September 25, 2004

Le Morte D'Philosophe: Book X, Chapter XLIV

How the philosopher got a job at a bank and there discovered many logical fallacies.

[I apologize if the following text is at times worded awkwardly. While other scholars have offered more dynamic translations of this particular story, I feel that all such translations have been largely unfaithful to the original text. As an antidote to these previous translations, I have decided to offer a more literal rendering. Unfortunately, what is gained in accuracy is sometimes lost in style. Of course, such a tradeoff must be made with any translation and I hope the reader will understand the unavoidable shortcomings of my work.]

So the philosopher continued on the path. And he came across a bank. And since he was hungry and had no money for food, he decided to get a job there.

One day, a bank customer called the philosopher on the phone and asked if the bank would cash a third-party check for her. Ignorant of the answer, the philosopher went and asked one of his fellow employees, a blonde woman with long eyelashes. The philosopher’s fellow employee smiled, batted her pretty eyelashes at him, and told him no, the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks.

So the philosopher told the customer on the phone that no, the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks. The customer then asked why—a question that the philosopher admired, for philosophers spend all their lives asking such questions.

So the philosopher went back to his fellow employee and asked her why the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks. She again batted her eyelashes at him and said, "Well, that’s difficult to explain, but lemme try." She then took a deep breath and continued, "Governed-are-AlanGreenspan-which-bank-by-such-restrict-the-policies-interest rates-FDIC." The philosopher smiled at his fellow employee and she smiled back at him.

"Thank you," he said. He then went back to explain this to the customer. Before picking up the phone, however, he realized that he didn’t understand what his fellow employee had said. So the philosopher decided to go and ask the same question to a supervisor.

So he found a supervisor and asked her why the bank didn’t cash third-party checks. "The bank doesn’t cash third-party checks," the supervisor responded.

"Yes," the philosopher responded, "I understand that, but why?"

"Because," she replied, ever so sternly. "It’s. Against. Bank. Policy."

The philosopher then smiled at the supervisor, thanked her for her time, and began walking back towards his desk, still not sure how to answer the customer’s question.

As luck would have it, though, before the philosopher arrived back at his desk, he came across the bank president. Maybe, he thought to himself, he’ll know the answer to the question. So the philosopher said, "Mister Bank President, why does the bank not cash third-party checks?"

The bank president looked at the philosopher with eyes of understanding and replied, "The bank doesn’t cash third-party checks."

"But why not?"

"Because it’s against bank policy."

"But why is it against bank policy?"

"Because the bank doesn’t cash checks payable to one person that are endorsed over to another person."

The philosopher quickly realized that the bank president was using circular reasoning. By saying that the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks “because the bank doesn't cash checks payable to one person that are endorsed over to another person,” the president was simply giving the definition of a third-party check. Therefore, he was essentially saying that the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks because it doesn't cash third-party checks.

But the philosopher did not want to argue with the bank president, so he thanked him for his time and went back to his desk. After taking a deep breath, the philosopher picked up the phone. "Ma’am," he said, "thank you for holding. I just learned that…um, that...well, we don’t cash third-party checks."

"I know that," she answered, "but why?"

"Because it’s against bank policy."

"Obviously. But why?"

"Because the bank doesn’t cash checks payable to one person that are endorsed over to another person."

"You’re not answering my question," the customer said, now a tad frustrated.

The philosopher tried to think of what his fellow employee had initially told him—the one with the long eyelashes. But he couldn’t remember it, so he decided to pretend he could no longer hear the customer. "Ma’ma, ma’am, you’re phone’s breaking up. Ma’am, are you there?" He then hung up the phone, hoping she would think that their line had been accidentally disconnected. He then took a bathroom break, so that when she called back, someone else would have to talk to her.

And so the philosopher learned that Athens isn’t the only place that doesn’t appreciate philosophers.

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