Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Was Socrates happy?

We are traveling today. We are on a slow-moving train slinking its way across a rusted out part of America. We brought a book along – Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, an account of his living on the Greek isle of Corfu on the eve of WWII. It is the kind of book we thought we’d like. Durrell was a chum of one of our favorites, Henry Miller, and seems a similar life-affirming, carefree character.

For whatever reason, the book is not holding our interest. But the trip is three hours long and we find ourselves turning to it again… then we come across an interesting passage:

“If you had an opportunity to put a question to Socrates what would it be?” writes Zarian. “I would ask him if he was a happy man. I am sure that greater wisdom imposes a greater strain upon a man.”

… This view is bitterly contested by Peltours and Nancy. Wisdom, they say, teaches the ratiocinative faculty how to rest, to attain a deeper surrender of the whole self to the flux of time and space…”

We think the line of thought is interesting in light of the absurd. It would be vain to suggest we possess a greater wisdom. But we would argue that the viewpoint of the absurd has had the effect on us that Peltours and Nancy argue for in the passage above.

Later in the book, we come across another passage that grabs us…

“Philosophy,” he said once, “is a doubt that grows… Suddenly you awake one day and realize with complete certainty that ninety-five percent of the activities of the human race – to which you supposed you belonged – have no relevance whatsoever for you.”

That is almost an absurd awakening… and it seems to us when one begins to think like this, one is well on one’s way to shedding the barnacles of discontent that cling so easily to human egos…


  1. and that really is the question.. as one's wisdom expands, will it lead to suicide or will the struggle be enough? it seems one must imagine Socrates happy ;)

    I do struggle with that 'must' though..

  2. Greetings Inigo,

    It may seem like philosophical awakenings (of the absurd sort) lead to contentment, but one need only take a cursory glance at the writings of the great pessimist philosophers to know that this isn't always true. Nothingness isn't necessarily weightless, and certain minds - to avoid being crushed - endure it with hate and horror.


  3. I sincerely love your blog, its like reading thoughts I already had but am too dumb to put into words. every post has tons of stuff to research and leads me to discovering some new wealth of knowledge... but to the point,

    those quotes remind me of a Vonnegut line:
    "Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before... He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way."

    and "ignorance was bliss". the past tense is what really makes that one. I think I first heard it from the movie, The Matrix.

    keep up the great posts! and have a great trip!