Philosophy for plebeians and commoners


Like all great men, Pythagoras’ brilliance was tainted by some rather minor character flaws.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If, by chance, you happen into a conversation about philosophy with a philosophy major, often times the conversation will forcibly shifted towards how they see their studies as criminally undervalued by the rest of academia and that philosophy is the most useful degree in existence. From experience, I feel that I can say definitively that the only concept held to be universal among all philosophers is the belief that everyone needs to take them more seriously. Given that these ideas are backed by many brilliant thinkers whom I need not question, I’ve decided to use my prestigious platform as a humor writer for a school newspaper to provide a public service—to enlighten the layman and the dilettante so that they might better appreciate the brilliance of the philosophical mind. To do that, we shall start our journey in the birthplace of philosophy: the genius of Ancient Greece. 

Now, there were men before Greek civilization who dabbled in this subject, but the schools of thought devised in the empires of China and India are paltry compared to the works of minds reared in the intellectually stimulating environment of constantly warring city states with economies built solely upon slavery and alcohol. It was from this scintillating environment that one of the first notable philosophers of our story arose, a humble Ionian named Pythagoras. 

Pythagoras was a brilliant mathematician, to such an extent that geometry teachers have used the theorem that bears his name to antagonize 7th graders for over two thousand years. That was not all, though: Pythagoras also devised the Theory of Proportions, the Five Regular Solids, proofs using pure mathematics, and Pythagorean Tuning. That said, like all great men, Pythagoras’ brilliance was tainted by some rather minor character flaws. For starters, he was a brutal totalitarian cult leader who based his doctrines upon a bizarre combination of mathematics and esotericism—for instance, they threw a man off a boat for telling the world about the dodecahedron, which was their equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant. Secondly, Pythagoras was strict vegetarian who strongly believed in metempsychosis (The Greek version of reincarnation). To top all of this off, he had an inexplicable hatred for beans and wouldn’t let any of his followers eat them. In other words, Pythagoras was a pretty much a fascist yogi, and quite possibly the only vegetarian to have ever hated tofu. As is to be expected with the fatal flaws of great men, these traits led to Pythagoras’ demise. Once the locals’ love of legumes got the better of them, they turned against Pythagoras and his followers. Legend has it that as the Pythagoreans were being purged, an angry mob chased Pythagoras to a bean field. Pythagoras refused to enter it, ending the chase and leading to his death by the hands of the crowd. He abhorred beans, and this hatred was the hill he chose to die on. 

Pythagoras’ reasoning behind all of this is actually rather simple, but to explain it, we have to understand how Pythagoras thought about mathematics. To do this, act as pretentious as possible so that you can ponder abstract nonsense without a hint of irony. Once you’ve done that, consider the differences between a sphere and a ball. The formula for a sphere models a perfect sphere, which won’t have any imperfections invalidating its sphericity, but every ball, the closest analogue to a mathematically perfect sphere, will have some small imperfections. That said, if you needed to predict how a ball might move, it would be best to model it as a sphere rather than attempting to model it as it actually is. This is why Pythagoras came to believe that exact reasoning could only be done by using the idealized versions of objects depicted in mathematics rather than their real counterparts.  From there, one might conclude that it is better to think about how an ideal object might behave rather than observing the behavior of the real thing, and that the ‘eternal’ ideal object is more real than the temporary real object. Such eternal objects can then be thought of as the thoughts of god, which, by this reasoning, must exist in a perfect form since humans have an ‘imperfect’ understanding of the divine. Furthermore, by that logic, this god must be an arithmetic junkie because Pythagoras’ numerological theory hinges on the ability of the deity’s perfect objects to demonstrate themselves to the imperfect world via mathematics. That’s why Pythagoras founded a crazy math cult. Nobody knows why he hated beans, though. He probably just thought they looked weird. 

Benjamin White is a Humor Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

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