21 October 2017

Philosophy and Me

In a biting satire on the politics of Britain, W.S. Gilbert wrote, in Act II of Iolanthe, 

'(E)very boy and every gal 

That’s born into the world alive 
Is either a little Liberal 
Or else a little Conservative!'

Whilst I'm not at all sure how he would rhyme it now with Labour the second Party, and the plethora of minor parties, I must say that I'm not sure I agree with him. Having been a child, having known many children, and having raised a few, I'm convinced that every boy and every gal that's born into the world alive, is actually born a conservative.

Children do not like change. They are comfortable in their own 'old' ways. As an example, I have worn a beard for almost my entire adult life. I have shaved twice for jobs that prohibited facial hair and once on a whim. At that time, we had three small children, two boys, four and two, and a daughter who was just a few months old. We were worried that my being clean shaven would upset the baby. She didn't seem to be bothered, but her four year old brother regressed, demanding a bottle, messing his pants, and telling me in no uncertain terms, 'You're not my Daddy!' Needless to say, the beard made a rapid reappearance!

So, what does all this have to do with 'Philosophy and Me'? Well, just as I'm convinced that every child is born a conservative, I'm convinced that every child is equally born a moderate realist in the line of Aristotle, St Thomas Aquinas, Étienne Gilson, and Jacques Maritain. Neither a Platonic realist, nor a nominalist, but an adherent of what Dr Mortimer  J. Adler referred to as 'uncommon common sense'.

On the subject of idealism, especially the absurd lengths to which it was taken by Bishop Berkeley, any child would agree with Dr Johnson, 
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."Boswell: Life Link
Nor would they agree with Ockham's nominalism. They know, instinctively, that there exists an idea of 'cat' that they have abstracted from petting many kitty cats, but that the cat also exists.

At any rate, I know that I was born a moderate realist, and I firmly believe that all children are. Just as with our political outlook, our philosophy remains until parents or school change it. Some are lucky, in my view, because it never gets changed, but, in my case, even tho' it was changed in my youth, I returned to positions with which I was born. 

I flirted with the extreme left in my youth, adopting Marxism as politics and philosophy. However, since atheistic materialism did not agree with me, by my mid-twenties, that 'uncommon common sense' used by Dr Adler to define Aristotelianism had reasserted itself. At about that time, I was assisting a friend in research for his doctoral dissertation on Nietzsche. We had had a fruitful conversation in our local pub and as we left, he turned to me and said, in an exasperated tone, 'Weismiller, you are the most profoundly Aristotelian man I know!' He meant it as an insult, coming from his point of view, but I took it as a compliment, and, with a small bow, I replied, 'Why, thank you, Donnie!'

Forty five years on, I am still reading and studying. I am currently reading An Introduction to Philosophy, by Msgr Paul J. Glenn, published as a seminary textbook in the late 1940s. It is definitely written in the moderate realism, Aristotelian-Thomist vein!

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