On Philosophy

Our thesis…maintains that it is of the nature of the philosophical act, to transcend the world of work. This thesis, which comprehends both the freedom and theoretical character of philosophy, does not deny the world of work (in fact, it expressly presumes it is something necessary), but it maintains that true philosophy rests upon the belief that the real wealth of man lies not in the satisfaction of his necessities, nor, again, in "becoming lords and masters of nature," but rather in being able to understand what is – the whole of what is. Ancient philosophy says that this is the utmost fulfillment to which we can attain: that the whole order of real things be registered in our soul.

[Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, 79]

Murder in the Cathedral

O Thomas our Lord… do not ask us
To stand to the doom on the house, the doom on the Archbishop, the doom on the world.
Archbishop, secure and assured of your fate, unaffrayed among the shades, do you realise what you ask, do you realise what it means
To the small folk drawn into the pattern of fate, the small folk who live among small things,
The strain on the brain of the small folk who stand to the doom of the house, the doom of their lord, the doom of the world?”

O Thomas Archbishop, save us, save us, save yourself that we may be saved;
Destroy yourself and we are destroyed.

– Chorus of the Women of Canterbury, Murder in the Cathedral (T. S. Eliot)

Thus speak the “small folk.”  I have met them many times before.  I grew up with them in the Hobbit holes and comfortable inns of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  I recently stumbled onto their shores during the rule of Rhadamanthus in the Odyssey.  And I met them, again and again, peopling the choruses of Sophocles’, Aeschylus’, and T. S. Eliot’s tragedies.

I know the small folk well.  They love good food and afternoon naps, they approve of sensibleness and moderation, they fear (when it comes—and they thank their stars it is not often) the hand at the window and the fire in the thatch.

The quintessence of the small folk is that they always live in the shadow of great doom.  From time to time, champions must arise to shield them from creeping things that would freeze their blood, from angry sea-gods, from cursed kings and judicial pollution and living worms that gnaw their guts.  Sometimes no champion arises, and the small folk are overcome—for if they could save themselves, they would not be small.

Why are these small folk so familiar to us?  Why do we find them so persistently peopling the choruses and inns and shores of our stories?  Is it because we live among them and know ourselves to be of them?  Because we, in fact, are the small folk who love good food and naps, who shut the door and sit by the fire, who dwell only in the shadowlands…because we cannot bear too much reality?

“We acknowledge ourselves as a type of the common man,” declare the women of Canterbury.  Then the danger they face upon the return of Archbishop Thomas is a doom from which the champion must shield us as well.

But what is it?

Hamlet’s Evaluation of Drama

Shakespeare has a number of clever “play-within-the-play” scenes in his dramas that shed some light into the author’s goal for his work. One such scene is found when Hamlet, having purposed to use a play to trap the conscience of the king, compares himself with an actor:

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage waned;
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? An all for nothing,
For Hecuba!
What’s Hecuba to him or he to her,
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears,
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty, and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. [II.ii.516-532]

Hamlet seems to be lamenting that the actor can accomplish so much without real feelings, while Hamlet is not moved to action, even though he has much genuine passion. Hamlet sees this actor, sees himself reflected in the scene, and then desires action in his own life.
In contrasting his “real” passions with the actor’s pretended passions, Hamlet is using the argument from the lesser to the greater to point out how much more real his feelings are than the actor’s. The fact that Hamlet’s character is performed by an actor, however, puts an ironic twist into the scene.
This irony would seem to indicate, then, that the audience’s feelings are much more real than Hamlet’s, and that they can therefore move to action to a greater degree than Hamlet’s can.
If this is true, then Shakespeare is saying that passions ought to move people to action, and that plays ought to cause the individuals in the audience to see themselves as in a mirror, so as to stir their emotions and be moved to action in their lives.


“Tender as my years may be,” said Caspian, “I believe I understand the slave trade from within quite as well as your Sufficiency. And I do not see that it brings into the islands meat or bread or beer or wine or timber or cabbages or books or instruments of music or horses or armour or anything else worth having. But whether it does or not, it must be stopped.”
“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasped the Governor. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?”
“I have seen them both in an egg,” said Caspian. “We call it Going bad in Narnia. This trade must stop.” 

[The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 47-48]

The Great Conversation

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

 [T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, 197]

De Musica

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything – Plato
Read the rest of this entry »