Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You, Sir, Are An Ill-Educated Buffoon

Rufus writes:
The state Socrates describes is not totalitarian. Nevertheless, what strikes us as undemocratic about it is the elitism: certain individuals will be raised, from birth, to be more spiritually enlightened than the rest of us. A potter can’t ever become a philosopher. We should note, though, that the career path to becoming a philosophically enlightened ruler is open to women, which it is certainly not in most early spiritual communities. Also, I think the elitism derives from what I’d call Plato’s pathos of distance- he feels the gulf between higher and lower thought in a way that seems almost painful. Like most writers who feel this pathos of distance, his ideal society is a spiritual aristocracy; not a democracy.

Perhaps FLG is just completely jaded on Rufus' blogging the canon and especially pissed about his poor reading of Plato, but this reads, like much of what FLG has issue with in Rufus' writing, like somebody who cannot get passed that Plato doesn't subscribe to certain modern normative claims.

Plato uses the analogy of metals to describe our souls. Some people are gold, silver. Others are bronze and iron. It serves no purpose to raise and educate those with iron souls toward philosophy. People ought to be raised in a way that allows them to flourish to the highest extent possible given their soul type.

FLG's point here is that Plato probably wouldn't call it elitist. FLG thinks he'd say it's realistic that some people are born better than others and that assuming that all people are capable of achieving the same level of knowledge is not only naive and a waste of time, but also problematic. Better for a person whose soul destined them for a job as worker to become the best worker they can be than to aspire for things they aren't inclined.

Now, FLG understands that this type of logic has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination, but that's only because the people making these argument lacked access to the Truth. If you know a person True Soul, then it's not a problem.

How can we know somebody's true soul without perfect knowledge of the Truth? Well, that's a major reason why FLG thinks the whole work is an allegory for the Soul. Your own internal philosopher-king knows the Truth about your own Soul.


The Ancient said...

The day Aspasia's son by Pericles was condemned to death by the Athenian Assembly (after the Battle of Arginusae), Socrates happened to be presiding.

What do you suppose he thought about "truth" on that day? Was he thinking about clever Aspasia or wise Pericles? Was he wondering what ill-fate picked him out for public office on one of the worst days in Athens's history? Did he imagine he had chance at all of reasoning with the crowd? Did "truth" even matter?

FLG said...

From Xenophon:
"Then the Prytanes, stricken with fear, agreed to put the uestion,—all of them except Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus; and he said that in no case would he act except in accordance with the law."

From The Apology:
"The only office of state which I ever held, O men of Athens, was that of senator; the tribe Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the generals who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle of Arginusae; and you proposed to try them all together, which was illegal, as you all thought afterwards; but at the time I was the only one of the Prytanes who was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against you; and when the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and have me taken away, and you called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because I feared imprisonment and death."

So, I must presume he was thinking about following the law, and the best source regarding why he follows the law is found in Crito. This passage is Socrates arguing in the first person as the laws of Athens:

"You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception, but having had seventy years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not to your mind, or if our covenants appeared to you to be unfair. You had your choice, and might have gone either to Lacedaemon or Crete, which you often praise for their good government, or to some other Hellenic or foreign State. Whereas you, above all other Athenians, seemed to be so fond of the State, or, in other words, of us her laws (for who would like a State that has no laws?), that you never stirred out of her: the halt, the blind, the maimed, were not more stationary in her than you were. And now you run away and forsake your agreements. Not so, Socrates, if you will take our advice; do not make yourself ridiculous by escaping out of the city."

What mattered were the Truth and Justice within Socrates' own soul.

The Ancient said...

Did you know that nowadays you can actually stand in the (fairly small) space where Socrates is thought to have died?

(Given the venality of the Greek government, it's amazing that those foot-high walls haven't been remade into a cock-roasting take-out joint for the breakfast trade: Cafe Asclepius.)

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