Imagination is the doorway to this universe and many others  



Academics mean something specific when they use the word “philosopher”. I’m not sure that I know what. I do know that the word “philosopher” literally means “lover of wisdom”. I wouldn’t call myself a philosopher but I am a lover of wisdom.


Plato's Apology

I recently reread my favorite work of the philosopher Plato, The Apology. I've also seen it under the title Apologia and Socrates Defense. I don't know enough to know which translation is the best and if you're not picky I'm sure there are versions on the internet for free. In fact, I know that Amazon is giving it away in Kindle format. It is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever and I highly recommend it.

I know that philosophy and classical literature is not particularly popular or everyone's cup of tea but this particular work is easy to read and while deep, has enough of interest on the surface that almost anyone could enjoy it and get something out of it.
It is an amazing work if you are interested in democracy or human interaction/behavior. The main reason that I love it is that it points a finger directly at what one needs to do if one is interested in wisdom itself or just being a wise person. Socrates and Plato are philosophers and the word "philosophy" means literally "Lover of Wisdom."

Here's how it goes: Socrates has been accused of corrupting the youth of the city of Athens, of not worshiping the official gods of the city and of making up and preaching his own gods. It has been suggested that he be executed for these crimes against the city. The entirety of the book is Socrates standing before his accusers, the citizens, the elected officials and the jury making a speech in his own self defense.

In brief, the gist of his defense is to point to the parents of teenagers that he spends time with and proclaims that they will say that he has been a good rather than a corrupting influence on their children. He says that his entire life has been about service to the officially recognized gods (probably more so than most) and how in that service he has always been willing to die rather than tell a lie which is why he's been in trouble before and why he's in trouble now. He points out that the reason that he is standing there accused is because people don't like him and they don't like him because doing his duty to the gods and telling the truth has caused him to offend them. The bulk of the book is his story about how he's offended them and is what I like about the book because it's really the recipe for becoming wise.

The story goes something like this: A friend of his (who must have been very rich because the fees involved were set for kings) goes to the Oracle at Delphi (The voice of the god of light, Apollo) and asks if Socrates is the wisest man in the world. The Oracle replies that, indeed, Socrates is the wisest man in the world. This comes as shock to Socrates, because, as far as he knows, he doesn't know anything. He feels that the gods don't lie, so, in order to get wise enough to make the prophecy true, he needs to learn stuff.

The way he does this is to go to the wise men (Sophists) that make lots of money teaching people stuff, and ask them questions. The problem is that, the more questions he asks, the more they contradict themselves and the more it turns out that they really don't know much of anything at all. They either think that they do, or they are making it up, but, the fact that they contradict themselves shows that they really don't understand what they are talking about. He, of course, lets it be known that this is the case and as a result the Sophists hate him.

Next he goes to politicians with the same results. Then he goes to artists, poets, storytellers, musicians etc. and discovers that even though they may have brilliant works that show a great deal of wisdom and intelligence, these people can't actually intelligently discuss their own work. The average guy on the street understands their works better than they do. Further, since they created such brilliant stuff, they are sure that they know it all… and of course it turns out that they don't know anything. Socrates deduces that art is therefore produced by some kind of divine inspiration (meaning, he gave the credit to the gods) and that the artists are as bad as the Sophists and politicians.So, of course, the artists, writers et al hate him as much as the Sophists and politicians.

Lastly he goes to craftsman, carpenters, farmers, shoemakers, people who actually make stuff. He is sure that these people must know something because they actually produce something. It turns out that these people are very wise in the ways of their particular crafts, but there is a disturbing phenomenon, because they know so much about carpentry or farming or whatever, they think that they know everything, but, beyond their craft, they are as bad as everyone else he has talked to. So, they don't like him either.

Of course, with that many people not liking him, in a democracy, he is found guilty and put to death. The thing that I like so much is the general premise that, to be the wisest man on Earth, you have to admit that you don't know anything and ask questions. You have to learn that nobody knows a hell of a lot, examine yourself and those around you and learn to think for yourself. Not just formulate opinions which seem to automatically fill in the blanks of our lack of knowledge with crap… but actually think things through. Our biggest blind spots appear when we think we know something.

One of my philosophical rants

The Blog Where I wax profound

In which Bob asks a philosopical question



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