The Blog of Dabido (the Baka one). Everything in this blog is copyrighted. Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006 by D. Stevenson.

04 August, 2005

Philosophy and Wisdom Literature

I thought I'd write a little about Philosophy and Wisdom literature today. Mainly as I find most people can't or don't want to tell the difference between them. Admittedly, sometimes the lines get blurred and someone who gets called a Philosopher is anything but. Wisdom literature has been around a LONG, LONG time. Whether it is the Ancient Egyptian 'Book of Maat', the Bibles 'Proverbs', Lao Tzu's 'Tao Te Ching' or many of the other 'Wisdom Books' passed down in cultures and religions for many years. Wisdom literature is basically a collection of 'ideas', 'memes' or insiteful sayings which supposedly help people by telling them what to do when certain things occur. A lot of the time it gets mistaken for Philosophy. A lot of the time it IS RELIGIOUS. (Whether you like it or not). In many cases, it can lead to bad things happening when the rules are too rigid when uncommon things occur. An example of this could be a book which states that if the ground starts to shake, get under a table as it's an earhquake. One day, little Jimmy is out walking along, and the ground starts to shake. Little Jimmy is at a loss, there is NO TABLE! Arrrggghh! While looking for a table to safely hide under, Little Jimmy is crushed beneath a herd of stampeding buffalo, which he might have avoided if he wasn't looking for a table. (Yes, the buffalo stampede was the real reason for the ground shaking to begin with!) This is one of the reasons some Philosophers feel superior to those who follow either Religion or wisdom literature. There has to be an ability to discern when a rule can be broken. Along came Thales - he was a THINKER. He is generally considered the first Philosopher (though Socrates, who is probably the most famous is often credited as starting Philosophy). The reason the Philosophers were so unique, was that they began to remove myth, hear-say, God/Gods, mysticism and other things from the way they looked at the world. This was a risky thing, and is possibly one of the reasons Socrates was sentenced to death (he was accused of being an athiest. A charge he refuted.) In a way, Philosophy was the beginning of science and logic. It wasn't that people were not logical before, or that scientific discoveries never occurred before. It's just that the Philosophers began to put systems in place to help them discern fact from fiction. Wisdom literature and Philosophy have one important thing in common. They both were ways to improve peoples lot in life. To improve the quality of life. Wisdom literature and Religion very much worked on the principle that if you follow A + B + C etc, eventually you will get to Y + Z. (Religion just wrapped it up nicely to include a carrot and in some instances a stick) The reason they knew this, was because someone had come before them and already gone from A to Z and written it all down for everyone else to follow. As we saw from Little Jimmy's example earlier, this doesn't always work. Of course, that doesn't mean that Wisdom Literature or Religion are 100% useless. Just the blind use of it in situations which they don't covered has major draw backs. Philosophy, on the other hand, sort to overcome this short fall (and I will get to Philosophies shortfall in a little while). Philosophy (which means a 'LOVE OF WISDOM'), overcame the problem by deciding that if at any time you are in a situation which is new or unusual, you should be able to think your way through it. (Through it does not mean OUT of it). Seneca was a good example of this. His often quoted saying, "Where is the logic/philosophy", whenever people got upset at things that they didn't expect. Seneca very much believed that everyone would eventually face situations they could never have forseen, and as such, would need to think their ways through them. Nero eventually ordered Seneca to commit suicide. Seneca did it. His servants and family were distraut, but Seneca slit his wrists as ordered. (So as not to upset Nero, who probably would have killed all of Senneca's household.) Philosophies shortfall, is that sometimes there isn't enough time to work out what the correct thing to do is. (Or in some cases, there is no way to find enough information to make a valued judgement). Another example: Wisdom would tell us to get out of the way of someone who fired a bullet at us. (Wisdom is based on common sense - we learn from our mistakes and as such gather wisdom). Unfortunately, we don't always have time to hink which way to go - Philosophy might say, think and chose a direction to get out of the way, so that you don't accidentally move in front of the bullet. Alas, who has the time for that, if you can't tell by the way the shooter is standing, you'll be dead. Given some time, a philosopher would decide that a bullet proof jacket would be a great idea for such situations. So if the Philosopher is alive after the first encounter, they go off, invent the bullet proof jacket and viola, they are ready for encounter number two. Alas, while standing there as the second encounter occurs, the philosopher is hit in the head. Was Philosophy wrong? Did it and wisdom fail mankind? No, fortunately, another philosopher saw this encounter, and they went off and invented combat armour! But I digress! Philosophy is really different systems put together by people in order to help them think logically. Of course, you may say, 'Why not just study logic?' The answer is a simple one - Logic is based on philosophy. There is a reason why Bertrand Russell and other famous Philosophers were also great mathematicians and logicians. [Note: Logicians are a school of Philosophy.] The study of one, is actually the study of the other. (Having studied both a bit of philosophy and mathematics, I have constantly come across the overlaps in both areas! Especially as part of my Computer Science course where logic is essential). I have often heard people claim that Philosophy is dead or worthless or just a bunch of people talking crap. Alas, I feel sorry for those people. When they say that Philosophy relies on doing A + B + C in a given situation, I wonder where they get that idea from! The Philosopher Heraclitus was the one who first said that every situation is unique and must be considered on it's merits. (You can't step into the same river twice) That was an important part of philosophy from the beginning (he said it in 500 BC). I think they make this mistake because they confuse Wisdom Literature with Philosophy. Personally, I think both Philosophy and Wisdom Literature (and tolerant Religious beliefs) are a good thing and have many applications in the real world. Of course, some Philosophy is also used and useful in unreal situations. The constant use of 'what-if' scenarios helps us to understand the 'why' of our current situation. Of course, some philosophers concentrated on specific questions. Others have tried to be more universal and unifying. People often follow philosophic ideals without even realising it (which is why peoples general attitudes towards life can also be called their 'Philosophy of life') I know I often tend towards the Utilitarianist point of view. (Doing things for the greater good of everyone). The sceptics, stoics, Christian philosophers, Enlightenment, idealists and logicians have also greatly influenced me in different ways, shapes and forms. My life philosophy can perhaps be summed up thusly:
  • In any case of a common/known situation, follow the obvious choice (almost always covered by some Wisdom Literature somewhere - or wisdom learnt through living life).
  • In any case of an uncommon/unusual situation, use logic/philosophy to think my way through.
  • In case of lack of information/time or other constraint in an uncommon/unusual situation, take the best educated guess, and live with the consequences!
  • Regardless of the outcome, it was my decision, learn to live with the concequences!
The 'Live with the consequences' part probably shows the influence of Seneca and the stoics in my life philosophy. Unfortunately, this is where my stoicism falls down, as I often get upset at people who make mistakes and then blame others. They can't accept the consequences of their own actions. I usually avoid those sorts of people as much as possible. Of course, if I was a real stoic, I would accept that I can't do anything to change them and would probably be more accepting of them as they are. I hope I wasn't too deep or lost anyone along the way. I might talk more about some of those influences in later posts. Hopefully people will act stoicly towards me and accept that I make mistakes, I am who I am, and in return, I'll try and do the same. If we really get on each others nerves, then hopefully we can agree to avoid each other in a friendly way. :-) Have a great day, and go forth and be nice to people! :-) {Smile - everyone will think you have a dirty secret!}