The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Where Will I be Philosophically in 40 Years

I found this great post yesterday on the Maverick

Forty Years Ago Today

My journal  entry for 29 October 1972 was just this: “To live a philosophical life in a tumultuous, uncertain world is my goal.”

I pulled it off.  I found my niche.  I achieved my goal.   But to achieve goals one must first posit them, and herein lies another reason to maintain a journal.  One plans and projects.  And then, years later, one enjoys the fruition of those long past projections.

It made me ask where I want to be philosophically in 40 years (note to self-write a post on this).  By the way the Maverick along with Ed Feser are my favorite philosophy blog sites. The maverick in particular has been an inspiration for me.


An Ordeal in the Kitchen

This weekend I tried out my plan to start cooking once a month in an effort to save money and time. I found a book at the local library called Frozen Assets – Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month by Deborah Taylor-Hough and decided to try use its recipes and insights. So Saturday I went to the local Aldi and picked up enough food to cook for two weeks (Taylor-Hough recommends starting out cooking for two weeks until you get the hand of it). Right away I can see that I will save beaucoup money shopping  this way because I only spent $110. Yeah!

When I got back to the house I started cooking.While it the cooking for a month is a great concept and a sure fire way to save money be prepared for an ordeal when you get done to preparing the food. I started cooking at 4pm and ended at 12 in the morning. By the end my feet were killing me. Aarrgh!!!The upshot however is that I’ve got a freezer full of food that will likely feed me and my wife for well over two weeks.

Overall I recommend the idea of cooking once a month and will do it again. However, I will go ahead and cook for a full month next time if I am going to spend 8hours or more in the kitchen.

Going on Offense

I am happy to report a professional success. I have several meetings each week with important senior leaders in my organization. Yesterday my department head came along with me for one of these meetings. As luck would have it I excelled in my presentation and my department head finally got a chance to see first hand what I bring to the department. After the meeting, my department head revealed that he did not know if he could have performed as well as I had done. High praise indeed from a man to whom all thing have been revealed.

It has been nice to bask in the triumph but this morning in my journal I realized that in the course of my previous briefings I’ve been relying on a lot of background knowledge I’ve picked up through the years and I realize that I am fast approaching the limits of my knowledge in this one area of professional expertise. Since these meeting have been developing into quasi academic seminars I am going to have to hit the library.

I’ve decided to undertake this in light of something I picked up from Gordon MacDonald in his book “Ordering Your Private World“. MacDonald writs about what he calls offensive study:

In my earliest years of ministry, when this business of mental growth had not yet become a discipline for me, most of my study  was what I now call defensive study. By that I mean that i studied frantically simply because I had an upcoming sermon to preach or talk to give. An all my study was centered on the completion of that task.

But later I discovered the importance of something I now call offensive study. This is study that has as its objective the gathering of large clusters of information and insight out of which future sermons and talks, books and articles may grow. In the former kind of study, one is restricted to one chosen subject. In the latter, one is exploring, turning up truth and understanding from scores of sources. Both forms of study, offensive and defensive, are necessary in my life.  (pg 163-1640

Actually the more I think about it, my initiative seems more like defensive study, and it may very well be at first, but the trick I think is to anticipate areas that I may have to cover in the future and reconnoiter them, sketching out the key terrain.

I would like to do that with my philosophical studies but I’m just keeping my head above water but eventually I would like to apply the same principle to my academic endeavors. I just might save me a lot of stress.

Some thoughts on the Phaedo

A little something I developed for my class

I enjoyed the dialogue very much and wanted to write a little about it. What struck me the most about the dialogue was the strong religious dimension to it? That’s not surprising since Socrates is about to die and hence inclined to ask ultimate questions. However Socrates seems to have had a rather complicated relationship with traditional Greek religion and what I read in the dialogue didn’t really square with what I knew about Greek religion, in fact, the religious content of the dialogue sounded more to me like a cross between Persian Zoroastrianism and Hinduism.

Part of the key to key to resolving this mystery may the influence of Pythagoras on Plato.  From what I have learned,  Pythagoreanism appears to have shaped Plato’s beliefs in, among other things, reincarnation, body / soul dualism, and the necessity of the philosophical life for the salvation of our souls.[i]  In addition, Pythagoreanism itself appears to have been influenced by Orphism which was an oriental mystery cult that likely originated in Persia and which later became very popular in Greece. The Persian connection might explain the strong dualism present in the dialogue where the pure soul is seen as trapped in a material body.  Interestingly, Orphism which emerged in Persia, may have, in turn, been influenced by contact with the Indian sub-continent.  Could this be why in the Phaedo, the philosopher having escaped the wheel of death and rebirth in the Hindu sense would join the company of the Gods (82c) while less pure souls would be reborn as in animals whose characters they had embodied such as donkeys or wolves? (82a)

Maybe or maybe not? You never know with Socrates who is always practicing irony. Socrates himself says that the details he relates about the afterlife are only likely. Still, I think it would be safe to say that Socrates in the main accepted the Pythagorean outlook on the afterlife; he was fairly cheerful in facing the prospect of death after all and the arguments he used to bolster his cheerfulness were likely Pythagorean in origin. This belief in the Pythagorean account of the afterlife may be the best explanation for why Socrates considered the “unexamined life is not worth living” and why he was so insistent on practicing philosophy even if it resulted in his death. Philosophy in this sense became a religious practice where the believers sought to learn his true nature in order to purify his soul in order to achieve blessedness in the next world.

[1]Plato’s Metaphysics-Plato’s Dualism: lecture notes by professor Jim Martin

See also The Pythagorean Connection- Plato and the Pythagoreans at



Double Teaming Phaedo

I started reading the Phaedo tonight. To experience the full effect I am reading the Benjamin Jowett translation while at the same time listening to to it on an audio recording of the Jowett translation I found at The narrator is pretty good and I think that I  can remember more of the text and render more of my attention to the text if I read along while I am listening to it.

Book Review- Honey for a Child’s Heart -The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Glady Hunt

This was a great little book that had been recommended in a couple of homeschooling books I had. It is paen to the importance of good literature in forming the imagination and the soul of children.

It has chapters outlining what makes a good book for children, the importance of fantasy and realism for children and also a section on poetry. It wouldn’t be a good guidebook if it didn’t recommend how to make a good book selection for your child and if that wasn’t enough the author Gladys Hunt was kind enough to include a reading list at the end. The selections she includes are pure gold and include Charles Williams, George McDonald, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien along with a host of other classic writers so you you should feel that you are on safe ground when  you to take this reading list to your favorite bookstore. In fact, I’m going to use it tomorrow when I head up to McKay’s books in Tennessee.

I love children’ s literature myself and I find one of the best things about homeschooling is rereading a lot of the books I read in my own childhood along with relearning stuff I never got around to in my own faulty education.

Before I close, Hunt writes that a “busy schedule is the enemy of reading”. I know that I have been spreading myself too thin lately and I find that it is exceedingly difficult to find the time to sit and read a book for pure pleasure, sipping it and savoring and devouring it with my full attention and being. O brave new modern world of the ipod and the  satellite TV, of the  youtube and the  podcast. But even without these modern conveniences it must have always been extremely hard to devote precious leisure time to reading and cultivating the mind. It is doubly challenging now with the rise of the internet. What to do? Get up early? Break away from the power grid? Get another job?

Crito’s turn

I read the Crito last night. Nice and short, I enjoyed it and found myself agreeing with most of it. We should never willingly commit injustice. Two things struck me however.

The first is that Socrates seems to display from what I have read so far, a rather strange lack of filial devotion. He’s about to die and he’s calm and tranquil. That’s very heroic and admirable but even if you aren’t afraid to die shouldn’t you be a little sad that you are going to miss out on your children’s lives, their marriages and your future grandchildren? Also, doesn’t Socrates care who is going to provide for his wife and children?  Overall, Socrates probably never cared much for hearth and home. This is likely understandable  since Xanthippe was rumored to have been a shrew. Nietzsche would have said that marriage and philosophy do not mix.

The second thing that struck me was that Athenian democracy after the Peloponnesian war was not something I would want to live in.  Civil strife was common and so were lawsuits. The worst feature seemed to me were the ‘sycophants’ who could bring false charges in order to blackmail innocent victims. Crito refers to them several times and no doubt they were feared. The more I read about the Athenians the less I like them.

Third Day In

So far so good with the Five O’ Clock Club. I’ve gotten up at 5Am for the past three days. And as I predicted I have gotten much more done. However, there is still room for improvement since I find myself drifting off to sleep as I sit in my easy chair waiting for my morning coffee to brew. I’m actually sleeping about 30 extra minutes when I do this but still I am not complaining. Even if I get down to business by 6Am that’s an extra hour to get things done over my previous routine.

The Five O’Clock Club

I’ve been beating myself up lately due to my inability to get any serious reading done for my class after I got home from work. By the time I eat, play with the kids a little, read to them and get them in the bed, it’s usually 8:30pm. Then I need to spend at least a few minutes with my wife, so I’m looking at 9pm.

OK, so I think I’ll stay up and get some work done. The problem is that by this time I’m not really good for anything other than surfing the blogosphere or catching up on the DVR.  Another problem was that I enjoy running at night and so I wound up finding myself awake and wasting time. However, last winter when the wife and kids were visiting the in-laws I came across a post by Brandon Vogt where he discusses the value of getting up early.

I’ve always been a morning person, though in the past that meant waking up at 7:00am. With that schedule, I was getting out of bed just a few minutes before the average American, who according to one survey rises at about 7:15am each day. But three months ago, I made a drastic change:

I decided to wake up at 4:45am every single day.

I thought the concept of getting up early made a lot of intuitive sense – you just seem to get more done. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that I am an incorrigible night-owl. I don’ t get to crawl out of the lair at 2 or 3pm as in times past but I was pretty proud that I slept in till 1pm the other day. I need the extra sleep I argue since I never get enough during the week. I decided to try the concept and it turned out to be a rousing success and by the time the wife and kids got back I was getting up at 3 in the morning.

The downside of course is that if you want to get up that early you have to go to bed with the chickens. So I found myself back at square one when my normal duties reasserted themselves.  At any rate the underlying problem was still there. If I get up at 6 or 7AM all my time gets swallowed up by the homeschooling with no tie left over for my own schoolwork. Conversely, trying to study at night has all the problems associated mentioned above plus I’ve found that I really relish the feeling of having put the kids to bed and knowing that there is nothing else I have to do. Once I get them to bed I feel my work is done for the day.

Great idea but that means I would  have to get up super super early and also going to bed early enough to guarantee enough sleep. In this vein I came across a blog about blog post about the five o’clock club which means that you commit yourself to getting up at 5Am everyday for 40 days. Ordinarily I ‘m a bit skeptical about the latest thing that’s going to deliver me to the land of milk and money but I cannot seem to find any other way to get it all done. I tried it this morning and got up at 5AM and was very productive so I’m gonna take the plunge. I ought to update the blog everyday with the progress in order to keep me on track.

Playing catch-up with logic

One of the ways to make studying philosophy even more challenging than it already is to undertake the subject with a shaky foundation in logic.

I’ve started a couple of logic courses but I have never made it all the way through. A while back I got a taste of traditional syllogistic logic in one of my classes and I found that I enjoyed it very much. And since studying philosophy without really being able to tell a good argument from a bad argument is rather pointless, I’ve decided to remedy my shortcomings.

Right now I’m using Martin Cothran’s course in Traditional Logic which is a gentle if effective introduction to the art. I’m on the first book right now which has 14 lessons. The great thing about the Cothran approach is that he gives you an introduction in each lesson and then he gives you four days of exercises to consolidate the material.  If i do one exercise per day I calculate I could have the 1st book done by 25 November. Since I’m making this public I guess I’ll have to hold myself to it.

I’m also using logicola which is a free software developed by Harry Gensler, a Jesuit philosophy professor at John Carroll University. I’ve used the software before to translate sentences into logical form and I found it a wonderful tool. You can find the link for the software here.

My plan is to complete Cothran’s second book on traditional logic and then work his book on material logic about which I know little. I would like to fit Peter Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic in here somewhere. I would like to go ahead and do it but I’m strapped for time. It looks like I am going to have to start getting up earlier to get all this done and getting up earlier is something I really really hate. So much in fact that I am going to devote my next entry to that matter.

Post Navigation