Martin and Frederick are sitting in a library. They have laptops in front of them.

Martin: How long have you been studying philosophy?

Frederick: A year or so.

Martin:Oh? What have you read? Enjoyed?

Frederick: Mostly the ancient stuff. Plato is fun to read, because it's like a story. I think the way some Athenians respond to Socrates are similar to how people today would respond.

Martin: And Post-platonian writing? Is it just a bore?

Frederick: Boring? Well, different, obviously. Plato builds a scene, presents philosophy as a conversation, something that only happens between two people. When you read Aristotle, you get a logical breakdown of his ideas, but it all seems pointless if you just know his thesis.

Martin: So its your position that thinkers after plato lose the conversational aspect of writing philosophy?

Frederick: I guess you could say that.

Martin: But isn’t all philosophical writing after plato a response to previous philosophers? And isn’t responding to something that has previously been said the essence of conversation?

Frederick: Well, the essence of conversation? That's debatable, but I see your point. Philosophy on a historical timeline is a conversation, whereas Plato’s dialogues are also conversation.

Martin: Plato’s dialogues, you say. I’m guessing you haven’t read Republic.

Frederick: Huh? Of course I have. That and Symposium.

Martin: Oh, those aren’t typically referred to as dialogues. What interests you about Republic?

Frederick: I think Plato’s aesthetic philosophy has some merit, especially if we consider art to be didactic in essence. Imitation can be very misleading. You see it in politics even. People act like they know what they’re talking about, and they’re super convincing but totally incompetent.

Martin: That’s weird. You mention aesthetics, but Republic is better known for political philosophy. And the allegory of the cave, which is sort of epistemological.

Frederick: I guess you’re right. But now that you mention it, doesn’t Republic also deal with moral philosophy?

Martin: You have a point. I guess it’s hard to say the work deals with any one subject in philosophy, or even focuses on one subject.

Frederick: Besides, Plato’s art philosophy and moral philosophy are connected aren’t they?

Martin: Well, its hard to say its not all connected. The categories we typically use to distinguish philosophical thought: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ontology, Aesthetics, Moral, Political all appear in one work - the Republic.

Frederick: I guess that's another way in which Aristotle’s works differ from Plato’s.

Martin: Hmm. Yeah. It’s hard to say what philosophy would be today if Aristotle didn’t write in the way he did. Anyway, what else have you read?

Frederick: Camus and Dostoevsky. I liked The Stranger. It was a quick read, and easy to understand.

Martin: You know The Stranger is a novel, right? And I don’t recall any philosophical essays or books written by Dostoevsky.

Frederick: Right. But like we were just talking about with Plato. He doesn’t write essays like Aristotle and he’s still a philosopher. Why not novelists?

Martin: Well, wouldn’t that muddle the boundary between philosophy and literature?

Frederick: I guess, but it's hard to pin down the evolution in styles of writing in any field, right? Isn’t the way Hegel writes drastically different from his predecessors?

Martin: You’ve read Hegel then? We’re talking about Modern Philosophy now?

Frederick: Well, I haven’t read Hegel, but I’ve heard his approach to philosophy is largely based on analyzing history.

Martin: This is true.

Frederick: So if literature is different from philosophy in a few ways. This warrants differentiation. Historical analysis is different from philosophy, but this doesn’t warrant differentiation? I don’t get it.

Martin: You’re confusing me as well. Anyway, tell me more about you’ve read.

Frederick: Well, since literature is apparently off limits, I’ve hardly read anything else. I’ve read a few essays on modern philosophy and know a bit about Medieval philosophy.

Martin: What do you know about Medieval philosophy?

Frederick: It’s mostly theological based, isn’t it? Heavily influenced by Christianity. Also heavily influenced by Aristotle, but I’d say the defining characteristic is religion.

Martin: Is religion philosophy, then?

Frederick: I’d say so. Both are concerned with how people live their lives. In many ways, religion is philosophy. The two can hardly be distinguished, really.

Martin: Yet they are different.

Frederick: Listen, this study group is starting to sound pointless. It seems like you’re trying to establish a narrow definition of what philosophy is. Doesn’t that sort of obstruct our efforts to learn this?

Martin: But it is equally pointless to begin without a clear outline of what we’re studying. Why don’t we throw in astrophysics, psychology, and table making in addition to literature and religion.

Frederick: You know at some point in history, all of those subject you just mentioned have been considered a form of philosophy.

Martin: Please, this is the twenty first century.
Frederick: Hold on.

Frederick stands up from the table and walks down an aisle. Martin follows him. They are standing between two large bookshelves. Frederick hunts for something on the shelf and finally extracts a volume, showing it to Martin.

Martin: The Confessions of Saint Augustine?

Frederick: Yes. A philosophical work with both storytelling and religious elements.

Martin: Hm. Is this the medieval philosophy section?

Frederick: I think so.

Martin: Wait. What is this? The Holy Bible? Creationism? The reformation? This section seems to be about Christian theology.

Frederick: But there's a few scholarly books too. This one’s about the writings of Aquinas and Augustine. Medieval philosophy.

Martin: Come with me.

They leave the bookshelves and walk further down, entering another section of bookshelves.

Martin: Check this out. It’s Plato and Aristotle. And right here, a few shelves away are books on medieval philosophy. Here’s Aquinas again.

Frederick: This is borderline nonsense, then. They’ve practically divided the works on medieval philosophy into two sections.

Martin: That may be the case. But consider the rest of this area of the library. I can walk from here, down to the other side of the room and practically walk through a chronologically accurate timeline of philosophical history.

They find another section of bookshelves, this time walking towards where they started.

Frederick: Hey, check it out. Its Nietzsche. And Heidegger. And Cassirer. Modern Philosophy.

Martin: I’d say so.

Frederick: Where’s Dostoevsky? He and Nietzsche’s ideas are practically identical. Oh. Right. He’s in the russian literature section.

Martin: It feels like visualizing the boundaries between ideas is difficult.

Frederick: I agree.

Martin: It’s too abstract most of the time. Like you were saying, literature, in addition to many other forms of writing, contains philosophy and the generation of new ideas.

Frederick: Yeah. There is practically no end to the connections that can be drawn between any given piece of writing in relation to the whole of human writings. In many ways, a technical document illustrating the use of a lawn mower is similar to Ulysses.

Martin: Haha. Sure. Nonetheless, decisions are constantly being made to distinguish them. And now that I think of it, a place like this helps with that.

Frederick: What do you mean?

Martin: Well first of all, a decision has been made as to what type of writing appears in this library. It is devoted to academic purposes.

Frederick: Mostly, anyway. We do have extensive records of the university’s publications devoted to student life.

Martin: Sure, but it's not on this floor. It’s somewhere else. Those records cannot physically exist anywhere but on their floor. Unless you made millions of copies. But then again, navigating through that much redundancy would practically defeat the whole purpose of creating such a place like this in the first place.

Frederick: I see what you mean. But when materials do appear in two different places, it can get confusing. Like we just saw with Medieval philosophy.

Martin: But how confusing is that, really? Do you think the way medieval philosophy is organized here is a huge blunder by the librarians?

Frederick: What else could it be?

Martin: Well, first of all, consider the library as a whole

Frederick: Its a building.

Martin: It has four floors.

Frederick: Yes.

Martin: And different sections of shelves, so that they appear as separate entities.

Frederick: Sure.

Martin: And individual bookshelves.

Frederick: Sure.

Martin: Then the levels of shelves on those shelves.

Frederick: Indeed.

Martin: Now consider that this whole section of bookshelves, clearly dedicated primarily to philosophy. Medieval philosophy shows up in slightly different areas of this row of bookshelves.

Frederick: I think I see what you’re getting at. Similar items are placed in different areas, but they’re still in a common place, namely, the fourth floor in this row of shelves.

Martin: Even with your Nietzsche and Dostoevsky comparison. The two authors both appear on this floor, which means to some degree they’re more related than something that appears on another floor.

Frederick. But what if your resources and space is theoretically unlimited? In such a case what's stopping you from considering every element of a given work?

Martin: Well, consider the search directory on the library website. Certain keywords assist your search.

Frederick: And that helps with the relationship between items, but I mean more broadly, you know?

Martin: Explain.

Frederick: Imagine an infinite library, with duplicated materials like you mentioned. In such a library, you would walk to the fifth floor, which is dedicated to Existentialism. Then you walk to the sixtieth floor, dedicated to 19th century literature. Then let's say you walk to the one hundred and fortieth floor, dedicated to works which include precisely three thousand four hundred and seventy eight instances of the word “the.” Now, the same works by Dostoevsky appears on all three floors. What then?

Martin: Physically impossible.

Frederick: Not necessarily. Well, what do you think?

Martin: I think that even if such a structure were possible, it would defeat the purpose. Even with a wealth of resources like you describe, a human cannot possibly be expected to navigate something like that. And the information would be redundant.

Frederick. I guess I see your point.

Martin: But then again, if we’re talking about hypothetical bookshelves, then what about ones that constantly rearrange?

Frederick: Huh?

Martin: Well let's say the library is one room. And you walk into the room and say “Create a bookshelf of books written on or about existentialism.” That would certainly be useful. Then you would finally have Dostoevsky in the same place as Nietzsche, however transient.

Frederick: Finally.
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