The Argument for Being

The Argument for Being – Half or Whole

Easter 25

Today marks the half-way point of the period known as Eastertide. During this period these articles are based loosely upon the study of philosophy, the study of knowledge. An interesting question was raised several days ago. Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live? “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”. Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”

What a great question! (I have not mentioned names or initials at the request of the asker.) Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself. For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history. Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now. He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

The question implies that we gain knowledge just be being alive, by … being. Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Nepal are in a state of being. We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency. Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort. By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge? Those participating in a second night of riots in Baltimore are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object. We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species.] or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus]. We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals]. Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle. For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape. It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths. Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is. Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition. Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence. Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different. Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common.

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different. Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species. Not all species are the same, however. Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes. Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals. This would be the differentia.

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object. The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions. The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain. We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object. The genus would be that it is a shape. The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape. Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed. Those angles differentiate one triangle from another. The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

As I noted, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments. The tone of the instrument can be affected y the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears. The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held. Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes. Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics. None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles. An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees. A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees. An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length. These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

Imagine if you will a page of triangles. The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors. I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles. Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications. What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow? That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color. Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore. The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living? Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons. First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats. Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”. We have two genders, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world. We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color. Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential. In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being. With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential. A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides. A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle. Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white. The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts. Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”

A History Repeated

A History Repeated
Easter 24

The sky filled with smoke as sirens wailed and children cried. Faintly a voice was heard asking: “Oh, say, you there; can you see by the dawn’s early light what we proudly called home at the twilight of yesterday? The proud city of the battered neighborhoods which bear the ravages of poverty and time though they still stand and fight the elements gleaming; the glorious broad stripes and stars waving despite all, watches as anger turns to destruction streaming. Does anyone remember we are the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep, where unwanted visitors stood plotting mayhem and chaos, came a breeze, over the towering steep, catching the morning’s first beam, reflected in the stream, the flag of Fort McHenry which bore such promise to Francis Scott Keys: “‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave; O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

And where are those who so vauntingly swore that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion should leave nothing of value anymore? Patriotism and belief will wash out their foul footsteps’ pollution! Oh thus be it ever, though perfect we are not; men should and can stand for democracy and peaceful assembly rather than hatred desolation. My heart cries for the residents of a beautiful city, Baltimore, Maryland.

No man should ever die in police custody. No demonstration should ever become a riot. No one person should ever use the death of another as an excuse for violence. Quoting again Francis Scott Keys: “Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: “In God is our trust. And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave;
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

In case you do not know, violent riots erupted Monday evening in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite appeals from the family of a man who died while in police custody, his memory and funeral were overshadowed by heinous acts of vandalism and destruction. These acts are not a fitting memorial for this man. They are, again, the acts of greedy gangs and cults intent upon perpetrating criminal acts. There is no quest for civil liberties when hardworking people see their livelihoods destroyed and children are terrorized.

Equally dangerous, though, are the cries of despondency and propaganda. The lines quoted above are from the national anthem of the United States of America. No American can claim to be American, a true patriot and sing the national anthem “in God is our trust” and speak of such despair. Certainly, the USA is not a perfect nation and there are grave disparities which need correcting. Criminal mischief is not the answer nor is political negativity.

There is no one nation on this planet that is perfect. The recent events in Nepal and surrounding areas are proof that we do not need to create havoc; it will naturally occur. We need to live our creeds of faith and beliefs. We need to withstand the rhetoric that serves no purpose and trust – in our spirituality, in ourselves, and in our neighbors. The greatest enemy we have is ourselves. The greatest hope we have is our belief in tomorrow.

He stood on the bow of the enemy’s ship and watched his city under siege. On the evening of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Keys penned his words more as a prayer than a journal entry, wondering which flag he would see in the morning light. Amid the” rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting through air”, the dawn’s light revealed an American flag flying over Fort McHenry which sits on the edge of the City of Baltimore. As long as there are Americans who believe, the flag will still be there tomorrow, “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”.