Saturday, August 23, 2014


[I]t is not proper for someone to withhold what he has learned in philosophy from someone else. This would be utterly disgraceful. Indeed, just as this entire universe emanated from God for no particular advantage to Him, so too is it proper for someone who has achieved some perfection to try to impart it to someone else. In this way he is imitating God as best he can.

Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides), The Wars of the Lord, Volume One, Seymour Feldman, tr. Jewish Publication Society of America (Philadelphia: 1984) p. 97. Tamar Rudavsky has a handy article on this very Aristotelian philosopher and polymath at the SEP. I keep intending to do something here on Gersonides, but it keeps slipping my mind; something to keep in mind for next year, perhaps.

In Silence Now the Purpling Summer Passes

by Clark Ashton Smith

In silence now the purpling summer passes,
The swallows fly;
The failing river scantly glasses,
Where amber twilights wane,
Our dreaming kiss above the flow'rs that die...

Will love at last remain?
Ever I pray to find
(Though all the heav'ns be blind!)
The gold of love and summer in thy hair;
And breathe between thy shadowy breasts again,
In eves of autumn wind,
All flowers that failed upon a windless air.

Academic Philosophy's Homogeneity

Eugene Sun Park has an interesting article, Why I Left Academia: Philosophy’s Homogeneity Needs Rethinking:

The pressure to accept and conform to a narrow conception of philosophy was pervasive. When I tried to introduce non-Western and other non-canonical philosophy into my dissertation, a professor in my department suggested that I transfer to the Religious Studies Department or some other department where “ethnic studies” would be more welcome. When I considered exploring issues of race in my dissertation, my advisor remarked that she had always thought of Asian Americans as “basically white,” so she was genuinely surprised that I would have any desire to pursue such topics.

Underlying these remarks are highly problematic assumptions about who “we” are and what historical figures and texts comprise “our” intellectual heritage. This is certainly a complicated and contested set of issues. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve vastly oversimplified matters with my naïve talk of West vs. East, and my use of broad categories like Asian philosophy and analytic philosophy. But one thing is absolutely clear and indisputable: “We” are no longer mostly white men of European descent. (In fact, it’s doubtful “we” were ever this.) At colleges and universities across the country, women and minorities are now frequently in the majority. While much of the rest of the academy has evolved to reflect these demographic changes, philosophy remains mired in a narrow conception of the discipline that threatens to marginalize philosophy even further.

That many academic philosophers are extremely parochial is certainly true. The only philosophers I've personally met who deny this are philosophers who would without any doubt be high on other people's lists of the preeminently parochial-minded. To some extent this is just the comfort of inertia. Modern philosophy departments were originally founded in opposition to psychology departments; they were places within the academic structure in which people could come together who thought the methods of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century psychology were misguided; they were built to provide a political counterbalance within university life to the rising influence of psychology as a field. That's simplified, but the bulk of definite early academic institutions devoted to philosophy were formed in opposition to psychology; there's a reason (to take just one obvious example) why one of the oldest and most eminent philosophy journals is called Mind. In any case, the core of the academic philosophy we have today grows out of this historical circumstance. In analytic departments one often comes across references to LEMM -- Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind -- and the centrality of these four is due almost entirely to the early intensity with which academic philosophy opposed psychology. Those philosophers trained students who were exposed to philosophy taught this way, who continued on in the same vein, and so it went, always changing, but only slowly broadening, until the present day, in which people stick with what makes them comfortable, and what makes them comfortable is usually an advanced kind of thing that they got a taste of as undergraduates.

But there is surely more to it than inertia. One sees this in arguments about 'philosophical quality', which are almost always in reality arguments about use of resources. People clearly attack the quality of feminist philosophy or continental philosophy, for instance, because they don't want competitors to their preferred way of doing things. The attacks are rarely any good. Yes, some of the specific criticisms hit their targets, but this is easy to set up anywhere in philosophy. Analytic philosophers who dismiss continental philosophers for scientific ignorance rarely dismiss analytic philosophers talking about (say) C-fiber firings, despite the fact that the latter are practically never better informed about the actual science than the former. Indeed, I have repeatedly come across analytic philosophers who dismiss out of hand any attempt to correct them as irrelevant to their point. A couple of years back someone criticized the feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, as too 'narrow' to be considered a first-tier philosophy journal; a criticism that in and of itself shows that the philosopher in question had never bothered actually to sit down with a few issues of Hypatia before making a judgment, regardless of whether it is a first-tier philosophy journal or not. What people are usually talking about when they speak about 'philosophical quality' is 'what I have to treat as worth part of my time'; this is why so many discussions of 'philosophical quality' so often seem to involve an extraordinary amount of ignorance and childishness. It's always unclear why philosophical quality requires self-appointed guardians, but even that aside quality can hardly arise from dogmatic parochialism, even if it occasionally does so despite it.

But it's hard to know, of course, what to do about it. Experts in East Asian philosophy will not appear in departments overnight, and often the worst offenders are people who can hardly be convinced to treat Plotinus or Rosmini seriously, much less Akṣapāda Gautama. I remember being shocked in graduate school that I had fellow grad students who didn't know the difference between Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius and Boethius of Dacia, but the sheer naivete of that has been made more clear every year since.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Politeia (Part I: Opening Moves)

Plato's Republic hardly needs an introduction, being one of the most important and influential works of philosophy ever written. It was often referred to in antiquity as the dialogue "On Justice", and, of course, is most commonly referred to today not by its Greek name, Politeia, or Polity, but by the latinized version, 'Republic'. The dialogue is Plato's second longest (only the Laws is longer) and in antiquity was often treated as a collection of ten dialogues, one for each book. Scholars today commonly treat it as a super-dialogue formed out of previous dialogues -- earlier forms of Book I (which could stand alone and has a structure much like a standard aporetic dialogue) and Books II-V were spliced together and then developed into then ten-book dialogue we now have. This is certainly possible, and even plausible, given the significant anachronisms found throughout; but as always with such speculations, we need to keep in mind that they are speculations.

You can read Plato's Republic online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource.

The Characters

  Socrates of Athens
Socrates is the first-person narrator.

  Glaucon, son of Ariston
Glaucon is Plato's older brother; he is also a speaking character in the Symposium and Parmenides.

  Polemarchus, son of Cephalus
Polemarchus was a fervent democrat who would later be executed by the Thirty. We have the record of what happened from Lysias, his brother, although, of course, Lysias is not a perfectly objective source. Polemarchus's house in the Piraeus is the location of most of the dialogue.

  Adeimantus, son of Ariston
Adeimantus is Plato's oldest brother; he is also a speaking character in Parmenides.

  Niceratus, son of Nicias
Niceratus is the son of the Nicias who was a character in Laches. While present, he does not speak.

  Lysias, son of Cephalus
Lysias is the same speechwriter who is discussed in Phaedrus. While present here, he does not speak.

  Euthydemus, son of Cephalus
Plato is the only early source we know who even mentions this third son of Cephalus. He is not to be confused either with the Euthydemus in Plato's Euthydemus or the Euthydemus who si the representative student of Socrates in Xenophon's Memorabilia. While present, he does not speak.

  Thrasymachus of Chalcedon
Thrasymachus was a famous orator, and is mentioned several times in Phaedrus and briefly in Clitophon. He is consistently associated with Lysias and Plato makes a great deal of his desire for money.

  Charmantides of Paeania
Very little is known about Charmantides from outside this dialogue. From a small amount of monumental evidence we can surmise that he was quite wealthy and probably almost as old as Cephalus. While present, he does not speak.

  Clitophon of Athens
This is the Clitophon of Plato's Clitophon, where he was also depicted as associating with Thrasymachus.

  Cephalus of Syracuse
Most of what we know about Cephalus comes from the speeches of his son Lysias. {{}} He ran a shield-making workshop, with many slaves; as one might expect, this was a highly lucrative business during the Peloponnesian War, and he seems to have been one of the wealthiest people in Attica. He and his sons were metics, which means they had more rights than foreigners (like Thrasymachus) but fewer than citizens.

In addition there is an unnamed slave of Polemarchus, who briefly speaks, and also apparently several other unnamed men who listen to the discussion without speaking.

Book I

Socrates opens the dialogue by narrating that yesterday he went down to the Piraeus with Glaucon to see the festival and pray to the goddess Bendis. As they were heading back to Athens, they were stopped by the slave of Polemarchus, who asked them to wait. Polemarchus, who was with Adeimantus, Niceratus, and a few others, insists that they stay, and after some banter between the two about force and persuasion, Socrates agrees. They go to Polemarchus's house, where they find Thrasymachus, Clitophon, and some others, including Polemarchus's father, Cephalus. Cephalus welcomes Socrates and chides him for not coming down to the Piraeus more often to visit, remarking that as physical pleasures vanish with old age, desire for the pleasures of conversation increase.

Socrates replies that he enjoys talking with the very old, because of their experience, and asks if old age is very difficult. Cephalus says that he often gets together with other people his age, and most of them complain about the lost pleasures of youth ("sex, drinking parties, feasts, and the other things that go along with them" (329a). Others complain about how poorly the elderly are treated. But, Cephalus holds, the real problem is just the way people live. If people live in a way that is orderly and contented (kosmioi kai eukoloi), the burdens of age are bearable; if they live immoderately, both youth and age are unbearable. Socrates remarks that most people would think that Cephalus could only say this because he was very wealthy. Cephalus replies that facing old age while poor is very difficult, but that having wealth does not automatically make one's old age better.

Socrates remarks that Cephalus doesn't seem excessively devoted to money, and asks what the greatest benefit of being wealthy is. Cephalus, admitting again that most people wouldn't agree with him, says that as you get old, you begin to think about Hades, and about the potential consequences of having lived a life of injustices. Being wealthy helps you to avoid deceiving people and to pay back what you owed to men and to gods.

Socrates asks whether justice just is telling the truth and paying what you owe, noting that you do not give a friend a weapon you borrowed if they are out of their mind. But Polemarchus jumps in and says that this is exactly what it seems to be, quoting the famous line in Simonides about how justice is rendering what is due to each. Cephalus leaves to do sacrifices, and Polemarchus takes over his role. After some questioning, Socrates elicits from Polemarchus that he takes this to mean that we should benefit friends and harm enemies (cp. Clitophon). This makes the just the same as the appropropriate and fitting (opheilomenon kai prosekon); but the further question is, for what? After some discussion, Polemarchus says money (331b), but this just runs into similar problems, leading to the apparent conclusion that justice is the skill that governs using money when you aren't using it as money, which doesn't seem a particularly important skill, and, moreover, it seems to bring us to the conclusion that the just person would make a good thief (cp. Hippias Minor). Polemarchus agrees that this is not what he intended, but insists that justice is benefiting friends and harming foes. But this runs into the obvious problem that we could be friends with unjust people and enemies to just people, due to being mistaken; and thus justice would in those cases including harming just people. So it seems we must say that justice is benefiting the just and harming the unjust. Socrates goes on to argue, however, that it is never just to harm anyone, and suggests that whoever came up with the idea that justice involved harming one's enemies was probably a "wealthy man who believed himself to have great power" (336a).

At this point Thrasymachus hurls himself into the conversation (336b-c):

What nonsense have you two been talking, Socrates? Why do you act like idiots by giving way to one another? If you truly want to know what justice is, don't just ask questions and then refute the answers simply to satisfy your competitiveness or love of honor (philotimou). You know very well that it is easier to ask questions than to answer them. Give an answer yourself, and tell us what you say the just is. And don't tell me that it's the right (to deon), the beneficial (to ophelimon), the profitable (to lousiteloun), the gainful (to kerdaleon), or the advantageous (to sympheron), but tell me clearly and exactly what you mean; for I won't accept such nonsense from you.

Socrates says that clever people like Thrasymachus should not be hard on unclever people like them, and Thrasymachus laughs, saying that this is just Socrates' usual irony (eironea) or deceptiveness, and that he bet some others earlier that if Socrates were put on the spot to answer questions, he would slip into irony just to avoid doing so. Socrates responds that it's difficult to answer questions if Thrasymachus insists on eliminating all the likely answers beforehand rather than letting him answer in the way that turns out to be true after investigation. Thrasymachus in turn complains that Socrates wants to avoid teaching, instead preferring to learn from others without being grateful. But the others involved, especially Glaucon, convince Thrasymachus to give his own account of justice.

The account, of course, is well-known: justice is nothing other than what is advantageous (to sympheron) to the stronger. Different cities have different regimes; in each of these regimes there is some ruling power. Justice is what is advantageous to the ruling power. Socrates, of course, recognizes that this is one of the forbidden answers, with 'to the stronger' attached; so he focuses in on this modification. Ruling powers are capable of erring, even about what is advantageous to themselves; but this means there can be cases of conflict, e.g., it is advantageous to the ruler to be obeyed but the ruler may command something disadvantageous to the ruler. Polemarchus is very impressed by this argument; Clitophon is not. The two square off, with Clitophon insisting that what Thrasymachus holds is that the advantageous to the stronger is whatever the stronger thinks is advantageous. Thrasymachus denies that this is what he means, because someone who is in error is not one of the stronger insofar as he errs.

Socrates then argues that in every other craft (techne), the craft is advantageous to what is less powerful or weaker than the craft itself -- medicine has power over the body and works for its advantage, etc. Thrasymachus responds that shepherds and cowherds tend sheep and cows for their own good, or their master's good, not for the good of the sheep and the cows. Likewise, justice benefits the stronger and harms the weaker. In business it is unjust men who come away wealthier, not just men. In taxes it is the just who end up paying, not the unjust. In subsidies it is the unjust who get the funds, not the just. Just people in public offices find that their private affairs suffer because their public responsibility hampers their ability to maneuver for their benefit and the benefit of their friends; unjust people thrive because they ignore any responsibility that does hamper them in this way. Thus, says Thrasymachus, "A person of great power outdoes everyone else" (344a). (This single sentence, ton megala dynamenon pleonektein, introduces one of the most important ideas of the dialogue, that of pleonexia, the craving for more and more, which Plato regards as the root of injustice.) Thrasymachus concludes:

Those who reproach injustice do so because they are afraid not of doing it but of suffering it. So, Socrates, injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice. And, as I said from the first, justice is what is advantageous to the stronger, while injustice is to one's own profit and advantage. (344c)

All of this is quite important, and the ideas raised by Thrasymachus will be considered throughout the dialogue. Socrates replies that he is unpersuaded by it, however. He asks if rulers rule willingly, which Thrasymachus says that they do. But in every other craft, people don't rule just for the sake of ruling, but for some benefit, because it is the ruled that benefit from the craft. If we are talking about the shepherd, the sheep benefit just from the shepherd's being a competent shepherd, regardless of whether the shepherd gets anything out of it or not. Any benefit for the shepherd has to be added on.

Socrates proposes that love of money (philargyron) and love of honor (philotimon) are despised by decent people when it comes to matters of rule. Since the craft of ruling would not benefit the ruler, and since decent people would refuse to be regarded as ruling if it meant being seen as money-grubbing or attention-whoring, decent people have to be compelled to rule. But what could compel a decent person to take up politics? Only the fact that it is a terrible burden to be ruled by someone less just than yourself. Thus it still seems to be the case that justice is not what is advantageous to the stronger. But Thrasymachus in his argument has raised an even more important question, because his argument for his thesis involved claiming that the unjust life was better than the just life. He asks which life Glaucon would consider better, and Glaucon replies that he regards the just life as more profitable.

Socrates asks whether Thrasymachus considers justice a virtue and injustice a vice, and Thrasymachus denies both, since injustice is profitable and justice is not. Those who are unjust and can bring whole cities under their sway are in fact competent (phronimoi) and good (agathoi). Injustice on such a scale is splendid (kalon) and strong (ischyron). Socrates asks whether a just person wants to outdo (pleon echein) the unjust person, but not the just person, according to desert, and Thrasymachus says he does, and also says that the unjust person thinks he deserves to outdo (pleon echein) everyone. On the basis of this, Socrates argues that it is in fact the just person who is competent, because competent people in every other field are not interested in outdoing the competent but the incompetent: it is always the competent who make differentiations in what people deserve, and you consistently find that the people who think they deserve more than anyone else are actually incompetent. This argument makes Thrasymachus blush. Socrates goes on to argue that the just are stronger than the unjust because they work together and the unjust are constantly making enemies of men, of gods, and even of themselves. Thus it is justice that is the virtue and injustice that is the vice.

Thus what remains is to look at whether the just have better (meinon) and happier (eudaimonisteroi) lives than the unjust. Socrates thus argues that in everything else, what corresponds to virtue/excellence is what performs its work well, so that what is virtuous for the soul (psyche), i.e., whatever it is that makes us alive, is what makes it so that we live well. But since justice is the virtue, it is what makes us live well, not injustice, and since nobody regards it as profitable to live badly, justice is more profitable (lysitelesteron) than injustice.

Thrasymachus essentially concedes the argument to Socrates, although obviously without being convinced, but Socrates notes that he is not satisfied. Rushed on by the argument, none of the points he mentioned were discussed adequately, and the especially important point is that they never actually determined what justice was, and without knowing what justice is, they can't seriously know whether it is a virtue or makes anyone happy.

And thus ends Book I. One of the things that makes the Republic as long as it is, is that no major issue raised will fail to be woven into the whole tapestry by the end; quite literally everything will find its place -- even side comments will bloom to fruition later.

  Additional Remarks

* The Piraeus is about five miles away from Athens proper, although the walk is entirely within the Long Walls:

Lange Mauern.png
"Lange Mauern". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

* It is perhaps notable that, just as in the dialogue Clitophon, Clitophon spends most of the dialogue not listening to Socrates and getting what Socrates has previously said wrong, so here he gets Thrasymachus wrong, too, since (as Polemarchus notes) he attributes to Thrasymachus something Thrasymachus does not actually say. And when asked by Socrates, of course, Thrasymachus himself denies that Clitophon's statement is what he means. It seems that this has to be deliberate: Clitophon gets everyone wrong, whether he's talking Socrates in Clitophon or Thrasymachus in the Republic.

* The discussion between Thrasymachus and Socrates, of course, echoes (or is echoed by) the discussion between Callicles and Socrates in Gorgias; but the two dialogues take the basic points in rather different directions. Rachel Barney, in her excellent SEP article on Callicles and Thrasymachus, notes that the kinds of views put forward by both seem to be found elsewhere, e.g., in the works of Antiphon the Sophist, and suggests that the positions put forward by Callicles, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon (when Glaucon reformulates Thrasymachus's position in Book II) can be seen as part of a systematic attack on this influential position:

Antiphon's text and meaning are unclear at some crucial points, but the idea seems to be that the laws of society require us to act against our own interests, by constraining our animal natures and limiting our natural desires and pleasures; and that it is foolish to obey these laws when we can get away with following nature instead. Without wanting to deny the existence of other contemporary figures working similar terrain, we can easily read Callicles, Thrasymachus and Glaucon as Plato's analysis of Antiphon into three possible positions, distinguished in order to clarify the complex philosophical options involved in the immoralist challenge. Thrasymachus represents the essentially negative, cynical and debunking side of the immoralist stance, grounded in empirical observations of the ways of the world. At the same time his idealization of the ‘real ruler’ suggests that this is an unstable and incomplete position, liable to progress to a Calliclean ‘heroic’ form of immoralism. Callicles represents immoralism as a new morality, dependent on the contrasts between nature and convention and between the strong and the weak. Glaucon shows that immoralism can do without the latter: we are all complicit in the social compact which establishes law as a brake on self-interest, and we all have every reason to cheat on it when we can.

Thus the Republic when paired with Gorgias constitutes a full-scale attack on all the major ways one could go about holding the position that might makes right, or any position equivalent to it. It is this, combined with Plato's ingenuity as a writer, that has made the Republic the classic it is: nowhere else do you find such an intense defense of civilization against the idea that repeatedly threatens to destroy it.

Crowned, Girdled, Garbed and Shod with Light and Fire

Christopher Marlowe
by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Crowned, girdled, garbed and shod with light and fire,
Son first-born of the morning, sovereign star!
Soul nearest ours of all, that wert most far,
Most far off in the abysm of time, thy lyre
Hung highest above the dawn-enkindled quire
Where all ye sang together, all that are,
And all the starry songs behind thy car
Rang sequence, all our souls acclaim thee sire.
"If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,"
And as with rush of hurtling chariots
The flight of all their spirits were impelled
Toward one great end, thy glory--nay, not then,
Not yet might'st thou be praised enough of men.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Philosophical Bendideia (Re-Post)

Since I'm gearing up to go through the Republic for the Plato/Xenophon project, I thought I would re-post this comment from two years ago.

Plato's Republic is notable because it doesn't take place in Athens itself. It occurs in the Piraeus, which was the very nearby docktown serving as home for the formidable Athenian navy. When people are setting out the background for the Republic, they often emphasize the fact that it was considered the sort of place reputable Athenians would rarely go; it was crawling with Thracian foreigners, and had the sort of reputation docktowns often do. So what is Socrates doing in the Piraeus? The answer lies with the Thracians.

The Thracians had a moon goddess, called Bendis, a very wild sort of goddess. Due to an oracle given at Dodona, the Athenians had established a shrine for her. Both the Athenians and Thracians had festivities devoted to her, and in the fifth century these festivities, while still remaining distinct, had become so popular that the day was made an official holiday, the Bendideia. While Thracians and Athenians had distinct processions, the festival was given full ceremonial backing by the state. In the beginning of the Republic Socrates tells us has gone down to the Piraeus with Glaucon for the very first such holiday, to see how it would be celebrated.

"I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants," he says; "but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful." After seeing the processions and making their prayers, Socrates and Glaucon begin to head back to Athens, but are stopped almost immediately when young Polemarchus has a servant physically grab Socrates's cloak (not the last time in the dialogue that Polemarchus will stop someone with a grab). Polemarchus is at the festival with a group of young men, including Adeimantus and Niceratus. Polemarchus insists that Socrates and Glaucon remain -- indeed, he jokingly threatens to force them to stay because they are outnumbered. When Socrates still refuses, Adeimantus points out that there are evening festivities -- especially a horseback relay race with torches. And Polemarchus dangles the last bit of bait by saying that a whole group of young people are going to be getting together to talk, so Socrates and Glaucon stay, and the rest of the dialogue occurs in Polemarchus's house.

Commentators have occasionally speculated as to the significance of this elaborate set-up. Descending and ascending end up being important concepts throughout the dialogue, most strikingly in the Allegory of the Cave, and sosome have suggested that there is an important significance to the fact that Socrates and Glaucon descend to the Piraeus, and this seems to be plausible. Others have suggested that there is an irony, since Socrates will be charged later with worshipping foreign gods, that the whole scene is a festival in which a foreign god is given official recognition. Others have suggested a sharp contrast between the wild revelry of the barbarian festival and the civilized topic of the discussion.

There is probably something to all this, although it's hard to know how far to take it. But I would suggest that, at the very least, there is something else going on. I mentioned that Socrates says that the procession of the Thracians is just as beautiful as the procession of the Athenians, if not more so, and that Bendis was a Thracian goddess. The Thracians are mentioned explicitly one more time in the dialogue:

Must we not acknowledge, I said, that in each of us there are the same principles and habits which there are in the State; and that from the individual they pass into the State?--how else can they come there? Take the quality of passion or spirit; it would be ridiculous to imagine that this quality, when found in States, is not derived from the individuals who are supposed to possess it, e.g., the Thracians, Scythians, and in general the Northern nations; and the same may be said of the love of knowledge, which is the special characteristic of our part of the world, or of the love of money, which may, with equal truth, be attributed to the Phoenicians and Egyptians.

Notice that the Thracians are associated with "the quality of passion or spirit" while "the love of knowledge" is associated with the Athenians. The love of knowledge, of course, is closely associated with reason. And the quality of passion or spirit here is thumos (or thymos, depending on how you transliterate it). It's hard to translate; 'spirit' in the sense of 'spirited' is very close, which is why it is usually used, but it's our drive for exaltation, honor, eminence, glory. Thumos is important in the Republic, and what is notable is that much of the dialogue is concerned with arguing that justice in human beings requires a particular relationship between thumos and reason. One sees this, for instance, in Socrates's many-headed image of man: we have a human head, a lion head, and a many-headed monster. The human head is our reason; the heads of the many-headed monster are our passions; and the lion head is our thumos. Left to themselves the heads of the many-headed monster will terrorize the human head and, because they have no unity will drive a human being every which-way. But if the human head and the lion head work together, they can intimidate the many-headed monster, giving it unity and order. Other examples of the important relation between reason and thumos can be found.

It's significant, then, that the Thracians, who are associated with thumos, and the Athenians, who are associated with reason, are joined together in the festival: they remain distinct, but they both play a part. And, remember, Socrates said that the procession of the Thracians was a part of the festival just as beautiful as that of the Athenians. The Piraeus, with its heavy mixture of Athenians and Thracians, on the Bendideia, the day that is most due to the mixing of Athenian and Thracian culture, is the perfect setting for a dialogue in which the relation between thumos, represented by the Thracians, and reason, represented by the Athenians, plays a key role. Even if we read a sort of implicit disapproval of the revelry and foreignness of the festival (I think it, like Plato's disapproval of democracy, is often exaggerated), it is surely an ironic disapproval, because the foreign revelry is itself a sort of picture of what the Republic proposes. From the very beginning, the very way in which the dialogue is set, we know that the what the Platonic Socrates is proposing here is a philosophical Bendideia, the idealized truth of which the Bendideia itself is a crude picture.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Anti-Natalism at the Limit

John Danaher discusses an interesting recent argument from suffering by Dagfinn Sjaastad Karlsen:

(1) There exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally good Creator (a ‘true God’).
(2) Beings who suffer have been caused to exist.
(3) A true God meets any requirement entailed by benevolence.
(4) Benevolence requires that harm be avoided unless its avoidance implies greater harm or deprivation of benefits that outweigh the avoided harm.
(5) The never-existent cannot be deprived.
(6) The falsity of (2) avoids harm.
(7) The falsity of (2) entails no harm discouraged by benevolence, nor any deprivation of benefits (from (5)).
(8) A true God could have caused (2) to be false (from (1)).
(9) Benevolence requires that (2) be false (from (4), (6), and (7)).

What's called benevolence here is what's usually called nonmaleficence; this would be a purely stipulative matter except for the fact that nonmaleficence is very often considered only a presumptive or prima facie obligation capable of being overridden by more robust moral principles, showing that the argument is assuming that there are no other relevant moral principles on the table. Karlsen assumes that the only or even most obvious way to reject (3)+(4) is to take divine goodness to be 'inscrutable', but this is very obviously false; there are a lot of different ways one could go here; (4) is not as innocent of presuppositions as it is taken to be. Giving someone a free immense and ongoing benefit in exchange for having risked (and, as it happens, received) a painful papercut today would violate 'benevolence' understood in this way: the only reason (4) allows for harm not being avoided (note that it is not 'harm being caused' but the much weaker 'harm not being avoided') is avoiding worse harm or an overweighing deprivation of actual benefits. (If one were to interpret it as allowing not giving the immense and ongoing benefit as deprivation of benefits, it wrecks validity of the argument, because (6)+(7) would no longer cover all the options that need to be considered to draw a conclusion. Thus it has to be deprivation of benefits already in hand, and not deprivation of future benefits.)

Karlsen states flat-out, "The primary objective of morality is to avoid harm." While it is uncontroversial that this is an objective, Karlsen actually needs it either to be the only objective or the primary objective in such a way that it can never under any circumstances or conditions be subordinated to another objective. That is, simply holding that it is the usually-most-important of many objectives is too weak, because then (3) would immediately be in doubt -- perhaps there are exceptions to the requirements of benevolence consistent with being morally good.

What (4) is effectively doing in the argument is making it so that one is not allowed to consider what benefits might follow from existence or non-avoidance of harm. Take a very simple example like letting one's children play a sport. Letting one's children play a sport is not avoiding harm; the risks of harm involved in playing a sport are many, extensive, and ineliminable from the game. In sports people will occasionally get hurt and, again, (4) does not require that one be causing the harm oneself, but only that one not be avoiding the harm. (This interpretation is not only the most obvious interpretation of the words, it is required by (8)'s having any function in the argument. (4) in this argument requires that one avoid harm not just by not causing it but also by eliminating risks for it.) It is almost never going to be the case that not letting your children play sports implies greater harm or deprivation of benefits than a serious sports injury; there are plenty of children who do just fine not getting anywhere near sports, and while one makes the worst sports injuries as rare as possible, the only way to avoid them entirely is not to let any children play sports ever. Now we see here a case where at the very least where people in fact regularly consider the benefits of non-avoidance of harm in their reasoning, and, indeed, clearly think it is defective not to do so. But even if we set that aside, while we could obviously discuss the prudence of the options on the table, is it really a violation of the requirements of benevolence to allow one's children to participate in activities with a risk of harm on any other grounds at all except to avoid greater harm or deprivation of benefits in hand? Are we really all committed by the requirements of morality to strict tutiorism? There are excellent reasons to reject such an idea, and, in fact, the number of serious views in ethics consistent with it are very, very few.

So the argument seems to run into problems from the get-go. It's worth noting, incidentally, that the argument overall is in fact simply an anti-natalist argument taken to its limit. Anti-natalism is a philosophical position that is, as they say, trending upward. The reason that Karlsen's argument runs into this problem is simply that anti-natalist arguments usually do. It's relatively easy to argue that people should be cautious about having children; it is remarkably difficult to argue that everyone has presumptive or prima facie obligation not to have children, and the arguments for such obligations usually depend on highly controversial ethical assumptions. Karlsen needs something even stronger than this sort of prima facie anti-natalism; and, in fact, his argument is a rigorously anti-natalist argument, requiring that no one procreate (which is a non-avoidance of harm involving causing beings who suffer to exist) if they can at all help it. The reason (4) ends up being odd the way it is, is that it's the way Karlsen is getting something like the asymmetry central to rigorously anti-natalist arguments like David Benatar's; it is a way to avoid the question of whether a being who suffers in any way can also have a genuinely good life.

This, of course, is all not even getting into the vexed question of whether (5) is true. However, the primary questions about (5) are really questions about (4), as well. (5) is clearly not true as a matter of how 'deprived' is used in colloquial speech, so the question is whether it still turns out to be true in whatever very specific sense is required to make (4) true, assuming it can be made true.

Hippias Major

Hippias Major, so called because it is longer than Hippias Minor, is a highly disputed dialogue, although in recent years scholarly judgment seems to be tipping heavily in the direction of authenticity. The major problem it faces is simply that it is never actually cited by anyone until very late, although some comments by Aristotle might be alluding to it. The dialogue is on the topic of to kalon, which is tricky to translate; the closest translation is probably 'the beautiful' (it is the word usually translated as 'the beautiful' in Plato's Symposium), but it can also be translated as 'the fine' and 'the noble'. Perhaps a translation that would fit with the scope of the word is 'the splendid', and I will use that term myself (although the translation I will use uses 'the fine'). It is perhaps one of the most important terms in ancient Greek culture, being the term that more than other indicated a favorable evaluation. The dialogue is structurally interesting in that it is structured by an ingenious joke that is very well executed, and the surprise of which I will not spoil here. It is a sign of how humorless nineteenth-century German Plato scholarship was that the mere existence of the joke was what actually launched doubts about the dialogue's authenticity. As it is, it is probably the most thoroughly humorous of the aporetic or perplexed-conclusion dialogues.

You can read Greater Hippias online in English at the Perseus Project or in French at Wikisource. Nickolas Pappas's SEP article on Plato's Aesthetics has a short but handy summary of some of the most important ideas of the dialogue. But you can get an even shorter handy summary from the last line of the dialogue, which gives one of the few things Plato's Socrates ever claims to know: Chalepa ta kala, the splendid things are difficult.

The Characters

The dialogue is an apparently private discussion between Socrates and Hippias of Elias, the same polymathic sophist who is a character in Hippias Minor. It happens to be important for a key passage in the dialogue that Socrates is the only son of Sophroniscus.

The Plot and The Thought

Socrates opens the dialogue by hailing Hippias as splendid and wise, and notes that he hasn't been in Athens in a while. Hippias replies that he constantly gets sent on embassies for Elis, and has recently most often been sent to Sparta. Socrates remarks ironically that this is what it is to be wise: make a lot of money off of young people while providing very public services to the city. But, he notes, it's odd that the wise of antiquity, the Seven Sages of Greece, and some more recent wise men like Anaxagoras, have avoided such state affairs. Hippias replies that this was surely due to lack of ability, and agrees with Socrates' suggestion that the skill of sophists has progressed like the skills of others, although he says he always plays up the skill of the ancients on the principle that one should avoid the envy of the living and the wrath of the dead. Socrates remarks that Hippias is putting splendid thoughts into splendid words, and adds the examples of Gorgias and Prodicus and, earlier than they, Protagoras. Hippias replies that Socrates has no idea just how splendid it is, since he makes an immense amount of money. Socrates' response to this, of course, is highly ironic.

Socrates then asks if Sparta is where Hippias has made the most money, and this leads to a discussion of Sparta, the implication of which is that Hippias perhaps does not actually know how to make people virtuous, at least in the judgment of Sparta, which has the reputation for producing the most virtuous Greeks. Hippias relates that recently in Sparta he gave a speech in the person of Nestor, the famed wise man from the Trojan War, speaking to Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, on what sort of activities are splendid, i.e., "the sort of activities that would make someone famous if he adopted them while young" (286b). He is going to demonstrate the same speech at the invitation of Eudicus (who is mentioned in Hippias Minor, as well), and invites Socrates along. Socrates says he will "if all goes well" (286c), but says that Hippias has reminded him of someone who was insultingly questioning him about whether he would be able to say what the splendid was, and how he was completely stuck in trying to answer it.

On the basis of this Socrates gets Hippias to try to give a definition of the splendid, but Hippias turns out to have difficulty distinguishing between giving a definition of the splendid and giving examples everyone recognizes as splendid. (It is the kind of weakness to which polymaths are subject, in my experience.) His attempts at answering the question are:

(1) A splendid woman is a splendid thing.
(2) The splendid is gold.
(3) The most splendid is to achieve old age, to give your parents a splendid funeral, and to have a splendid funeral given by your children.

Socrates, of course, is able to show a number of problems with these suggestions. He then goes through some possibilities of his own (while playing off answers Hippias gives to the questions):

(1) The splendid is the appropriate (to prepon).
(2) The splendid is the useful (to chresimon).
(3) The splendid is the beneficial (ton ophelimon).
(4) The splendid is the kind of pleasant that comes to be through hearing or seeing (to meros tou hedeos to epi te opsei kai te akoe gignomenon).

Each of these has problems, though. The first seems to founder because it cannot be used to distinguish what is really splendid from what only appears to be so; the second runs into problems because usefulness is based on power, which can be used to do the base as well as the splendid; the third seems to make the splendid different from the good; and the fourth seems not actually to identify what the splendid is, since it does not say what it is that the pleasant through hearing and the pleasant through sight have in common.

Hippias gives his last account of what is splendid (or fine):

But here's what is fine and worth a lot: to be able to present a speech well and finely, in court or council or any other authority to whom you give the speech, to convince them and go home carrying not the smallest but the greatest of prizes, the successful defense of yourself, your property, and friends. (304b)

Hippias continues that Socrates' friend who keeps asking the annoying questions should abandon his quibbling. (Compare Callicles in Gorgias.) Socrates replies that he seems to be in a bad place; if he tries to compete with wise men like Hippias, he gets "mud-spattered" (304c) by their speeches; but if he agrees with them, then the annoying interlocutor insults him for not knowing what the splendid is. But, he says, it is probably for the best; as the proverb says, what's splendid is difficult. And thus the dialogue ends.

  Additional Remarks

* Catherine Zuckert in Plato's Philosophers has an excellent summary of the implications of Hippias's proposals for the splendid/fine/beautiful/noble:

Readers get a sense of the customary noble pursuits Hippias would say that Nestor recommends to young men like Neoptolemos from the sophist's three attempts to say what is noble (or beautiful)--a noble virgin (whom a young man should take as wife), gold (which he should amass not merely to support but to adorn himself and his family), and finally a beautiful burial by one's own offspring (after having become rich, healthy, and honorable enough to reach old age and have provided a noble funeral for one's parents). The definitions correspond, loosely, to three stages in a man's adult life. (pp. 261-262)

This no doubt relates to Hippias's conception of what an irrefutable account is: saying what everyone thinks (288a); these answers are calculated to be the kinds of things that young men would have assumed without thinking constituted the successful life.

* As always with the aporetic dialogues, even though we never get an account of to kalon, the journey is not fruitless. We learn just how expansive the concept is, and that it has some connection to the good (ton agathon) and to pleasure. We also, and perhaps more importantly, have put into question what many of the ancient Greeks would have thought of as a splendid life.

Quotations are from Paul Woodruff's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 898-921.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Links of Note

* Donald Rutherford, The Future of the History of Modern Philosophy
Martha Bolton, Some Reflections on Scholarship in the History of Modern Philosophy

* Jean Paul Sartre and Jorge Luis Borges reviewed Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. Sartre argued that it was not cinema and Borges said it was tedious.

* Thony Christie, Galileo, Foscarini, The Catholic Church, and heliocentricity in 1615 Part 1 – the occurrences: A Rough Guide.

* Jimmy Akin has started a blog to review every Doctor Who episode.

* Two recent IEP articles:
Julia Jorati, Gottfried Leibniz: Philosophy of Mind
Andrew Blom, Hugo Grotius

* The Clerk of Oxford on the Battle of Maldon

* Philosophers' Carnival #166

* Ed Feser considers an argument that omnipotence and omniscience are incompatible.

* The LegoAcademics Twitter feed

* Paul Raymont discusses Viennese cafes and their role in the intellectual life of the day.

* Evan Thompson on Buddhist philosophy and the embodied mind.

* Mark Blitz, Understanding Heidegger on Technology

* A reporter in Ferguson, MO, saw some things on the ground, took a picture, and put up a tweet asking for confirmation that they were rubber bullets. They were quite obviously foam earplugs, leading to extensive mockery on Twitter, some of which is actually very funny. What's actually sad is that in American journalism today it's a tribute to the reporter's integrity that he actually took the trouble to make sure.

* John Wilkins recently did a number of interview-videos on key concepts in philosophy of science:

Philosophy of Science
The Demarcation Problem
Bayesian Epistemology, Scientific Realism, Science and Politics, Maps and Territories

* Bertrand Russell in Bollywood:

Shravasti Dhammika explains the background to this somewhat surprising Bollywood casting.

The Method of Truth

It is far, therefore, from being requisite that philosophy, following the mathematical sciences as a handmaid, should endeavor servilely to copy them, as has been so often erroneously done, and, in spite of experience of its impracticability, over and over again attempted....The true method (that, namely, which alone deserves to be so called, the method of truth) is based on the simple process of thought and its living development, in which one thought springs and unfolds itself naturally from another, and rigidly excludes all that is foreign and repugnant. The true method does not move in paragraphs and numbered propositions, making an outward parade of an apparently strong chain of evidence, in which, however, a rigid scrutiny often detects some specific link in the chain totally valueless and without illative force, or at least weak and far from cogent, or placed in a false position, to which it has properly no reference, and only in appearance filling the void it covers.

Friedrich von Schlegel, The Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr., p. 346.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mereological Syllogisms

Mereology is the logic of parts and wholes, although in practice people mostly stick to parts. The two major mereological operators are Part and Overlap. They are pretty much what they sound like. Overlap is symmetric; if a overlaps b, b overlaps a. Part is asymmetric; if a is part of b, it does not follow that b is part of a. (One tricky point is that parthood as usually understood requires that everything is a part of itself, and allows for the possibility that a may be part of b and b part of a, in which case a and b are equivalent.) Part directly implies Overlap. In principle you can do everything with Part than you can with Overlap and vice versa, but it is sometimes convenient to have both.

One of the things you can do with Part and Overlap is to do syllogisms with them, quite literally. For instance, here is a mereological Barbara syllogism:

b is part of c
a is part of b
Therefore a is part of c.

We could summarize this as Pbc + Pab = Pac. (If we wanted to say that something was not a part of something else, we would use ~P instead of P.) Add O for overlap and all the other traditional syllogisms, including the weakened ones, follow with valid mereological arguments.

Barbara: Pbc +Pab =Pac
Celarent: ~Obc + Pab = ~Oac
Darii: Pbc + Oab = Oac
Ferio: ~Obc + Oab = ~Pac
Barbari: Pbc + Pab = Oac
Celaront: ~Obc + Pab = ~Pac

Baroco: Pcb + ~Pab = ~Pac
Cesare: ~Ocb + Pab = ~Oac
Camestres: Pcb + ~Oab = ~Oac
Festino: ~Ocb + Oab = ~Pac
Cesaro: ~Ocb + Pab = ~Pac
Camestros: Pcb + ~Oab = ~Pac

Bocardo: ~Pbc + Pba = ~Pac
Darapti: Pbc + Pba = Oac
Datisi: Pbc + Oba = Oac
Disamis: Obc + Pba = Oac
Ferison: ~Obc + Oba = ~Pac
Felapton: ~Obc + Pba = ~Pac

Bramantip: Pcb + Pba = Oac
Camenes: Pcb + ~Oba = ~Oac
Dimaris: Ocb + Pba = Oac
Fesapo: ~Ocb + Pba = ~Pac
Fresison: ~Ocb + Oba = ~Pac

In addition, invalid categorical syllogisms correspond to invalid mereological syllogisms. Any logical method adequate for categorical syllogisms -- Venn diagrams, for instance, or literal diagrams, or distribution rules, can be directly applied to mereological syllogisms. You can also do the ordinary traditional operations on the mereological syllogisms. For instance, to transform a Cesare to a Celarent, you do exactly the same perfectly legitimate operation, conversion:

~Ocb + Pab = ~Oac
becomes, through conversion of the major,
~Obc + Pab = ~Oac

None of this is in any way surprising or new, for the simple reason that the original reasoning went the other way. Aristotle thought out the rules governing categorical syllogisms in part by thinking them out mereologically, and the discovery of logical quantity is due to recognition that you could have in some sense terms as parts of other terms (giving us A propositions) and terms as overlapping other terms (giving us I propositions). Universal and particular quantity are just Parthood and Overlap.

Since mereological operators are just modal operators, this is one reason, albeit not a definitive one, for thinking that logical quantifiers are just a kind of modal operator, Box and Diamond for a particular kind of domain.

Xenophon's Symposium

Xenophon's Symposium often gets lost in the shadow of Plato's, which is unfortunate, because it is in its own right excellent as both a literary and a philosophical work. It does certainly have some connection with Plato's; at one point, for instance, it brings up an argument that combines ideas from Phaedrus's and Pausanias's speeches in Plato, one that is so close that there must be some connection one way or another. Xenophon's is usually considered the later one primarily because it has, unlike Plato's, definite anachronisms that suggest it is quite late. The most obvious of these is a mention of the Sacred Band of Thebes, although it's always worth reminding ourselves that we have only speculation as to how early or late Plato's Symposium was written. You can also still find a minority of scholars who think that Plato's Symposium relies on Xenophon's.

Despite the connections, Xenophon's dialogue is very different from Plato's. While eros is also thematically important here, he takes things in a very different direction. It is also a more humorous dialogue, and despite its clear anachronisms, a more realistic dinner-party, as people enjoy the entertainments, get rambunctious and occasionally goofy, over-drink, and get annoyed at each other. Plato gives us after-dinner speeches; Xenophon gives us a party, complete with a dancing Socrates.

You can read Xenophon's Symposium online in English at the Perseus Project or Project Gutenberg.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)

Xenophon opens by claiming that he witnessed the events in question, but he does not actually participate in any of them. (And it has been noted more than once that he is one of the anachronisms of the dialogue; he would have been less than ten years old at the time the dialogue takes place.)

  Callias son of Hipponicus
Callias is hard to summarize. He would have been extremely well known to anyone in Athens, being the wealthiest in all of Greece (with his father the wealthiest man in Greece before him), and actively involved in politics. Because of his extraordinary wealth, he was repeatedly required to fund liturgies and warships by the city of Athens (the Athenians had no regular taxation, since they covered anything not already covered by tribute from their empire by requiring wealthy citizens to pay for them, a fact noted with some ire in this dialogue by Callias himself). He repeatedly is mentioned in comedies and did not have an entirely savory reputation, being something of a regular scandal-magnet. He is the same Callias who holds the sophists' get-together in Protagoras, and his connection with the sophists is explicitly referred to here by Xenophon, as well. He was related on his mother's side to Pericles and Alcibiades and through his first wife to Plato.

Autolycus is mentioned here at being the pancratist winner in the summer of 422. (The pancratium was a mixed martial arts event in which one could use any means to defeat the opponent except biting and gouging.) He is mocked by comedians like Aristophanes for dissolute behavior. An outspoken democrat, he was eventually murdered by the Thirty Tyrants.

Autolycus's father. This is almost certainly the same Lycon who with Anytus and Meletus would later bring charges against Socrates. There is nothing in Xenophon to indicate that he was even aware of Lycon's role (Xenophon had all his information about Socrates' trial secondhand, since he wasn't in Athens at the time), but if he was, it makes his parting comment to Socrates extraordinarily poignant. He was of some influence in Athens, and had a reputation for extravagant living despite his poverty.

Niceratus is the son of the Nicias who is a character in Laches. He is one of the anachronisms of the dialogue, since he would have been too young to be wed at the time the dialogue took place. He would be executed by the Thirty Tyrants.


Critobulus is the son of Socrates' close friend Crito.

Hermogenes is Callias's half-brother, but he was illegitimate and as poor as Callias was rich. Plato's Cratylus, in which he is a character, mentions that he saw Callias as having cheated him out of his inheritance. He shows up a lot in Xenophon, since he is apparently Xenophon's source for Socrates' last days.

Antisthenes is one of the more important students of Socrates, because he formed his own school, and his thought is generally thought to have been an influence on the later Stoic and Cynic movements. He was wealthy, but he seems to have made a point of non-attachment to possessions. Xenophon portrays him as quite volatile.

Charmides is Plato's uncle, and, of course, a character in Charmides. He was one of the ones accused of illegal performance of the Eleusynian mysteries at the time of the sacrilege of the herms, and as a result was sentenced to death in absentia. A firm oligarch, he was a close associate of Critias's and would become a member of the Ten who governed the Piraeus under the Thirty Tyrants.

Philippus is known only from Xenophon; he was a clown or comic, getting invited to dinners by joking around at them.

In addition there's a Syracusan with girls and boys who are dancers, reed-players, and the like.

The Plot and The Thought

After the horse-races at the Great Panathenaea, Callias is walking home with Niceratus, Autolycus, and Lycon when he comes across a group consisting of Socrates, Critobulus, Hermogenes, Antisthenes, and Charmides. He invites them to his dinner-party. Socrates actually remarks that he must be teasing, and all the others try to beg off, but it is clear that if they don't attend he will be quite annoyed. They all go to Callias's house and start eating in silence when Philippus comes uninvited and tries to get in; Callias decides to let him in, and Philippus tries to crack some jokes, unsuccessfully. After dinner they pour libations to the god and sing a hymn, and then the Syracusan comes in with two girls and a boy for the entertainment. After listening to the music of reed and lyre a bit, the conversation happens to turn to the question of whether true goodness can be taught. Socrates refuses to discuss it (compare Meno), but as the entertainments progress repeatedly makes comments that together constitute an argument that it can be taught. Note also Socrates' explicit statement that women are capable of education -- a more controversial claim for the highly misogynistic ancient Greeks than it would be for us -- and that women can be taught the virtue of andreia, which is translated as 'courage' or 'fortitude', but in the Greek means 'manliness'; the claim that women can even have the virtue would have been highly paradoxical to the ancient Greeks. Obviously, if women can have the virtue of manliness it follows directly that virtue can be taught, since they wouldn't be manly by nature.

Socrates asks the Syracusan if he could teach him to dance; and when everyone laughs, notes that Charmides came in on him dancing that very morning, which Charmides confirms. Philippus gets up and parody-dances. They start drinking, following Socrates' suggestion to have lots of little glasses of wine rather than a lot of wine all at once. They go around the room stating what they are most proud of. Callias says his is the skill of making people good with money; Niceratus's skill is being able to repeat all of Homer by heart; Critobulus's is being good-looking; Antisthenes's is wealth, despite having very little money; Charmides's is poverty;Socrates says that his is mastropeia, which is (more or less) the trade of pimp; Lycon says his son Autolycus; Autolycus says his father Lycon; and Hermogenes says it is the goodness and influence of his friends.

Having stated what they're most proud of, they then have to give their reasons. They do this with most joking. The most significant of the arguments are Critobulus's argument for good looks (which sets up a later stage of the dialogue, since ugly Socrates challenges handsome Critobulus to a beauty contest), Antisthenes's speech that wealth is all in the mind (which seems clearly to be an indirect attack on Callias, although Callias doesn't seem to be too riled by it), Hermogenes's argument that his friends are the gods, and, of course, Socrates' argument that he is an expert at pimping or sexual procuring. Socrates' argument is that what he does is to set up handsome young men with minds to teach them; he ends by conceding that straight-laced and ascetic Antisthenes is a better pimp than he is.

Socrates and Critobulus then face off in the beauty contest, judged by the musicians, with Socrates arguing that he is, in fact, more beautiful than Critobulus. Critobulus wins, of course, and Socrates accuses him of bribing the judges. The conversation lags, although Socrates manages to get it going again (it's notable all the way through that almost all of the actual conversation is due to Socrates; Callias himself, despite his training under the sophists, doesn't seem to be any good at keeping the discussion going). The Syracusan, however, notices that the guests are paying more attention to each other than his entertainments, and insults Socrates. (The Syracusan's view of Socrates is taken directly from the way Socrates is portrayed in Aristophanes' The Clouds.) This threatens to get out of control very quickly, since Antisthenes immediately jumps to Socrates' defense, but Socrates defuses the situation masterfully.

Socrates then begins a discussion of eros that is worth comparing with Plato's Symposium. If Xenophon's Symposium was written after Plato's, a good deal of this speech is a vehement attack on the speech of Pausanias, whose claim that pederasty was a higher love than love of man and women Socrates attacks as a defense of wallowing in license. The overall theme of the argument, however, is that eros for beauty of mind is greater than eros for beauty of body.

Lycon and Autolycus leave, with Lycon saying that Socrates seems to be a truly good man, and then the Syracusan's troupe does a little play about the love of Dionysus and Ariadne. It's a fairly intense little production, and has the married men all going home to sleep with their wives. It's a little difficult to know what to make of this; but one way of reading it is to take it as showing that no one has actually learned anything from Socrates' argument. Socrates and some others set out with Callias for Autolycus's house, and so the dialogue ends.

A major theme of the work as a whole is found in the very first paragraph:

It seems to me that in writing about the deeds of truly great men, it is proper to record not only their serious activities, but their diversions too.

The intermingling of spoude, earnestness, with paidia, playfulness, is repeatedly mentioned in the dialogue. Thus Xenophon is showing that philosophy involves a kind of play (paidia) as part of its teaching (paideia) of virtue.


Quotations are from Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates, Tredennick & Waterfield, translators, Penguin (New York: 1990), pp. 219-267.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

All Night the Pool Held Mysteries

The Morning Pool
by Clark Ashton Smith

All night the pool held mysteries,
Vague depths of night that lay in dream,
Where phantoms of the pale-white stars
Wandered, with darkness-tangled gleam.
And now it holds the limpid light
And shadeless azure of the skies,
Wherein, like some enclaspèd gem,
The morning's golden glamour lies.

Clark Ashton Smith was most famous in his own day as a poet, although since that time he has perhaps become somewhat more famous for being one of the Big Three writing for Weird Tales, the other two being H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (with both of whom he corresponded extensively, although he never met either in person). The three regularly shared story elements, so several things one finds in Lovecraft and Howard were originally invented by Smith, and vice versa. Lovecraft sometimes refers to him in his short stories as Klarkash-Ton. You can read one of Smith's short stories, Sadastor, online.

Fortnightly Book, August 17

The earliest mention of William Tell is in the White Book of Sarnen, a fifteenth century compilation of various documents in the archive of the town of Sarnen; it mentions William Tell as part of the history of the Old Confederacy of the Swiss. This is not the source of the William Tell legend, however; he was a folk hero well before that, and the Tellenlied, or song of William Tell, although it was first written down in the early sixteenth century, probably predates the White Book, at least in its earliest forms.

What made William Tell more than a local hero, however, were revolution and Romanticism. William Tell became a symbol both of fight against tyranny and of national heroism in the French Revolution. Toward the eighteenth century, Goethe was traveling around Switzerland and came across the tales of Tell. He intended for some time to write a play about William Tell but eventually passed his sources on to Friedrich Schiller. Schiller's William Tell, the next fortnightly book, was first performed and published in 1804. The play became an international sensation.

Rossini's opera is based on a French adaptation of Schiller's play, so here's the famous Finale to its Overture (officially known as "The March of the Swiss Soldiers") to get us going: