A Pair of Doxies or a Paradox?
Often we use what we cannot prove in order to establish what we hold to be real. Yesterday we discussed the world of appearances and its connection or lack thereof to reality. The word paradox came about in the mid 1500’s and is derived from more classical and ancient words meaning contrary to and appearance. Thus, a paradox is a statement that is contrary to what is expected. The belief Christians hold that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man is something of a paradox.
As man kept on thinking, such confusing “truths” became apparent and those “truths” were sometimes impossible to prove using known facts. Suddenly, the world of philosophy seemed to be caught on a carousel, going round and round with no place to stop. With each turn, more paradoxes appeared.
“If there is an exception to every rule, then every rule must have at least one exception; the exception to this one being that it has no exception.” “There’s always an exception to the rule, except to the exception of the rule—which is, in of itself, an accepted exception of the rule.” “In a world with no rules, there should be at least one rule – a rule against rules.”
The word “doxie” has several meanings, none of which refer to the word paradox, a fact some might call a paradox in itself. In the 1520’s, the term ‘doxie” meant a woman of indifferent virtue, although officially the term meant a rogue’s girlfriend. In the canine world, it means a dachshund.
The dachshund is a small dog whose name means both “badger” and “dog”. They are considered to be part of the hound category and are great hunting dogs for small prey such as badgers. Energetic they are also great family pets and very loyal.
Trying to prove truth proved to be a hunting adventure during some periods of philosophy. Empedocles retained Parmenides belief that everything emanated from one single element but felt there were four distinct elements, Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it? We have everything coming from one element but there are actually four basic elements – earth, water, wind, and fire. Empedocles felt that in spite of there being one basic constant unalterable element, change was possible if some force altered the mixture of elements. He termed this “love” and “strife”, discussing the attraction and separation of elements.
Leucippus and Democritus introduced the idea that everything in the universe was composed of small minute particles which were unalterable and indivisible. They used a Greek word meaning uncuttable and called these particles “atoms”. Although unalterable, they believed these “atoms” moved through space in constantly changing configurations. Based upon the concept of a void or empty space, their ideas were at first rejected. Still, the pair maintained their truths. They believed that because these atoms were unalterable and therefore indestructible, they believed that when a substance or human being died or decayed, the atoms of the substance or body would be dispersed and reconstituted in another form.
At about this same time Athens became the center of all philosophical thought. Athens was the military center of Greece and Athenians were less concerned with ethereal thinking and more interested in human and political philosophy. A new democracy arose in Athens and with it a new legal system. This new legal system was full of paradoxes which needed resolution and for that, man turned once again to philosophy. It seemed like mankind was back on that carousel of using the unproven to prove truth. Relativism was born, a philosophical idea that stated that there was no absolute truth; all things were relative.
Socrates sought to determine truth by admitting “I only know that I know nothing.” He questioned everything. “The unexamined life is not worth living” was his mantra and he examined everything. Though he did not consider himself a teacher or a religious man, much of his advice has been taken as such. “One who is injured ought not to return the injury, for on no account can it be right to do an injustice; and it is not right to return an injury, or to do evil to any man, however much we have suffered from him.”
The point of living for Socrates was to live a good life. The search for what that good life was led to something Greek philosophers called “eudaimonia”. For Socrates a good life was a life of virtue. He also had his own paradox and it centered on living a virtuous life. “No one desires evil”, Socrates maintained. Since virtue was knowledge, he reasoned that one only committed wrong doing out of ignorance. As Athens grew, so did the field of philosophy and it became something considered with the people or “polis”. The polis philosophy that developed was searching for a way for people to live together with virtue. They examined how the land and its people could be governed, what laws could be passed and enforced, and how the individual related to the state – all for the betterment and in the quest for that better life. This was the birth of what we today call politics.
It may seem to you that each century had at least one pair of philosophical doxies. By this I mean both seekers who badgered their way into an understanding of knowledge as well as rogue companions who seemingly defied current thinking. These explorers of thought wanted to answer the question “What is the universe?”
Most of us go through our lives asking “What am I?” For some the answer is based upon being part of their physical family which is itself a paradox. After all, we are our past, our present, and our future. How we define our lives will determine if we are living a life of virtue and how we live will determine if virtue is a part of our lives.
The basic premise that “No one desires evil” might be a bit out of place in today’s world of bombings and terrorist threats which daily appear and frighten. Could these really all be laid at the foot of ignorance? If you are reading this, then you are displaying an interest in thinking. No one will get a free pizza for reading this blog. Hopefully, though, you will think.
I am not certain that I agree with Socrates that all evil comes from ignorance but I do think it comes from not thinking of others as one’s self. Whether or not we come from one single atom or four basic elements or some sort of magical creation, we are all the family of mankind. So I hope you go out and live a “good life”. I like this anonymous poem when considering such a life:
“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, Smiles when sadness intrudes, Rainbows to follow the clouds, Laughter to kiss your lips, Sunsets to warm your heart, Hugs when spirits sag, Beauty for your eyes to see, Friendships to brighten your being, Faith so that you can believe, Confidence for when you doubt, Courage to know yourself, Patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.”