Faded Philosopher Cage Match: Plato v. Aristotle

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Do you prefer dogs? Do you own a cat? Do you drive a Prius or an SUV? Do you prefer baseball or football? In theory, these preferences could be an indicator whether you are more influenced by the Greek philosopher Plato or his equally famous student Aristotle. I came across an interesting little quiz that you can all try:  http://www.signature-reads.com/2013/11/the-personality-divide-are-you-more-like-plato-or-aristotle/

I am taking a Philosophy mini-course, so I will share the benefit of my quick-learned wisdom. The subject is philosophy and once you dip your toe into Metaphysics – that is, What’s the universe made of – you’re not far from delving into Epistemology – How can I know what I know – and then it’s a slippery slope to Existentialism and Deconstructionism and Miley Cyrus.

But let’s start much simpler.

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozin’ beggar who could drink you under the table
Dave Hume could outconsume Schopenhauer and Hegel
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine who was just as schlossed as Schlegel
–Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Drinking Song

The origins of philosophy came from a guy called Thales of Miletus (now southern Turkey) who thought that the ultimate nature of reality was water. Our bodies have a lot of water in them, the area near where he lived had a lot of water, if you dig deep down you get water, and voila! All is water.  Perhaps that explains why philosophers like to drink so much. Continue reading “Faded Philosopher Cage Match: Plato v. Aristotle”

It’s the Great Pumpkin, People!

Jack be Nimble
Jack be Quick
Jack’s been carving candlesticks
and putting them in hollowed out vegetables for about 300 years

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Origins of Jack o’ the Lantern
Of course, there aren’t any pumpkins in Scotland and Ireland which started the tradition of putting candlesticks in food. This lighting practice originated in turnips which are plentiful and easier to grow in the resistant soil. The jack o’ the lantern carving was reminiscent of the lights that appeared in peat bogs which represented spirits of the dead (like Gollum says, don’t look at the lights). Jack of the Lantern was also the name of a story  about an Anglo-Saxon trickster, a character who might fool the devil or fairies through cleverness rather than through strength or hard work. The same character ends up climbing beanstalks, killing giants, spreading frost, and sticking his thumb into pies.

Pumpkins are native to America, so the early colonists shifted the idea of carving to the vegetable at hand. Soon enough, we not only had jack o’ lanterns in these United States, but we had stories about pumpkin-heads from Washington Irving (1820) and L. Frank Baum (1929). Halloween as a holiday expanded and changed – with a little help from capitalism – to the major event it is today, an event which now other countries are adopting.

Halloween Then and Now
The Halloween as we know it emerged from four elements:

  • A celebration of spirits of the dead or spirits in general
  • Donning costumes to act out plays, sometimes called “mumming” and sometimes carried on by troupes traveling house to house
  • A celebration of the trickster, especially one who tricks the spirits or the devil
  • Horror and Halloween in stories, arising out of a Gothic tradition but proliferating in the United States, especially through film

Continue reading “It’s the Great Pumpkin, People!”

The Death of Civilized Debate

A documentary is making the rounds, in the theaters last spring and now on PBS and On Demand, that is a reminder of how politics used to be different. This is not by way of a discussion of the current political season or any commentary on the campaigns or their positions. I will not drag us there; I have promised. But this historical  view, “The Best of Enemies,” which chronicles a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, hearkens back to the days when the tone of debate could be intelligent and civil. What a concept!

The popular notion is that America does not like intellectuals. Our tall tales and folk heroes are often about simple men who get the better of the fellow  with book-learnin’ through common sense and American knowhow. Conventional wisdom is to disdain “eggheads” and to embrace the Common Man.

But Americans do enjoy – or used to enjoy – the intelligent presentation of political opinions that they themselves hold dear. In 1968,  when ABC decided to host a series of conversations between two intellectual giants who held very different views, America watched and embraced – individually – their beloved smarty-pants of the Left and the Right. Continue reading “The Death of Civilized Debate”