Dear Phil Letter #6

by Frank Bertrand
(Read Frank’s First “Dear Phil Letter“)


Dear Phil,
I must confess, Phil, that I’ve been spending way too much time puzzling over those two phrases in the section of your Exegesis devoted to “writing techniques.” Yes, I mean “fictionalizing philosopher” and “someone must come along & play the role of Plato to my Socrates.” No doubt I should, instead, be gleefully pursuing the quick and convenient lifestyle of money and materialism by consuming whatever is in fad at sundry drive-up-windows, or college campuses, across this land. Or, watching re-runs of that epitome of today’s American culture, the “Jerry Springer Show.”

Nonetheless, there are a few individuals who find your fiction and non-fiction exemplifying, indeed, the work of a fictionalizing philosopher. Larry Sutin writes, in his “Introduction” to The Shifting Realities Of Philip K. Dick:

“One can dub him a “philosopher,” and indeed he
warrants the title in its original Greek meaning as
one who loved wisdom and truly believed in the
value of uninhibited questioning – a rarity in this
day and age, in which the word “metaphysical”
has become a synonym for “pointlessness”.”

And S.J. Umland, in his “Introduction” to Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, states that you “…inherited the philosophical skepticism that has been one of the more profound and lasting effects of the cold war.” Then we have Gregg Rickman, who, in his “Preface” to Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words, claims “The day may come when Phil’s reputation as a philosopher exceeds his (large and growing) reputation as a science fiction writer. He would be amused.” But D. Scott Apel, editor of Philip K. Dick: The Dream Connection, perhaps says it best in a recent interview:

“It was the unknown side of Phil that he probably
was a philosopher in a world where philosophy
has pretty much been replaced by technology.
We got science now, what do we need philosophy
for? We can find out what works, and what’s
real, and nobody really needs to speculate about
it. If you want to be a philosopher you go be a
Physicist. But Phil was a traditional, classical
Philosopher, and maybe one of the last.”

So, Phil, are you amused?
I mean, it seems to me that if anyone bothered to read, and actually think about (“uninhibited questioning,” “speculate”), your first published short story, “Beyond Lies The Wub,” they would note that the Wub says, “Rather you should discuss questions with me, philosophy, the arts – ” And that’s just what you proceed to do, Phil, from there on out, discuss questions of philosophy and the arts, duh! If that’s not setting off a signal-flare to try and point the way, I don’t know what is.
It’s also not surprising, regards this, that you allude, more than once in your work, to Pythagoras. He was, apparently, the first to describe himself as a philosopher. It was he who distinguished the sophia sought by philosophers from the practical shrewdness of merchants and the trained skills of athletes. And this sophia, according to one of your two favorite reference works, The Encyclopedia Of Philosophy, “…had a much wider range of application than the modern English “wisdom.” That is, “…philosophia etymologically connotes the love of exercising one’s curiosity and intelligence rather than the love of wisdom.”

Now, I would argue that what you and the Wub strive to do, by word and by deed, is to exercise your “curiosity and intelligence,” with Epicurean overtones. By this I mean the original intent of Epicurus’ teachings at the Athenian community established in 307-306 B.C., named “The Garden” – not those attributed to him by his accusatory detractors (Stoics, mostly), nor the hilarious caricature by Rabelais in book one of Gargantua, called “Abbey of Thélème.” And what Epicurus’ intent was is pretty clear because, even though most of what he actually wrote has been lost, reliable outlines and summaries of many of his works still exist, one of which is by someone, Phil, you admire and allude to, Lucretius. Ya, him, the Epicurean philosopher who lived some 250 years after Epicurus, in Rome, and whose major work, De Rerum Natura, you give excerpts from (primarily the Dryden translation) in The Selected Letters. It seems that Lucretius’ detractors accused him of denying the humanity of God while asserting the divinity of Man, and that his book is a “Bible for unbelievers.”
Anyways, according to Epicurus, the experience of pleasure, while good in itself, doesn’t include a guarantee of permanence. What’s also required is intelligent choice. And he states that practical wisdom is more valuable than philosophy itself because it measures pleasure against pain. That is, it rejects pleasures that lead to greater pain while accepting pains that lead to greater pleasures.
Isn’t this what the Wub ends up doing, Phil?
Furthermore, for the good life of the mind and body, “katastematic” pleasures are more important than “kinetic” ones. While one would no doubt feel chara (delight) about the well being of their body (kinetic), they would really enjoy ataraxia (peace of mind) with the removal of cares and pains (katastematic). As examples of the latter, Epicurus cites the study of natural philosophy removing fear of the gods, and, recognizing death to be merely the limit of experience.

I strongly suspect that both you and the Wub would prefer The Garden and ataraxia. More importantly, I now think I better understand how and why you fictionalized Epicurus’s philosophy in, at least, “Beyond Lies The Wub.” But I’m still working on why someone must play the role of Plato to your Socrates.
Would you give me a hint, or two?

Yours in Kipple,

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