Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plato Blogging

Jason Kuznicki writes:
Yes, yes, there are diminishing marginal returns to all goods, even love, but that doesn’t mean we must make room in our hearts only for one type. In fact, it means just the opposite — to maximize utility, or to most nearly approach the Good (as Plato would term it), we must diversify, not unify, our loves. To be a well-rounded person, you should love many things.

“Love the Good and the Just. Love ideas, and mathematics, and Forms if you will. Love earthly justice. Love music, architecture, and literature. Love science. Love beautiful souls. Love beautiful bodies, regardless of the part you play in Aristophanes’ fable. Balance them all, so that you always love, but never love immoderately. Isn’t that obviously the more flourishing life?

I object to the idea that Plato argues that we ought to love many things. To us in The Cave they appear like many things, but to him they provide our path towards the Good. The distinction is important, I think. Perhaps Jason means the same thing when he writes, "to maximize utility, or to most nearly approach the Good (as Plato would term it)," but utility maximization and The Good are almost opposite. Utility is here in the material world. The Good is The Good and isn't necessarily useful, and oftentimes is not useful in a material sense at all. In the following passage from Symposium replace God with Good and you can start to see what I mean.

Symposium:
"What then is Love?" I asked; "Is he mortal?" "No." "What then?" "As in the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two." "What is he, Diotima?" "He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal." "And what," I said, "is his power?" "He interprets," she replied, "between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all, prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love. all the intercourse, and converse of god with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar.

Cheating a bit by expanding the conversation to another dialogue, from Phaedrus:
For a man must have intelligence of universals, and be able to proceed from the many particulars of sense to one conception of reason;-this is the recollection of those things which our soul once saw while following God-when regardless of that which we now call being she raised her head up towards the true being. And therefore the mind of the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, and rebuke him; they do not see that he is inspired.

Thus far I have been speaking of the fourth and last kind of madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of earth, is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he would like to fly away, but he cannot; he is like a bird fluttering and looking upward and careless of the world below; and he is therefore thought to be mad. And I have shown this of all inspirations to be the noblest and highest and the offspring of the highest to him who has or shares in it, and that he who loves the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it. For, as has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature beheld true being; this was the condition of her passing into the form of man. But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw. Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them; and they, when they behold here any image of that other world, are rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive. For there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty.

Beauty and Love draw us toward the Good and hopefully inspire in us a Love of Wisdom, which is the path of the Philosopher, and our only hope of escaping from The Cave.

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Also, in response to this quote in Jason's dialogue, which I found very funny:
“I think,” said the Capitalist, “that Socrates was a very bad economist.”

I wanted to point out where Plato put economists. Also from Phaedrus:
the soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher, or artist, or some musical and loving nature; that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be some righteous king or warrior chief; the soul which is of the third class shall be a politician, or economist, or trader; the fourth shall be lover of gymnastic toils, or a physician; the fifth shall lead the life of a prophet or hierophant; to the sixth the character of poet or some other imitative artist will be assigned; to the seventh the life of an artisan or husbandman; to the eighth that of a sophist or demagogue; to the ninth that of a tyrant-all these are states of probation, in which he who does righteously improves, and he who does unrighteously, improves, and he who does unrighteously, deteriorates his lot.

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I think that is what I find so off-putting, the idea the Plato and marginal utility should even be discussed in the same breath.

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