Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Cave and the Light

FLG is about halfway through The Cave and the Light.  As you can imagine, he's enjoying it.

FLG does quibble a bit with Herman's interpretation of Plato, and not surprisingly this relates to time horizons.    At one point, Herman argues that Plato is concerned about the eternal while Aristotle is concerned about the hear and now.  FLG agrees with that.  But then, not too long later, Herman changes this, largely based upon the story of Atlantis in Timaeus, that Plato's philosophy is focused on what has been lost, while Aristotle's is focused on the future.  FLG isn't so sure about that exactly.

FLG largely attributes this to a mild Aristotelian bias, which is to be expected among people who hold PhDs.  It's fascinating to FLG because he thinks a lot of his frustration with academics can be attributed to the Aristotelian bias among academics, the origins of which he had a decent idea, bu the book is detailing.  As Herman explains about Aquinas, his overriding concern is whether "what I have said is true or not."    FLG, in his more uncharitable moments, describes this among academics as a morbid fear of being wrong.  It's not that FLG objects to wanting to say what is true, but rather that he rejects the idea that only what can be demonstrated in material reality is objectively true.   It also, as a practical matter, severely limits what they can comment upon and make claims about.

The book has also gotten FLG pondering a few other things.  First, his fascination with Chartres is probably a product of his fascination with Plato, as the design is directly inspired by Neoplatonism and the concomitant fixation on geometry. Second, FLG has never really delved too deeply into the divergence of Neoplatonism from Plato himself beyond the influence of Christianity; however, he never really considered the impact of the Neoplatonists not having access to much of Plato's work beyond Timaeus.  Lastly, and a bit of a non sequitur, gonzo journalism.

When Hunter S. Thompson said, "Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon,"  it reminds FLG of Aristotle misunderstood.  Journalists in their desire to just report the facts is futile quest to remain empirical without value, but that is not something Aristotle would have understood.   The empirical facts point toward some higher order, although for Aristotle that higher order was limited by what could be demonstrated in Nature, while for Plato the Good was beyond the material world.   And so FLG realizes that the same thing that makes the Allegory of the Cave so alluring is also the same thing that that makes gonzo journalism so appealing to him as well, but he thinks Plato would disagree.

PS.  Update.  Sorry, FLG meant to mention some of this before, but forgot.    Roger Kimball's review is accurate.   Herman does take a crowbar to the distinctions between Plato and Aristotle and then runs a bit too far with it.  Also, he seems to jump around chronologically as well for the same reason.  To create a diametrically opposed dialectic between the two thinkers throughout the ages.   But FLG is forgiving in the context of some dramatic licence to move the narrative along.

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