AZspot

blue bits. red rocks.

philosophy

As objects of our own and other’s perceptions, we belong to the world of the not quite real. Under certain circumstances, though, human beings can move into modes of nonordinary perception in which the presence of the underlying reality stops being a theory and becomes an experience, and when this happens a great many of the puzzles and perplexities of human existence suddenly start making sense. There’s a certain irony in the fact that in ancient Greek culture, the philosophical movement that came to embody this approach to the world took its name from a man named Aristocles, whose very broad shoulders gave him the nickname Plato. That’s ironic because Plato was a transitional figure; behind him stood a long line of Orphic and Pythagorean mystics, whose insights he tried to put into rational form, not always successfully; after him came an even longer line of thinkers, the Neoplatonists, who completed the job he started and worked out a coherent philosophy that relates the world of reality to the world of appearance through the lens of human consciousness. The Gray Light of Morning

The argument against philosophy implicit in all this is relatively obvious. Whereas the philosophical schools insisted that each man work out his own salvation in fear and trembling, Paul affirms that God has already accomplished our salvation for us. The Good does not remain infinitely far off, attained only through extreme ascetic living and a rupture from all that is human and earthly, as in the case of Plotinus. No, the Good has come to us, has become a human Itself, and has sanctified humanity for us. Paul’s point, moreover, is that the Christian’s mind ought to be focused on what Christ has accomplished, and on what is hers in Christ, rather than on herself. There is a difference of mental orientation. Whereas the philosophers said to Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can (Seneca, Epistolae morales ad Lucilium I, 7), Paul says, Turn and see what is already yours in Christ! Don’t be taken captive by philosophy

We must all wear out or rust out, everyone of us. My choice is to wear out. Theodore Roosevelt

…someone who regularly appears on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, and has had the privilege of remaking Carl Sagan’s iconic Cosmos series — in short someone who is a public intellectual and advocate for science — really ought to do better than to take what amounts to anti-intellectual (and illiterate) positions about another field of scholarship. Neil deGrasse Tyson and the value of philosophy

Our mood is also frequently affected by who and what we are implicitly comparing ourselves with. And though we’re not generally clear what our comparison points are (we build them up unconsciously and don’t take the opportunity to question them often enough), we are prone to comparisons that are deeply unfair to our achievements and strengths. Much of the problem comes down to our images of what is ‘normal’ – distributed through society by the media. Take someone who might be deeply dissatisfied with their appearance on the basis of the models they have seen. But the beauty of models is as rare as the violence of mass murderers. The problem is, we tend to think there are far more murders than there are. Three stories of stabbings in a week make it feel as if everyone is knifing everyone else. We have to remind ourselves that, though people do get stabbed and some have perfect faces, these things are extraordinarily rare. We recognise symptoms of panic when the frequency of bad things is exaggerated. We don’t yet recognise the dissatisfaction that arises when the frequency of very attractive things (superlative relationships, careers, bodies) is overplayed. We grow ungrateful because we are, among other things, very poor statisticians. The philosophers’ guide to gratitude

In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices. Epictetus

It is, of course, this biblical understanding of man that has become the predominant understanding today, having overturned and replaced the Greco-Roman vision seen in the ideas of Aristotle. From such a perch, it is difficult to sympathize with the misogynistic and ethnocentric views of Aristotle which would exclude the greater portion of the human species from participation in full humanity. In spite of Aristotle’s bias for the status quo, however, a bias that is shared nearly universally by all but a small and great minority of remarkable thinkers, Aristotle’s efforts in setting out a definition of humanity are a worthy, even if tentative, first step in the direction that would finally culminate in a complete and universal vision of humanity. This vision is perhaps better expressed nowhere than in the founding document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, which states, in a manner borrowed from the Greek philosophy of which Aristotle is one of the most outstanding examples, that it is “self-evident, that all men are created equal, [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This is the vision of man, a synthesis of the Greco-Roman and the biblical, that has become the basic modern assumption about the definition of humanity in the modern day. What is a human being?

Frankly, the remedies Marx proposed for the ills of the world now sound a bit demented. He thought we should abolish private property. People should not be allowed to own things. At certain moments one can sympathise. But it’s like wanting to ban gossip or forbid watching television. It’s going to war with human behaviour. And Marx believed the world would be put to rights by a dictatorship of the proletariat; which does not mean anything much today. You are a Marxist – but don’t worry

If Plato were to come back today I think he would have a lot to say about so many things but crowdsourcing would be of great interest to him. He’s quite interested in this idea, but he’s very down on it. He’s very much against it because, you know, he doesn’t – he didn’t have much faith in the ethical opinions of the masses. He thought that ethics was a kind of knowledge that is extremely hard to attain. He’s right. Rebecca Goldstein

A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not believe in what exists. Albert Camus

The divergent Greek and Hebrew approaches went into the mix that is Western culture, often clashing but sometimes also tempering one another. Over the centuries, philosophy, perhaps aided by religion, learned to abandon entirely the flawed Greek presumption that only extraordinary lives matter. This was progress of the philosophical variety, subtler than the dazzling triumphs of science, but nevertheless real. Philosophy has laboriously put forth arguments that have ever widened the sphere of mattering. It was natural for the Greeks to exclude their women and slaves, not to mention non-Greeks, whom they dubbed barbarians. Such exclusions are unthinkable to us now. Being inertial creatures, we required rigorous and oft-repeated arguments that spearheaded social movements that resulted, at long last, in the once quixotic declaration of human rights. We’ve come a long way from the kleos of Greeks, with its unexamined presumption that mattering is inequitably distributed among us, with the multireplicated among us mattering more. What Would Plato Tweet?

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato

All the time you live you steal from life; living is at life’s expense. The constant work of your life is to build death. You are in death while you are in life, for you are after death when you are no longer in life. Or, if you prefer it this way, you are dead after life, but during life you are dying; and death affects the dying much more roughly than the dead, and more keenly and essentially. Michel de Montaigne

A GNT creation ©2007–2014