Copyright © 2000 Robert G. Ferrell

Thinking Greek

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 knows nothing.

There's nothing an agnostic can't do if he really doesn't know whether he believes in anything or not.

Graham Chapman

Read my hips.

George Bush (the Elder)

Life is a beach, which explains why I've got sand in my shorts.