Archive for June, 2021

Two reasons to doubt in Descartes.

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Descartes is (in)famous for his apparent skepticism. While he was merely rehearsing the common Pyrrhonist skepticism, most famously being advocated by Michel de Montaigne and Mersenne, before criticizing it. In doing so he asks us to doubt two categories of beliefs: that of the extramental world (I refrain from using the word “physical” for separate reasons) and of mathematical facts. His reasons for doubting both categories were different. But first, let us look at why do we find these beliefs to be self-evident.

I believe that my dog is sitting in front of me because my sense tells me that he is. But my senses do, from time to time, deceive me, for example in the case of optical illusion and under the influence of psychoactive drugs. So this method of acquiring belief is generally put into doubt – although many individual believes might still be true but the senses generally lose their credibility as a source of self-evident believes. And in the case of mathematical facts, we find them to be true because they are tautologies – i.e. they are true by virtue of their definition, or at least because they are true by demonstration of proves. Also, these are not claims about the external world, Pythagoras theorem will still be true even if there is no external world and no physical triangles. Descarte gives two reasons to doubt these mathematical beliefs (Point 5, Part 1, Principles of Philosophy and Book 1, Meditations.) First, he merely states and in my opinion without giving any convincing examples to the effect that we often err while forming mathematical beliefs, and second, that God has created us in such a way that we err sometimes so it is possible that he might have created us in a way that we err all the time, even in things mathematical. The second argument can be made without invoking God as evolution might as easily have organized our cognitive faculties in such a way that we systematically err.

While to doubt the first source of beliefs seems reasonable, the second looks less convincing as it is on the one hand a general claim about all cognitive faculties and not merely about the method of acquiring mathematical claims, and on the other, we have no examples that lead us to doubt the specific source of such believes. Whatever their merit, it is clear that the epistemological value of the reasons to doubt both categories is very different.

What Demands for Kashmir?

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

For people concerned with freedom, equality and decency it is fair to say that the last decade has been that of regression. This is no doubt the case for Kashmir, Kashmiris, and Indians who are privileged and alive enough to care about Kashmir’s suffering and struggles. The arbitrary arrests, the silencing of the population, the erosion of civil society, and many other things we hoped to get rid of in Kashmir have strengthened their grip over India.

It makes the battle ahead difficult while all the more urgent and necessary. Unfortunately, the section that is affected by similar issues in India, like police violence, state repression, violence against women and working people, powerlessness has only increased. That expands the scope for more understanding, raising consciousness, and solidarity among the oppressed in Kashmir and in India. The criminal mismanagement of covid-19 also demonstrated for many the costs of not having politically democratic and responsible institutions.

But what can we reasonably hope to achieve? Plebiscite? Demilitarization? These things look impossibly far now. So what demands? And how? New Delhi is not moved by public opinion in Kashmir. It demonstrated in 2019 that for Delhi Kashmiris are animals and insects, without rights and we do with them whatever we like. Farmer’s protests show that even vocal Indian public opinion hardly matters for this regime. But if there is any hope for improving the situation in Kashmir it is largely from international and domestic pressures. Waiting for Kashmir to explode in civil or armed unrest is a prayer for genocide. The brutality and power of the Indian state have only increased since the 1990s. It will only give a new justification for intensifying the cycle of violence and harming the chances of any long-term solution.

I believe the most basic demand that Indian activists, labour unions, civil societies, progressive NGOs, and maybe political parties should include in their programs is that of the restoration of the pre-August 5, 2019 position. Something similar to the baseline reached in the first Gupkar Declaration.

The first and major step must be increasing public support. While being as cautious and prepared for reaction by the state. And to my knowledge, public support remains the best defense against the state’s retaliation. Another step of course must be to learn more from civil society, activists, and people in the region to formulate a more meaningful and reasonable proposal.

This should be considered only a suggestion to start the conversation. With the increased access to information and opinions about Kashmir, a large section of young Indians have grown sensitive towards their struggle. But understanding must also lead to action. Hopefully, we will rise to the occasion.