This page acts as a rudimentary exploration into what could perhaps be considered an aspect or adaptation of Advaitic thought. It is also an homage to some of the awe-inspiring spiritual, theological, and rational arguments made in metaphysics and tries to make sense of a few of the underlying strands of thought. The ultimate goal though is to seek a solid foundation for general human righteousness, justice, and morality.
Rather than starting by questioning particular mental or behavioral contexts, ie. seek "ethical solidity" in a bottom-up manner, this page approaches it top-down: ie. tries to base ethical truth in the general attitude that stands in relation to the broad context of being alive and being human. The exploration therefore aims to demonstrate that to be alive and human is the ground of ethical reality from which more particular approaches may be systematically developed.
Though set out in axioms and propositions, the following statements are not yet composed with strict logical rigor. Propositions do not necessarily follow from preceding ones. The bullet points serve not as complete proofs, but more as pointers to further details or related notions.
This page is a work in progress.
A1. "Existence Axiom" / "Ontological Axiom" / "The Axiom". In terms of ethics, the only truth of which one can be totally and consistently certain is that "everything exists". What is the same, and perhaps more adequate, is the phrase "all is".
- The word everything refers more to reality as a whole and less to a collection of any particular things. Similarly, the word exist is used in a holistic and mostly intuitive sense and does not abide by any particular logical or mathematical framework.
- In fact, in this interconnected ethical universe of ours, no particular thing can be said to have (or not have) existence independent from something else. All physical objects and mental notions, as far as even the most basic of intuition allows, have an almost infinite chain and network of causes. (Many children would agree on this: "Why A? Well, B. Why B? Well, C. Why C?", ad nauseum. But nauseating here is not a sign of victory – it signifies surrender.)
- In order to give meaning to particular existences, one would require a specially constrained framework. But what we are aiming for here instead is an unconstrained (or less constrained), intuition-dependent stream of inquisitive, yet integrative, thinking. And the fount of that stream is the current axiom. Dancing may appear beautiful and exciting but we want to plant our feet firmly on the ground, even should the ground appear murky and unstable at first glance. And the murkiness here is not so much the mire encountered by Munchhausen and his horse, but more akin to the Buddhist maya. The axiom will hopefully, at some point, engender a more mature logical system of ethics.
- One complaint to this approach may be that "to say 'all is' without clearly defining the words is actually saying nothing meaningful as far as ethical knowledge is concerned". This page would answer such a complaint by appealing to basic intuition and to the belief that "THAT there is something rather than nothing, no matter how 'thing' may be defined, does indeed hold meaning". This meaning is believed axiomatically to be deeply ingrained in what it is to be human and to actually give worth (or at least weight) to all physical and mental activity. In a way, this deep meaning is the mother of all other meanings, for something must exist before it can have quality. To deny significance of "all is" amounts to denying the most fundamental, and perhaps the very first, intuition to inhabit each and every human being. Its significance is as clear as water is to fish and as the sun is warm on our face. Yes, and even with such a rough suggestion, the phrase "all is" is believed to be crucial to any general discourse on ethics.
- A further complaint may be that to speak of a solicitation to intuition as pointing to absolute truth is fallacious. The reply here is that a true ethics ought to be alive and eternally relevant, and only intuition or belief can guarantee these properties. The stance that this axiom takes is to claim that the particular intuition we are dealing with is in fact the only total truth and one that can be translated into both direct experience, intellection, as well as common belief. The axiom assumes that the stance is valid by relying on the correspondence theory of truth.
- There are many ways to phrase "all is". One might also say "everything is", or "anything is", or "this is", or "all that is is", or "isness is", or "being is", "or existence exists". Or the negative: "everything does not NOT exist", or "all is not nothing". The aforementioned "that there is something rather than nothing" is also a close approximation. By the latter sense, one might also say "something is". One could also simply say the word "all", or "is", or even be silent, as silence denotes the absence of a particular, which in turn points to the existence of the universal.
- The doctrine of ajativada touches on this axiom by referring to the "the unborn absolute", a synonym for Brahman.
- The isha mentioned in the Isha Upanishad has also been interpreted to mean "Self", "the Lord", or "This All".
- Parmenides mentioned this axiom thus (paraphrased from his extant poem):
- The only ways of inquiry that are thinkable; First: that Being is and that it is impossible for it to be not-Being. Second: that Being is not and that it is necessary for it not to be. But the second path is completely unknowable, for neither can you know that which is not nor can you declare it.
- To "be thought" and "to be" are the same thing.
- That "things that are not, are" cannot prevail. But let reason, not habit, judge for you this refutation spoken by me.
- Being, ungenerated, is imperishable. It must be whole, of a single kind, unshaken, and complete. Nor was it ever nor will it be, since it is now, all together.
- Some ancient Greek, Gnostic, Neoplatonist, and early Christian texts make use of the Greek word pleroma, which refers to the totality, entirity, or fullness of being, perhaps akin to the more modern use of Existenz and Dasein.
- In Spinozan terms, the phrase "all is" refers to Deus sive Natura. The "all" is the single metaphysical substance and "is" refers to the dependence of all particulars on this substance.
- In the gospel of Thomas, Jesus says "I am the light above them all. I am the all. All came forth from me, and all came back to me. Cleave wood, and I myself am there. Lift up the stone, and there you shall find me."
- Zhuang Zhou, in a slight variation of the axiom, writes the following:
- Master Dong Guo asked Zhuang Zhou, "This thing called the 'way' – where does it exist?"
- "There is no place it does not exist." – "Come, you must be more specific!"
- "It is in the ant." – "As low a thing as that?"
- "It is in the panicgrass." – "But that's lower still!"
- "It is in the tiles and shards." – "How can it be so low?"
- "It is in the piss and shit."
- The axiom also relates to the notion that existence precedes essence – namely, that the fact of "all is" precedes any and all "all-s". The topic is treated heavily, for instance, in Sartre's phenomenological ontology.
- Superficially and symbolically, at least, the axiom also resembles Kant's rejection of the ontological argument for god – the problem being that "being" cannot be a meaningful predicate and cannot qualify any "being" (ie. any such "being" that being "be-s") as occurring in reality. Parsed in his language, our axiom serves as a tautology, as does Anselm's ontological argument, and a pure intuition that cannot be validated either way through Kantian logic.
- What the phrase "all is", as well as this page, ultimately aims for is the more advanced phrase "tat tvam asi", which may be translated as "you are that". Tat tvam asi: Tvam = Jiva = Atman; Tat = Brahman = Turiya = Ishvara. This page hopes to rediscover the details of these equations and then to derive the opposite claim that "you are NOT that".
- The Axiom naturally lends itself easily to metaphors in religion, and any number of holy texts and thoughts would describe the Axiom in as many ways. But for the purposes of this page, the Axiom is strictly a bundle of words that refers to that most common of intuitions - that same intuition which causes newborns to cry, which makes us fear death, and which allows us to appreciate everything in between.
P1. The nature of everything's existence cannot be described in any other way than that it is total, universal, eternal, uniform, and unqualified.
- This actually just describes "existence", regardless of any quantification, since existence, being total, cannot be quantified. In fact, besides for grammatical convenience and intuitive familiarity, the word "everything" is redundant.
- The notion of perspective or vantage point is absent here. We may let "everything" (tentatively) refer to the collection of all things that the entire human race has experienced or will experience, or to the collection of all things that exactly one person is experiencing right now.
- In fact, "everything" need not be predicated on experience at all or even have tense, or extension. Any definition one may want to slap onto the word "everything" itself gets "swallowed up" immediately into the very thing that one is trying to define because giving something a definition amounts to exclaiming its existence. As Parmenides would say, nothing "in existence" can be said to "not be in existence", and nothing that is "not in existence" can ever be in existence. Therefore everything must just be.
- To put it another way, this page understands the word "existence" in a confident manner, not in the deictic or anaphoric sense as is usually the case. Ie. people may claim that "I" exist or "you" exist or "something" exists, but the only subject that sufficiently and properly measures existence is the word "everything".
- In fact, most of the things that are colloquially said to "exist" – as if to proclaim its independent protrusion from a base existential fabric (eg. "I am") – do not truly exist as something "worth proclaiming". Take, for instance, all the personal pronouns. He, she, or we "exist" only with respect to some social context that agrees on such and such a label. But imagine a totally honest and safe (one might say "authentic") situation where there is no need for labeling. In fact, imagine such a universe to have no words and no capacity for description. Would there be any "substantial" difference between you and me then? Any real difference between the sky and the ground? The answer is clearly no. (There may be real differences in terms of process, but not in terms of substance.) Pronouns, and most other nouns in fact, are a magical fabrication that gives the mistaken belief that something (rather than something else) exists, as a substance. Such usage of the word "exist" is NOT the one espoused by the Axiom. The Axiom instead prefers the notion of "true" existence, namely that intuition which persists despite the dismissal of all social, defensive-and-predatory, and wishful preoccupation. And the only "nouns" that such an existence would be able to successfully qualify are "everything" and "existence" itself.
- Another example, which runs parallel to the issue of existence, is what "time" really means and whether time is an ethically viable concept. As with the verb "exist", time is usually conceived within some frivolous caricature of reality. And upon brutally honest observation, time is quickly seen to hold no ground when it comes to the root of human importance. The things that truly matter to humans, namely existence, love, beauty, truth, etc., see time in the same light as they would, say, a cat. Time has no place in truth. Supposing that "ultimate truth" is some visible and concealable thing – one will not find it by searching in the past, nor will it be encountered by waiting for the future. If truth exists, it must exist at all times. The same goes for love. And the same goes for the perception of existence. Now consider the more practical example of a legal trial. The existential futility of the process becomes evident when one realises that the entire endeavor of judgment is founded on the belief that some event happened in the past, and that the actors involved have, existentially, a tight correspondence with the actors currently undergoing trial. While these beliefs may seem self-evident beyond question, they nevertheless have yet to be proven. That is to say, whenever we claim that "some event took place", we make, possibly unethical, presumptions about the true nature of time and therefore also of existence.
- Prigogine has stated that "time precedes existence". But our stubborn position is that only existence is real, and time either is not, or partakes in reality on a wholly different level.
P2. When one tries to reject, divide, extend, or limit the Axiom, one is necessarily met with ethical and rational uncertainties.
- This follows from the association of totality of existence with the totality of the truth of existence (ie. this proposition follows from the Axiom. The Axiom serves to make that association). And since the Axiom represents the only total truth, any broadening or curtailing of it leads either to partial truths or nonsense, both of which contribute to confusion and uncertainty.
- As an example, take the obvious objection: "when a person dies, that person no longer exists, so the Axiom is not correct". There are numerous means of denying this objection.
- Material monism, for example, would say that physical substance is conserved through the moment of death.
- Someone bent on the reality of the afterlife would claim that the deceased would still exist in the afterlife.
- A solipsist would argue that as long as the deceased is not yourself, you cannot claim anything about that person's existence. As far as you know, everything still does exist after that person's death. The only existence you know is the one in your mind, and upon your death, the question of existence becomes paradoxical and meaningless.
- And someone, yet more cautious, would question the notion of personality itself and ask in what way a "person" exists in the first place.
- These sample denials may indeed agree with the Axiom in some sense, ie. by molding the Axiom via particular definitions of "everything" and "existence", but they each make the (hypothetical) mistake of actually making definitions. Defining can be seen as "extending" or "limiting" the Axiom. For instance, material monism bounds everythingness to physical substance, the afterlifer introduces an unfounded notion (ie. the afterlife), and the solipsist rejects the uniformity criterion of P1. The last example, that of the personality-skeptic, would appear benign, but their caution actually conceals a deep-rooted rejection or doubt with respect to the totality and uniformity of existence, not unlike with the solipsist. Needless to say, each approach has historically engendered numerous debates, tragedies, and problems.
- So does this mean that the original objection is to be agreed with, according to the Axiom? No. As we shall see (especially with the introduction of the notion of the "self"), the Axiom teaches that making the objection itself points to ethical uncertainty, for it implicitly makes unwarranted assumptions about the Axiom that serve to reject, divide, extend, and/or limit it.
P3. The Axiom cannot be consciously ignored; it can only be in awareness or not be in awareness.
- The Axiom, by its subjective and generative nature, renders the phrase "consciously ignore" an oxymoron. The Axiom can, however, be ignored by revoking any effort of awareness from it.
- When awareness is directed only towards an object of existence (that is, a thing that exists rather than THAT it exists), the Axiom gets ignored.
- There upon the Lord said, "Narada, take this cup of oil and go round this city and come back with it. But take care that you do not spill even a single drop of it." Narada did as he was told, and on his return the Lord asked him, "Well, Narada, how many times did you remember me in the course of your walk round the city?" "Not once, my Lord," said Narada, "and how could I, when I had to watch this cup brimming over with oil?" The Lord then said, "This one cup of oil did so divert your attention that even you did forget me altogether."
P4. The only action one can take with ethical certitude is two-fold: first to be aware of the Axiom, then to clarify and interpret the Axiom.
- As an illustration of what is meant by "only", consider the example of cooking. In order to properly cook a dish exactly as desired, a recipe must exist and it must be followed precisely. There may be circuitous or haphazard ways of arriving at the dish, but no process other than following the recipe can possibly lead directly to a perfectly cooked dish.
- To spell out the metaphor, the dish is the Axiom, the existence of the recipe is the awareness of it, the following of the recipe is the clarification/interpretation of it, and the cooking is the action.
- Note that any reverse engineering, given enough trials and disregarding taste-equivalence of varying ingredient-combinations, must lead to the recipe since the path towards the dish is unique.
- The adequacy of the metaphor is yet to be evaluated.
P5. To maximise the awareness, clarification, and interpretation of the Axiom in any given situation constitutes the set of highest/best actions an individual can take.
P6. To grasp, experience, and be fully aware of the Axiom constitute the set of best actions.
- Grasping (understanding) and experiencing (feeling, perceiving) are the pure modes of clarification and interpretation, respectively. Each contribute to being aware.
- Another way of expressing this proposition is that to fully remind oneself of the Axiom is the best action.
- The pure mode of awareness is awareness itself.
P7. All other actions can be judged by: the degree to which they aim at the set of best actions; the depth or strength of clarification, interpretation, and awareness from which an action has sprung; or the harmony of conditions that bring forth a resulting action.
- The set of best actions, like existence, has characteristics of being total, universal, eternal, and uniform. Only in the variation of "goodness" of action are degree, depth, strength, and harmony considered. "Harmony" here is related to the uniformity and universality of existence and is a variation of the "depth" or "strength".
P8. Questions of gradation, degree, variation, and judgment, as they relate to good action and good self, arise only with incomplete understanding and perception of the Axiom.
- This state of incompleteness is the "ordinary" condition of "human life". It is ordinary because various cultural, social, and behavioral factors keep humans from completely understanding and perceiving the Axiom.
- Tarot and Freemasonic symbologies, for example, recognise this fact and deal extensively with the "human condition". The state of incompleteness is understood in terms of "being in base consciousness".
- Whether such a condition is "natural" or "wrong" or "right" is inconsequential at this point, but a definition of the condition is claimed in P12.
P9. Gradation (in the quality of actions) and the totality (inherent in the Axiom) seem incommensurable and opposed. But this dichotomy lies also in the very nature of the Axiom. To be precise, the Axiom associates the truth of existence with a semblance of that truth. In other words, the Axiom refers to an ineffable wholeness that can be communicated only through finite symbols.
The association of gradation of action, on the one hand, and the totality of existence, on the other, therefore represents the striving towards goodness. Such striving is assumed to be equivalent to the wording of the Axiom. In other words, as far as the Axiom has been expressed, communicated, or uttered, the effort towards good action, or at least the possibility of that effort, necessarily follows.
- The gradation–totality dichotomy can be witnessed in such pairs as action–being, fact–reality, matter–form, time–eternity, language–understanding, dot–line, note–music, one–all, someone–everyone, etc. The latter is made up of the former (or the former is an instance of the latter), yet their "natures of existence" are on different orders. While the Axiom represents an existence that is totally orderless and non-degradable, action, as the preeminent instance of existence, pulls it "down" into perceptibility, comprehensibility, and interpretability.
- Another way of thinking about the proposition is that a partial being (eg. the existence of an individual human) necessitates its own striving towards total being. Partial (or graded) being seeks total being as a consequence of "being alive" (perhaps being aware).
- This point appears to be at the heart of the is-ought problem: how does a fact translate into a moral value? The proposed answer is that all forms of action can be characterised under a single category of "striving towards totality". The reduction of totality into action (and the corresponding expansion from action towards totality, ie. striving) presupposes that an "oughtness" is embedded in every action, and that this oughtness is no different from its "isness".
- As a reminder, this gradation is not the same as the outright modification of the Axiom as mentioned in P2. The former is founded on and strives towards the Axiom, whereas the latter is founded on folly and opposes the Axiom.
- With regards to the notion of striving, see also the Latin conatus and the notion of intentionality (see Brentano, Husserl).
P10. The set of best actions or, what is the same, THE best action, is equal to existence itself (where "existence itself" refers not to the "oblivious progression of merely existing" but more to the "embodiment of existence as that which is total, universal, eternal, uniform, and unqualified").
- To recap, in P6, the set of best actions was equated with grasping and experiencing the total truth of the Axiom. Then, in P9, graded action was equated with the effort to grasp and experience the Axiom.
- In other words, the absence of "questions of gradation" (of the Axiom) is the same as the absence of the effort, which is the same as the complete grasping and experiencing (of the Axiom).
- The absence of effort of action, coupled with the complete doing of the action, can only be the action itself. "No effort" + "total performance" = "pure action". Referring the sum to anything else is nonsensical.
- The particular action we are concerned with here is grasping and experiencing the truth of "all is". Due to the meaning of "experiencing", our particular action amounts to "experiencing existence" = "existing". Therefore, "no effort of existing" + "total doing of existing" = "pure existing" = existence itself.
P11. Performance of the best action implies that the best self is performing it.
- In other words, complete awareness/clarity/interpretation of the Axiom is realised/achieved/embodied by the complete self. In such a state, the agent–action (subject–object) split ceases to have effect.
- In terms of P9, the gradation–totality dichotomy is directly related to the subject–object dichotomy. That is to say, the completion of the striving equates the agent of the striving with the act of striving, as well as with the goal of the striving.
- Put in yet another way, the cessation of the subject–object is a direct reflection of the Axiom, which associates the word of existence with the truth of existence with existence itself.
- Perhaps an interpretation of this is stated in John's Gospel: In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum.
- Note how the religious talk of being the servant of god, while the ascetics talk of making the mind servant to the self. They each refer to this very proposition, that "I" is the mind, and both ought to be the servant to the best self, which is god. That is to say, the goal of the striving supersedes, and is the summation of, the act of striving. Note also the story of the "binding of Isaac", where the goal of the sacrifice superseded the sacrifice itself.
- P10 fits into the equation naturally: "no striving" + "total doing" = "best action" = "best self" = existence = truth of existence = the Axiom.
P12. Graded self is that which performs graded action. That is to say, the graded self is that which has not fully grasped or experienced the Axiom.
- We are referring here to the ordinary sense of the word "self", aka. the "individual" or "one" or the "partial being". Hereinafter, the word "self" will refer to this "graded self", unless qualified with the adjective "best", in which case it refers to existence itself.
- While this page generally refers to the sentient, rational, and ethical human organism when using the word "self", a tight analogy seems to apply to any partial being, be it the molecule, cell, animal, social organ, military force, linguistic article, or mental dogma.
- In a discrete and static sense, ie. if "striving" implies "not having accomplished", then the graded self is, by definition, that which is NOT the best self (= existence = the truth of "all is" = the Axiom).
- The qualification of discreteness and stasis has actually been implied all along. It has to do with the issue of definition that was discussed earlier, eg. in P2. While one of our constraints is the rejection of any concrete definition of the Axiom, we do need concrete definitions in speaking consistently about notions like "self" and "action", lest everything get dissolved into the totality of existence.
- Bergson gives an analogous interpretation of the immobile nature of symbols. An analysis of the "relative" can never really reach the "absolute", but it nevertheless helps us understand objects of our attention. In our case, the object IS the absolute, translated as the boundary between the relative and the absolute.
P13. Definition is the rejection of the Axiom.
- Continuing where P12 leaves off, self can be said to be that which is not the best self, while, at the same time, striving to be the best self. As long as there is a self, a perpetual conflict is manifested between it and pure existence. To drive this point home, let us express it in a few different ways:
- The part wants to be whole but it fears losing its partness.
- The self wants to be the best self, but as soon as it does, it dies.
- Cowardice in the face of death causes self to kill life.
- To be defined is to be rigid in a stream of change.
- To define is to mimic attributes of existence, to qualify and quantify them, so as to prepare them for cowardly discourse.
- Difference leads to reaction, modification, and local unity.
- Heraclitus seems to have enjoyed this theme:
- "What opposes unites, and the finest attunement stems from things bearing in opposite directions, and all things come about by strife."
- "All the things we see when awake are death, even as all we see in slumber are sleep."
- "Hearing they do not understand... Present, they are absent."
- The inability to let the self die (in the face of the best self) guarantees its perpetuation and demonstrates its resounding rejection of the Axiom.
P14. A geometric metaphor shows the correspondence between self and action and then the translation from graded to best (ie. from partial to total).
- To clarify:
- The ineffable and omniontic qualities of the Axiom is represented by the point in the center, denoted as existence itself. P1.
- Note that spatial containment is not part of the metaphor. In correspondence with A1, the centrality and extentlessness refer to the certainty of "everything". The "things" that are not the center point can be thought of as particulars that contain less certainty.
- The set of consequences that result from "definitions" is denoted as the graded self. The shape of the graded self resembles the central point from which it "expanded", but is NOT the central point. P9, P12, P13.
- Graded action is a circumscription that describes graded self or a tracing on the surface of the graded self. Actions always tend towards the center (P9), but the rigidity of the graded self perpetuates action in a centrifugal motion (P12).
- The inverse of the definition vector represents a striving potential.
- The best or highest "state" is denoted by a complete collapse of gradation into totality (P6), which was stated to be a nullification of the striving potential and a tranformation into total action (P10).
- The resistance to collapse (ie. the difficulty of translating the first circle to the second) is proportional to the strength and bloat of the definition vectors.
- Collapse itself is represented by the best action (P6), but the possibility of it, in turn, rests on the awareness of the central point and the striving potential (ie. the hearing of the utterance of the Axiom and the motivation to do something about it, P9).
- The question of where awareness fits into this diagram is at the crux of the problem, and will be dealt with. (TODO)