Re: thoughts on origin of religions

From: Jacques Du Pasquier (
Date: Wed Feb 27 2002 - 03:21:12 MST wrote (26.2.2002/21:37) :
> On Sat, Feb 23, 2002 at 02:11:54PM +0100, Jacques Du Pasquier wrote:
> > Plato's ideas (whether he invented them or rather crystalized them)
> > for example were a great support for the development of Christianity.
> > Can you imagine Plato without writing? In fact can you imagine
> > philosophizing (for best and worse) without writing?
> Oh, that's very hard to imagine! Let's see... Socrates!

I have to tell you one thing, which is that Plato didn't really
tape-record the dialogues featuring Socrates, and that his dialogues
are not really transcripts of such dialogues. I hope you are not too

> Don't you think that the use of the dialogue form by Plato and later
> philosophers is telling here? I mean you don't need the written word to do
> philosophy

You don't need the written word to argue. But you need the written
word 1) to remember your results, and think about them further,
instead of forgetting them from one day to the next, or even from one
part of the discussion to a later part, and 2) to read the results of

Arguing is only one part of philosophizing. For example, we are now
arguing. I made a suggestion; you suggested agressively that it was
stupid; I answered with a bit of irony. This is fine, but it is not
really philosophizing. It's a mixed, social and intellectual thing.
Arguing is an important fitness factor, as you need to convince people
to do things, to suggest to people around that you are more
intelligent than your interlocutor, etc. But this is not science or

You don't think seriously by responding publically to agressive
remarks. You think seriously by maturing problems over time (including
by discussion), then making an effort of writing, formulation, then
re-reading it and reflecting about it, having other intelligent people
read it, etc.

> -- any more than you need writing to do reasoning, logic, math,
> solve problems, etc. Surely, it helps out, but how much?

Very. Remember that the human brain is unchanged since a very long
time. The reason why it seems so different now is it is full of very
sophisticated cultural products; those rely on the written word to
develop. Oral tradition can only go so far.

And this is the real way I intended this link between writing and
philosophy. The idea is not that any person worth the name
"philosopher" must have written many books. The idea is that you can't
get to a certain level of elaboration in thought if you don't live in a
society in which writing has been invented. We were talking about world
view developpement in various societies, remember?

In fact, Plato's dialogues very often refer to written things, be it
Homer, Solon, and various thinkers (sorry I'm not sure about the
English names, and email won't let me type them in Greek).

> Even when you
> read something on philosophy, you still have to do the work in your head.

Yes, you must do it in your head, but you can rely on the stability of
the written word to get back to it, re-read it, write your results,
think about them, have someone else read them, etc.

The STABILITY of the written word is what matters. You can get back to
it. Even if your mood changes, or if you get distracted, it will stay
as it is.

Our brain was not designed to do philosophy (nor science) as you may
realize. It was designed to be distracted, to react in real time to
threats, etc. We manage to think more refined thoughts with the aid of
that intellectual augmentation called writing.

Even the discussions we're having (for all its rhetoric and social
aspects) couldn't reliably happen without writing. It would be less
precise, I couldn't refer precisely to what you said, etc. Not to
mention the infinity of written word it relies on. Socrates to start
with (unless you've known him personally).

> If not, then can you claim to have done philosophy (or math or science or
> anything that involves more than memorizing a result)?

I feel you are deceiving yourself about the capacity of your own

There is a nice quote from Frege (sorry, I don't have those books with
me anymore) that says something about how intellectually primitive and
fluctuating our mental life is without the written word. I'm sure some
of you have it somewhere (I think it's in an introductory article to
his Begriffsschrift, something like "Why we need a Begriffsschrift").


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