The UM Philosophy Society Blog

Friday, August 27, 2004

I Get It Too... Sort of.

A bit on how my understanding of philosophy and life has developed, especially since emerging from philosophical studies - by Justin Whitaker

It has amazed me a bit that now that I'm done (sort of) with my Philosophy degree, things seem to be making more sense on a global level. I also have a feeling that I will need to come back to Philosophy (I'm taking a 10 month hiatus for an MA in Buddhist Studies and maybe on to a Ph.D. to follow that) if this new sense is to be made into anything concrete in the world of Philosophy.

It reminds me of the scene in the movie Pi where Max visits his older friend, telling him that he's on the brink of something. His friend sees his manic gestures and tells him to relax - He told him the story of Archimedes, the great Greek mathematician. In the story Archimedes is asked by King Hiero II to determine whether a crown he has is real gold. Archimedes trys everything he can think of, for hours, days he examines the crown and assorted metals - he simply cannot find a definitive difference. Finally, his wife sees him and orders him to relax and draws him a bath. As Archimedes sank into the water he noticed that his body caused displacement, sending the water over the edges. This was the insight Archimedes needed to see that the crown should not only weigh its worth in gold but also displace the same volume as equal weight of gold would. He was so exited he ran through the streets naked the King's palace naked screaming "Eureka" which means "I've found it." He needed perspective!

So, too, we philosophers need perspective. After being face to face with this theory and that, this great philosopher and that one - stepping back we see the connections. Too often we choose one theory, one philosopher and say, "ahh.. this is correct, the others are all wrong." Then we can stare, cheek to cheek with other admirers, and revel in the greatness of some thought. But to those with perspective we are nit-wits, as idiotic as the next group of narrow-visioned zealots.

Of course it doesn't help to simply say, "I have perspective" as a way to avoid looking closely, either! A murky understanding of it all is no better than a great understanding of but a little. Like the Gestalt image of two faces/a vase (or goblet). .

We must see each image (within/close up), and see the Truth of the whole image. Perhaps a piece on the Zen Koan is in order... another day. - Justin


At August 27, 2004 at 2:59 PM, Blogger Ali Tabibnejad said...

Indeed, there is truth to be touched at every corner. Socrates himself, even having realized that he was the wisest percisely because he knew nothing, was legitimately accused by Nietzsche as being a cyclops. It was his notion of wisdom itself that was extremely narrow.

At August 31, 2004 at 11:18 PM, Blogger The UM Philosophy Society Blog said...

Ali - Your mention of Socrates and Nietzsche, two polar figures , and my current work with Marcuse, brings up an interesting point. Marcuse, like others in the Frankfurt School, saw 'Truth', like 'Wisdom', as a historical variant. Such terms need to be understood within a certain socio-historical context.

Socrates' wisdom is perhaps narrow to modern standards, but in his own time, maybe an argument could be made that he embodied complete wisdom (if such a thing exists). The part he was most deficient in, in Nietzsche's attack, was the Dionysian 'wine, women, and song' side of wisdom. However, his relationships with Athenian men, Alcibiades among them (remember the Symposium), his service in the Athenian military, and his outgrowth of a family life all suggest that he want just *an ugly thinker*. He lived a very full life, I suspect, but his philosophy, through Plato, reflects that portion of his life he felt worth passing on: the rational, Apollonian side. So we see him as only this one-sided figure, but perhaps this is wrong.

Likewise, our own judgment of Socrates is based on our own socio-historical situation. I think it best to love him for what he has given us, love Nietzsche likewise, and strive to determine what 'Wisdom' truly is TODAY. -- Justin Whitaker


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