THE AMATEUR PHILOSOPHER
“For let me tell you, that the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation” Plato, The Republic
“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” Proverbs 18 Vs 4
“Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” “How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
Objectives of the Blog: The Amateur Philosopher
- To stimulate interest in philosophy, by posting excerpts from philosophers and making commentaries on them in relation to contemporary issues in the society. (This should provide insight on the philosophers beyond their famous quotes)
- To use objective discourse to improve society.
- To demonstrate that believe and love of God and philosophy are not mutually exclusive. (This is not a religious blog, however as a Christian, I will be making many references to the Bible which I am more familiar with, but if in the course of my research, I find suitable examples from other religions which will not offend any sensibilities, I will refer to them as well. Let me state however, that I do not research into mystical things and such will not be posted here)
I stumbled on philosophy by chance. I found it so sublime I wonder why no one seems to be really talking about it, at least not in my circles. I was checking out books on the internet when I came across The Republic by Plato. I had heard about the book, that it is a great book, but nothing about its contents. I had also heard the name Plato a lot, that he was a student of Socrates, but I had not heard much of what they actually said apart from their most popular quotes, one of which is “man, know thyself.” I decided to download this book, it was actually free… free!!! I was hooked from page one, I found it difficult to put down, I would close from work and hurry home to resume reading it, of course annoying my wife and son slightly as it seemed I was ignoring them. I found the the contents of The Republic sublime and astounding, the style artistic, and it seemed to have been customized for me. All my life I had been described as argumentative, and I was working seriously to stop getting into arguments. I agreed I had a problem, which was until I started reading Socrates. Everything was presented as dialogues, with every argument taken to the very end, which was what I had always wanted. He used simple language and everyday analogies to drive home his point, an attribute I had as well. It was a Eureka moment for me. What excited me further was that in The Republic, Socrates recommends youths should be exposed to philosophy only from the age of 35, I was 35! You can imagine my elation, hear the conversation between Socrates and Glaucon on this matter –
“Therefore, that your feelings may not be moved to pity about our citizens who are now thirty years of age, every care must be taken in introducing them to dialectic.
There is a danger lest they should taste the dear delight too early; for youngsters, as you may have observed, when they first get the taste in their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and refuting others in imitation of those who refute them; like puppy-dogs, they rejoice in pulling and tearing at all who come near them.”
“Yes, he said, there is nothing which they like better.
And when they have made many conquests and received defeats at the hands of many, they violently and speedily get into a way of not believing anything which they believed before, and hence, not only they, but philosophy and all that relates to it is apt to have a bad name with the rest of the world.
Too true, he said.”
“But when a man begins to get older, he will no longer be guilty of such insanity; he will imitate the dialectician who is seeking for truth, and not the eristic, who is contradicting for the sake of amusement; and the greater moderation of his character will increase instead of diminishing the honour of the pursuit.
Very true, he said.
And did we not make special provision for this, when we said that the disciples of philosophy were to be orderly and steadfast, not, as now, any chance aspirant or intruder?
Suppose, I said, the study of philosophy to take the place of gymnastics and to be continued diligently and earnestly and exclusively for twice the number of years which were passed in bodily exercise—will that be enough?
Would you say six or four years? He asked.”
“Say five years, I replied; at the end of the time they must be sent down again into the den and compelled to hold any military or other office which young men are qualified to hold: in this way they will get their experience of life, and there will be an opportunity of trying whether, when they are drawn all manner of ways by temptation, they will stand firm or flinch.” Plato, The Republic.
I realized my problem was not that I was too argumentative, but like many others I did not like to loose an argument. Most people will refuse to give in, even when presented with superior arguments, I wasn’t different neither were people in the time of Socrates, as in this example again from The Republic:
“Thrasymachus made all these admissions, not fluently, as I repeat them, but with extreme reluctance; it was a hot summer’s day, and the perspiration poured from him in torrents; and then I saw what I had never seen before, Thrasymachus blushing. As we were now agreed that justice was virtue and wisdom, and injustice vice and ignorance, I proceeded to another point.” Plato, The Republic
The key is to enjoy discourse and allow reason to prevail. I have read so many of his dialogues after The Republic and all have been awesome. I find myself recommending Socrates, especially The Republic to almost anyone I have a deep conversation with, hoping that they would also become “converted” as I was. I achieved little success, as whenever I followed up, almost none of them had read it. People have busy schedules, hustling and bustling to survive, those philosophy books can be very bulky, The Republic is 904 pages! Also, even the most interesting philosophy books have parts where the philosophers seem to veer off (perhaps we just don’t comprehend them, not that they actually veered off). So I decided after much doubts and inspiration from the most unlikely sources you could imagine to start this blog.
Quite a number of people I have spoken to about philosophy had a negative perspective of the subject. Perhaps because I live in a very religious society with the main religions believing in one Supreme God; but many philosophers are either atheists, refer to several gods or outrightly condemn religion. This is what Lucretius, a Roman philosopher and poet had to say about religion:
“One thing I am concerned about: you might, as you commence
Philosophy, decide you see impiety therein,
And that the path you enter is the avenue to sin.
More often on the contrary, it is Religion breeds
Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds,
As when the leaders of the Greeks, those peerless peers, defiled
The virgin’s altar with the blood of Agamemnon’s child,
Iphigenia. As soon as they bound the fillet round her hair
So that it’s ends streamed down her cheeks, the girl became aware
That waiting at the temple for her there would be no groom-
Instead she saw her father with a countenance of gloom
Attended by priests who kept the blade well hid. The sight
Of people shedding tears to see her froze her tongue with fright.
She sank to the ground on her knees. It did not mean a thing
For the princess now, that she had been the first to give the king
The name of Father. No, for shaking, the poor girl was carried
By the hands of men up to the altar, not that she be married
With solemn ceremony, to the accompanying strain
Of loud-sung bridal hymns, but as a maiden, pure of stain,
To be impurely slaughtered, at the age when she should wed,
Sorrowful sacrifice slain at her father’s hand instead.
All this for fair and favorable winds to sail the fleet along! –
So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong.” Lucretius, The Nature of Things (as translated by A. E. Stallings)
Such scathing criticism of religion by philosophers may be a plausible explanation, for why many view philosophy as impious, as Lucretius himself worried about; or perhaps people find philosophy obsolete with the advancement in science and technology? All these form the basis of the objectives of this blog. While this is not a religious blog, one of the objectives is deeply rooted on religious principles, this is because I believe it to be true. I find many of the philosophers struggling to explain issues that have been explained in the Bible, or are in agreement with the Bible. For example, the Epicurean teaching that death should not be feared is what religion teaches those who adhere to it, Jesus Christ Himself preached that death is not to be feared, but not for the same reasons as the Epicureans; according to Christ there is eternal life, according to the Epicurean philosophers there was nothing after death thus nothing to fear. Such similarities will be highlighted and discussed in greater detail later. For those with such reservations, they should be assured by the fact that great philosophers like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Hippo, were not only religious but had tremendous impact of current day religion; there will be more details on their philosophy as we proceed on this journey together.
As the name of this blog implies, I consider myself not a philosopher (as the title seems too lofty for me to claim, assuming I even know what it means to be a philosopher), but as someone who loves to read philosophy. Again, hear Socrates
“Why, that all those mercenary individuals, whom the many call Sophists and whom they deem to be their adversaries, do, in fact, teach nothing but the opinion of the many, that is to say, the opinions of their assemblies; and this is their wisdom. I might compare them to a man who should study the tempers and desires of a mighty strong beast who is fed by him—he would learn how to approach and handle him, also at what times and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what is the meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when another utters them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may suppose further, that when, by continually attending upon him, he has become perfect in all this, he calls his knowledge wisdom, and makes of it a system or art, which he proceeds to teach, although he has no real notion of what he means by the principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls this honourable and that dishonourable, or good or evil, or just or unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the great brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast delights and evil to be that which he dislikes; and he can give no other account of them except that the just and noble are the necessary, having never himself seen, and having no power of explaining to others the nature of either, or the difference between them, which is immense. By heaven, would not such an one be a rare educator?” Plato, The Republic