I spent an hour and a half reading from my book of Sextus Empiricus, and it really fills some gaps for me about Western philosophy, often just by giving definitions. So now I know what is meant by words like posit, positive, and positivism, also the original sense of dogmatism, and other things. All of them pertain to knowledge, especially the theory of knowledge. I think that to “posit” is to affirm a thing as true or false, whereas the sceptic suspends judgment either way. It’s an interesting approach to looking at reality, distrusting sense perception and also human reason and saying nothing can be known for sure; also taking into account how everyone sees things differently. This is what we call appearance or opinion. The mistake I made for a long time was assuming that my perceptions were absolutes, and everyone saw things the same. But is that a reason to despair of the availability of objective truth? According to the sceptic, the suspense of judgment leads to a feeling of calm and quietude. Again, it’s kind of weird. I’m not sure how I got directed into this philosophy but I’m learning new words and concepts that round out my education a bit.
Tag: Ancient Greece
Blindness and Sight
I went too long without eating anything, so the caffeine went right to my head and knocked out my logic. When Gloria left for the day, I had lunch immediately. It’s been stormy and sunny by turns today, like a temperamental old man in charge of the weather. Now I feel kind of tired and a little disappointed about the rest of my day. Maybe I’ll stroll over to the market again. Or pick a book to read and learn something new. I’m curious about skepticism, this whole thing of doubting the hard work of logicians and other organizers of knowledge. Did the skeptics have an agenda? What was the conclusion of their arguments?
Quarter of eleven.
The aim of skepticism, from my understanding of Sextus Empiricus, was liberation from mental disturbance as a result of suspending judgment of the truth of anything. Thus, skepticism is more like a religious practice than a philosophical endeavor to discover truth. In its original form, Epicureanism was rather similar: the goal was to minimize pain by eliminating fear of death and the gods. Also by keeping life simple. As one translator put it, Hellenistic philosophy was a discipline of the heart instead of the head.
But I still need to learn how Montaigne might have distorted skepticism to a despair of the facts and a regression to primitive faith.
In my opinion, life without the light of reason is not worth living. My motive for saying this is my personal experience with madness, which is like mental blindness. Do we really want to stumble through life blindfolded?
Feeling pretty tired after Gloria was here for two and a half hours. But it looks like we got something done today. There’s actually some free floor space in my family room again, and most of my CDs are shelved and off the ground. I don’t know what causes the disorder of schizophrenia or why my functioning went downhill after I left my job 14 years ago. It’s a thing you can see objectively, just something that happens. I seriously doubt that psychotherapy can do much good for a case of severe mental illness. You take the medication and hope for the best.
Today it’s raining lightly at intervals from a white sky. Sometimes I want to really milk the pleasure out of my life; go on a spree of bohemian activities like drinking and making music, and I wish for a world where it’s okay to be a fool in a Queen song. The only dangers of decadence are that it shortens your lifespan and does damage to others who care about being responsible, like Odysseus trying to go home to Penelope in the iconic old story. It’s the old conflict of passion versus prudence, as ancient as the Greeks and still pertinent today. It’s the substance of civilization, with the mainstream and the counterculture. I wonder which one I’m more partial to now. To straddle both is difficult, like Henry IV before he finally rebuffs Falstaff to be a proper king. “I know you not.” Life is hard for everyone the same way…
Written with a Gut Ache
Nine twenty five.
My book of Plotinus arrived this evening while I was napping. So, after checking the order status with Amazon, I went out to the end of my driveway to get it out of my mailbox. I wasn’t bothered by Aesop’s barking as I was going through the front door. A few minutes later I examined the book: it’s a little gem of scholarship with an austere black cover, and published by Hackett. I started scanning the Introduction, which goes into pretty dense exposition of The One; and I thought, This little book may be the same edition as the one used by Yes, if the band indeed was familiar with Plotinus. Then again, the concept of The One is also Indian, from the Rig Veda, and far more ancient than Neoplatonism. Now I need to learn what is meant by this idea. So far I only know that The One is unknowable to the senses, and is available solely to the intelligence; basically a Platonic notion from Republic and Symposium. The difficulty of the concept for me is that it multiplies entities, making ontology more complex than necessary to explain the things that exist and the events that happen. I guess that makes me a nominalist rather than an essentialist… so all the spiritual arguments are lost on me. The principle of parsimony has always persuaded me because of its simplicity, even though materialism rouses hostility in many people. And the reason for that is that human beings are vain…
Anyway, I will read further in Plotinus to see where it goes, but I think it’s kind of predictable. Funny but while I was writing the above, I had a gut ache, which now is relieved as I reach my conclusion. Or is there really something to mind over matter, so that people like Plotinus have a good point?
Quarter of five.
I made some beautiful notes tonight in my blank book having to do with passion in our lives, and how this is missing since the pandemic. But woven with this theme is also my regret that I’m not drinking anymore. If my deity used to be Dionysus, the god of wine, then I’m at a loss to name my higher power today. I remember reading the tragedy by Euripides about the capture of Dionysus and the vengeance wrought by his devotees. He was older than Jesus Christ, and Christianity borrowed images from the pagans: “I am the vine, you are the branches; without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)… As I marched eastward on Armstrong Street under the azure, I spotted the moon high in the sky, a thumbnail sliver. The heavens were cloudless and deep. But on the earth, the scene was sterile and loveless. I observed that it resembled a nuclear wasteland in the wake of a grand passion that had spent itself. And probably this passion in my mind is my past alcoholism, a disease that apparently ran its course and left me devastated… The first light of dawn is visible outside. The forecast said sunny weather again today. I’ve got DDA on my plate for this afternoon. Just let go and go with it. Knowing how to act after quitting alcohol can be quite difficult. I’ll have four years of sober time three months from now, but I’m never complacent.
Six o’clock. Michelle will be opening the store just now. Suddenly I feel rather tired, but I suppose that’s okay. The morning Snapple tea should taste very good.
Thirty Years / Necessity
Still another clear and beautiful day. I bought Aesop’s wet dog food an hour ago, ground beef and chicken. I got myself an extra Snapple tea to take to practice this afternoon. It should fit in my gig bag with my bass. Sort of by accident, I was wearing both a Duck T-shirt and a Duck mask to the store, but then Melissa also wore a Duck sweatshirt. As I was reading a few pages of Symposium last night, I realized how alcoholic the university lifestyle was, a tradition that started with the Greeks. First they would have dinner and then would proceed to get wasted on wine while they talked philosophy. It seems such an artificial mode of existence to depend on alcohol for any kind of feeling and profound thinking. And when you become addicted to it, your life goes down the tubes and you lose everything you had. On the flip side, if you stop drinking in time, your life will be restored to you. Despite Plato, I still love philosophy, especially the modern tradition begun by Descartes in the 17th Century. College was a lot of fun, and yet I got there rather unintentionally. At 18 years of age, I couldn’t make my own decisions on what I wanted to be. But I don’t think I would change my past even if I could. The real derailment was my illness at 24 years old. And I just realized that it was 30 years ago when I became sick. I stuck with the same psychiatrist for 26 years and never seemed to get anywhere. I took a medication that didn’t work very well. But now, on the new one, and minus the alcohol, I feel as though I had rejoined with who I was in 1991 or maybe a little earlier.
Every day when the sun shines, it appears brighter to me than ever before, which suggests how I am healing from the illness. As far as the idea of free will, sometimes adversities hit us that are out of our control. With me it’s been a very long waiting game for this new drug called Vraylar; though I wonder if the change in my fortunes can be entirely attributed to the medication. My big decision to quit drinking happened a year before I actually did that. Maybe there’s simply a time for everything, nor could it be otherwise; like a kind of necessity, another word for fate. In two parallel worlds, fate and free will both hold true at the same time. Whatever the truth is, the process of living is fascinating to observe in action.
Flowers and Weeds
I’m still not hot to trot on getting vaccinated. The Johnson’s vaccine has a problem with causing blood clots, and that’s what they have at Bi Mart. I haven’t been paying much attention to the news lately; I just delete the emails every morning and get on with my day. Heidi is very unwell, she told me yesterday. I was sad to hear about it, and meanwhile the sun blazed down apathetically. For some reason I thought of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane, a powerful description of nature’s indifference to humankind, very realistic and not at all sugary except for the grace of his excellent prose style. So, Heidi said she’d be back Monday, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s only Tuesday but already I’m anticipating Saturday’s band practice. I hope it happens. I will take my old SX bass, which I’ve had for ten years now. Maybe I’ll tweak it again before the weekend; put a different high mass bridge on it for the best tone… I’m considering getting the Penguin edition of Plato’s Symposium for its treatment of Eros, the spiritual love of beauty. There’s a lot of books to read. And the French poets I have are just amazing. Poetry is great for enhancing the experience of music, and the reverse is also true. I could explore my way through Greek tragedy or perhaps just write in my blank book to have a revelation. It’s interesting how thoughts feed feelings and feelings feed thoughts in the course of a day, taking your mood up or down from moment to moment. It is constant maintenance of your mental state to keep positive and happy.
Ten forty. Trying to organize my thoughts without much success. The sunshine brings out motley instincts, as if I were asleep and dreaming assorted taboos. Probably everyone does this, but I find it quite disturbing to have such nightmares. Which is truer, these impulses or their censorship by reason? And the condition of the individual is analogous to the general population and how it is ruled. I’m a liberal person, so I guess that means more weeds in the garden of society, and pushing the envelope of what is acceptable. It’s a very difficult call. And how long before the logical filter breaks down and madness runs free in your mind and in the streets? Was Plato just paranoid of human nature? Shouldn’t we harmonize with nature within and without ourselves? Who’s to say what is best for the garden and what constitutes a weed?
To the Underworld
I came awake thinking about Orpheus and Eurydice, the most powerful and personal of classical myths for me. He loves her so tenaciously that he seeks out the underworld and confronts Pluto to bring her back from death. This is granted on the condition that he not look back at her as they are leaving hades. Orpheus fails in this and loses Eurydice forever. Then he is left alone to mourn with his lyre. Another great story is that of Pygmalion, the talented sculptor who falls in love with the statue he molds of the perfect woman. Venus takes pity on him and endows the statue with life. The new woman is named Galatea, and the lovers are happy ever after.
I decided that I’m going to band practice no matter what happens, even though with the music project I’m beating a dead horse. I know I’ve been over the hill and I feel like a husk of my former self. But I’m stubborn and won’t admit defeat. “Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.” Then again I was always a saturnine introvert, disinterested in the passions that enthrall most people. I wished to remain free and that’s how it turned out to be… I feel like Jimmy Page in his fantasy of himself in The Song Remains the Same. He climbs the hill to meet the wrinkled old man with the lantern— who it turns out is himself many years hence.
The Good News: a Letter
I made two posts today that, I see in retrospect, complement each other. The first one affirms individual freedom as a gift from nature, and the second one suggests the agency of fate, in an apparent contradiction. Or, can fate and free will both obtain in the same worldview? Either they exclude each other or not. Sartre would say that the fatalism of the second post is bad faith because I tried to deny the fact of human freedom. I once had an English professor who noted, “Fate and free will are not opposites,” but I never understood his meaning. I believe the play in question was Oedipus the King. He, Oedipus, is warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. And as the events play out, he does just that, though unwittingly. Oedipus fulfills the fate put in place by the gods, yet his actions are freely chosen. Could he have done otherwise than what he was fated to do? This was never very clear to me. But I think I agree with Sartre: deferring your liberty to something outside of yourself is to shuffle off responsibility. So that freedom and responsibility truly are intrinsic to every human being, and “inalienable,” as I said. But I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was quite the philosopher that Sartre was, and also, Pastor is probably unfamiliar with the latter. One thing is certain: one cannot be held responsible for his actions without first acknowledging his free agency, and the converse is also true. My sister tends to overemphasize the responsibility side of the coin, ignoring the good news of man’s liberty. It’s a rather fascinating topic for me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Pastor only scratched the surface in his Reformation Sunday sermon. He evoked Aristotle and Jefferson in relation to the issues of freedom and happiness, but there’s a lot more territory to cover, particularly Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Sartre. This is an investigation I opened since the lockdown last March. I’m still working on it and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion before next spring.
Ancient Ethical Dilemma
One thirty. The guitar stands came, so I unpacked them and set them up. My mood is still pretty rotten, though better than a little while ago… I don’t enjoy much of anything lately, and it’s very rough to experience. Kate liked pleasure, and so did I; we both were sensual and commonsensical about it. Except, it wasn’t rational to drink a half case every day. The Greeks prescribed moderation, and it’s still the truth. I’m a little afraid that I’m close to a relapse of alcoholism, and this could depend on the outcome of the election. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but party politics are what they are, I guess. It looks like my vote went for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The movies will go berserk with a Democratic win, like Pulp Fiction all over again. Life in general will be decadent and liberal, and even irreligious. This is how I see the Democratic Party, whether or not it’s absolutely true. Thus the presidential race still bugs me, and will keep doing so until after November 3rd. It’s possible I voted for the wrong guy. I guess I really want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, or however you formulate sensual pleasure. I used to have too much fun with my old friend Kate. But it’s very difficult to know what is right between the choices of stoicism and Epicureanism. The latter nearly killed me, and yet I want to have fun so badly. Some people are satisfied with just having more money; that’s all they wish for. And then there are those who want to burn the candle at both ends and party like there’s no tomorrow. That was me four years ago and before. I don’t know. Which way is more commonsensical? I realize that alcohol is my curse and not good for me, yet I voted for the liberal party in hopes that everybody could have a good time once again. It’s too late to change my vote now, but I see myself white knuckling it until all the votes are counted.