The Wise Work of the Bees

Crisis Magazine | 12/10/2018 | David Arias
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A story is told of some strangers who went to the home of Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher well known even in his own day for his teachings on the nature of change and reality. The strangers arrived only to find Heraclitus in the kitchen warming himself by the furnace. Realizing that his visitors were hesitant to join him in such humble surroundings, Heraclitus bid them not to be afraid to enter. For, as he told them, the gods are present even in the kitchen.

Aristotle recounts this story towards the beginning of his On the Parts of Animals. His purpose in so doing is to encourage his readers in their philosophical study of all animals, especially the humbler and somewhat repulsive ones. As he puts it, “we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.” Aristotle notably points out that those who deign to examine the humbler animals with childlike wonder will be rewarded, in turn, with the great delight which accompanies an intellectual glimpse of God’s eternal wisdom.

Knowledge - One - Times - Ideal - Matters

To my knowledge, no one in recent times has more perfectly embodied the Aristotelian ideal on these matters than the French entomologist, Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre (1823-1915). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fabre knew that expertise in entomology could not be gleaned merely by reading about bugs, dissecting them, and watching their remains as they float in some sort of chemical preservative. Because of this, Fabre spent nothing short of decades sitting motionless as he observed his living subjects doing the things which bugs do in their native habitats and inquiring, as only a philosopher can, into the most fundamental causes of the instinctual behaviors of these same subjects. Moreover, with the pen of a poet,...
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