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Durant 1926: The Ethical Problem

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter I, Section 4 (The Ethical Problem) from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


IV. The Ethical Problem 

The discussion takes place in the house of Cephalus, a wealthy aristocrat. In the group are Glaucon and Adeimantus, brothers of Plato; and Thrasymachus, a gruff and excitable Sophist. Socrates, who serves as the mouthpiece of Plato in the dialogue, asks Cephalus: 

“What do you consider to be the greatest blessing which you have reaped from wealth?” 

Cephalus answers that wealth is a blessing to him chiefly because it enables him to be generous and honest and just. Socrates, after his sly fashion, asks him just what he means by justice; and therewith lets loose the dogs of philosophic war. For nothing is so difficult as definition, nor anything so severe a test and exercise of mental clarity and skill. Socrates finds it a simple matter to destroy one after another the definitions offered him; until at last Thrasymachus, less patient than the rest, breaks out “with a roar”:

“What folly has possessed you, Socrates? And why do you others all drop down at one another’s feet in this silly way? I say that if you want to know what justice is, you should answer and not ask, and shouldn’t pride yourself on refuting others. … For there are many who can ask but cannot answer” (336). 

Socrates is not frightened; he continues to ask rather than answer; and after a minute of parry and thrust he provokes the unwary Thrasymachus to commit himself to a definition: 

Listen, then,” says the angry Sophist, “I proclaim that might is right, and justice is the interest of the stronger. … The different forms of government make laws, democratic, aristocratic, or autocratic, with a view to their respective interests; and these laws, so made by them to serve their interests, they deliver to their subjects as ‘justice,’ and punish as ‘unjust’ anyone who transgresses them. … I am speaking of injustice on a large scale; and my meaning will be most clearly seen in autocracy, which by fraud and force takes away the property of others, not retail but wholesale. Now when a man has taken away the money of the citizens and made slaves of them, then, instead of swindler and thief he is called happy and blessed by all. For injustice is censured because those who censure it are afraid of suffering, and not from any scruple they might have of doing injustice themselves” (338-44). 

Plato points out that the human nature is such that the strong has his way with the weak. This underlies the problem with justice.

This, of course, is the doctrine which our own day more or less correctly associates with the name of Nietzsche. “Verily I laughed many a time over the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had lame paws.” Stirner expressed the idea briefly when he said that “a handful of might is better than a bagful of right.” Perhaps nowhere in the history of philosophy is the doctrine better formulated than by Plato himself in another dialogue, Gorgias, (483 f), where the Sophist Callicles denounces morality as an invention of the weak to neutralize the strength of the strong. 

They distribute praise and censure with a view to their own interests; they say that dishonesty is shameful and unjust—meaning by dishonesty the desire to have more than their neighbors; for knowing their own inferiority, they would be only too glad to have equality. … But if there were a man who had sufficient force (enter the Superman), he would shake off and break through and escape from all this; he would trample under foot all our formulas and spells and charms, and all our laws, that sin against nature. … He who would truly live ought to allow his desires to wax to the uttermost; but when they have grown to their greatest he should have courage and intelligence to minister to them, and to satisfy all his longings. And this I affirm to be natural justice and nobility. But the many cannot do this; and therefore they blame such persons, because they are ashamed of their own inability, which they desire to conceal; and hence they call intemperance base. … They enslave the nobler natures, and they praise justice only because. they are cowards. 

This justice is a morality not for men but for foot-men (oude gar andros all’ andrapodou tinos) ; it is a slave-morality, not a hero-morality; the real virtues of a man are courage (andreia) and intelligence (phronesis).

Justice is approached with the idea that morality is an invention of the weak to neutralize the strength of the strong. This is a problem.

Perhaps this hard “immoralism” reflects the development of imperialism in the foreign policy of Athens, and its ruthless treatment of weaker states. “Your empire,” said Pericles in the oration which Thucydides invents for him, “is based on your own strength rather than the .good will of your subjects.” And the same historian reports the Athenian envoys coercing Melos into joining Athens in the war against Sparta: “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question for equals in power; the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” We have here the fundamental problem of ethics, the crux of the theory of moral conduct. What is justice?—shall we seek righteousness, or shall we seek power?—is it better to be good, or to be strong?

Plato asks—What is justice?—shall we seek righteousness, or shall we seek power?—is it better to be good, or to be strong?

How does Socrates—i.e., Plato—meet the challenge of this theory? At first he does not meet it at all. He points out that justice is a relation among individuals, depending on social organization; and that in consequence it can be studied better as part of the structure of a community than as a quality of personal conduct. If, he suggests, we can picture a just state, we shall be in a better position to describe a just individual. Plato excuses himself for this digression on the score that in testing a man’s vision we make him read first large type, then smaller; so, he argues, it is easier to analyze justice on a large scale than on the small scale of individual behavior. But we need not be deceived: in truth the Master is patching two books together, and uses the argument as a seam. He wishes not only to discuss the problems of personal morality, but the problems of social and political reconstruction as well. He has a Utopia up his sleeve, and is resolved to produce it. It is easy to forgive him, for the digression forms the core and value of his book. 

Plato wishes not only to discuss the problems of personal morality, but the problems of social and political reconstruction as well.


The World of Atom (Part VII)

ReferenceA Logical Approach to Theoretical Physics



Chapter 37: The “Thomson” Atom – J. J. Thomson (1856 – 1940)
An Arrangement of Corpuscles in the Atom. The electrons are assumed to be corpuscles because their charges are quantized.

Chapter 38: The Determination of Avogadro’s Number – Jean Perrin (1870 – 1942)
Brownian Motion and Molecular Reality. It suggests that every fluid is formed of elastic molecules, animated by a perpetual motion.

Chapter 39: The Alpha-Particle and Helium – Ernest Rutherford (1871 – 1937)
The Nature of the Alpha-Particle from Radioactive Substance. Direct proof that alpha-particles are indeed ionized helium atoms

Chapter 40: Atoms of Electricity – Robert Andrews Millikan (1868 – 1953)
The Atomic Nature of Electricity. Direct experimental measurements to show the constancy of charge and its value.


Unlike the material particles, the sub-atomic particles are fuzzy.


Multiverse and Universe

All reality is part of a single system. We call this system “the universe”. We tend to think that each person lives in his own universe. Even some scientists are talking about “multiverses”. But these “multiverses” have their basis in subjective mathematics. Science has always assumed that the universe is, as its name implies, a vast single system.

Mathematically, “multiverses” are discrete units. But, no matter how discrete the forms are on the surface, they are continuous at a fundamental level. Whole numbers, which appear to be discrete, are connected by fractions and irrational numbers on a continuous number line. Thus, it is very likely that there is continuity among discrete “multiverses” at some level. They all are part of an overall set of UNIVERSE.


MULTIVERSE (Subjective): There are many universes as viewed by different people.

UNIVERSE (Objective): The universe, as its name implies, is a vast single system.

Exercise: Something Missing

Reference: A Scientific Approach to Meditation

If something is missing, then recognize that it is missing. Do not imagine something in its place. If someone asks you a question and no answer come up in your mind, then do not feel obliged to make up an answer. Accept that you do not have an answer.

Meditation Exercise:

Something Missing


To discern the influence of something missing on the perception of what there is.


Complete Exercise: Assumptions.


In this exercise you simply become aware of something missing that could influence your observation. You may do this exercise while sipping coffee in a café or strolling along a river. You may even find a place where you can sit comfortably for a while without being disturbed. Then patiently observe the world go by.

Notice something that is puzzling, and about which full understanding is missing. Do not feel obliged to accept the explanations given; as the explanation could be wrong. For example, you see an empty lion’s cage in the zoo. Explanation given is that lion is out to lunch. The explanation is still more puzzling.

Carefully consider the broad context of the scene, and the purpose of the activity that you are observing. Narrow down to something specific that does not make sense. Examine it closely including your viewpoint with respect to it. Observe your mind imagining reasons to fill the uncomfortable gap in understanding. Notice the impulse to come up with an answer. If there is no answer, then acknowledge the fact. Do not make up an answer. Simply become aware that the right answer is missing and move on to the next observation.

Expand your span of attention and let the physical and mental perceptions pour in.

Continue this exercise for at least 20 minutes. You may repeat this exercise as many times as you wish.

End of Exercise:

When you can discern the influence of something missing on your perceptions, then this exercise is passed.

NOTE 1: At any point you may return to a previous exercise if you feel that you need to complete it.


The Dimension of “Mass”

ReferenceA Logical Approach to Theoretical Physics

A quantum was, at first, proposed as a mathematical concept by Max Planck that explained the distribution of the Black body radiation. It was a groundbreaking concept in the sense that it expressed energy as a function of frequency instead of amplitude of the waveform.

Einstein, in his groundbreaking paper on Light quanta, was able to show that the entropy of monochromatic radiation follows the same rules as the entropy of a perfect gas. Einstein thus showed that Planck’s postulate of energy quanta was more than a mathematical device. Light quanta had actual substantiality like a gas molecule.

A quantum of light has substantiality. That indicates mass of certain concentration.


Classical to the Quantum View

Newton’s corpuscular theory viewed light as having substance. The wave theory changed this view to light being energy of a wave traveling through a stationary aether. In wave theory the particles of medium oscillate about a stationary location and do not move with the wave. The energy of the wave is proportional to the square of the amplitude of the wave.

But this view encountered a major setback with Einstein’s theory of Light Quanta. Einstein showed that light approximated particle behavior, therefore, the medium of stationary aether was not required. The light energy was more like the kinetic energy of a particle—a function of mass and velocity. In the case of light, however, that “mass” was determined by a variable “frequency”.

The frequency of light represents a “mass concentration” that becomes denser as frequency increases.


Quanta as “Mass Particle”

A variable mass concentration based on frequency was a revolutionary concept, because matter has a constant mass concentration in terms of atoms. Einstein had difficulty in accepting the variability of mass concentration. He proposed a mass-energy equivalence as E = mc2 and declared quantum to be an “energy particle”. For Einstein, light did not have mass, because it did not have the same “mass concentration” as that in a material particle.

Einstein concludes in his 1905 paper on light quanta:

According to the assumption considered here, when a light ray starting from a point is propagated, the energy is not continuously distributed over an ever increasing volume, but it consists of a finite number of energy quanta, localized in space, which move without being divided and which can be absorbed or emitted only as a whole.

But a particle can be treated as discrete in space only when it can be viewed as a point particle. A material particle can be viewed as a point particle because its mass can be treated as being concentrated at a center. That is called the center of mass. The uncertainty principle essentially says that a quantum particle does not have a center of mass because its location cannot be pinned down. In other words, as particles are continued to be divided, they lose their center of mass beyond a certain limit, and they merge into each other forming a fluid-like continuum.

Einstein’s conclusion about discreteness of quanta was based on the assumption of “constant concentration of mass” Einstein did not become aware of the inconsistency of his assumption because he conflated energy with mass. It is true that quantum can have discrete energy interactions, and that the concentration of mass could be so low that its significance can be appreciated in energy units only. But it is also true that there can be no concept of energy without an underlying concept of substance.

Unlike matter, quanta has variable “mass concentration”. It is a fluid-like continuum with rapid intrinsic motion.


Variable Mass Concentration

In matter, mass has a concentration that we find in a neutron or a proton. These particles have a certain volume, but they may be treated as point particles because of their center of mass property. This property arises because of their rigid structure.

Mass is 1840 times less concentrated in an electron that makes the size of the electron about 1840 times larger than the size of the proton. An electron is no longer rigid, it does not have the center of mass property and it flows like a fluid. An electron cannot be treated like a point particle.

Mass is still less concentrated in a photon, and its size may be considered much larger than an electron. It flows more like a fluid without center of mass. Richard Feynman, in his book QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, shows calculations that treats light as such a fluid. Feynman, however, thinks of those calculated values as “probabilities” because he thought of photon as a “point particle”.

Matter, as it loses its rigidity of high concentration, becomes a field of much lesser mass concentration. The field does not have a center of mass. It is fluid with rapid motion. Field is not just a mathematical reality as considered by Maxwell and Einstein. This is an actual reality as visualized by Faraday with his lines of force. There is no limit to which the concentration of mass can be diluted as a field. The ultimate limit may be the gravitational field as “space”.

Current physics does not acknowledge the dimension of “mass” that exists at every location in space due to varying concentrations.