Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Browsing the summer reading section, I was captivated by a book on display called Sophie's World, which is a novel by Jostein Gaardner about the history of philosophy. It was more expensive than I wanted to spend, so I didn't buy it. The following week, when I went to Ithaca's Book Sale, I saw it there for 10 cents, and I had to get it. So, I'm reading it right now, and I love it because I am constantly learning new things as I weave in and out of a story.

First of all, a "philo-sopher" really means "one who loves wisdom." Food for thought. Use it to sound smart some time.

"Sopho-more" means "wise fool"--makes sense. See the common root?

Another word that originatates from philosophy is "cynical," which comes from a group of philosophers called the Cynics. "The Cynics believed that people did not need to be concerned about their own health. Even suffering and death should not disturb them. Nor should they let themselves be tormented by concern for other people's woes. Nowadays, the term 'cynical' and 'cynicism' have come to mean a sneering disbelief in human sincerity, and they imply insensitivity to other people's suffering."

SOCRATES--The only interesting one to quickly mention in my blog because it refers to Socratic Circles which we use in the classroom. In Socratic Circles, students ask questions to formulate their own answers, sitting in a circle.

"The essential nature of Socrates' art lay in the fact that he did not appear to want to instruct people. On the contrary he gave the impression of one desiring to learn from those who spoke with. So instead of lecturing like a traditional schoolmaster, he discussed."

"Socrates saw his task as helping people to 'give birth' to the correct insight, since real understanding must come from within."

Socratic irony refers to his interactions with people: he would play dumber than he was and ask people questions to let them talk through the answers and arrive at their own conclusions. He would ask you questions in return, leading you to a conclusion that he intended to lead you to from the initial question. Isn't this what we want to do with Socratic Circles?

Anyway, Socrates was a portly, ugly man with a large nose--so the book describes. He ended up dying from his interactions with people and "wild views." He was sentenced to death by a committee, and his death sentence was drinking a cup of poison in front of a crowd. How crazy is that--picking up your own cup and drinking what you know will kill you? That is strength.

Transitioning, the philosopher in the book describes thinking about philosophy and the world like a rabbit in the hat of a magician (just think about this paragraph):

"A lot of people experience the world with the same incredulity as when a magician suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat which has just been shown to them empty. In the case of the rabbit, we know the magician has tricked us. What we would like to know is just how he did it. But when it comes to the world it's somewhat different. We know that the world is not all sleight of hand and deception because here we are in it, we are a part of it. Actually, we are the white rabbit being pulled out of the hat. The only difference between us and the white rabbit is that the rabbit does not realize it is taking part in a magic trick. Unlike us. We feel we are a part of something mysterious and we would like to know how it all works.

PS. As far as the white rabbit is concerned, it might be better to compare it with the whole universe. We who live here are microscopic insects existing deep down in the rabbit's fur. But philosophers are always trying to climb up the fine hairs of the fur in order to stare right into the magician's eyes."

I love the analogy. That's why I love to ask questions, to always ask questions because we can never receive enough answers.

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