Zach Sneddon

Philosophy: A Conversation

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." --William Blake, first Proverb of Hell

In a sprawling Babylonian citadel, three men stand on one tier of a large mud brick ziggurat. One, overweight, bearded, and dressed in flamboyant blue robes, is discussing matters of the soul with two fit men in the common garb of soldiers.

GARGAMEL: Look at you, man! You are fat, and slow, and you reek of sour wine! How dare you claim moral superiority over we, two of the god-king's men?!

MARMADUKE: Aye, ye slovenly pig, answer for yourself, or by Ishtar's rosy teats my bronze will find your heart!

NIZRAEL: You mistake me, gentle sirs! I do not claim moral superiority over the likes of you! I merely chanced that perhaps I followed the will of the soul more closely than any of you or your kin.

MARMADUKE: What know ye of the will of the soul?

NIZRAEL: I know nothing! But listen, and I shall tell you what I think.

GARGAMEL: Get on with it, then.

NIZRAEL: I shall, presently. First of all, let me ask you gentlemen, what is the soul?

MARMADUKE: It's the spirit of a man, the part which lives forever!

GARGAMEL: Yeah, it's that which knows, and learns, and decides, and goes on forever and ever. It gives us life.

NIZRAEL: So you agree then that the soul is that part of us which is aware of itself, and of the outside world, and which controls our actions, and which makes us alive?

GARGAMEL: Of course, of course! What has this got to do with the price of wheat in Persia?

NIZRAEL: If you will but have patience with me and my tendency to ramble, I think perhaps we might arrive at some concurrence. Where would you say the soul lives?

MARMADUKE: That's an easy one! In the heart, of course, swelling the breast when the mood is high!

GARGAMEL: Yes, I'd say the heart.

NIZRAEL: What would you think if I were to say I believed the soul of a man lived in his brain?


GARGAMEL: You truly are daft, you old goatherd. That mass of soft gray porridge in our skulls is no good but for curing the hides of our enemies.

NIZRAEL: Be that as it may, let me tell you why I think so. Can a man who is wounded in the breast live?

MARMADUKE: It's happened many a time, if'n the flesh-rot don't set in.

GARGAMEL: I myself was struck to the heart in battle seven years hence, but the grace of Marduk let me live yet.

NIZRAEL: So it may happen, then.

BOTH: Yeah.

NIZRAEL: Tell me, does a man who has his brain directly injured ever live?

GARGAMEL: Hmm.... I've never seen it happen.

MARMADUKE: I seen it happen once, this guy got a mace upside the noggin' that broke his crown. He lived, though the wound never did mesh rightly. Seems I recall he was always an imbecile after that, though.

GARGAMEL: Oh yeah, I remember that guy. Eerie the way he'd stagger about drooling and mumbling to himself.

NIZRAEL: And what could cause a man to lose his mental faculties? Surely no mere physical injury could do that to a man, could it?

GARGAMEL: No, I suppose not.

MARMADUKE: I reckon you're prob'ly right.

NIZRAEL: Then it would have to be an injury directly to the soul that caused such effects?

GARGAMEL: Looking at it that way, I suppose you may have something there.


NIZRAEL: And thus the soul must reside within the brain?

GARGAMEL: For the sake of argument, let's say yes.

MARMADUKE: I'll go along with that for now.

NIZRAEL: And we agree that the soul can be directly injured?

MARMADUKE: Didn't we just say so?

GARGAMEL: I had thought we covered that already.

NIZRAEL: Yes, yes, you must humor me, for I am fat and slow. Now tell me, what makes something immortal?

MARMADUKE: That it goes on forever!

GARGAMEL: I suppose that whatever it is would have to be indestructible.

NIZRAEL: And the soul is immortal?

MARMADUKE: That's what everyone's always told us.

GARGAMEL: Of course it is.

NIZRAEL: But didn't we just say that the soul can be injured?

MARMADUKE: Uh, yeah!

GARGAMEL: I suppose we did.

NIZRAEL: And thus the soul cannot be immortal?

GARGAMEL: But... if the soul isn't immortal. what happens when we die?

MARMADUKE: Yeah, what he said!

NIZRAEL: Surely you gentlemen must sleep on occasion?

MARMADUKE: Yeah, Gargie here took a nap at his post just last night.

GARGAMEL: Shut up, you lummox! Yes, we do sleep.

NIZRAEL: And have you never had a dreamless sleep, one in which you know nothing, you remember nothing? One during which you are nothing?

MARMADUKE: Yeah, sure.

GARGAMEL: I usually sleep that way.

NIZRAEL: And who's to say death isn't like that?

MARMADUKE: What, a dreamless sleep? When do we wake up?

GARGAMEL: No, oaf, he means nothingness, he means not being!

NIZRAEL: Yes, that is precisely what I mean.


GARGAMEL: Hmmm.... But what about all the priests and priestesses with their holy visions and oracles and portents? Surely they aren't lying to us?

NIZRAEL: No, Gargamel, they believe what they say. But then, when you were very young, didn't you believe that Tiamat was at your mother's beck and call, to come and gobble you up if you ever misbehaved? Who's to say they aren't hallucinating, as someone in a fever-dream, or one who has eaten the blackened rye?

MARMADUKE: You mean to say they could all be wrong?

NIZRAEL: Yes, that is precisely what I mean.

GARGAMEL: I... I see where your argument has some merit....

NIZRAEL: And what, then, should we do with our lives, if we cease to exist when we die?

MARMADUKE: You've lost me here. What?

GARGAMEL: Why, we should strive to be happy, of course!

NIZRAEL: Precisely! And what makes one happy?

MARMADUKE: Some of them priestess lasses over at the temple of Aruru could make me smile....

GARGAMEL: Just generally enjoying yourself....

NIZRAEL: So what makes us happy is that which gives us pleasure?

MARMADUKE: Sounds good to me.

GARGAMEL: Yes, that's right.

NIZRAEL: So what we should do with our lives is seek that which gives us pleasure, and pursue it till our deaths?

GARGAMEL: Of course! That makes perfect sense!

NIZRAEL: Of course it should. It's the simplest thing in the world.

MARMADUKE: But what about dyin' and all? Shouldn't we fear death?

NIZRAEL: Would you fear a dreamless sleep?

MARMADUKE: No, never.

NIZRAEL: And what did we liken death to earlier in our discussion?

MARMADUKE: A dreamless sleep.... Oh, now I take your meaning!

GARGAMEL: I see. From this point of view, though, everyone could be gallivanting about making whoopee, and nothing would ever get done! The state would fall into ruin and disrepair!

NIZRAEL: Not necessarily, as I see it. Can we not teach our children certain attitudes, that they carry on throughout their lives?

GARGAMEL: Yes, of course. But again, what has this to do with the price of wheat in Persia?

NIZRAEL: What if we were to educate our children to receive the most pleasure from giving pleasure to others?

GARGAMEL: Well, I suppose everyone would be making each other happy.

NIZRAEL: And is not comfort a great factor in happiness?

GARGAMEL: Indubitably.

NIZRAEL: So everyone would be, in part, making each other comfortable?

GARGAMEL: Yes, of course.

NIZRAEL: And does not comfort depend upon the trades and arts? Who would be comfortable without farmers harvesting wheat and rye for bread, and barley and hops for the sacred beer, and grapes for the wine?

GARGAMEL: No one I suppose.

NIZRAEL: And would any be comfortable without the carpenters building walls around them and roofs over them?

GARGAMEL: No, I suppose not.

NIZRAEL: And surely the state would not be happy without certain of its members protecting it from outside harm, the soldiery and constables and such?

GARGAMEL: No, most indisputably not.

NIZRAEL: And if everyone held pleasure as the highest virtue, and everyone received the most pleasure from giving others pleasure, then the state would run itself, would it not?

GARGAMEL: More than likely it would. You make a strong argument.

MARMADUKE: You got me convinced. I think.

NIZRAEL: Come, then, good sirs, let us be off to Aruru's temple, that we may share pleasures with the priestesses there.

MARMADUKE: Aye, let's!


Mt. Koltz, from Final Fantasy III


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