Monday, July 31, 2006

Passing and Merging

I came across this unreferenced quote the other day, scribbled in an old notebook: “The problems of Greek citizenship touch us today because they are ours, and they are ours because the experience of the Greeks has passed into our substance and merged into our being.” After I had read it and thought about it for a minute or so, two questions came to mind. First, which Greeks is this person talking about? They were not a homogenous people, either temporally or spatially speaking. Is our substance stuffed with aristocratic Homeric warriors, Spartan hoplites, Athenian demagogues, Macedonian imperialists? Or is it simply that we are all citizens of Plato's idealistic republic? Second, is it any longer possible for us in the West to purge our substance and release our being?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Impulsive Concealment

The impulse to conceal an underlying impulse must be either a different manifestation of the same impulse or itself a stronger one.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Organic Insensibility

In Plato’s Republic men of their own accord come together into society with one another in order to improve their personal circumstances. Later, however, they inexplicably lose their singularity in the context of the whole; and what were previously living beings, each endowed with a complete set of organs and a will of its own, become themselves insensible organs of another body, away from which they have no function and no life. This is the essence of Platonic justice, but we will look in vain for the bridge back to human nature.

Elementary Revolution

In order to be successful, a universal code of morality must either persuade through individual reward or resort to force; and because no code of morality can possibly be universally beneficial, they all have an element of coercion and therefore contain their own seed of revolt.

Artful Expression

Doesn’t “art for art’s sake” mean “art for the artist’s sake”?

Advance in Scholarship

A good literary scholar is rare and worthy of admiration. He actually takes his object of study more seriously than he takes himself and protects it from colleagues predisposed to promoting intellectual distortion for the sake of personal advancement.

Origin of Rebellion

Does it make sense to search for the origin of morality when we presuppose the code of morality to which it has presumably led? What if we were to discover an origin inconsistent with the presupposed code? If the code were beyond question, as moral codes tend to be, we would have to reject our findings, no matter how persuasive they were. Therefore, the search for the origin of morality could be nothing more than a quest for communal justification, or perhaps just personal intellectual recognition, unless we were engaged in an act of moral rebellion.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Truly Evil

Protagoras, the Greek sophist, taught that man was the measure of all things. The Western tradition since Protagoras has taught us that morality is a universal phenomenon. Modern psychology teaches us that a person desires to feel good about himself. Given that he is the measure of all things and is therefore the standard of universal right and wrong, he has the moral right to feel good about himself. Therefore, anything that makes an individual feel bad about himself, including the truth, is evil.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Subconscious, Unconscious, Conscious

There is a big difference between subconscious motivations that we can never really perceive in ourselves and recognizable motivations that we are unwilling to acknowledge. We have a tendency to categorize the latter as the former when in fact, if we are honest and courageous in our self-evaluation, the so-called subconscious will yield to the conscious. And as soon as we begin to uncover the dirty little truths behind our own behavior, other people will unconsciously reveal to us the secrets unperceived by their own dishonest consciousness.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Your Papers, Please

Scholars do not like the obvious, because it belongs to everybody. It is not necessary to have a Ph.D. and tenure in order to recognize it. If you try to point out the obvious to a scholar, you should not be surprised to find him resisting you with great earnestness and seriousness of purpose. For without proper credentials you are trespassing into the highly exclusive club of knowledge.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

de te fabula

Beards are in fashion among scholars today. It is amusing that they were also in fashion among the Stoic street-preachers of ancient Rome. According to the poet Horace, Roman boys enjoyed annoying these wise men by pulling on their beards. Imagine now giving a tug to the facial hair that belonged to a tenured professor at Harvard. Do you think, even if he taught the works of Horace in his classes and encouraged his students to laugh at the self-importance of the philsophers being mocked, that he would be capable of seeing himself in the mirror that Horace was holding up for him?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Worldly Differences and Divine Similarities

“There are certain laws which all peoples follow, peoples who have never had any contact whatsoever with one another. They have arrived at the same laws independently and therefore must have received them from a divine source.”

If you already believe in God, this is a persuasive argument; but it is flawed. It assumes as a premise that human beings must be either completely the same or completely different. For some reason it is unacceptable that they be the same in some ways but different in others, by their own nature and without divine intervention. Moreover sameness gets the preferred status. Why not argue that the laws which are different have come from a divine source, that God in his infinite wisdom guaranteed not our unity but our differentiation and separation?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Relatively Speaking

Insight is an unusual instinct, and scholars, who tend to confuse insight with knowledge, rarely have it. All the knowledge in the world will not generate the ability to see relations where others miss them, any more than endless practice alone can produce unique athletic talent.