Books Nature

Meditations on Hunting

Can’t remember how I came upon it, but I recently read Meditations on Hunting by philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, published in 1972 and apparently considered a classic in hunting literature. It isn’t really about hunting itself, but the philosophies that undergird it and the meaning it can provide.

I found great wisdom in these quotes, and not only as someone who has hunted a fair amount of duck and a little bit of deer in my life. Hunting is at once an ancient activity that fulfilled basic needs and an altogether modern one that demands one’s full attention and respect for the nature beyond ourselves.

Ortega y Gasset incisively captures this dichotomy and everything in between. Here are some quotes from the book that stood out to me.

On diversion:

“‘Diversion’ usually indicates only comfortable situations, to the extent that, used carelessly, it connotes ways of life completely free of hardship, free of risk, not requiring great physical effort nor a great deal of concentration. But the occupation of hunting, as carried on by a good hunter, involves precisely all of those things.”

On life’s occupations:

“The life that we are given has its minutes numbered, and in addition it is given to us empty. Whether we like it or not we have to fill it on our own; that is, we have to occupy it one way or another. Thus the essence of each life lies in its occupations.”

“The fact is that for almost all men the major part of life consists of obligatory occupations, chores which they would never do out of choice. Since this fate is so ancient and so constant, it would seem that man should have learned to adapt himself to it and consequently to find it charming. But he does not seem to have done so.”

“All this indicates that man, painfully submerged in his work or obligatory occupations, projects beyond them, imagines another kind of life consisting of very different occupations, in the execution of which he would not feel as if he were losing time, but, on the contrary, gaining it, filling it satisfactorily and as it should be filled. Opposite a life which annihilates itself and fails—a life of work—he erects the plan of a life successful in itself—a life of delight and happiness.”

On happiness:

“All men, in fact, feel called on to be happy, but in each individual that general call becomes concrete in the more or less singular profile in which happiness appears to him. Happiness is a life dedicated to occupations for which that individual feels a singular vocation. Immersed in them, he misses nothing; the whole present fills him completely, free from desire and nostalgia. Laborious activities are performed, not out of any esteem for them, but rather for the result that follows them, but we give ourselves to vocational occupations for the pleasure of them, without concern for the subsequent profit. For that reason we want them never to end. We would like to eternalize, to perennialize them. And, really, once absorbed in a pleasurable occupation, we catch a starry glimpse of eternity.”

On hunting’s code of ethics:

“Hunting, like all human occupations, has its different levels, and how little of the real work of hunting is suggested in words like diversion, relaxation, entertainment! … It involves a complete code of ethics of the most distinguished design; the hunter who accepts the sporting code of ethics keeps his commandments in the greatest solitude, with no witnesses or audience other than the sharp peaks of the mountain, the roaming cloud, the stern oak, the trembling juniper, and the passing animal. In this way hunting resembles the monastic rule or military order.”

On looking at past problems with today’s solutions:

“Every time man looks at a past life from his perspective of the present, he sees, alongside the problems that weighed upon it, the solutions which, for better or for worse, these problems received. And so it naturally seems that every past life was easier, less full of anguish, then the present life; it is a charade whose solution we possess beforehand.”

On the pleasure of ‘being Paleolithic’:

“This is the reason men hunt. When you are fed up with the troublesome present, with being ‘very twentieth century,’ you take your gun, whistle for your dog, go out to the mountain, and, without further ado, give yourself the pleasure during a few hours or a few days of being ‘Paleolithic.'”

“When we leave the city and go up on the mountains it is astounding how naturally and rapidly we free ourselves from the worries, temper, and ways of the real person we were, and the savage man springs anew in us. Our life seems to lose weight and the fresh and fragrant atmosphere of an adolescence circulates through it.”

On returning to nature:

“Man is a fugitive from Nature. He escaped from it and began to make history, which is trying to realize the imaginary, the improbable, perhaps the impossible. History is always made against the grain of Nature. The human being tries to rest from the enormous discomfort and all-embracing disquiet of history by “returning” transitorily, artificially, to Nature in the sport of hunting.”

On the physical senses of hunting (quoting Eduardo de Figueroa, 8th Count of Yebes):

“There is one of the hunter’s senses which must work indefatigably at all times. That is the sense of sight. Look, look, and look again; at all times, in all directions, and in all circumstances. Look as you go along; look while you are resting; look while you are eating or lighting a cigar; up, down, back over the ground you have just covered, at the hill crests, at the ledges and dells, with binoculars and the naked eye, and always be aware that if you know how to look, the beast that you have not found in eight hours of backbreaking work can appear within a hundred meters, when just at sunset, worn out and cursing your interest, you are taking off your shoes and caring for your aching feet in the door of a shelter or a tent. It’s good advice.”

On the need for attention and alertness:

“The hunter knows that he does not know what is going to happen, and this is one of the greatest attractions of his occupation. Thus he needs to prepare an attention of a different and superior style—an attention which does not consist in riveting itself on the presumed but consists precisely in not presuming anything and in avoiding inattentiveness. It is a “universal” attention, which does not inscribe itself on any point and tries to be on all points. There is a magnificent term for this, one that still conserves all its zest of vivacity and imminence: alertness. The hunter is the alert man.”

On seeing the “least foreseeable” solutions:

“The only man who truly thinks is the one who, when faced with a problem, instead of looking only straight ahead, toward what habit, tradition, the commonplace, and mental inertia would make one assume, keeps himself alert, ready to accept the fact that the solution might spring from the least foreseeable spot on the great rotundity of the horizon.”

Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 190-199: Go west, young philosopher

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 190 Modern Western philosophy
  • 191 Modern Western philosophy of the United States and Canada
  • 192 Modern Western philosophy of the British Isles
  • 193 Modern Western philosophy of Germany and Austria
  • 194 Modern Western philosophy of France
  • 195 Modern Western philosophy of Italy
  • 196 Modern Western philosophy of Spain and Portugal
  • 197 Modern Western philosophy of the former Soviet Union
  • 198 Modern Western philosophy of Scandinavia
  • 199 Modern Western philosophy in other geographic areas

As we round the final bend of the 100s Tributary (of the Dewey River in the United States of Libraries), let’s take a moment to enjoy the scenery of this particular ecosystem of knowledge we’ve paddled through in the last ten posts. We’ve had our minds blown by huge universal ideas and by the paradox of formerly infinity; we’ve given a new (and probably better) definition of physiognomy and sat on Freud’s couch; and above all we’ve learned that there is so much to learn.

When we’re dealing with trying to capture and organize the sum of human knowledge, I’d say that’s a logical and humbling lesson to let sink in as we venture further into the Deweybyss. Or, to put it as one of the Dew3 picks does, let us move forward with fear and trembling as we get ready to tackle one of the two topics traditionally off-limits at Thanksgiving dinner: religion (the other being politics – we’re coming for you, 320s).

For now, though, let us enjoy the relative tranquility provided by the civil and introspective discussions of the 190s.

The Dew3:

The Book of Dead Philosophers
By Simon Critchley
Dewey: 190
Random Sentence: “He was, in G.K. Chesterton’s words, ‘a huge bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet.’”

Fear and Trembling: And, the Sickness Unto Death
By Soren Kierkegaard
Dewey: 198.9
Random Sentence: “Is this utterance publici juris, or is it a privatissimum?”

Talking With Sartre: Conversations and Debates
By John Gerassi
Dewey: 194
Random Sentence: “Ah, concrete situations!”

Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 180-189: Questions, questions

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 180 Ancient, medieval, and Eastern philosophy
  • 181 Eastern philosophy
  • 182 Pre-Socratic Greek philosophies
  • 183 Socratic and related philosophies
  • 184 Platonic philosophy
  • 185 Aristotelian philosophy
  • 186 Skeptic and Neoplatonic philosophies
  • 187 Epicurean philosophy
  • 188 Stoic philosophy
  • 189 Medieval Western philosophy

I admit that I haven’t been exposed much to ancient philosophy, outside of that college philosophy class I’ve mentioned. I remember being especially taken by Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and its take on friendship. I love learning about different taxonomies and ways of looking at things we take for granted or don’t really think about that much. Like, what does love actually mean? What does it mean to genuinely love someone? When you start asking fundamental questions about the big yet basic elements of life, you begin quite the journey that will end either with your total enlightenment or a complete mental breakdown. Here’s hoping it’s the former.

The Dew3:

How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life: The Ancient Greek Prescription for Health and Happiness
By Nicholas Kardaras
Dewey: 180
Random Sentence: “But these sorts of abilities are possible–for those very special white crows.”

Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy
By Christopher Phillips
Dewey: 183.2
Random Sentence: “‘A hundred just sounds right,’ she says, affecting a seraphic grin.”

Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice
By Charlotte Bell
Dewey: 181.45
Random Sentence: “I didn’t think about the orange-clad long-distance walker again until six years later.”

Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 140-149: The sexiest of all -isms

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 140 Philosophical schools of thought
  • 141 Idealism and related systems
  • 142 Critical philosophy
  • 143 Bergsonism and intuitionism
  • 144 Humanism and related systems
  • 145 Sensationalism
  • 146 Naturalism and related systems
  • 147 Pantheism and related systems
  • 148 Liberalism, eclecticism, and traditionalism
  • 149 Other philosophical systems

Of all the subtopics in 140-149, pantheism has the coolest name by far. Its definition and substance are certainly debatable, but having nearly all of the word panther in it makes it the coolest and sexiest of all -isms. (Admittedly not a high bar to hit.)

For probably the first time in Dewey thus far, the number of words in this 10-spot that end in “-ism” far outnumber those that don’t. Translation: It’s about to get ideological up in her’. This is not to say that ideology is bad; it’s simply incomplete most of the time, or limited in its understanding of the world. Believing in only one -ism is impossible, but once you start collecting them your box of -isms becomes a cluttered hoard of old toys that don’t always play well with each other.

So be smart with your -isms, everyone!

The Dew3:

Dancing in the Dark: Romance, Yearning, and the Search for the Sublime
By Barbara Lazear Ascher
Dewey: 141.6
Random Sentence: “‘She’s not in my way, Terrence,’ says Banana Moon Cake Man.’ ”

Hope in the Age of Anxiety
By Anthony Scioli
Dewey: 149.5
Random Sentence: “Hope lets you breathe a little easier.”

The Essential Transcendentalists
Edited by Richard Geldard
Dewey: 141.3
Random Sentence: “No sun illumines me, for I dissolve all lesser lights in my own intenser and steadier light.”

Books Libraries Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 100-109: Don’t know much philosophy

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

The Rundown:

  • 100 Philosophy and psychology
  • 101 Theory of philosophy
  • 102 Miscellany of philosophy
  • 103 Dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy
  • 104 No longer used—formerly Essays
  • 105 Serial publications of philosophy
  • 106 Organizations and management of philosophy
  • 107 Education, research, and related topics of philosophy
  • 108 Kinds of persons in philosophy
  • 109 Historical treatment of philosophy

Ahhhhhh… Sam Cooke. Melodically justifying ignorance since 1960. But those of us who don’t know much about philosophy are in luck: Dewey’s got us covered. Having conquered the first 100 Dewey points, we now enter the mind-melting glass case of cognition dedicated to Philosophy and Psychology. This first 10-spot focuses on philosophy, its theories and important historical figures. If you’re like me, you’re now having flashbacks to that Philosophy 101 course you took freshman year that was very stimulating but also made your brain hurt after every session and where you learned how to extend two pages’ worth of substantive arguments into 10 pages of grade-A high-falutin’ BS. (Or was that just me?)

Anyway, I really am fascinated by philosophy, even if I’m not cut out to study it hardcore. (I’m also noticing that it’s a super annoying word to type, at least for hunt-and-pecker like me. For the last time, hands, it’s not philospohy!) A lot of the books in my library were dedicated to making philosophy accessible to laypeople, which is good because it’s often not. Still, it is everywhere, even when it’s not evident. Just ask the Philosoraptor.

The Dew3:

Plato and A Platypus Walk Into A Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes
By Thomas Cathcart
Dewey: 102 CAT
Random Sentence: “Curiously, Camus looked a lot like Humphrey Bogart.”

The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer
Edited by William Irwin et al.
Dewey: 100 SIM
Random Sentence: “Can Nietzche’s rejection of traditional morality justify Bart’s bad behavior?”

Astonish Yourself! 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life
By Roger Pol-Droit
Dewey: 100 DRO
Random Sentence: “Do not step out of that shower jet’s narrow circle.”


it made sense in my head

The issue of predestination v. free will is inexplicably tied to the issue of evolution v. creationism. Are we here just because we are? Or has our existence been thoroughly planned? A Calvinist would say that we are entirely “on purpose” while an Arminianist would say that we’re completely free from God’s control. In reality, we get a little bit of both.

I haven’t quite figured out why we’re here (and I don’t know if I ever will), but it’s pretty clear to me that we didn’t come from nothing. Even science proves that; matter cannot be completely created or destroyed. Venturing further would require a deeper philosophical discussion, so I guess the point is; we were created, then let be.

God extends his grace to all who wish to accept it–he can’t force you to acknowledge him. But in terms of this world we’ve been placed in, I think God created it and everything in it through a divine process, started spinning the world on its axis, then let it go on its own. He creates every one of us, then lets us decide.

This theory supports both a Calvinist and Arminianist. We are created and equipped with certain attributes that complement and are complemented by a divine presence, but in terms of free will, we are given a great deal. The world spins on its own, and so do we. Why would a divine presence create a living thing only to expect it to remain eternally stagnant and lifeless? Are we not able to grow physically, spiritually, and mentally? Why can’t the world grow as well?

As humans and the earth interact, be it symbiotically or parasitically, so do humans and God. We can choose to believe that everything we do is completely out of our control, that this earth has not changed for however long it’s been in existence, or that we can change it, and choose to change it as we wish. Who knows if any of this makes sense. It made sense in my head.

Etc. Life

Right you are, Aristotle

We’re reading Nicomachaen Ethics in my Philosophy 100 class. In Book IX Aristotle talks about friendship and what it requires. The three kinds of friendship he describes are:

1. utility: where each party finds something of use in the other
2. pleasure: whether it be simply enjoying each others company or sharing a common interest
3. complete: where self-interest is put aside and total moral virtue towards each other is key.

Aristotle claims that one should only have very few complete friendships for they require a lot of work and attention to keep strong. It was also said that there should be no justice among complete friends, meaning one shouldn’t expect everything to remain even. We should be willing to do anything for our friends even if that means not being at even with them. That being said, there are certain necessities for friendship:

-there should be a conscious reciprocity, meaning that the love within the friendship should be able to go both ways
-and that doing things for your friend isn’t something done merely out of goodwill for them. We should be willing to do those things out of complete love for them and not out of charity.

The reason I’m writing about this is because after I heard all of this, I realized that my friendships are always like this. I always seem to need justice within my friendships. This feeling probably comes from the pride within all of us. CS Lewis talked about pride in Mere Christianity as an ugly beast inside of us that works completely against all the good we hope for. It therefore is linked to humility. I want to be able to serve and love my friends without the expectation of eventual justice. It’s a daily battle I think we all fight.

That’s my two pennies.