Is the whole world really to be taken seriously, or is it not a great game, a great play like 'Hamlet' or 'Faust', some kind of drama played out by we know not whom, as a spectacle for we do not know whom? Can we make sense of such an aesthetic justification for mankind, Sydney Grew?
Curiously, I had to learn the seven ages of man at primary school, Neil McGowan, and I remember having to recite it in front of my class. The teacher asked the class how good I was, and some pedant noted that I had missed out a few articles! So this particular speech is deeply ingrained into my memory from the age of nine! Plato wrote that the sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin. Curiously, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and kleines c all seem to agree with Plato on that, but on little else. Indeed, kleines c constantly wonders what he is going to do now.
Serious students of philosophy often regard Kant, rather than Nietzsche or Wittgenstein, as the greatest philosopher since the ancient Greeks. Kant was exceptionally penetrating, and he was able to see where an intellectual problem lay in something which had previously been taken for granted. Additionally, he was exceptionally good at seeing how his arguments fitted together into a greater whole, and how one thing might alter everything else.
Unfortunately, whereas Nietzsche is easier to read, and Wittgenstein often quite hilarious, Kant can seem quite impenetrable, at least to kleines c. I am uniquely both exceptionally penetrating and exceptionally penetrated. The point that needs to be made, however, is that whereas we are used to seeing progression in science and technology, for example, there is not the same sense of progression in philosophy. Plato and Aristotle have never been surpassed, until the emergence of kleines c, although they would certainly have been surprised to have been so surpassed. Cheers from Wales (breakfast coffee)!
Curiously, I had to learn the seven ages of man at primary school, Neil McGowan
I am appearing (as Touchstone, rather than Jacques) in AS YOU LIKE IT here in Moscow next month, in a new English-language production. I have to understudy Jacques* too - so I've been brushing up the speech
* it's quite feasible to play both roles, they never coincide
. . . Plato wrote that the sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin. Curiously, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and kleines c all seem to agree with Plato on that, but on little else. Indeed, kleines c constantly wonders what he is going to do now. . . .
The Greek "to thaumazein" is often translated into the German "Erstaunen," and so taken to mean "astonishment", but the greatest philosophers are aware that it signifies "wonder" or "marvel". I don't know that Plato himself actually makes this statement anywhere; but he certainly says that Socrates said it.
The following comes from the Theatetus, 155D, in the excellent translation by John Warrington - it is one of the dialogues which Plato tossed off on Saturday afternoons and which shaped 2500 years of civilization. Socrates is conversing with Theatetus, a lad of abnormal intelligence, uncommon gentleness, and exceptional virility, with a snub nose and protruding eyes like a younger version of Socrates himself.
SOCRATES: You doubtless follow me, Theatetus; at all events I do not imagine that such puzzles are outside your experience.
THEATETUS: On the contrary, Socrates, it is extraordinary how they get me wondering whatever they can mean. Sometimes the very contemplation of them makes me feel quite dizzy.
SOCRATES: I see. Theodoros did not estimate your nature so badly after all. This sense of wonder is characteristic of a philosopher; wonder, in fact, is the very source of speculation, and he who made Iris the daughter of Thaumas was a good genealogist. Now do you begin to understand the significance of all this which follows from the doctrine we are attributing to Protagoras? Or is it not yet clear?
THEATETUS: No, not yet.
SOCRATES: Then doubtless you will be grateful if I help you to discover the truth hidden in the thought of a man - or rather, of men - so distinguished.
THEATETUS: I shall indeed be grateful, very grateful.
SOCRATES: Well, look around and see that none of the uninitiated overhears us. By the uninitiated I mean those who fancy that nothing is real except what they can grasp firmly with their hands, and who deny that actions or processes or anything invisible can share in reality.
THEATETUS: What hard, repellent folk they sound!
SOCRATES: So they are too, quite without refinement.
Iris, the sister of the Harpies, was the good-natured goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the gods, particularly of Zeus and Hera. There is no direct connection with speculation; Plato's implied reference must be to the content of the messages from the gods. Nothing is known of the functions of Thaumas, her father by the Oceanid Electra. Of course his name itself means "wonder", and he also bears the epithet "the monstrous". He was the son of Pontus, the sea, and Gaea, the earth.
And now a brief passage from Plato's pupil Aristotle; his Metaphysics I.2.982b, translated by W. D. Ross:
. . . this [the science of Wisdom] must be a science that investigates the first principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end and aim, is one of the causes. That it is not a science of production is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun, and about the stars and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end.
How easy it is to confuse Alan Bush with Alan Watts! It was at Chislehurst that the latter came out of this world of mystery. The child was educated at the King's School in Canterbury, next to the Cathedral. During his 'teen years the fortunate youth was taken on trips through France by Francis Croshaw, a wealthy Epicurean with strong interests in both Buddhism and "the exotic little-known aspects of European culture" [Wikipædia] Would that we all could be!
"Watts later wrote of a mystical vision he experienced while ill with a fever as a child." [Wikipædia again.] Well! That may also have been my own experience at Mentone, although I am not certain that "mystical" is quite the right word.
"What is it about Watts?" you may ask. It is his relationship with jolly old Ludwig Wittgenstein, the superior Austrian who gave everything away. Read this if you will, from his Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, and ponder:
"As and when the tubes get enough to eat, they use up their surplus energy by wiggling in complicated patterns, making all sorts of noises by blowing air in and out of the input hole, and gathering together in groups to fight with other groups. In time, the tubes grow such an abundance of attached appliances that they are hardly recognizable as mere tubes, and they manage to do this in a staggering variety of forms. There is a vague rule not to eat tubes of your own form, but in general there is serious competition as to who is going to be the top type of tube. All this seems marvellously futile, and yet, when you begin to think about it, it begins to be more marvellous than futile. Indeed, it seems extremely odd.
"It is a special kind of enlightenment to have this feeling that the usual, the way things normally are, is odd—uncanny and highly improbable. This feeling of universal oddity includes a basic and intense wondering about the sense of things. Why, of all possible worlds, this colossal and apparently unnecessary multitude of galaxies in a mysteriously curved space-time continuum, these myriads of differing tube-species playing frantic games of one-upmanship, these numberless ways of 'doing it'?
"Ludwig Wittgenstein and other modern 'logical' philosophers have tried to suppress this question by saying that it has no meaning and ought not to be asked. Most philosophical problems are to be solved by getting rid of them, by coming to the point where you see that such questions as 'Why this universe?' are a kind of intellectual neurosis, a misuse of words in that the question sounds sensible but is actually as meaningless as asking 'Where is this universe?' when the only things that are anywhere must be somewhere inside the universe. The task of philosophy is to cure people of such nonsense. Wittgenstein, as we shall see, had a point there. Nevertheless, wonder is not a disease. Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.
"Is there, then, some kind of a low-down on this astounding scheme of things, something that never really gets out through the usual channels for the Answer—the historic religions and philosophies? There is. It has been said again and again, but in such a fashion that we, to-day, in this particular civilization do not hear it. We do not realize that it is utterly subversive, not so much in the political and moral sense, as in that it turns our ordinary view of things, our common sense, inside out and upside down. It may of course have political and moral consequences, but as yet we have no clear idea of what they may be. Hitherto this inner revolution of the mind has been confined to rather isolated individuals; it has never, to my knowledge, been widely characteristic of communities or societies. It has often been thought too dangerous for that. Hence the taboo.
"The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity. We suffer from an hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that 'I myself' is a separate centre of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body—a centre which 'confronts' an 'external' world of people and things, making contact through the senses with an universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. 'I came into this world.' 'You must face reality.' 'The conquest of nature.'"
"This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not 'come into' this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree, and waves from the ocean. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, an unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated 'egos' inside bags of skin.
"We do not need a new religion; we need a new experience—a new feeling of what it is to be 'I.' Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary rôle that we are playing. As is so often the way, what we have suppressed and overlooked is something startlingly obvious. The difficulty is that it is so obvious and basic that one can hardly find the words for it. The Germans call it a Hintergedanke, an apprehension lying tacitly in the back of our minds which we cannot easily admit, even to ourselves." Thus Alan Watts.
So, does every one have a Hintergedanke? And was Wittgenstein a mere tube?
I would imagine that everyone could find a Hintergedanke for themselves. I have been struggling with the concept a bit today! Is there an apprehension lying tacitly in the back of my mind which I cannot easily admit, even to myself. Possibly! Perhaps it is that I don't actually know anything at all, and what I thought I knew is, in all probability, wrong anyway!
I think that Ludwig Wittgenstein was a tube, metaphorically speaking, although whether he was a mere tube is more difficult to say.
"I have a tool box in my bag here, kleines c. Look at what I have inside. There is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screw-driver, a ruler, a glue-pot, nails and screws. The function of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects."
I suspect that Wittgenstein is any number of different tools, depending upon what use we put him to, Sydney Grew.