Hearers of many things and will have learned nothing…

Hearers of many things and will have learned nothing…

I stumbled across an interesting passage from Plato’s Phaedrus (translated by Benjamin Jowett) the other day. (Or, check out the published translation.) It seemed relevant to me as I am wrapping up my research on Heaven & Hell in preparation for my presentation at church this coming Wednesday.

I lean on the Internet quite a bit as I do research. And beside me at this moment I have no less than 16 books measuring two feet in height that I have also leaned on — or should I say they have leaned on me? Yet through it all I am painfully aware that my knowldge of either Heaven or Hell (I capitalize the terms for I think of them as real places) is bound up in what I have read, not what I have experienced.

The risk I face in doing research is to have the appearance of wisdom with none of its reality. More than anything else I want the true reality of eternity to be revealed in who I am and what I write, say or do. But it’s not easy, being bound up in this meat-based existence. My awareness of the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now is filtered through my clumsy senses and spoiled appetites.

Nevertheless, I blunder on. And I share with you this warning and hope that it gives you pause, even as it does me.

Soc. But there is something yet to be said of propriety and impropriety of writing.

Phaedr. Yes.

Soc. Do you know how you can speak or act about rhetoric in a manner which will be acceptable to God?

Phaedr. No, indeed. Do you?

Soc. I have heard a tradition of the ancients, whether true or not they only know; although if we had found the truth ourselves, do you think that we should care much about the opinions of men?

Phaedr. Your question needs no answer; but I wish that you would tell me what you say that you have heard.

Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters.

Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them.

It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.

Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

And, of course, this reminds me of Ecclesiastes 12:11-13:

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body…. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

All the books and all the blogs and all the websites don’t amount to much if I forget this.

[tags]BlogRodent, Plato, Socrates, Thamus, Theuth, Phaedrus, philosophy, Ecclesiastes, wisdom, technology, information-overload, internet, technology, blogging, heaven, hell, research[/tags]

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