A friendly exchange about harmony
A dialogue between Baruch the heron and Gottfried the bird. Baruch spends a lot of time still and this allows him to understand that everyone is a unique and particular, yet in relation with others and the universe. Gottfried thinks that each being is independent but part of a logical and harmonious whole, accessible through singing.
Baruch: Gottfried, I found a way to get fish like you get seeds!
Gottfried: don’t tell me it’s with your singing!
Baruch: you are making fun of me, I can see that, but no, not by singing, by speaking.
Gottfried: by speaking? But to whom?
Baruch: to Socrates of course! You know he often asks me questions; last time, he said he’d bring me some fish to thank me for the advice I give him.
Gottfried: I agree that your words are often wise. It’s probably your way of sharing and touching the harmony of the world.
Baruch: oh, I’m not making a theory of it. I just tell him how I feel.
Gottfried: yes, you don’t believe in an organizing being whose secrets we could unlock. So I wonder how you can explain the existence of harmony if there is no transcendence. In any case, well done for the fish, you are all set for winter!
Baruch: dear Gottfried, you assumer there’s some supra reason over the world when it is much simpler to think that reason is the world itself, of which we are attributes. This is what allows us to understand it by participation. Because if not, how could we conceive of something beyond us?
Gottfried: by intuition, dear Baruch. You can guess that the sound of the wave is made up of the sound of each droplet of water that makes it up, and that it therefore took a great organizer to tune it all up.
Baruch: for me, I’m the droplet and I know where I stand in the whole world. You think you are an external auditor. I participate, you analyze.
Gottfried: that you clearly express our differences does not prove you are right. The knowledge that we have is finite but it can be enlarged by the exercise of reason. Now your mysticism prevents you from questioning, don’t you think?
Baruch: I just need to know how to be happy because that’s what matters to me and what prompts me to live. Why want more? Isn’t that what you say when you say that singing makes you touch the harmony of the world?
Gottfried: ah, dear Baruch, you think you score a point here but that this harmony is directly discernible and a pleasure does not prevent it from being then analyzed. If we didn’t have access to it, how could we even think of examining it?
Baruch: for me, having access to it is enough because to examine it is to decompose it and destroy it. Regardless, chatting with you is a source of joy and this is what I want to cultivate rather than looking for causes and effects that do not matter much to my well-being.
Gottfried: and speaking of well-being, Socrates will cater to yours all winter.
Baruch: ho, I don’t see myself staying put here in front of a frozen lake, even if the fish comes to me by itself. I’m going South soon.
Gottfried: in your vacation heronry? How lucky you are! I will miss you.
Baruch: I’ll come back, Gottfried, and we’ll resume our conversations. In the meantime, your life is also good here in winter with everything you peck at the manor.
Gottfried: peck! You’re the one laughing now! I am not a hen. And don’t you think that when humans forget to fill the manger, I would rather be in a milder climate to find food more easily?
Baruch: it’s true, I hadn’t thought of that! Why don’t you come with me?
Gottfried: I can’t, I’m not equipped to fly so far and so long. In addition to our differences of opinion, we each have our physical limitations. Singing for you, flying for me. But tell me, do you have a girlfriend over there?
Baruch: no, you know I live alone since the accident.
Gottfried: you may meet a female heron as wild and erudite as you are …
Baruch: I don’t think so, it’s a pretty remote place.
Gottfried: who knows, Baruch, who knows? In any case, I wish you a good trip and a good stay. Don’t forget to stay in touch.
Baruch and Gottfried agree that the world is harmoniously organized, but they do not agree on the reasons for this harmony.
For Baruch, it is included in the very nature of things and we participate in it without being able to understand it or needing to understand it. His approach is that of a mystic.
For Gottfried, the harmony of the world is the result of an organizing being who has foreseen everything. It can be contemplated, analyzed and understood and this brings us closer to the one who created it. His approach is more that of a scientist.
Do we have to understand to love?
Do false notes call into question the idea of harmony?
Want to think a little more? See Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die, where Steven Nadler explains in clear terms how Spinoza envisioned the good life and the pursuit of happiness.
Want to contribute to these dialogues? Write your comments and questions below.
Want to know more about the tastes of Baruch and Gottfried? Their favorite books are in the domain library.