Story Of Philosophy

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Posted by farid from ( on Friday, September 19, 2003 at 12:41PM :

Christianity not only grew and thrived on and promoted obscuranitism...the science of making plain things cloudy...but it forced the best minds of their day into virtual incomprehensibility. My first brush with philosophy came from my father's library. The pre-Christian philosophers were fairly easy to grasp but after the advent of full, formal mind and bone-crushing Christianity...thinkers and philosophers increasingly came to sound like gibbering madmen themselves whose goal seemed to be to take the hardest road to the simplest point. You aren't supposed to admit that. I read all the biggies...or as much of them as I could before getting a headache and came away thinking they were either far too intelligent to be understood by a plain person, or completely unnecessary to a healthy mind.

Then in high school I ran across a thin little book by Will and Ariel Durant called, "The Story of Philosophy"...and just the title alone held great promise. In the book the Durants had caught in a few pages the heart of what the European philosophers were agonizing over in all those dense and turgid pages. I read about Kant, Shopenhauer, Nietzsce (they couldn't even be called Smith or Jones) and my reaction was predictable.."is THAT what they were trying to say"? Well any fool would react the same in why sail east when you're goal is all of ten paces to the west of you?

When Fredrerick the Great was a wild young roustabout, for him...he dallied with atheism, agnosticism, philsophy, free-thinking...all the bugaboos the Church used to rip your thumbs off, poke your eyes out and kill you for. He befriended and fell in love with Voltaire, that amazing Imp who was the superstar of his day, before there were electric guitars and amplfiers. But, when he ascended the throne of Prussia and was responsible for the country's well being and international standing, he too came to the conclusion that philosophy should be reserved for only a few and discussed behind closed doors at that. Voltaire, when he moved to the small town (Vevey?) near the border with he could flit across the border to safety (among CALVINISTS?) if the French authorities ever came for him...became a sort of lord of the manor and "owned" a village in which the very happy people worked at making watches he sold all over Europe...what a philosopher...the guy was a millionaire too. But he jokingly said that if a belief in god would keep his peasant workers from stealing even one watch or shirking their duties...he'd build ten churches and hire forty priests to put the fear of god's retribution in each child. Religion has its uses after all.

Philosophers had to write in ways that were fairly obscure. The Church's presence and willingness to kill them made them do it. Just as it's been suggested the reason for the almost painful refinement of French literature...the subtlety and lacey innuendo had more to do with fear of the Bastille and the Sorbonne than it ever was a literary device of choice. Writers had to be very careful NOT to be get around the official Church and secular censors who had to pass on a book, who otherwise might burn it and maybe the author and printer as well. The fear was that these sorts of ideas would infect more and more common folk and thereby hangs a tale and many a budding thinker.

On top of that by the time of the Age of Reason when the Church began to get it's just desserts...the Age of Science was around the corner as well and writers and thinkers..all of whom were classically educated in the sciences ...felt the need to make pilosophy and social criticism into "sciences" as well...hence the formulas and systems and methods that tried, by their very complexity, to gain respectability and "scientific" legitimacy..and of course be impossible to understand by the common man or woman.

Frederick allowed all sorts of blasphemous free-thinking at his court, so did many Popes. What it would be worth to have been included behind closed doors in one of those bull sessions with the well-read and witty Frederick, Voltaire, several other honored guests of that caliber as well as those bright, intelligent women the best Courts in Europe attracted. But...the ideas had to remain behind closed doors. Kings and religious heads read and discussed everything freely but privately and any author who wished to survive, in every sense, had to write in a manner that only the chosen few could even begin to understand. And thank god they even bothered to...risking freedom and life and limb in ways we can't imagine today.

I mean so I piss Jackie off and Shawn buys another boat and so I drive almost grown Assyrian men even further down on their weepy knees? Where's the danger other than that? Sure some son of Jesus might get it into his head to "Kill one for Christ" more of several...but that's hardly the same as having the authorities from the king on down, not to mention all the Heavenly Host all out gunning for you.

And that boys and the story of philosophy and why it's so damn difficult to understand what, without the Church's Rack or Gallows and Pyres looming over our lives back so simple. As Socrates a good life and seek to do no harm. You can see what the Church was afraid of right there. And there were no Christians around in his day...a time still referred to as a "Golden Age"...which was revived briefy in someting later called a "Rebirth", the Renaissance...followed by an "Enlightened Age"...all the writers and thinkers of which had a hand, at great personal risk, in getting us out of the "Dark Ages", when the Church came closest to getting its wicked way with rest of us. Just the titles tell the story.

-- farid
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