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The Things They Carried Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2264 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Things They Carried is author by storyteller Tim O’Brien and addresses truth through fiction. He has taken the acts of the Vietnam War and told them through a series of stories. The characters listed in the book may actually be true but their actions may not be or not in the way O’Brien tells the stories. He does not write in this book a historical account of the war but instead tells us about experiences that the soldiers had. In the chapter “How to Tell a War Story” (64) O’Brien tells us that the truth is ugly and that war is not always about the glory or bravery of the soldiers. The stories are more about the soldier’s feelings than the actual acts of war.

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I came to realize quickly that the book was about what the soldiers carried such as guilt, sadness, mental anguish and self doubt over acts of war and not the actual possessions. I believe people carry burden every day. I carry the guilt over my divorce and the fact that I wanted it so badly. I know that I will carry that guilt the rest of my life even though my life today is much better. Could I have tried harder? Did the divorce truly harm my son in anyway?

The Things They Carried was a difficult book for me to read and I have to admit that reading the book actually has increased my concern for my son who is currently serving in Iraq. Once of my greatest fears is what he carries home with him after he has completed his mission. I understand that he may experience things thing that no one can image much like what O’Brien wrote about. I am sure his experience is much different than what is referenced in O’Brien’s book since we are not fighting the same kind of war. Those men had no choice they had to serve when called upon. My son has chosen to serve of his own free will and is actually enjoying his deployment even thought silently I worry about him.

Human behavior is very strange especially in the act of war. Soldiers will do things that most human beings would not think of. In the normal routine of our day we do things that are strange. At work we may act a certain way so we can keep our job. Soldiers do the same thing; they act a certain way to stay alive and deal with the issue of war. In the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” O’Brien explains how war affects the soldiers minds. They hear voices, music, talking but there is nothing there. The soldiers call in fire power and there still is nothing there. The soldiers mind played tricks. The human mind can affect human behavior.

Pre-Socratic Greek Philosophers


Thales was known as a first Greek philosopher and mathematician and introduced the idea of geometry. He was a successful business man and started his own school of philosophy which taught math and astronomy. Thales is also known for his thoughts on natural rather than supernatural views for events such as earthquakes. Looked upon as a man of knowledge and wisdom, Thales was named one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece.

Thales was one of the founders of math and applied geometry but made a name for himself by establishing the need for deductive reasoning and proof for demonstrating a statement. Before Thales, geometry was focused on measuring surfaces and solids. He focused on lines, circles and triangles and is known for the five basic theorems of geometry.

Besides his interest in geometry and math, he enjoyed astronomy. He is most noted for astronomical observations when he predicted a solar eclipse. It is thought he learned to predict the eclipse while in Babylon where they kept detailed records of astronomical events for years. With well kept records, Thales was able to calculate when an eclipse would occur and in what year.

Thales believed the earth was flat and floated on water. Water was the origin of all life and was the one element needed to grow and nurture all things. He also believed that supernatural events could be explained by natural events. That an earthquake was caused when the earth was rocked by waves.

It is thought Thales died sometime around 546 BC and was the only one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece to be declared wise multiple times. His philosophy became to be known as the Ionian School of Philosophy (Thales of Miletus, 2005).


Heraclitus lived from 540-ca to 480 BC and tried to explain the nature of the universe by using logos or reason as the guide to all things, specifically fire. Heraclitus was born in Ephesus and is thought to have renounced his social status, probably king, to his brother. He was a lonely man who looked for the truth within himself and his works were similar to the writings of other philosophers.

Much of Heraclitus work, On the Nature of the Universe, exists today but the work is difficult to interpret due to the use of abbreviations and style of writing. The basis of Heraclitus philosophy is the world of appearance, all things are constantly changing. Change is due to the idea that opposites guide all changes such as hot and cold, day and night, good and bad. He also believed that things that are inconsistent through conflict or tension are a type of harmony.

Heraclitus thought the cosmos had always existed but did not come to existence at some specific time; that fire is the basic substance in the cosmos and all elements are changed because of it. He thought that the human soul may come to understand the truth of the cosmos even though humans understanding may only be child like.

He commanded humans to learn the nature of the universe through the understanding of their own souls and was considered to be one of the first mental philosophers. Heraclitus was one of the first Greek philosophers to focus on the problem of knowledge and was the first to note the importance of an understanding of the soul as the beginning to understanding the world (Heraclitus, 2005).


Empedocles was a philosopher, poet, politician and visionary. He developed a philosophy around four elements in the universe and defined matter as the various ratios of these elements.

Empedocles was born in Sicily to a wealthy family and named after his grandfather. His sharp intellect allowed him to combine his talents in philosophy, natural history, poetry and politics to accomplish popular status in his day. He was thought to be the inventor of rhetoric which is used in politics. He was popular because of his support of democracy.

His scientific exploration included mysticism but his philosophies contained the basic laws of physics which included atomic theory. Empedocles followed the Greek philosopher Parmenides in the belief that matter is indestructible. He stated that matter made up all things and the four elements of the universe air, fire, earth and water made up all things according to various ratios of these four elements. Empedocles thought that love and hate controlled how the four elements came together or moved apart.

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Empedocles introduced the theory of reincarnation because nothing that comes into being can be destroyed only transformed. Later in his life he wrote a poetic piece called On Nature which contained ideas of evolution, the circulation of the blood and atmospheric pressure. He was the first to state the moon could be seen due to the reflection of light and thought the moon to be one third the distance from the earth to the sun.

Empedocles made significant contributions to the philosophy of science. He is credited for founding the Italian school of medicine and was known to have a style for self promotion and public relations which is seen in his writings (Empedocles of Acrages, 2005).

“Apology-Justice and Duty (i) and Socrates Speaks at his Trial in Plato: The Last Days of Socrates

Skillful Speaker with Speaking the Truth

Socrates contrasts being a skilled speaker with speaking the truth (17b). Today in the media we are exposed to a great deal of false advertising. The commercials or print ads are produced and skillfully done. They are colorful, pleasing to the eyes; cleaver and many times catch our attention. Americans spend a great deal of money on these items and many times they are worthless. In the example of the toy company advertising a dancing ballerina, it was determined the television commercial through video made the ballerina dance, not the doll itself.

Today in politics, Americans are exposed to very skillful speakers running for political office. When they speak of their platforms, what they believe in, many times it is thought to be what we want to hear and not what it necessarily the truth. American’s are exposed to their cleaver speeches and many times make decisions based upon those skillful speeches.

Many times when a political race is about to end and individuals are expected to vote, the ads and political speeches begin to contain damaging information and again, this damaging information is skillfully delivered but is not always the truth. We then make a last minute decision based upon this questionable information and find out later it was a bad choice.

In Socrates the Apology, Socrates, much like the skillful advertisers, used rhetoric to attempt to sway his accusers. He professed to be a plain main who speaks only simple truth yet he uses cleaver rhetoric and uses words in such a way as to manipulate them to serve a different purpose. Socrates claims he is not a cleaver speaker but the Apology tells us otherwise (The Interplay of Influence: News, Advertising, Politics and the Mass Media, 2001).

Socrates was not afraid of Death

Socrates continues to tell the accusers that he will not be the formal charges which will destroy him but the prejudicial gossip and slander. He does not fear death because he is concerned about acting right or wrong. Socrates argues that those who fear death show ignorance, that death is a blessing but those who fear it as an evil thing cannot know it to be such. He points out that his wisdom lies in the fact that he is aware that he does not know (29a, b).

Socrates thought that man should be evaluating his actions as being right or wrong, just or unjust. This is because the value and justness of our lives count. He also thought that man should not be afraid of death, because we do not know what it is. To be afraid of something we do not know is to assume we know and Socrates felt that was unwise. He was not afraid of death because he realized it is a peaceful sleep and you meet those who have died before you, so how can this be evil?

Socrates also thought that man should not stop fighting for what he believes in, even if it leads to death. He felt that he would rather die than give up his philosophical life. Socrates died for a righteous cause, the belief that one should never change their beliefs because of the fear of death. When Socrates declares to the jury, “Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times,” he is giving up his life as an example for the future generations. He thought that if he died for a great cause it was justified.

Once Socrates was found guilty, he insisted that a just person will not allow anything to count against doing the right thing, no matter the cost. If he chose ordinary good instead of the just course of action he would be choosing an action that was not good for him and he refused to do this. He did not propose an alternative to the death penalty.

Socrates chose to accept his fate and becomes known as the “greatest hero in the history of philosophy.” His main concern in life was excellence in moral character of the soul which has set the foundation for ethics and philosophy today (Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2001).

The Last Words in the Apology and Socrates Defense

God and gods play a huge role in the Apology. The last word in Socrates defense is God (42a) and is placed there on purpose. In addressing the charges against him, charged with believing in other gods and corrupting the youth, Socrates does a good job of making the charges seem ridiculous. When Plato wrote the Apology he emphasizes the importance of the gods in agreement with Socrates wisdom. It was the Oracle of Delphi that proclaims that he is the wisest of the wise (20c) not Socrates. He is not defying the gods but trying to reach some truth and meaning. By asking questions he is gaining knowledge and truth which challenges the accuser to think beyond what they have always known.

Socrates’ accusers try to prove him to be an atheist but fail by establishing Socrates teaches men to acknowledge some gods and that he believes in spirits or demigods (26a). This proves Socrates is not guilty of teaching the youth to not believe in gods of any kind but of introducing the youth to other ideas of god. In the defense of Socrates he delivers the argument that he believes in the spirits or demigods which establishes the fact that he has not corrupted the minds of the youth with ideas of not believing in God, when he himself believes in gods. Socrates tells us in the Apology that we should strive to be like God if God is considered to be the supreme entity.


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