April 11, 2006

On my journey as a philosopher…

Posted in fiction, history, non-fiction, novelists, philosophy, religion at 6:24 pm by Jerry

Professor: Some believe “history repeats itself.”Student: Of course! That makes so much sense! I’m such an idiot!

There are so many books written on philosophy. If you want to learn about philosophy in general, where do you turn? Years ago I bought a book to help me explore my bent for philosophy. Usually a general view of philosophy means a historical view of philosophy (which is where it gets interesting – explanation below). And every historical view of philosophy is written with its own style. The book I’m talking about is written in a style meant for idiots. That’s right, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy by Jay Stevenson, Ph.D.

[Other historical views of philosophy I’ve purchased and recommend are: Sophie’s World – A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder; A Brief History of the Paradox – Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind by Roy Sorensen; and Evil in Modern Thought – an alternative history of philosophy (I wrote a few posts on this one) by Susan Neiman.]

I’ve been asked in the past, “Jerry, what’s with the ‘Idiot’ books on your shelf?” (I have three other Idiot Guides). And here’s my reason: I feel challenged to be able to explain to anyone with the greatest clarity and most common uses of language, complicated ideas. And observing others do it (or attempt to do it) is truly a treat for me.

So, anyways, I decided to read the Idiot book again just to see how far I’ve come in my understandings of philosophy. The book looked entirely different. And it still had plenty to teach me! I am such an idiot. It seems I’ve become less mystical and more scientific about philosophy. I use to think of myself more of a Platonist than Aristotelian, and this still may hold true. But metaphysically speaking (or fundamentally speaking), I am Aristotelian.

[Plato believes essence precedes existence (in the past, my religious leanings led me to believe God’s foreknowledge of his future creations was similar to Plato’s perfect “forms”. Who knew I had gnostic leanings?). And I’ve mentioned before in my post on existentialism (existence precedes essence) that I don’t believe existence nor essence precede the other. Apparently, this is Aristotelian.]

Back to history – I consider a portrayal of the history of philosophy, such as this Idiot book, interesting because of all the available philosophies of history that are out there.

Philosophy has been considered a pursuit of the “big picture” or “bird’s eye view” of things. In fact, the first chapter in the Idiot book is called “The Big Picture.” But the term “big picture” can have some interesting connotations when you move your direction of thought from looking at ideas to looking at people. As soon as I look for a big picture of people, I automatically diminish (to some extent) the diversity within the community. Looking for a big picture of a community or nation, without a regard for our innate inability to perform true empathy, will result in destroying our attempts to understand ourselves better, the very reason we look to our history!

I come to the position that we should be able to recognize a continuity in our personal history while questioning the reliability of a described history as a continuity of a people. This is huge for me! It makes me see written histories of nations and religious communities in a different light; and it effects my groundwork as a wanna-be novelist. What is story-telling if not some sort of meta-narrative, a story about the story we see in our world? It makes me wonder how much of the subjective fiction we find in novels can also be found in history books. Interesting, no?


1 Comment »

  1. Shirley said,

    I love the idiot books…but don’t think that makes me an idiot. Probably makes me smart.

    Blessings on your journey.


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