OMNI ESSE DEO DVBITANDVM
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Can you think of anything more egocentric or self-satisfying than the adulation and celebration of one’s own arrival on this planet? I shouldn’t think so…at least outside the realm of religion. Beyond any fretting over the advancement of one’s age and impending decrepitude, I have always seen the celebration of birthdays as unnecessary and narcissistic. Be that as it may, it still remains a date which adheres rather well in the mind. It was on this basis of consideration that I had intended to publish this article on my birthday (which was July 31st), hence the title. This endeavor was thwarted though due to my having to work that day. But I thought a frivolity such as this would be an apposite follow up to the past couple of essays on this blog which have bordered on the grandiloquent in the presentation of the philosophies discussed (a commonly received criticism of my writing style). What I had intended was to showcase a few historic happenings I came across while doing research on other topics, all of which occurred on July 31st. It also seemed that these historical highlights would be of interest to my readers, so it is for them that I now endeavor to complete this exercise.
To your average educated individual and literati, Daniel Defoe is best remembered as the author of Robinson Crusoe as well as being the major proponent of the novel as an art form in England at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Yet being the writer that I am, he is much more important to me in another literary regard. Daniel Defoe should always be esteemed for his journalism and polemical pamphleteering. In his time, he was the leading public figure to issue forth political criticism towards the government and monarchy. Because of this, he often had to deal with legal accusations of slander (something British journalists still have to fight against to this day). So it was on July 31st 1703, that Daniel Defoe was placed in a public pillory for the crime of seditious libel after publishing a politically satirical pamphlet. This event in of itself is nothing of note, as this was common practice for the government to deal with political dissidents. What is exceptional in Defoe’s case is that rather than being pelted with various forms of vegetation as was de rigueur, he was instead pelted with flowers. An historic event which marked the great public esteem Daniel Defoe had achieved with his bravery and intellectual honesty, along with being an imperishable example for every writer to follow, even without the threat of the stock and public excoriation.
My next two historic events both deal in death. But the two figures I am going to discuss readily display a philosophic dichotomy which I find of interest. Let’s see what you think.
Now it is well attested to on this blog what my feelings are on religion and faith. To say that I have contempt for the theological is putting it considerably lightly. Yet there remains one sect of Catholicism whose scholars I still love to discuss and argue philosophy with and that is the sect founded by Ignatius Loyola, that being the Jesuits or more specifically the Society of Jesus. It is quite fair to say that I have a grudging respect for Loyola and it is rooted in his votaries promulgation of the pedagogic. All of my research into Loyola’s life has left me with an extremely cynical view of his desire to have his sect be the molders of each generation of ruling elites to be. Yet at the same time it is through the Jesuit’s adherence to education and the self-improvement which follows intense didactic devotion which guarantees my eternal esteem. And it is this fact which engenders my enjoyment and eagerness to engage in the dialectic with theologians and philosophers of this order. So as you can imagine I was quite pleased to note that on July 31st 1556, Ignatius Loyola died in Rome, ending a very interesting life (the cannon ball incident?!?). What ever his true intents were for his order, it is in their commitment to learning that I am compelled to admire and yes, even defend. This is something I know I could never say about any other theistic phalanx.
Lastly, we will touch upon the life of perhaps the greatest luminary of the French philosophic Enlightenment, that being Denis Diderot. He became well known and influential as a philosophe when he began to contribute articles to the Encyclopedie in 1750. His most important contribution to French philosophy would have to be in his admiration and (some) translation of the writing of John Locke. He proffered forth the key approaches to scientific empiricism and material notions of existence and thought. It has even been argued that Diderot should be seen as a forerunner of evolutionary theory. Either way, I see him as the key philosopher of the French Enlightenment with his still insightful Pensees sur l’interpretation de la nature (1754). So it caught my eye and I had to take note of his death on July 31st 1784. And with everything I have just written, wouldn’t you say that it is a bit solipsistic to think that it is quite eventful if not purposeful that on my birthday two great polarities of philosophy and thought reached their terminus. Perhaps…maybe…Yes of course! But you escape this self-congratulatory mire if you see all of these events for what they really are, contingent and random (this includes my birth and yours as well), which I do.
As stated in the introduction, I merely wanted to offer a bit of intellectual whimsy for my readers. Even with the egocentric nature of birthday celebrations, I still recommend that anyone reading this essay should engage in their own inquiry such as I have presented. If anything, it helps mollify the egoism of one’s own entrance into existence by entreating one to instead focus on the great arc and lessons of history a little closer. This activity being in a state of great dearth within our society, much to our detriment if not our demise and ultimate folly.