The Socratic Jig Saw Puzzle That All Real Spiritual Searchers and Philosophers Must Do….
People start to search for spiritual paths for all sorts of reasons – and this also applies to people who become interested in philosophy; they all have their own unique reasons and special areas of interest and concern. So at times it must be very frustrating if people attend a lecture or presentation in the hope of getting some practical guidance on how best to live the good philosophical life on a personal basis – and then the person giving the presentation starts talking about the how the universe may have been formed, what place in it the sun, soul and human being plays and all manner of “meta-physical” matters – when what the person was looking for was just some good old fashioned political science or personal good living advice.
Well please bear with me for just a few paragraphs while I explain why I believe you cannot just give down to earth practical living tips without some regard to where we as human being fit into the bigger picture – and indeed what type of beings we truly are. For without knowing truly who or importantly what we are – how can we really give any serious advice to people – or rather expect them to understand the advice being given if they do not possess a rough idea of where we as human beings fit into the overall scheme of things.
Socratic and Platonic philosophy really covers three main areas of discussion – that of how to live the good and happy life personally, how to live the good and happy life as communities and states, and finally the metaphysical areas of the universe such as the existence and nature of the divine and the soul. I think that Socrates and other philosophers in this tradition feel that it is impossible to separate these three areas to any great extent and that the three areas overlap in many important ways. Of course a one hour lecture of presentation will often focus more on one of these areas than another – but they are very closely connected. This is why the person I first mentioned above who attends a talk and thinks that the nature of the universe and the divine is not relevant to their current main area of interest of practical living is mistaken in my view. Let me try and explain why……
Studying philosophy is like doing a fairly complicated jig saw puzzle. It’s not impossible at all – but it just requires a little effort and a few very basic techniques to get going. Now what are the techniques to doing any jig saw puzzle? Well first it helps to find the four corner pieces and put them to one side. Another good idea is to try and find the bits with a straight edge and put them to one side. After that it’s pretty complicated, very long winded and usually gets very tedious unless we do one other thing. Well it helps a great deal if we can take a quick look at the top of the box the puzzle came in – just to get an overall idea of what the picture is all about. Actually, we do not need a long detailed study of the picture on the box – just a quick glimpse will do – or even a description by someone else who has seen the top of the box will be a great help if we cannot take a peek at the picture ourselves at that time.
For example – if one way or another – looking ourselves or being told – we know that the above mentioned picture is of a man or woman sitting at a little brown table on a wide yellow sandy beach – with the calm dark blue sea in the background – all under a light blue cloudless sky – then that’s going to be a great help with our jig saw puzzle. We can take those bits with the straight edge – and make a guess whether they go at the bottom or top – or maybe the sides. I believe once you do that it only takes a short while to a try a piece or two here and there and at least get the frame and edges of the picture done so at least you have some boundaries and guidelines with the overall picture you are trying to create.
Next if you separate the yellow sandy coloured bits, the dark blue bits and the light blue bits you – you can place them in one area of the slowly emerging picture. Now there may be some awkward bits left over - but if when you glimpsed the picture you remember that the person at the table is in the middle of the picture and is wearing black jeans – a white straw hat – red shoes – and a green shirt – then you can kind lay out those awkward bits down in the right sort of area before you try and fit them all together. And remember those awkward bits left over at the end which needed placing in the picture in the right place were the bits which made up the very man or woman that was the subject of the picture and what it was really about in the first place. But without knowing that there is a person on the beach under a blue sky with the sea in the background – I think it would be a very difficult or possibly impossible job to try and put that person together in the fore ground of the picture….. from the hundreds of bits piled up in front of us on our desks.
And that is the reason ladies and gentleman – that there is a kind of Socratic jig saw puzzle all searches and philosophers must do. We must at first try to get a sense of the overall scheme of things and where we fit into the bigger picture – either by glimpsing it ourselves or by listening to others who have a sense of that picture to share with us. That way we get a sense of the edges and boundaries around things – we get a sense of roughly where things fit into the overall scheme of things – and then only after that can we start to place the awkward little bits left over – that is place ourselves – in that picture sitting at that table on the beach.