Enchiridion LI: The End


The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is the practical application of principles, as, We ought not to lie; the second is that of demonstrations as, Why it is that we ought not to lie; the third, that which gives strength and logical connection to the other two, as, Why this is a demonstration. For what is demonstration? What is a consequence? What a contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third point is then necessary on account of the second; and the second on account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we do just the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third point and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. Therefore, at the same time that we lie, we are very ready to show how it is demonstrated that lying is wrong.

Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:

Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.

Who’er yields properly to Fate is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of Heaven.

And this third:

“O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.”

“Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed; but hurt me they cannot.”

The references to all the quotes are at the original, for those who wish to look them up. The one that mentions Crito is Socrates' talk with him, as recorded by Plato.

This is the final chapter of the Enchiridion. It is advice to philosophers, to whit, not to do what philosophers are so prone to do: to get after the language or the technical questions to the point that they never settle on answers to the real issues. The 20th Century was by far the worst in human history on this point; many very brilliant people followed Wittgenstein into these fascinating questions to the point that they came to regard much of philosophy, and certainly the whole project of metaphysics, as a mistake. How could we possibly enquire into first philosophy (as Descartes called it) when there were so many difficult problems of language, and so many technical questions? 

So too the issue of knowledge: Gettier found a clever story to tell that called Aristotle's definition of knowledge ("justified true belief") into question. Now we have people chasing after whether knowledge is possible to define, or for that matter whether knowledge is possible at all. 

Even for those who manage to get past those language games, there is the issue of living one's philosophy. If it is true that it is virtuous to be brave, then be brave. It is pointless to have a good account of why courage is a virtue if you deliver it behind scarless skin that never dares the sun, with soft hands that never strive with foes nor even work, with a timid voice that only speaks truth in the absence of enemies. 

You know why it is wrong to lie; you can say why. Therefore, do not lie. Be brave. Work always on moderation, which is hardest of all -- at least for me it always has been. Do right. Live well. That is all of ethics, and much of philosophy.


james said...

Life should also provide data for philosophy. A two-year-old is sure that there is justice--and that's an implicitly supernatural thing; I don't see how the concept can even be communicated in a determinist world.
If John's philosophy predicts a determinist universe, I think I can safely say he left something out.

J Melcher said...

Being how I am, I will mention a "zero-th" desirable condition. Before lies or justified belief or truth, there must be a desire for CONSISTANCY. Custom, virtue, and the law must align to forbid rich and poor alike from stealing bread, sleeping under bridges, and urinating in allyways. Courage and cleverness must be recognized in our allies and adversaries both. And where distinctions are drawn - civilian versus soliders, men versus women, children versus adults -- the lines should be clear and the boundary markers immobile.

I fear a great mistake has been elevated to a sacred commandment. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Emerson thus affirms chaos as a virtue. What can any of us reliably build if that proposition is taken as a "first point" ?

Tom said...

I'm just curious if you planned this to end at the beginning of Lent, or if that was just a coincidence.

This is a good ending: Go and do.