About This Blog

Welcome to James' Philosophical Agora - James' Meeting Place On-Line. (Updated September 2017)

This blog is the place where I write in a more personal way on various areas of philosophical interest. Please be careful when I say 'philosophical' because this does not often mean about purely academic or abstract subjects and ideas; but rather like much of the philosophy of Socrates, it means an investigation of some fundamental things that have a very important baring on the way we live our lives as individuals and as communities.

I have a separate blog where I share my enthusiasm for the specific philosophical tradition and ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle Plutarch and others at: Socrates 4 Today However, this blog James' Philosophical Agora expresses mostly personal viewpoints and so I prefer to have two separate blogs.

Please feel free to comment on any of the blog posts, or add some thoughts of your own to the subjects discussed. You can also contact me personally if you would like to discuss any particular items further at: jamesdelphi2000@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On Love - 02 - Regarding The Longevity of True Love

Dear George,

You asked my opinion on the longevity of true love.........

.... and I first thought to write an eloquent and maybe witty reply drawing on references from Socrates or the bible - but I will let the UK department of National Statistics speak for itself on this one.

When I left university 30 years ago and started teaching maths in Surrey, UK one third of all the children in my class (white middle class) came from homes where parents were divorced. This rate has crept up and up over the years since then - over the 50% mark - and now stands close to two thirds (66%). That is, 2 out of every 3 schoolchildren comes from homes where the parents are divorced - and these figures are nothing to do with racial or economic background. The kid with the white accountant father is just as likely to have divorced parents as the kid with a black bus driver as a father.

Incredibly - four fifths (yes; 80%) of those divorced fathers have no contact "at all" with the children after two years - despite having the best intentions at the time of the divorce. The other one fifth covers a spectrum of good regular contact to very little and occassional contact. George - that means that 80% of the 66 % of men who get divorced don't see their kids at all after 2 years - as they start to get more and more involved with their new families and/or partners. This means that when you stand as a teacher in front of a class in today's schools more than 50% have no contact whatsoever with their fathers...... [David Cameron talks in sound-bytes about fixing broken Britain ... food for thought..... ]

I guess all of the 66% of the marriages mentioned above (well a big majority of them anyway) started with happy photos of wedding days - white dresses - champagne - happy friends and relations all "caught" un-charitably it seems now smiling innocently on the camera - as a sad reminder of better times.

So mate..... that's the down side - in the UK at least. Perhaps its not the answer you wanted from your philosopher friend - and so I will now try to account for this sad set of statistics just a little.

Socrates (you know it had to come :) says in Symposium - which I recommend you read again this week - that we love that which we cannot have. True love is in fact an idea - a fantasy - which we do not actually live out - since we do not possess the object of our love. (He does not quite say that - but he does consider first as usual what we actually mean by love - and offer some organised thoughts as usual for us to then agree or disagree with..... )

There was a good article about true love recently - unusually I think on yahoo. It mentioned that movie Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart (Bogie) where he says: "Of all the bars in the world - you had to walk into this one".  Well its a war time movie, and he has this intense short romance with this woman who already is with this nice sensible guy - but falls in love for 6 months with charming Humphrey Bogart - the risky owner of a bar in Casablanca of all places. The final scene takes place on a small airport strip. Will Bogie get in the plane and fly away by himself - or will he stay with the girl - get married - settle down and have kids - and tell the nice steady boyfriend to bugger off :) We are not sure what he will do to the very last moment George - Hollywood at its best :)
..... Well -  against the pleas of this woman he loves very much to stay, old Bogie gets in the plane - and flies off into the sunset on his own. He loves the girl very much indeed you see - but knows the other guy will make a much better and more reliable husband to her than he will in the lon term. Their intense love affair can only go one way (down hill) if he stays - as soon as they get into the domestic routine of supermarket runs and discussions about which greens to buy - and the normal DIY nags that men usually get from their partners. Bogart was just not that sort of guy - so he flies off into the sunset  and keeps the "idea" of them being in love pure and untainted - as it has been for the 6 months of their short war time romance. He will often think of that woman he left behind in Casablanca - and often wish maybe he had stayed - and perhaps daydream fondly a little on what might have been - even many years later. But .... if he had stayed with her ....then maybe they would be divorced by now - and in fact "probably" would be if we consider the 66% statistic above. As it is - their romance will remain untainted and ideal and pure for ever. As I mention below; Socrates says: '....they will never forget the sacred bonds they once made together.....'.

Leonardo de Caprio has made a movie on a similar theme. The problems and restrictions of married life in sur-burban USA - or anywhere else for that matter. (Incidently, I have always enjoyed de Caprio movies - right from his first - where he plays that autistic 14 year old :)

Guess you were hoping for something a little more "empowering", optimistic, inspiring or supportive from me my old friend. But I guess that's it - except to encourage you to read what Socrates said in the Symposium about the matter - about 8-10 pages I guess if you ignore the other speakers. As usual, you do not have to agree with Socrates - just think about what he says and work up a few reasons of your own to disagree with him. He starts with a short discussion of what (who) love is, and then he suggests that we start our romantic lives by chasing a pretty face and then another - and after a while we realise that all pretty faces have something in common and are much the same. He says we then start to "love" the sciences and arts etc. and then finnish up by realising that only one thing can hold our love in later life and that is "the truth" - i.e. Socrates says our "love" changes and evolves as we get older. This doesn't make things easier for us necessarily - but it's a very good thing to at least understand the feelings and emotions we might be experiencing at different times in our life - and our partners might also be having. The simple truth is a man (and women I guess)  - as we get older - we start to appreciate other things in life; well according to Socrates at least - and we may of course choose not to agree with his rather clinical assessment of this particular matter.

Mind you - my old mum and Dad had 60 years of happy marriage.... as many people of their generation did...... What has changed since their generation. That's what David Cameron will have to consider if he is serious about fixing broken Britain. But such an action requires a long term vision and plan - and modern democracies seem only capable of delivering short term political adgendas with the sole priority of winning the next election.)

So take you pick....... :)

Love James.

(funny word love isn't it - especially in English when its used for so many different things.) 

My friend George then asked:
So would you say that this holds 100% true statistically or are there exceptions? Lets say, for instance, that you find your twin soul mate
but only realise it 20 years down the line when its too late because they are somewhere else now. Would you still end up wearing down the
novelty and intensity if you saw them again - only to get caught up ultimately in a supermarket discussing about which greens to buy ?

James replied:
Well George, This is a tricky question - although I'll admit its an interesting one.You ask whether that this always holds 100% true, statistically? Should Humphrey Bogart not of got on that plane because there was a good chance (about 33% according to the good old department of National Statistics) that everyone would have lived happily ever after if he had stayed. Or; can he 25 years later - perhaps now a little podgy and bald - go back to the woman and say he made a big mistake - leave your husband and 3 kids and come back to Casablanca with me and it will be just like old times........???    I guess you do not want to hear the statistics on this one George.   Lets just say, for instance, that you find your twin soul mate but realise it 20 years down the line when its too late because they are somewhere else now ... would you still end up wearing down the passion and love - if you saw them again and got involved, only to get caught up ultimately in the supermarket's web? As Bogie says in the movie - is it a good idea to: 'play it again Sam'.

A Couple of quick thoughts:

1) Oh yes George - there are exceptions to every rule - and certainly to the trend I suggested to you in my email (above) on marriage and love. If two thirds of kid's parents are divorced - it still means that 10 sets of parents out of a class of 30 kids (say 15 year olds) have been at it (marriage that is) for a good 15 years or so. Like I say - many people like my parents had a happy 60 years of marriage. (60 happy years with someone else !!!) Happy marriages include the ups and downs - for betters and worses - for richer and poorers - along the way. Long marriage or any relationship is not necessarily a walk in the park on a spring morning every day of the year for anyone.
2) ...... interestingly this alterring (confusing) of gender roles in the name of political correctness this last 20 - 30 years has done nothing to help the divorce rates - far from it actually. My mother and father (and most of their generation) knew who wore the trousers - and who cooked the meal and did the ironing.  Life was more simple - people knew what was expected of them and took great satisfaction from "doing their bit" well - a nice clean step and line of washing on a Monday morning as it were.
3) Happiness can of course also be found in simple things when you are with someone you care about - so I am not knocking a discussion of which vegetables to buy per se with a loved one :) It can even be great when you've sneaked away to the little cottage for a few days - and pop into Waitrose hoping no-one will recognise you. But after 20 years maybe the supermarket run can wear a little thin ? (Perhaps this is just my personal aversion to supermarkets and shopping generally :)
4) Exceptions can also be "many" of course - e.g. when George Bush stood for re-election in the USA, a record turn out of 55 million voted him in for a second term ..... BUT also a record 51 million voted for the other guy who lost - whose name of course no-one remembers.
5) However, we must also unfortunately admit that of the 33% who do stay married for say 15 or more years - that its not because of "true love" in every case. I know several couples who make the best of it "for the kids", or in fear of lonliness, the joint mortgage and house implications, and a number of other reasons. It would be interesting to know for sure how many of that 33% list "true love" as their main reason for staying together in their own private thoughts.... 

But more specifically in answer to your question: "If you find your twin soul mate but realise it 20 years down the line - when its too late because they are somewhere else now ... would you still end up wearing down the passion, intensity, and maybe novelty?" Well the answer to this one George is a definite YES and NO. The truth is George - it's not "always" too late as you suggest - although I guess it often is. One can pick up the pieces of a friendship / relationships after 20 years (sometimes) and give it a try.... and I would say that there is a 50:50 chance of it working out OK. And 50:50 is a bloody good chance actually - and well worth giving a go in my view.

.... but lets take an 'impersonal' example or two. Humphrey Bogart flies off in 1945 at the end of the second world war (aged say 30 - slim, vibrant, with hair) from his one true love; and then suddenly bumps into her after say seeing a movie at the end of the late 1960's now aged 45-50. They exchange phone numbers quickly - say they must do lunch or something for old times sake - and since he has thought about this woman regularly for 25+ years - he calls her. She's had 3 nice kids and 2 little horrors, and 2 divorces - BUT - she is not with anyone just at the moment. So Humphrey - plus 25 years, an extra 12 kilos, minus hair, goes to meet her. They chat - they get on....... they reminisce .... maybe they give it a try ..... maybe it works out...... 50:50 at best.....  I would say mate - but that would be good enough odds for me to give it a chance if it was true love  - soul mates etc.

Soul mates..... well there is a interesting term.... and I am sure one that Socrates would approve of .... and who would also say like I wrote before: .... "they will never forget the sacred bonds they once made together..... " so its a definite "maybe" from Socrates that it might work out OK.

On the down side.... one is usually only remembering the good bits maybe from a relationship 20 years ago. (Selective memories and all that) People say: "If only I'd stayed with X things would be much better now......... ". But would they really ? BUT then if one gives it a try and it does not work out what has one lost - nothing :)


NB: In short - and after writing perhaps rather cautiously above - I will confess that I still believe in the longevity of true love and always will :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

On Love - 01 - Love Has Many Guises

Back in 2012 several people gave their views on love in the Guardian Newspaper. The psychotherapist Philippa Perry wrote: 'Love has many guises'.

.....'Unlike us, the ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label "love" under the one word. They had several variations, including:

Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle. Ludus describes a more playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.

Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.

Agape is a more generalised love, it's not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity.

Philautia is self love, which isn't as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself.

Eros  Although last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.

Love is all of the above. But is it possibly unrealistic to expect to experience all six types with only one person. This is why family and community are important.

(Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist and author of Couch Fiction.) [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/13/what-is-love-five-theories]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How Algorithms Shape Our World

Well we all have kinda heard of "algorithms" (something to do with maths or is it computers?) and we all kinda think that they are being used by clever people to sort stuff out in the world "for us"... Think again. This interesting talk on TED about algoriths and what can happen when the maths gets out of control is well worth 15 minutes of anyone's life..... :