Philosophy Fun Facts V

Philosophy can be incredibly dry at times, giving it a bad name. With all of its jargon, complex theories, and intricate history, philosophy is strictly scholarly, intimidating intellectuals, scaring away laypeople, and attracting very little attention, as most people prefer to stay away from the dense topic; what people tend to overlook, though, is that philosophy is not always boring, for philosophy is filled with humorous yet interesting anecdotes concerning famous philosophers. So, without further ado, I present part four of Philosophy Fun Facts, which will be a short series of quirky but educational fun facts about philosophers and philosophy.

 

The Life of Thomas Aquinas

unknown-4Scholastic Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Christianized Aristotle’s thought in his magnum opus Summa Theologica. Like many of the Medieval philosophers, Aquinas sought to align Greek thought with Christian theology. His family, however, did not approve of his decision to become a friar. In an attempt to thwart his conversion, his family kept him prisoner in their castle for a year. Still, Aquinas would not falter, so his brothers hired a prostitute, whom Aquinas fended off with a poker. On his way to Rome, riding on his donkey, Aquinas hit a branch, which led, eventually, to his death.

Zinc

unknown-5Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a Renaissance philosopher who specialized in alchemy and astrology. An iconoclast, Paracelsus rejected the Greco-Roman science that Aristotle and Claudius Galen had lain down and pursued instead more mystical topics. A lesser known fact about Paracelsus is that it is with him that we find one of the first documented mentions of the element Zinc.

 

 

 

 


For further reading:
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (2000)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marias (1967)

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Philosophy Fun Facts IV

Philosophy can be incredibly dry at times, giving it a bad name. With all of its jargon, complex theories, and intricate history, philosophy is strictly scholarly, intimidating intellectuals, scaring away laypeople, and attracting very little attention, as most people prefer to stay away from the dense topic; what people tend to overlook, though, is that philosophy is not always boring, for philosophy is filled with humorous yet interesting anecdotes concerning famous philosophers. So, without further ado, I present part four of Philosophy Fun Facts, which will be a short series of quirky but educational fun facts about philosophers and philosophy.

The Death of Chrysippus

unknown-3The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus (279-206 BCE) is responsible for composing most of the Stoic doctrines. A prolific and brilliant logician, he wrote tens of books, none of which survive today. Using logic, Chrysippus was able to defend his Stoicism and criticize opposing schools. It is ironic how the adjective Stoic refers to someone stiff and unemotional, seeing as Chrysippus purportedly died from, get this… laughing too much. For a Stoic philosopher, Chrysippus surely did not get the whole apathy part down. Stories say he laughed after watching his donkey eat a fig.

The Death of Peregrinus

images-1The Roman satirist Lucian of Samosata (125-180) told of the Cynic philosopher Peregrinus Proteus (95-165), writing that Peregrinus had a long history of rejection and shame. After being kicked out from a Christian brotherhood, after being removed from the Cynic school, after protesting against the Romans, and after humiliating several people at the Olympics, Peregrinus was exiled to Athens. Finally, after teaching philosophy for 4-8 years, Peregrinus ran in the middle of the next Olympic Games, jumping into a pyre, burning himself in front of the audience, truly a fiery finale.

 

 


For further reading:
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (2000)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marias (1967)

Philosophy Fun Facts III

Philosophy can be incredibly dry at times, giving it a bad name. With all of its jargon, complex theories, and intricate history, philosophy is strictly scholarly, intimidating intellectuals, scaring away laypeople, and attracting very little attention, as most people prefer to stay away from the dense topic; what people tend to overlook, though, is that philosophy is not always boring, for philosophy is filled with humorous yet interesting anecdotes concerning famous philosophers. So, without further ado, I present part three of Philosophy Fun Facts, which will be a short series of quirky but educational fun facts about philosophers and philosophy.

The Death of Heraclitus

unknown-2The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535-475 BCE) was known for his often-quoted utterance, “You could not step twice into the same river.” He claimed the world was in a constant state of change, or flux, his quote enforcing the idea of impermanence, as new water flows, replacing old water. After acquiring the inflammatory disease dropsy, it is said, Heraclitus covered himself in cow poop in an effort to treat his body; some say it was this itself, not the dropsy, that led to his death.

The Death of Empedocles

unknown-1Said to be the creator of the four elements, Empedocles (495-430 BCE) was revered for his supposed ability to perform miracles. Legends tell of the great orator healing wounds, curing diseases, and controlling weather. Some went as far as to say the philosopher was divine, having been sent from the Empyrean to deliver his wisdom to the people. In a tragic turn of events, Empedocles, in an effort to prove his divinity, threw himself into Mount Etna. While it is not certain whether this happened, it can be concluded that Empedocles was not a god after all.

 

 


For further reading:
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (2000)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marias (1967)

Philosophy Fun Facts II

Philosophy can be incredibly dry at times, giving it a bad name. With all of its jargon, complex theories, and intricate history, philosophy is strictly scholarly, intimidating intellectuals, scaring away laypeople, and attracting very little attention, as most people prefer to stay away from the dense topic; what people tend to overlook, though, is that philosophy is not always boring, for philosophy is filled with humorous yet interesting anecdotes concerning famous philosophers. So, without further ado, I present part two of Philosophy Fun Facts, which will be a short series of quirky but educational fun facts about philosophers and philosophy.

The Cynics

unknownThe ancient school of Cynicism was popularized by Diogenes of Sinope (412-323 BCE). Diogenes was called a dog (kynikos), because he ignored social norms. He lived in a barrel, ate soup through his hands with bread, and pleasured and relieved himself in public. When Alexander the Conqueror offered him anything, Diogenes requested the general stay out of his sunlight. Diogenes’s students, Crates (365-285 BCE) and Hipparchia (350-280 BCE), learned from the best, going on to make love in the marketplace to everyone’s disgust.

The Death of Pythagoras

imagesPythagoras (570-495 BCE) was an ancient philosopher, mathematician, and cult leader, remembered most for his now-debated discovery of the Pythagorean Theorem. The school of Pythagoreanism was one characterized by great loyalty, for Pythagoras’s followers adhered to a strict set of codes, one of which prohibiting them from eating beans, since Pythagoras thought them to be the seeds from which humans are born. His death is not clear, but some say a mob chased him to a bean field where he chose not to trample the beans and therefore lost his life.

 

 


For further reading:
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (2000)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marias (1967)

Philosophy Fun Facts I

Philosophy can be incredibly dry at times, giving it a bad name. With all of its jargon, complex theories, and intricate history, philosophy is strictly scholarly, intimidating intellectuals, scaring away laypeople, and attracting very little attention, as most people prefer to stay away from the dense topic; what people tend to overlook, though, is that philosophy is not always boring, for philosophy is filled with humorous yet interesting anecdotes concerning famous philosophers. So, without further ado, I present part one of Philosophy Fun Facts, which will be a short series of quirky but educational fun facts about philosophers and philosophy.

The 4 Elements

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The four classic elements of earth, water, air, and fire are attributed to the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles (495-430 BCE), who claimed the universe was composed of the tetrad, which formed the cosmos through a never-ending battle between the conjoining force of Love and the destructive force of Strife.

Atoms

Unknown.pngThe philosopher Leucippus (?) and his disciple Democritus (460-370 BCE), known as the laughing philosopher, propounded the first theory of atoms, small, infinitesimal particles that, when combined in certain orders, formed matter. Based on what atoms the matter was composed of, say small and pointy atoms, the substance would retain those characteristics, creating, in this case, a sharp object. There is a finite amount of atoms, all of which fill up the cosmos, an empty void.

 


For further reading: 
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (2000)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marias (1967)

The Fear of Sesquipedalia: Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia

Walking into the doctor’s office, awaiting the doctor’s diagnosis, only to faint midway through the doctor’s words, one can only imagine the horror of discovering they have a fear of long words. You are sitting on the edge of your seat, sweat on your brow, your legs shaking uncontrollably, nervous of what is to come out of your doctor’s mouth. He is only halfway through saying, “I’m afraid you have hippopotomonstros—,” when, suddenly, you pass out.

And that, my friends, is why hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, the fear of long words, is frankly stupid. It should be noted that this humorously long word is not official, being that the legitimate fear of long words is actually sesquipedalophobia. Regardless, this attempt at creating a behemoth of a word is based on its roots, each of which is used as a qualifier referring to something big, e.g., hippopoto from hippopotamus, a large mammal; monstro from monstrous or something frighteninly big; and, most notably, sesquipedalia, which plainly means big words.

Floccinaucinihilipilification is Not Worth Much

Why do we have long words? Does sesquipedalia–a long word for long words–really have a use? Well, for those of us who find such words senseless and completely worthless, you might say we have a disposition for… floccinaucinihilipilification.

This 29-letter word, which means “to estimate something as having no value,” is entirely derived from Latin, coming from the roots floccus for wisp, naucum for trifle, nihil for nothing, and pilus for hair. Put together, this word denotes the process of becoming useless, as the roots all connote a lack of grandeur.

If one wishes to bestow a floccinaucinihilipilification upon an item, one is to floccinaucinihilipilificate. 

The man who tastes eagerly every kind of learning, who sets himself readily to his lessons and can never have enough, him we shall justly call a lover of wisdom and a philosopher

Screen Shot 2016-10-05 at 4.15.16 PM.pngThe first person you think of when you are asked of a philosopher is and will most likely be Plato (428-347 BCE, born Aristocles), the classic Greek and the classic thinker. So revered is he that Alfred North Whitehead declared all philosophy beyond Plato to be merely a set of footnotes. With all of this attention and respect, it is only customary that we should name Plato as the paragon of all philosophers, as the philosopher to whom we should all aspire to emulate; however, if we were to ask Plato himself what the perfect philosopher is, he would say it is

“the man who tastes eagerly every kind of learning, who sets himself readily to his lessons and can never have enough, him we shall justly call a lover of wisdom and a philosopher.”

This definition, taken from chapter five of the Republic, depicts the philosopher as a lover of wisdom in its purest form. No longer must we see the philosopher as a scholarly figure, a figure shrouded in mystery, a mystery that shall never be solved; no, the philosopher is one who strives to learn as much as one possibly can, one who realizes that true knowledge is unobtainable yet seeks still to uncover the mysteries of life. As my dad put it one time, all you need to be a philosopher in its truest sense is curiosity and passion. The curious individual will take pleasure in seeking knowledge, in learning, not for an end, but rather wisdom for wisdom’s sake, sapientia gratia sapientiam. The philosopher is the individual who loves what they do and whose thirst for truth will never be quenched, for the philosopher’s pursuit of wisdom is a pursuit with no clear end.

Pyrrhonism: Ancient Skepticism

Unknown-6.jpegI find it rather interesting how many of the Hellenistic schools of thought have their own adjectives; yet then again, not only were the schools highly influential in their time, but they made themselves comically vulnerable to rumors and misconceptions, which have traveled forth even today. Among those schools is one of the most intriguing: that of the Skeptics. And as with every adjective that derives from a Greek philosophy, the ideal skeptic has changed over the generations, changing from a vigorous inquirer (skeptic, σκεπτικοι) to a radical doubter. Skepticism has enjoyed a long tradition, reaching from Modern philosopher René Descartes with his Cartesian skepticism to David Hume and his inductive skepticism.

While the typical behavior of a skeptic can be traced to the Pre-Socratic philosophers, it is Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-270 BCE) to whom we formally attribute the philosophical concept of Skepticism. Pyrrho followed the philosopher’s tradition of writing nothing, speech being his only method of relaying his teachings. During Alexander the Great’s conquests, Pyrrho, accompanied by atomist Anaxarchus, met the peculiar sages known as the gymnosophists, or naked lovers of wisdom. From these Indian gurus he adopted “the idea of ungraspability and suspension of judgement.”[1] This idea of suspended judgement (epoche, εποχη) was central to Pyrrhonism. Like every other lover of wisdom, Pyrrho’s mission was to find truth in life, which he felt would free us of worries, ultimately in the goal of achieving the Epicureans’ state of equanimity known as ataraxia. What he found, however, was that there was no truth in the world, for no matter what you say there is always a refutation of equal credibility. The Sophist Protagoras said, “Man is the measure,” claiming that everything is relative to us. Pyrrho supported this idea, arguing that all statements can have opposites. His consequent suspension of judgement thusly removed all labels such as right and wrong, hot and cold, et cetera. What may be beautiful to one person may be ugly to another. Given any claim, there will always be something to go against it. All of this could be led back to the senses, which Pyrrho denounced as unreliable. According to Pyrrho, the senses are all we have, though. To him, appearances, how things appear to us, can be either true or false, but we will never really know, insofar as knowledge is impossible. For example, if we look at a cup of water with a pencil in it, its initial appearance, the pencil being unevenly disjointed by refraction, is true, since we are seeing it with our eyes. Its appearance upon taking it out of the water and finding that it is whole is also true because we are seeing it with our eyes. In both cases our perceptions were true but false at the same time.

Stories tell of Pyrrho living “neither avoiding anything nor watching out for everything, taking everything as it came, whether it be wagons or precipices or dogs.”[2] Antigonus of Carystus added, “If anyone walked out on him in the middle of whatever he was saying, he just finished speaking to himself.”[3] “And once, when Anaxarchus fell into a ditch, he passed by him and did not give him any help … Anaxarchus himself praised his [Pyrrho’s] indifference and lack of sentimentality.”[4] Another time “his fellow passengers were frightened by a storm. He, however, was calm and serene.”[5]

So how do we know all of this about Pyrrho, you ask? Most of what we know of him comes from second-hand sources. Diogenes Laertius, the biographer, got his sources from stories told by others. A more reliable source is Timon of Phlius (320-230 BCE), Pyrrho’s disciple. Timon wrote a lot on his revered master, though he is most known for his Silloi, satires written about other philosophers and writers. While Timon was the closest associate of Pyrrho, fellow Skeptics Aenesidemus and Agrippa made greater contributions to Pyrrhonism. To support Pyrrho’s way of life and to protect it from any logical criticisms, Aenesidemus proposed 10 arguments (tropoi, τροποι) that summed up Pyrrhonian suspension:

  1. All animals perceive things differently
  2. Humans perceive things differently
  3. The sense organs perceive things differently
  4. Circumstances change how we perceive things
  5. Cultures and beliefs change how we perceive things
  6. Everything is affected by something else, which changes how we perceive things
  7. Location, specifically distance, changes how we perceive things
  8. Quantities of something change how we perceive things
  9. The frequency of something’s occurrence changes how we perceive things
  10. Things relative to other things change how we perceive things

Agrippa felt the need to truncate these arguments, turning them into five:

  1. No matter what is said, there will always be an opposing viewpoint
  2. All claims require justification, which will go on infinitely
  3. Depending on the current conditions, one’s perceptions may change
  4. Following tropoi 2, justifications will be assumed
  5. Justifications become circular reasoning

Finally, these arguments were reduced to two core ideas:

  1. The intrinsic value of an object is indiscernible by people; we can find only external value
  2. Any attempts to describe intrinsic value will result in circular reasoning

The stories of total obliviousness and mortal ignorance surrounding Pyrrho are sure to inspire some skepticism (pun intended), for Aenesidemus defended him, declaring, “He [Pyrrho] only theorized suspension of judgement, whereas he did not actually act improvidently.”[6] Followers of Pyrrho were not the only Skeptic philosophers, seeing as Plato’s Academy entered its Middle period, a period of Skepticism, upon the appointment of Arcesilaus (316-241 BCE). Arcesilaus, in the style of Socrates, famously averred, “I am certain I know nothing.” Of course, this meant he was certain he was not certain he knew nothing. He continued teaching dialectic, the classic art of Socratic dialogue, in the Academy, stressing the impossibility of true knowledge. Eventually, his legacy was surpassed by Carneades (214-129). A skilled dialectician and Skeptic, Carneades was known for his ability, like Protagoras, to argue both sides of a topic. One of his notable stunts involved him lecturing in Rome on the concept of justice, praising it. The following day he argued in disfavor of justice, turning his previous lecture completely around. It is said he angered many politicians, Cato the Younger included, ending with Carneades being exiled from Rome. After some time, the question of whether the Skeptic life was livable popped up, considering Pyrrho lived precariously close to death–at least that is how he is depicted in the stories. If we live suspending judgements, what is to stop us from endangering our lives? Carneades came up with a solution known in Skepticism as probability (pithanotita, πιθανότητα). Because we use appearances to determine what something is, according to Carneades, we can distinguish things that may harm us by building up these appearances, using deductive reasoning to decide something is bad. Using the example of a shadow, we may make out the shape of it, thinking it to be a person, but only until we see it move can we tell if it is alive, and furthermore, if we hear the moving, human-shaped shadow talking, we can reasonably conclude it is, in fact, a person. The varying degrees of probability as they steadily stack up will guide us to a certain deduction. Roman physician and Skeptic Sextus Empiricus (160-210 CE) was the last writer of Antiquity to continue the Skeptic tradition. His book, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, provides the basis for the basic principles of Skepticism. The Skeptics did not consider themselves as having any doctrines, however.

To conclude, whenever the word “skeptical” is thrown around, it is best you suspend your judgement, because you never know if the appearance may be fooling you. Pyrrho, a true sage, was able to practice what he preached, and he created a lifestyle worth emulating; one should only act with small doses of skepticism, though, as you would not want to fall into a ditch like Anaxarchus. Have fun doubting!

 


[1] Inwood and Gerson, Hellenistic Philosophy, pg. 173
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Id., pg. 174
[6] Id., pg. 173

For further reading: A History of Philosophy Volume 1: Greece and Rome by Frederick Copelston (1993)
Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy by Samuel Enoch Stumpf (1982)
The Story of Philosophy
 by James Garvey and Jeremy Stangroom (2012)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy edited by Ted Honderich (1995)
Hellenistic Philosophy by Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson (1988)
The History of Western Thought
by Bertrand Russell (1972)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (2000)
History of Philosophy
 by Julian Marias (1967)