Excerpt from The Classicist
Chapter 6 in the Book of Antiquities, The Apes of Eden by Jon P. Gunn
All Metaphysics and Theology
arose in Classical Antiquity.
Despite their later imitators’ claim
it was the Greeks from whom these concepts came–
specifically from Aristotle: the
most famous Founder of Philosophy.
All philosophic systems later wrought
were footnotes, nothing more, to Grecian Thought.”
“I think,” the ape remarked, “that kind of lore
might be the very thing we’re looking for.
I used to have a Book I tried to bring
from home, explaining just that sort of thing.
I’d have it still–except some pranksters’ tricks
did damage to it that I couldn’t fix.
If you could summarize a theme or two
from Grecian Thought, I’d be obliged to you.”
“I wouldn’t mind a bit,” the centaur said,
“and in your Quest you’ll come out far ahead
if you confine your search for wisdom to
the course of study I define for you.
The philosophic field has come to be
a blend of nonsense with absurdity.
Aspiring students have to pick and choose
with utmost care, lest they their minds confuse
with sterile theorizings which engage
all thinkers since the classic Golden Age.
Originators in Philosophy
gave way to those whose object seemed to be
investigating those who, earlier,
reviewed the works of some philosopher
who had composed a critical review
of someone who had written something new
about the valid science, deep and vast,
originating in the classic past.
With critics criticizing critics, you
can see no useful work was left to do.
Post-classical philosophy is all
a trap in which unwary students fall
to waste their lives and intellects–unless
they’re wisely warned, and level heads possess.”
“Our goal is Valid Knowledge,” said the Sage,
“and not in Speculation to engage.
If all the valid thinking has been done
by Greeks, that’s good enough for anyone.”
He found a seat upon a root of oak,
and listened closely, as the centaur spoke.
“The Greeks were first to place the emphasis
on Observation and Analysis,”
the centaur started in. “By this they laid
the grounds for all the progress later made.
The Greeks were also first successfully
to search for Generalized Validity.
They learned to reach beyond details of fact
and seek conclusions general and abstract.
They gave us Mathematics, as a base
for all the Sciences the biped race
in later ages managed to devise–
for which the ‘Moderns’ deemed themselves so wise.
They gave us Logical Analysis,
on which we place all present emphasis.
Among their many contributions, they
presented, in a systematic way,
their treatments of some basic questions: those
which in still-older times and cultures rose.
“The first of these they chose to emphasize
was ‘That From Which’ existent things arise:
the branch of science called Ontology–
the Basic Nature of Reality.
“In making lists, the classic custom’s been
with Thales of Miletus to begin.
He made his mark as an astronomer,
geometrician and philosopher.
Without appealing to Tradition, he
proposed that Ultimate Reality
was Water. This he logically inferred
because this basic element occurred
in ample quantities; and, as we know,
without it, not a blade of grass could grow.
The later answers to this question ranged
from ‘Elements,’ which though themselves unchanged
produced in varied combinations those
materials from which Existence rose–
on up through concepts of ‘the Infinite,’
so called because one cannot say that it
is one thing or another. It alone
can any substance be, from air to stone,
according to its relative degree
of rarefaction or condensity.
It was Anaximander who devised
the concept that ‘the Infinite’ comprised
the Substance of the Universe. The mind
rejects the notion that some special kind
of matter typifies them all. He found
it should be unrestricted, have no bound.
By saying matter has no ‘normal’ state
he managed early to anticipate
the view of ‘modern’ chemists, who agree
that ‘everything consists of Energy,’
which we’re familiar in every form
except its typifying, standard’ norm.’
“But Anaximenes believed that Air
was typical of Substance. Though quite rare
while in its natural state, it also could
be densified to water, fire or wood;
and if compacted into solid blocks
is just as indigestible as rocks.
“He also managed to anticipate
the ‘modern’ theory that a silicate,
subjected to extremes of heat, will then
split into silicon and oxygen.
And oxygen, as surely you’re aware
is the most vital element of air!
“The most ingenious metaphysic was
the observation, by Pythagoras,
that Number must the Basic Substance be,
since every Thing has size and quantity,
and, whether it is moving or at rest,
abides by laws numerically expressed.
Pythagoras was foremost to insist
the Soul and Body separately exist,
and that one’s Soul, at death, will transmigrate
to start life over, in Some Other State.
“The controversy over Permanence
and Change was also much in evidence.
The Eleatic, Zeno, strove to prove
that even speeding arrows cannot move:
At each successive instant, arrows were
at rest, therefore no motion could occur,
just as no ‘separation’ we define
between adjacent points along a line.
An object cannot change position. First
one-half the distance has to be transversed.
Before that midpoint, it must first attain
one quarter of the distance–but in vain,
for eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second parts
must first be reached. So motion never starts–
it wastes its time at points along a line
which is divided ‘infinitely fine.’
“The difficulties in resolving these
conundrums soon engendered tendencies
toward Gnostic Relativity–the view
that nothing’s ever absolutely true.
The Truth as such can never be removed
from what some clever Sophist claims he’s proved,
so nothing’s known except to that extent
that we’re convinced of it, by Argument.
“But Socrates turned up in time to give
the Sophists’ view that ‘Truth is Relative’
a well-deserved critique. The Sophists feel
that nothing much, if anything, is Real.
One aspect of the Knowledge Problem lay
(as Socrates insisted) in the way
the Sophists use the ambiguities
of words to ‘prove’ whatever ‘truths’ they please.
He thought this pointed up the urgent need
for Rules of Rhetoric that all could heed
–some formalized criteria, by which
contestants in debate could make their pitch
and yet not leave unbiased judges with
the vague impression they had proved a myth.
“A precept often stressed by Socrates
(and hardly anybody disagrees)
is Reason’s Duty to examine things,
exempting nothing from our questionings.
‘The unexamined life,’ he always said,
‘need not be lived; one might as well be dead.’
He also stipulated: ‘Questioning
must be constructive–not the sort of thing
that undermines an honest point of view
without replacing it with something new.’
“Since Reasoning Ability is viewed
as Humankind’s Distinctive Aptitude,
and since it is incumbent on a man
to make himself as human as he can,
Morality–so Socrates opined–
is using and developing the Mind.
“This train of logic leads us to suspect
that Virtue’s locus is the Intellect.
The essence of one’s Virtue therefore lies
between the ears and just behind the eyes.
To that extent that human being lack
Sound Judgment, are their moral standards slack.
The disadvantages of evil were
the damage done to one’s own character.
No normal person voluntarily
elects to do himself an injury–
the problem is, we don’t all realize
exactly where our best self-interest lies.
We therefore many evil choices make
despite self-interest, simply by mistake!
If malefactors only knew this fact
they’d have the sense to think before they act.
“No axiologist since Socrates
has solved the Values Issue with such ease;
yet ‘moderns’ now refuse to recognize
that evil deeds from Ignorance arise.
Dismissing Socrates as ‘out of date,’
they fudge, and theorize, and obfuscate,
too stubborn to admit the issue’s solved
and Error is the only thing involved.
“In Socrates and in his followers
we meet those eminent philosophers
of long-enduring, well-deserved repute
whose basic contributions constitute
the main traditions in the history
of Western science and philosophy.
In Plato’s The Republic he relates
the salient features of Ideal States,
where measures will be taken to insure
for every citizen a lineage pure,
and equal opportunity for all
to find a social niche, then rise or fall
according to one’s own abilities–
one’s aptitudes and fallibilities.
Prospective statesmen who perform the best
on Euclid’s books (by some objective test)
advance, because this talent we equate
with that required to run Affairs of State.
By this selective process, judges find
and elevate the Philosophic Mind.
The truly qualified will never stop
advancing till they make it to the Top:
that is, the Council of the Truly Wise
who would the central government comprise.
Those few who understand the True and Good
receive the posts an Archimedes should,
and higher concepts learn of Deity
in place of popular mythology.
“In Plato’s scheme, an indolent buffoon
needs more endowments than a silver spoon.
If necessary, to eliminate
all nepotistic tendencies, the State
will overrule the Family, taking charge
of offspring, who’ll be raised as ‘kids at large,’
eliminating, to a great extent,
the Last Resort of the Incompetent–
a doting father who, besides a Name,
supplies the bribes to pave his way to fame.
Is it not strange to note, since Plato died,
not once has his ingenious plan been tried!
“Few intellects by later ages hatched
have Aristotle’s Analytics matched
for thoroughly-objective and exact
analysis of scientific fact.
His books were much consulted, first by peers
and then Scholastics, for two thousand years.
“In brief, as any Sophomore can see,
the Golden Age of Greek Philosophy
had kicked all questions thoroughly around
and every possible Solution found.
No new addition to these crowded shelves
can add to what the Greeks devised themselves.
“And so,” the centaur summarized, “you see
that in the study of Philosophy,
the careful student must avoid the snares
of everything since Aristotle. There’s
a Labyrinth awaiting, like the Pit,
and nothing gained by getting lost in it,
for those who venture past the Golden Age
of Grecian Thought, by even half a page. . .
“And now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe
since Dusk approaches, both of us should leave.
If we delay, we’re apt to meet with more
‘fair game’–like that atrocious minotaur.
My life’s not charmed, and I’m afraid I might
be still less fortunate, unarmed, by night.”
The centaur heaved the Carcass to his back,
and turned to face along the forest track.
With one last word of thanks for all the good
the Sage had done, he set off through the wood.
The Sage sat thinking, making mental note
of headings for a book he later wrote,
until he, also, apprehensive grew
at pending dusk, and prudently withdrew.