Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I graduated from university today. I shook hands with David Peterson in the cavernous but stately Convocation Hall (I've never called it by its proper name), which looked a lot better than the dimly lit grotto from my first day of class four years ago. Peterson is a former premier of Ontario and now chancellor of the University of Toronto, or something like that.

Peterson: Congratulations, you did very well. What're you going to do now?
Adeel: Uh, ah, journalist?
Peterson: Journalist? [gesturing to the honorary degree recipient] Did you hear what he said about journalists?
Adeel: Uh, yeah, but I don't really--
Peterson: You don't want to be an academic like him?
Adeel: No, I actually, uh, didn't get into grad school.
Peterson: Oh, well, just don't become a politician.
Adeel: Don't worry, I won't.

Anyway, I thought I would try and put together ten things I learned, ten actual things, not meaningless aphorisms like "it's not what you know, but who you know" or "life is like a box of chocolates". I have one each in honour of my nine semesters, plus two for the first semester of third-year, which I found particularly rigorous.

1. There is a difference between what you can do and what you ought to do.

2. Ideas are more real than physical objects because of the imperfections in the real world. The idea of a circle, a shape consisting of points equidistant from a centre, is more real than the circle you might draw, where the points will not be equidistant from the centre. Or so says Plato.

3. The best things are the ones you desire for themselves, not what they bring you. The best thing, therefore, is happiness, because no one ever wants to be happy for something else, but you'll do everything else to be happy.

4. Happiness is not a subjective feeling from minute to minute, but a state of being best described as flourishing. Flourishing comes about from doing the sort of things that you're meant to do, such as doing horsely things if you happen to be a horse.

5. The single most important question in the world is how we ought to live, which is the subject matter of ethics, which is the same thing as morality. My favourite professor once joked that, in popular usage, ethics has to do with money and morality has to do with sex.

6. There are things which exist independent of you and your beliefs about their existence, such as the continent of Australia, and there are ideas which are not things or objects and lack this independent existence.

7. The capital of Mozambique is Maputo.

8. There is nothing about our world that is so different from that of Socrates, Plato or Aristotle that what they say is irrelevant.

9. The only mammals that are not vivaporous and don't bear live young are platypus and porcupines. This was an example drilled into my head over and over when defining science as "the commensurately universal properties of species and their genera".

10. Plato coined the word 'quality' in Theaetetus. Seriously. Before Theaetetus, no one had ever thought of using that word.

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