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Sophie nodded impatusdt price crashiently. She had been through this in her religion class."We shall see how the two most prominent medieval philosophers dealt with this question, and we might as well begin with St. Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430. In this one person's life we can observe the actual transition from late antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. Augustine was born in the little town of Tagaste in North Africa. At the age of sixteen he went to Carthage to study. Later he traveled to Rome and Milan, and lived the last years of his life in the town of Hippo, a few miles west of Carthage. However, he was not a Christian all his life. Augustine examined several different religions and philosophies before he became a Christian."

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"Could you give some examples?""For a time he was a Manichaean. The Manichaeans were a religious sect that was extremely characteristic of late antiquity. Their doctrine was half religion and half philosophy, asserting that the world consisted of a dualism of good and evil, light and darkness, spirit and matter. With his spirit, mankind could rise above the world of matter and thus prepare for the salvation of his soul. But this sharp division between good and evil gave the young Augustine no peace of mind. He was completely preoccupied with what we like to call the 'problem of evil.' By this we mean the question of where evil comes from. For a time he was influenced by Stoic philosophy, and according to the Stoics, there was no sharp division between good and evil. However, his principal leanings were toward the other significant philosophy of late antiquity, Neoplatonism. Here he came across the idea that all existence is divine in nature.""So he became a Neoplatonic bishop?""Yes, you could say that. He became a Christian first, but the Christianity of St. Augustine is largely influenced by Platonic ideas. And therefore, Sophie, therefore you have to understand that there is no dramatic break with Greek philosophy the minute we enter the Christian Middle Ages. Much of Greek philosophy was carried over to the new age through Fathers of the Church like St. Augustine.""Do you mean that St. Augustine was half Christian and half Neoplatonist?"

"He himself believed he was a hundred-percent Christian although he saw no real contradiction between Christianity and the philosophy of Plato. For him, the similarity between Plato and the Christian doctrine was so apparent that he thought Plato must have had knowl-edge of the Old Testament. This, of course, is highly improbable. Let us rather say that it was St. Augustine who 'christianized' Plato.""So he didn't turn his back on everything that had to do with philosophy when he started believing in Christianity?""They walk past our gate like everyone else when they go for a walk. One day when I got home from school I talked to the dog. That's how I got to know Alberto."

"What about the white rabbit and all that stuff?""That was something Alberto said. He is a real philosopher, you see. He has told me about all the philosophers.""Just like that, over the hedge?""He has also written letters to me, lots of times, actually. Sometimes he has sent them by mail and other times he has just dropped them in the mailbox on his way out for a walk."

"So that was the 'love letter' we talked about.""Except that it wasn't a love letter."

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"And he only wrote about philosophy?""Yes, can you imagine! And I've learned more from him than I have learned in eight years of school. For instance, have you ever heard of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600? Or of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation?""No, there's a lot I don't know.""I bet you don't even know why the earth orbits the sun--and it's your own planet!"

"About how old is this man?""I have no idea--about fifty, probably.""But what is his connection with Lebanon?"This was a tough one. Sophie thought hard. She chose the most likely story.

"Alberto has a brother who's a major in the UN Battalion. And he's from Lillesand. Maybe he's the major who once lived in the major's cabin.""Alberto's a funny kind of name, isn't it?"

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"Perhaps.""It sounds Italian."

"Well, nearly everything that's important comes either from Greece or from Italy.""But he speaks Norwegian?""Oh yes, fluently.""You know what, Sophie--I think you should inviteAlberto home one day. I have never met a real philosopher.""We'll see.""Maybe we could invite him to your birthday party? It could be such fun to mix the generations. Then maybe I could come too. At least, I could help with the serving. Wouldn't that be a good idea?"

"If he will. At any rate, he's more interesting to talk to than the boys in my class. It's just that...""What?"

"They'd probably flip and think Alberto was my new boyfriend.""Then you just tell them he isn't."

"Well, we'll have to see.""Yes, we shall. And Sophie--it is true that things haven't always been easy between Dad and me. But there was never anyone else ..."

"I have to sleep now. I've got such awful cramps.""Do you want an aspirin?" /'Yes, please."When her mother returned with the pill and a glass of water Sophie had fallen asleep.May 31 was a Thursday. Sophie agonized through the afternoon classes at school. She was doing better in some subjects since she started on the philosophy course. Usually her grades were good in most subjects, but lately they were even better, except in math.

In the last class they got an essay handed back. Sophie had written on "Man and Technology." She had written reams on the Renaissance and the scientific breakthrough, the new view of nature and Francis Bacon, who had said that knowledge was power. She had been very careful to point out that the empirical method came before the technological discoveries. Then she had written about some of the things she could think of about technology that were not so good for society. She ended with a paragraph on the fact that everything people do can be used for good or evil. Good and evil are like a white and a black thread that make up a single strand.Sometimes they are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to untangle them.

As the teacher gave out the exercise books he looked down at Sophie and winked.She got an A and the comment: "Where do you get all this from?" As he stood there, she took out a pen and wrote with block letters in the margin of her exercise book: I'M STUDYING PHILOSOPHY.

As she was closing the exercise book again, something fell out of it. It was a postcard from Lebanon:Dear Hilde, When you read this we shall already have spoken together by phone about the tragic death down here. Sometimes I ask myself if war could have been avoided if people had been a bit better at thinking. Perhaps the best remedy against violence would be a short course in philosophy. What about "the UN's little philosophy book"-- which all new citizens of the world could be given a copy of in their own language. I'll propose the idea to the UN General Secretary.

You said on the phone that you were getting better at looking after your things. I'm glad, because you're the untidiest creature I've ever met. Then you said the only thing you'd lost since we last spoke was ten crowns. I'll do what I can to help you find it. Although I am far away, I have a helping hand back home. (If I find the money I'll put it in with your birthday present.) Love, Dad, who feels as if he's already started the long trip home.Sophie had just managed to finish reading the card when the last bell rang. Once again her thoughts were in turmoil.Joanna was waiting in the playground. On the way home Sophie opened her schoolbag and showed Joanna the latest card."When is it postmarked?" asked Joanna.

"Probably June 15 ...""No, look ... 5/30/90, it says."

"That was yesterday ... the day after the death of the major in Lebanon.""I doubt if a postcard from Lebanon can get to Norway in one day," said Joanna.

"Especially not considering the rather unusual address: Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen, Fu-rulia Junior High School...""Do you think it could have come by mail? And the teacher just popped it in your exercise book?"

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Mark Suster

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2x entrepreneur. Sold both companies (last to salesforce.com). Turned VC looking to invest in passionate entrepreneurs 〞 I*m on Twitter at @msuster

Both Sides of the Table

Perspectives of a 2x entrepreneur turned VC at @UpfrontVC, the largest and most active early-stage fund in Southern California. Snapchat: msuster

Mark Suster

Written by

2x entrepreneur. Sold both companies (last to salesforce.com). Turned VC looking to invest in passionate entrepreneurs 〞 I*m on Twitter at @msuster

Both Sides of the Table

Perspectives of a 2x entrepreneur turned VC at @UpfrontVC, the largest and most active early-stage fund in Southern California. Snapchat: msuster