Copyright © 2000
Robert G. Ferrell
There are poor souls in the limitless wasteland of
fringe intelligentsia who cannot study philosophy for the
simple reason that it deranges them, and makes them want to
watch film retrospectives on animated farm animals. It is
important to be able to converse in terms of philosophers if
one wants to be considered truly an intellectual-about-town,
however; it is for those hapless individuals who find the
P word so intimidating that I dedicate the following Guide to
Deep Thinking (or, How to Fit an Uncooperative Universe into
your Brain). Sit back and let the profound babbling of some of the
Great Cogitators of History guide you to a new and better
understanding of your own comparative sanity.
First, we'll look at some Greeks.
Thales thought that
magnets could reason, and that fluids were alive. He
eventually fell into an irrigation ditch. After he climbed
out, he made a bloody fortune by cornering the local olive
oil production market.
Anaximander seems to have been named after some
squirmy little amphibian. He imagined the earth as a pie
plate in the center of numerous concentric pipes made of
bark, and the celestial bodies surrounding it as vent holes
in the pipes. He thought Delphi (of Oracle fame) was the
earth's bellybutton. He decided that human beings first
evolved inside sharks. I couldn't find any reference to how he
thought we got out.
Pythagoras spent his life trying to figure out new ways
of adding things up, then inventing confusing but impressive
terms for them, such as "The Tetractys of the Decad." He
had a lot of marvelously improbable adventures, which
included talking a bear into becoming a vegetarian and
finding a magic navigational dart (comes in handy at the pub).
He thought that his friends were reincarnated as dogs
(seems to imply that his friends were, uh, dead)
and objected to beans and wrinkled pajamas.
Heraclitus thought that the world was a kind of giant
dying campfire. Aristotle (see below) felt that Heraclitus'
world view was merely the result of poor punctuation.
Plato wrote a lot about Socrates, who drank himself to
death. Plato spent most of the remainder of his time
insulting local political figures and being generally
famous. He was known for covering all the angles and
jumping on everyone's bandwagon at once.
Aristotle concluded that he was the end result of all
evolution in philosophy and philosophers. He thought that
God was sort of a big magnet, and that it was undignified to
be stupid. He also thought that philosophers understood
everything, which makes falling asleep at night a lot easier.
And now on to a passing mention of the Roman Philosophers.
There weren't any.
At least, none whose philosophy was recognizable as such when compared with
the Greek heavyweights. The Romans were concerned chiefly with conquering
everyone and living well; this preoccupation shows up in all aspects
of their lives. As a result, their philosophers tended to
write not so much philosophy as handbooks for gracious
living and partying. The Skeptics thought everyone was
wrong, the Stoics thought everyone was right, and the
Epicureans thought everything was food. It was the best of
times, it was the worst of times, it was time to eat.
That's all the philosophy I have time or patience for.
I would like to close with some quotations that I hope you
find as pithy and inspirational as have I.
If anyone thinks that nothing can be known, he
does not know whether even this can be known, since he admits that he
There's nothing an agnostic can't do if he really doesn't know whether
he believes in anything or not.
Read my hips.
George Bush (the Elder)
Life is a beach, which explains why I've got sand in my shorts.