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Philosophy and the Philosopher

Roman Sculpture at St. Stephens Library, Delhi

For months I struggled, trying to get these conversations going; but this blog was not to take birth without a hint of divine intervention. Determined yet again, I sat down in Stephen’s library, suffering the travails of childbirth. Usually it stays occupied with people, but today I sit alone. As I engross myself in my project sifting through a million ideas, I feel a slight commotion on the desk placed next. I look to my left and notice some movement in the white, un-sanded gypsum bust of an ancient Roman emperor. The bust shakes its head, takes a deep breath, yawns, and comes to life. I realize it is the Daemon.

The Daemon often does that. With no purpose and no place, a lifetime of eternity can get boring. So he wanders around, talking to people. But he is no good conversationalist. They say that he was banished from the heavens because he irritated the Gods with his questions, interjections, and objections. No wonder he has difficulty finding friends here on earth too. However, albeit few, the daemon did manage some close friends; and makes it a point to see them regularly. He meets some in dreams, others in delusions and hallucinations. But he speaks to me through art; and has been quite imaginative that way.

The daemon came to see me in the library and we had a talk. This post records that conversation.

Roman Sculpture at St. Stephens Library, Delhi

 

Daemon: What are you doing?
Me: I’m starting a blog, this is the first post.
Daemon: Ah! A blog!
Me: Yes.
Daemon: The last I saw you write one you said that the rants of your own petty, trifling life don’t deserve all that attention.
Me:  I am not writing about myself. I am not interested in my own life. It’s not about that. No.
Daemon: What brings you back then?
Me: My trade, my passion.
Daemon: And what would that be?
Me: Philosophy.
Daemon: We have been meeting after long. But you haven’t abandoned your humor a bit.
Me: What makes you think that I am joking?
Daemon: You still carry your fascination for vague words.
Me: What do you mean?
Daemon: What is philosophy but a vague word? Anything & everything goes by that name!
Me: Maybe. I don’t know. I am myself puzzled about it.
Daemon: How can you be passionate about something that you don’t even know the meaning of?
Me: You know how you listen to a word in some context & it just sticks in your brain.
Daemon: If the passion for philosophy is just something that you picked up randomly from somewhere; maybe it will randomly wane off too.
Me: It might, though it is unlikely that it will. I only see it growing by the day.
Daemon Like an infection!
Me: I won’t call it an infection. It is beautiful and enchanting! Better than anything life has to offer. A life spent philosophizing is a life well lived.
Daemon: Hmmm. It is true of most infections that they make life difficult. They weaken the body and trouble the mind. Yet, the most insidious of infections don’t work that way. They don’t give the body the slightest of pain. They make you feel good. They enchant you.
Me: You belong to the world of Gods, dear Daemon. Maybe infections in that realm are so endearing. Maybe the Gods relish such infections that you talk about. Here on earth, we are afraid of them; they make life difficult.
Daemon: You missed my word and my spirit. The infections that I talk about make one feel good, but they are not benign in the slightest. In fact, as I said, the most insidious of infections work that way. They make the infected feel as if something beautiful has happened, and then use the infected person to propagate. And once the infection spreads itself, it destroys the host.
Me: I get the impression that you’re speaking in metaphors, Daemon.
Daemon: No. These infections are real.
Me: Why should I believe you?
Daemon: Because I have seen people fall prey to them.
Me: Have you?
Daemon: Yes. I have lost some of my best friends to them.
Me: And what are these infections that you talk about?
Daemon: Philosophy is one; love, and faith are others.
Me: Of course you’re speaking in metaphors, Daemon! I had thought you were talking of real biological infections.
Daemon: What makes you think that only biological infections are real? Infections of the mind are way more pernicious than infections of the body.
Me: And it is you who has grown frivolous: calling philosophy an infection. Philosophy is the best of the arts. It is the mother discipline, the pinnacle of all the sciences and the humanities.
Daemon: Trust me on that one. I have had some experience with people smitten with philosophy. It makes you sound impious, morally corrupt, and quarrelsome. People begin to dislike you, and before you realize, it consumes you. I have seen lives getting destroyed.
Me: It would be unwise to distrust you, Daemon; but then, I cannot disregard my personal experiences either. I have experienced the goods of philosophy myself. The days spent contemplating are the most beautiful days, and the hours spent discussing timeless ideas are the only hours spent meaningfully.
Daemon: What you say only shows how deep you’ve slipped into grip of the infection.
Me: There is no convincing you, Daemon.
Daemon: Now I feel sorry for not having attended to you earlier. But it isn’t too late yet. Recover my friend! The pleasures of life are many and varied. And the contemplations of philosophy are dry and lifeless. Go out in the actual world. Embrace your life!
Me: There is nowhere to go Daemon. This is my life! And I’ve embraced it with full heart.
Daemon: I am destined to live forever; but your life is finite and short. I wish you didn’t occupy yourself with eternal amusements. I wish you had not made this mistake. And now philosophy runs high on you. I’m afraid it will consume you.
Me: If it consumes me, I’ll let it. No profound meaning, no great glory is to be found in life anyway. We are tiny creatures. Nothing that we do matters in the great expanse of space and time. Heck! The earth might suddenly vanish. Poof!  And the universe will barely take notice. In such a scheme of things, perhaps it is best to get consumed by some irrational passion.
Daemon: That’s amusing.
Me: What is it that you find amusing?
Daemon: Your spontaneous bursting into such rant about the insignificance of human life is amusing.
Me: Perhaps. But what amuses me is your antagonism towards philosophy. You’ve been friends with the best of philosophers, and inspired the love of the Truth in the hearts of many. Are you just pretending to hate philosophy? Or are you just toying with me, Daemon?
Daemon: I speak under no pretense, my friend. And I love you far too much to tease you. I speak the truth. Philosophical speculation is not just difficult; it is terribly dangerous. Anyway. It seems futile to talk to you on this issue anymore; and now is not the time. So let me get back to my earlier question which you haven’t yet answered.
Me: Which question?
Daemon: I asked you what is it that you plan to do on your blog.
Me: I told you. My blog is about philosophy.
Daemon: But then you also told me that you don’t know what philosophy is! So, saying that this blog is about philosophy amounts to saying nothing. Tell me specifically, what is it that you plan to do. Will you grow flowers, or sing songs? Or will you post pictures and videos of cats?
Me: I will write conversations.
Daemon: What conversations?
Me: Conversations. Like the one we are having right now.
Daemon: Why? What does philosophy have to do with such conversations?
Me: This is what philosophizing involves. Having a conversation.
Daemon: You think philosophizing is just having a conversation?
Me: I am not myself clear on these notions, Daemon. But I am of the opinion that whatever else philosophizing might be, it definitely is a passionate, spirited enquiry of the Truth. And a spirited enquiry does not happen in isolation, it involves seeking opinions, having arguments, and talking to a lot of people.
Daemon: I am not sure if that is completely true.
Me: Why do you say so?
Daemon: I have known some philosophers; and each had a way of their own. Not all of them went out and talked to people; though this was all some of them did in the name of philosophy. Others were more reclusive; they would shut themselves in a room, sit on their armchairs, and introspect. The claim of the latter lot to philosophy is no less than that of the former.
Me: Maybe those who sat and introspected were also having conversation of some sort. Maybe as they would begin their introspection, their minds split into two parts so that they became two persons in the same body; so that one person had a conversation with the other. In that case, all philosophizing can be thought of as having a conversation.
Daemon: I did not know you had developed such an obsession for being right all the time!
Me: Why do you say that?
Daemon: You seem to have no qualms distorting the meanings of words just so that you might persuade others that what you say is right.
Me: I still didn’t get you. Why don’t you stop taunting and tell me clearly what you mean?
Daemon: Well. You said that philosophy involves having conversations. The word ‘conversation’ means a talk between two people. But when I pointed out that not all philosophers had conversations with others when they philosophized; you cooked up the absurd story of a person splitting into two and redefined the word ‘conversation’ in such new terms. If one is allowed to distort the meaning of words – just like you distorted the meaning of the word ‘conversation’ – one can perhaps prove the truth of even the most bizarre of statements.
Me:  Oh. Perhaps I went a bit too far with my interpretation. I am sorry.
Daemon: You should be sorry. In the spirit of inquiry I propose that we resolve once and for all that neither should we allow distortions in the meaning of words nor should we talk with the sole purpose of proving ourselves right.
Me: I agree with you. We must not allow distortions in the meaning of words nor should we converse with the sole purpose of proving ourselves right. However, I still hold the opinion that all philosophy involves having conversations.
Daemon: I do not understand your reasons behind being so obstinate. Why do believe that having conversations is the only way to philosophy?
Me: I am afraid I do not have many reasons now.
Daemon: Without any reason, why do you hold such a belief?
Me: I guess I do not have any good reasons as of yet; and to that extent I concede that my belief is unreasonable.
Daemon: Such are the minds of men. You cannot argue with someone who has abandoned reason altogether and entertains false beliefs in his head.
Me: Now it is you who is abandoning the spirit of inquiry, dear Daemon. If a person does not have good reasons to hold a belief, it does not mean that the belief is false. The belief might still be true because of some other reasons that the person is not presently aware of. The absence of a good argument for a conclusion does not allow us to judge the conclusion as false; it, at best allows us to suspend judgment on the truth or falsity of the conclusion.
Daemon: Hmmm. That’s correct. If one does not have good reasons to hold a belief, it does not mean that the belief is false. But then, you have not given me any reasons to support your belief that all philosophy happens through conversations.
Me: I know that you are trying to lure me into a discussion, Daemon. But I will not take your bait. Let us discuss this some other time.
Daemon: Discuss some other time we will. But I am not a mere literary ploy; I am your friend too. And as your friend, I am curious about what got you initiated into the business of writing these conversations in the first place. Something must have motivated you to write these conversations, what’s that motivation?
Me: Well. I am interested in these conversations because sometimes it is through such conversations – random conversations that morph into a spirited inquiry – that I catch a glimmer of truth and transcendence. That glimmer is the true spirit of philosophy, and I have fallen in love with the ethereal charm & the beautiful form of that glimmer.
Daemon: That’s quite poetic. But then, why take the pain to write these conversations here?
Me: Because I want everyone to catch that glimmer. A doctor treats patients, an artist creates artwork. And a philosopher leads people to Truth and Transcendence. That is my trade. That is my service to humanity.
Daemon: That’s a tall claim that you make.
Me: Maybe, but that is the truth.
Daemon: We will see if you live up to your Truth.
Me: Of course, you will see.
Daemon: But ever since you told me of your ‘passion’ towards philosophy, I carry a suspicion. And given all the things that you have been saying since then, I think my suspicion is quite genuine.
Me: What suspicion?
Daemon: Are you sure your ‘passion’ for philosophy is not merely a pretense, a façade?
Me: Why would you say that?
Daemon: You are not the first one with a purported love for philosophy. There have been many before you and probably there will be many after you. I have known some such people and have seen them from close quarters. They were all in the habit of conjuring new problems and finding faults with life, society, and everything.  Some would say that morality has an immoral origin, others would proclaim that knowledge is impossible and that all of us must realize that we are mere ignorant fools.
Me: Yes I know that. But what are you getting at?
Daemon: Have patience my young friend, and listen on. Every age has produced great philosophical talents. But while you know that the greatness of great philosophers lies in the disturbing questions they raised, you don’t know of the circumstances that led them to asking these questions. I have lived through the ages and seen many such lives. So listen about them from me.
Me: Go on, dear Daemon. I shall listen intently.
Daemon: Those who call themselves philosophers are troubled people: sad, dejected, and dismayed souls who enter philosophy as an escape from their own pathetic lives. I am yet to see a happy man philosophize. Those devoid of riches, recognition, and health; those lacking partners, friends or companions; or those unable to find a respectable station in society seek philosophy in compensation. Those who lack actual wealth flaunt a wealth of ideas; those who lack seductive looks draw attention by populating seductive ideas; and those with frail health & short lives seek immortality by perpetuating their thoughts. Philosophy is the trade of damaged people and disturbed souls. And these damaged and disturbed people propagate damaging and disturbing ideas. And that is all that there is to philosophy: it is the rant of a distressed mind. As an old friend put it ‘Philosophy is personality, rendered explicit in some rather difficult words.
Me: Had someone else said this, I would have strongly disagreed. But I am open-minded; and you, dear Daemon, are old and wise. So I shall entertain your word. As a wise man once said ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’
Daemon:  I am not finished yet. Listen on. The ideas of troubled minds attract troubled people. The ideas of philosophers sound charming only to those who are looking for such charm. That is why people turn to philosophy only when they are distressed; say, when suffering heartbreak, or when they find themselves in the dusk of their lives, awaiting death. There must be some reason why only the sick, the old, and the delusional find philosophy interesting. There must be a reason why people turn to philosophy only when their lives are troubled.
Me:  What are you trying to say?
Daemon: When you declared your love for philosophy, I wondered whether you were just an immature, misguided kid enamored by the seductions and consolations of philosophy, or whether you got drawn into it out of repulsion from your own life. But when you expressed your own grim views and talked of the insignificance of existence, I realized that you are merely using philosophy to run away from your life. You don’t love philosophy. You are just using the name to cover the festering wound that your own existence has become. You have no grand passion for philosophy, no-body in a sane mind does. The pleasures of life are much more valuable. Like others before you, you seek shelter of abstract ideas only as an escape from your reality; which you find ugly, uncomfortable, and full of misery. Your purported passion for philosophy is just a pretense.
Me: Oh. I didn’t see that coming from you. Your words surprise me!
Daemon: Great. Now that you know the truth, probably you should give up your misplaced adventures.
Me: I am not sure of that.
Daemon: Why?
Me: What you’ve said is certainly surprising, but I’m not sure if it is true. I am perfectly happy in my life; and I got into philosophy out of choice, not out of some repulsion from or resignation towards my own life. I’m afraid you are wrong in your assumptions, Daemon.
Daemon: We’ll see about that.
Me:  Of course we will. And I also believe that a happy philosopher is not an oxymoron.
Daemon: We’ll see about that too. I speak from experience.
Me: I know it sounds foolish to put your testimony to doubt, Daemon. Nevertheless, I was wondering whether people engage in philosophy because they are distressed, or whether people get distressed because they philosophize. It seems to me that the latter is the case because philosophers see the Truth; and the Truth is seldom comforting.
Daemon: What you say would have been true had anyone ever saw the Truth. But I am yet to come across a philosopher who actually saw the Truth. So what you say cannot be correct. It is disinterest in their own lives that gets people initiated into philosophy.
Me: How can you be so sure that no philosopher has ever seen the Truth?
Daemon: If any had found it, I would have known it. In fact, I often doubt if the Truth even exists.
Me: Maybe the philosophers of the past did see the Truth, but they could not tell us what it is like?
Daemon: What could have prevented them from doing so?
Me: Maybe that is what Truth is like. Maybe it keeps moving and changes constantly. Maybe it is fickle minded and difficult to catch.
Daemon: You talk of the Truth as if you were talking of a cat.
Me: Maybe Truth is a cat!
Daemon: You are being frivolous again. We should not speculate about things that we don’t know of, and we must definitely not speculate about things about which don’t even know whether they exist.
Me: I am not speculating, Daemon. You have not been listening to what I said. I have glimpsed the Truth. I told you, remember? That I often glimpse Truth in some conversations; and that I want to write them down so that others might glimpse it too.
Daemon: I listened to you; but I do not believe what you say. Through ages I have lived, and never found one who walked the full distance to the Truth. Some delusional lunatics claimed to, but they were obviously mistaken. And I think you are mistaken too. It seems to me that your ‘passion’ for philosophy is merely a result of unresolved life experiences; your glimpsing of Truth a mere hallucination; and your ‘philosophy’ nothing but your personality summarized. So do not make such grand promises.
Me: Why would you say that, Daemon? How can I be mistaken about things that I have witnessed firsthand? How can I be wrong about my personal experiences?
Daemon: Humans are often driven by hidden motivations: motivations that are often sinister. Such motivations get them to fool themselves: into seeing things that don’t even exist, and into nursing notions that are mere chimera.
Me: You are as skeptical as you are wise. But I carry no sinister motivations.
Daemon: I wish I could accept the comfort of your promise. Men are mostly unaware of their own intentions. You might be driven by things that you are yourself unaware of.
Me: You are a master of suspicion, Daemon. And I am afraid your suspicions might even be correct. Nevertheless, they are irrelevant. This blog is not about me. It is not about my motivations or my psychological delusions.
Daemon: What is it about then?
Me: I told you. It is about Philosophy.
Daemon: Haha. I know you did not intend it in the least, but you sure sound funny. And you know what? These conversations of yours have got me curious. So let’s meet again sometime and talk some more?
Me: Why not now? Do you have to go somewhere?
Daemon: Yes. It’s time now for my nap. But I will meet you here again tomorrow.
Me: Sure. See you tomorrow then, Daemon.

***

The bust turned rock solid again.

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