Category Archives: Persons

On Plato’s Republic, 4

Index to this series

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

Index to this series

We are reading now Book II of the Republic.

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

Our reading is Stephanus pages 357–83, covering

  • the conventional arguments in favor of injustice and justice, reviewed by Plato’s brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus respectively;
  • 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.

I am exercised by how Adeimantus in the first part, and Socrates in the second, criticize certain teachings in the Iliad, without considering how those teachings are given by one character to another, in contexts that we ought to use in judging them.

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On Plato’s Republic, 2

Constituting the latter part of Book I, the second of the Republic readings features the only sustained contribution of Thrasymachus, who argues that, if it can be pursued perfectly, injustice is superior to justice.

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On Plato’s Republic, 1

Here begins another series on readings of a classic. Now the classic is the Republic of Plato. Below are

  • the schedule of the readings;
  • a note on the participants in the dialogue of which the Republic is a recounting (when translators give lists of dramatis personae, they leave out the enslaved boy of Polemarchus, though he does speak);
  • notes on the first reading.

Though I did it for Pascal and am doing it for Chaucer, I shall not give the full texts of the Republic readings themselves. One reason is that I cannot understand the Greek well enough in isolation, but do not want to treat any translation as definitive. When I make quotations, I may cut and paste from Project Perseus, which seems to use Shorey’s translation; or I may type out Bloom’s translation.

Again I have selected a classic from among offerings of the Catherine Project. For now, the only website that I can give for the Project is the Twitter page of the founder and director, Zena Hitz. Participants in the reading groups seemed to have found them through Twitter. Not all of the other participants are in North America.

Reasons to read the Republic include the following.

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On Being Human in the Age of Humanity

This is about an essay called “Agency in the Anthropocene: How much choice do you actually have?” (Daily Philosophy, August 4, 2021). I fall in the gap in age between the author and Jeff Bezos, who (the author says) is three years her senior.

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Hostility and Hospitality

After seventeen weekly posts of readings with my annotations, the Pensées of Pascal join two other works that I have blogged about systematically, chapter by chapter or book by book:

  • R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan, or Man, Society, Civilization, and Barbarism (1942);

  • Homer, the Iliad, in George Chapman’s translation.

Do three authors belong together, for any other reason than that I have spent time with each of them?

  • For Pascal, the Torah is history, but the Iliad was written too late to be that, and is just a novel (S 688 / L 436 / B 628). It has no concept of law, he says (S 691 / L 451 / B 620), but later Greeks took this and other things from the Jews. I discussed this in “Judaism for Pascal.” For example, Philo Judaeus thinks that when Heraclitus says, “We live their death and we die their life,” this is the death wrought by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis.

  • Pascal and Collingwood both come to terms with a world of contrariety. Collingwood calls it “a Heraclitean world,” alluding to how Plato has Socrates tell Hermogenes in the Cratylus (402a, Loeb translation by Harold North Fowler),

    Heracleitus says, you know, that all things move and nothing remains still, and he likens the universe to the current of a river, saying that you cannot step twice into the same stream.

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To Be Civilized

A fellow mathematician called Robert Craigen told me in a tweet last October (2020),

I’m quite comfortable with the definition and usage of the term [“civilization”] in the work of Niall Ferguson.

Ferguson’s work then is going to be my concern here. I had asked Craigen in July,

Have you got a theory of civilization, to explain what is being destroyed? I admire (and have blogged about) Collingwood’s theory, worked out in The New Leviathan (1942) in response to the Nazis.

This was in response to his saying,

If you listen closely to those pushing all these things, destruction of civilized society is an explicitly articulated goal.

He was talking about a thread of tweets by Peter Boghossian. I am not going to talk about those tweets as such, but here they are for the record:

How to destroy civilization in 10 easy steps:

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Abraham and Gideon

The general question of this post is how Pascal’s thinking in the Pensées relates to the thinking of himself and his contemporaries about the physical and mathematical worlds.

The specific question is why Pascal juxtaposes Abraham and Gideon in two fragments of the Pensées.

A possible answer to the specific question is that God demands sacrifices of both men.

Caravaggio, Sacrifice of Isaac, 1603, Uffizi

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Pascal, Pensées, S 183–254

By the account of Martha Nussbaum, philosophy is one of two things:

  1. A form of inquiry pursued through conversation among equals.

  2. An activity of “a lonely thinker of profound thoughts.”

Nussbaum prefers the first, though having appeared in a film that promotes the second.

I watched and enjoyed the film, which is by Astra Taylor and is called Examined Life (2008). I first found it through a touching fragment, featuring a stroll in San Francisco by Judith Butler and Taylor’s sister Sunaura. Because they have a conversation at all, and on the theme that we all need one another’s help, the film becomes less subject to Nussbaum’s charge:

Portraying philosophers as authority figures is a baneful inversion of the entire Socratic process, which aimed to replace authority with reason.

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Reason in Pascal

In some of the Pensées, Pascal contrasts reason with instinct, passions, folly, the senses, and imagination.

Here I investigate Pascal’s raison, after one session of an ongoing discussion of the Pensées that is being carried out on Zoom.

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