An online commentary from the NYT today delivered a bittersweet reminder. In “The Stone: What Is a Philosopher?” Simon Critchley, an academic philosopher, recounts:
Socrates tells the story of Thales, who was by some accounts the first philosopher. He was looking so intently at the stars that he fell into a well. Some witty Thracian servant girl is said to have made a joke at Thales’ expense — that in his eagerness to know what went on in the sky he was unaware of the things in front of him and at his feet.
Critchley went on to flatter the field and make plenty of jabs at unphilosophical professionals who lack not only ethics and morals but the ability to understand them.
My brother was not a trained philosopher, but he traveled down its well-strewn path and fell in and never got out. He drowned. Not metaphorically. Really.
I think John did appreciate how dangerous the philosophical waters around him were getting, but his training as a physicist – everything has a rational cause and effect, or an acceptable level of uncertainty – made him doubt himself at every turn. It was dark, very dark outside when he drowned, and his bike and the Tibetan relic did not make very good buoys despite how special each one was to him.
Here’s the “What Is a Philosopher?” commentary if you’re curious. Just don’t lean too far over the well’s edge unless you have a rope attached to your middle and a friend on the other end ready to pull.