on this page

Or send us an email




Application form




Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal



Pathways to Philosophy
Home



Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner



International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site







PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

[home]



P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728
http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue Number 8
20 May 2001

CONTENTS

I. 'One Question is Worth Many Answers' by Karolos Gikas

II. Society AGM 26 May - Inaugural Lecture by Brenda Almond

III. Online Conference: Applying for an observer's password

-=-

I. ONE QUESTION IS WORTH MANY ANSWERS

My choice of the "First Philosophers" program among the various options of
"Pathways", was based on a rather simplistic reasoning. I tried to find some
navigation method in the seemingly vast ocean of knowledge and information that
we call philosophy. I thought it would be inappropriate to base my decision on
any kind of comparative valuation of different fields, since this very
valuation would be of questionable validity itself. Simple interest didn't
sound very "philosophical" as a criterion, so I ended up using a principle that
seems of more objective nature: age. For me philosophy has a lot to do with a
quest for order (rather than truth), so it would be consistent with my
principles to make an orderly start: at the beginning.

After reading the first unit, I realized some less obvious reasons for this
selection. First I was thinking that the problems discussed would be less
complicated and less loaded with references to other, earlier problems, giving
me an easier start - not to mention here my Greek origin and the respective
familiarity with the language of the Presocratics. But most important was the
nave hope that by dealing with the First Philosophers I would be somehow able
to become a philosopher myself, through a sort of a rite of initiation. The
fragments of wisdom would serve as magical invocations, written in a language
both familiar and strange to me.

How mythological was my thinking! I realized this hope of mine, by reading
paragraphs six and seven, and thinking about my emotional response to them. At
first reading I completely overlooked the warning that "a short-cut to
philosophical insight" is not what should lead us to the study of the
Presocratics. On the other hand I really enjoyed the remark that "the vision of
philosophy that is to be imparted by investigating its historical beginnings can
only be fully appreciated by those who are beginners themselves". Now that I
look back at my motives more clearly, I realize that there is indeed a deep
mystery in the moment that someone realizes it is worth to philosophize. And
since philosophy's battle grounds are within the mind, the birth and first
steps of philosophy can be experienced by each person as if they happen for the
first time. Or not?

It is obvious that Thales motives, needs and background are not accessible to
today's interpreters of his views. But I think that it's fair to assume that if
the human mind hasn't changed in its core over the last few thousand years, the
feeling of awe and wonder he experienced in front of the fundamental questions,
is not different from the feelings of a philosophy student today. Of course in
Thales time there were only philosophers - who nobody called philosophers at
that time - and the process of philosophical thinking. There was no philosophy
as such. Even in Platos time, the quest for wisdom was enough to define who is
a philosopher, without a need for referring to a body of knowledge or a
discipline. Today though, the pair of the wisdom seeker (or lover) and of the
hidden attractor towards which he moves, is complemented by a third entity:
philosophy.

The problem we face is similar to the one of art. Here we have the artist, the
art works and the notion of art itself. Can someone be an artist without ever
creating a work of art? Can somebody be called a philosopher, inasmuch he loves
wisdom, without producing any original philosophical thinking? Thank God Plato
and Xenophon saved Socrates from this fate by creating in his name. The
importance of originality should also not be forgotten. Coming back to the art
analogy, how would we call somebody, who, without knowing it, created a replica
of one of Michelangelos masterpieces? Would he be called an artist? The example
of Michelangelo is not arbitrary. The Italian artist was famous for copying
ancient Greek and Roman works of art, a practice he considered legitimate. He
was even involved in the first recorded scandal of forgery. But originality was
just about gaining an importance in Italy at his time. In China, originality in
art matters was first considered a virtue in late 19th century.

But what about philosophy then. Can we, beginners, approach the old questions
directly or we are only able to think in relative terms? Can we ever think like
Thales or we should be only thinking about Thales? Someone might laugh at my
wish to think like Thales, since, after all, we know that our world is not made
of water. Yes, but what is it made of? Atoms? Energy? Quarks? Leptons, bosons or
just mathematical formulae? Except for a limited number of scientists who might
claim they understand what the world is made of, the rest of us just claim we
know the right answer without really understanding it. So if we do not
understand what the world is made of, do we have an answer? Of course even
without knowing the right answer to a question, we can always disqualify
another answer - Thales in that case. This is fair provided that in the process
we do not disqualify the question too! So if we give a relative value to Thales
answer as a good scientific approximation for his time, I believe that the
value of the question is not affected in the same way. We can even claim that
this old question hasn't been finally answered. It is also questionable if an
answer expressed in mathematical formulae is a valid response to a question
laid out in plain language. So let's assume for a moment that an answer cannot
be found. Was then the question in vain?

Definitely not. An open question defines the horizon of all possible answers,
right or wrong. So Thales opened in a philosophical way the possibility of the
science of Physics. Furthermore an open question may be able to charge people's
hearts with its own special energy, which does not need the justification of an
answer, just the expectation of it. And this expectation which is enough
sometimes to give meaning and purpose to someone's life, reveals more about
him, I mean the one who asks, than about the problem in question.

(c) Karolos Gikas

-=-

II. SOCIETY AGM 26 MAY - INAUGURAL LECTURE BY BRENDA ALMOND

                                   
                                                                  
                 THE PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF ENGLAND             
                                                                  
                        Annual General Meeting                    
                                                                  
                      Saturday, 26 May 3.30-5.00                  
                                                                  
                    Bordick Room, Council Chambers                
                    Malet Street,  London WC1E 7HZ                
                                                                  
                    (opposite the Students Union)                 
                                                                  
                                                                  
     3.30 Inaugural Lecture: PROFESSOR BRENDA ALMOND, President   
          of the Philosophical Society of England, will talk on   
          the topic "Biomedical Technology in Humanist Culture"   
                                                                  
                                                                  
       Members and Non-members are cordially invited to attend    
                                                                  
                                   

Next Saturday is a red letter day for the Philosophical Society! We are getting
a new President. Taking up the post from Professor John Wilson of Oriel College
Oxford is the leading moral philosopher Brenda Almond, Professor of Moral and
Social Philosophy at the University of Hull, and author of the best-selling
books 'Exploring Philosophy' and 'Exploring Ethics'. Brenda Almond, who has
said she intends to take an active role in promoting the Society, will be be
giving her Inaugural Lecture to the AGM on the topic "Biomedical Technology in
Humanist Culture".

I had the good fortune to meet Brenda Almond when I was invited to give a talk
on the problem of Solipsism at the University of Hull a few years back. She led
a lively discussion and after the meeting was over took me out for dinner at a
country 'pub'. The Pathways web site had recently been launched, and she was
very encouraging and supportive. It will be good to see her again.

The AGM, which is open to non-members as well as members, takes place at 3.30,
in the Bordick Room, Council Chambers, Malet St, London WC1 immediately after
the meeting of the Council of the Philosophical Society (1.30-3.30). Notice of
Brenda Almond's lecture has been posted on PHILOS-L, the e-mail list for
professional philosophy in the UK and Europe. We are hoping for an excellent
turnout. Do come along and support the Society!

-=-

III. ONLINE CONFERENCE: APPLYING FOR AN OBSERVER'S PASSWORD

The next issue of Pathways News will be featuring one of the contributions to
Round 3 of the Pathways internet conference on the 'Use and Value of
Philosophy'. [See Issue 4 for Cliff North's contribution to Round 1, Issue 6
for Chris Schmaling's contribution to Round 2.]

For anyone who would like to visit the Conference and follow the discussion, Dr
Martin Gough has now provided an observer-only username and password. The
password enables you to read all the contributions, but not to take part in the
discussion.

To observe the Conference, you do not need to be a Pathways or Diploma student,
or even a member of the Philosophical Society. If you would like to be issued
with an observer's password, just write to me!

Geoffrey Klempner

---------------------------------------------------------------
  Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
  Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

  To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
  request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

  The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
  reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
  comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net
---------------------------------------------------------------


[top]
Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page