Of course Jacques Maritain was not an Objectivist; he was a Thomist. But to be a Thomist, I learned, is to partake of at least the first (and, arguably, the most important) axiom of Objectivism: “Existence exists”. This makes my life much easier, now that I decided to present a non-existent paper on him at an upcoming conference.
The vast majority of people I know believe in some kind of afterlife. They do not necessarily think that they are going to a paradise with angels on the clouds, or to a Dantean hell where they will find all sinners, much less to an eternal recurrence of battles and banquets as in the Valhalla of the Vikings. They just can not accept that everything will simply end. Today, on another anniversary of my father’s death, I envy them.
My last post on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” didn’t amount to much, I know. But now it will get worse. Because I need a long digression in order to prepare the terrain for that elusive thing which is understanding. Aristotle first defines substance in the “Categories“, a work usually considered to be prior in time to the “Metaphysics”, and one which should be read first too. There he explains the foundations of many terms he uses afterwards in all of the corpus. There is also where he introduces his famous ten categories of being. All I want here is to get to the first category, but allow me to walk the whole way there.
Although Leonard Peikoff (and Objectivism) disagrees entirely with Plato, he admits the genius of the philosopher. Plato was the first to gather all the “suggestions” that had been produced by the pre-Socratics and the sophists, in addition to all the teachings of Socrates in a coherent whole. In doing so, he created philosophy as it is, for better or for worse.
I watch my mother lying in the hospital bed and I curse Epictetus. He says we have to be indifferent to indifferent things. He says indifferent things are pain, disease, death, and all that are beyond our control, all that don’t stem from our own actions and deeds. It is useless to fight God’s designs, so all we should do is behave and go with the flow, setting down into a serene resignation toward life’s hardships. We are supposed to think objectively about all that happen in our lives, striving to be just in our actions, performing our duties as rational men, fulfilling our role as divine creatures. In sum, he wants me to not give a fuck about my own mother’s approaching death — and that enrages me.
There’s nothing out there. It is as if he finally reached the end of the world he had always imagined as a child. He used to struggle with the idea of infinity. How could that be possible? Everything must have an end. But when he tried to imagine such an end, he was perplexed. He imagined a huge brick wall stretching indefinitely in all directions. But, of course, the obvious question always arose: What lies beyond the wall? Now standing on his porch, staring out at the valley ahead, all he sees is a dark gray massif blotting out his entire field of vision, like his brick wall.
He would thank God for the vibration in his pocket, but he is not that hypocritical. His beliefs are extremely scarce nowadays: the Glock 22 at his waist is one of them; God does not make it to the list. But it is with heartfelt gratitude to the goddess Fortuna that he does one of the things he hates most and picks up the cell phone in his pocket — at least his trance is over, and he finds the necessary decisiveness to exit his daughter’s room. He does not look back as he gently closes the door.
The day is almost over and I am struck by despair that is now known to me. I haven’t written any post yet, I have none saved for a moment like this, and, what is worse, I do not have the motivation to write. However, write I must. As a friend of mine always says (referring to the habit of running every day): when it is hard, when there is no mood, when all you want is not doing it is precisely the moment when you most should do it — only then is there true merit. And so I force myself to write. But all that comes to my mind is the absurd violence we live in, and every word I write bothers me.
When a policeman is shot and killed, it is not hard to understand; life in the streets is dangerous, but we know someone must live it if we expect to have a minimum of order and security. So, when that happens, the gossip is about knowing exactly what has occurred: Was it a coward criminal deed? Was it during combat? Or was it the policeman’s corruption that eventually killed him? But we never hear someone questioning the “merit” of such death — policemen and criminals die by the bullet, and that’s it. But when someone dies by jumping from a precipice with small wings between the arms, then the gossip is of a different nature.
This post reproduces my review of the book “How to read a book: the classic guide to intelligent reading“, by Mortimer J. Adler and Dr. Charles Van Doren, posted a while back on Amazon. It is the recursive book I mention on a previous post called Teachers All Around.