Saturday, August 30, 2014

Friedrich von Schiller, William Tell

Introduction

Opening Passage:

The rocky shore of the Lake of Lucerne, opposite Schwyz. The lake here forms a bay, with a hut a little way from the shore. A fisher-boy is rowing his boat. Across the lake the green meadows, farms and villages of Schwyz can be seen, lying in bright sunshine. To the left of the spectator, the peaks of the Haken can be recognised, veiled in mist; to the right, in the far distance, icy mountains. The herdsman's melody and the musical chiming of cowbells are heard before the curtain rises, continuing for some time afterwards.

FISHER-BOY (singing in his boat. Melody of the ranz des vaches.)
See how the lake so invitingly gleams,
And there on the bank how the fisher-boy dreams;
A music he hears then,
A fluting so fair,
Like voices of angels
In heavenly choir.

Summary: Switzerland seems almost idyllic, but a storm is beginning to gather over the regions of Schwyz, Unterwalden, and Uri. The Swiss are in an unusual situation within the Empire, being a loose collection of cantons allowed to do their own thing under direct authority of the Emperor and his representatives. The current powers that be, however, are steadily encroaching on freedoms that the locals have had for centuries, and are finding that the Swiss take more than words to convince. In the middle of all this is simple, straightforward William Tell, practically a feature of the mountains himself, excellent hunter and boatsman, and, like many an outdoorsman, Tell just wants to avoid trouble and be left alone.

It is not to be. As the pressure of the government, and particularly the zealous governor, Gessler, grows, he finds it difficult to avoid involving himself on occasion. And by sheer happenstance, he becomes the center of a maelstrom when (in a scene that seems to have been made up by Schiller) he fails to show respect to the governor's hat, hanging on a pole in a field, put there as a test of loyalty. Out of this comes Tell's first amazing feat, when the governor cruelly demands that he shoot an apple off the head of his own son. Tell draws two arrows and achieves the feat with the first.

When Gessler asks why he drew the second arrow, Tell finally admits that the second arrow was for the governor if Tell's son had come to any harm. So Gessler arrests him anyway. The sets up for Tell's second amazing feat, as a storm comes up while they are taking a boat on the way back. Since he is the best boatman in the region, they remove his bonds, but he, seeing a desperate opportunity, makes a great leap from the boat to the shore. There is, incidentally, a little chapel on Lake Lucerne to commemorate the Tellensprung, as it is called.

Tellskapelle2000.jpg
["Tellskapelle2000" by Roland Zumb├╝hl - From Picswiss. Original uploader was Paenultima at de.wikipedia. Transferred from de.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:AndreasPraefcke using CommonsHelper. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]


Tell becomes a symbol of revolt -- ironically, since the unbearable incident that drives the revolution is Tell's going above and beyond what anyone could reasonably expect by obeying a cruel and arbitrary order that put his own son at risk. It does so, of course, because in a very public and visible way it shows all the Swiss that Gessler and others like him are not just an inconvenience but a threat to their families. Tell does not, however, lead the revolt, this being a real revolt and not a Hollywood movie. William Tell's only significant contribution after his great leap -- although it is a very significant contribution -- is to speed his second arrow to its destiny in Gessler's heart.

The local citizens join together in a covenant to overthrow the governors. They do not attempt to break away from the Empire, a fact of considerable significance; they see themselves not as rebelling against the Empire but as upholding the Imperial charter that through the centuries has recognized their way of life. This is paralleled in Tell's meeting, at the end, with the Duke John the Parricide, who is on the run after having killed his uncle the Emperor. Tell is horrified at the man, who has killed his own blood over resentment about an inheritance, and, indeed, dared to kill no less than the Emperor. Tell had never originally had any ideas of assassinating a governor; he had just wanted to be left alone. The governor commanded him to endanger his son, and then arrested him even when he obeyed, leaving his wife and sons to fend for themselves; Tell acted on behalf of his family. It was the one oppression more than any man could bear, not a relatively trivial thing like shortchanging a patrimony, and Tell acted against an enemy of his family, not against a member of it.

I was pleasantly surprised by Francis Lamport's translation; verse drama is very difficult to interpret in a way that doesn't end up turgid or awkward, but he does quite well. If you are looking for a good translation, it works well.

Favorite Passage: Stauffacher, one of the leaders of the revolt, gives this passage as part of a long speech. It was a passage that was often censored when the play was performed in the early nineteenth century.

No, there are limits to the tyrants' power.
When a man finds that justice is denied him,
When he can bear no more, then he will look
To Heaven at the last with bold assurance
And claim from Heaven his eternal rights,
Which hang there like the very stars themselves,
Inalienable, indestructible. --
The ancient state of nature will return,
When man to man we stand in weal or woe --
And in the last resort, when nothing more
Remains to save us, we still have our swords.
What is most dear to us we may defend
Against oppression -- We stand for our country,
We stand here to defend our wives and children! (p. 53)

Recommendation: A light tale about deep politics, and especially about the overwhelming importance of the rights that protect one's home and family. Highly recommended.

***
Quotations from Friedrich Schiller, William Tell: A Play, Francis Lamport, tr. Libris (London: 2005).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Full and Most Undivided Entirety

The sphere, therefore, and field in which philosophy has to move, or to which it has to apply itself, is no narrow one, hemmed in and confined by any unwarrantable exclusiveness. On the contrary, it must, so far is possible for aught that is human, be complete and perfect. And for this reason also, she must not, as indeed she can not, take her rise in a consciousness artificially parceled out and divided, and, in short, but one half of its true self, and which, being biassed and visionary in its views, is divorced from real life. It can originate only in the mind's greatest perfection and in its full and most undivided entirety, inasmuch as to make this consciousness clear to itself and to others constitutes even its proper function and entire aim.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr., p. 353. The problem he has particularly in mind is the tendency of German philosophers to treat philosophy as if it focused wholly on abstract thought, as if abstract thought and ideas were not only one aspect of the whole of living reason and rational life.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

St. Austin's Day

Today, of course, is the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church. From one of his lesser-known writings, against the Donatists:

With however great light of learning and of reputation he may shine, however much he may boast himself to be a precious stone, who endeavors to lead you after him, remember always that that brave woman who alone is lovely only to her husband, whom holy Scripture portrays to us in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs, is more precious than any precious stones. Let no one say, I will follow such an one, for it was even he that made me a Christian; or, I will follow such an one, for it was even he that baptized me. For "neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase." And "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." No one also that preaches the name of Christ, and handles or administers the sacrament of Christ, is to be followed in opposition to the unity of Christ. "Let every man prove his own work; and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden,"—the burden, that is, of rendering an account; for "every one of shall give an account of himself. Let us not therefore judge one another any more." For, so far as relates to the burdens of mutual love, "bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." Let us therefore "forbear one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;" for no one who gathers outside that peace is gathering with Christ; but "he that gathering not with Him scattereth abroad."

The brave woman of Proverbs 31 is the Church, of course.

Life in This Present Hades (Re-Post)

Book VII of Plato's Republic brings us one of Plato's most famous passages, the Allegory of the Cave. (If you need to brush up on it, it's hard to beat this animated version, narrated by none other than Orson Welles, although it un-dialogues it and fiddles with the ending.) Describing the man who has come out of the Cave, Socrates notes that he would not envy the prisoners, but instead would prefer "to serve as the serf of another, of some portionless man" rather than live the life they do.

It's notable that this quotation, which comes from Book 11 of Homer's Odyssey, has come up before. At the beginning of Book III, Socrates is in the midst of criticizing poems about the gods, and he begins to argue that if the citizens of the just city are to be courageous, they should not be told stories from childhood that would make them fear death. In particular, they should not be taught that Hades is filled with terror; rather, life in Hades should be praised. This, of course, is precisely what Homer does not do. When Odysseus talks to Achilles in Hades, he tries to comfort him for the fact that he is dead, but Achilles will have none of it, saying he would rather serve a poor man than be king of the dead. It is this that Socrates quotes in Book VII, and this is the very first passage that Socrates lists for deletion in Book III. As he goes on to say in Book III, it isn't that such passages aren't pleasing, but indeed, rather the reverse; because they are pleasing and poetic, they are not appropriate for teaching a courageous people who should fear slavery more than death.

We are not to speak this way, then, of the afterlife, lest we make people timid. But Socrates speaks exactly this way of the Cave. The Cave, like Hades, is an underworld, and, like Hades, its inhabitants have only a shadow of real life. But the Cave is, so to speak, true Hades, the Hades of which it might truly be said that even servitude outside it is better than autonomy within it. And the difference is important, because we are the inhabitants in the Cave, living our lives according to sensible goods, which are mere shadows in comparison with the intelligible goods that make possible order, mathematics, and virtue. We should be pitied as the Greeks pitied the heroic dead. But unlike the heroic dead, there is a path for us out of this underworld. We only have to stand up, turn around, and walk toward the Good.

Boethius has an interesting adaptation of this theme in Book III, Meter 12 of the Consolation. This is one of Boethius's mythological poems, and the subject here is Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice, of course, died, and Orpheus in grief set out to retrieve her. So beautiful was his music that he touched the heart even of the compassionless king of the dead, who as a single exception allowed the return of Eurydice to the land of the living. But, of course, there was the condition that he could not see her dead. You know the story: Orpheus failed, because he looked back at the very last moment and she vanished away before his eyes. And the moral that Lady Philosophy draws is clear: in pursuing the Good, we must not only walk out of the Cave, we must not even look back until we are free in the sunlit realms.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Monnica of Hippo

Today is the feast of St. Monica, who teaches us that the prayers and tears of mothers are never futile. The name 'Monica' is a slight simplification of what seems to have been her actual name, Monnica.

Sainte Monique

The above is quite clearly a painting of the Vision at Ostia, which I've talked about before.

And we came at last to our own minds and went beyond them, that we might climb as high as that region of unfailing plenty where thou feedest Israel forever with the food of truth, where life is that Wisdom by whom all things are made, both which have been and which are to be. Wisdom is not made, but is as she has been and forever shall be; for "to have been" and "to be hereafter" do not apply to her, but only "to be," because she is eternal and "to have been" and "to be hereafter" are not eternal.

[Augustine, Confessions Book IX, Chapter 10]

Politeia (Part III: Philosophical Ascent)

Book VI

The distinction between the philosophers and the 'philodoxers' opposed to them turns out to be a distinction between those who do not merely stop with individual splendid or good things, but consider and reflect on the splendid itself or the good itself, and those who never get beyond the many, wandering from one to another without cease. If the guardians are to shape the just city, however, they must have a clear model according to which they can shape it; thus we must have philosophers, lovers of wisdom, not philodoxers or lovers of opinion, leading the city.

This raises the question of what natures are philosophical, which must be known if the just city is to be constructed properly. Glaucon and Socrates agree that the philosopher is a lover of learning of all kinds, a lover of truth rather than falsehood, who gives learning and truth a higher priority than pleasures of the body. One who gives learning and truth such an honored place will not be afraid of bodily death, will associate with others so as to learn, will learn swiftly, and will have thoughts that are measured and orderly.

Adeimantus notes, however, that people will reply that in reality most philosophers become kooks, and even the decent philosophers are largely useless. Socrates notes that something can be useless not because it fails to be of value but because others do not make use of it. As for philosophers becoming kooks and cranks, or even vicious, the important question is how the kind of nature we are starting with becomes corrupted. Even vigorous plants and animals, perhaps especially the vigorous ones, will go bad if it is outside its proper milieu. If you give a promising young man a bad upbringing, a bad education, you can hardly expect him to grow in a proper philosophical way, except "by divine dispensation" (493a). Socrates sharply criticizes the sophists -- it is one of the most direct attacks on the profession in the dialogues -- for only being concerned with teaching opinions of the majority and yet daring to call it wisdom, when the majority themselves are philodoxers more than philosophers.

Education and constitution are closely tied, then, and Socrates complains that no political constitution in ancient Greece seems to be the right one for the kind of philosophical education needed by the guardians. And the education tends to be backward -- people learnf philosophy early on, and then no more; whereas they should get lots of physical and mental exercise early on so as to prepare them for philosophy. And what constitutes a genuine philosophical education, rather than a false one like that given by the sophists?

Socrates gives us several images in succession in order to convey what this philosophical education might be. We start with the Analogy of the Sun and the Divided Line. But these are in a sense merely preparatory for what is, after the Myth of Atlantis, the most famous Platonic Myth of all.

  Additional Remarks

* The discussion of the corruption of a philosophical nature so closely tracks what we know of Alcibiades that he is almost certainly in view.

Some of the descriptions of the kinds of people who do manage to "consort with philosophy in a way that's worthy of her" (496a) are also quite specific. Socrates, who manages it because of his divine sign, and Theages, who manages it because his physical illness reduces the chances of temptation, are specifically named. Are the other descriptions describing particular people? If we were to interpret the passage at (496a-e) on the hypothesis that there are particular people in view, do we know enough to identify them, even if only tentatively? The first kind the "noble and well brought-up character" who is exiled, sounds a lot like Xenophon, who was, in fact, exiled, although the word here could mean that he fled rather than was exiled. Others of Socrates' students were forced to flee or were exiled, but Xenophon is the only one who had a significant philosophical after-history. Paul Shorey, in the notes to his translation, suggests that besides Xenophon (Socratic), Plato could have Anaxagoras (pre-Socratic) or Dion (post-Socratic) in mind. It would be tempting to take the description of the great soul (megale psyche) to be Plato himself (the attitude described fits the descriptions of Plato in the Platonic epistles, for instance), except for the fact that Athens in Plato's day wasn't even a small city by our standards today, much less for the ancient Greek world; its full population would certainly have been several hundred thousand people, and may have been as much as half a million, although only about forty thousand people would have been citizens in the strict sense of the term. Any other guess would require knowing more about the fates of Socrates' students than we do. Several of Socrates' students fit the profile of people from other crafts, such as the Simon the leatherworker who was supposedly somehow connected to Phaedo and who (according to that philosophical gossip mill, Diogenes Laertius) was the first person actually to write down Socrates' arguments. All of this is speculative, of course, but it is interesting speculation and, moreover, it reminds us that for both Socrates and Plato the arguments in the dialogue were about real life and real people.

* Peter Losin, Plato's Analogy of the Divided Line, argues for a somewhat different interpretation of the Line than is usually given. He gives a salutary warning worth keeping in mind when interpreting all of Plato's images in this middle part of the dialogue:

...we must remember that the sun, the line, and the cave are images (Rp 509A9, 517A8). As they are developed Glaucon is repeatedly asked to imagine or picture things (508B9, 508D4, 508D10, 514A2, 514B7-8); and they are qualified by some of the most explicit caveats in all of Plato's writing (see 505A1-4, 506C6-D5, 507A1-5, 517B7-C5). Socrates himself warns Glaucon against taking his spatial language too literally at 529A9-C2. So we must not be overly literal in reading what Plato so explicitly cautions is not to be taken as a straightforwardly literal account.

Book VII

The Allegory of the Cave is about the education of guardians, but it is worth also recognizing that it continues to answer the question of why philosophers can have the bad reputation of being useless despite being (if Socrates is right) so necessary to the good government of the city. And, of course, since the description of the city is a model for individuals as well, and guardians in the city represent reason in the individual, everything here is also arguing about what is required to give reason its proper role in one's life. If anyone asks why one should consider Plato a philosophical virtuoso, Book VII of the Republic more than suffices as an answer.

One of the key points is that education is not about putting knowledge into people. It depends on the fact that everyone already has the capacity to learn. Moreover, it requires the full person: "the instrument with which one learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body" (518c). And the object of study that matters is the good itself. This is the kind of study that is necessary if the guardians are to have a clear model on which to base their shaping of the just city. But, of course, to shape the city they must also "share the labors of the city, each in turn, while living the greater part of their time with one another in the pure realm" (520d). To this end they need to be trained in music, poetry, athletics, and the crafts, including mathematics; but most importantly they need dialectic, which allows them to go beyond the merely hypothetical to actual principles.

Dialectic is a dangerous subject, however; it needs to be introduced carefully:

I don't suppose that it has escaped your notice that, when young people get their first taste of arguments, they misuse it by treating it as a kind of game of contradiction. They imitate those who've refuted them by refuting others themselves, and, like puppies, they enjoy dragging and tearing those around them with their arguments. (539a-b)

Dialectic needs to be practiced instead with a love for truth and in a way that shows the goodness of philosophical life; otherwise it is counterproductive. It needs to be learned slowly and it must culminate, somewhere down the line, with understanding the good itself.

Thus we have completed the description of the beautiful city, and the character of those who live lives appropriate to it. Plato will now go on to tear it down.

  Additional Remarks

* If you haven't ever watched Orson Welles's narration of the Allegory of the Cave, you obviously must:



* Notice that Socrates explicitly emphasizes that his account of education applies to women as well as men (540c).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Music on My Mind



The Whispers, "And the Beat Goes On". A surprisingly interesting video to watch, incidentally, considering that it is from before the "Billie Jean" era in which Michael Jackson began turning music videography into an art form. Prior to Jackson's reconceiving of music videos as short films to frame music, music videos were usually just recordings of stage performances; the result usually ranges from bland to awful, but this one turns out quite well. I think it works because the choreography is excellent; the separation imposed by the camera lens blunts the interest and excitement of any performance, but there's enough of it here that some survives.


The term has started for me, so I'm juggling a number of things at the moment; I don't know if it will slow things down around here, but I mention it in case it does.

Some Poem Drafts

Dushyanta

A golden age--
a mineless age, a ploughless age,
marriages unbroken,
no evil deed or wish,
each in its place, devoted,
prosperity and piety interlinked,
theft like monsters a nursery tale,
hunger a stray unease in a dream:
the rain is upon the fields,
and it is a needed rain;
the crops grow up,
and they are needed crops;
the people are of good mind.

Savannah Night

The heart with a leap in the night
is bold in its rising and roar;
I crouch like a lion and wait,
then leap in a rush at your smile
with kiss and with stealing of breath.

Friends Like You

To cope with strife takes will,
but a happy hope may fill a hapless life
from God's goodness and high throne.
These are good, golden and great:
mastery of fate, a charming wife, a sure home,
a heart that soars the vast sky beyond storm,
a lasting share in glory's gleam,
a wise wish by wise words informed,
and friends like you.

Fragment

Great things are prone to fall, says Plato--
ah, but yet not all!
Mountains stand and years will not forget.
And yet -- and yet! -- mountains too that fate have met,
mountains too to time are held in thrall.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Politeia (Part II: Ideal Cities)

Book II and Book III

Book I, although very like a typical aporetic dialogue, turns out, as Socrates discovers, to be only a prelude to the real discussion. It raises the issues; it does not explore them. At the beginning of Book II, Glaucon steps in and restructures the argument of Thrasymachus, pressing Socrates to give an account of justice that shows both what it is and why it is better than injustice, not just in its consequences, but in itself. Glaucon does this in a memorable way by painting three related scenarios. In the first, Gyges discovers a magic ring that lets him do things without getting punished, and has a successful life doing things that would ordinarily be considered unjust. In the second, similar rings are given to a just person and an unjust person. And in the third, we do away with the rings and imagine an unjust person who is universally thought to be just and a just person who is universally thought to be unjust. The point of all three scenarios is to raise this fundamental challenge: People do not care about justice, do not regard it as valuable; instead, they care about the benefits, and especially the reputation, they associate with being just. People do not want to be just, but only to seem just. They want to outdo (pleonektein) other people, and only value justice insofar as it allows them to do so.

Adeimantus jumps in and looks at the same point from the opposite side: How do people actually praise justice? In what do they locate its worth and value? If a father is encouraging his sons to be just, he speaks of reputation and the kind of honors that are given to people who are thought to be just. He notes that they support their views by appeal to the poets, people like Hesiod and Homer, who talk about virtue in terms of "the esteem of the gods" (363a). People tell stories of the material rewards given to virtuous men by the gods. In all of this they treat virtue as beautiful (kalon) but extremely difficult (chalepon) and painful (epiponon), while they treat vice as pleasant and easy and profitable (lysitelestera). Further, people tell stories about how you can compensate for your wrongdoing by making sacrifices to the gods, so that if a rich person has done something wrong he can fix it with an easy ritual rather than a serious punishment. If we add all this up, Adeimantus says, what will be the effect on the young? Surely it is all a way of teaching them that it is more important to have "a facade of illusory virtue" (365c) than virtue itself?

Socrates replies that this challenge may be beyond his ability to meet, but promises to do what he can. He begins by proposing a method. In order to find out what justice is in the individual, it might help to look at justice on a much larger scale, since things may be obvious when justice is magnified that wouldn't be if we only looked at the little version. In short, we should look at what justice is in a city (polis) and use what we learn from that in order to determine what justice is in a life. Thus Socrates begins describing his first ideal city.

Cities consist of people getting together to get what they need and provide what others need. They are built on a principle of division of labor. So a city must have the kinds of skilled labor that allows this to happen; it needs farmers, cobblers, builders, and so forth. It will also need people to handle trade with other cities, merchants, sailors, and the like. It will need people to handle the buying and selling, so that farmers, for instance, don't have to waste precious farming time sitting around in the marketplace; in other words, it will need retailers. It will need people to be manual laborers for odd jobs and heavy lifting. So let's assume our city is up and running. What will life in it be like? Socrates says,

They'll produce bread, wine, clothes, and shoes, won't they? They'll build houses, work naked and barefoot in the summer, and wear adequate clothing and shoes in the winter. For food, they'll knead and cook the flour and meal they've made from wheat and barley. They'll put their honest cakes and loaves on reeds or clean loaves, and, reclining on beds strewn with yew and myrtle, they'll feast with their children, drink their wine, and, crowned with wreaths, hymn the gods. They'll enjoy sex with one another but bear no more children than their resources allow, lest they fall into either poverty or war. (372a-b)

Glaucon interrupts and says that they don't have any delicacies, and so Socrates jokingly replies that, of course, they need delicacies, things like salt olives, cheese, and yams, with fine desserts like figs, chickpeas, and beans. Glaucon insists, though, that the problem with this ideal city proposed by Socrates it is that it is "a city for pigs" (372d); people need proper couches and tables, and have the same kinds of fine foods that are easily found in Athens. Socrates responds that this changes things considerably:

It isn't merely the origin of a city that we're considering, it seems, but the origin of a luxurious city. And that may not be a bad idea, for by examining it, we might very well see how justice and injustice grow up in cities. Yet the true city, in my opinion, is the one we've described, the healthy one, as it were. But let's study a city with a fever, if that's what you want. (372e-373a)

Thus we begin the second ideal city. Now that luxury is a matter of importance, the city must expand massively to include all sorts of arts and occupations devoted to entertainment and pleasure. And as it expands, it increasingly becomes likely that what it has is not always enough, and thus we find the origin of war. The advent of war and conflict requires the development of a class of people devoted to protection of the city and its good. These guardians, however, cannot just be any kind of person; they need to be "both gentle (praon) and high-spirited (megalothymon) at the same time" (375c). But meekness and having a big thymos are not obviously consistent. Socrates proposes that it is philosophy that mediates between the two and makes them consistent with each other. The guardians of the city will have to be people of "philosophy, spirit, speed, and strength" (376c).

At this point, they turn to look at what kind of education is required for the guardians of the city, looking at the two major forms of exercise in the Greek world: music and poetry for the soul and athletics for the body. Adeimantus, of course, had raised the problem of people using poets to praise justice in ways that only regarded its appearance, rather than its substance; this problem exercises them almost immediately. I don't intend to look in detail at all the proposals for how music, poetry, and athletics should be handled, but I do want to point out something important that is often missed: the discussion of these topics indirectly covers almost all of the ground that will be covered by the rest of the dialogue. For instance, in discussing music, the descriptions used in criticizing or praising different kinds of music will be echoed later on in the descriptions used to criticize or praise different kinds of political constitutions.

All the guardians must be tested repeatedly for whether they put the good of the city first and foremost, and, moreover, they must be taught to avoid the things that tend to corrupt politicians, with money being first and foremost.

  Additional Remarks

* Notice that Glaucon brings up the distinction between appearance and reality immediately; this is one of only several ways in which Plato depicts philosophical discussion as being parallel to and analogous with moral life. Socrates philosophizes in the way the just man lives his life; sophists like Thrasymachus philosophize in a might-makes-right way, preferring the appearance of success (winning the argument) to real success (discovering truth). As I've noted before, Plato is highly sophisticated when it comes to arguments; his arguments often do not merely tend toward a conclusion but toward several conclusions simultaneously, across several different areas of life. We will see this throughout this dialogue.

* It is easy for us to miss it, but the authochthony myth, about the citizens being born out of the earth, at the end of Book III tells us something important about the city, and is not some random thing pulled out of nowhere. One of the major differences between Athens and Sparta is that Sparta was founded by invasion. This is why Sparta had the structure it did, with the Spartan citizens sitting on top of a population of helots with no significant rights: the helots were the descendants of the original inhabitants of the region. Athens had no such origin, and, indeed, the Athenians described themselves as autochthonous: they grew up from the land. Because of this they had a particular kind of freedom, since they had no obligations to another city (like a city founded by colonization would) and they were not dependent on a population other than themselves (like Sparta). And, moreover, as Socrates says of the guardians, they regarded the land as theirs in a way that went far beyond being a place of residence: it was not just their home but in a sense their mother. We've seen the political and civic importance of autochthony elsewhere, in Critias and the Statesman.

* I think most interpretations of the Republic founder on not taking seriously the fact that the city discussed for most of the dialogue is explicitly regarded by Socrates as a second-best city. Much of the strangeness of that city is quite clearly deliberate, in order to make the point that luxury increases the danger of pleonexia, grasping for more, which is recognized from Book I on as the cause of injustice. A just city with luxuries has to be structured so that this attempt to outdo or have more than others is almost impossible despite the luxuries, and it is this that requires all the drastic measures discussed in the book.

Book IV

Now it is time for Adeimantus to jump in and object. It doesn't seem like the lives of these guardians is very happy (eudaimona). But Socrates notes that, while at this point they should not presume that the guardians aren't happy, nonetheless the happiness of the guardians is not the primary concern at this point, since we are looking at what makes a whole city run well -- at this point, our concern is with the happy city, not happy individuals. Adeimantus notes that that's well and good, but inequality in wealth might make a significant difference among cities. Socrates responds that this overlooks an important point: a city is a city insofar as it is united, but most of the things we call cities are in fact not perfectly united but might equally be considered groups of cities, consisting of at least a city of the wealthy and a city of the poor. (This, like everything else in these books, will be echoed later.) For the ideal city to work as it should, however, it has to work as a unity, not as a group of smaller cities that can be potentially in conflict.

Because of this, the city will have to be such that all the citizens in it have all their goods in common, and education will have to be carefully constrained so that young people understand this from an early age and aren't tempted by other ways of doing things. The irony is that this means that the city doesn't require all that many laws: as long as people understand the importance of maintaining good and are educated so that they continue to do so, there isn't much need to dictate to them the details of what they should do. The constant making and amending of laws is a sign of the sickness of a city; it is analogous to a medical patient who keeps trying treatments to handle the symptoms of his disease while refusing to change his life and live in such a way as to get rid of the disease itself. If one lives healthily, serious medical treatment becomes a merely occasional thing; if a city works as a unity, new laws are a merely occasional thing. This is why education is so important; if you want the dye of justice to be color-fast in the city, you have to make it so that it will not be scrubbed out by "even such extremely effective detergents as pleasure, pain, fear, and desire" (430a), and education is how you do this.

Having laid out the basic elements of the city, Socrates notes that it exhibits, in its own way, the virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. If they want to see more clearly what justice is, then, they just have to abstract it from the other three virtues -- Socrates in a delightful passage (432b and following) describes it as hunting (compare the Sophist). And thus we actually get Socrates's definition of justice: it is "doing one's own work and not meddling with what isn't one's own" (433a), but only if we understand it in light of the city as a whole. What makes the city just is that everyone does what will contribute to the good of the whole.

The just individual, then, is the individual who participates in this same form of justice, although on a different scale. We have different parts in us. Just as the city has money-makers, we have desires; just as the city has auxiliaries, we have thymos; just as the city has guardians, we have reason. We are just when all of these parts doing its part for the good of the whole, as long as we recognize that this is a matter of internal activity rather than external behavior (which has to do with appearance): "One who is just does not allow any part of himself to do the work of another part or allow the various classes within him to meddle with each other" (443d). Injustice, on the other hand, is a sort of civil war or rebellion, in which one part puts its immediate object above the good of the whole.

  Additional Remarks

* Book IV is, of course, one of the key texts for the tradition of the cardinal virtues.

* The anecdote about Leontius seems to have been a common one; he was said to have a taste for very pale boys. Thus the (extraordinarily morbid) joke about his quandary on coming across the corpses of boys.

Book V

We can go further, and recognize that to every general kind of political constitution there corresponds a kind of soul. However, Socrates will not be able to get to these until Book VIII, because now Polemarchus jumps in with an interruption. Socrates had said that in the city goods should be in common, and in passing had included wives as one of the goods. Polemarchus wants to know about this, and Adeimantus, Glaucon, and Thrasymachus all agree. Socrates complains that they are asking him to start over again, but they insist.

What then happens is somewhat unexpected, since Socrates begins by arguing that women should be educated in the same way as men. Men and women are obviously not the same, but they differen only with regard "to a particular craft or way of life" (454d):

Then there is no way of life concerned with the management of the city that belongs to a woman because she's a woman or to a man because he's a man, but the various natures are distributed in the same way in both creatures. (455d)

Given this, the relations between women and men are simply to be governed on those principles that will best contribute to the good of the city; they are not an exception to the overall approach. (It's not immediately obvious but it becomes clear that one of the effects of this argument is that a woman cannot be treated as mere property or the personal possession of a man, but only as a citizen.) Sex and procreation are goods to be had in common, but as common goods they are to be done only for the good of the whole city. I won't go into detail about the practices proposed, but the implication of them as a whole is, of course, that everyone regards the whole city as their family, and that nobody ever plays favorites with their own children (in part because it's arranged that they don't know who they are). Thus we get an overall picture:

You agree, then, that the women and men should associate with one another in education, in things having to do with education, in things having to do with children, and in guarding the other citizens in the way we've described; that both when they remain in the city and when they go to war, they must guard together and hunt together like dogs and share in everything as far as possible; and that by doing so they'll be doing what's best and not something contrary either to woman's nature as compared with man's or to the natural association of men and women with one another.

This discussion leads to a discussion of behavior in war in which Socrates criticizes common Greek war practices, like enslavement of other Greeks or despoiling the dead. (It's worth remembering that according to Plato, Socrates fought in three battles of the Peloponnesian War, and so must have seen such practices up close.) He articulates the very important principle in ethics of war: "their attitude of mind should be that of people who'll one day be reconciled and who won't always be at war" (470d). One of the implications of this entire argument is that the Greeks, who should in some sense all together act as one city, nonetheless treat each other in ways that would be considered atrocious behavior if it were done within one city.

Socrates is then pressed on the question of whether such a city is even possible, and notes that since the point was to discover justice, this is not essential, but he does go on to look at the question of how a real-life city might come into existence that would approximate the ideal one. This gives us one of the most famous passages in the entire dialogue:

Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, Glaucon, nor, I think will the human race. (473c-d)

'Philosopher' does not, of course, mean someone who gives themselves that title on the basis of taking a few classes and writing a few papers. Rather, it means someone who loves the whole of wisdom, and thus the sight of truth. They are the people who will not stop at beautiful things but will rise to the beautiful itself (cp. the Symposium). They seek not opinion (doxa) but knowledge (episteme). Socrates will explore this further in the books to follow.

  Additional Remarks

* It is almost certainly deliberate that Polemarchus physically grabs Adeimantus's cloak; Polemarchus's slave at the beginning of the dialogue did the same with Socrates. Polemarchus is associated with force from the beginning and continues to be here; since he was a famous democrat, this is almost certainly a comment about the democratic kind of soul Polemarchus has.

* It's worth noting that Socrates also argues that women can and should be educated in Xenophon's Symposium; it's not as bold a proposal as Plato puts in his mouth, but that makes two students of Socrates who attribute to him the view that women should be regarded as capable of education, a startling idea in a society in which women had the rights not of full citizens but only of minors. It is notable as well that when Socrates says that women should be taught music, poetry, and athletics exactly like men, Glaucon's response (452a) is not definite agreement but merely the cautious claim that that seems to follow from what Socrates has said. Plato is very explicit that what is being proposed is a radical change to the Greek way of life (e.g., 456c).

* On the other side, Plato's Socrates takes the Greek practice of infanticide of imperfect infants as obvious (460c).

* The philosopher-king passage hearkens back to the earlier discussion in Book I in which Socrates argues that good rulers would have to be compelled to rule; here Socrates says that the statesman must be forced to be philosophical and the philosophers must be forced to be statesmen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sack of Washington

Two hundred years ago today, the British sacked Washington, D.C. They burned most of the public buildings, including the Executive Mansion; however, they avoided torching private dwellings and even spared the Patent Office because they regarded the patents themselves as private property. The Washington Post has a summary of the events of that day. NPR imagines how it would cover the day.