhist Philosopy

The historic Buddha lived around 2,500 years ago in what is now Nepal and North East India. Since that time people have formed very different ideas as to his human and super human qualities. These range from the view that he was a gifted teacher and thinker, to the belief that he is a transcendental, eternal and omnipresent being. Similarly, Buddhism itself has forked and diversified into a myriad of schools and traditions, so that it is misleading to talk of a single Buddhist philosophy. However, it is possible to isolate a set of core teachings that constitute a coherent and unified system of thought.

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Free Speech

Free speech is the freedom on which all other freedoms depend, for without the right to communicate ideas and information all other freedoms can be suppressed without protest or opposition. In the words of George Washington: "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter".

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Innate Morality

To speak of us having an innate morality can mean two things. It can mean that we naturally act in a moral way, or it can mean that we have an inbuilt ability to make moral judgements. When used in the former way it does not of course mean that we always behave virtuously, only that we have instincts to act morally and that these will sometimes govern our behaviour.

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Machiavelli

It is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, one must be dispensed with. (Niccolo Machiavelli)

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527) has given his name to the term ‘Machiavellian’, meaning elaborately cunning, scheming and unscrupulous. This notoriety comes from the morally questionable practices that he recommends to rulers in his political treatise ‘The Prince’ (Il Principe).

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Meditation Practice

Calm the winds of your thoughts, and there will be no waves on the ocean of your mind.

It is not difficult to learn how to meditate. There are only three essential ingredients - yourself, your time and your willingness to try. Most meditation is done sitting, but it can also be done while walking, dancing or practicing yoga or T'ai chi. You can meditate when lying down, which is useful if you are ill, but has the disadvantage that you are liable to drop off to sleep. In this section we concentrate on sitting meditation.

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Meditation

Meditation is the practice of turning one’s attention inwards. Meditation does not require you to have any religious beliefs and many people practice it solely for its physical and mental benefits. These include increased relaxation, calmness, awareness and self-understanding. However, meditation has played a part in all the world’s religions, where it is often associated with the pursuit of a mystical experience.

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Rational Life

To the general public, a philosopher seems to be, roughly, a person who seeks insight into the nature of reality, and tries to live in accordance with this insight. ... (but) ...in the practice of contemporary philosophy there remains little of this ambition to let a practical philosophy of life emerge out of a theoretical understanding of general features of reality.”

With these comments the Swedish philosopher Ingmar Persson opens his book The Retreat of Reason. Comments that will resonate with many who have turned to philosophy in the hope of finding practical answers about how to live and what to strive for, and then been disappointed. However, Persson himself is concerned with a fundamental question of philosophy - what we should aim for in live?

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Reality

There may be another reality to make fiction of the truth we think that we have arrived at. (Christopher Fry)

The 'real' world is the material world of our bodies, our social environment, other forms of life and the physical universe of energy and matter. The real world is the world we know through our senses - seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling. The information from these senses, together with the thought and emotions that arise in our mind are collectively known as phenomenon. They are presented to and recognized by our consciousness in the process called perception. From them we construct our mental model of the real world.

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The Concept of Morality

This is the first of three essays on morality. Its purpose is to explore what we mean by morality. The second essay is on universal morality, and the third on innate morality.

Moral or ethical behaviour is generally taken to mean behaviour that conforms to some code of conduct which is held to be authoritative in matters of right and wrong. The set of principles that define what is right and wrong being called 'morality' or 'ethics'.Ethics is also the name given to the branch of philosophy concerned with the systematic study of what is right or wrong.

Morality assumes that there is a real world made up of other sentient beings who have similar interests, feelings and desires as our own. Not everyone shares this assumption (see the essay on Reality).

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The Just Society

'To ask whether a society is just is to ask how it distributes the things we prize – income and wealth, duties and rights, powers and opportunities, offices and honours'.
Michael J Sandel

The quote above from Michael Sandel's book 'Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?' defines justice in terms of how to distribute the things we prize. Sandel suggests that there are three principal approaches to this: Welfare, Liberty and Virtue.

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The Philosophy of Truth

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it. (Andre Gide)

Acknowledgement: Much of the material here has been gathered on the web, not least from Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Another major source has been Logic by Wilfrid Hodges.

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Torture

A response to the "Ticking Bomb" justification for torture.

"The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice." All civilized people would agree with this statement by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham.

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Truth

It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and end as superstitions. (T H Huxley)

We talk of truth, but what do we mean by truth? Felipe Fernandes-Armesto has suggested that there are four kinds of truth:

1. The truth you feel
2. The truth you are told
3. The truth of reason
4. The truth you perceive through your senses.

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Universal Morality

There are two views of morality. The first is the relativist view. The view that morality develops to meet the needs of society and what is moral in one time or place need not be so in another. This is in contrast with the absolutists view. According to moral absolutists there is but one eternally true and valid moral code.

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What the Buddha Taught

Buddhism began in North East India and slowly spread along the trade routes to the rest of the subcontinent, China, South East Asia, Japan and Tibet. With the passage of time it evolved, both in response to the needs and culture of the local people, and under the influence of new modes of thinking. The result was the creation of a rich and diverse body of teachings. Given this long history is it any longer possible to know what the Buddha himself really taught?

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What's Wrong with Human Rights?

Human rights are commonly understood as "inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone).” Wikipedia. Can this view be sustained?

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Does God Exist?

Can the existence of god be proved using philosophical arguments such as Anselm's ontological argument, the cosmological arguments or the argument from design?

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