Delight Springs

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The dream begins

We begin this semester in CoPhi with Anthony Gottlieb's acclaimed Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. Last semester we did Bertrand Russell's History, so a bit of cross-referencing seems in order. Two storytellers are better than one, say we pluralists and CoPhilosophers. "Our intelligence cannot wall itself up alive, like a pupa in its chrysalis. It must at any cost keep on speaking terms with the universe that engendered it," said the author of A Pluralistic Universe. The way we stay on speaking terms is by speaking with one another, honestly, humbly, and (as Mr. Rosewater knows) kindly. That, again, is our "philosophy of co."

 Gottlieb's approach is avowedly journalistic, in the best sense: go straight to the primary source whenever possible, question everything, and be clear. All of that is easier said than done, especially (when exploring complicated ideas) clarity. But it's to Gottlieb's credit, as it was to Russell's, to make that a priority.  James's "stubborn effort to think clearly," and Russell's "unusually obstinate" description, may seem mere common sense. 

Image result for the thinkerBut common sense is itself often stubbornly, obstinately wrong. That's "the joke at the heart of philosophy" as it deliberately spurns conventional wisdom, in search of the real thing. Sometimes the joke's on us philosophers, sometimes on the commoners. But of course we all recur to common sense, and we all need to get better at putting it on the rack of critical scrutiny. We're all philosophers in embryo, but to grow into mature thinkers we need to learn when to trust our common inheritance and when to challenge it. We need to stand up from our respective Thinking Rocks and move, and converse, and think again - like the pair of peripatetics in the School of Athens.


Western science was created when the first (western) philosophers stopped settling for the "God(s) did it" non-explanation of things and went looking for natural causes. That led to enlightenment, of a sort, and to Gottlieb's next volume, The Dream of Enlightenment. Perhaps one or more of our reporters will enlighten us about it soon. It's on tap for next semester.

But today, our topic is bounded by these questions: What's your definition of "philosophy"? Do you have a favorite philosopher? Can you summarize your current, personal philosophy of life?

A glance back, to last August 24:

We're off, with Bertrand Russell's introductory chapter in his History. There we're cautioned against the "impertinent insolence towards the universe" of dogmatic theology, and directed instead to the gray space between certainty and paralysis that good philosophers occupy. Then we're told that the Stoics presaged Christianity, that Montaigne's "fruitful disorder" made him a representative man of his age, that Descartes' subjectivist inflation of ego as philosophic method was insanely contrary to common sense, and that every community must negotiate the extreme opposite dangers of either too stultifying a regard for tradition or too much personal independence.

Those are just a few of the countless sharp opinions Russell will deliver, with audacity and biting wit, in this narrative. Another: that philosophy occupies a No Man's Land between theology and science. So, we'll wonder: are no theologians or scientists philosophers? Is there more than one way to be a philosopher? Here I'll invoke Professor James's observation that we all have some implicit philosophy or other. For a No Man's Land, it's pretty crowded.

Other points to ponder, prompted by this chapter: Is there any higher duty than that to one's fellow humans? What do we owe the state, our contemporaries, our successors? In what specific ways should it matter to us that we're standing on a planet that's evolving and revolving, on a distant spiral arm of a relatively nondescript galaxy, one among trillions? Ought we ever to acknowledge the authority of any individual or institution, to settle matters of belief and conscience? (Good question to ask on the anniversary of the first edition of the Gutenberg Bible.)

Some students will become frustrated with all these questions. I'll happily suggest answers, and will not hesitate to advocate for my own. But the key takeaway today is that in philosophy the questions always outpace the answers, and we're okay with that. Love it, in fact.

5:30/6:57, 47/64, 4:58
Happy birthday to the creator of the Imagination Library, and the largest employer in Sevier County TN. (A bonus run to the student who today first tells me who that is.)

4 comments:

  1. 10- I suppose that philosophy in itself is a way of seeing the world through diverse, open minded thinking while questioning the status quo of current societal norms and beliefs. As of right now I do not have a favorite philosopher. My current standing on my personal philosophy on life would be that the two dates on either side of your gravestone is not what everyone will remember but it is the 'dash' in the middle that counts. So make the most of your Dash. Cheesy I know but quite true.

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  2. 10-Quiz Jan 24, 2017
    1.) What were Aristotle's followers called?
    - Peripatetics
    2.) Who said his mind only works with his legs?
    - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    3.) Whose mentor called walking 'gymnastics for the mind'?
    - Thoreau's mentor/landlord- Ralph Waldo Emerson said this.
    4,) Who had a 'Sand Walk'?
    - Charles Darwin
    5.) How much does the average American walk?
    - A mediocre 350 yards
    6.) Name a city with a Philosopher's Walk'.
    - Heidleberg

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  3. 10- Jan 26, 2017 Quiz 3
    1.) Who labeled the early 6th and 5th century philosophers 'pre-Socratics,' and what did they invent?
    - Historians of the 19th century considered 6th and 5th century philosophers as Pre-Socratics. These Pre-Socratics eventually invented the Archetypes of all later philosophers.
    2.) Aristotle said Milesians were the first what?
    - Milesians were the first 'Physici' or naturalists.
    3.) Why does Gottlieb say Thales was not simply silly to suggest that water is the origin and essence of everything? OR, what must we do in order to refute him?
    - Many things in life live in and use water to sustain life and it is all around us in various forms. In order to refute Thales of this claim we must reason with him.
    4.) What essential facet of scientific thinking did Anaximander's work exemplify?
    - Anaximander's work exemplified an additional and equally fundamental one. One in which science says there is more to the world than meets the eye.
    5.) What famous poetic image do we associate with Pythagoras?
    - Pythagoras is associated with the image 'music of the spheres'.
    6.)What was a good Pythagorean supposed to study?
    - He or she was supposed to study numbers, geometry, astrology, and music.
    7.) What did Bertrand Russell, echoing Pythagoras and Plato, consider the minds 'highest good'?
    - Bertrand considered the mind's highest good to be 'the love of wisdom' or 'Philosophy'. Particularly the studying of wisdom to understand the universe.
    8.) How does Gottlieb think Aristotle was unfair to the Pythagoreans in his interpretation of their claim that numbers are the principles of all things?
    - Gottlieb presumes that Aristotle may have been too literal-minded and talked down to his predecessors in a kindergarten style tone when they confronted him about the Pythagoreans insight to all things are made up of numbers.

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  4. 10- Jan 24, 2017 DQ
    1.) Would you like to have attended Aristotle's school, Plato's, neither, or both? Why?
    - With the current way the world was and not knowing what we now know today I would most likely have attended both Aristotle's and Plato's schools as I would have like to be apart of that community to contribute to the expansion of knowledge to help further our understanding of how things work and or came to be.
    2.) Do you consider yourself an active or a sedentary person, by preference? (If given a choice, on a lovely Fall day, would you rather stay in and play video games or go out for a walk/hike/run/bikeride/swim/etc.?)
    - It really depends on the day as I am indifferent on many things but given the question I would rather be active doing something instead of be stationary inside.
    3.)What's the most memorable outdoor experience you've ever had?
    - I would have to say participating in the 26.2 mile Bataan Death March Memorial while wearing a 60lb ruck sack back when I was in the Army was quite a memorable experience. Talk about a rough peripatetic nature walk but at the end was quite fulfilling and completely worth it.
    4.) Have you ever attempted to share your beliefs, convictions, core principles (etc.) in public? (If yes, would you say you did it in a spirit of evangelism and proselytizing, or in a philosophical way? What's the difference? And if no, why not?)
    - No not really, due to the fact that certain beliefs of mine aren't worth the possible grief, resentment, or drama that could ensue afterwards. as i'd prefer to keep a homeostatic relationship with those around me.
    5.) Are you a good listener? (Do you try to understand the points of view of those who disagree with your beliefs, or do you simply dismiss them as just wrong?)
    - I'd like to think that I am a good listener and seeing both points of view but that is opinion based so it would be best to ask those who have known me for a long time.
    6.) Do you agree that we live in a time of intolerance and incivility, when it comes to dissenting points of view?
    - If the presidential election hasn't clearly brought this question to light I don't know what will!

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