Friday, March 31, 2017

The City Not Built

Given the troubling similarities between Socrates’ original conversation with Thrasymachus and the eventual degenerative properties of the City-In-Words, some questions arise on a diagetic level. 

What would Socrates have discussed with those present if Thrasymachus had never arrived (or had given up his position without explaining it/defending it)? Would Glaucon/Adeimantus have responded in a similar manner to another Socratic conversation (as tailored as The Republic is in its current form to their specifications)?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Corruption of the Electorate

Alan Bloom’s reading becomes more disturbing the more that Plato’s Republic comes into focus. He calls the Republic a dramatic example of the “foundation of political science”, and sees the pallid restrictions on human character within the thought experiment as necessary for such a science.

Could the difficulties we have seen arise within Socrates' city-of-words been avoided? Are they essential ingredients of human society?

One of the reasons he gives for this characterization is his reading of the encounter at large: that Socrates is spending enough time with his conversants to be unable to avoid his own biases/doctrines. While this is supported at least on its face by other moments in Plato (the rehashing of the city or the tripartite myth of the self in the Timaeus or Phaedrus, the embittered tonal shift Laws x, etc.), the problems which arise in this reading seem to overdetermine its conjectural failings.

Even beyond the issue of Plato, are any points defended by Plato's Socrates his own (Socrates' own) beliefs? Do we believe this because of his defense of them or for some other reason (their subconscious recursion, their unchallenged nature as per chauvinism, etc.)?

I will have to return to the Interpretive Essay after completing the Republic, as much of it has to do with (the dialogue as a Socratic apology)(the place of poetry and myth within or against philosophy)(the characterization of Glaucon and Adeimantus as tyrants-in-training or possible-tyrants) rather than the political leanings of Plato. Not that these alternative points are irrelevant to Alan Bloom’s political point within the Interpretive Essay, but rather that the relevancy of these arguments’ presuppositions to the political require both literal and interpretive attention. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Few Unrelated Questions

Are the guardians warriors in the traditional Greek sense? Or have their educations strayed far enough in Books 4 & 5 so as to become some other thing than standing military force?

Furthermore, what evidence can we provide that this or is not a political thought experiment (a la Bloom)? Are the choices of rule and social authority mere shadows of the arguments surrounding justice, crafted for the audience at hand?

Finally, if we are evaluating the literary purposes of Socrates and his conversant, what level of analogy do these (little talks) (debates and speculations) have to our own education? Can we allocate “the dialogue” a place somewhere in the Socratic method (alongside the myth, the hypothetical, the bad argument, and the aporetic critique)? Are these dialogic disciples an example of education “writ large” or are they an example of pedagogical methods being bottlenecked by the complexities of personal preference (here being the youth and their focus on statecraft, war, and sex)?

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Utility & Danger of Skeptical Doubt

Socrates engages in near-constant flirtations with skeptical positions and sophistic manipulations.

 The most basic reading of this would attribute to him strangely modern presuppositions: either that morality can undergird manipulations/bad arguments with exculpatory/ulterior motives or that in the absence of accessible truth/definitions still virtue/education/good-faith must be preserved by Socratic figures.

Is there anything to the similarities we are finding between Socrates and the Pyrrhonians/Sophists/Pyrrhonists? Perhaps a pragmatic turn, an intentional divide, or a satirical mirroring?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thrasymachus and Axiomatic Assumptions

Book I of the Republic dedicates a lot of narrative energy to establishment of setting, despite how economic its exposition is. We could interpret the minor arguments as just this: character-development and window-dressing. But this is one of the reasons reading Plato is more gratifying than reading secondary sources on Plato.

Thrasymachus’s spat with Socrates does not play out how we modern readers would expect. If we pay attention, we can pick out how Socrates differs in tact from even modern philosophers (who would pivot to the foundationally distasteful core of Thrasymachus’s assumptions). Can this restraint be attributed in full to Thrasymachus’s long reach, or (more likely) is the restraint Socrates shows against providing alternative models a telling move?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Homer & Mimetic Value-Systems

Shared texts can be the basis of a community dedicated to social betterment, while restrictions to unbiased information can form propagandizing machines of hegemonic totality. In Socrates’ era there were Homeric texts to fill this role, in the 19th/20th century in certain contexts there were Biblical translations, and in class we wondered whether a similar shared text existed in our new globalized modernity. This was in response to the implication (ideological model) that shared texts are an integral piece of societal order.

Given the aporetic effects of Plato’s dialogues, however, access to education/information/intellectual charity appears the more important component of fellowship. Socrates achieves conversation despite the homogenizing effect of counter-critical Greek culture, rather than neccessarily because of it. This is muddied by his constant use of examples and acceptable comprimise. Where is the utility of shared value for an elenctic model located? Does it provide dialectic hospitality? Is it more helpful in achieving rhetorical give-and-take? Or is it an obstacle to critical thinking when over-applied/over-amplified in such a way as to become collectively accessible? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Other Readings

  Our focus on Platonic baggage has mostly been on Christian editorial bias (leading to a Plato without nuance who speaks through his characters in favor of fallacious arguments). While there are clear examples of this historical trend in modern Plato scholarship (Benjamin Jowett), it is also interesting to trace these complications back to eras closer to Plato’s. The three most prominent readings of Plato which arise from these literal direct-from-Plato interpretations are either theistic, hardline like some passages from Laws x, or in service of Presocratic-esque idealism. The turns taken by Aristotle or the Neoplatonists in their respective readings, for example, might be a place to find other inserted diversions into the literature of Plato in order to return to the text-as-it-was.