What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

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mikesutton161
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What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by mikesutton161 » Tue Jan 19, 2016 4:45 pm

"Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

This the whole of "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats. Written in the early nineteenth century it may seem archaic now, especially in its language. But it expresses the poet's profound delight and enlightenment when he discovers a new literary revelation, Homer, hitherto hidden from him. He makes an intellectual discovery.

On some rare occasions, I've had this sense of new discovery when reading philosophy. Something new, some new idea, has made me see a concept I thought I understood in a different and more rigorous way; made me re-examine what I thought I'd understood perfectly well before. It's not so much that the authors I was reading offered the last word on the subject, more that they offered the first word on a new intellectual journey, at least for me.

As you get older, these "Chapman's Homer" moments become less frequent. But here are some examples (not an exhaustive list) that have occurred in my life, where authors have introduced me to a familiar concept and made me see it in a radically different way.

The Concept of Justice. What is justice? Can you define it? When you use the word, do you really know what it means? Why should you lead a just life? Can you expect justice from others? This is the problem considered by Socrates at the beginning of Plato's "Republic". He is challenged, in a dialogue, by Thracymachus and Glaucon, and gives, to my mind a slightly incomplete answer. See what you think. But it set me off wondering, and l've wondered ever since, what justice really is.
The Problem of Knowledge. This was raised for me in a book of the same name by A J Ayer, published on the early 1960s by Pelican. He tackles the basic problems of epistemology in a far reaching commentary said to be written for the general reader, but only for a general reader with a good attention span. I was just starting out on a career in scientific research at the time. Ayer made me realise that what I'd considered to be knowledge, I had, for the most part, just accepted from my teachers, and that in philosophy, you take nobody's word for it.
What Is Being Alive About? Is that a daft question? Try reading Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophical novel, "Nausea". Published in 1938, it tells the story of Roquentin, who is fed up with life – it bores him. Gradually this drives him to such a state that even the mere appearance of simple physical things like tree roots and other people make his feel physically sick. He has difficulty trying to think his way out of this state, but at the end of the book he starts to realise that a jazz record he keeps hearing in a bar makes him feel happy. He starts to wonder at the creativity of the song writer and the musicians, and to consider the possibility of trying to do some creative thinking himself based on the skills and knowledge that he has in his own field (he is a historian). A simple enough tale, told like that. But Sartre made me realise that the problems Roquentin is having are with freedom, a scary thing, and how we are confronted by it in our lives. Sartre expands on this theme ten years later in "Existentialism and Humanism", when he says "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself"; and that "...man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards."
The Phenomenon of Death, and how it's prospect affects our lives. This was revealed to me on reading Heidegger's evaluation of death at the beginning of Division Two of his main work, "Being and Time". At this point in the book, Heidegger is starting to examine how one grasps one's human nature as a whole. He wants to know if death can permit us to view our existence in its totality in some way. Observation of one person dying by another living person are of limited use here. We are addressing the subjective experience, so we must look at our own being-towards-death. We can see death as certain at some time, and always possible at any time. We live in the face of the end. Death is part of a our being. Rather than treating death as an event to be ignored, Heidegger says that a more thoughtful, honest and logical approach (he calls it authentic) would be for a human being to use death to as a means of concentrating on his own existence. Death puts our existence into perspective. There's much more to it than that, but hopefully that gives a flavour. Death is not a heavily studied concept in metaphysics, rather surprisingly. Perhaps it should be. But Heidegger caused me to view my own ultimate demise in a different light.

Not an exhaustive list.

But maybe others have had "Chapman's Homer" experiences?

Dalek Prime
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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by Dalek Prime » Wed Jan 20, 2016 5:30 pm

I bet you guys will never guess what philosophical idea struck me the hardest lol... :roll:

Nick_A
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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by Nick_A » Sat Jun 25, 2016 3:05 am

I know what you mean Mike. I've had similar experiences. There were times in my life in college when my ignorance was pointed out by another with no concept of ignorance. I would get insulted and think "who is this idiot." Then my experiences proved I was an idiot. Instead of being insulted I had gratitude for this new knowledge since I knew I couldn't have discovered it through reason. I needed a quality of help I was unaware of and rather than being insulted, I was grateful.

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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by gurugeorge » Wed Aug 10, 2016 10:28 am

I think my biggest philosophical epiphany of recent times has been my escape from the fly bottle of the problems (such as global scepticism) set up by representationalism (roughly, the idea that ruled modern philosophy for a long time, that we immediately perceive our perceptions, and the external world only mediately - or not), and my understanding that this idea is not actually as compelling as I thought for a long, long time.

I now find it incredible that I could have been taken in by such weak arguments as the Argument from Illusion, or the Argument from Perceptual Relativity, for so long.

In a trope: while Hume is captivating, Reid was right.

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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by Dalek Prime » Wed Aug 10, 2016 4:49 pm

So, what if one is lying on ones death bed, with Alzheimer's, dementia, in extreme pain and/or humiliation. Do you think one is mulling over one's existence deeply? Perhaps. I won't say never. But from experience, when I'm short on breath, all I can think of is trying to get the next breath. So while it sounds poetic, it strikes me as unlikely. (In regards Heidegger.)

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Terrapin Station
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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by Terrapin Station » Wed Aug 10, 2016 5:11 pm

The only examples I can think of in this category are some relatively simple Zen ideas. For example:

--That things can only be, at this moment, however they are. So wanting them to be otherwise at present is futile.

--The importance of focusing on whatever one is doing at present. Whatever that may be, however "trivial," do it mindfully. "Wash dishes to wash dishes" and so on.

--The idea of "lengthening one's line" by lengthening one's line rather than focusing on erasing or cutting back some of one's opponents line. (Phrased as "opponent" because that one comes from Zen in the Martial Arts.)

Again that's just a few examples. I could come up with many more.

I don't know if I've had so many of those perspective-changing moments with western philosophy. I started reading academic western philosophical works when I was only eleven years old, so that might be part of it. Almost as far back as I can recall, I was exposed to academic philosophical ideas. But on the other hand, I was first exposed to Zen at almost the same age, via martial arts instructors who were into Zen. So maybe it's just that the Zen stuff was more of a perspectival change for me than the western philosophical stuff was.

Not that I agreed with everything I was reading a la western philosophy, of course--I disagreed with more than I agreed with, but the stuff I disagreed with didn't tend to change my perspective, and a lot of that stuff I still disagree with, 40+ years later. So maybe it comes down to a combination of the Zen stuff being (a) a significant perspectival change for me at the time I first encountered it, and (b) stuff that nevertheless I ended up agreeing with. So that makes an epiphany. But it might also be that some of the western phil stuff changed my thinking--and some of it certainly did that--in a much more gradual manner.
Last edited by Terrapin Station on Wed Aug 10, 2016 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Terrapin Station
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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by Terrapin Station » Wed Aug 10, 2016 5:15 pm

Dalek Prime wrote:So, what if one is lying on ones death bed, with Alzheimer's, dementia . . . Do you think one is mulling over one's existence deeply?
My guess is that I'd be deeply mulling over what the heck the name is, again, of that thing attached to the bottom of my leg. ("Foot" is the word I'd be looking for.)

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Re: What Ideas Struck You Hardest in Philosophy - Some "Chapman's Homer" Moments

Post by Dalek Prime » Wed Aug 10, 2016 5:17 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
Dalek Prime wrote:So, what if one is lying on ones death bed, with Alzheimer's, dementia . . . Do you think one is mulling over one's existence deeply?
My guess is that I'd be deeply mulling over what the heck the name is, again, of that thing attached to the bottom of my leg. ("Foot" is the word I'd be looking for.)
I think that's a more realistic guess. :lol:

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