Category Archives: Plato


The post below is a way to record a passage in the Euthyphro where Socrates say something true and important about mathematics. The passage is on a list of Platonic passages that I recently found, having written it in a notebook on May 23, 2018. The other passages are in the Republic; Continue reading

NL XXXVII: Civilization As Education

Index to this series

Knowing, from the previous chapter, what civilization is, we ask: How do we bring it about? Collingwood’s answer is to homeschool our children.

This is the New Leviathan’s first detailed piece of positive advice, and it may sound crazy. Rather than list reasons why, I want to see what sense can be made of the ideas.

Civility is respect (37. 15). To respect another person is to recognize their freedom (37. 14). To do this, one needs self-respect (37. 13).

Instead of respect, we may approach another person with servility, namely “the demeanour of a man lacking self-respect towards one whom he fears” (37. 17). The will to barbarism is just the will to servility (37. 19).

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926)
The Boating Party, 1893/1894, oil on canvas
Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art Continue reading

NL XXVI: Democracy and Aristocracy

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 12, 2018, edited January 26, 2019).

  1. Aristocracy and democracy are abstractions (§§26. 1[0]–28). They are inseparable from one another, and they are properly understood as correlative rules for the ruling class:
    1. Don’t let in anybody who is unqualified.
    2. Don’t keep out anybody who is
  2. By what Collingwood will call, in Chapter XXXI of the New Leviathan, the Principle of the Limited Objective (which was recognized by the Early Church Fathers), the ruling class should be prepared, not to solve every problem (as Plato wanted), but to solve those problems that are expected to come up (§§26. 3[0]–34).
  3. The democratic and aristocratic principles have been at work throughout the history of Europe: in Greece, in Rome, under the feudalism of the Middle Ages. The French Revolution was not only democratic, but also aristocratic, for aiming to give power to the bourgeoisie, not the entire population (§§26. 4[0]–66).
  4. Having been borrowed from the literary concept of peripety, the concept of revolution actually has no place in history, where there are no heroes or villains, just human beings, partly good and partly bad (§§26. 7[0]–82).
  5. The concept of a revolution in history is even dangerous, if it leads you to think a political problem can have been solved once for all (§§26. 9[0]–96).

There can be no pure democracy, not for any length of time, not if we understand a democracy to be a society whose ruling class is the whole of it. Even the most extreme democrat of ancient Greece never contemplated citizenship for women, slaves, or resident foreigners. We may be more liberal today, at least regarding women and slavery. Still we do not open the ruling class to foreigners, such as myself where I am; nor do we open it to children. We could do so, in the sense of extending the franchise to all human residents. Both possibilities were discussed favorably in the early 1990s by a legal minor in The Nation, as I recall. However, perhaps most children could not be given such adminstrative duties as used to be assigned by lot to Athenian citizens. Even if they could, what of the animals that live among us—shall they be citizens?

Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849),
The Cornell Farm, 1848, oil on canvas,
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch,
National Gallery of Art Continue reading

What It Takes

This essay ends up considering arguments that natural science—especially mathematical physics—is based on absolute presup­positions whose mythological expression is found in Christianity—especially the doctrine of Incarnation.

I take note along the way of continuing censorship of Wikipedia by the Turkish state.

The post falls into sections as follows.

  • Where to start. To the thesis that everybody can be a philosopher, an antithesis is that persons with the professional title of philosopher ought to know the history of their subject.
  • Ontology. Disdain for this history may lead to misunderstanding of Anselm’s supposed proof of the existence of God.
  • Presupposition. To prove anything, you need a pou sto, or what Collingwood calls an absolute presupposition.
  • Progression. Newton rejected antiquated presuppositions
  • Reaction. Coal-burners and racists reject new presuppositions.
  • Universality. From the 47th chapter of the Tao Te Ching (in the translation of Gia-fu Feng and Jane English):

    Without going outside, you may know the whole world.
    Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
    The farther you go, the less you know.

    Thus the wise know without traveling;
    See without looking;
    Work without doing.

  • Religion. To say that we can know the laws governing the entire universe is like saying a human can be God.
  • Censorship. Thus everybody who believes in mathematical physics is a Christian, if only in the way that, by the Sun Language Theory, everybody in the world already speaks Turkish.
  • Trinity. That the university has several departments, all studying the same world—this is supposed to correspond to the triune conception of divinity.

This post began as a parenthesis in another post, yet to be completed, about passion and reason. To anchor that post in an established text, I thought back to David Hume, according to whom,

Reason is, and ought only to be[,] the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

This might express something I said in my previous post: “Reason is the power of testing what we want.” However, I had not really read Hume since college. I thought more about things that had not ended up in the previous post—which was called “Effectiveness” and concerned the article of Eugene Wigner with that word in its title. As I thought and wrote, it seemed I was putting so much into a parenthesis that it could be another post. True, the same might be said of many things in this blog. In any case, the parenthesis in question became the present post.

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On Knowing Ourselves

In a 2012 post in this blog, I criticized a 2009 essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.” The putative advice was that of Strunk and White; but their advice was not in fact grammatical. They wrote not the elements of grammar, but The Elements of Style. They gave style advice by precept and example. The advice is good, if well understood. The critic should recognize that, as I wrote, “Rules of style are supposed to induce thinking, not obedience.”

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NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The subject of political theory is the kind of community called a body politic. For the Ancients, this is a society, composed of, for example, the citizens of Athens, excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners. In medieval times, all human beings in the community compose a body politic, which is thus non-social, though having within it the societies called estates; sovereigns rule by force (e.g. by the bribery called the granting of liberties), but may in turn be ruled, as is the husband, sovereign of the wife. For Hobbes, a sovereign can also rule by authority. An eristic argument would insist that only one of these accounts of the body politic is correct; but the world is in the flux described by Heraclitus, and the way to come to terms with it is not eristic, but dialectic, as described in the Meno of Plato.

Dialectic is the way to come to terms with a world of constant change. On the internet in particular, too many persons engage in eristic, staking out a position like the Greeks at Troy, who built a wall around their ships on the shore and tried to defend it against all comers.

Dogs stake out their positions in the shade,

In the argument of the New Leviathan, we pass from the family to the state, which Collingwood calls the body politic. This is what political theory must give a scientific account of (24. 1). We consider three phases of political theory:

  1. ancient,
  2. medieval, and
  3. modern.

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NL XXII: The Family As a Mixed Community

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 10, 2018): The family is a mixed community, consisting of a society and a non-social community. Usually the society is a married couple; if they have children, these constitute the nursery, which is the non-social part of the family. The children need an ordered, regular life. They grow up and leave the nursery; the parents may replenish it.

This chapter and the next concern the family, which like most communities is a mixed community (22. 11): part of it is a non-social community, but some part of it is a society proper (22. 1), this being, again, as in Chapter XX especially, a community constituted as an act of will on the part of its members.

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NL XXI: Society as Joint Will

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 10, 2018):

I cannot say “I will” without recognizing the possibility of joining with others to say “we will.”
A social consciousness consists of (1) a precise idea of one’s place in a society and (2) a vague sense of the society as a whole. The latter sense may be incorrect, having been foolishly accepted on the word of an authority.
Properly understood, ruling, of itself and perhaps of a non-social community, may be all that a society does. It is the responsibility of the members alone.
To form a society means (1) to form social relations and (2) to do this for some purpose. To focus on (1) yields the idea of a universal society—which cannot actually exist, despite foolish hopes for the League of Nations.
The universal society cannot exist, because we produce a society by transforming an earlier community, and some trace of this must remain.
Members of a society are equal, (1) in having the freedom to join and (2) in just being members. A society may create an inequality, as by delegating authority. There may be natural inequalities, not produced by the society itself; society may compensate for them, turn them into assets, or even depend on them, as in the case of initiative.
Rule by force (in a non-social community) may be by rewards and punishments, that is, objects of desire and fear. These may be promised or threatened fraudulently. One who grows too accustomed to exerting force may lose freedom of will.
Societies institute criminal law to mitigate members’ losses of freedom of will.
Societies can be temporary or permanent.

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NL XIX: Two Senses of the Word “Society”

Executive summary (below) | Index to this series

After a break of half a year, I return to reading Collingwood’s New Leviathan. Being on holiday at an Aegean beach gives me the opportunity. While here, I may also return to Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad. Last winter I finished Part I of the New Leviathan, the part called “Man.” Here I continue with the first chapter of “Society.” I have reason to look at what Mary Midgley and Albert Einstein say about science. Collingwood’s investigation suggests a way of thinking about prejudice and discrimination.

Part II of the New Leviathan is “Society,” and the first two chapters of this, XIX and XX, concern the distinction between society proper and two more general notions. In Chapter XX, the more general notion will be community. In Chapter XIX, the more general notion has not got its own proper name, and so Collingwood denotes it by writing “society,” in quotation marks.

A “society” of chairs at the beach (Altınova 2017.08.31)

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When is a help a hindrance? The Muses have provoked this question. They did this through their agents, the cicadas, who sang around the European Cultural Center of Delphi, during the 11th Panhellenic Logic Symposium, July 12–5, 2017.

     Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15     
Cicada, European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2017.07.15

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