01 May 2002

"The unexamined life is not worth living."
    - Socrates (attrib.)

I've been cruising Buddha's "net of jewels" we know familiarly as the Internet, and have come across several things that made me stop dead in my tracks. There's a movement about, folks, one that is going to change the world for sure. I'm not talking about cyberporn or online auctioning, either. I'm talking about philosophy, pure and simple. If you step off the glitzy cybertrack for an instant, you'll stumble onto it, and you'll wonder what hit you.

I was already reeling, having just finished J. Gaartner's amazing book, "Sophie's World." I wasn't searching for more to question about life -- I was looking for answers, having already had my fill of questions for the time being. I mean, how can you ever answer the question, "Who am I?" At the very instant you frame your answer, you've changed, and you're something else, not quite fitting whatever description you mere moments earlier thought or felt appropriate. Don't even get me started on thinking and feeling, either. I was edgy as I read most of the book, because I had a difficult time imagining myself closer aligned to Aristotle (the original list-keeper and organizer) than to Plato (the man who made shadow-puppetry a vogue). You see, one fellow believed it was impossible for us to perceive the real world through the pitiful (and often unreliable) limitations of our senses, and the other believed it was impossible to know anything that did not come to us directly through what we sense. As I read, I had a hard time making up my mind, because I felt there was truth in both positions, and that neither philosophy was complete without a portion of the other.

Come to find out, I'm neither Platonic nor Aristotelian. I'm a believer in the thing Immanuel Kant put forth, which was a sort of synthesis of both. But honestly, do I like this discovery about myself? Not in the least. For starters, I don't know what to call myself -- if not Platonic, which has a nice, classical ring to it, or Aristotelian, which calls to mind science, order, and classification, then what? Kant's philosophy has been described as radical, non-reductionist, determinist, empirically realistic, deductionist, and a slew of other high-flying terms, all of which boil themselves down to the single most important thing: According to Kant, the representation is what makes an object possible, rather than the other way around. If there is an input -- what he calls "perceptual input," that is, coming from the senses -- then somehow the input has to be processed, or recognized, before it is meaningful. I think he's got a point, and I'm willing to stand with him on it. One of these days I might even take on "The Critique of Pure Reason," just so I can find out if there's a single word to describe his followers.

How in the world am I supposed to figure out who I am, when I can't even figure out what I am? To make matters worse, in my travels today, I picked up four more questions I don't know how to answer: What is philosophy? What is a question, and why are they so important in philosophy? How is a philosopher different from a person who has some philosophical ideas? How is philosophy like a tree? Damned if I know. Yet.

Excuse me. I think I need to feel the ... oh, never mind.


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