Recent correspondence directed me to the fact that there is a Philosophy section in Scientific Blogging. This is something I have kept away from, since my view of the subject follows the Pooh-Goethe paradigm [1]. However, I have just read In The Beginning - A Rough Guide To A Physicalist View Of Everything which introduced the subject of metaphysics. Now it may be customary to think that metaphysics is “that which lies beyond physics”, so the more we get our physics right, the better the metaphysics. But then Darwin had a different perspective. In his Notebook M (1838) he wrote

He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.

Since the term seems to hark back to Aristotle, I thought “let’s see what he meant by it”, and found the following

The word derives from the Greek words μετά (metá) (meaning “beyond” or “after”) and φυσικά (physiká) (meaning “physical”), “physical” referring to those works on matter by Aristotle in antiquity. The prefix meta- (“beyond”) was attached to the chapters in Aristotle’s work that physically followed after the chapters on “physics”, in posthumously edited collections. Aristotle himself did not call these works Metaphysics. Aristotle called some of the subjects treated there “first philosophy”.

So a bit of confusion there. So what about the Persian king Artaxerxes, mentioned in the book of Nehemiah? Did he get that name because he came, so to speak, “Arta Xerxes”? Well here the confusion seems to come from the two names having been mangled by Greek historians.

It seems that in Old Persian Artaxerxes was called Artaxšacā, “whose reign is through arta (truth)”. He was, indeed the son of Xerxes 1, but in Old Persian that one was called Xšayāršā, which is understood to mean “Hero among rulers”. This is plausible, and both names contain the xša root (pronounced khsha) meaning sovereignty, from which the modern Shah was derived (at least until kicked out by Khomeini.)

But what about the “Arta” meaning “truth”? This sounds very like the Rta of Hinduism, as here:

In early Hinduism that conduct in men which can be called good consists in conformity to, or almost participation in, the Rta—that great ritual or pattern of nature and supernature which is revealed alike in the cosmic order, the moral virtues, and the ceremonial of the temple. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence to reality. As Plato said that the Good was ‘beyond existence’ and Wordsworth that through virtue the stars were strong, so the Indian masters say that the gods themselves are born of the Rta and obey it.

(This is from The Abolition of Man)

Indeed the two words are related, as Sanskrit and Old Persian / Avesta are closely related languages. So that would mean “King of Righteousness”. Now Bible reading folks will immediately think of Melchizedek, whose name means just that, and who crops up near the beginning, in the middle, and near the end of the Bible.

So what if Melchizedek or Ardeshir (as he is called in Modern Persian) were around today? I will leave it to other bloggers to deal with the big questions, and imagine him to be installed in Reading, where I live and work.

Recently, Reading Council put up some incomprehensible parking signs, and raked in money from unwitting parking offenders. Someone challenged this in court, and the court ruled that the signs were meaningless and ordered the council to pay the money back. But the council just sat there, and since the ordinary man has to fund court action out of his own pocket, while the council can soak the taxpayer, that’s where it’s stuck.

Now if we were a city-state, King Ardeshir might say “This is unrighteous. Pay the money back, O councillors, out of your own salaries, or face the Persian chop!” He would be popular with motorists, but would make enemies in high places, and might end up literally stabbed in the back. As it is written:

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. (Isaiah 59:15a)

There is an interesting book called The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley; but would anyone care to write a book on “The Evolution of Evil”?


[1] Pooh: On Monday, when the sun is hot / I wonder to myself a lot: / “Now is it true, or is it not, / “That what is which and which is what?”

Goethe: Mein Kind, ich hab’es klug gemacht, / Ich hab’ nie über das Denken gedacht 

(Perhaps simply paraphrased as “Don’t think about thought, M’boy!”)