Eliot Grasso; Colloquy a Conversation with Guttenberg College
Eliot Grasso is the vice president and a
tutor at Gutenberg College. He holds
an M.A. in ethnomusicology from the
Irish World Academy of Music and
Dance and a Ph.D. in musicology from
the University of Oregon.
This article has been adapted from
a talk he gave at the 2020 Gutenberg
College Commencement Ceremony.
When the average person thinks of philosophy, he may
think of ivory towers, navel-gazing, incoherent claptrap,
rhetoric, solipsism, skepticism, sophistry, or straight-up good
old-fashioned wasting-one’s-time. While there are plenty of
people who do and have done those things (and worse) in the
name of philosophy, they are—at least as I will define it—not
really doing philosophy at all.
I define philosophy as the art of closing the gap between
appearances and reality. Reality I define as anything that has
happened, is happening, or will happen.
“But Eliot,” you may say, “how is a philosopher supposed
to close such a gap given man’s obvious limitations?” You may
say, furthermore, that reality is the sort of thing that requires interpretation, and there are so many options. I grant that this is true—reality is vast and perspectives abound. So I suppose I ought to propose an optimal frame of reference for reality.
The frame of reference that I have in mind is omniscient, and it exists outside of time and space. It is not swayed by public opinion or propaganda. This frame of reference recognizes the purpose and intent of all things. It is not limited by physical needs or defects. Th is frame of reference is good—not categorically, but definitively. The perspective that I propose is God’s. God’s perspective is perfect and complete. Nothing escapes His
observation. All elements are weighed and prioritized appropriately. There is nothing to improve, refine, or expand.
I will concede that to do philosophy as I have defined it is not easy. To take even the first step one must be willing to consider that there might be significant differences between how things appear to one and how things actually are. To begin to do philosophy is to recognize that in the world as I encounter it, there is truth and there is untruth and that I may need to work to sort out the difference. This sort of work, however challenging,
is preferable to the alternative—not doing it. For not doing it is as perilous as sleeping during a swim in the middle of the ocean.
Some may imagine that they are quite well-informed about how things actually are—that the gap between appearances and reality is not as wide as we might think. Given my own experience with philosophy, however, it seems to me, at least, that quite often the gap in one’s mind between appearances and reality can make the Grand Canyon look like a
crack in the sidewalk. For instance, it might appear as though you are sitting perfectly still.
However, astronomers claim that we are currently spinning at 1,000 miles an hour on the surface of the earth. Yet you feel nothing. Likewise, it would appear that you are sitting on solid furniture. Physicists, however, would argue that what you are sitting on is mostly empty space made of indeterminate electron clouds, protons, and neutrons. Yet you feel
something. Things are not always what they seem—appearances can be deceiving. This is not because God is a deceptive God. It is we who, in our profound un-Godlikeness, are deceptive. With the wrong questions, assumptions, and definitions, we can spend years practicing the wrong way of looking at things—telling ourselves that we are awake when we are actually asleep and that our dreams are reality. In order to acknowledge
this, the philosopher has to accept a rather unflattering picture of himself. Coming to grips with the self will pose recurrent problems for the one who takes up philosophy because he will always be tempted to prefer his own perspective to God’s.
Eliot’s Entire Work is Worth Reading