The Lank Tank

Why so serious?

FirstChild’s Introduction to Philosophy

Posted by Laurence on January 27, 2009

This blog entry was brought to you by FirstChild

Some time ago I was an invited speaker at a function of a prestigious society. On this occasion,  I spoke on the history of western philosophy. You see I’ve done a bit of philosophy in my time, but I can control it.* Philosophy is important, it is not about material things like producing things like food or clothing, or manufacturing goods your country can export to earn foreign exchange which it can use on frivolous things like fuel and new medical equipment. Philosophy’s about a lot more than that.

It’s about lying on one’s back in bed and coining new words that end is -ism. It’s about thinking of new ways to say what one can and can’t say, and perhaps most importantly, it’s about showing why everything you say, write and publish is right, and all your opponents are utterly, irrevocably and incurably wrong. For instance Logic is the study of why what other people say is wrong while Epistemology is the study of how we can know that other people are wrong. Metaphysics tries to understand what it is about other people that makes them wrong.

That’s why you have philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche writing books entitled “Why I am so clever” and “why I write such wonderful books” which were at the time read by literally tens of people. And Nietzsche, although he went mad, is representative of many philosophers. (You may recall that Nietzsche is the philospher who had the madman in hi classic “The Gay Science” proclaim that “God is dead and we have killed him, you and I”. And then he talks about God’s decaying flesh and rotting corpse at some length, all the more enjoyable in the original German).

Anyway, onto the history of philosophy. Just so you know my references – basically what follows is a kind of abridgement of Russell’s history of philosophy crossed with the Pimlico History of Western Philosophy meets Louis L’amour meets Elmore Leonard.

First we have the Presocratics. Of course at the time they didn’t call themselves the Presocratics , they just called themselves the pre – or the P.R.E. Then along came Socrates who changed everything. Socrates said “The reason I’m the wisest man of all is not because a mirror or oracle told me, but because I know that I know nothing, while everybody else don’t know that they know nothing”. And all of his disciples, for he had  many, gasped at the power of his deduction, and Plato said “somebody get me a pen” – but nobody did because they weren’t invented yet. But others were less impressed with Socrates’ reasoning and the powers that were said (in a Greek accent) ” enough with this Socrates – he is corrupting the youth” – and to cut a long story shorter he drank some poison and died. Then Plato, riding on his coattails, brought out a tasteful compilation “Best of Socrates: 469-399. Vol 1” which was a very big seller at the time and earned Plato the moniker “best philosopher of all time” which is what we call in the business “hardcore”.(Plato also suggested that the ruler of the Republic should be a philosopher. Since he was head of the Academy at the time, it’s hard to imagine whom he had in mind.)

After Plato, the next one to remember is Aristotle. Aristotle’s favourite thing to do was to invent subjects, especially just before breakfast every day. He would always try to get his celestial karma right in the morning by inventing a subject and then having fruit loops and reading his horoscope – which had just been invented by Ptolemy. Aristotle also got the gig of tutoring the young Alexander the Great – although at that stage he was just known as Alexander the “won’t do his homework” or Alexander the “won’t take out the trash”.

I’m going to skip the Stoics, St Augustine and the Neoplatonists, cause I can’t think of anything to write about them, and I’ll pick up for my next entry at Descartes. “Stay tuned” as it were.

yours in good faith,


*this joke is unlikely to be original.

3 Responses to “FirstChild’s Introduction to Philosophy”

  1. C-Dawg said

    I sympathise with Plato, for it was he who stumbled upon Platonic Love. You just know the poor bastard got burnt badly…

  2. luwie said

    Genius firstchild… And gold from C-Dawg… There’s prob a pun out there with Nietzsche and niche but I can’t be bothered to think of it and it won’t be as good as C-Dawg’s comment in any case.

  3. […] History of Philosophy #2 My first post on this fascinating subject is here. I think we were at Descartes. Descartes was one of those guys who is known as a “Renaissance […]

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