To do is to be — Jean Paul Sartre
Do be do be do — Frank Sinatra
I posted this quote for the sole reason that it always makes me smile. But as I looked at the list of names, and their sequence, I realized that, in a simplistic way, these simple words also reflect our evolution of philosophy and thought. Socrates lived more than 2,400 years ago and his influence on thought is legendary. Jean Paul Sartre was a prominent French philosopher at the peak of the twentieth century. Frank Sinatra was born only ten years after Sartre but has come to embody a later generation.
In one of my marathon runs of post-graduate education I took several courses in ancient, medieval, and modern Western Philosophy. Socrates and Plato were the superstars of the ancient period while St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas formed the cornerstones of Medieval Philosophy. Then came Immanuel Kant, and John Locke, and David Hume and a flood of other amazing thinkers who ushered in the period of Modern Philosophy. As I studied these philosophers and their periods in history I was struck by their role as the official thinkers for society. It was as if the masses had entrusted the responsibility of defining “what we think” to a small cadre of professional thinkers. They wrote prodigiously and defined their era with their ideas.
The printing press, the vast expansion of formal education, and now the Internet, have democratized thinking — and this is undoubtedly a good thing. We no longer look to the philosophers to decide what we think on any particular topic. We take pride in our ability to think for ourselves.
And yet, where has it gotten us? While we seem no less hungry for intellectual certainty, we seldom ponder the deeper questions of life or wonder what it means to just “be.” Instead we consider American Idol “entertainment” and Fox News “fair and balanced.” We align ourselves Democrat or Republican, Pentecostal or Baptist, left or right, as proxies for our own belief systems, relegating the details to the party platform or the church doctrine. In this way, we have not much evolved from our brethren of ancient and medieval times who looked to the intellectual giants of their day for the definition of current thought.
And yet, the world has become too complex and too broad to be captured by a few thinkers, such as Augustine or John Locke. In this way, Frank has, indeed, captured the prevailing thought.
Q: Where has the evolution of thought taken us?
A: Do be do be do . . .