A Website Dedicated to Philosophical Inquiry
Concerning the Promotion of Peace
|PART I : WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?
|Landrum Kelly, Jr., Ph.D.
Philosophy begins and ends with questions. It never gives definitive or final answers to the
questions that are of the greatest importance. Philosophy does, however, allow one to
examine rational intellectual choices and assumptions, and it allows one to see the logical
implications of various (often competing) assumptions, as well as the interrelationships
between and among those choices.
That is, philosophy proceeds by making certain assumptions and examining their possible
implications. Since the most interesting assumptions cannot be verified with certainty,
neither by reason nor by observation, philosophy thus has inherent limitations. It can allow
one to examine the coherence of a set of beliefs, but it cannot prove or disprove the truth
value of the foundational assumptions upon which belief systems rest. This in turn means
that the final conclusions cannot be evaluated as true or false with certainty. (In this
respect, philosophy differs from the empirical sciences, where assumptions and hypotheses
can typically be subjected to experimental test and thus dis-verified.) This is not to say that
philosophy can refute nothing. It cannot, however, either prove or refute certain ultimate
claims which are of the greatest interest.
Foundational assumptions are generally presumed to be both epistemological and
metaphysical. Since epistemology is the study of knowledge, and since neither reason nor
observation can ever suffice as the grounds of true knowledge, philosophy offers a
continuing quandary as to how belief systems are to be verified or dis-verified.
Although metaphysics is currently out of fashion in many intellectual quarters, speculations
about ultimate reality persist, and attempts to avoid metaphysical questions are doomed to
failure. Even the setting aside of metaphysical questions is a choice with deep metaphysical
implications, for so doing implies a belief that the answers to such questions do not matter,
and such a belief can itself be seen to be (or to follow from) a metaphysical belief.
Perhaps the most fundamental metaphysical question is the existence or non-existence of
God. If one chooses to assume that God exists, then another question immediately follows:
if God exists, then what is God like? Is God a God of retribution or forgiveness, or both (if
that were possible)? Is God truly omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and
omni-benevolent (all-good)? Does God have gender? Can God take human form? Has
God taken human form, apart from those elements of the divine that are often believed to
inhere in human rationality?
Although such questions can never be resolved definitively using either the methods of
science or philosophy, rational persons continue to speculate about them. This is the reality
but also the frustration of philosophy, that it allows one to see choices and their
implications, but it does not necessarily impel one to make one choice or another. The
element of choice remains, and it is not clear upon what basis (if any) beyond philosophy
one makes the most fundamental choices, the choices that drive all other choices. At some
level, ultimate metaphysical claims seem to rest upon articles of faith, although some
persons claim some kind of intuitive or even spiritual knowledge about such things. Others
claim that metaphysical speculations are meaningless, and thus pointless. Although claims
about ultimate reality can be argued for or against, it seems clear that the truth about them
can never be known with certainty. This is not only the frustration that inheres in
philosophy, but in the human condition.
In spite of the fact that metaphysical and epistemological claims can never be settled with
certainty, philosophy persists as a human enterprise because it is in the nature of rational
beings to want to know the answers to such claims. The principle of non-contradiction that
drives all philosophy worthy of the name implies that it makes no sense to embrace
simultaneously both a particular claim and the denial or negation of that claim. Philosophy
thus does at least offer choices, and the principle of non-contradiction does allow specious
arguments to be shown to be fallacious. Again, however, one cannot overemphasize that
philosophy cannot offer definitive and final answers to the questions that persons most
desire to answer. Human reason and the principle of non-contradiction can take one only
so far, but no further.
It can be seen that, since the question of the existence of God is so central to metaphysical
inquiry, the boundary between philosophy and theology is blurred. Even the atheist has a
theology, a metaphysical belief about God's existence that cannot be proven or disproven.
Atheism, like theism, remains at its ultimate foundation a matter of faith.
Philosophy traditionally consists of four separate subfields: metaphysics, epistemology,
logic, and ethics. Political philosophy ("political theory" in the discipline of political science)
is widely viewed as a branch of ethics, moral philosophy. The philosophy of science is
generally viewed as a subfield of epistemology.
The term "philosophy" comes from two Greek words that together can be rendered as "the
love of wisdom." Such a love cannot be granted nor certified through the awarding or
possession of an academic degree, and philosophy at its core is a quest that is open to all
persons--and virtually all persons engage in some degree of philosophical reflection,
whether or not they recognize this fact. Since philosophy is not about possessing wisdom,
but about loving it and seeking it, any person who desires to know more than he or she
knows is a philosopher, regardless of his or her vocation or academic discipline, if any.
Philosophy certainly is not the exclusive domain of those persons who populate philosophy
departments or of those who call themselves "social and political philosophers/theorists" in
the disciplines of political science and sociology, among others.
Indeed, the love of wisdom knows no class or educational bounds, and so it is that the
claim of being a philosopher is quite a humble claim.
Philosophical beliefs tend to change over time. Many have analogized the philosophical
quest to a journey or pilgrimage toward wisdom or enlightenment, implying that philosophy
does ultimately "go somewhere." Perhaps the coherence of one's belief system is a
possible destination. Even so, one cannot be absolutely certain that one has achieved
anything other than the construction of a coherent fantasy. One wants to believe that the
coherence of a belief system matters, since it seems to be related to the integrity of the self.
Once again, however, philosophy helps to clarify the issues but ultimately proves nothing
that one ultimately wants to know with absolute certainty. Perhaps that is the paradox of
philosophy, or perhaps it is a reflection of the limitations of human reason.
Landrum Kelly, Jr.
June 16, 2006
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTIONS: Toward a
Reconstruction of the Social and Political Philosophy of Jesus of
Nazareth, Landrum Kelly, Jr., Edwin Mellen Press, 1994, 458 pp.:
Preface and Acknowledgments
NOTICE: The copyright
belongs to the author, but all
rights to print versions of this
manuscript belong to the
Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston,
NY. Please do not violate
these copyrights laws.
Since page numbers and
superscripts are lacking in this
online version, please cite by
chapter and section number.
Other formatting problems
may be encountered as well.
Pacifism and the State
The Limits of Legal Obligation
The Divine Constitution
Justice as Forgiveness
The State as Protection Racket
A Theological Metaphysic of Pacifism
The Epistemology and Moral Psychology of Pacifism
Veiled Violence: The Euphemisms of Organizational and Social Control
Sexuality and the Harmonious Social Order
Toward Perfection: Beyond the Limits of Present Vision
Epilog: Peace and Freedom
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: For details on what is copyrighted and
for what purposes, please see the note below.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE:. Landrum Kelly, Jr. is a political theorist
who currently teaches political theory and other political
science courses at Livingstone College, where he also chairs
the Department of Political Science. His early educational
background was in chemistry, along with mathematics and
physics. He changed majors his senior year and received the
B.S. in political science from Furman University in 1970, with
minors in chemistry and mathematics. He received his M.A.
and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Florida in
the 1970s, with a research focus in political theory/philosophy.
His doctoral dissertation dealt with the role of retribution in the
political philosophy of John Rawls. In addition, he has done
limited post-doctoral study in political philosophy at Johns
Hopkins University. Most of his writings which appear on this
site came from his first published book, Conscientious
Objections: Toward a Reconstruction of the Social and Political
Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, 1994, Edwin Mellen Press,
Lewiston, New York. After travelling to Cuba in 1995 and 1997,
and living briefly in Ecuador in 1998, he returned to graduate
school in 1999 to study Spanish and Spanish-American
literature for two years. He describes his knowledge and
educational attainments as "broad and shallow, with a few
deeper pools here and there."
To Strive, to Seek, to Find. . .
|And one shall say unto him, 'What are these wounds
in thine hands?' Then he shall answer, 'Those with
which I was wounded in the house of my friends.'
|The Philosophical Quest Revisited
All text and photos by Landrum Kelly, Jr. found on this immediate page are in the public domain for
non-commercial purposes. However, linked materials, including the print manuscript of Conscientious
Objections, are subject to copyright laws as noted on the respective links.
Specifically, all writings by Landrum Kelly, Jr. found on this page are in the public domain for
Please remember, however, that the holds the copyright for any and all
PRINT versions of Conscientious Objections. Please honor that agreement and thus please do
not print this manuscript in any form, or any portion thereof, except for quotations in accordance
with provisions for fair use, giving attribution to both author and publisher. Direct all questions to
the Edwin Mellen Press if in doubt as to whether or not fair use provisions are being met.
Justifying Violence Through
the Uses and Abuses of a Term
Part III: The Terrorists of Lexington and
Concord: Reflections on Justifying Violence
Perhaps I should lay all my cards on the table at the outset and confess that I believe that the
primary reason that we have words like "terrorism" is the need for some linguistic devices for
helping to justify violence against other persons. Once one has typed someone a "terrorist,"for
example, then one may proceed to kill him, which is to say to become a terrorist oneself. I have
toyed with the idea of a title such as "From WOE to MAD and Beyond: A Brief History of these
Terrorist United States."
The word "anti-terrorism" now serves the same essential political purposes formerly served by such
phrases as "national security" and even "patriotism." The word "terrorism" and all derivatives terms
have indeed become politically-loaded terms rarely serving any useful function, indeed serving no
function at all except for justifying more violence, which is to say more terror. Indeed, in U.S.
state-sanctioned discourse (i.e., presidential speeches, press releases, campaign advertisements, etc.)
the concept of "terrorist" has become synonymous with the idea of "the enemy," and thus
"counter-terrorism" has come to serve effectively the same functions that "national defense" and
"national security" served in an earlier epoch.
The terms "terrorist" and "terrorism" have thus lost most of their utility--except as political rhetorical
devices. As commonly used, the concepts of "terrorist" and "terrorism" are vacuous concepts. If
"patriotism" was, as Samuel Johnson said, the "last refuge of the scoundrels," then the same could
have been said for the concept of "national security" as used by U.S. presidential administrations
during the Cold War. One may now say the same thing for the concepts of "terrorist" and
"terrorism." Those concepts have become the "last refuge of scoundrels," including those who hold
high office in the United States government, among others. Nor are these holders of high office
mere "scoundrels." According to the usual definitions, they are war criminals, and those who
support them share in their criminality.
Since at least the 1980s, the era of Ronald Reagan, Republicans in the United States have
consistently used the term "terrorists" to refer to those who fight by using non-traditional methods.
The claim is made that U.S. military policy does not fall into the category of "terrorist" activity,
since it ostensibly does not target non-combatants. This claim is, of course, a blatant lie. U.S.
foreign policy has always targeted women and children among other non-combatants, going all the
way back to the War of Extermination (WOE) systematically waged against native Americans, and
continuing into the era of "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD), which depended for its force on
the stated U.S. willingness to wipe out not only entire cities but entire cultures in the name of
"anti-communism" and "national security." Given the casualty figures among the Iraqi population
since the U.S. invasion destabilized Iraq and the entire region, the U.S. tradition of behaving as a
terrorist government and nation continues. Although it might sound like rhetorical excess to say so,
the day might come when some persons will say that the world could not have been any worse if
Hitler had won World War II--if only because the present U.S. policies in the Middle East could
conceivably ultimately come to fruition in nuclear holocaust for Israel and possibly the entire world.
[introduction to to a work In progress by Landrum Kelly, Jr.]
Please click on the following link for "Militerrorism," which was published as chapter
three of Conscientious Objections (above). This chapter was the substantial core of
the paperback book, Militerrorism: On the Morality of Combating Terror with Terror,
published in 1995 as a separate volume by the Edwin Mellen Press:
Landrum Kelly, Jr., Ph.D.
from Conscientious Objections: Towards a
Reconstruction of the Social and Political
Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, Edwin Mellen
Press, Lewiston, New York, 1994, 458 pages.
Note: This site has five major portions, as follows:
Part I: What Is Philosophy? An Introduction to the Site
Part II: Conscientious Objections: Toward a Reconstruction of the Social
and Political Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth (published)
Part III: The Terrorists of Lexington and Concord
Part IV: Militerrorism (published)
Part V: The Rule of Ideas: A Political Philosophy of Voluntarism
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO SEE EACH OF THE ABOVE TOPICS.
Part IV: Militerrorism
( If what you want is not on this site, then try this one: )
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If you did not find here
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then please try this site for
free online philosophical
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This website was last updated
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See also the following site
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Landrum Kelly, Jr.
Landrum Kelly, Jr.
Landrum Kelly, Jr., Ph.D.
Part V: The Rule of Ideas: A Political
Philosophy of Voluntarism