Monday, October 31, 2005
People who adhere to custom do so out of respect for their own community and its inheritance. They hold certain things sacred because some moment in their ancestral past, a great moment perhaps, consecrated them. Reverence for your own past is reverence for yourself as a people. In what way is that arbitrary? Is it silly for a people to hold geese sacred, if it happened long ago that the honking of geese saved their city from otherwise inevitable destruction at the hands of an invader?
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Epicurus believed that human beings should not fear death, since death is simply the deprivation of sensation. If we cease to exist and nothing more, what is there to terrify us? This is logical enough, I suppose, but unpersuasive, because it does not take into account the human need to be perceived. To be dead is to be in a state of unthinkable non-being. We know no other reality than being perceived, but the perception of ourselves exists only through our own agency. Deprived of our senses we are deprived of ourselves. Is that comforting? Is it even conceivable? Here is a telling question to ask yourself. Would you rather retain your consciousness after death and be tortured and tormented for all eternity or lose your consciousness entirely? I suspect that a suggestive number of people would choose the former.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
The man who takes up continuous contemplation is often one who cannot reconcile himself to his community, despite his endless self-analysis and his numerous attempts to change. He turns to thought when his object ceases to be reconciliation through the recreation of himself in the image of the community and becomes reconciliation through the recreation of the community in the image of himself. Consider Plato’s Republic. A tripartite community as the mirror image of the human soul, with reason and thus philosophers in control, was ultimately the mirror image of Plato. The forms, the ideals, the universalizing principles that so altered the course of Western perception were simply the means for Plato to justify his claims for himself. It does not matter that he never saw the realization of his community. He probably never expected to. For him it was enough to have created the alternative in theory and to believe that it was real, while the one tormenting him, the democracy that had condemned and killed Socrates, was only an illusion.
According to Plato, Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. According to Xenophon, they were not. A careful reading of the Iliad reveals that Xenophon was correct, unless we read between the lines with a preconceived assumption. Plato the philosopher claimed to see the truth where it was hidden from the sight of ordinary men. What if the simple eyes of Xenophon were the ones that actually were able to see?
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Courage is that which carries a man beyond his fears into otherwise unrealizable accomplishment. It is a conveyance or a means to an end at a specific moment in time and has no sense outside of that context. A contextualized definition, therefore, would be that courage is the love of glory, the abhorrence of shame, the lust for gold, the desire for a higher social station, or the eagerness to lower the station of others. Within the paradigm of evolutionary psychology, we can pursue this to another level. Since glory, freedom from shame, wealth, and relative social rank provided our hunting and gathering ancestors improved reproductive opportunities, courage is a Saint Crispin’s Day speech given to us by genes trying to win the French princess and get themselves copied.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
It is in our nature to feel such great fright of imagined circumstances that we govern our lives and the lives of others in the attempt to prevent their occurrence. Philosophers and theologians have made excellent use of this particular infirmity of ours.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
One of Plato’s most successful strategems was the redefinition of presupposed virtues. Courage and justice, for instance, were words that people commonly used and understood in a shared and synchronized context. Plato presumed that the words represented something real but rejected their common use on the grounds that no one could give him a universal definition free from example. That left him with hollow terms into which he could introduce his own reality. Plato should have been called a magician, not a philosopher. For the foundation of Western metaphysics was a sleight of hand.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
If customs and conventions were unnatural, it would have to follow that humans were able to construct something unnatural. How much arrogance and pride lie behind the assumptions first that we would be able to do such a thing, and second that we would be wise enough to naturalize ourselves by way of correction?
Monday, October 17, 2005
If, in our attempt to refute the false conclusion of an argument, we accept its false premises, how can our own conclusion be sound? But that is precisely what Plato did when he gave the Western world the idea or form of universal goodness. His refutation of the sophists was on their terms, because they were the ones who rejected discrete custom on the grounds that varying and unnatural were synonymous qualifiers.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Patience is important because reason is only a sense. The ancients emphasized temperance, but temperance and patience are not the same thing. We have a desire for something now, and we have a desire for something that can only be attained by suppressing the desire of the moment. Both are desires, and they are separate, except that the consequences of the first happen to interfere with the second. Patience, which is really the strength of the second desire, restrains us from satisfying the first. Temperance by contrast is the complete suppression of desire by something other than another desire. There is actually no such thing.
Consider the following logic. Human customs and laws differ everywhere you go. Therefore they are unnatural. There must be something permanent and unchanging that defines us as human beings and creates a code of behavior for us to live by. Our choices are self-interest, love, sympathy, and reason. Using nature as your justification, you can choose one of them or any combination of them, or invent one yourself if you wish. You are permitted even to redefine them all as God. Whatever your conclusion, however, it must be universally applicable. Otherwise it is unnatural.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Friday, October 14, 2005
The beginning of ethical philosophy in the West was the perceived antithesis between custom and nature. It was a clever problem, and it generated, from Plato onward, a massive tradition of profound solutions. Would it cause us any discomfort to recognize that we are entirely dependent, morally speaking, on the soundness of the antithesis? Would its obvious lack of soundness help us to understand the moral confusion that confounds our world today?
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Do laws make people good? A law that makes people good must originate in a lawmaker who has knowledge of the good. Who are all these philosophers, and how does one become one? I myself would like to make laws, because I trust my knowledge of the good more than I trust yours, at least as far as I myself am concerned.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Plato, or Socrates really, teaches us that knowledge produces right action and that reason is therefore our guide. But reason is only perception. It sees, it does not command. It is not my sight that commands me to avoid a dangerous obstacle. It is the recognition of the danger acted upon by my desire to live. Right action, so to speak, is in the desire, not in the knowledge.
The Greek intellectual tradition went from Achilles and Odysseus to Plato and Aristotle, from intelligent warriors to spirited thinkers. To this day we ourselves are defined by that now generally ignored development. Were Plato and Aristotle a manefestation of advancement or decline?
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Friday, October 07, 2005
The division of the soul into rational and irrational parts, the one the master, the other the ruled, is a huge and well-calculated error. Since the philosopher’s art is the perfection and application of reason, he proposes reason and thus himself as master.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Because of the dual nature of our self-perception, because we internalize others’ perceptions of ourselves, the man who thinks exclusively of himself is difficult to imagine. Even the selfishness of our own age is one that is carefully defined and mandated by the powers that be and is therefore a social phenomenon.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
The invented antithesis between nomos, or custom, on the one hand and physis, or nature, on the other was flawed in its conception. Custom itself is natural. What in the world is more natural in the case of man than his customs? Customs are as natural and indigenous to a region as its plants are. “But this shrub grows only here, and that shrub grows only there. Do you see how different they are? They cannot really be shrubs. Come, my good disciples! Let us leave ignorance behind and go in search of the Real Shrub. Nothing less than the fate of vegetation is at stake.”
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Already in the 5th century B.C., Democritus of Abdera makes an uncompromising distinction between the wise and the unwise and thereby elevates human thought for its own sake. Those who are wise, he implies, ought to associate only with others who are wise, with no thought for family or people. Since Democritus himself was a very wise man, his words leave us with a sense of uncertainty and discomfort. Who after all would openly avow that he chooses to remain among his kin, when that is to say that he chooses to remain among the ignorant? Democritus, by the way, is not the only one to use this scheme. Christ himself renounces his own family and instructs his followers to do the same. The modern Christian who believes that Christianity is the foundation of family might read his manual more carefully.