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Old 06-05-2010, 02:25 PM   #1
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Philosophy: books and discussion

Hi All,

This thread is to discuss anything related to philosophy, and of course especially books: what you are reading, what you have read, what you'd like to read, what you think about them, what you like or hate about them...

Who am I to start this thread? Someone who knows practically nothing about philosophy. Which doesn't stop me from having strong opinions about it And occasionally even reading about it!

[Warning: long rambling post ahead. Feel free to skip it and go directly to the reply box to discuss your ideas and favorite books about philosophy]

This week I started reading "On The Shortness of Life" by Seneca. And suddenly I wondered why. Here I was, standing in a hot and crowded train, with my e-reader in one hand, reading the advice of a guy who lived 2000 years ago and presumably never had to lift a finger to earn a living, living as he probably did out of inherited farmland tended by slaves. What can this guy possibly offer me? Advice on how to get out of the politics of the Roman Senate to retire and think about life?

This is not a rhetorical question. I find the reading interesting, even though I cannot simply ignore everything I know, or think I know, that he doesn't and just agree on his views about life and people. I even find some of them slightly ridiculous. And yet, I am reading this book. I am not in the habit of reading a book if I don't feel I'm getting something out of it.

So, what am I getting out of this, and of philosophy in general? The first answer that came to my mind is just the pleasure of exercising my brain. I love to learn things, to connect things together, to find out about ideas and take them apart. To read the thoughts written by a Roman patrician 2000 years ago and try to connect them to my 21st Century knowledge and opinions. It's a pure intellectual pleasure, a little like solving a puzzle.

But that's not enough. There are many things that I don't know and could exercise my mind on. Some of them I even do read about, but not all of them. I make a selection. So why philosophy?

I think that in the end, what is special about philosophy is that it's, ultimately, about me. About trying to connect and make sense of all the little and big things I know, feel, sense and live. About comparing them to the thoughts of others, and connecting them together, or opposing them. About building a knowledge of myself and how I see life, the universe, and everything. And maybe my place in all this.

Maybe.

Or maybe I just read a book that mentioned Seneca and thought I'd read that one too, and anyway I need something to do on the commute train, and since so many people have read this guy there must be something valuable in there somewhere

Anyway, that was a rather long-winded intro. I feel I could go on like this for quite a long time, but it's time for dinner, so I'll leave you to talk amongst yourselves now
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Old 06-05-2010, 02:47 PM   #2
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Thank you Florence! Looking forward to following along here. And you know of course I can't just sit still and be quiet so will probably be posting as well even if I don't know what I'm talking about.
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Old 06-05-2010, 02:53 PM   #3
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Beautiful post, Florence.

I don't read philosophy generally, though I did read some in my teens, but of course I do my own philosophising, as do most of us

I really liked this paragraph you wrote:
Quote:
I think that in the end, what is special about philosophy is that it's, ultimately, about me. About trying to connect and make sense of all the little and big things I know, feel, sense and live. About comparing them to the thoughts of others, and connecting them together, or opposing them. About building a knowledge of myself and how I see life, the universe, and everything. And maybe my place in all this.
This is true for everything I read. Everything I experience, even, but reading more so. In the end, it's about making connections, drawing parallels, accepting and rejecting, and in the end coming out a richer person. It doesn't need to be philosophy, any better than average work of fiction will serve the same purpose well, if you have the right set of mind when reading it. That's what I gain out of reading.

Thanks for putting it so nicely
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Old 06-05-2010, 02:56 PM   #4
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This is true for everything I read. Everything I experience, even, but reading more so. In the end, it's about making connections, drawing parallels, accepting and rejecting, and in the end coming out a richer person. It doesn't need to be philosophy, any better than average work of fiction will serve the same purpose well, if you have the right set of mind when reading it. That's what I gain out of reading.

Thanks for putting it so nicely
Hey, that's true!!! I had never thought of it that way but it's so true!
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Old 06-05-2010, 03:05 PM   #5
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Thank you Florence! Looking forward to following along here. And you know of course I can't just sit still and be quiet so will probably be posting as well even if I don't know what I'm talking about.
I do hope you will post. If knowing what you're talking about was a requirement, do you think I could have started this thread?
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Old 06-05-2010, 03:27 PM   #6
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I do hope you will post. If knowing what you're talking about was a requirement, do you think I could have started this thread?
I know, I'm just dabbler as far as philosophy though.
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Old 06-05-2010, 03:55 PM   #7
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Thanks for this thread, FlorenceArt! This should be both enjoyable and edifying.

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Hi All,

This thread is to discuss anything related to philosophy, and of course especially books: what you are reading, what you have read, what you'd like to read, what you think about them, what you like or hate about them...
The book I'm currently reading is The Antichrist by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. It's part of a larger work, The Portable Nietzsche which I read probably 30 years ago, but am now revisiting.

The Antichrist is probably Nietzsche's most sustained attack on Christianity in all of his writings; not that he was ever shy about it in any of them. As a non-believer, the problem I have with Nietzsche is not his antipathy for Christianity; but that he denigrates everything I feel to be of worth about that religious tradition. Where he criticizes the excesses and questionable metaphysics of Christianity, I feel we are on the same page, but when he attacks the notions of charity and offering support to the weak and helpless, I can't help but recoil. He calls Christianity a weak feminine religion; a slave's religion that stands against everything that is born of strength, virtue, and nobility.

I wonder. I have read (but can't offer a ready source) that among his neighbors he was know as "The Saint." Is it possible that his hard and often harsh words served as a shield against a tender heart?

Having the well-deserved reputation of being one of the most quotable of philosophers, his prose is at once accessible and profound. One wit called him, "King of the One-Liners."

As for his philosophy, I believe it has been largely misunderstood and ill-served by political types who sang his praises, but his notion that helping the weak is a crime against nature because it tends to weaken the species seems repulsive.

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This week I started reading "On The Shortness of Life" by Seneca. And suddenly I wondered why. Here I was, standing in a hot and crowded train, with my e-reader in one hand, reading the advice of a guy who lived 2000 years ago and presumably never had to lift a finger to earn a living, living as he probably did out of inherited farmland tended by slaves. What can this guy possibly offer me? Advice on how to get out of the politics of the Roman Senate to retire and think about life?
To my shame, I have not read Seneca, but I have read an English translation of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and find it amazing how stoicism managed to capture the imagination of people from emperors to those born into slavery like Epictetus.

The stoic philosophy would be well-worth discussing.
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Old 06-05-2010, 04:11 PM   #8
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Why I hate Plato

To be honest, I have only recently started being interested in philosophy. Of course I read some when I was a teenager. I remember reading Nietzsche (mandatory teenage reading I guess) but I don't remember anything about it. I also read a few religious texts, the Koran and the Tao, and even parts of the Bible

I tried reading Plato at that time, and was shocked by the so-called "dialogs" that consisted mainly of some acolyte cycling through a dozen versions of "yes, you are so right" while Socrates was rambling on. The shock was because of the way my father had told me about Socrates and the "maïeutique", or how he helped others "give birth" to ideas. Yeah, right.

I have always been interested in ideas and theories, but until a few months ago, so during an interval of at least 20 years, I don't think I read any purely philosophical book. Then I decided to give Plato another try.

Oh my. It was even worse than I thought.

Not only is Plato's Socrates a rather unlikeable individual who obviously enjoys befuddling and making fun of adversaries who are invariably presented as barely able to rub two ideas together, and quickly reduced to either bovine agreement or threats(*). The worst is his philosophy.

No wonder the Catholic thinkers were delighted by him and tried to make him a sort of honorary Christian. He was, in the worst sense of the word. He hated life and the body. He had a passionate contempt for reality. He was -gasp- an idealist.

One example stayed with me: in one of his -ahem- dialogs, he explains why medicine is an art, while cooking is not. The reason for this, ladies and gentlemen, is that a cook learned how to cook (which food tastes good, which is poisonous, etc) through experience. But he doesn't know why. Which makes him obviously inferior to a doctor.

In case you're not getting this, let me expand: a cook, who knows how to feed people and keep them alive, is inferior to a doctor, who kills people (because that's what doctors did in these times). But that's OK because the doctor has a theory (most likely some nonsense about humors or the balance of elements in the body).

It's with nonsense like this that you end up killing people for their own good.

So in case it's not clear already, no matter how much I love ideas, I don't think they matter more than people, or life, or reality. Even if they are so much more comfortable to play with

So, I guess that was a bit more on my philosophy, or lack of it.

Aren't you glad you dropped by?


(*) Well, considering what happened to Socrates, I'm obliged to admit that maybe the threats were not entirely fictitious
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Old 06-05-2010, 04:15 PM   #9
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Sorry Tom, we cross-posted. I'd like to re-read Nietzsche, but I don't remember much from the first time I read Zarathustra.

I'd be happy to discuss the Stoics, or at least Seneca, after I have read a bit more from him. And I made a note about Marcus Aurelius!
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Old 06-05-2010, 04:30 PM   #10
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I was once photographed reading Nietzsche to my then-girlfriend for the local newspaper. The photographer was scandalized that I was doing this.

Personally, I thought his writings were far too negative upon reflection. But at the time, I was fascinated by the idea of willpower being the trump card in all things, an idea I would reject soon after.
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Old 06-05-2010, 04:44 PM   #11
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It's hard to separate the man from the myth when it comes to Socrates. Since he left us no writings of his own, it's probably more useful to speak of the doctrines of Plato, who, as did Xenophon, recorded much of what we know about Socrates' teachings. The great strength of his pupil, Plato, was in Plato's ability to grasp objections to his arguments. He even seemed to have an uncanny knack for anticipating arguments that wouldn't arrive for years after his own demise. His weakness, it seems to me, arises from some of the positions he defended, and the questionable defenses he offered. He has certainly had his detractors (not the least of whom was Thomas Jefferson), and his mystical idealism appears to have been a major set-back for philosophy for centuries afterward, but he also had a firm grasp of the major problems confronting philosophy.

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Old 06-05-2010, 05:43 PM   #12
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It's hard to separate the man from the myth when it comes to Socrates. Since he left us no writings of his own, it's probably more useful to speak of the doctrines of Plato, who, as did Xenophon, recorded much of what we know about Socrates' teachings. The great strength of his pupil, Plato, was in Plato's ability to grasp objections to his arguments. He even seemed to have an uncanny knack for anticipating arguments that wouldn't arrive for years after his own demise. His weakness, it seems to me, arises from some of the positions he defended, and the questionable defenses he offered. He has certainly had his detractors (not the least of whom was Thomas Jefferson), and his mystical idealism appears to have been a major set-back for philosophy for centuries afterward, but he also had a firm grasp of the major problems confronting philosophy.
Yes, this sounds like a good description to me. And in case it wasn't clear from my rant, I was talking about Plato's theories, since I don't know anything about Socrates's ideas. But I tend to think that I would not have enjoyed meeting him
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Old 06-05-2010, 05:45 PM   #13
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The classic film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai directed by Jim Jarmusch with Forest Whitaker in the lead role keeps getting back to the book: Hagakure: The book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetome

This book is well worth a read with compilation of the philosphies of Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Yamamoto Tsunetomo was a samurai in the early 1700s. who retired to a monastery after his master's death.

Quote from the introduction:
Quote:
The book is interesting not so much for all of its philosophies, which run from the profound to the mundane to the absurd, but rather for the historical context in which it was written. By the time Mitsushige passed away in May 1700, Japan had been at peace for almost exactly 100 years. This left the samurai with the same problem facing our modern military: how do you remain a proud, disciplined warrior in times of extended peace?
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Old 06-05-2010, 05:52 PM   #14
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The classic film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai directed by Jim Jarmusch with Forest Whitaker in the lead role keeps getting back to the book: Hagakure: The book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetome

This book is well worth a read with compilation of the philosphies of Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Yamamoto Tsunetomo was a samurai in the early 1700s. who retired to a monastery after his master's death.
I downloaded Miyamoto Musashi's "The Book of Five Rings" at Feedbooks but haven't read it yet. I'll look up the two you mention, they sound interesting.
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Old 06-05-2010, 05:57 PM   #15
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Ghost Dog is an excellent film. I've read Hagakure, if I remember correctly it's more like a collection of thoughts and rules for the Samurai, than a philosophy book. Very interesting though, especially for the glimpse it offers into this alien (to us) mentality.
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