One of the strange things that happened in the world of philosophy after the Greeks was that it really did seem to go nowhere. At least it went nowhere in terms of major contributions. Sure there were many schools that were off-shoots from the Greek big guns. There were small groups that followed there are own ideas about the world and the need for pleasure above all else. Then came the Church and Christendom.|
After Christ the ‘word’ of God spread westwards through the beginning of the first millennia and the Dark Ages. The key figures of philosophy during this time were arguably St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I don’t want to dwell on these two long but I do want to look at them both briefly.
The key defining point of all philosophy during the Dark Ages and Medieval Period stemmed around that of Christianity. Everyone during this period took it as granted that Christianity was the final and absolute truth to existence. The question therefore that looked at was whether it was possible to approach the Christian Truth with the use of reason? In what way could the Greeks be related to what the Bible said? Are belief and knowledge compatible, or better still can the Bible sit in a non-contradictory position to reason?
St. Augustine was the first of these philosophers. Augustine lived from 354 to 430AD during the period from late antiquity into the Middle Ages. Although he was finally a Christian, Augustine studied many different religions and ideas in his lifetime. For a time he was a Manchian, whose doctrine was half religion and half philosophy. They assert that the world consisted of a dualism between good and evil, light and dark, spirit and matter. Augustine was however preoccupied with what he called ‘the problem of evil’, and his principle learning was that of Platonic thought.
Although it may seem strange, Augustine believed that there was no contradiction between Platonic thought and that of the Bible. He pointed out that there were limits to the length reason could go in answering questions of religion. Augustine unlike the Greeks believed in the notion that God had created the world from the void. However, he also argued that before God created the world, the ‘ideas’ were in the Divine mind. So what he did essentially was locate the key notion of the world of immutable ideas with the world of God and preserved the Platonic view of the world. In this way Augustine ‘christianised’ Plato.
This is pretty much how the view of philosophy combined with the Church went through the Medieval Period. Plato was assimilated by the Church and his thought was able to continue in line with that of the Bible and the notion of God. It was not until the time of Thomas Aquinas that the ideas of the other great Greek, Aristotle, were brought into line with the Church.
Thomas Aquinas lived from 1225 to 1274. He came from the little town of Aquino, between Rome and Naples, and taught at the University of Paris. In honesty he was more a theologian more than a philosopher, but he still considered a key player in the history of ideas. Aquinas is considered this was because he realized that Aristotle’s thought had to have a place in the world, specifically the world of science. Arguably he created the great synthesis between faith and knowledge.
Aquinas believed that there need not be a conflict between reason and faith. For Aquinas faith and philosophy often say the same thing. So we can frequently reason ourselves to the same truths that we can read in the Bible. Aquinas argued that there were, existing in the world, a number of ‘natural theological truths’. By this he meant truths that could be reached both through the Christian faith and through reason. For example, the truth that there is a God. Aquinas said that this could be found through faith and the Christian Revelation or it could be found through reason and the use of the senses. This example may seem odd, but if we look at what Aquinas meant it becomes clearer.
Aquinas saw that Aristotle’s philosophy only went part of the way down the rode of reason towards proving there was a God. The reason for this seemed simple to Aquinas. Aristotle did not know of the Christian Revelation. Only going part of the way is not in itself wrong Aquinas argued. A good example of this would be as follows. It is not wrong to say Paris is in Europe, but nor is it particularly precise. This was how Aquinas saw Aristotle, and was also how Aquinas showed that what Aristotle tells us through his philosophy is not in conflict with the Christian Revelation or faith. And let us not forget that Aristotle’s thought also made the assumption that there was a God in his formal cause. This was how Aristotle became ‘christianised’ by Thomas Aquinas.
The most important part of this period of philosophy is not that new ideas about the way the world worked were found, but how Augustine and Aquinas successfully built a bridge between the new faith and the old ideas. Without them the ideas may have become lost to antiquity.
As has been typical thus far, we go to the next great pupil in the line of the Greeks. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was a student of Plato, and studied at his Academy in Athens for some twenty years. Unlike his predecessors, he was a not a native Athenian and was in fact born in Macedonia to a father that was a physician. The last of the great Greek philosophers, Aristotle’s work can be justifiably seen as the foundation and grounding of the world of science as we know it today. His work differed sharply from Plato’s in that he was not concerned and preoccupied as Plato was in the internal forms or ideas of the natural world. Both Aristotle and Plato agreed that the world was changing, but whilst Plato was concerned with the elements that did not change, Aristotle took the alternative line and looked at the natural processes directly, and what their changes were.
I guess one could say that while Plato wanted to close his eyes and see the immutable world of ideas and escape from his cave, Aristotle was the one that wanted to stay in the cave and analyze the things he found there. Plato wanted to rely on reason alone, whilst Aristotle wanted to rely on his senses. It was therefore Aristotle that brought the world the idea of modern science, he was the one that categorized things and devised the terminology that many scientists still use today. Aristotle, whilst studying the natural processes of the world also worked on his own philosophy to reject that of Plato’s and the forms.
Aristotle argued that Plato was wrong, that there were no innate, immutable ideas. If you remember, for Plato, ideas were something that existed independently and immutably outside of the natural world. For Plato the ‘idea’ of chicken came before both the chicken and the egg. Aristotle argued against this. He said that whilst the form of say, a dog, is in someway immutable, the idea of dog is merely a concept; a concept that is based squarely on a number of experiences in which one has seen a dog. Thus the idea or form of dog had no existence independent and its own for Aristotle. It was something that existed as the result of experience. The form was in someway immutable in that it defined certain characteristics that we say a dog has.
This is essentially Aristotle's argument against Plato’s theory of ideas . Aristotle did not believe that there was, somewhere, an immutable mold for the dog. He believed that the form was within the dog in its features, and also in all things. He argued that Plato was trapped in the world of the mind. Aristotle argued that nothing could exist in consciousness without first being experienced by the sense. In comparison, Plato would have said that there is nothing in the natural world that has not first existed in the world of ideas.
So Aristotle argued that we have no innate ideas. That we start blank and fill up with ideas as we experience the world. He did however say that we have innate reason. That is, we have the innate capacity to think and categorize the phenomena in the natural world that we see. For example: ‘stone’, ‘plant’, ‘human’. But our reason is completely empty until we have actually experienced something.
From this standpoint of refuting Plato, Aristotle was able to develop his own philosophy and theory of the world. For Aristotle the world was made up of two things, ‘substance’ and ‘form’. Substance being what things are made of, and form being that things characteristics. So a dog say has the characteristic of wagging its tale, and therefore that is part of its form, whilst once it dies, its form no longer exists and all that is its substance.
As I said before, Aristotle was also concerned with how the world changed. Aristotle believed that everything that is substance has the potentiality to be a specific form. Thus every change in nature, Aristotle said, was the transformation of substance from its potential to its actual.
An example of this can be seen in the chicken and the egg. Every chicken’s egg has the potential to become a chicken. Now, it’s true to say that not all eggs actually achieve that potential, as they end up in a frying pan, etc. However, it is true to say that a chicken’s egg cannot ever become a goose. It can only ever achieve its potential. This potential and actual does not apply to living things for Aristotle. It can also apply to things like rocks. If you throw a rock high into the air, its potential is that it will, and does fall to the ground. This potential is what Aristotle saw as immutable. An acorn would always grow into an oak tree and never into, say, a Ferrari. This is what is known as the telos of a substance. The potentiality is the telos, or the end of goal-making process. This argument of teleogy also held throughout much of Greek society at the time. If you were born to a father that was a cobbler then you would also be a cobbler. Nothing can exceed, or deviate from its potential.
Whilst Aristotle dealt with the reality of things as he perceived them, there was also the matter of dealing with the question of why. Aristotle approached this question by looking at causality. He argued that there were four causes of things, and that the most important was what he called the ‘final cause’. If we take the example of rain we can see these four causes. First there is the ‘material’ cause of rain, in that there was moisture in the air. Next there is the ‘efficient cause’ which is the action of that moisture cooling. The third cause is the ‘formal cause’, this being that the nature or form of water is to fall to the ground. Finally, Aristotle added the ‘final cause’, which was essentially a thing's purpose. In the case of rain it would be that plants and animal and living things need the rain to survive.
It is arguable to say that this is one place where Aristotle differs from today’s world when looking at nature. For Aristotle water, and in the case of the example rain, has a purpose. That purpose is to sustain life. For Aristotle all natural things had a purpose. Today, however, we would probably say that water is a necessity for life, rather than saying that water's purpose is to provide us with life.
If you remember, I mentioned that Aristotle categorized things. This stemmed from Aristotle’s view of logic. By this I mean that he studied things and placed them all within a framework of categories and sub-categories, particular things related to biology. It is in this that we see one of Aristotle’s great achievements left to science, and still used today. Aristotle argued that each and every thing has a logical place within a category. Animal, vegetable or mineral is a prime example of this. All things fall into a category, or at least a sub-category of something else. We put books on bookshelves; we put underwear in one drawer, shirts in another, and so on and so forth. Aristotle saw that this logical methodology was a key to understanding nature and all things around us.
Finally, I think it’s important to look at Aristotle’s view of politics (after all, a column from sp00ky would not be complete without politics would it?). Aristotle famously stated that man is by his nature a ‘political animal’. Political in the sense that he will play and dabble with power each and every day in his life during his interactions with people, be they in responsible office or simply the political relationship between a father and son. For Aristotle, man is nothing without a society around him, for that is what makes him what he is. Therefore the highest form of human fellowship can be found in the form of the state. The question for Aristotle was what form that state would take, or what characteristics it would have. Aristotle described three very brief types of constitution that were good, but Aristotle also warned that each of these had negative aspects which ought to be avoided.
The first was monarchy or kingship, a system in which there is only one head of state. In order for this form of constitution to remain good, Aristotle argued, it must avoid falling into tyranny. The second form was aristocracy, similarly to monarchy, it was important for this form to avoid becoming oligarchy in order to remain a good form of state. A good example of oligarchy can be seen in the likes of the former ‘junta’ in Argentina. The final and third form of state for Aristotle was polity, or what we might call democracy. The negative aspect to be avoided here for Aristotle was that of ‘mob rule’, or what one later philosopher would call the ‘tyranny of the majority’. For Aristotle, all this form of constitution had their advantages, and he did not directly express any as being preferable to the other.
And thus we come to the end of the Greeks and their contributions to the ideas and philosophy of the world. Of course there were many other Greeks we could have looked at, but the three ‘big hitters’ in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are the seminal thinkers of the period. I want to jump forward next to the Middle Ages and look at the transition period before modernity as we have come to know it. The time in which Christendom was the driving force in Europe, because, whether one believes in God or not, the period of Middle Ages was a time when thought and philosophy still went on, and it's interesting to see how the ideas of Plato, et al, were able to be snuggly fit into what the they would have probably seen as a regression in ideas back to the mythical world that they wanted to escape from.
So Plato (428-347 BC) was Socrates' pupil. At least that what I said (assuming you read the last piece). The only question now is whether you had any critique of what Socrates thought. The one thing that is certain amongst all of this is that Plato did. Although I said that Plato was a pupil of Socrates that does not mean he had to agree with his ideas. I won't beat around the bush though today, I will jump straight into his thought.
What Plato tried to do was bring the two schools of pre-Socratic and Socratic thought together. For Plato, he saw that the two schools were actually examining the same ideas. What were these ideas? Immutability and flow. The natural philosophers were concerned with the flow of nature and what could be immutable within it. The Sophists and Socrates were concerned with idea of flow in morality and whether there could be immutability in it. In other words they were interested in the same things except their premises were different. One was interested in the individual related to nature and the other was interested in the relationship between the individual and society.
In order to come to these conclusions Plato looked at what the pre-Socratics had said. During the pre-Socratic period there was the idea the something could not come from nothing. What Plato asked was: If something cannot come from nothing; and ideas are something; then it stands to reason that ideas cannot come from nothing; as ideas are something? Plato came to the conclusion that ideas had to be immutable in some way. From this rationale Plato came to his notion of forms.
What Plato saw was that although the pre-Socratics had come up with a reasonable explanation for how the 'four elements' came together and went apart to create things, and had shown successfully for him that things could be eternal and still flow. They had not come up with a decent enough explanation of how the four elements could come together numerous times and construct something new. Plato asked the question: If things are made up of these four elements, and the elements come together for a period as say a dog, how do they know, when they have parted company again how to come together again as a dog in say 200 years times? So Plato reasoned that there must be eternal form or idea of dog.
To give an example: you construct a dog out of Lego bricks. You then take the Lego bricks apart and place them back in their box. By simply shaking the box, the Lego cannot come back together as a dog. It is necessary for you to reconstruct the dog, and you do it from the form, idea, or shall we say mold of what you know a dog to be. The elements of the dog remain immutable, as does the idea and understanding of what a dog is.
Plato called these forms, ideas. He said that behind everything in nature there must be an idea. So his conclusions of the physical world, were that behind the material reality had to lie what he referred to as the world of ideas, and this world of ideas contained the eternal and immutable patterns that were behind all the various phenomena we see in nature.
As a result of Plato's belief in forms he reasoned that the physical world was certainly one of change and flow, but is made up of immutable elements physically that come together and move apart and which are guided by immutable patterns from the world of ideas. Of course, it’s difficult to tell whether Plato believed in the world of ideas in a literal sense during his entire lifetime. But one thing we do know is that he believed that as result of the constant change within the material world we could never really have true knowledge. We can only really have opinions of things that belonged to the world of the senses, tangible things, that were of course subject to change and never stationary.
Another example to explain this a bit better is needed here. Imagine a classroom of 30 pupils. The teacher turns to them and asks, 'Which is the prettiest colour of the rainbow?' The chances are, that teacher will get lots of different answers form the pupils, because it is their opinion of something within the changing material world. But if that same teacher asks the class: 'What is 8 +2?' All the pupils will give (at least we hope) the same answer. This is because reason is now talking, and in a way reason is the direct opposite of 'thinking' or 'feeling'. It could be fair to say that reason is immutable and eternal simply because it only ever expresses eternal and immutable things. Another way of looking at this could be that you find a pinecone. You say to your friend that the pinecone is round, and your friend disagrees. The fact here is that neither of you can have true knowledge and understanding of what you see and perceive. However you can say with certainty that a circle, which is round, has a sum of angles that amount to 360 degrees. But the point here is that is the idea of circle you are expressing. Thus it remains eternal. The idea of dog will always exist as walking on four legs even if all the dogs you see in the sensory world have a broken leg, because your reason is what tells you this, and not your feelings about material realities.
Earlier I said that Plato was also concerned with the individual’s place in the world. As you can see Plato argued that the world was split into two, between the material world and the world of ideas. Plato when thinking about man applied the same dualistic notion. He separated the body from the soul. The body was something that lived in the physical world, made up of the immutable four elements. But for Plato the soul became immutable. He believed that soul actually predated the body of a man. For Plato the soul was something that existed before entering the body, and the soul existed in the world of ideas. In this state the soul knew everything about the perfect forms of things, as they were, i.e., the ideas that made up the things in the material world. But Plato said, it is when man wakes up in the body that the soul cannot recall these perfect forms and ideas, or recall its existence in the world outside of his own perception. And so, the soul guides man back to this world without his knowing, through knowledge and learning of the forms and ideas that make up the world of his senses. Admittedly this sounds pretty fantastical, but if we think of it in the least literal senses it is possible to see what Plato meant.
Plato expressed this rationale in one his dialogues through something called the 'Myth of the Cave'. Imagine, if you will for a moment, a group of people that dwell underground in a cave. These people are tied and bound in such a way that they can only ever see the back wall of the cave. Behind them is a high wall. They often see human-like figures holding up other types of figures that flicker in the shadows on the back wall of the cave because they have a fire lit behind the high wall. So the only thing they ever see are these moments of shadow play. They have, for the sake of argument, been bound in this way since they were born, so they never actually know anything other than shadows. For them the shadows is all there is of the material world.
Now, imagine that one of the cave-dwellers manages to escape his bindings. He stands and turns to see these things that were once just shadows as clear colourful things and he becomes dazzled by them. He leaves the cave and is further dazzled by the world around him. Instead of running off to explore this new wonder he runs back into the cave and tries to tell the others of what he has seen. They refuse to believe him. They point to the wall and the shadows and say that what they see is all there is. They eventually kill him rather than listening to what he says.
What Plato was trying to do through the myth of the cave was show how philosophy goes from the world of shadows and try to see the ideas behind the phenomena of material reality. It is also possible that here he was metaphorically referencing Socrates in that he was willing to leave the cave and find some type of truth, and his findings were such a revelation that they shocked the status quo resulting in his death. Essentially Plato's point here was also too show the relationship between the darkness of the cave and its world beyond it in comparison to the natural world and the world of ideas.
The myth of the cave is a story found within Plato's dialogue The Republic. Without going to deeply into that dialogue (for it is worthy of a dissertation on its own), I will summarize it thusly. Just as Plato believed the world of ideas was immutable, so too he said was the ideas that guide a state. There is an ideal Utopian State that we all strive for that exists behind the material world in the world of ideas. The same, he said, went for morality. There were immutable ideas of right and wrong, good and bad existing in the world of ideas. The crutch however of Plato, like that of Socrates and the Pre-Socratics was that this was all argued from his reason. Plato did not really attempt to place a value on these ideas of morality. He merely argued that they must exist eternally in the world of ideas based on the rationale we have just looked at.
The real question now is whether you think Plato was right, or what criticism you might have of his ideas about the world. Evidently we are graced with living many, many years after he did, and so our knowledge and understanding have grown as a results of others that preceded him. But when you place yourself in the context of his time, do you think that you could have agreed with him?
Socrates, Socrates, Socrates. The man, the Don as it were of philosophy, at least that’s what some think. Socrates is probably the most enigmatic of all the characters in the world of thought, although this was probably aided by the dramatic circumstances of his death. The important and special thing to remember when looking at Socrates and his ideas is that unlike the natural philosophers, and the ones that followed him, he never actually wrote anything down. The only knowledge we really have of Socrates came from his star pupil Plato. So we can never really be sure whether Socrates ideas are his or Plato's. What we can be sure of is that Plato was influenced massively by Socrates, so we can be pretty sure that Socrates ideas do remain somewhere in Platonic thought. In a sense you could say that Socrates is a bit like Jesus (in historical terms at least), because we have no written testament by the man himself, only those of people that were around him at the time. Of course, I don't mean to compare Jesus and Socrates literally, but more say that they both were important people historically that conveyed a specific message that has stood through the test of time.
Socrates is best approached in context of his time. To understand his thought its best to see it set against the background in which he lived. Socrates lived in Athens. From about 450 B.C Athens had become the cultural capital of the world. Now although the natural philosphers are known as pre-Socratic, they did not all live before Socrates, some of them actually died after him. What is important though is that within the time of Socrates there was a paradigm shift in the approach of philosophy and what it could investigate. If you remember, the natural philosophers were concerned with the nature of the world, giving them a central place in the history of science. In comparison, in Athens at this time the concern was more directed at the individual, and the place that individual took in society. As a result of this shift in focus, democracy flourished in Athens (although not necessarily democracy as we may understand it). The key to democracy in Athens was that people needed to be educated in order to participate. For what is the point of having a democracy if people are too stupid to understand the implications of what it means?
As a result of the need for education many well-versed people flocked to Athens to teach others. These people were known as Sophists. Sophists literally means: 'one who is wise and informed'. The biggest characteristic the sophists had in common with the natural philosophers was that they rejected the old mythological worldview. Other than this they were not really concerned with what they thought of as fruitless philosophical speculation. They thought that although there maybe answers to man's philosophical questions, man could never really know the truth and answers, they were, for all intent and purposes, advocators of skepticism.
The sophists did concern themselves with man and society though, Protagoros (c 485-410 B.C), one of these influential sophists said, 'man is the measure of all things'. By this he meant that whether a thing is good or bad, right or wrong, it should be measured against and in relation to a mans needs. With the sophists also came the birth of agnosticism. Protagoros, on being asked about his belief in the Greek Gods is said to have answered 'The question is complex, and life is too short'.
The key element of the sophists was that they were all well-traveled men. They had visited many cities and states, in which each had vastly different rules, laws and conventions. This led them to the conclusion that actions could be one of two things, either natural or socially induced. For example, the sophists suggested that some things had to be socially induced, like modesty. The idea that modesty was innate and natural was rejected by the sophists, as they saw that modesty meant different things in different places, and thus it was a socially induced action, and not an absolute norm. As you can probably imagine, the sophists annoyed a lot of people in Athens when they pointed out that right and wrong could not have absolutes, and that absolute norms did not exist. You could say that the sophists were the first sociologists.
You may be wondering why there was the need for this digression into the sophists when I am supposed to be talking about Socrates. Well, Socrates didn't agree with the sophists. He believed that there were some absolute norms in life, and he wanted to prove to the sophists that they were wrong.
So how exactly did Socrates go about approaching this question and philosophy as a whole? The art of Socrates ideas came in his attitude. Unlike the sophists he did not want to instruct people, he wanted to discuss things with them. Socrates just asked questions. He would, it is said, often begin a conversation with someone through a question. Socrates would have an idea of what he believed the answer to be, but he would engage in discussion with people by asking them question after question. The outcome of these discussions was that Socrates often managed to get his opponents to realize the weakness of their arguments and thus use their 'reason' to see the truth. Socrates mother is said to have likened him to a midwife. For as a midwife does not actually give birth she does deliver the baby. In this sense Socrates delivered people to their reason, he helped them give birth to the correct 'insight' in their discussion. By playing dumb in these discussions Socrates was able to make people see that their opinions were flawed, this is what is known as Socratic irony.
A key distinction between Socrates and the Sophists was that Socrates was a true philosopher and the Sophists were pretenders to the throne. The Sophists often took monies for their teaching; they considered themselves to know all there was to know and not be in need of asking questions. You have probably known many people like this. I am of course referring to the likes of school teachers, and opinionated know-it-alls that are content with what they know, and believe that that is all there is too know on a subject. Sophists are those that are buried deep in the hair of the seal.[the analogy did have a purpose after all ;-)] In comparison, the true philosopher, like Socrates, admits that they know nothing, and that is what drives them. Philosopher literally means in Greek 'one who loves wisdom'.
This admission of not knowing is what drove Socrates. 'Wisest is he who knows he does not know' is the key element of Socratic thought. Socrates himself said 'One thing only I know, and that is I know nothing'. This is what made Socrates stand out above the crowd. He was scared by not knowing and so asked questions. The most subversive of people are those that ask questions. For a question can be more explosive than a thousand answers.
As I said earlier, Socrates believed the sophists were wrong about absolute norms. Socrates believed that he had an inner voice guiding him. This voice is what we today would call a conscience. For Socrates it was the conscience that proved that there were absolute norms, of say right and wrong, good and bad. 'He who knows what is good, will do good' he said. By this Socrates meant that the right insight leads to the right actions. So for Socrates, when a man does wrong he does it because he does not know better. This is why, Socrates thought, it was so important for us all to keep on learning. So that we will all learn the right insight. Unlike the Sophists, Socrates believed that peoples ability to make right and wrong actions lied in their reason and not in society.
So Socrates, from this point, believed that no one that acted against his or her better judgement could be happy. Thus, he who knows how to achieve happiness through doing right actions will by necessity listen to his reason, for why would anyone want to be unhappy?
So what do you guys and girls think? Do you think that you can live a happy life if you always do things that you know are wrong deep down? There are lots of people out in the world who do things we know are wrong, do you think these people are happy or unhappy? Is the robber with his stolen fortune happy? Do you think they have knowledge of what is right and wrong by their reason?
As I said right at the beginning, Socrates was an enigmatic man, and his dramatic death is something that helped to solidify his place in history. Do you want to know how he died? Well, Socrates found himself accused of introducing new Gods into society because of his ideas. He was also accused of 'corrupting the youth' [that one sounds familiar don't you think?] A key thing about Socrates' character was that because of his inner voice, he always protested about condemning people to death. He refused to inform on his political enemies and this led, unfortunately, to his own demise. By a slender majority, a jury of 500 found Socrates guilty. He was condemned to drink hemlock as his punishment. He could have appealed for leniency and probably have left Athens in banishment. But as you can probably guess, this was not something Socrates would likely do. Shortly after being condemned he drank the poison in the company of his friends and died.
Now, the only question I ask from all this is; was the tone of this post better for Goatboy and Pangloss? ;-)
So, let's join together and climb the hairs of the seal and see what the world has to offer us. Let's take a journey into the world of philosophy and its many wonderful and sometimes confusing ideas. Where did it all begin? Who were the first to ask the questions? Why did they ask the questions? Let's take a step back in history and find out.|
The first philsophers were the natural philosophers, the Greeks. They started the whole game of thought off, and the process has rolled from there. But, what did they think and why did they think it?
Well, the natural philosphers came as a reaction to the old world order. Until this point, the beliefs that ruled the world were those of mythology. Every culture had their own, from Norse Gods like Thor, to Greek Gods like Hades. The natural philosophers rebelled against these ideas with their own. So, what was the project of the natural philosphers? Well, the natural philosphers wanted to look at, surpirsingly enough, the natural world and its processes. Essentially, they asked the question: Where did things come from? This was the project they sought to find out. You may not agree with what they found, but what they surmised and the processes they used helped lay the foundation of thought today.
One of the key elements for the natural philosphers was the idea that something had to come from something. In this, there was the acknowledgement that things changed and transformations took place in nature, but all things, however transformed, had to come from something. For the natural philosophers, questions such as how live fish came from water, or huge trees could come from apparently dead ground, were questions of marvel. As they watched these things, they saw that nature was in a continual transformaton. But, how could these transformations occur?
Although we don't know where the consensus came from, there was one among the natural philsophers. They all accepted that there had to be a basic substance to the root of all this change; that there was an element that produced the transformations in the world and nature. There had to be something that all things came from and returned to.
For our purposes here it is not the conclusions that the natural philsophers came to which are important, but the questions they asked in the process of finding their conclusions. How they thought, not what they thought, is what is important because each grouping of philosphers shaped our world view, whether we acknowledge it or not.
The natural philosphers wanted to understand how the world worked without having to resort to the mythological ideas that preceeded them. They sought an understanding of how things are through reason and nothing more. For the natural philosphers, reason was the key to understanding what the world really is. The natural philsophers were, for all intents and purposes, the first of a long line of what became known as "rationalists".
Two of the natural philsophers were Parmenides and Heraculitus and both had very different ideas about how things were. For Parmenides (540-480BC), the idea that something came from nothing was wrong. He said that nothing can come from nothing and nothing that exists can become nothing. He took this even farther and said there is no such thing as actual change. Nothing could become anything other than what it already was. Parmenides could see with his senses that things changed, but he could not reconcile this with what his reason told him. He concluded that the our senses gave an illussory perception of the world that was not in accordance with reason. He chose reason over his senses. His project as a philospher was to expose all these forms of perceptual illussion with the use of reason.
In comparison, Parmenides' contemporary Heraculitus said the world was in a constant state of flux. We could say that he trusted his senses much more than Pamenides. He saw that the world was made up of opposites that were interdependent. If we never became ill, then we would not know what being well was. If there was never a war, then we would never appreciate what it was to be at peace. Without a winter, we would never see the spring. Although limited, it is very straight-forward and sensical, don't you think? "Logos (reason) is day and night, spring and summer, war and peace," said Heraculitus.
Both Paramenides and Heraculitus believed in a "one element" theory to the world. The only difference was that one said that, although things appear to change, they cannot because nothing can come from nothing, while the other said things are always in flux and the sensory perceptions can be relied upon. It took the next natural philosophers to solve this obvious contradiction in their predecessors' ideas. Empedocles (490-430BC) said that both were right in one of their assertions, but wrong in the other. The problem he addressed was the "one element". Empedocles said that this premise was wrong; that there were four elements to everything, namely, earth, air, fire and water.
Everything is made up of these things. Nothing did not come from nothing, but things did change because it was the coming together of the four elements that did it. The elements are eternal, but the things they make are not. One could liken this to the idea of a painter who only has one colour, such as red. If he only has red, then he cannot paint a green field. But, if he has yellow, red, blue and black, he can paint hundreds of different colours by mixing them together.
The four elements were the key to bringing a resolution of the earlier natural philosphers' ideas. How did Empedocles realise this, though? We can only guess what might have caused this realisation for Empedocles. Perhaps, he was one day sitting watching a piece of wood burning. As a piece of the wood disintegrated, he heard the crackling and splutter. That was the water. Then, something went up in smoke. The air. The fire he could, of course, see, and then the ashes that remained when the fire was extinguished was earth.
And there we will end it for now. We can see that the natural philosphers were the ones that sparked the method of scientific inquiry. They wanted to see the world as it was in nature and began the journey down the road of reason. They believed that everything in the world came from the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. These elements came together and came apart to form things and that was how natural change took place. It may not have been right, but it was deduced by reason and observation together and that is the important thing. Remember, we are not interested really in what they said, but more in the process by which they came to say the things they said.
So where do we go next? The next step is to look at the what the big guns of Greece said about nature and philosophy. The journey will move forward in time to the days of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and the marvel of their ideas that have also shaped the way we think.
Inspired by Jostein Gaardner|
Welcome people to my little corner of the main Asylum page. What is this all about? Something that I find fun and engaging. Something that some believe to be boring and banal. What is it? Philosophy, but wait, before you click away think about it for a minute. A column that examines ideas, that is what I am putting forward, nothing more nothing less. Ideas, as they say, make the world go round.
In the coming weeks and months I am going to go over the philosophy of a theorists and thinkers that have shaped the way we all see the world. The ideas generated by a few that have become second nature to the many. Ideas that have effected the way we think and shape our world view. And yes my good thinking friends, you will be able to comment on this in the suppository. So flame wars ahoy as you battle about ontology, phenomenology and whatever else we may discover on this journey into thought. So sit back and relax, its time to explore the nature of us and the nature of being. But where shall we start? Lets start at the beginning and ask the question.
What is philosophy?
To begin to answer this question, which is in itself ironic, given the subject matter, we have to ask some 'philosophical questions'. What are these questions? Well , What is being? What is the world? Why I am here? How ought I live my life? These are questions that we all ask over time, and that my friends, is the essence of philosophy. Philosophy is the art of asking questions. The ability to be questioning, and, at the same time is (to sum extent) what makes us human. We question. But why do we question? What kind of analogy can be used that describes why we question?
Lets put it as simply as possible. Imagine a seal. A seal that is in a circus. The seal performs trick for us; we watch the seal. We know that the seal only performs tricks because of the training that the trainer has given. We see past the showmanship of the exhibition and have the realisation of the deeper reality of the seals training. We see [know] the other elements to the equation of the seals tricks.
But, to understand philosophy we have to put ourselves in the place of seal. We are (that is the world) the seal. We do not know that we are trained to perform, we just do what we do. We are innocent, unexposed to ideas, and dormant as beings when we are the seal. But; if you remember. We want to know what the philosopher does and what philosophy is. How does the philosopher relate to the seal of our example? What is philosophy’s place in the analogy?
Imagine that the philosopher is (and all of us for that matter) some microscopic living element in the fur of the seal. We, the philosopher's (the people), are continually trying to climb up the strands of seal fur and see the outside world for what it actually is. This is the key to what philosophy is about.
So what is philosophy? Philosophy is the ability to ask questions. The action of asking questions about the world that we cannot answer instantly. The answering of questions that require further investigation. Philosophy is the historical origin of all human inquiry and thought.
And so my friends, now that we have the definition of our journey outlined, we can start to journey itself. A journey into the world of the self, the phenomenology of spirit, the ontology of life, and all those fascinating words we may hear people say but never truly understand.
From 1995 to 1997 someone known as the ‘Mardi Gras Bomber’ subjected two major corporations in the UK to a campaign of urban terrorism. The two corporations in question were the internationally known Barclay Bank PLC and the supermarket (grocery store) giant J.Sainsbury PLC. The two companies were systematically targeted at their branches in SouthEast England with homemade explosive letter bomb and incendiary devices. This is the story of how I was mistaken for this urban terrorist and was subsequently followed by the Terrorist Division of Scotland Yard known as Special Branch. |
Some background for you first. At the end of 1996, I had just ended a relationship with a girl from West London. It had turned out that she was a paranoid schizophrenic that had been committed twice before (I expect she has been committed again no doubt). The relationship ended rather nastily, with her getting her other psychotic friends to threaten my life. Now I am, would you believe, a very passive creature. I would rather run from a fight than fight. This all happened at a time in my life when my head was, shall we say, not screwed on tightly. I had been subjecting my body and mind to countless chemicals and was, to say the least, a bit of a speed demon. As Christmas of that year approached, I received telephone calls at work threatening my life, and messages on my answerphone. Eventually they found out my address, and let me know this in a message. I am not afraid to say that I was terrified, although admittedly I was usually running on 5 hours sleep in 48 hours.
One of the other reasons for my excess fear stemmed from the fact that I was alone in the house. My flatmates had returned home for the Christmas Break and I had stayed because of employment commitments. But, I hear you say, you must have had neighbours. And the answer was yes. They were both in their 80's. A lot of use they would be if it all kicked off. On top of this, our house was what can only be described as a cottage. The only cottage in the middle of a 300-yard alleyway with no lights, set behind the shops on the main street of town called Eltham in SouthEast London. It shared the alleyway with my place of work J.Sainsbury (the supermarket), which was only 40 yards from the front door (handy for when you have overslept). As you can imagine, it was not the safest place in the world to live at this point in my life. To add to my fear, my neighbour informed me on Christmas Eve that he had seen two guys eyeing up the house while I had been away for a few days. The fear was definitely starting to get to me.
I stayed with my best mate for the next few days over Christmas until the 30th of December. It was that day that will stay in my mind for the rest of my life, and it is that day that I have never written down until now.
I returned from Sye's house (my mate) at 6 a.m. that morning after a night on the Playstation. The walk always scared me anyhow, but it was worse this day. As I approached the top of the High Street, I had a decision to make. Do I take the main road to the cut in to the alley by my house, and safety in the light, or do I take the back route all the way? I chose the road. I was 100 yards from the cut in when I saw him first: Short, stocky, bomber jacket and wooly hat. Shit what do I do now? It could be one of them! Thinking on my feet, I take a side road and head for the alley at an earlier cut in. I walked at a pace, didn't run, I was too scared. No sleep for two days really fucks your head up. As I approached my house and the cut in I was going to originally take, he walked out from it. Shit! 'Eyes to the ground Phil,' I told myself, 'keep fucking walking. Open the gate and get the fuck in the house'. I made it. I took off my beanie. A green Vandals Beanie to be precise with an upside down anarchy symbol on the front, this may not seem important to you now, but I think it may have been to them.
For the next three hours I sat in my room upstairs at the front. Watching him. He didn't move and he would look at the house every so often. Thank God for net curtains. I was now starting to really panic. Everyone I knew said she had been fucking with me, that no one was gonna do anything. As far as I was concerned, they were all wrong. I couldn't even ring Sye, the phone had been cut off. I had to figure out what to do. I knew that there was a good chance it was just paranoia. I kept telling myself, 'its nothing, chill out'. But the fear wouldn't leave me. I knew what I had to do. I had to prove to myself that it was paranoia, or prove to myself it was not. That meant going outside. It was now daylight, and the shops were open. Nobody would do anything in daylight. It was time to put my insane thoughts to the test once and for all. I reasoned that if I walked aimlessly around the town I would soon be able to tell if someone was following me or watching me.
I left the house and walked to the cut in. He was still there. Out onto the High Street and down to McDonald's. It was time for breakfast. On the walk I saw this guy. Skinny looking geezer, carrying a bag. Something was not right about him. I can't recall what. He was walking towards me and up the High Street. I walked past him and headed for McDonald's. After coming out from McDonald's he was there again. This time on the other side of road, my side of the road, and walking towards me. Ok, he's looking at the shops, no big deal. I walk to the top of the High Street. Remember this High Street is about 500 yards long in total. Nearing the top I turn and he's only 10 yards behind me. He stops and looks in the window. Ok, this is freaky. I cross and walk back down. He does the same. I turn and walk towards him and past him, I reasoned that if he was following me I would know now. After about 50 yards I turn and he is there again. Shit!
By this time I in the middle of the High Street, at the cut in I walked out of some 20 minutes before. By this time the other guy had gone. I walk into the cut in and take the back alley up to the top of the high street. Now up this way there is a road that the mini cabs use when picking up the old ladies from Sainsburys. I decided to take the road. I walked past a Peugeot 405 with a guy in it with the door open drinking tea. He has a radio in the car, but it is not a Mini Cab radio, this radio is advanced shit, better than your ordinary CB. To tell you the truth, I didn't really pay attention to him at this point. I was more concerned about the guy on foot. As I get 50 or so yards from him, I hear the engine start and he drives off. 'Probably a rich cabby', I think. I get to the end of the road. I can go right down the hill to the park, or left to the High Street. I choose left to the high street. As I approach the T-junction for the High Street who should pull round the corner? The Peugeot. 'Ok no big problem, he was parked on a one way street he had to turn around.' I walked back down the High Street, crossing the road first. The guy on foot crosses the road about 50 yards down from me. My mind at this point is absolutely fucking racing. 'How many of them are there? What are they going to do to me?'
I decided to sit down. I needed to think, and think quick. I sat down on the bench outside the Catholic Church. 'Is there a God?' I thought. Then the worst thing in my life happened. The Peugeot was driving towards me down the High Street. Now let me explain, the road this guy took goes down to the park and then loops back up to some traffic lights further up the High Street. This guy had done a complete fucking circle?!!?! 'OK Phil, look at him' I think. He stared at me straight in the eyes as he drove past. Shit this was getting bad. I still had no proof whatsoever I was being followed, just insane paranoid speculation. It was killing me. The other guy on foot had stopped at this point, casually looking in the window of a Baker's shop, still holding his one little bag after at least an hour now of working round the shops. 'What should I do?'. My only hope, I thought, was the police station, right at the far end of the High Street and round the corner on the road towards Woolwich Town. I got up and walked. It was the longest walk I have ever taken down that street. On the way I passed the bag guy. He seemed to ignore me. Once past him, he was on the move again in my direction. The Peugoet drove past on the other side of the road. 'Fuck he's turned round again??!?!?' Then I saw him. The new one. The scary one. He was at least 6ft 3 in a long green trench coat. Brown hair and a moustache. Now I had lived in this town for two years, and had walked that street everyday. I knew the faces. This was not one of them. I walked past him and made it to the police station.
I don't remember what I said to the officer in the station. I was flustered, paranoid, frightened. She knew it too, and in all honesty if I remember correctly, ignored my pleas for help. I think she told me to go home and stop worrying. 'Until they do something no crime has been committed.' What next? I decided to get a taxi to Woolwich. I would go to the cab office I always used and get one of the lads to take me. That way I could lose the guys on foot. As I walked out of the station, I looked across the road. Another odd looking car. New blue Mercedes. 'Nobody round here can afford one of those!’. The driver looked straight at me. I walked down the hill to the taxi office. He drove off the other way.
Once in the taxi I felt safe. It was comforting knowing I was with a friend. He dropped me off in Woolwich. Now let me explain Woolwich. It is a small town centre, but it’s pedestrianised. Lots of alleys and not many cars in the centre. I reasoned that if I was followed, I could lose someone in here easily. I could even try and go into the Uni buildings. I walked along the main street and everything was fine. I started to relax. I turned to go down to the river. I thought it would be relaxing down there. As I reached the road that passes between the town and river, the blue Merc drives past. I know it was the same one, I had the license plate in my mind. 'Shit!' I turned back to the no car zone. I got into the main street. Trench coat guy is walking, staring right at me. 'Fuck', I think, 'these people are fucking well organized'. That was the clincher for me. I knew I was being followed from that point on. Woolwich is 5 miles from Eltham. This guy is on foot in Eltham, and ten minutes later he is in Woolwich walking towards me again? This is not a coincidence.
Time to get smart. I stopped to look in a window. He stopped too. I walked a little and he crossed to the other side of the no-car street. I stopped again and looked in the electrical shop. I glanced over my shoulder, and he had stopped and was looking at me. I turned and faced him, took out a cigarette, and lit it. He turned around and looked in the jeweler’s shop. This was my chance. I ran to the phone box. Now this was cool. It was one of those phone boxes that once inside you can see out but no one can see in. He turned around and I could tell he was looking puzzled. He stared across the street at where I was, then looked up and down. He then reached into his pocket and took out a mobile phone and began running up the street away from me whilst talking on it.
I rang my dad next. Shit, I was fucked up. I told him everything and cried down the phone. There was nothing he could do for me. He was 150 miles away. I said I would call him when I was safe indoors. I rang Jo, my friend, she lived in Plumstead, about two miles from Woolwich. If I could get there without being followed, I was safe. My letting agent was also there and I could arrange to move house, there and then. Somehow I got to a bus, went on the top deck and hid until I got to Plumstead. I swapped my keys for a flat and then sat at Jo's all day and told them what had happened. I had a joint with them, and they started to get paranoid.
Three days after moving, I had to go back to work. This was hard. The shop was next door to the old house. What if they were there? I got a lift to the store from a friend. I told the manager what had happened, as they knew all about the threats. They all thought that I was a paranoid junkie. Then it happened. There I am, putting out some apples on the display, and who walks through the front door. The guy in the trench coat. Looking straight at me. He walks straight up to the store manager and shakes his hand. They then went off, presumably to the manager's office. An hour later I was called to the manager.
Phil (that's the manager's name) sits me down in the office. 'It seems that you led Special Branch a very merry dance the other day Phil' he says. 'Special Branch!' I say. 'What were Special Branch doing in Eltham, and why were they following me?' It turned out that they had received information that the 'Mardi Gras Bomber' was planning on making Eltham store the next target of his campaign. They had started their operation at 5 a.m. the morning my day of hell started. I was a prime suspect! (remember the anarchy symbol on my beanie). They had seen me come into the store that morning, and wanted to confirm my identity and my validity as a member of the staff. The manager also told me how Special Branch had been amazed I gave them the slip, particularly given that they specialize in undercover observation in terrorist cases. After being told this I went back to work on the shop floor. The guy in the trench coat was at the front door of the shop when I got down there. He looked right at me, smiled and then nodded.
Two weeks later a pipe bomb exploded outside the store. I was inside at the time. No one was injured by it. It was this operation that led Special Branch to capture one of Britain most wanted criminals, and I had been part of it.
And that people, is my story.
One of these days, I may remember everything of Glastonbury 1999. I hope I do. For those who don't know, Glastonbury is the music festival of the world. Going now for 25 years, and yes, inspired by Woodstock, it is the only festival of its kind in the world today. It makes Lollapalooza look insignificant, as too does it make the festivals of mainland Europe and other UK- based ones look insignificant. Until 1999, I was what is affectionally known as a Glasto Virgin. I had been to many weekend music festivals before, but had never been to the ultimate. In 1999, things were about to change.|
Unlike most festivals, Glasto is not a separate arena and campsite. It is one very large field in a clay valley of the West Country. A land with mystical legends, Arthurian links, and mud. In the previous year, 1998, the festival had become infamous for mud. On the preceding Wednesday and Thursady to that year it rained in the West Country relentlessly. By Friday the entire site, because of the clay, had become a mud bath. Knee deep in some places with sticky, hard to walk in mud (remember people: this is normally a farm). I had such big expectations for the weather in 1999 that I was sure it would hold and the weekend would be glorious.
We arrived on Wednesday (everyone goes early to get with the vibe) and the sunshine was scorching, particularly for me with my reddish hair and fair skin. Right through to Thursday the weather remained this way, and then it happened. The night before the opener the heavens opened. And when I say opened, I mean opened. Leaking tents, the works. I awoke on Friday morning to the sound of rain and ventured into the outside world. I can sense it now, the smell of dead fires, and the hum of activity in the surrounding tents and fields.
I looked down the hill to the main stage (called the Pyramid) and all I could see was the light reflecting off what looked like water. Yes the rain had come, and unlike the year before where there were two days before the start of the music for the water to subside, this time it was there. A glorious river of mud and water through the campsite. Knee-deep.
I have never, in my life experienced anything like it. For the next three days we were all walking through knee-deep water to watch bands, going to buy and thinking I need a boat. I watched Rocket From the Crypt in it. It was mental. I took a pill and went to the dance tent and raved for 12 hours straight with water and mud coming down on head and seeping into my boots. But the best was yet to come.
The dance tent, which is where I think I spent most of the weekend, was so bad after the first night that the organizer decided that the only solution was to suck the water out of it. The idea was to use the machine that sucks the shit out of the portable toilets to suck up the excess water and mud. Good in theory huh? Unfortunately when they did this it was just after a toilet run, and someone, accidently put the machine on blow! Yes that's right, about two tonne of human excrement sprayed into a tent that could hold 20,000. No more Dance tent for day two. Time for more drugs.
I don't remember much after that; the weekend became a blur. I remember seeing naked people dancing on tents, and I remember taking part in some kind of hippy type ritual around a stone circle with a bunch of drug-fuelled city brokers, but apart from that I don't know who I saw. I just remember the smell of the dance tent, the come-down after it all, and of course, the mud.
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