Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Depressed Philosopher

<= Took this pic this morning when I dropped Mrs M off in the city. Tweaked it into Black and White as I thought it would be more fitting for today's post.

"Philosopher's should be Kings", said Plato, "and Kings should be Philosophers." There aren't many in history that got it right but yesterday I stumbled upon one that did - King of Jerusalem and son of biblical David. He was a successful, powerful and wealthy king, and at the same time (although this is contentious) a very insightful philosopher.

I'm not really a bible delver, but arrived at the book of Ecclesiastes by way of the Interweb, a link here, a link there, and next thing you're miles from where you started (you know how it goes). Nor do I like quoting from religious texts, as I'm only too aware of the fundamentalism inherent in taking text without CONtext.

But here goes (from the book of Ecclessiastes):

Life is Useless.
These are the words of the philosopher, David's son, who was king in Jerusalem. It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless.

Everything leads to weariness, a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough.

You work and you worry your way through life, and what do you have to show for it? As long as you live, everything you do brings nothing but worry and heartache.

I envy those who are dead and gone; they are better off than those who are still alive. But better off than either are those who have never been born, who have never seen the injustice that goes on in this world.
[Andy Garcia's "Grateful Dead"?]

We leave this world just as we entered it - with nothing. In spite of all our work there is nothing we can take with us. It isn't right! We go just as we came. We labour, trying to catch the wind, and what do we get? We have to live our lives in darkness and grief, worried, angry and sick.

How can anyone discover what life means? It is too deep for us, too hard to understand.

Enjoy every useless day of it, because that is all you will get for all your trouble. Work hard at whatever you do, because there will be no action, no thought, no knowledge, no wisdom in the world of the dead and that is where you are going.

No matter how long you live, remember that you will be dead much longer. There is nothing at all to look forward to.

Useless, useless, said the Philosopher. It is all useless.

Depressing huh? And yet many of the world's greatest philosophers arrived at this same conclusion. Our King of Jerusalem presaged Existentialism by 2000 years. And I know of at least one Philosophy Professor at the University of Cape Town who well may have said these exact words.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't catch a glimpse of truth in these observations. And right now, as I sign off putting my "In-the-Pink" smiley below, I fear I am totally fooling myself. The only reason I've been happy the last few days is that I've been neglecting my work and somehow shutting out the guilt that usually accompanies that deal.

But as our old Ecclestian philosopher said: "Only someone too stupid to find his way home would wear himself out with work."


  1. I wish I knew how to cut and paste things on the computer, because I have something that puts a spin on what this guy felt, but they go together. My daughter was saying about the same thing this past weekend, I guess this was a depressed weekend. Take care, Elisa:)

  2. Despite this being one of the best books of the bible (because unlike so many of the others?) scholars have long known that the writer of Eccl. was not King Solomon. It was common practice among the ancients to attribute authorship to heroes, kings, God, etc. Gave the work a little extra "cache" and was not (interestingly,) regarded as fibbing.

    So much for philsopher-kings but hey, probably an oxymoron anyway. (Just don't tell our divinely "elected" King George W. - he gets so upset when contradicted or disappointed).

  3. I came from your word project via zoopla to say thank you for putting your words out here... I hope to find time to read more...

  4. Time to cut the wrist with a blunt knife after having read this one.

    Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic...?" - Aristotle

  5. there is much truth in all of that. i've never stopped to consider that i'll be dead longer than i'll be alive. that's a trip!

  6. LOVE the writing (Makes me think) and ADORE the picture. Great angle...

  7. The reason they are so melancholy is explained in the Original Post. The intelligence level means they really "know/understand" what is going around them, they get "it". As for King Solomon, i.e. David's son, he may not have penned the words, using a secretary, or even as is common in societies that do not have the privilege of literacy, passed by word of mouth until someone did write them down. as a believer, i would say at the direction of God. from the first verse of ecclesiates it is definitely the words of the son of David. following the hebrew we understand that this is also the words of a teacher. if you believe the Bible, you will know and understand that Solomon was and is the wisest man that ever lived. yes, he too was melancholy. he understood at his life's end the vanity of our seeking after the things this society has to offer. what we would say, having our priorities in order and knowing what is really important are the people in our lives,not the things. and what started me on this writing, the reference to The Grateful Dead, i think, you can also find a quote from Eccelesiates by the Beatles...Chapter 3 - A Time for Everything - v4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. v8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.....
    do i care if anyone reads this, no. it gave me a good Bible study for the evening. be blest

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  9. When you take life in the context of life, it's not useless. Yes, life is useless in the sense that nothing remains after death, but to me, that's not a reason to stop caring. Life will be useless to me once I'm gone, but for now, I'm going to do my best to be as happy and productive as I can, as long as life doesn't matter anyway. Instead of saying "life almost gone, might as well give up," try to say "life is almost gone, I'm going to make the most of it."


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