"What do philosophers look like?" said Brutha, "When they're not having a bath, I mean."
"They do a lot of thinking," said Om. "Look for someone with a strained expression."
"That might just mean constipation."
"Well, so long as they're philosophical about it . . ."
The city of Ephebe surrounded them. Dogs barked. Somewhere a cat yowled. There was that general susurration of small comfortable sounds that shows that, out there, a lot of people are living their lives.
And then a door burst open down the street and there was the cracking noise of a quite large wine amphora being broken over someone's head. A skinny old man in a toga picked himself up from the cobbles where he had landed, and glared at the doorway.
"I'm telling you, listen, a finite intellect, right, cannot by means of comparison reach the absolute truth of things, because being by nature indivisible, truth excludes the concepts of "more" or "less" so that nothing but truth itself can be the exact measure of truth. You bastards," he said.
Someone from inside the building said, "Oh yeah? Sez you."
The old man ignored Brutha but, with great difficulty, pulled a cobblestone loose and hefted it in his hand. Then he dived back through the doorway. There was a distant scream of rage.
"Ah. Philosophy," said Om.
Brutha peered cautiously round the door. Inside the room two groups of very nearly identical men in togas were trying to hold back two of their colleagues. It is a scene repeated a million times a day in bars around the multiverse-both would-be fighters growled and grimaced at one another and fought to escape the restraint of their friends, only of course they did not fight too hard, because there is nothing worse than actually succeeding in breaking free and suddenly finding yourself all alone in the middle of the ring with a madman who is about to hit you between the eyes with a rock.
"Yep," said Om, "that's philosophy, right enough."
"But they're fighting!"
"A full and free exchange of opinions, yes."
Now that Brutha could get a clearer view, he could see that there were one or two differences between the men. One had a shorter beard, and was very red in the face, and was waggling a finger accusingly.
"He bloody well accused me of slander!" he was shouting.
"I didn't!" shouted the other man.
"You did! You did! Tell 'em what you said!"
"Look, I merely suggested, to indicate the nature of paradox, right, that if Xeno the Ephebian said, `All Ephebians are liars-' "
"See? See? He did it again!"
"-no, no, listen, listen . . . then, since Xeno is himself an Ephebian, this would mean that he himself is a liar and therefore-” Xeno made a determined effort to break free, dragging four desperate fellow philosophers across the floor.
"I'm going to lay one right on you, pal!"
Brutha said, "Excuse me, please?"
The philosophers froze. Then they turned to look at Brutha. They relaxed by degrees. There was a chorus of embarrassed coughs.
"Are you all philosophers?" said Brutha.
The one called Xeno stepped forward, adjusting the hang of his toga.
"That's right," he said. "We're philosophers. We think, therefore we am."
"Are," said the luckless paradox manufacturer automatically.
Xeno spun around. "I've just about had it up to here with you, Ibid!" he roared.
He turned back to Brutha. "We are, therefore we am," he said confidently. "That's it."
Several of the philosophers looked at one another with interest.
"That's actually quite interesting," one said. "The evidence of our existence is the fact of our existence, is that what you're saying?"
"Shut up," said Xeno, without looking around.
"Have you been fighting?" said Brutha.
The assembled philosophers assumed various expressions of shock and horror.
"Fighting? Us? We're philosophers," said Ibid, shocked.
"My word, yes," said Xeno.
"But you were-” Brutha began.
Xeno waved a hand.
"The cut and thrust of debate," he said.
"Thesis plus antithesis equals hysteresis," said Ibid. "The stringent testing of the universe. The hammer of the intellect upon the anvil of fundamental truth—”
"Shut up," said Xeno. "And what can we do for you, young man?"
"Ask them about gods," Om prompted.
"Uh, I want to find out about gods," said Brutha.
The philosophers looked at one another.
"Gods?" said Xeno. "We don't bother with gods. Huh. Relics of an outmoded belief system, gods."
There was a rumble of thunder from the clear evening sky.
"Except for Blind Io the Thunder God," Xeno went on, his tone hardly changing.