Doing Philosophy and Law

Is wisdom determined by the answer, or the question? Or is the circularity of such a question in and of itself the key to its own answer? How does one attain a state of character, a state of being, such that one has become “wise”? Is this even a relevant question anymore? Are men today attempting, through a life of virtuous activity, to attain a sage-hood stature? Should that not be the goal of each man? Have we become so lazy that we no longer aspire to such a status? I once had a professor who began the class by telling us that he was not interested in our opinions; we had no right to opinions until we gained sufficient knowledge to form such opinions. That systematic methodology is no longer upheld today; with deconstructionism and the post-modern view that all opinions are equal; that relevance and weight of logical force, recognition of facts, truth, and validity – all are subjugated to the overarching primacy of the value of “equality”.

But despite the subjugation of Truth to relativism; the absolute anarchy of ideas today, where blurring of distinctions between facts and opinions, between a logically sound argument and an emotionally-charged slogan of vacuity – the primacy of truth may still emerge, when the extreme of mediocrity is once again recognized. I am always profoundly struck, each time I reread Aristotle, by the sheer force of his wisdom. For example, meditate upon the following excerpt from Book III, Chapter 1, (995a – b) of Aristotle’s Metaphysics:

We must, with a view to the science which we are seeking, first recount the subjects that should be first discussed. These include both the other opinions that some have held on the first principles, and any point besides these that happens to have been overlooked. For those who wish to get clear of difficulties it is advantageous to discuss the difficulties well; for the subsequent free play of thought implies the solution of the previous difficulties, and it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know. But the difficulty of our thinking points to a ‘knot’ in the object; for in so far as our thought is in difficulties, it is in like case with those who are bound; for in either case it is impossible to go forward. Hence one should have surveyed all the difficulties beforehand, both for the purposes we have stated and because people who inquire without first stating the difficulties are like those who do not know where they have to go; besides, a man does not otherwise know even whether he has at any given time found what he is looking for or not; for the end is not clear to such a man, while to him who has first discussed the difficulties it is clear. Further, he who has heard all the contending arguments, as if they were the parties to a case, must be in a better position for judging.

At its most fundamental level, of course, the doing of philosophy (if there is such a thing) is nothing more than the pursuit of wisdom – to love knowledge, to go after paradoxes and thought-provoking conundrums; to love wisdom for the pure joy of meditative challenges; and part of that process is to confront those ‘knots’, those difficulties; for it is the tackling of those difficulties beforehand which then clears the path for greater knowledge. In this day and age, knowledge is no longer revered; intellectual laziness abounds, for the individual believes that that which he does not know, he can always google. But you cannot google the untying of a knot; you must take the time to attain knowledge by meditating upon the untying of knots; and in that process, one is doing philosophy.

Prior to becoming an Attorney, my first love was Philosophy. I studied Philosophy at Catholic University, then went on to the Graduate School of Philosophy at the University of Virginia, where I had the opportunity to study under Richard Rorty, who was in the Humanities Department at the time. But the practical problems of life intervened, and to become an Attorney was, for myself, the perfect melding of an intellectual component with the practical aspect of being able to make a living. It was a knot of life which I contemplated for quite some time; now, twenty years later, I love the life of law; of the intellectual component of researching Court opinions; the logical component of making sound legal arguments; and the practical aspect of actually helping my clients secure their financial future by obtaining disability retirement benefits for them. And during these twenty years, I have had the freedom to continue to read philosophy, to meditate upon multiple philosophers – from Plato and Aristotle, to Kant, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Popper, Putnam, et al, and to continue to untie the bounds of knots, within the loving circle of my wife and three wonderful kids.

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