Tag Archives: Philosophy

On Good Places and No Places

Dear Father,

It was not too long ago that I concluded Platocrates’ Republic, that wonderful treatise on the perfect city, the home of truth and justice. With the melancholy of Augustine’s final words hanging over my head, I have spent the past few weeks in search of something uplifting, something that could take my mind away from the apparent futility of my quest. Imagine my joy when I stumbled across yet another book on perfect cities, this one by famed Elder of the House Thomas More. Recalling the glee with which I had received Platocrates’ dialogues I sat to read More’s Utopia, hoping that perhaps I would find not only a reprieve from the sadness that plagued me, but a more achievable vision of perfection than the unattainable ideals contained in Plato’s Republic.

The differences in their approach showed right from the start. Unlike Platocrates, who made it clear that he was fabricating a city in order to find the true meaning of justice, More makes play that Utopia is a real place. He is brought news of this fantastical island by one Raphael Hythloday, a man that claims to have been to the isle and to have seen first-hand how much better their system of governance is than those of the leading nations in More’s Europe. More was struck by the simplicity of Raphael, by his unwillingness to apply his wisdom in pursuit of personal gain, and by his superlative knowledge of states and governance, knowledge he claimed to have obtained by living among the Utopians. It was this impression that led More to listen to Hythloday’s account of the island, and – if we are to go along with the fiction – to put it before us in the form of a book.

In keeping with the realism of his republic, More (or rather Hythloday) paints Utopia as a land that could actually exist. Their government is a democracy, with its basic unit in the family. The families choose philarchs (or magistrates), the philarchs choose their archphilarchs, and the archphilarchs choose the island’s prince. There are checks to ensure that the prince does not abuse his power, and checks to ensure that no one can sway the vote for prince in his/her favour. The archphilarchs debate on the pressing issues of the land, and the greatest care is taken to ensure that the people have a direct hand in the decisions taken by their princes and magistrates.

Unlike Plato’s Republic, where each man has a duty he performs to the best of his capacity, the central duty of all people in Utopia is agriculture. The people all share an intimate knowledge of the land and how to till it, but are also allowed to practice whatever art they feel an affinity to.

There is no property in Utopia, and no money to speak of. Houses are shared, with smaller families given smaller homes and larger families given larger ones. The produce of each city is brought to a central market where all are allowed to take as they please. No one hoards, as there is no need to; all are certain that they would be provided for.

All men live in full view of the others, and this is done in order to ensure that they perform their tasks and employ themselves properly in their spare time. The people are encouraged to be ever busy, with the day split into segments that allow for leisure, education, hobbies and work. The fathers teach their sons their trades, and if they have sons that do not take a liking to their arts the sons are moved to a family where their talents are appreciated.

In keeping with their lack of property the people of Utopia do not value gold and silver, preferring instead to adorn their children with these metals and to use them in the basest of manners, such as in making toys and chamber pots. They sell whatever surplus food they have to neighbouring nations, trading their food for whatever raw materials they need. In the event that they want for nothing they trade for gold, which they keep not for themselves but for necessity, such as the need to pay nations that wish to collect money and not bartered goods.

Utopians do not engage in war, preferring instead to employ mercenaries with their devalued gold, and even then they fight only in self-defence, or when they wish to help their neighbours depose a tyrannous leader, or when war is completely unavoidable.

Of course, unlike Plato’s Republic More’s Utopia is not composed entirely of perfect men. While their laws are few and far between there are those that break them, and these people are entered into slavery as punishment for their crimes. The slaves perform all the tasks that the law-abiding citizens consider beneath them, such as the killing of beasts and washing away of filth. A lot of Utopia’s labour comes from slaves, be they lawbreakers, prisoners of war, or people sentenced to death in other lands whom the Utopians have bought, that their lives be spared. In so doing they put even the undesirables to good use, preferring to use all hands to the good of their society instead of killing wantonly simply to “set an example”.

I must admit Father that Utopia, as described, is certainly a much better state than many you would find on your earth today. Where Plato’s city sprung up only as a side-effect of his quest for justice, Utopia appears to have been conceived for equality. There is no nobility, save for those naturally arising in the men that achieve great things. There is no property, no money. Nobody, from the prince himself to the most depraved slave wants for food or home; no sick man goes unattended; no child goes uneducated. All in More’s Utopia are treated equally, and all are happy and at peace. In his Utopia it seems More has constructed what he believes a real, ideal society should be, accounting for even the miscreants, people that could not exist in the perfection of Platocrates’ Republic.

I cannot help but feel, however, that even with his exactitudes More’s Utopia is just as unattainable as Platocrates’. For all his exposition on the minutiae of Utopian life, with the great pains he takes to ensure that his people are not selfish or greedy, that all have freedom of religion, that equality is guaranteed through a lack of property, and that war is avoided due to the island’s isolation, More makes an underlying assumption, one that the histories of many a nation on this earth have shown to be completely and entirely unfounded. More, much like Plato, assumed that the very people in his Utopia were “good”.

Their princes and philarchs, regardless of the power they wield, are rarely (if ever) cruel. Their slaves, even the ones brought from strange lands with different customs, never attempt a successful revolution. Their knowledge of agriculture is so perfect their markets are always full, unhindered by the fluctuations of the seasons. Their children are very amenable, always given to one useful art or another, never rebellious or lazy. Their people possess great intellects, able to know all the laws of the land to such an extent that they can argue cases for themselves. Somehow even the basest of human emotions, things that we know exist in us not because of our societies or the circumstances of our births but simply because we are human, these emotions are non-existent among the Utopians. More (through Hythloday) seemed to believe that the ills found in his country and others across Europe were as a result of bad starts, that if one could begin society anew, with no property and no money and a willingness to ensure equality for all, a place like Utopia would emerge. And looking upon your children Father, with our laundry list of faults endemic to our existence, looking upon even the First Brother and his fall from what was a land more perfect than Plato’s Republic or More’s Utopia, it is quite evident that that belief holds no water.

It is certainly possible that More suspected this. The name of this perfect isle, Utopia, comes from Greek and means “No place” or “Not a place”. Perhaps More, like Plato, was describing a state of mind, and not a particular location, though the level of detail with which he describes the lives of the Utopians and his lack of an explicit ulterior motive make this unlikely. Perhaps he simply knew that while he could dream of what the perfect land could be, as long as your children remain the way they are made, crude and blind and ignorant, such a place would never be possible. Perhaps the entire book was simply a long-winded way of saying that there are in fact no good places. An interesting thought, dearest Father, when one considers that as a son of the Cross More must have believed in the perfection of the Great Upstairs. If we are doomed to forever be flawed beings, if all good places are no places, how then do you plan to fill the halls Upstairs? How can you ensure that none of the children that make it there would ever fall, ever again? Those in the House today still fall prey to the whisperings of You-Know-Who. What makes their presence in the Great Upstairs any different?

With a questioning heart,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Justice of Your Children

Dear Father,

Having seen Platocrates’ vision of justice it seemed all but necessary to look upon the works of your children and see how well we have fared. It has been an interesting journey to say the least, but it is one that has left a sour taste in my mouth. Coming from the smooth and effortless beauty of Plato’s finished city, the ever evolving landscape of your children’s justice seems almost boorish and crude, childish in fact. It is easy to see how and why this is so. Where the system devised by Platocrates is simple and basic, the systems of your children are varied and complex. In Platocrates’ Republic there are no laws; all men choose to listen to their Sophie-loving Kings, and they, in their infinite and impossible wisdom, rule in a manner most just. The creators of the city, having already laid down its basic structure and told the noble lies necessary for its existence, have done all that needs to be done. Leaving the city to its devices means leaving a perfect system to run as it is supposed to, unhindered and undisturbed.

This is not the case with your children, Father. As I surmised in letters past, between the harsh nature of the world around us and the deplorable nature of the children you have sired, we are faced with a very difficult existence, lost in a land where – if unchecked – the unruly would overrun the good among us and chaos would reign supreme. To prevent such catastrophic happenings your children, it seems, invented laws, limits to the things we could do with and to each other, and attempted to apply them to all that would listen, by agreement and by force. This forcefulness and artificiality is at its core the nature of our justice, the only kind we can manage, and it pales before the golden ideal of Kings and purposes that Plato saw for us.

The nature of your children’s justice is tied to one very important and basic thing: balance. “An eye for an eye” they say, “A tooth for a tooth”. Where something is lost, something must be given in return. You take an eye, yours will be taken. You take a life, and yours will be forfeit. Things must be ‘balanced’; things must be equal; things must be just.  There is an almost intuitive appeal to this notion. We feel cheated when others get things we do not. We feel robbed when others can harm and steal and do as they please with no consequence. This need for balance is a primal one amongst your children, and is perhaps the inspiration for Thrasymachus’ and Adeimantus’ admonitions in the dialogues that led to the construction of Platocrates’ city. And this need for balance, it seems, stems from perhaps the most selfish and primal thing ever to inhabit your children: the lust for vengeance.

Think about it, dearest Father. I have taken the eye of my brother. I have crushed it and turned it into its composite goo. Under this system of equity a court of law will require that I lose my eye as well. Things, after all, must be balanced, for the ‘good’ of society. This is a fallacious thought, however, for it does nothing to help the one that lost his eye. Taking my eye will not bring his eye back. Taking my eye will, in fact, result in two lost eyes. The balance your children seek is a negative balance, one that, it seems, is but an excuse to enact revenge. Our motivation for laws and punishments comes then not from a desire to do good, but from a desire to ensure that the perpetrator loses something, anything, as long as it is proportional to our loss. It is an act that does not improve but damages, an act that does nothing but gratify itself. It does not seek to edify; it seeks to deprive. It is angry and cruel and blind, seeking to attain some form of equality by removing instead of by complementing. It is not only a shadow when compared to the ideals Platocrates sought when building his city, but their complete opposite, for it is not motivated by love, a sense of good, or a need to alleviate pain; it is motivated by hurt and a desire to cause damage, however equal it must be.

Now your children are not all bad, and some of us have been able to devise a means by which this system, this base need to exact vengeance on people we do not like, can actually be used for good in our harsh world. Our civilisations have prisons, places where unjust men can be placed away from society until such a time as they have been able to learn their lessons and ‘pay’ their debts. The sentences such deviants face vary based on their crimes as we try, as much as feeble humans can, to ensure that the punishment fits the crime, that the deprivations we make are proportional to the deprivations we cause. Punishments, with this slightly nobler intent, serve as deterrents and protectors, not as tools of revenge. By punishing those that harm we send a clear message to others that the consequences would be severe, that ‘injustice’ – whatever that is – has a price; one cannot simply do as he pleases and expect that all would be well. By carrying out the punishment in a place removed from society we prevent the evil-doers from continually damaging our worlds; we put them in a place where their actions cannot harm the innocent.

Of course this system, even with the noblest of intents, is far from perfect. Our prisons are home to the greatest of depravities and your children, ever tied to their fundamental want for eyes and teeth, are glad for this. Criminals should not enjoy prison; they should suffer, they should scream, they should pay, preferably in pain, for what they have done to us. Never mind that a good number of those that enter these pits of punishment are innocent and are transformed into criminals of the worst kind. Never mind that such a system makes it next to impossible for the people it incarcerates to return better than they entered. A part of our hearts is glad that people suffer when they are taken away, for we know, as much as any man can, that only by these means can your evil children learn. More importantly, we feel better with this knowledge, and in some perverse way it does lead to the good of our societies. A population calm in the fact that perceived evil suffers is a population that is ultimately at peace. It matters not that the cost is occasionally an innocent and poor fellow; the powerful masses, Thrasymachus’ ignorant ‘stronger’, have been satisfied and justice has been served in their interest.

It is not surprising that even at its best the justice of your children is far from perfect. We try, dearest Father, we try so very hard. Our justice is slow, for we want to ensure that it is fair. Our justice is harsh, for we want to protect the people we care for. Our justice is picky and prejudiced, for we are afraid of the monsters we cannot see; and our justice is cruel, for we are weak and ignoble and believe that only force and self-interest can control those less than us. We are children, you see, ignorant and powerless against the vastness of the world we inhabit. Even with our aspirations towards nobility our methods are brutish and coarse, harsh measures imposed by harsh minds to deal with the harsh masses. It is another symptom of our base natures, another manifestation of all that we cannot get right. One can only hope that when I turn my attention towards the model of your divine justice a more elegant and superior system will be found. There is after all an excuse for our failings as humans, dearest Father: We did not make this world; we simply have to live in it.

With much thought,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Justice of Platocrates

Dearest Father,

I have finally finished reading Platocrates’ Republic. I have read his points on forms and ideals, on truth and knowledge. I have seen his perfect city, a beautiful world where all men know their place, where they all perform the functions for which they are made, and where their kings are lovers of Sophie in the highest degree, pure of heart and sound of mind; and I must say, dear Father, that I am impressed. With smart logic and wonderful analogies Platocrates has managed lay before me a most comprehensive work on reality and justice and government, and he did so with such flair I found myself smiling as I sifted through his words.

It was not smooth, this road to justice. There were many false starts along the way, preconceived notions held by his companions that had to be put away before his truth on just things could be revealed. The first definition of justice, brought forth by a man named Cephalus and championed in turn by Polemarchus, stated that justice is doing good deeds to friends and ill deeds to enemies, a most intuitive definition if there ever was one. One can see the sense in helping those that wish you well and spurning and harming those that wish you ill; one can see the ‘good’ in it.

Socrates, however, showed two glaring issues with this line of thought. The first is one of knowledge. People often seem friends when they are truly enemies, and enemies when they are truly friends. It is rather impossible for one to know in truth who is one’s friend and who is not; actions can be deceiving and intent is all too often very difficult to ascertain. Applying Polemarchus’ definition of justice would then imply that ‘just’ men would at times do good to people who were in fact their enemies and evil to people who were in fact their friends, the very antithesis of the definition itself.

The second issue with Polemarchus’ definition lay in the perceived nobility of justice. For Platocrates justice can never result in the production of evil, much like heat can never produce cold, and a (true) musician can never by his art make men unmusical. By associating justice with evil, whether this evil is done to a perceived or actual foe, Cephalus and Polemarchus had rendered it contradictory; they had turned justice into injustice.

The second definition of justice was put forward by a very animated fellow by the name of Thrasymachus, and for him justice was whatever proved to be “in the interest of the stronger”.  Socrates, once again seeking something much more noble and pure, made quick work of this definition. As with the first, he illustrated its two problems. The first problem, once again, was one of knowledge. It is not always that a man knows what is in his interest; many times he makes decisions that are revealed to be so damaging to his person they would appear to have come from his enemy and not himself. As in the first case, this then would imply that ‘just’ men are once again doing unjust things, as they are working to their detriment and not in fact to their benefit, the very opposite of what the definition purports.

Thrasymachus, ever ready to counter Socrates, replied vehemently that such a person is not a true ruler, is not truly the stronger. The true ruler, you see, would never work against himself; all that he does would indeed be towards his exultation, and not, as Socrates pointed out, towards his downfall. Socrates then proceeded to demonstrate the issue with this secondary point, employing a wonderful analogy. To use his words:

“…no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker…. And the pilot in the strict sense of the term, is a ruler of sailors and not a mere sailor… and such a pilot and ruler will provide and prescribe for the interest of the sailor who is under him, and not for his own or the ruler’s interest…

Justice for Platocrates could not then mean one’s interest but the interest of one’s subject, and for a ruler this meant the interest of the thing(s) he ruled, and not himself.

The third definition of justice, much like the second, focused on power, attempting to prove that justice is in fact in the hands of the powerful and is a compromise between men of power seeking to prevent ‘injustice’ being done to them by their peers. With such a definition the unjust man with unlimited power could do what he pleased with impunity, without fear of punishment or retaliation. Men that attempted to remain just would find themselves at a severe disadvantage, for the unjust man would possess neither the scruples nor the deterrent to do what was right. Justice then would not result in happiness for the truly just man, but in loss. Socrates, firm believer in the ultimate good of justice, did not agree with this and he was thus challenged to show how justice would benefit the just man, a point he made by building his perfect republic.

I will spare you further details of the journey, dearest Father; rest assured that fine points from Socrates’ long monologue will surface in coming letters. My business today is with the wonderful nature of the city he constructed, and the men he placed at its helm.  As I said at the beginning of this letter, in Platocrates’ Republic everyone knows his place. In this city, the soldiers have no purpose but to fight; the musicians to make music; the poets to compose; and the writers to write. And as a direct consequence the rulers have no purpose but to rule. For Platocrates this is perfection, this is where justice lives: in a city where all do as they should and where rulers rule as they must.

The beauty of this definition lies in the fact that it is yet another analogy, for Platocrates’ city refers not to an actual city, but to a soul. Like the city the human soul is composed of many parts, each with separate purposes. One finds true justice when one allows one’s mind to rule his soul, and the other parts to follow. Like the Sophie-loving kings of his city, schooled in truths most profound, when we let our minds discover the truths of our world and give them power over our hungers and lusts and feelings, when we let them rule us as they should, we shall truly be just; we shall truly be good.

With this final statement Platocrates showed why he is at heart a lover of Sophie, for the entire point, the entire quest for justice, was in fact a means of illustrating the necessity of seeking out the great Sophia. Loving Sophia meant seeking truth; finding truth meant finding justice; and knowing truth meant knowing what was best, both for oneself and for all. Thus one that knew, one that had stepped out of the allegorical cave and glimpsed the sun, could never be said to be the loser when placed against the man that did not know; justice could never result in harm for the man that practiced it.

It is a wonderfully optimistic book, Plato’s Republic, and I admit that these days I need such wonderful optimism. I am, as you know, yet to fully recover from the damaging blow struck by the more contemporary Russell in his Problems of Philosophy. Platocrates fills me with hope that my quest for Sophia would not be in vain. If finding her means finding justice and finding justice means finding you then maybe, just maybe, there is yet hope that I will return home, Father. I see Doubt shaking his head; I hear him saying very clearly that without verification Platocrates’ words are nothing but sweet, sweet arbitration, but I do not care. On this day I need such sweet arbitration; it has been quite the while since my thoughts and discoveries have brought a smile to my face.

With cautious optimism,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Knowledge and Arbitration

Dear Father,

As you recall, the past few letters I have written have dealt with the nature of truth and the state of mind oftentimes required for weak children like myself to even consider such lofty notions. My fixation on the topic of truth is multi-faceted, stemming from my trials with my friend, my desire to find Sophie, and my hopes of seeing you. Truth is tied to all these things in a way nothing else is, for one must know the properties of truth before one can know that he has found it. But even more important, and more fundamental, is the question of knowledge. One has to know what knowing is before one can know whether or not something is true. Of course knowing that you know, and more importantly knowing what you know, is a subject that has plagued many a lover of Sophie, and being of amateur status it seems all but impossible that one such as myself would ever be able, single-handedly, to arrive at satisfactory answers to this question. I already attempted to define truth, and while my definition at the time seemed very satisfactory, my views on things true and things arbitrary has yielded little fruit in my battle with Doubt. The reason for this, as I have now discovered, is that Doubt doesn’t care much for truth; he cares for knowledge.

The definition of knowledge, much like truth, has been heavily contested over the ages, with famous lovers of Sophie knowing that their opponents’ definitions were wrong even though they could not satisfactorily articulate how they knew, or what knowing meant. There is a whole path on the way to Sophia dedicated to the study of knowledge, and a little walk along this road has alerted me to a number of things. The first is that a vast majority of the lovers of Sophie that pitched their tents on this road, including Plato the Most Versatile, are of the opinion, dare I say the knowledge, that things known must be true. Of course for younglings like myself such a statement is very confusing; if one can only know truth when one knows what knowing is, and in order to really know, the thing one claims to know must in fact be true, our dear friend One would inevitably be left in an infinite loop of ignorance. This definition, I have been told, was made in order to distinguish knowledge from opinions or beliefs, things that may not be true but hold the convictions of a number of people. Of course this means that truth is tied to knowledge as tightly as arbitration is tied to opinion, and while this definition satisfies me because it validates my nice arbitration concerning truth and arbitration, it does nothing to advance my quest. This is because, as I have said, Doubt does not quite care for how true something really is. He cares for how convinced you are that it is true, how highly on your personal knowledge scale your little belief ranks.

You see Father, the reason I have not yet been able to shake Doubt’s terrible claws from my shoulder is because I cannot claim to know the answers to the questions he asks me. Now in hindsight I believe I can be forgiven for mistaking this problem with the problem of truth. As you must have surmised from this entire quest, I am obsessed with truth. In order for me to accept something I must confirm it is true, and it is by these means that Doubt has been able to attack time and time again. And while the lovers of Sophie that line the roads of Epistemology would say that placing truth as a fundamental criterion for knowledge is noble, on days such as this, when Doubt seems more powerful than ever, their endorsements do little for me. Unlike a good chunk of your children I not only care a great deal about truth, I also have a very high standard for what can be termed truth. And honestly I am really starting to envy this good chunk of your children.

Take for example people I have met called Abductees. These are children of yours that assert that beings from beyond the stars have seized them and used them as subjects in strange experiments. Now, based on my statements on truth and arbitration, I would conservatively term such statements arbitrations. Barring verification, one cannot really say that these things are true. That, however, matters not to those that have put them forth. They know these things, as much as any man on earth can claim to know anything. We could find out tomorrow that their statements are false, that extra-terrestrial beings have not in fact been collecting our siblings and doing strange things to them, and their knowledge would be rendered hollow. This, however, would not change how much they believed them. At the time before verification they knew that these statements were true. They would have died for such beliefs, confident that they were right. Plato and his ilk would adamantly state that this level of conviction does not change the fact that they do not know, but for one like me, facing the deep voice of Doubt, such adamance is useless. The fact remains that for such people, wrong they may be, Doubt is no problem. He does not hang over their heads and bring their affairs to a grinding halt; he does not colour their every action with the shadow of uncertainty. Whether or not they are wrong, one must admit that they do not have the problem that I have, and on some days I feel as though I would not wish this problem on my worst enemies.

In spite of making this discovery however, my ‘nobility’, or perhaps my lack of ability, did not let me seek an easy out from the ramblings of my once little friend. Unfortunately I have been wearing the Hat of Unverified-Arbitration-is-not-Truth for far too long, and honestly I do not think I am ever going to be able to completely take it off. This state of mind appears to now be a fundamental state of my mind, and I fear only desperation the likes of which I have never felt before would push me to divest myself of this mode of thinking. Even faced with such desperation I get the feeling (no doubt inspired by Doubt) that in time my high standards for truth would soon come sneaking back into my head and I would once again relegate any statement to the land of arbitration. In an odd twist it seems the very thing which caused me to smile in the face of Doubt but a few weeks ago now brings me lower than I have been in quite the while.

My continued foray along the path of Episteme did not do much to help me. I happened upon a book by a more recent lover of Sophie called Bertrand Russell, and reading it has perhaps caused me more pain than my discovery on Doubt’s real desires. Now I know I promised to only focus on the works of the ancients Father, but this book was called “The Problems of Philosophy”; I felt it wise to read it. If there are any problems with my love for Sophia and my quest to find her, would it not be smart to discover them before I go too far?

In this book Russell, in a manner most calm, showed that almost all the little things that one claimed to know were nothing but bald-faced arbitrations. By doing nothing but observing a single table the man laid waste to all that I thought I knew, even issues not yet questioned by my friend. The questions he used to destroy my preconceptions were very similar to those often put forth by Doubt himself, and his major achievement lay not in asking them, but in showing that they had no real answers. He, in effect, took my personal arbitrations and extended them, growing their reach till they covered almost everything, including the very nature of the paper on which I write this letter. So sensible was his rhetoric that even questions Doubt asked me long ago, questions that I found easy to ignore, such as whether or not the sky is blue, returned, suddenly pressing and very important. Allow me to pat myself on the back for reading on, dear Father; I honestly do not know how I continued to indulge Mr Russell even with the rising amplitude of my friend’s voice.

Russell’s brutal attack on knowledge, and by extension truth, was apparently inspired by another fairly contemporary lover of Sophie, a Frenchman by the name Rene Descartes. Reading the means by which he arrived at his conclusion of universal arbitrariness, I think I can say that the Frenchman was perhaps as plagued by Doubt as I am. As legend would have it he locked himself in a room and decided to put to question everything he thought he knew, and the result was what I read before me that day. Nothing is known and so nothing can be known to be true. Everything we speak, however evident, is arbitration. The implications of such a worldview are staggering, Father, but luckily before I could descend into a pit of confusion most supreme Russell revealed the one thing Descartes had discovered to be true. It is a very famous statement, one I’d heard even as a child parading the halls of the House. It read: “I think therefore I am”.

A brief analysis reveals why this statement cannot be doubted. Regardless of how one views one’s existence, regardless of the countless questions and answers that Doubt can bring forth, the fact remains that because one is even thinking these questions, considering these answers, he must exist. One cannot doubt one’s existence. I think, therefore I am. This is the one thing Doubt cannot touch, the one thing Doubt cannot question. Apt, then, that the process by which the Frenchman arrived at this conclusion is often termed the “Method of Systematic Doubt”.

Now discovering that Doubt would never be able to question whether or not I exist is but a small victory. I still have to contend with the fact that everything else, if Russell and Descartes are to be believed, is open to question, that everything everyone says is nothing but arbitration no matter how hard one tries to verify it. Reading Russell’s book so far has not given me much confidence in the rest of my quest for Sophia, and honestly Father I am just about ready to give up. But Platocrates is getting really deep with his description of governments, and Augustine apparently smuggled some metaphysics into his Confessions, and I have been told by a stray lover that Russell has an optimistic message at the end of his book, and so I will continue. Fearing I will never find real truth, but knowing I can always be certain of my own existence, I will continue. Besides, soon I will take off whatever Hat(s) allowed me to reflect so deeply, and I would forget, albeit temporarily, about Russell’s words. I honestly cannot wait, dear Father, to look upon the world without the taint of universal arbitration.

With fatigue,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Hearts, Hats and Minds

Dear Father,

In my last letter I attempted to define truth, to make the distinction between things that were true and things that were simply appealing. It was the latest in many attempts at permanently, or more effectively, silencing my companion, and while I may have declared victory as I finished the missive but a few weeks ago, I am sad to inform you that my triumph was rather short-lived.

You must not be surprised by this, dearest Father. As you know your children have very short memories. On a particularly busy day, attempting to recollect details of even routine and mundane tasks like breakfast can leave one pensive for minutes. While we are capable of displaying better skill with our memories when the situation demands it, we know that even the best of these memories is seldom a perfect record of events transpired. Our minds colour them with our personalities, focusing on the things that we deem important and pushing into irrelevancy things that we deem not. All but the very best of your children suffer from this, and oftentimes I am left wondering whether this flaw is by design, or whether it is a glitch in the otherwise perfect world you have made.

And so, not long after I had smugly agreed with Doubt as to the arbitrary nature of my rather long missive, my powerful convictions were all but wiped from my mind. I did not forget them entirely; my distinction between truth and arbitration remains an important one, if not to you or him, at least to me. I arrived at this distinction because of the pain and distrust Doubt has caused me since the day I met him; it is not one that would so easily go the way of my breakfast. Unfortunately, however, one of the side effects of the poor memories your children possess is that knowing in one’s mind that a thing is true does not always translate to knowing the same in one’s heart. Our short memories compel us to remember things by repetition; it is only by doing something over and over again that the strong (and still less than accurate) records we so desire may be formed and accumulated. And so while I may be able to reason wonderfully and come to great truths that would make gifted lovers of Sophie like Platocrates quite proud, the moment I turn from such musings to the mundane affectations of my life they are quickly forgotten, and Doubt is once again allowed to have his way with my mind.

It is at such moments I am reminded of how much I envy you, dearest Father. In much the same manner as Doubt is endemic to me and the rest of your children, he is foreign to you. Of course you must know of him, very well I dare say. But he does not possess you as he does me. This distinction, between knowing something and knowing of something, between knowing something in words but not in heart, is one that is very important, and unfortunately manifests itself in completely different ways in your children and yourself. After I had devised my new definitions for truth and arbitration, one can safely say that I knew of them, that I had the words in my mind. I could recall them with relative ease, and speak of them freely from memory. However, one cannot say that I knew them. I am far more intimate with Doubt, more comfortable with my old definitions of truth as that which makes sense or which feels right, than I am with the new and possibly more accurate distinctions between actual verified statements and simple arbitrations.

You can easily see why your children are really glaring statements of imperfection when placed alongside yourself. In order to know things, to remember them reflexively, we must learn them. We must train ourselves to see them in a certain way. And if these things are the wrong things, then we must spend time learning the right things and unlearning the wrong. Contrast this with yourself, Father, you that never has to learn anything. You know what you know. More importantly, the things you know are the right things and the things you know of are the “unright” ones. Because truth for you is a non-issue, your knowledge operates on a level far above ours. For example you know Sophia, very well in fact, in a way that no human ever will. But you must also know of not knowing Sophia, as the very act of knowing her is something that you made. You are always filled with certainty, but you know of Doubt, as once again Doubt’s very existence cannot be without your will. Very few of your children, both within the House and outside it, possess this skill, and when they do it is usually over a very small scope of trivial, lesser things. I cannot even count myself in their ranks, and so it should come as no surprise that Doubt is still fluttering about my head even after the bold discoveries listed in my last letter.

It seems to me that when I was uttering those statements, discovering those potential “truths”, I was of a certain mind. I, compelled by the pettiness of my companion, had temporarily discarded my normal way of thinking and had entered a new one, one that allowed me to view the world in a different manner and in so doing make different assumptions and arrive at different conclusions. There is a saying amongst your children that, to me, describes this perfectly: “Put your thinking cap on”. It is a statement that enjoins the listener to pause a moment and think deeply on an issue, to pull from his mind a rich vat of knowledge and reason and inspect it carefully so as to reach a desired conclusion. Perhaps then whenever your children think on things we would not normally consider, in ways that we would not normally use, we are putting our thinking hats on. (I personally consider hats to be much cooler than caps, hence the personalisation of the phrase). We are wearing these things over our heads that force us to consider the world from a certain perspective, to forget, temporarily, what we already know and consider more deeply the things we only know of. The thinking hat, in its various shapes and forms, changes the very nature of our minds. Unfortunately we do not – cannot – always wear these hats, and the moment we take them off the knowledge in our hearts, carefully cultivated and grown from years of reinforcement, takes hold of us once more.

It seems then that in order to unlearn wrong things and learn the right ones we must wear our thinking hats as often as possible, each hat suited for a different kind of inquiry. The Hat of Truth, for example, will allow me to consider what is true and what is not, as I did in my last letter, while the Hat of Reason may help me distil the pure nature of logic and reasoning from the all too common mixtures of fallacies…

Much as I felt at the end of my last letter, dearest Father, I very much like this conclusion. It is inevitable that whatever immediate victories I gain against Doubt would be short-lived, but by wearing my wonderful hats as often as possible it is not farfetched to believe that I may come to discern truths strong enough to dispel the pesky fellow. I may come to know in my heart, as much as in my mind, what is true and what is not, and by so doing make my triumphs more permanent.

Of course postulating on the nature of hats and truths implies that I must be wearing the Hat of Hats and the Hat of Truth at the same time, and while this imagery certainly calls the efficacy of this metaphor into question, I humbly request, dear Father, that you look the other way. I am but a little child in a strange forest, very far from home. Allow me, in this one case, to be a Small Arbiter, and to have my varied hats when I can.

With a thinking hat,

Your Prodigal Son

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