Philosophy Phrases That Sound Existentially Exciting but Aren't
How's that for a file folder? I have just two items to put in it today.
"To be is to be perceived." Surely this is about today's "look at me" way of life. If you just did something--planted a garden, hiked up a mountain, read a novel--and didn't tell the world on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or by texting someone (etc) it didn't really happen, wasn't really worth doing. That's what we're coming to ... fret, fret, kids today! Except sorry, no, it doesn't mean that at all. This of course is Bishop Berkeley's famous way of stating the view that a thing like a table is really a bundle of perceptions.
"I think, therefore I am." No, I don't have to be perceived! I can tend that garden, read that novel, hike up that mountain on my own. I did it, it mattered, who cares if anyone knows about it! Just being here in this room thinking makes me who I am--so there! But no, sadly enough, this isn't the Solitary Person's reply to "to be is to be perceived," it's just (of course) Descartes' reply to skepticism. He's just saying I can't doubt that I exist, not saying anything at all about "life and all that."
If you have one to contribute, be my guest.
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"As above, so below."
This phrase, attributed to the mythical Hermes Trismegistus, is most commonly used in response to the question (frequently asked in elevators these days), "Are you a natural blonde?"
ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω - care of Heraclitus, this is how philosophers refer to what the folk know as an "elevator".
(I hope these will be useful for your elevator book, Jean.)
"Your elevator book" ... not so fast! It's an amusing thought, but do I want to become known as an expert on elevator ethics? Help!
Should I have said what these phrases really mean? I imagine that you already know, and other readers could have fun looking them up.
I got only as far as pronouncing the Greek --nice Greek fonts there. After that, it was Greek to me. Pray tell...
"Hodos ano kado" = [something like] "the up-and-down way (or road or path)". Hence, an elevator.
Often expressed as "The way up and the way down" or "The way up is the way down." It's the idea in Heraclitus that the elements contantly transform into each other, upwards from earth to water, air and fire, and downward from fire to air, water and earth.
Or something like that: I gather there are different interpretations of what Heraclitus meant, exactly, and I don't claim to be an expert.
That would make a very classy epigraph for "my elevator book" (with emphasis on the quotes).
I think you are underselling here--quite a bit actually. Berkeley was doing a bit more than saying that objects are "really a bundle of perceptions." He was aiming at demonstrating the existence of God. That's pretty existential if you ask me. To live in a world where God is the immediate cause of your perceptions, is very different than living in a world where your perceptions are caused by...oh wait. We still aren't quite clear how consciousness works yet.
And Descartes as well: living in a world where that kind of radical skepticism is an interesting project to engage in, is very different than one that isn't. I'm not sure the degree to which the cogito necessarily hooks up to the general idea of "the Cartesian Theatre" as popularized by Dennet, but to whatever degree it does: that's the degree to which it has been "existentially" influential.
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