Stoicism And Instant Wisdom

I still have in my possession a paperback book that was an encyclopedia of philosophy.  When I was overseas in the service I found this book, and many others, in a bookstore I used to frequent.  I used to read quite a bit in my free time then, not because I was the sterling example of a good serviceman (I raised a bit of hell in my time) but rather the two conditions for wasting time were beyond my means.  I worked graveyard and low pay.  That made for a good combination when it came to reading, boredom and a will to learn.  The other great motivation came when a captain told me that he was an officer by virtue of his college education and degree and that I, who was a high school drop out would never amount to anything and thus not deserving his respect.  That impressed upon me the fact that a college degree does not equip one to be a leader.

Since that time I have acquired many books of philosophy and while I have not read them all I do enjoy visiting with them.  I find it difficult to read many of the books all the way through as what information and reasoning that is presented requires a great deal of reflection.  Wisdom, if I have gained any, comes at a cost, an investment not only in time but in thought.  That first introduction by way of short and concise chapters on the various groupings in philosophy provides something of a foundation to good thinking.  I love reading histories of the various schools of philosophy and seeing how each author presents his idea of what is important.  Metaphysics is what I would believe the hardest of all philosophy to read followed by Ontology, or first causes.  There are no easy answers in metaphysics.  What is the highest good?  How do we distinguish between good and evil?  Are all ideals equal and which ones should we emulate?  What is truth and beauty?  The list is almost boundless and the answers as divided and there are individuals interested in answering them.

Of course with ontology one is arguing if there is a god and who he might be if he is the first cause in the universe.  we might think that ontology is the province of religion but that is not really true.  Cosmology is a goodly part of that study.  After all, if we do not acknowledge any god or any possible actions of any god to create the cosmos (the whole of the universe), then we can still question as to how this cosmos came into being.  From astrophysics to particle physics we seek the answers by discovering as much of the theoretical world as we can comprehend.  Unfortunately for most mortal beings the amount of mathematical learning and understanding keeps most of us from understanding more than an elementary knowledge of cosmology.  I have a broad and general knowledge on that subject but once you start talking of tensors and such I am lost.

As one might assume, there are a great number of fields of discovery in philosophy, many of which underpin various areas of knowledge and learning.  there is a philosophy of language, one of science, another of law, a fourth of mathematics, and so on.  Philosophy, in general, is the science of knowing.  One can read Socrates with a great deal of pleasure if one understands what that man was attempting to say.  The idea of Socratic Method is to question what one knows.  And the Socratic Argument is that exchange of question and answer that leads to what many call critical thinking.  One finds in Plato that problem about how society should be organized and governed.  What are the values that should be adopted and what are the constraints to those values.  What intended and unintended consequences arise due to the actions of organization and governance in any society under investigation?

On the other hand, those who seek to know the writings and saying of the various Stoics seek the pat answer.  Yes, the Stoics gave us a sense of Ethics, that is how one must comport oneself in society, but they seldom asked the big questions.  One must be honest in one’s dealings with others but what is honesty?  If all I am asking for is how I should lead a good life without questioning and answering what is the good life, then I am behaving much like a robot.  Should I be honest if every aspect of living?  And how is that possible.  Any man who has ever been asked: “Do these pants make my butt look too large?”, knows better than to give an honest answer if the butt looks too big.  He may deflect by saying that her butt never looks too big but isn’t that a bit dishonest?  The sin of commission and the sin of omission, two sides of the same coin.  Should a friend remain silent if a woman’s mate is cheating on her and she is without knowledge of such an affair?  What would a Stoic say?  The problem with ethics is that there is quite a large grey area of behavior.  Rarely is life black and white in answers.  The other problem with Stoicism is that there is no attempt at the ultimate truth of correct behavior.  Rather, ethics concerns itself with the relative questions in a particular society.  One society may allow the consumption of pork and another forbid it.  How do we know which one is right?  Can we make all societies act and value the same?  And further, should we attempt some universal code of behavior?

I have only touched the whole of philosophy, there is so much more to read and ponder.  Philosophy is an adventure, an activity that delights my mind.  I am not seeking wisdom as a unit of learning, I am seeking to know what I can and let that knowing guide my life.   My only regret is that there is so much to learn and know and so little time in which to do so.


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