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A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 69

A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 69

Bygone Civilizations.

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

Polus: Socrates, you question everything, but you destroy everything you touch. Your uncompromising attacks on every idea that good men and women have believed for so many generations cause us to abandon everything we hold dear. You not only corrupt the youth, but you uproot the old, ancient, and revered. Do you not believe that there is some value, some timeless gems, in the traditions you have annihilated?

Socrates: Certainly not, my dear Polus. There is nothing in history worth preserving. I burn nothing but heaps of garbage. Look at these writings you revere, full of nonsense that we have grown out of. See all those medical texts that are more likely to kill the patient than heal them. Commit all these books to the flames and don’t look back. We know better now.

Polus: I have heard the fortune teller say that in thousands of years time, students of philosophy will still be forced to study your philosophy and will let none other challenge its timeless authority.

Socrates: Polus, your words will almost make me believe that there is a punishment after death.

Polus: Fear not, these predictions are just the incoherent ramblings of an old charlatan.

The opposite is true, in fact. As there were revolutions in the past, so there shall continue to be. One day future generations will mock all the education and learning you have today. Why spend your time on intellectual pursuits, destined, one day, for the garbage bin of history?

Socrates: Yes and no. No scientific revolution will ever make our bridges suddenly fall down. Empirical observation, gathered carefully, will stand the test of time, even if the theory beneath them is discarded. As for the rest, much of it is just word-play, and I consider it my mission to tear it all apart. Only that which survives the most rigorous assaults will prove its value.

Polus: You oversimplify. Today’s civilization knows only its own narrow context and cannot withstand the winds of change. There is wisdom in older civilizations, wisdom that gathered slowly across ages where little changed and respect for elders allowed true insights to accumulate. The wisdom harvested in radically different contexts must be distilled and will give us the diversity and wider perspectives we need to build a base broad enough to encompass new realities and challenges as they emerge.

Socrates: All you will preserve are the biases and ethical blindness that characterized the thinking of the ancients. You imagine that you can mine the depths of these bygone cultures for ethical insights while discarding their more distasteful bigotry, intolerance, and chauvinism. You will not succeed, and those who venerate these ancient ideas will only preserve them, declare these unpleasant views to be holy, and perpetuate values whose time has passed.

We need not fear losing those few crumbs of the good scattered around in the words of the ancients. Our superior powers of reason will recreate any insights that may have been lost. What was found once can be found again.

Polus: Humans cannot reason. What we have been lucky to discover, we must hold on to tightly, or we may lose it again for millennia or forever. We move some words around and call it logic. The process is random and flawed; most of the time, it doesn’t have the power to see one step off its path. Those nuggets of gold we were lucky enough to find in our path, we must collect and treasure.

We have been fooled by our success in the hard sciences. We think that the same can be applied to all fields of cognitive endeavor, but that is just wishful thinking. If in every revolution of human thinking we throw it all out and start again, we will zig and zag forever, wandering aimlessly for all eternity. The only way we have any hope of making progress, is by remembering where we have been, and seeing the new in the context of the old.

Socrates: And how can any one mind hope to hold on to these mountains of accumulated verbiage? There is too much.

Polus: Each of us need only hold on to our own past while gaining insights through contact with others who focus on their past. Each of us is shaped by the history of our own culture and that part of the past that brought us here to where we now stand. If we wish to understand ourselves, it is that bookshelf we must explore.

I need to extend my mind to encompass something bigger. I must stretch across time, beyond my birth and beyond my grave. There are intellectual projects that are larger than my own mind, and I must declare myself satisfied if I have found some corner of those projects that I have helped build and grow.

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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Source: Reditt

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