Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Power of Primary Texts

If you want to learn philosophy, read Plato. If you want to learn metaphysics, rhetoric, politics, or psychology, read Aristotle. If you want to learn about reason and faith, read Thomas Aquinas.

Don’t settle for second best. Go to the source. Read the primary texts.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. You will probably be able to rediscover a few things on your own, but you don’t have twenty six centuries to consider them. Only fools, rebels, narcissists and young people try to go it alone intellectually. You have one life to live and wasting years on reproducing a conclusion you can learn from Plato or Aristotle is not smart. Start at the start with Plato.

Can’t understand the primary texts? Neither can I. But in saying that, we need to draw a distinction between two kinds of difficulty with these texts.

There are difficulties in primary texts that should be avoided, and difficultiesin primary texts that should be embraced.

The best way to show you this is give examples from my own experience:

In reading Plato’s Republic the first time I recognised that I wouldn’t be capable of understanding most of the middle books of the text without more effort than I was able to give the text this first reading. I learnt this from reading the introduction of the Penguin Classics version. This kind of difficulty is worth avoiding until I am more capable of comprehending them, and more motivated by a broader base of understanding. Had I ploughed through, I would have discouraged myself, then dispirited myself, then demoralized myself (had I kept going: I would have quit the moment I became dispirited rather than be demoralized).

Then there are difficulties with primary texts which are what Harold Bloom calls the “difficult pleasure” of a classic. Simply put, what some people might find a problem or a hassle, I find a stimulus and a challenge in these texts. The marvel of these texts is that on the other side of the difficulty is a stark simplicity that comes from their irreducible basic truth.

Intellectualism that does not respect and honour the past is snobbery and arrogance, and in fact fake or pseudo-intellectualism because it leads to circuitous ramblings which mainly appeal other to other poor people seduced by intellectual falsehood.

The basis for genuine intellectual ability is humility. Specifically, being humble enough to accept that most of the things you can usefully think have already been long since thunk by Mister Aristotle and Mister Plato!

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