Review of Metaphysics 56 (2):385 - 407 (2002)

Heinrich Meier
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
WE ALL KNOW THE PICTURE OF THE PHILOSOPHER that Aristophanes drew in the Clouds for both philosophers and nonphilosophers. As he is shown to us in this most famous and thoughtworthy of comedies, the philosopher, consumed by a burning thirst for knowledge, lives for inquiry alone. In choosing his objects, he allows himself neither to be led by patriotic motives or social interests nor to be determined by the distinctions between good and evil, beautiful and ugly, useful and harmful. Religious prohibitions frighten him as little as do the power of the majority or the ridicule of the uncomprehending. His attention is fixed on questions of the philosophy of nature and of language, in particular on those of cosmology, biology, and logic. By the keenness of his mental powers, the intransigence of his scientific manner, and the superiority of his power of discourse, he casts a spell on his pupils and gains coworkers, who assist him in his zoological experiments, astronomical and meteorological observations, or geometrical measurements. His self-control and endurance enable him to withstand every deprivation that results from carrying out his scientific projects. By contrast, he lacks moderation. Piety and justice do not count among the qualities on which his reputation is based. Authority and tradition mean nothing to him. In making his innovations, he no more takes into consideration what is time-honored than in his teaching he takes account of the vital needs of the society on whose fringes he places himself along with his friends and pupils. The laboratory in which he pursues his studies is supported for the most part by voluntary donations and owes its existence, moreover, to its relative seclusion and inconspicuousness. It is similar to a bubble that is connected to its surroundings only by a modest exchange of air. However, the precautions taken by the school are so insufficient and the restrictions on entrance so slight that outsiders can be allowed in, if they so desire, without close scrutiny of their fitness and can thereby become witness to the most shocking statements and arguments, such as when the philosopher reveals to a neophyte in almost as many words that the supreme god who is honored in the political community not only does not exist but also does not deserve to be honored, and therefore is not a god.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph2002562105
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