Sunday, 23 June 2013

Nicholas Van Rijn, Philosopher?

In Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978), Nicholas van Rijn's granddaughter struggles to explain the history of the Polesotechnic League. Van Rijn comments:

"'You remind me of the final examination in the philosophy class, my dear...The single question was, "Why?" You got an A if you answered, "Why not?" You got a B if you answered, "Because." Any other answer got a C.'" (p. 132)

Van Rijn is a Master Merchant, Polesotechnic League. I am a philosophy graduate. I think that the A answer should be, "Why what?" "Why - ?" without any content after the "Why" is not a complete question so cannot have an answer.

If the question means "Why does anything exist?", then perhaps this question is as meaningless and unanswerable as "Where is everything?" Any one part of existence is either located or explained by its relationships to other parts so the question becomes pointless if applied to everything. I think.

In that case, maybe "Why not?" is not too bad an answer. Chinese philosophy has the idea of a void from which everything comes. Hegel argued that the most abstract thesis and antithesis, being and nothing, are identical. Modern physics has particles continually beginning and ceasing in empty space.

Rig Veda says, "That god who sees in highest heaven, he alone knows. Or perhaps he knows not."

13 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I think the answer is far simpler, Nicholas van Rijn was merely being ironic or sardonic.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    Of course. But I can't help thinking about the question anyway!
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Understood! I'm reminded of how the "Introduction" to THE VAN RIJN METHOD even mentions how collections were made of the sayings and shrewd malapropisms of van Rijn to help teach business and economic principles. And, I'm sure philosopical nuances can be found in such a collection of van Rijn's sayings.

      I think you have a copy of this edition, maybe you could check if I'm recalling the editor's comments rightly.

      Sean

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  3. THE VAN RIJN METHOD: Without reading the Introduction through word for word, all I can find is the suggestion that someone might collect "classic van Rijnisms" in a short book. But your memory does ring a bell with me. Maybe it is in one of the other Baen Books Introductions?

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  4. Hi, Paul!

    Thanks! I'm almost sure I came across somebody saying a collection of van Rijn's sayings were made. Perhaps in the David Falkayn book?

    Sean

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  5. I can't find it there either but it still rings a bell.

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  6. I have found it. In Baen Vol II, the Falkayn book, in the Afterword to "Lodestar", PA writes: "...the series became study material for a graduate seminar in management!" (p. 681)

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      That's it! It was in an Afterword, not an Introduction. I wondered who compiled this "study material" and whether it could be made available for a wider public?

      Sean

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  7. My reading of the Afterword is that the van Rijn series itself became recommended reading for a graduate seminar rather than that someone else derived study material from it.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      True, I responded too hastily. All the same, a collection of van Rijn's sayings and unexpectedly apt malapropisms would be a good idea.

      Sean

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  8. Was van Rijn the philosophy professor, or a student? If he was a student, "Van Rijn is a Master Merchant, Polesotechnic League. I am a philosophy graduate." is moot. But I think I'd respect an aged Master Merchant's philosophy over some graduate who counts primarily on the opinions of others; the only education you get is what you take for yourself, not what is waved over your head while you recover from your hangover. *grins* Of course, there's no fool like an old fool.

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  9. Michael,
    Philosophy graduates certainly need to learn a lot from experienced, practical men like van Rijn.
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Michael!

      I'm glad to see another person commenting here. My belief is the more who do so the more insights we can gain from the works of Poul Anderson and those of other authors whose books are discussed here. Or simply to express admiration and gratitude for the pleasure those works have given us.

      Sean

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