Saturday, January 3, 2009

The consolation of philosophy - In Our Time

BBC's In Our Time skipped a week around Christmas, but came around immediately on the first day of the new year. The last issue before that, about the physics of time, was also very worthwhile. However, as has happened more often when IOT touched upon science, the subject went a little bit over my head and I have hard time saying too much about it. The questions whether time is really existent and whether this is independent or dependent of space and whether it could flow backwards, or may even be entirely an illusion, are questions that the program started with and had me wondering just as much by the end.

This week's subject, the consolation of philosophy, although by many means a large subject, reaching long and wide just as the previous one, had a couple of more anchors for me. It ended very heavily with Albert Camus, whose work I have studied extensively in the past. Camus'answer whether philosophy is of any consolation towards the absurdity of life, is not so clear and it slightly bothered me, he was, once again, categorized as an existentialist. Even IOT's own program about Camus, tried to repair that common misplacement - and unsuccessfully so, as it turns out.

Where the end point was Camus, the beginning point was the 6th century Roman thinker Boethius who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy a work that outlasted him and was to influence thinkers up until Camus. In this use of the word philosophy is included also literature and poetry (as one needs to read Camus' novels to understand him and Boethius uses poetry in his books) and in many ways is therefore also, as I see it, an issue for secularism as opposed to religion: in how far does human thinking, whether philosophic theory or art, is capable to offer consolation in life, just as well, or even better than, the religions.

More In Our Time:
The Great Fire,
Simon Bolivar.

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