2 Day 1: What is Philosophy?
Chorus: In a small park in a small city, among wayward souls, Socrates X walks slowly in the predawn gloom; he finds a bench, and sits. From the backpack beside him, Socrates X pulls out a thermos, a travel mug, and a book. After pouring some steaming hot Dunkin’ Donuts coffee into the mug, and returning the thermos to the backpack, he opens the book, and starts reading.
After nearly an hour, a mug nearly full of coffee, and the passing of near-darkness to morning glow, Socrates X finishes reading a chapter of The Matter Myth by John Gribbin and Paul Davies, and leans back in thought. From across the street, with the sun at his back, Peter Hatcher — carrying a grease-stained paper bag — approaches Socrates X, and sits next to him.
Peter Hatcher: Morning. Do you mind if I share your bench while I eat my breakfast?
Socrates X: Of course not. What is your name? What brings you out so early this morning?
Peter: Name’s Peter, but call me Hatch. I work at the burger joint over there [Points with the biscuit sandwich in his right hand, then moves it toward his mouth; he takes a small bite, winces]. Don’t work today, though. Just came to get my check.
Socrates X: Ah! Well, it’s good to meet you, Hatch. May I ask you a personal question? [After a nod, and during a second, larger bite] Why don’t you eat breakfast at the establishment at which you work? [Points to Hatch’s greasy bag]
Hatch: [Swallows] I used to. I just got so sick of it. I can hardly keep from retching now. Sometimes even the smell makes me gag. [He notices Socrates X smile] Not that the food is bad; it isn’t! Well, no worse than any other fast food. [He looks at the last bite in his hand] I suppose that means I’ll get sick of all of it eventually. Actually, I’m hoping to get a new job at the best pizza joint in town — I’ll find out later today. Hey, what’s your name? What’s that you’re reading? [Eats the last bite]
Socrates X: My name is Socrates X. This slim volume [Holds the book so that Hatch can read the title] is new to me, though the concepts and many of the details I have engaged before.
Hatch: [Swallows the last of his breakfast] Cool! Paul Davies…he’s a physicist, isn’t he?
Socrates X: Yes. And Gribbin has a background in science as well. He has written on Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, as well as other matters.
Chorus: With this meager beginning in physics, the conversation wanders over topics as diverse as popular music and the sexual behavior of insects. As our two new friends discuss their common interests another approaches. She is dressed in simple, utilitarian clothes; her dark hair is short and straight, and frames her serene face with warmth and grace. She pauses to speak with anyone who will listen, and kindly greets even those who will not.
Jubalee: Greetings. My name is Jubalee, and I am a servant of the Lord. Have you welcomed Jesus Christ into your heart?
Socrates X: [As Hatch nods, looks away, pulls a cigarette out of the pack in his pocket, and lights it] Hello, Jubalee. [Smiling, leaning closer, softer, with a wink] I bet you get that a lot. [Jubalee nods; her smile flattens] I am afraid I cannot answer your question. Would you like to ask another?
Jubalee: [Extending her hand] Of course. What is your name, sir?
Socrates X: [Smiling as he accepts her hand] Please, call me Socrates X.
Jubalee: Hello, Socrates X. I have not seen you here before. Are you new to the area?
Socrates X: Yes. I arrived just last night. This is my first visit to this quaint locale — the state, its city, as well as this park.
Jubalee: Well then, on behalf of the citizens of the state and this city, and the denizens of this park, let me extend to you our welcome.
Socrates X: Graciously accepted. My new friend Hatch and I were just discussing new evidence supporting the Big Bang Theory. We both have agreed that it is quite convincing. Do you agree?
Jubalee: Well, I’m not up on the new developments, but I should say that the Theory as I understand it is persuasive. God works in mysterious ways.
Socrates X: [Smiling] Yes, He must.
Jubalee: Tell me Socrates X: What do you do?
Socrates X: I am a Philosopher.
Hatch: A philosopher? Really? I took a philosophy class in college, on the philosophy of science. I barely made it to the exam; I didn’t take it ’cause I had already neglected the paper, and failed the class. I could never quite get it. It wasn’t like a regular science class, dealing with the Scientific Method and experiments and all — I could’ve handled that. I guess I just didn’t understand the philosophy part. [Brings the cigarette up to his mouth, and takes a drag] Maybe, Socrates X, you can help me understand what it is?
Jubalee: Yes, and I would be very interested to know what your thoughts are on the subject, having studied Theology — the Philosophy of Religion.
Socrates X: Very well! As a Philosopher, I cannot refuse your requests. Jubalee, you will understand if I must cover more basic ideas with Hatch [6.2.3] before we move into material with which you are more familiar [TBD]. [Jubalee nods] Excellent! Our conversations will begin with the trivial and yet encompass the transcendent. But first, it is nearly mid-morning, and I am hungry. Perhaps we can discuss more trivial matters while I eat my breakfast? The news of the day, perhaps?
Chorus: Socrates X reaches into his backpack and pulls out a Ziploc container of leftovers, and a fork. He eats, discussing with his new friends politics, laws, and other news between mouthfuls. After a while, Hatch steps aside to answer his cellular phone, to receive and then spread the news of his new job. Congratulations steer the discussion to his new place of employment, a pizzeria many have heard of, but few have tried.
Before long, this trio becomes five as first Marc and then Dolly join them. After introductions all around, discussion continues; but as sure as Autumn passes into Winter, conversation degenerates into intransigent argument. Only Socrates X refrains from committing to one side over another, preferring to limit his role to Devil’s Advocate. Finally, the issues lead the actors back to the topic postponed over an hour before. Socrates X confronts Marc with a question.
Socrates X: Marc, in your opinion, just what is Philosophy?
Marc: Well, I guess the definition of philosophy is “Love for knowledge,” if I remember correctly. Philo means love (like in Philadelphia — the city of brotherly love), and sophy refers to knowledge, right?
Socrates X: What do you think, Hatch?
Hatch: That sounds right. I just don’t know, though.
Socrates X: A good answer; the best when appropriate. What about you, Dolly? What is Philosophy?
Dolly: Philosophy is art! It is life itself, the effluvium of the universe!
Socrates X: [Laughing] I love it! Dolly, I know now that I can count on you to balance the literal with the figurative, the mundane with the sublime.
Jubalee: But does it mean anything? Our Seminary definition was, of course, religious in nature. Philosophy is a tool one uses to understand God. What is philosophy to you, Socrates X?
Socrates X: Well, Marc was right, for the most part, about the definition. Etymologically, the word does mean love of Knowledge or Wisdom. But to me it means a lot more. After all, when I say that I am a Philosopher I do not mean that I study the love of Wisdom, the way a biologist studies life; nor that I catalog Knowledge or Wisdom like a cartographer charts the boundaries and topography of surfaces (land, sea, or otherwise), although both are certainly part of it. Furthermore, the language from which our word Philosophy is derived, ancient Greek, was much richer in its connotation; one word could have many different definitions depending on the context in which it is used.
My favorite definition is from the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary; I have the 2nd Edition). [Looks briefly around, disappointed] I hope I get this just right: philosophy, in the original and widest sense, is the love, study, or pursuit of wisdom, or of knowledge of things and their causes, whether theoretical or practical.
Hatch: [Lights a cigarette] I’m not sure I get it.
Marc: Socrates X, that definition is ambiguous in its details — such as they are — and vague in its overall application.
Socrates X: [Looking at Dolly, he chuckles] Yes, Marc, you are correct. I do believe that we should try to settle on a more precise definition, by explicating exactly what this definition means, as well as amending it (as little as possible). Before that, however, tell me, Dolly, what are your thoughts on this definition?
Dolly: It’s poetry. It captures the essence of the form, and personifies the ideal. Socrates X, if this definition is made more precise, won’t it lose sight of the inherent vagueness of that which it purports to define?
Socrates X: [Conspicuously delighted] How remarkably insightful and imaginative! There is a danger of losing sight of our target if we analyze it too closely, but we should continue nonetheless. In our definition, what was the first part?
Jubalee: Philosophy is the love, study, or pursuit of wisdom. So, wisdom is a subject which is loved, studied, or pursued.
Socrates X: Yes, and notice that these are all disjuncts, a string of three “either/or” choices. I suggest we take these as inclusive; that is, each one is equally acceptable as a candidate when considering whether a Philosophy is present, as is any combination. A Philosophy can be the study of Wisdom, or the love and pursuit of Wisdom, and so on. Notice also, that none of these — love, study, pursuit — are quantitative terms; they do not describe “all or nothing” acts or attitudes, but allow for varying degrees. One can love or study Wisdom a little or a lot, and still qualify as engaging in (or having a) philosophy. Dolly, does this help to alleviate some of your anxiety?
Dolly: Yes, Socrates X, it does quiet some nerves. But now I feel that something is left out, like we are focusing on only the abstract.
Socrates X: Because we have only addressed the initial part of our definition. Before we move on [His eyes move to meet each set aimed at him], is there anyone who does not follow so far?
Chorus: Most of those gathered signal their understanding; one looks puzzled.
Socrates X: How about you, Hatch?
Hatch: Well, I understand your point about these three different — what should it be called — orientations toward wisdom, but what is wisdom?
Socrates X: Excellent question. We will deal with that shortly, when we look at the second part of our definition of Philosophy. What was that second part?
Hatch: It’s easier to repeat the whole thing: Philosophy is the love, study, or pursuit of wisdom, or of knowledge of things and their causes, whether theoretical or practical. Another disjunct!
Socrates X: [Elated] Yes!
Marc: But Socrates X, is the “knowledge of things and their causes” a genuine disjunct, offering a unique choice, or is it just synonymous with wisdom?
Socrates X: This is an ambiguity that troubled you at the start? [Marc nods] A very close reading. Yes, it could be that these are interchangeable, and Wisdom is equivalent (in the best case) to the Knowledge of things and their causes. But when we consider the word Wisdom do we want to limit it to this description? Does not Wisdom imply more, much more? And to the degree that its description differs from the one that we have, the Knowledge of things and their causes, it must itself be different. This suggests that we should treat Wisdom and the description as more opposed than alike. Further, I believe that adopting this broader approach will be more advantageous for us than its restriction would do us harm.
Marc: Very good. In this case, then, let me see if I can keep this straight: philosophy is the love, study, or pursuit of either wisdom or knowledge of things and their causes.
Socrates X: Yes, that is correct.
Hatch: And what of the third part — “whether theoretical or practical”? Which? The wisdom or the knowledge? No, it would make some sense if referring to the study of these. But, theoretical love of wisdom? That doesn’t make sense to me; even if it did, could it be useful?
Socrates X: Yes, even the third part of our definition is challenging, if not vexing. Was this another ambiguity that caught your attention, Marc?
Marc: Yes, but until Hatch pointed to it directly, I wasn’t able to formulate my objection clearly. Now that we have cleared up some other issues, I see now that my initial skepticism was misplaced, but its resolution is achieved only by creating other problems, like those Hatch just mentioned. Can you offer a remedy for this obstacle?
Socrates X: Ah, Marc, where you see obstacles, I see only challenges, and their concomitant opportunities. What about anyone else? Jubalee? Dolly, do you have any thoughts?
Dolly: Actually, Socrates X, I believe I see where you are heading. I have a question about the conclusions I think will be made, and I will withhold it until they are actualized.
Socrates X: Very well. This final part is not like the others. It is an attempt to address the fact that Philosophy can occur for a goal (as in Jubalee’s Theology), or for its own sake; the former is practical philosophy, and the latter can equally be called theoretical. These distinctions are more for categorical purposes than for description. There are, then, two general kinds of Philosophy, and we will call them, in terms usually reserved for kinds of science, pure (Philosophy for its own sake) and applied (Philosophy engaged to achieve a goal).
Dolly: Yes, that is the final stroke. Socrates X, this definition is too inclusive. It includes everything! Every action, every analysis, every thought, and feeling. Doesn’t this make it meaningless? Like Popper’s intimations about Marxism or Freudian psychoanalysis?
Socrates X: [Noticeably impressed] Good question, Dolly! [To Dolly] We’ll have to talk more about this some other time [TBD] — I’d love to know where and why you learned this arcane subject. Popper was concerned with putatively scientific theories that overextend their scopes, and finesse their applications, to explain phenomena that do not otherwise fit. He felt that when such a theory is stretched to fit the facts, rather than the facts determining the theory (or at least the theory predicting the facts), then such a theory should not be considered scientific. So, while Popper’s concerns do not fit our situation — since we are merely defining a word, not formulating or applying a theory — I do understand the trepidation that would lead you to believe that they would, Dolly. And, in a way, you are correct. Our definition is inclusive, and even more so than you think. Remember that we did not specifically address the question that Hatch had earlier, but left it to be answered by contrast.
Hatch: The definition of wisdom?
Socrates X: Yes. We had a preliminary definition, but it was obtained by considering that whatever Wisdom is, it is (to a large extent, if not entirely) not Knowledge of things and their causes. The best definitions, however, avoid such negative formulations in favor of those that are positive. The OED definition is long, but it deserves a reading: Wisdom is the capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgment in the choice of means and ends. How about that?
Marc: That sounds right.
Socrates X: That it does. Jubalee?
Jubalee: It makes intuitive sense, especially when used in conjunction with our definition of philosophy. I can understand why someone would want to dedicate her life (or some part of it) in study or pursuit of these ends.
Socrates X: As can I. Dolly, does this definition sit well with you?
Dolly: Yes, Socrates X. But I’m still somewhat apprehensive. The definition seems one-sided, or short-sighted.
Socrates X: I know. We will rectify that shortly. Hatch, what do you think?
Hatch: [Pulls a cigarette from the pack in the breast pocket of his navy blue t-shirt] I think it’s good, if a bit idealistic.
Socrates X: I agree.
Hatch: Well, then, Socrates X, what are your thoughts on this? Is there a better definition of wisdom?
Socrates X: It would be a mistake to say that there is a better definition of the word. I only have a problem with how the definition is presented. Before we address this shortcoming, however, let us take note of its strengths. There are two parts to the definition, and both are related to judgments. The first is the ability to make good judgments about life and conduct, and the second about the choice of means and ends.
Marc: There’s nothing wrong with that. Making good decisions is the most important part of being successful.
Socrates X: In more ways than that which you have in mind, Marc. But more importantly, these two varieties of judgment correspond closely, as Jubalee suggested, with those in our dichotomous definition of Philosophy, with the love, study, or pursuit of Wisdom, and with the Knowledge of things and their causes.
Hatch: That must be more than coincidence!
Socrates X: Indeed, much more. Unfortunately, it apparently betrays a pernicious circularity in our definition.
Marc: How so?
Socrates X: Well, as Wisdom is characterized now, in the simplest terms, as the capacity to make good decisions, it is the same as saying that Wisdom is the capacity of deciding and acting wisely. This tells us very little, does it not?
Marc: I must admit you have a good point, Socrates X. I am beginning to understand your misgivings about this definition. Is there something I’m missing, some way to salvage it?
Socrates X: Of course. Notice that we have focused on only part of the definition thus far.
Dolly: I knew it! I knew there was something missing, something off balance.
Socrates X: And you are correct, Dolly. We neglected the fact that this definition is primarily about a capacity. What difference do you suppose that makes?
Jubalee: Well, in this case, to have a capacity to judge well would be the ability to do so.
Socrates X: Yes, that is the gist of it. I would hasten to add that it is not merely an ability, since it can be argued that everyone has the ability to make good decisions (this is a metaphysical claim), and we should resist, at least initially, the assertion that would follow, that everyone therefore is Wise. The ability to make good decisions, and actually making them are two very different things. So, for our purposes, let us expand our understanding of capacity to include not only ability, but also possession of the appropriate prerequisite knowledge.
Dolly: But, Socrates X, a capacity in this sense isn’t something that exists independent of everything else; it is an integral part the whole.
Socrates X: Yes, that is an important aspect of Wisdom, that it is a natural outcome of experience.
Hatch: I’m not sure I understand that. It sounds like you do mean that everyone is wise, at least for those that have experiences.
Socrates X: Indeed, but in a relative and contingent, not absolute and necessary, sense. One can gain wisdom from one’s experiences — regardless of those experiences — but this outcome is by no means guaranteed.
Jubalee: But what if you only have experience of evil? Could this really mean you’re wise?
Socrates X: Perhaps, but only about evil.
Jubalee: Forgive me, Socrates X, but that sounds ludicrous.
Socrates X: Why?
Jubalee: Well, how could I make good decisions if all I know is experiences of evil?
Socrates X: Before this question can be considered adequately, we must ask of our definition: What does it mean to judge rightly, or to have soundness of judgment? What determines these?
Dolly: You’re talking about context! About background and setting and circumstance! And these directly relate to one’s experiences!
Socrates X: Exactly. Throughout History we find decisions made that, at the time, seemed Wise. I’m sure those who put Socrates or Jesus to death believed they were making sound judgments, were doing the right thing, and thus acting Wisely. And perhaps, for their purposes, they were.
Jubalee: That is outrageous!
Socrates X: And blasphemous?
Jubalee: Yes! Those who put Jesus to death were criminals!
Socrates X: Actually, by definition, they were not criminals. But that is a discussion for another time [TBD]. I sympathize with your incredulous indignation, Jubalee, but consider this: Those who put Jesus to death were fulfilling the Word of God. Without them, Jesus could not have been the man He was; He could not have fulfilled His destiny. So those who condemned Jesus to death should be as revered as any saint.
Hatch: That’s ironic! A contradiction, even!
Socrates X: Yes, but not because it is a mistake in reasoning, or an accident, or due to malicious intentions. This contradiction arises out of the peculiar belief system that is Christianity. It is inherent to this set of beliefs.
Jubalee: Well, Socrates X, you will understand if I disagree with you.
Socrates X: I would expect no less. I hope, however, that before we engage these issues directly, you can summon enough patience to work through the foundational ideas that confer upon my view some validity. If you are willing, we will discuss Religion in general, and Christianity specifically, at a later time.
Jubalee: I will patiently — and anxiously — await that discussion!
Socrates X: [Simpering] I am sure it will be as spirited as your anxiety is virtuous. In the meantime, let us return to our present concern. Jubalee, earlier you asked if one can be considered Wise if all one experiences is evil.
Jubalee: That’s right.
Socrates X: But then, shortly afterward, you asked if one could make good decisions if all one knows is experiences of evil.
Jubalee: Yes, I did ask in that manner as well. But I was asking the same thing.
Socrates X: I am sure you meant to, but, unfortunately, these are not the same. Aside from the trivial difference between being wise and making good decisions, a difference I am sure we all agree, for our purposes right now, is one of mere semantics [Looks around as all present nod their agreement], what is another difference?
Marc: I think I understand what you’re getting at, Socrates X. The difference must be that of having experiences and knowing experiences. But does that really matter?
Socrates X: Oh my, yes. Is it not reasonable to acknowledge that one can have an experience without having knowledge about it, about its origin (in a merely physical sense, or in a more significant cultural sense), or how it relates to others’ experiences, and so on?
Jubalee: I see. I not only can have an experience, but I can also learn from it.
Socrates X: Exactly. It is a cliché to say that a Wise man (or woman) learns from his (or her) mistakes; but it is a far more significant truth to say that we all learn from living, from everything we do and feel, and just what we learn, in its scope and application, is what determines whether or not we are Wise. So how should we incorporate this insight into our definition?
Marc: Well, it will have to include knowledge we gain from experience.
Dolly: But, surely, knowledge of experience is important, too.
Socrates X: It is. Knowing the subtle — and yet significant — difference between, for example, (the experience of) jealousy and (the experience of) envy might help one to make the right decisions in situations where such a distinction is warranted.
Jubalee: So, wisdom is knowledge of experience, and knowledge gained from experience?
Socrates X: These must certainly be included in our definition. But, there is still something missing. Earlier, Dolly, you had some comments about our view of part of our original definition of Wisdom, the part we have just been expanding. Do you remember?
Dolly: Which part is that, Socrates X.
Socrates X: Well, we originally worked with the OED definition of Wisdom, which I claimed misrepresented the term. I am sure that now we see that this definition focused on the results of Wisdom, but not on Wisdom itself.
Hatch: Yes, that’s right. That definition characterized wisdom as a capacity for making good judgments. It focused on the judgments, not the capacity itself.
Socrates X: Exactly. And Dolly’s reaction to our characterization of capacity as more than mere ability was that there is a relationship between such capacity and everything else.
Marc: Because we learn from experience.
Socrates X: Yes. And, since knowledge of and from experience forms a major part of this capacity, we must also include an acknowledgement of this relational nature. Let us try this definition on for size: Wisdom is the knowledge of and from experiences (gained directly or vicariously), and of how such experiences relate to things and their causes, utilized to make sound judgments in matters of life and conduct, or in the choice of ends and means.
Dolly: Yes! And including the “directly or vicariously” part means that we can learn from others’ experiences.
Marc: That does bring it all together, doesn’t it?
Jubalee: It makes sense, and even works perfectly with the definition of philosophy.
Socrates X: I agree.
Hatch: Socrates X, I have a question.
Socrates X: Yes, Hatch, what would you like to know?
Hatch: Well, we’ve just spent the better part of a day defining the word “philosophy” — and I understand much better now than I did this morning just what the word means — but I’m not sure just what use philosophy has. So, what does a philosopher, such as yourself, do, exactly?
Socrates X: Hatch, that is one of the most intelligent questions I have ever been asked. Yes, we spent much time discussing what Philosophy is, and we have settled on a very complicated and comprehensive explanation. Can anyone else offer a response to Hatch’s inquiry?
Chorus: The members of this party remain pensively silent, save one.
Marc: Why, they become philosophy professors, of course [Socrates X chortles heartily]! But seriously, I have never heard of a job whose requirements included a background in philosophy, or a career in which philosophy comprises a significant part of the training.
Socrates X: Alas, it is true! There have been, however, some medical establishments seeking Philosophers to help sort through very difficult issues surrounding procedures such as organ transplants, or controversial decisions such as when to “pull the plug” on patients suspected to be brain-dead, or suffering excruciating pain from which there is no hope of recovering, or have succumbed to a persistent coma, and so on. But these positions are reserved for those academically-minded Philosophers who “specialize” in Medical Ethics. In much the same way, some corporations [Looks at Marc] have taken a similar interest in “experts” in Business Ethics, even though this would seem a contradiction in terms [Smiles broadly].
Marc [Smiles briefly]: So there are some philosophers in the real world.
Socrates X: Actually, there are more than you think, Marc. Remember, our definition was general enough, broad enough to include many attitudes, beliefs, behavior, actions. Every time you make a decision, every time you weigh two options, you are practicing Philosophy. But even more important, one need not be conscious of this practice, of, for instance, making a conscious decision whether to donate to the United Way or the Heritage Foundation or even one’s church or synagogue. Every action or inaction, conscious or not, is an exercise in your philosophy.
Jubalee: How can this be so? In some metaphorical sense only, surely?
Socrates X: Not at all. To see this, just think of some action, such as going to work, or paying your bills. Why do these things?
Marc: Well, if you don’t pay your bills your assets — property, income, and so on — can be seized, or you could end up in jail.
Hatch: And if you don’t go to work, you won’t have the money to pay your bills, let alone get the stuff you want, like stereos, CDs, a car. But what are you getting at, Socrates X?
Socrates X: Before now, you have probably never had to answer such a question, even though the answers are readily available. You can justify your actions when prompted.
Dolly: Your philosophy is hidden, though always present, guiding the thoughts you have, words you speak, and actions you take, like the pages of a book contain the story within, or the sea that buoys the ship.
Socrates X: Exactly.
Jubalee: But you also included inactions, Socrates X. Surely these cannot also be attributable to your philosophy?
Socrates X: You raise an important point, Jubalee, and you are partly correct. Inactions — the lack of actions — must be qualified. We can categorize inactions into two broad kinds: Those that occur due to ignorance, because the actor involved simply does not know that some particular action is required, and those that are not due to ignorance, but to some willful choice not to act.
Hatch: Willful choice? Isn’t that a kind of action?
Socrates X: Yes. It is an act of Will.
Jubalee: So, a choice not to act is itself an act?
Socrates X: Yes. And thus, it is not an inaction — strictly speaking, of course! But, these are different than actions of the straightforward type, and we should find some way of distinguishing inactions due to ignorance to these due to willful neglect. How shall we accomplish this?
Marc: Well, the distinguishing characteristic seems to be that one is willful, and the other is not. We could simply call the first willful inaction; I can’t think of a moniker for the second, however.
Hatch [Smirking]: We could try “nonwillful inaction!” [Looks at Socrates X, who is chuckling] Or maybe there’s some other nonsense term we can coin.
Dolly: Why multiply our terminology? By identifying a subset, and setting it apart, we can reserve the broader term from whence it came for the remaining members of the class.
Socrates X: A noble suggestion! From now on, let us agree to use these two terms exclusively: “willful inaction” for a dereliction of an action when circumstances demand otherwise; and, “inaction” for a lack of action due to ignorance (that is, all inaction that cannot be covered by the former category).
Jubalee: So, Socrates X, can both of these kinds of inaction be expressions of your philosophy? Surely not, since one is a result of not knowing that you should act.
Socrates X: That is correct, Jubalee. Only willful inaction, and action proper, can properly be considered an expression of one’s Knowledge, Beliefs, and Feelings, in short, of one’s Philosophy. And, one’s Philosophy is the wellspring from which Decisions and Judgments are made, as our original definition of Wisdom made clear.
Marc: Socrates X, I just thought of another troubling aspect of the definition of philosophy we formulated earlier.
Socrates X: What is that, Marc?
Marc: Well, we were discussing philosophy in the abstract, in general terms. But then, we started using the term in more specific instances, such as the philosophy of a person, my philosophy or your philosophy. When we say that I have a philosophy, the definition doesn’t quite fit anymore. To say that my philosophy is a pursuit or love or study of wisdom doesn’t fit with my philosophy being the, as you put it, “wellspring from which decisions or judgments are made.” I guess it can be strained, but it just doesn’t sound right.
Socrates X: How very astute! I agree that you have found a weakness in our definition. If you remember, Marc, very early in our conversation, soon after I presented to you all the OED definition, I stated that we may have to amend it to achieve a level of precision that you, Marc, felt it lacked. I assume that we all agree that the word philosophy, as we have used it recently, as a source of actions and decisions and so on, is legitimate [His eyes are greeted by nods, all around]. I propose now that we add just one word to balance the more active elements of the definition (pursuit, study, love) so that it reflects this more passive aspect.
Hatch: What word is that, Socrates X?
Socrates X: [Pulls out of his backpack the thermos, and pours the last of coffee, now long wanting of the heat from the first mug of the morning] The word is possession.
Jubalee: How will this one word settle the matter, Socrates X?
Socrates X: To answer your question, Jubalee, let me restate the definition as explicitly as possible, substituting our definition of Wisdom as well:
Philosophy is the theoretical or practical: (1) love, study, pursuit, or possession of the knowledge of and from experiences (gained directly or vicariously) and of how such experiences relate to things and their causes, and utilized to make sound judgments in matters of life and conduct, or in the choice of ends and means; or, (2) love, study, pursuit, or possession of knowledge of things and their causes.
Hatch: It all makes sense now!
Marc: Yes, that resolves the problem quite nicely.
Jubalee: But, Socrates X, there is still a troubling question that has not been resolved.
Socrates X: What is that?
Jubalee: Well, we still have no way of determining whether a decision (or a judgment) — or for that matter, a philosophy — is the right one.
Socrates X: True. And I’ve got some bad news on that account. In most — if not all — situations, for most — if not all — decisions, we can only know whether such decisions are right or wrong in retrospect. And this is especially true of any particular Philosophy. In this respect, we must admit that we are ignorant.
Marc: That’s disheartening! Why do you say that?
Socrates X: Because decisions and judgments are related to a Philosophy, and can only be evaluated in a meaningful way within the framework of that Philosophy. And likewise, one’s Philosophy can only be evaluated according to one’s knowledge and experiences, as well things and their causes. All of these are related, and more as well. We could call this the Principle of Relativity, but it would have to be developed in depth before such a principle could be useful to us. Perhaps we will address this at some other time.
Marc: But, Socrates X, how is all this less odious than a base relativism, a mere justification for perverse behavior that is contrary to the dictates of civilization?
Socrates X: I am afraid that it is too late in the day to answer that question adequately, Marc, and it will have to wait for many more discussions [TBD]. I can tell you that it has to do with the very nature of our existence, and that of the things in the universe, of (experiences of) our environment. Jubalee, by the look on your face I can see that you are not at all pleased with the uncertainty of our conclusions.
Jubalee: You’re right, Socrates X. I have dedicated my life to the belief that there are very definite differences between right and wrong.
Socrates X: I know. It is one of the most comforting aspects of your Faith.
Jubalee: Yes. How can I now disregard that?
Socrates X: No one expects you to, Jubalee. I can only ask that you allow yourself to be open to the ideas we discuss, to be as Philosophical, in the sense we have just discussed, as possible.
Jubalee: I’ll try, Socrates X, but it will be difficult.
Socrates X: I know. But I assure you, it will get easier as disparate parts slowly start to form a whole.
Hatch: And you will help us put this puzzle together?
Socrates X: Of course, Hatch. That is what I do; I am a Philosopher, after all, and I am obliged to help all those that seek it find Wisdom. But for now, my friends, we must wait for another day, and I must go. Please take care, and may all your experiences be enlightening.
Chorus: Socrates X places into his backpack his book and mug and thermos. He stands, places the backpack over his shoulder, and, as those gathered bid their farewells, saunters into the sunset.