We had two interesting discussions on Thursday based on information on Descartes in Tom Butler-Dowdon’s book, 50 Philosophy Classics. I also provided some handouts based on my research mostly on the internet. This morning’s group found Descartes famous ‘I think, therefore I am’ difficult to grasp. Also the idea that Descartes could discard all existing knowledge and experience and start again in judging what he believed to be true. Is it really possible to imagine that all your past ideas and experiences can be erased to the point that the only thing one can know is that they are a ‘thinking thing’.
Descartes goes on to to say:
“And the whole force of the arguments I have used here to prove the existence of God consists in this, that I recognise that it would not be possible for my nature to be as it is, that is to say, that I should have in me the idea of a God, if God did not really exist.”
We discussed that people throughout time and in different cultures throughout the world independently believe in some form of higher power. But does that really prove that God exists? It doesn’t disprove it either!
The afternoon group suggested that Descartes’ attention to God in his writing was more pragmatic due to the time (early 1600’s) in France. Many of his ideas in maths and science, astronomy could have been seen as heresy if he didn’t publicly pay homage to a belief in God. Galileo suffered being called a heretic for his advances in scientific knowledge so Descartes, as a witness to this, withdrew some of his writings (The Book of the World).
Primarily our group is about having a stimulating discussion and keeping our brains active. The participants know that I am not a philosophy academic and hopefully that enables them to think and to express valid views on the topics raised in the book. And we can get to know each other and start to build some social networks in our community.
Recently I have been exploring many avenues seeking wisdom.
I have studied (with a small group of other interested folks) Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche (not in any great depth, I might add!)
From there I spent some time in October studying the Stoics – Seneca again, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. Following on from there we leapt a few centuries to consider Karl Marx and Mary Wollstonecraft. We finished up with a quick look at Bertrand Russell and Australian philosopher, Peter Singer.
Now it would probably be useful for me to tell you all about them but I am probably too lazy to do that, to be honest. Anyway, if you are interested they are only a google search away.
While doing the above I also joined an online course with The School of Practical Philosophy. A small group of us met online on Monday evenings for an hour and considered a range of texts and some thoughtful discussion.
The thing that impacted me the most was the well known words used in the the song below. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments! Realising that the cycles of life keep turning and sometimes we are observers and sometimes participants. Sometimes things go the way that is pleasing to us sometimes they don’t!
Where does this leave me? Not sure! The journey continues …
I loved the Story of the Week so thought I would share it with you. The author is unknown.
One day Arnav and his friend Bhima were having a friendly chat while walking just outside the marketplace in Dhubri. A beggar asked for some help from Arnav, who told him to ask him tomorrow. The beggar went away. Looking around Bhima saw a big drum at a stall just inside the market took the big drum and started walking through the market beating the drum furiously. Arnav was surprised, ran after his friend and asked why he was doing this.
Bhima said, “I want to declare that our revered Arnav has won the battle against time! You told that beggar to come tomorrow. How do you know that you will be there tomorrow? How do you know that beggar would still be alive tomorrow? Even if, you both are alive, you might not be in a position to give anything. Or, the beggar might not even need anything tomorrow. How did you know that you could both even meet tomorrow? You are the first person in this world that has overcome time. I want to tell people of Dhubri about this.”
Arnav got the message from Bhima, recalling that actions can only occur in the present moment. Arnav called that beggar right away and gave him the necessary help.
This time last week we arrived in Perth after our week’s holiday in Darwin. We had a really good and relaxing time. Great to see my son and grandsons as well. The weather was fabulous – around 30-35 degrees. It was so good to be warm! Below are some photos from Darwin Museum and Art Gallery, The Botanic Gardens and Darwin Wharf. We also went to Bachelor (about 105km south of Darwin). In the 1950’s it was the town-site for mine workers at the nearby uranium mine called Rum Jungle.
The crocodile in the above photo was called Sweetheart!
We are back home again now and being optimistic that Spring is on its way.
My six-week philosophy course finished in August. I am missing the interesting weekly discussions we had. In the interim I have signed up for a ten week (1 hr per week) course titled Presence of Mind with the School of Practical Philosophy. The course is online and made up with people from different states of Australia and three people overseas. Fascinating!
Life experience has taught me that nothing of value comes easily. So I agree with Nietzsche on that one. He is a complex philosopher with many strands to his philosophy. In our U3A groups yesterday the majority felt their opinion of him has improved after considering Alain de Botton’s description of him and his life work. I wasn’t so sure!
The three things that stood out for me were:
His thorough advice on how to write a novel (over the top!)
His views on Christianity – he was strong (ruthless) in his opposition – I wondered how his views would be received today
His ‘Slave Morality’ and ‘Master Morality’
On the third point we read an article written for Psychology Today that considered those views from the point of view of US politics (Democrats and Republicans) but I could see how they could reflect most left and right views of politics today. Here is a LINK for that article. It made for good and lively discussion.
Friedrich Nietzsche was born in October 1844 in Rocken, located near Leipzig in Germany. He is the subject for next week’s two discussion groups in my local U3A Group. In preparing my research I came across the following advice from Nietzsche on how to write a novel! Was he serious? I will fill you in on our discussions after the classes next Wednesday!
This is how hard one should try to write a novel: The recipe for becoming a good novelist … is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says ‘I do not have enough talent.’ One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes every day until one has learnt how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one’s eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer … one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost for instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise for some ten years; what is then created in the workshop … will be fit to go out into the world.
de Botton, Alain. The Consolations of Philosophy (pp. 216-217). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in Danzig, Germany. He was the topic of two philosophy discussion groups that met today. We have been reading a book called The Consolations of Philosophy, written by Alain de Botton and published by Penguin.
Group members were on the whole of the view that he was a miserable man who had nothing to offer for us in consolation of any kind. A few of us (me included) disagreed. It is difficult to get to the core of the man in a two hour session. His thesis, The World as Will and Representation was hailed as a masterpiece (not at first but later in his lifetime).
He certainly paints a dark view of life full of pessimism however I felt a sense of fellowship with him. I have known some dark times in my life and it is as though he could put my experience into words. He also emphasised the strength of our will to live in that the survival of our species depends upon it.
I can’t do justice to the complexity of the man but I do know that he certainly got our group members fired up about some of the things he said and his attitude toward women (not good)!
One of the female members of the group suggested he may have had more success with women if he had a better hair cut.
The two discussions on philosophy on Wednesday were very interesting and enjoyable.
The quote below provoked a lot of debate. It wasn’t difficult to see that the impact of humans on nature has often been detrimental. But then nature can be fierce and destructive too. We agreed that the advances in knowledge and application of science can enable us to have a more positive impact on our environment.
A lot of our discussion was about how ‘down to earth’ Montaigne seemed and that made him likeable. Even though he was rich, educated and talented (and wise) he wrote about life in a way that anyone can relate to what he said. His references to bodily functions surprised and amused us – we still sometimes feel uncomfortable with subjects such as flatulence and sexual anxieties today but he didn’t hold back!
Montaigne had travelled quite a bit and put a good case about withholding judgement on the differences we encounter in different countries and their customs. That had us talking about ‘culture shock’ and the fear that can arise when suddenly faced with a culture we don’t understand. He made us realise that what is normal for us may be very strange to someone in another setting.
Tomorrow our two U3A Philosophy Groups will be exploring Montaigne. I must say it has been challenging trying to pin him down as to what he is about. A little more reading led me to see that he is a Sceptic (Skeptic) and so that explains things a little.
Another interesting aspect about him is that even though he is rich and of noble birth he speaks plainly about everyday things. One can almost feel like he is a friend.
In one of the articles I read they suggested that he could be the world’s first blogger! Now that got my attention! I can understand why though. He, in his Essays, writes about whatever is on his mind in an interesting and entertaining style. Incidentally, I checked on Amazon and was able to purchase The Complete Essays on Kindle for $1.03!
Anyway, I will write some more about Montaigne after our two classes tomorrow!