History of Philosophy – Lesson 4: Parmenides and the Logic of Immobility

“So [according to Parmenides] the world is simply a motionless, changeless, undifferentiated ball of tightly-packed matter. Now, needless to say, this is not the way that it appears to our senses.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 4.
(There is so much movement in the world, that it is hard to understand how Parmenides came to think there isn’t. However, there was logic behind his reasoning, and it posed a serious problem for philosophy. It took around one hundred years and Aristotle for mankind to come up with a solution.)

Heraclitus said “Change is obvious, therefore, to hell with logic.” Parmenides said, “Logic is obvious, therefore, to hell with change.” Still using Peikoff’s own words, Parmenides’ philosophy can be summarized by the principle “What is, is, and what is not, is not, and what is not can neither be, nor be thought about.” Hard to deny that logic.

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Order, Duality and Darkness

“If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.”
— Dr. Jeckyll, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, page 23.
(Dr. Jeckyll’s two friends chat with him from the street below, only to see him suddenly lose control and slam the window in their faces. Who does not have a Mr. Hyde looming in the darkness within?)

How amazing the power of order! The right order, of course; that which only a great writer achieves. For what is writing but finding the correct sequence of words amidst the chaos of possibilities? If you give a typewriter to a monkey, they say, and let him pound the keys for the whole of infinity, he will almost surely compose the “Iliad“. Yet man-the-thinking-ape needs only a handful of years to create his masterpieces. It’s not just about words or sentences or characters or plots. It’s almost like some premeditated crime, with all its malign machinations embedded into words, anticipating its consummation in an awe-inspiring passage. It was writing about darkness — and thinking about the darkness within — that I remembered “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and one of the best scenes I have ever encountered.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 3: Heraclitus and the World of Contradiction

A great many children live in that kind of world thanks to the wanton irrationality of their parents, whose behavior is characterized by constant switching and swimming so that nothing ever holds true from one moment to the next, and by constant contradictions. That is the perfect recipe for the Heraclitean world.
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 3.
(Since very early in the history of philosophy, Heraclitus disregarded the senses as invalid and accepted contradiction in reality. Two and a half thousands years later, we still see the effects of such errors.)

Thales gave rise to philosophy by relying on sensory experience and reason. The next philosopher in line [1]Heraclitus — not only trailed a different path, but ignited a chain-reaction that ran through history toppling like dominos all that man tried to erect with his reason. It all began with the problem of change and multiplicity; it all ended with my thirteen-year-old niece asking petulantly: “Why can’t I simply decide I am a boy?”

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 2: Thales and the Birth of Philosophy

…they are a monument not to life, but to death, and the thing in Egypt was not how good a life you could live, but how good a death you could die.
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 2.
(Contrast that pro-death attitude with the Greek’s pro-life one: “I’d rather slave on earth for another man than rule down here over all the breathless dead”, said Achilles’s ghost to Odysseus. The former produced giant tombs for tourists; the latter created philosophy.)

Philosophy is asking the big questions. But if they are already answered by the State or by the nearest priest, why the effort? From the great dynasties of Sumer and Egypt, the explanation of the world had been given by the king-gods. Life was inexorably hard and painful, and man should rather turn his attention to the other world, to the afterlife. This greatest of all evasions of man was not an invention of Christianity – just remember the pyramids, those gigantic tombs. Better to bow, pray and beg than to try to understand and explain the world. It was in 6th century B.C. Greece that it all changed, and that began with Thales.

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