Bertrand Russell once suggested that Western philosophy began with Thales. His insight gains a humorous edge when juxtaposed with a popular biographical tidbit about the ancient Greek. For one day, as the story goes, Thales was so entirely absorbed with contemplating the heavens above that he fell head-long into a well directly in front of him. In addition to possibly inaugurating a long tradition of ‘absentminded professors,’ Thales’ plunge gestures to a wider concern: what are we to make of those pursuits (intellectual or otherwise) which, in asking us to look so intently, render us unable to look where we are going?
Recent headlines reflect a similar problem. Of sorts. For one day, as the story goes, New York teen Alexa Longueira was so thoroughly engrossed with texting on her cell-phone that she stumbled into an open sewer. Employees from the Department of Environmental Protection had momentarily left the manhole unguarded while retrieving construction cones. The Staten Island family intends to file a lawsuit in response to, what they claim, is worker negligence.
One wonders if Thales would shake his head in disappointment or simply be grateful for the company. To read more, see this article from The New York Daily News.
Russell and the Unity of the Proposition
By Graham Stevens , University of Manchester
(Vol. 3, April 2008)