The Cult of Mary by yG72wS5

VIEWS: 1 PAGES: 9

									The Story of Philosophy

In my last lecture I tried to tell you the modern scientific story as
giving support to the ancient idea that philosophy begins in
wonder. Today I want to remind you that philosophy is also a story
and my job this year is to tell you this story. We tend to think that
Alan is the storyteller in our group, but in truth we all have a story
to share. My story is based on the search for the meaning or, in
other words, the search for wisdom. Philosophy is, after all, the
search for wisdom and it is wisdom that our world so desperately
needs. Is that true? Is it wisdom we need? Don’t we rather need
love and compassion? But then that might be one definition of
wisdom - the knowledge of how to love. “To be a philosopher, said
Thoreau, is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a
school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a
life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust” (Durant,
The Story of Philosophy, p. 1). The story of philosophy, then,
could be also the story of the search for happiness.

Outline of the Story

I said I had a story to tell. There is a wonderful story here. As Tom
reminds us, we go from Plato to NATO and we cover a lot of
territory. The search for wisdom has embraced all of the forms of
knowledge from the sublime to the ridiculous. Richard Tarnas
writes in his masterful history of philosophy, The Passion of the
Western Mind: “The history of Western culture has long seemed to
possess the dynamics, scope, and beauty of a great epic drama:
ancient and classical Greece, the Hellenistic era and Imperial
Rome, Judaism and the rise of Christianity, the Catholic Church
and the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Reformation, and Scientific
Revolution, the Enlightenment and Romanticism and onward to
our own compelling time” (Tarnas, pp. xiii-xiv). We will cover it
all! “Sweep and grandeur, dramatic conflicts and astonishing
revolutions have marked the Western mind’s sustained attempt to

                                  1
comprehend the nature of reality - from Thales and Pythagoras to
Plato and Aristotle, from Clement and Boethius to Aquinas and
Ockham, from Ptolemy to Copernicus and Newton, from bacon
and Descartes to Kant and Hegel, and from all of these to Darwin,
Einstein, and Freud…” (Tarnas, p. xiv). From Emerson and
Thoreau to William James and John Dewey, from Thomas Merton
to Jacob Needleman to Ken Wilber today “that long battle of ideas
called ‘the Western tradition’ has been a stirring adventure whose
sum and consequence we all bear within ourselves. An epic
heroism has shone forth in the personal struggles of Socrates, of
Paul and Augustine, of Luther and Galileo, and in that larger
cultural struggle, borne by these and by many less visible
protagonists, which has moved the West on its extraordinary
course. There is high tragedy here. And there is something beyond
tragedy” (Tarnas, p. xiv). It is that something else beyond tragedy
that I am interested in.

Is there hope for our future? It seems so doubtful at times. And
yet… there is much evidence beginning to surface that there is a
change coming that is desperately needed. The question for me is
not whether the change is possible. I have seen it in a number of
people and mentors to convince me it is real. The question is
whether enough people can change in time or not? Can we find
enough people interested in wisdom, a wisdom that becomes love
in action? Tarnas: “I believe we can participate intelligently in that
transformation only to the extent to which we are historically
informed. Every age must remember its history anew. Each
generation must examine and think through again, from its own
distinct vantage point, the ideas that have shaped its understanding
of the world” (Tarnas, p. xiv). It is amazing to me how conditioned
we are by the world we grow up in. part of becoming a wise and
free person is becoming aware of this conditioning by
understanding its source. One important reason why studying the
world of ideas is so critical is because it serves two purposes. It
allows us to put our own background into context and it challenges

                                  2
us to see the world from new perspectives. What more could you
ask of a class and program such as this one?

What does the story of philosophy require from us? “It invites a
certain intellectual flexibility” (Tarnas, p. 1). I like this term
“intellectual flexibility” because it becomes a challenge to see if
we can do it or not! Is it possible to study the world of the past
without condemning it from our modern (or even post-modern)
perspective? In other words, how do we find the wisdom in the
past when we know that philosophers were wrong about so many
things? We need to cultivate “a capacity for viewing the world
through the eyes of men and women from other times. One must in
a sense wipe the slate clean, attempt to see things without the
benefit or burden of a preconceived outlook. …Unless we are able
to perceive and articulate, on their own terms and without
condescension, certain powerful beliefs and assumptions that we
no longer consider valid or defensible - for example, the once
universal conviction that the Earth is the stationary center of the
cosmos - then we fail to understand the intellectual and cultural
foundations of our own thought” (Tarnas, p. 1). Some people find
this really difficult, but I kind of like trying to do this. It is not so
hard to think of the world as flat or stationary because that is the
way it feels to me today! I still speak of the sunrise and the sunset
rather than the planet turning. My goal is to present each
philosophy in such a light that you will think it’s the best one - but
only until we get to the next one! The goal is not to buy into any
one specific view but to celebrate them all.

Our story of philosophy will really take on its own life in unit 3. “It
was some twenty-five centuries ago that the Hellenic world
brought forth that extraordinary flowering of culture that marked
the dawn of Western civilization” (Tarnas, p. 2). We know they
were influenced by the even older civilizations of Sumer and
Egypt, but to what extent is still being argued in academic circles.
What did Plato, for example, learn on his journey in Egypt? We

                                    3
just don’t know. However, once we get to Greece, it is easier to
pick up the story and watch the influences. “Endowed with
seemingly primeval clarity and creativity, the ancient Greeks
provided the Western mind with what has proved to be a perennial
source of insight, inspiration, and renewal. Modern science,
medieval theology, and classical humanism - all stand deeply in
their debt. Greek thought was a fundamental for Copernicus and
Kepler, and Augustine and Aquinas, as for Cicero and Petrarch.
Our way of thinking is still profoundly Greek in its underlying
logic, so much so that before we can begin to grasp the character of
our own thought, we must first look closely at that of the Greeks.
They remain fundamental to us in other ways as well: Curious,
innovative, critical, intensely engaged with life and with death,
searching for order and meaning yet skeptical of conventional
verities, the Greeks were originators of intellectual values as
relevant today as they were in the fifth century B.C.” (Tarnas, p.
2). In coming to terms with our own personal idiosyncrasies it is
sometimes helpful to understand the influences of our early life
when things happened to us before we had the ability to reason
about them and understand them. So it is with our culture. e need
to go to the root of some of our beliefs and viewpoints and a study
of philosophy is one of the ways to do so. As we come to
understand we often fall in love with the wisdom that sets us free.

Celebration of the Story

Will Durant writes in his wonderful book The Story of Philosophy:
“We may be sure that if we can but find wisdom, all things else
will be added unto us. ‘Seek ye first the good things of the mind,’
Bacon admonishes us, ‘and the rest will either be supplied or its
loss will not be felt.’ Truth will not make us rich, but it will make
us free” (Durant, p. 1). Freedom and happiness are closely
connected and we will see throughout this yearlong story that
philosophers are seeking to understand such important concepts as
freedom and happiness. What does it mean to be free? Can we be

                                  4
free in our ordinary state? The Dalai Lama teaches, as does our
mentor Socrates, that all people want happiness. One can only
wonder, then, why so few seem to find it? Is it really such a
difficult thing? What is happiness? Is it simply freedom from
suffering, as Epicurus will teach us? Is it aligning ourselves with
the Logos - Nature - as Marcus Aurelius will teach us? This
question will have to be pursued!

This is when some skeptical Gentrainers needs to object: But…
“Philosophy is as useless as chess and as obscure as ignorance.
‘There is nothing so absurd,’ says Cicero, ‘but that it may be found
in the books of the philosophers.’ Doubtless some philosophers
have had all sorts of wisdom except common sense; and many a
philosophic flight has been due to the elevating power of thin air”
(Durant, p. 2). But this is true of any field and so my task is easy
because we only have time to focus on the most brilliant minds.
Literature is full of books that will never be heard of again. But
that does not make literature and the pursuit of good writing and
good stories wrong. So with philosophy, there are many dead ends
and many demented philosophers, but that does not make the love
of wisdom a waste of time.

Durant writes: “But is philosophy stagnant? Science seems always
to advance, while philosophy seems always to lose ground. Yet
this is only because philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous
task of dealing with problems not yet open to the methods of
science - problems like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order
and freedom, life and death. So soon as a field of inquiry yields
knowledge susceptible of exact formulation it is called science.
Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in
hypothesis and flows into achievement. Philosophy is a
hypothetical interpretation of the unknown (metaphysics), or of the
inexactly known (as in ethics or political philosophy); it is the front
trench in the siege of truth. Science is the captured territory; and
behind it are those secure regions in which knowledge and art

                                   5
build our imperfect and marvelous world. Philosophy seems to
stand still, perplexed; but only because she leaves the fruits of
victory to her daughters the sciences, and herself passes on,
divinely discontent, to the uncertain and unexplored” (Durant, p.
2). Science and philosophy sometimes seem worlds apart, but
actually they have a long and shared search for truth. Scientists
used to be called natural philosophers, and we still see remnants of
this in Ph. D. degrees that are actually doctorates in philosophy
even though philosophy may never have been studied. The cutting
edge of science is once again very philosophical rather than
pragmatic. The discoveries of modern physics about the nature of
reality (“not only is it weirder than we thought. It is weirder than
we can think!”), and neuroscience concerning the nature of
consciousness are challenging modern philosophy in ways that still
have to be worked out. It is an exciting time to be a philosopher
because the nature of our understanding of the world is being
turned upside down and inside out.

So let us explore the nature of science and philosophy a little more.
Durant continues: “Science is analytical description, philosophy is
synthetic interpretation. Science wishes to resolve the whole into
parts, the organism into organs, the obscure into the known. It does
not inquire into the values and ideal possibilities of things, nor into
their total and final significance; it is content to show their present
actuality and operation, it narrows its gaze resolutely to the nature
and process of things as they are. …But the philosopher is not
content to describe the fact; she wishes to ascertain its relation to
experience in general, and thereby to get at its meaning and its
worth; she combines things in interpretive synthesis; she tries to
put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which
the inquisitive scientist has analytically taken apart. Science tells
us how to heal and how to kill; but only wisdom can tell us when
to heal and when to kill. To observe processes and to construct
means is science; to criticize and coordinate ends is philosophy:
and because in these days our means and instruments have

                                   6
multiplied beyond our interpretation and synthesis of ideals and
ends, our life is filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.
…Science without philosophy, facts without perspective and
valuation, cannot save us from havoc and despair. Science gives us
knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom” (Durant, pp.
2-3). My interest in each school of philosophy and in each
philosopher we study is in finding this desperately needed wisdom.
As we will see the wisdom is often found within when we learn
how to question what we understand about the world and our own
identity. Wisdom comes from this deep opening that is promoted
through the action of inquiry - deep philosophical questioning.
Socrates will be our midwife, but we will see that all of the truly
great thinkers come to this in one way or another.

Philosophy is very personal for me. The ancient meaning of
philosophy was not simply to engage in intellectual mind games;
rather it was to embrace a way of life. Durant continues: “We shall
spend our time [this year] with the saints and martyrs of thought,
letting their radiant spirit play about us until perhaps we too, in
some measure, shall partake of what Leonardo called ‘the noblest
pleasure, the joy of understanding.’ Each of these philosophers has
some lesson for us, if we approach him properly. ‘Do you know,’
asks Emerson, ‘the secret of the true scholar? In every man there is
something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil.’
Well, surely we may take this attitude to the master minds of
history without hurt to our pride! And we may flatter ourselves
with that other thought of Emerson’s, that when genius speaks to
us we feel a ghostly reminiscence of having ourselves, in our
distant youth, had vaguely this self-same thought which genius
now speaks, but which we had not the art or courage to clothe with
form and utterance. And indeed, great men speak to us only so far
as we have ears and souls to hear them; only so far as we have in
us the roots, at least, of that which flowers out in them. We too
have had the experiences they had, but we did not suck those
experiences dry of their secret and subtle meanings: we were not

                                 7
sensitive to the overtones of the reality that hummed about us.
Genius hears the overtones, and the music of the spheres; genius
knows what Pythagoras meant when he said that philosophy is the
highest music” (Durant, pp. 3-4). Isn’t that beautiful” “Philosophy
is the highest music.” I just love that!

What did Emerson mean? What in us recognizes the truth? I hear
something and I often reject it or accept it rather quickly. Perhaps
too quickly. We will see that there is an important place for
skepticism and agnosticism in philosophy. But right now I want to
get to this part of us that recognizes truth when we hear it or see it.
For me it is an almost physical sensation of euphoria! I told you it
was personal for me! I have learned to sense truth in my body and
feel it in my emotions as much as recognize it in my mind and
thoughts. Something in me rejoices when I hear what seems to be
truth. It is almost like we have a real hunger and thirst for wisdom
and it is a wonderful feeling when these are satisfied.

But still, what is it in us that can recognize truth and say yes to
wisdom? Socrates said he was a midwife because all he did was
assist in the birth of a truth that was already in us. That is our first
clue. Plato will teach that knowledge and wisdom are but a
remembering of what we already know. That is another clue that I
find very intriguing. It interests me because this is often the way
truth feels, as if it was called out of me rather than placed in me. It
will be an interesting task for you to try to notice this in yourselves
as the year passes. What in you responds to the call of truth and
wisdom?

Summary

It is all too easy to despise philosophy or any subject due to our
focus on its human carriers and teachers. But let us not get stuck
there. One thing that seems clear to me is the philosophy is larger
than any of its adherents or proponents. Durant: “Do you then be

                                   8
reasonable, said old Socrates to Crito, and do not mind whether the
teachers of philosophy are good or bad, but think only of
Philosophy herself. Try to examine her well and truly; and if she
be evil, seek to turn away all men from her; but if she be what I
believe she is, then follow her and serve her, and be of good cheer”
(Durant, p. 4). I think this will be my motto this year: to follow
wisdom, to love her and serve her, and to be of good cheer. I hope
you will all enjoy the story as much as I do!




                                 9

								
To top