Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Know Thyself

One of the first things that I did when I was accepted to study maths and philosophy was to go to the library and look in the philosophy section. Although I liked the idea of studying philosophy I didn't really have much idea of what was involved. I thought that there was something about lots of dead Greek guys that I had heard of, and possibly something to do with being able to remember lots of sayings and things like that, but other than thinking of myself as quite a thoughtful sort of person I didn't know anything else.

I got a few books out - An Introduction To Philosophy was very helpful, a big heavy tome on Wittgenstein was not - and had a look at them, and felt for a bit that while philosophy was an interesting subject and worthy of study perhaps I would be better off doing something else with my maths degree after all. Then I received a book called "Porcupines" by Graham Higgins, which described itself as "a philosophical anthology," presenting some of the key pieces of writing of great philosophers. There was very little explanation of who these people were, just their names and the dates of when they lived. Every right hand page would contain a short passage or sentence that was attributed to them, and the left hand page would try to place it in context with some of their other writing - but never with any analysis, this was all left to the reader.

It was reading through "Porcupines" that convinced me that studying philosophy was worthwhile, and although my passion in academic study is now focused on mathematics I am still convinced that philosophy and thinking about the deep questions of life is an incredibly important thing.

(it was in this period that I read the book which I think gave me my real love of reading fiction as well, "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder, but that's a story for another time)

Although I have found many interesting things to think about since, there were three statements that I read in "Porcupines" which have stayed with me ever since, and to end this short post which feels more like biography than commentary I'm going to sign off by quoting them.

"If we actually possessed one grain of knowledge there would be no holding us back."
- Michel De Montaigne (1533-1592)

"I do not know what I am:
I am not what I know."
- Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)

"Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains."
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

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