Category Archives: Prose

Creativity

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In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates frequently mentions τέχνη (technê), which is art in the archaic sense: skill or craft. The concern of this post is how one develops a skill, and what it means to have one in the first place.

Books quoted or mentioned in the text, by Midgley, Weil, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Byrne, Wittgenstein, Arendt, and Alexander

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Plato and Christianity

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This post uses work of Hannah Arendt, Augustine, R. G. Collingwood, Tom Holland, Somerset Maugham, and Ved Mehta.

Elevated highway, way above city streets

Ortaköy, December 27, 2021

In the first post of this series, I gave some reasons to read the Republic, and one of them was the problem of how our political leaders were not always the best. Plato had not solved that problem, since we still had it; but that meant nobody else had solved it either. Plato had at least taught us that people with great worldly power could nonetheless be more miserable than their subjects. In the Republic, Plato has Socrates teach that lesson

  • to Thrasymachus, in the latter part of Book I;
  • to Glaucon, who concludes at the end of Book IV that if having an unhealthy body is bad, having a vicious soul is worse;
  • in Book IX, with the account of the tyrant;
  • with the Myth of Er in Book X.

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On Reading Plato’s Republic

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In adolescence, when I started visiting art museums in Washington for my own pleasure, I would visit also the museum shops, hoping to be able to take home a souvenir. Eventually, my own memories were enough to take home.

That is what I remember observing about myself, perhaps around the time when my body stopped growing taller. That time may be used to demarcate adulthood, although in kindergarten, it had made no sense to me that our bodies could ever stop growing.

Cycad with seeds
Cycads outside Selenium Twins
in the valley above Ihlamur Kasırları
on the way to Beşiktaş
December 27, 2021

I have not been to a museum since the advent of Covid-19, but I often want a souvenir when I am reading now. The souvenir may be in the form of pencil marks in a book, or pen marks in a magazine, or various interventions in an electronic file. To be able to make such interventions, I save webpages, usually with a browser’s print function or with Print Friendly.

I may also respond to what I read by writing blog posts. This is why I now have eighteen of those on Plato’s Republic: one for each of the fourteen parts in which the dialogue was divided for an online discussion, and four more for when I had an abundance of ideas.

Where has all of that left me?

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The Divided Line

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We are still in the latter part of Book VI of Plato’s Republic, where Socrates undertakes to explain the education of the philosopher kings (502c–d). They are not literally so called, as we noted last time. They are going to need to “be able to bear the greatest studies” (503e), and “the idea of the good is the greatest study” (505a). People are confused about what the good is: many say it is pleasure; a few, knowledge (505b). It rather makes it possible to have knowledge (508d), and perhaps even pleasure (509a), as the sun makes seeing possible (508b–d). We looked at that much last time.

Sun through the leaves of planes
Dünya Barış Parkı 2021.10.30

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On Plato’s Republic, 5

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Our fifth scheduled reading in the Republic is Book IV (Stephanus pages 419–45). Socrates speaks

  • with Adeimantus, through the completion of the construction of the city in speech;
  • with Glaucon, after he insists (427d) that Socrates join in the search for justice in the city; they find it and map it back to the individual.


Intellect, spirit, and appetite
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

Before proposing a general summary, I shall note the following highlights of the reading. At the end I make some further remarks on one of these, the Law of Contradiction.

Highlights

  1. Common [they are,] the things of friends, κοινὰ τὰ [τῶν] φίλων (424a). Aristotle refers to this in Book II, Chapter 1 of the Politics, 1260b1a:

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Politics

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This is mostly about avoiding things. An early theme of Plato’s Republic is avoiding the deprivations of solitary life through politics. Some of us would rather just avoid politics. Such persons include Henry David Thoreau, Gilbert Ryle, and the inventor of the h-index (he is a physicist called Jorge E. Hirsch, but I know nothing else about him). I mentioned these persons in my last Plato post, “Badiou, Bloom, Ryle, Shorey.” I have some more to say about them here. In “Civil Disobedience” (1848) for example, Thoreau writes, “it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel”; but measures like the h-index are used to hide the human factor in the equations used to judge us.

Regarding Thoreau, I shall be looking in addition at Thoreau’s essays “Walking” and “Slavery in Massachusetts.” Other sources for this post will include

  • R. G. Collingwood, Speculum Mentis and An Autobiography;
  • 101 Zen Stories;
  • Somerset Maugham, The Gentleman in the Parlour;
  • Robert Wright, “Ending war via algorithm”;
  • Danielle Carr, “The Politics of Viruses”;
  • Patricia Fara, “It leads to everything.”


All photos are from Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 21–3, 2021

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Badiou, Bloom, Ryle, Shorey

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The discussion having been postponed for our fifth reading in the Republic, I give here some remarks that started out as part of my commentary on Book IV. The remarks concern

  • the translations of the Republic that I have been reading, mainly those of
    • Alain Badiou (b. 1937), translated in turn from the French by Susan Spitzer;
    • Allan Bloom (1930–92);
    • Paul Shorey (1857–1934);
  • the “Interpretive Essay” that accompanies Bloom’s translation;
  • a 1969 review of Bloom’s translation and essay by Gilbert Ryle (1900–76), who embarrasses the profession of philosophy (if it be a profession).

I quote also Christopher Hitchens, Daryl H. Rice, Agnes Callard, Martha Nussbaum, and Henry David Thoreau.


Palm trimmed
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

Here’s a table of contents:

Shorey

In the preface of his own translation, Bloom says Shorey’s is one of the two best English translations. The other is A. D. Lindsay’s, but I know nothing about him or it.

Being part of the Loeb Classical Library, Shorey’s translation is

  • convenient for

    • including the Greek, so that one can see that Shorey makes “the principle of doing one’s own business” (433b) from τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν (Bloom has “the practice of minding one’s own business”);
    • using footnotes rather than endnotes;
  • inconvenient for having

    • two volumes;
    • small thin pages, so that leafing through to find the passage you want is hard.


Palm bearded
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 12, 2021

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On Plato’s Republic, 4

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Our fourth scheduled reading in the Republic is Book III, Stephanus pages 386–417. Socrates continues to direct the construction of the fantastic city. Plato’s brothers, faithful as dogs, agree to two infamous proposals:

  1. The deportation from the city of any poet “who is able by wisdom to become every sort of thing and to imitate all things” (δυνάμενον ὑπὸ σοφίας παντοδαπὸν γίγνεσθαι καὶ μιμεῖσθαι πάντα χρήματα, 398a).

  2. The teaching of the Noble Lie, that the citizens were formed under ground and distinguished, according to class, with admixture of

    • gold for the rulers,
    • silver for the auxiliaries,
    • iron and bronze for the “farmers and other craftsmen” (414b–5c).

Later in this post, I shall try to analyze the reading into sections; but a serial summary of these seems tedious, and I shall focus on a few remarkable points, such as the ones above.


Two dogs with my copy of
Allan Bloom (translator), The Republic of Plato, 2016 edition,
on the beach at
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 8, 2021

I shall be quoting

  • Homer, whom Socrates loves to hate;
  • Adam Kirsch, from the 2016 introduction to Allan Bloom’s Republic translation, on the danger of summarizing Plato;
  • Pascal on the will of God as the rule for justice;
  • Bruno Bettelheim on fairy tales such as the Three Little Pigs, and perhaps our City in Speech, as opposed to fables;
  • Somerset Maugham on the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper;
  • Plato, in the Symposium, on the identity of comedy and tragedy, and Socrates as a seductive flute-player;
  • Anne Applebaum on “The New Puritans”: the same as the old ones, called Glaucon, Adeimantus, and Socrates?

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On Plato’s Republic, 3

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We are reading now Book II of Plato’s Republic, Stephanus pages 357–83, covering:

  1. The conventional arguments in favor of injustice and justice, reviewed by Plato’s brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus respectively.
  2. The beginning of the construction of the city in speech, wherein the advent of justice is to be discerned; the guardians of the city are to be like dogs and to be given a traditional education, although with none of the traditional stories, since they talk about things like parricide and bad luck.

A book next to a dog lying on the beach

Dog with copy of Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic:
A Dialogue in Sixteen Chapters, with a Prologue and an Epilogue, 2012
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey, September 2, 2021

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Chaucer, CT, Franklin’s Tale

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Remarkable teachings from the Franklin, who says he never learned rhetoric, nor read Cicero:

Pacience is an heigh vertu certeyn;
For it venquisseth, as thise clerkes seyn,
Thinges that rigour sholde never atteyne.

Patience is a high virtue certain;
For it vanquisheth, as these clerks say,
Things that rigor should never attain.

There are things that you cannot win by force. Love is one, and that is the Franklin’s theme.

You can’t hurry love
No you just have to wait

Respect is another thing that you cannot win by force. I took up that theme in considering Collingwood on “Civilization as Education” (September, 2018). Confusion here may explain the problem of bad leadership that Socrates takes up in the Republic – which I have now taken up in a new series.


Rembrandt van Rijn
Lucretia, 1664
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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