by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
May 16, 2001
SEATTLE, Wash. -- My cat Huck has now reached, and even exceeded, the age of discretion, and is, like all cats, naturally fond of philosophical discussion. Too fond, as will appear below.
I lately discovered that he had gone so far as to borrow from my bedside shelf the dialogues of Plato and, glad to have learned of this new interest, I wondered whether I might test his understanding of theSocratic method, which, as readers of Ink Soup will doubtless know, is that of arriving at the truth by adroit and persistent questioning.
Finding myself alone with him on a bench overlooking the Puget Sound, I decided to essay a trial of his progress in dialectical skill.
Would you not agree, Huck, I said to him, that of all pleasures those of the mind are the greatest?
Certainly, said he.
And that of those pleasures themselves, none compares with the pleasure of aesthetic reflection -- the pleasure of contemplating the beauty, say, of a flower, or of a tree, or of a meadow in bloom...
Or of a bowl of tuna, said Huck.
You would agree, would you not, that the appetites deemed by wise mento be lower, those that Spring from our physical being, such as thedesire for sexual pleasure, for comfort, for food.
Especially chunk light. ... for food of any kind, for purely bodily well-being of any kind,ought to be held in contempt by those who aspire, as we do, to distinction of a moral and intellectual nature? Of course, except for tuna.
But even among the most desirable virtues of the mind, some, you would surely agree, are more to be cultivated than others? There are some desires that, other considerations aside, confer honor upon the one who desires? Yes. The desire for tuna, for instance.
Yet it is possible to assume that there are distinctions to be made even among the grosser pursuits of life, those seldom encountered by persons of our contemplative sort, though, when encountered, be it by chance or intention, not altogether to be kicked, as one might say, out of the old bed?
Tuna comes to mind.
Tuna does seem frequently to come to mind, in your case, which leads me to wonder whether you would not agree that the person of philosophical bent ought to resist those recursive, often annoying or even disabling ideas that seem to settle in, to take up residence as it were, in ourminds, and refuse to leave when asked?
Tuna leaves without being asked. Especially chunk light.
The bowl, of course. The way it vanishes is downright uncanny. Nor do I recall my ever having actually asked it to leave. I perceive -- please correct me if I am wrong, my dear Huck -- that tuna has for you the obsessive, the all but irresistible appeal that cigarettes, say, have for the nicotine addict. Have you ever considered ways of dealing with this temptation? Indeed. I yield.
With your permission, my dear cat, I am going to propose that we shift the field of our discussion back once more to those purely mental, even lofty, matters with which we began.
We all have, I am sure,ideals -- things that can be imagined, even by the lowest of natures, but whether imagined by persons of resplendent virtue or by those who write newspaper columns, are universally acknowledged to be abstractions, unattainable here on earth.
Have you, for instance, such an ideal?
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.