Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peter Abelard (1079-1142AD):  The History of my Misfortunes.

Some stories are timeless.  This one is of a conceited intellectual competing for a place among conceited intellectuals.  The most petty tribe of people on the planet, however, is the tribe of us conceited intellectuals.  Abelard exploits his fame, seduces a young girl named Heloise, and then, well, I won't give away too much more.  It is a mix of grim comedy and scholarship, the envy and revenge of man, and the justice of God.

A discussion that I found interesting in here is between Abelard and Heloise.  Heloise argues that no one can both be a philosopher and be married for which she advances many arguments of this sort:

"Again, in the same work, St. Jerome tells how Cicero, asked by Hircius after his divorce of Terentia whether he would marry the sister of Hircius, replied that he would do no such thing, saying that he could not devote himself to a wife and to philosophy at the same time."

and ...

"What man, intent on his religious or philosophical meditations, can possibly endure the whining of children, the lullabies of the nurse seeking to quiet them, or the noisy confusion of family life? Who can endure the continual untidiness of children?"

Heloise goes on to suggest that one need be rich to be a philosopher, which indeed seems quite true to me.  Who else can afford to spend this much time on study?  Abelard rebuts as follows:

"One of them, and the greatest of all, Seneca, in his advice to Lucilius, says philosophy is not a thing to be studied only in hours of leisure; we must give up everything else to devote ourselves to it, for no amount of time is really sufficient hereto."

Seneca being an especially bad example, having been a wealthy aristocrat and the tutor to Nero.  He finished life at his country estate when Nero sent the soldiers to force Seneca to commit suicide.  Thus he died in his comfy, hot bath since this caused the blood to flow all the better.

The real rebuttal to all this is that wisdom is about life, and as such is only accessible to those who experience life in its grim reality with all its worries.  The rich don't need to face it, nor do those who flee responsibility and never make a commitment.  In my previous post, I noted that Aristotle believed that those who were driven by their appetites would have some difficulty to grasp wisdom.  Instead, I feel that philosophy is often best understood by the simple people who learn to live properly while navigating the real affairs of life.


Delirious said...

I think you have become somewhat of a philosopher yourself!

This kind of reminds me of the writings of Paul, who felt that the work in the ministry was better done by single men. I'll have to admit, that I do agree that it helps missionaries to be single and unattached to a family when they are preaching.

Looney said...

:-) Yes, I have the same disease that I complain about in others!

It certainly is easier for a missionary to be single.

Delirious said...

I think it's a good thing that you have become a philospher, because you have tempered that with the true gospel! :)