Socrates and Place

Socrates can’t learn from place.  He’s too anthropocentric.  I always think of Plato’s Phaedrus (230d), where Socrates says this:

You see, I am fond of learning. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.

He is fond of learning (philomathes), but country places (chorai) and trees (dendra) don’t help, whereas anthropoi do.  What really interests me here isn’t the obvious anthropocentrism of Socrates, but this: Phaedrus is able to use written discourse as a drug to lure Socrates to the countryside (where he might be capable of learning in place, of place), and after he is drugged-dragged out into place, he asks forgiveness for his anthropocentrism.  Here’s a slightly more complete version of the passage.

Forgive me, my dear friend. You see, I am fond of learning. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.  But you seem to have found the charm [pharmakon] to bring me out.


Geo-Logic: Philosophy and Earth Sciences

Robert Frodeman, Geo-Logic: Breaking Ground Between Philosophy and the Earth Sciences (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003).

A few excerpts from the Introduction:

Our relationship to the Earth cannot be encompassed by science alone: “geology” opens up possibilities that an exclusively scientific approach to the Earth closes off.  In ancient Greek, or Gaia evoked the rich, earthy soil that sustains life; Mother Earth, the sheltering source and tomb of life; and one’s patria or homeland.  Our environmental questions require an account of the Earth that acknowledges all of these dimensions, an integrated logos of Gaia, an account of the planet that is our home. (p. 3)

Geologists are poet semioticians, treating rock formations as stony verse, conjuring past worlds from the layers of an outcrop. (p. 3)

A disciplinary approach to knowledge is not unreasonable, but it is partial.  It needs to be complemented by an approach that remembers that our problems are always extra-disciplinary in nature. (p. 12)

Philosophy in particular is well suited for uniting the insights of science with economic, political, ethical, aesthetic, and religious perspectives. (p. 5)

Practicing philosophy means something more than applying the established insights of philosophy to our lives; we must approach philosophy as a yoga—a disciplined and embodied way of being in the world that in turn influences our philosophical propositions.  The point is not to dismiss philosophy’s discursive element, but to view the linguistic and embodied, engaged aspects of philosophy as complementary.  In this view of philosophy, philosophers would spend roughly equal amounts of time out in the “field” and in teaching and writing. (p. 10)

Truth and Philosophy on the Way

Not just Hannah Arendt’s teacher, Karl Jaspers is a great philosopher in his own right.  His work has been influential for many developments in twentieth-century philosophy, theology, and psychiatry.  Here are two quotations in which he provides basic (yet profound) definitions of truth and philosophy.

“Within time, truth is forever underway, always in motion and not final even in its most marvelous crystallizations.”     Tragedy Is Not Enough (1952, p. 104)

“The Greek word for philosopher (philosophos) connotes a distinction from sophos.  It signifies the lover of wisdom (knowledge) as distinguished from him who considers himself wise in the possession of knowledge.  This meaning of the word still endures: the essence of philosophy is not the possession of truth but the search for truth, regardless of how many philosophy may belie it with their dogmatism, that is, with a body of didactic principles purporting to be definitive and complete.  Philosophy means to be on the way.  Its questions are more essential than its answers, and ever answer becomes a new question.”   Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (2003, p. 12)

Schelling on the object of philosophy

This is a wonderful quotation from Schelling’s 1842 Philosophy of Mythology.  Here’s the German:

Bei jeder Erklärung ist das Erste, daß sie dem zu Erklärende Gerechtigkeit widersahren lasse, es nicht herabdrücke, herabdeute, ver kleinere oder verstümmle, damit es leichter zu begreifen sey.  Hier fragt sich nicht, welche Ansicht muß von der Erscheinung gewonnen werden, damit sie irgend einer Philosophie gemäß sich bequem erklären lasse, sondern umgekehrt, welche Philosophie wird gesordert, um dem Gegenstand gewachsen, aus gleicher Höhe mit ihm zu seyn. Nicht, wie muß das Phänomen gewendet, gedreht, vereinseitigt oder verkümmert werden, um aus Grundsätzen, die wir uns einmal vorgesetzt nicht zu überschreiten, noch allenfalls erklärbar zu seyn, sondern: wohin müssen unsere Gedanken sich erweitern, um mit dem Phänomen in Verhältniß zu stehen. 

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Philosophie der Mythologie: Volume 5, Schellings Werke, ed. Manfred Schröter (C. H. Beck, 1984), p. 3.

A translation:

With each explanation this is first: do justice to that which is to be explained, and do not suppress it, interpret it away, belittle it, or mutilate it in order to make it easier to conceptualize.  Here the question is not, “At what view of the phenomenon must we arrive to explain it in accordance with one or another philosophy?”  Rather the reverse, “What philosophy is requisite if we are to live up to the object, be on a level with it?”  It is not a question of how the phenomenon must be turned, twisted, confined, or atrophied so as to become explicable at all costs on grounds that we have completely resolved not to surpass. Rather, to what point must we enlarge our thought so that it is in proportion to the phenomenon?