If I was to say that Tullit Wheelbone has practiced philosophy for many years, you might get the wrong idea. Indeed people have claimed that my lady wife, Shena, has to be extremely philosophical, being married, as she is, to a poet. Were I a lesser man I might well retort that poets are forced to be philosophical, given the sheer weight of ignorant comments we labour under.
So when I mention Tullit’s philosophy, I want you to understand that he is a fully fledged philosopher, supporting himself by teaching. More than that, he has gone one step further, he tries to live a life which is in keeping with his teachings. This, I am afraid, has caused him to be shunned by other, more prosperous philosophers.
Many years ago he propounded his axiom, “We might be the only philosophy text book a person will read.” Given that he taught (like many other philosophers) that the enlightened person lives a modest life, seeking enjoyment in simple things and in serving others, he decided that this is what he would do.
He abandoned his rooms in the university, his wardrobe and his right to dine (somewhat more than adequately for a purely nominal sum) in the senior common room, and moved out onto the street. He lived in a series of discarded barrels, large pottery containers, or even packing cases. He retained one garment, a white sheet which served as loin cloth, kilt or even toga. Well-wishers would occasionally give him other clothes to wear, this benevolence he would share with beggars and others living on the streets.
Now whilst he managed to avoid the costs of home and clothing, there was still the issue of what did he eat? For a while he would make do with what people gave him. But even then, he found he was feeding others. Tullit was one of those people who adores dogs, and the pariah dogs of the streets adored him. They would snuggle round him at night when he went to sleep, and they would follow him about during the day. Indeed he somehow drifted into becoming the city’s informal dog warden. Any sick or injured dog would make its slow way to Tullit’s barrel. Indeed his other possession was a lantern which he carried with him at night when he went to search dark alleys and courtyards for dogs who might be suffering.
Obviously people noticed this. For Tullit it was merely a way of living out his philosophy. He helped people, but it seemed to be the dogs who needed him most. But for many in Port Naain, Tullit’s actions seemed somehow more worthy than the actions of those charities who do assist the poor. Thus whilst people would not think of feeding a philosopher, they were generous in helping him to feed his dogs. Indeed people would invite him into their homes and feed him, to ensure that he remained fit enough to keep looking after the dogs.
Now being a philosopher, Tullit felt obliged to teach philosophy. So he would give lectures. At the University here in Port Naain, anybody can lecture, the students pay them a fee when they attend the lecture. Tullit refused to lecture in the University, instead he would hold his lectures in the street. His argument was that if students wanted to hear him, he was easy enough to find. He would just sit in the shade of his barrel and in a gentle and easy manner he would expound upon various philosophical principles. Thus I heard him several times teach upon the subject of ‘what is real,’ and also on ‘what can we know?’ What was fascinating was the way he would take questions from anybody in the audience and attempt to answer them in terms the questioner could understand. Thus I remember on one occasion he asked the question, “What is good?” A polisher of glass eyes put forward what most of us considered a reasonable answer, and gently Tullit let him to question the underpinnings of his answer so that the audience found itself contemplating the foundations of our beliefs. In all candour this is a singularly uncomfortable process if taken seriously and I wouldn’t recommend it for the sensitive.
Questions asked, unblinking.
What is good?
What is truth?
So an answer uncouth
Shields you from thinking
His audience was never less than diverse. Sometimes there would be students. Always there would be a few passers-by, and occasionally you would find others, genuine seekers after truth, who would come and sit on the pavement and listen to him. Oh yes, and then there were the dogs. They would sit around him, ears cocked and alert, hanging on his every word. At the end of the lecture, should anybody want to give him something, Tullit felt that was up to them.
This sort of thing gives Philosophy a bad name. The philosophers in the University loathed him. With some you could see their reasoning. Old Sargenus commented, “Between ourselves, Tallis, a philosopher shouldn’t smell of wet dog.” Still, to be fair to him, he arranged for Tullit to get a free pass to the Goldclaw Baths whenever he wanted, and for his garment to be washed whenever he was there. Whatever you say about Sargenus, he might have been something of an old fool, but at heart he was a decent old fool.
Other philosophers seemed to regard Tullit as a threat to their profession. Again, I could see their point. If people came to believe that you could practice philosophy without tenure and an excellent salary, things would end badly. They could have ended up as poorly remunerated as poets! So they decided to strike back.
Initially they merely mocked him in their lectures. This proved to be a mistake. Students are a peculiar breed. Left to their own devices the vast majority almost certainly would never have heard of Tullit. But when some professors seemed to build their lecture series around denigrating him, it piqued interest and Tullit found his audience growing.
Now worried, the philosophers decided they would have to try a direct approach. Quietly they took their places at the edge of the group listening to him teach. Sitting on the pavement with the rest of the audience they started to heckle and to argue with him. But frankly they didn’t do themselves any favours. They attacked him with straw-man arguments that failed to convince bystanders. They appealed to authority, they used equivocation, they argued from ignorance, they tried to trap him with false dichotomy. One of his interrogators launched into a circular argument of such complexity that he confused even himself. Indeed had he not been slapped out of it by a passing costermonger, he would have doubtless been going round and round it forever.
Finally, exasperated, one of them launched into an ad hominem attack on Tullit. Carried away by his own vehemence he continued to rant even when the rest of those sitting round the barrel fell silent. Suddenly realising his was a lone voice shouting on a hushed street, he fell silent, only to hear a deep growling behind him. He glanced round to see, at his eye level, a canine jaw set with an excessive number of particularly sharp teeth. As he hastily shuffled sideways to get away from this dog, he backed into another one, even larger. This one was also growling.
It was at this point he realised that dogs have their own understanding of the ad hominem attack, and their own method for launching it. He lapsed into embarrassed silence.
Dogs, after their fashion, are also students of philosophy.
Should you wish to know more about Port Naain,
As a reviewer commented, “Every time Benor is at a loose end, wondering where his next Alar, or even Dreg, is coming from, a messenger arrives for him…
Mutt gets to help, in his own unique way. Tallis feels decidedly unnerved and Shena gets to buy some new dresses.
This tale contains several mysteries to be solved by our Toelar Roof Runner Cartographer, but not before some interesting events and experiences.”