Bronze medal essays

Håkon Blystad, Foss, Norway


The first and most necessary topic in philosophy deals with the application of principles; for instance, ‘not to lie’. The second deals with demonstrations; for instance,’ How comes it that one outght to not lie?’ The third is concerned with establishing and analyzing these processes; for instance, ‘How comes it that this is a demonstration, what is consequence, what is contradiction, what is true, what is false?’ It follows then that the third topic is necessary because of the second, and the second because of the first. The first is the most necessary part, and that in which we must rest. But we reverse the order: we occupy ourselves with the third, and make that our whole concern, and the first we completely neglect. Wherefore we lie, but are ready enough with the demonstration that lying is wrong.

Epictetus: The Manual (Enchiridion), 52 (ca. 135)

A Case for Linguistic Analysis

Epictetus is here presenting a thesis on his meta philosophy. He is stating what he thinks philosophy is occupied with (the third) and what it ought to be occupied with (the first). Philosophy has completely removed itself, from its etymology, the love of wisdom; Epictetus says. Wisdom is differentiated from knowledge and intelligence, in that knowledge and intelligence denotes some measure of how much you know, or your cognitive capacities. Wisdom, however, is knowledge of life; how one ought to act in events that may occur in life.

Epictetus clearly states that the first type of inquiry, which could be categorized normative ethics or morals, is the most important topic in philosophy; this is the wisdom seeking philosophy that Epictetus asks for.

What has philosophy, then, if not wisdom seeking; Epictetus claims that the philosophy, of his time, has become a pedantic game to sort out every single word of our language and review every implication that may come from the examination of how we speak.

The same kinds of objections to his contemporary philosophy can be found in the later Wittgenstein. Bertrand Russell and especially G.E Moore are known to lay the intellectual foundation for what is, now, known as analytic philosophy, and the linguistic turn. The turn toward use of the new predicate calculus in examination of philosophical problems, and the attempt to ground, almost, everything in logic; is to Wittgenstein something misguided. They are missing what is really important, the questions and their answers, essentially life.

The aphorism: «To show the fly the way out of the fly trap” is explanatory, Wittgenstein wants to form a doctrine that can help us undo the problems the analytic philosophy has tumbled their way into. By the use of his terms ‘family resemblances’ and ‘language games’ he wants to show that the problems only occur if one allows for only one definition and meaning of a word.

I think Epictetus and Wittgenstein would agree on much. They both think that the obsession over details and strict rigorous analysis of problems distracts from the real philosophy.


Enough history, I have always thought that whatever one do, one should try to make life better, whatever makes life better. For philosophy that would fall under ethics, Aristotle had the concept of Eudemonia, the good life, and the quest for the good life will learn us about what one ought and ought not to do. I agree.

However, when faced with any moral problem, one must choose one option. During history of philosophy, the principle of universalizability has become a standard. One should act as if it could be a universal law of moral. But life hands it back at us, hard. There seems to be exceptions to many of these moral imperatives. Then one could ask oneself: “If there are seeming exceptions to moral principles, is the principle of universalizability. And if not: is moral subjective?” One has suddenly entered the field of meta ethics: «What is goodness, and can we know it?” All of these questions seems to present new questions, with often more profound implications to be found.

A term “first philosophy” is often(not Epictetus, though) used to denote the most basic theses and question, where one ground all other philosophy, like a pyramid. The term has differed, Kant argued that epistemology and, intertwined, philosophy of mind is, but Heidegger argued that ontology is. I do not know of any that would regard ethics as first philosophy, and I have found what I think is a paradox with the notion of first philosophy, if epistemology and meta physics are the two options. 1) If one starts out with metaphysics, then there is nothing that would stop one from claiming all sorts of bizarre things about nature, without any outer limit of what one could know. But 2) if one starts out with epistemology, and inquires what knowledge is and how it could be acquired, then one could miss out on the metaphysical facts that govern our world, one could conclude that empiricism is true and rationalism is false, but if a external world does not exist, then it would render the epistemic claims false.

I think here that all philosophy is intertwined, all (at least most) answers in one branch of philosophy have implications on most other branches. Therefore I think that the analysis of language is actually the first thing one should do. We do philosophy with language, and could probably not, without. So in examination of how we write and speak and think, we examine how we do philosophy and the terms we use.

The initial problem of Epictetus was ‘why is one ought not to lie’ is, as all philosophical problems hard, and one has to have a consistent groundwork to could even try to answer it. But the groundwork could not be rigorous if one is not consistent and clear in terminology. Wittgenstein’s theories of language games does wonders in explaining how we use natural language, but in philosophy we tend to try to go beyond natural language and use a language that is not as full of contradictions and vagueness as most natural languages do.

I agree with Epictetus, that one should concern with questions about how to live, but the questions are dependent on a strong and clear metaphysics and epistemology, and this is dependent on a rigorous language, so we must start. Epictetus’ diagnosis of a symptom of a disease, is not a disease, but the source to the good life, eudemonia.



  1. The Blue Paper

Linnea Sjöblom

Halikon lukio, Salo, Finland


When a human being is born it arrives into the world without any ideas or any knowledge of the massive amounts of information ahead of it. This is what John Locke means by saying that the mind is a white paper, ‘tabula rasa’. The baby observes its surroundings, smelling, hearing and seeing for the first time. During this process, the mind begins to put cause and effect together, creating a coherent view of the world. The mind cannot comprehend anything before it has any content.

For Locke, experience creates this content. His view is a strongly empirical one – experience, and therefore knowledge, can only be acquired from the world outside of our minds. Rational thought is wavering and can lead us to wrong conclusions. There is, however, a weird paradox inside of the aforementioned example. One must wonder, how did the baby put cause and effect together in the first place? If the mind truly was a tabula rasa, the baby shouldn’t have perceived causal effect between phenomena. After all, there is no way that the small infant could experience it.

It is the mind that puts the pieces of the puzzle – the puzzle being the world – together. Rationalism may not be as miserably wretched as some of the more radical empiricists think. There are some truths that we can conclude in our minds, without the help of the material world, even before we experience something, a priori. Does a mathematical equation need an experiment with apples and pears to make it knowledge? Or how about the Pythagorean theorem? Mathematics are one of these truths that are already inside our minds. Another one would be the causal effect – unless of course you agree with Hume and claim that it is only a creation of our mind and that we cannot surely know if it exists in the material world.

Maybe some might say that only these rational truths are real knowledge, because the phenomenal world is uncertain. In metaphysics, it has been fought over if matter even exists. It’s true that there’s a lot inside of us all that’s not dependent on experience. In the nature, bright colors might indicate that something is poisonous to animals. They have evolved to watch out for those signs – I believe that the same applies to us. Even though we don’t know something, our instincts tell us to watch out. Our intuition simply knows, even if we don’t: there are strange presumptions that hit the mark perfectly, which can sometimes be a bit frightening – it feels so out of this world. After all, nowadays that the world is being ruled by science and technology, basing knowledge on a conjecture of the mind seems foolish. These presumptions might never be accepted as actual knowledge, but there truly is something mystifying about the way our minds work.

Intuition, presumptions and all kinds of other foretelling have not been proven fool-proof in any case. This however, doesn’t mean that we should turn to empirical thinking and leave our minds altogether. Another problem with saying that knowledge is derived from only experience, is the term of knowledge in itself. Knowledge is a truth that we know inside our minds – therefore there must also be some kind of evaluation in our minds on the matter we have perceived. You cannot simply leave behind all rational thought, because it is needed in the process.

One cannot exist without the other. We need our minds to perceive the world and the world must also be perceived so that something can be derived from it. However, while subjecting knowledge to originate from both rational and empirical means may seem like a very easy solution that finally gives us the truth about how to acquire knowledge, it also bears the faults of both orientations. As mentioned before, the world we perceive may not actually be as we perceive it – the other problem is the way we perceive. Mind is subjective in its observations meaning that something we actually have a reason to believe to be true knowledge is actually only subjective knowledge. There arises the question, can there even be true knowledge acquired by man? Throughout history, thoughts and theorems based on our own thinking and the world itself have been proved wrong. Excluding maybe the most fundamental mathematical truths and causal effect that already seem to be inside our minds, can a ‘tabula rasa’ even collect any other knowledge of the world that is not wholly subjective?

Immanuel Kant had a similar view. He said that we cannot reach the true world itself (“Das Ding an sich”). Instead, everything that is ‘knowledge’ as we know it, concerns only the phenomenal world that we can perceive. Knowledge is essentially something that we think is true, but not the same as truth itself. Therefore, we can’t acquire true knowledge, be it by Kant’s worlds, empirical or rational means. What we can however do, is always be suspicious of what our current paradigm indoctrinates us about our world, so that at least our nearly empty minds call be filled with knowledge that is closest to the actual truth.

Is there a point in living if none of the knowledge we attain is objectively true? If a whole life is based on the search for knowledge, and the seeking of truth, the career choice of a mathematician might be the only solution. Even though it sounds dramatic not to truly know nearly anything, it doesn’t matter as much in my opinion. The knowledge we gain with our senses and thinking is good enough to let us live a good life. The western vision of knowing everything being what people are valued for is one of the most poisonous things in our society nowadays. Life is not only about seeking knowledge, which should only be an instrumental value that lets us live our lives. People should realize this, actually start living and be as prideful in their emotions as their knowledge.

The baby will continue wondering at the world, grow up and go to school. He or she will learn about mathematics, and realize, that they truly were already somewhere inside the deepest reaches of his or her mind. The mind is never completely empty, not even during the first second it starts to exist. We shouldn’t call our minds ‘rabula rasa’, white paper. Maybe we could call our minds ‘the blue paper’, where everything written will be greatly affected by our feelings – all knowledge acquired will be subjective, and a mixture of experience and thinking. From the start, a few lines will already be written about the universal mathematical laws and such, even when the owner of the paper is too young to comprehend the scripture.



Tobias Laundal                            Kristelig Gymnasium, Norway

Second Title Topic

The universe, that vast assemblage of every thing that exists, presents only matter and motion: the whole offers to our contemplation nothing but an immense, an uninterrupted succession of causes and effects […]

Paul Henri Thiry D’Holbach: The System of Nature or,
the Laws of oral and Physical World (1770)

Paul Henri Thiry D’Holbach asserts in this quote that the universe is “an uninterrupted succession of causes and effects”, in this essay I will have a look at the consequences of such an assertion and how it would control the unfolding of the universe.

If the universe is a succession of causes and effects, there must have been a first cause, and all later effects must be derived from this cause. Effects might turn into causes for other effects, and such the universe develops. We, the humans on planet Earth, are a direct result of this succession of causes and effects, along with every other thing in the universe; all matter and all motion. D’Holbach claims that the universe is “nothing but” this succession, and such there is nothing that controls the succession other than the succession itself, which must have started with a root cause. An implication of this is that everything that happens, even what we think and what we do, is a result of this immense succession. This means we do not have any control over our own lives. The immense succession of causes and effects is the destiny of the universe, and it cannot be escaped from.

If there is such a thing as an immense succession of causes and effects, an equivalent to a ruleset for how the universe must unfold, the root of this succession, the first cause, must be something different from everything we know. The first cause cannot have had a cause, and there cannot have been any effects before this cause. This cause must have appeared out of nothing. Not the kind of nothing that is akin to empty space, because there couldn’t have been space before the first cause, but the kind of nothing that is not, where no thing exists, not space, nor time, nor anything else. The first cause might be considered to be God, the creator of everything, the source of every other cause and effect. Everything would then be the “will” of God, because nothing could not come from The Succession.

The Succession does not preclude randomness, or enforce predictability as principles of our existence, or the existence of the universe itself, but it does eliminate the possibility that anything can have a will of its own. Everything that happens must be the effect of a cause. There might be some kind of randomness that decides what effect, among many effects that might come from a cause, turns out to be the result, but the free will cannot be possible. Any action we do, or thought we think, must be the result of a cause, so we do not decide to think the thought or perform the action, The Succession makes us do it. This is a scary thought, as it dictates that nothing we do is voluntary.

Even scarier is the consequences of D’Holbach’s Succession if there is no randomness. If randomness does not affect the effects that comes from a cause, the succession must be predictable. In principle it means everything can be calculated if all causes and effects are accounted for, and thus there is only one possible development of The Succession. This means that the future is set in stone. However “the future” does not refer to the future of time here, but to the future of the universe, meaning the future of The Succession, the future of futures.

Empirical studies cannot prove or disprove the existence of a succession of all matter and motion, in the same way that they cannot prove or disprove the existence of a God. The only meaningful results might be that there seems to be a system that governs what happens, a confirmation of the hypothesis, or that there does not seem to be a system, which would be a weakening of the hypothesis. The suspicion that there is no system, or single line of causes and effects, can be blamed on us not having the capability to understand the system, which might be infinitely more complex than anything we know. The Succession must be the most complex and comprehensive sequence or system in the universe, as it contains everything in the universe.

Because of the complexity of The Succession, and the fact that anything that exists must exist inside The Succession, it is impossible to predict the next result, and thus it is impossible to find out what The Succession will end in from within The Succession. From outside The Succession it might be possible that there exists something more complex than our succession, and this something might be able to go through the states of The Succession before The Succession does. However, there is no outside of The Succession, as The Succession is everything. If the universe is only “an immense, an uninterrupted succession of causes and effects,” and the world is controlled by strict rules that determines what the effects of different causes are, nothing can be controlled from within The Succession, and such we are not in control of anything, but everything is in control of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s