Saturday, June 14, 2014


One of the more overlooked of the dialogues of Plato, Ion has some humorous characterization, since the main interlocutor, Ion, is more than slightly full of himself. It has some importance in shedding light on Plato's views of poetry, which are a major theme throughout the dialogues. There was a period in the nineteenth century when a number of important scholars thought it spurious, but there was never much to their arguments. It has often been treated as a very early piece, but barring a few minor technical arguments, the major reason for this seems to be that Plato scholars think mature philosophers should not have an obvious sense of humor. At least, that's the impression some of them seem to give.

The dialogue is sometimes subtitled, "On the Iliad". Subtitles are usually thought not to go back to Plato himself, being instead a way to help distinguish it from any other dialogues with the same name and give a sense of the subject matter when it is just listed; but it's entirely possible that some of them do -- Aristotle, for instance, refers the Menexenus entirely by its subtitle, suggesting that at least some subtitles were quite early. However, scholars seem to have found the subtitle here to be somewhat odd. The obvious subject of the dialogue is not the Iliad but rhapsody, i.e., public recitation and explanation of the poets. Albert Rijksbaron, however, has suggested that perhaps the Iliad really is in view here, and that it is merely the approach that is indirect. Homer, after all, was not a minor element of Greek culture. But it does perhaps sum up the major difficulty in interpreting the dialogue: it could mean many different things, depending on what exactly one takes the point of it to be.

You can read Ion online at the Perseus Project. It also happens to be one of the Platonic dialogues with a translation by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which you can also read online.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)


Ion is apparently a professional rhapsode from Ephesus. He is not known outside this dialogue; some have suggested that he is fictional.

The Plot and The Thought

Socrates opens the dialogue by greeting Ion of Ephesus, who has just returned from Epidaurus, where he performed at a festival for Asclepius. One can tell where Socrates will take the dialogue almost immediately from his way of opening discussion:

I must say I have often envied you rhapsodes, Ion, for your art: for besides that it is fitting to your art that your person should be adorned and that you should look as handsome as possible, the necessity of being conversant with a number of good poets, and especially with Homer, the best and divinest poet of all, and of apprehending his thought and not merely learning off his words, is a matter for envy; since a man can never be a good rhapsode without understanding what the poet says. For the rhapsode ought to make himself an interpreter of the poet's thought to his audience; and to do this properly without knowing what the poet means is impossible. So one cannot but envy all this.

Ion agrees, adding that he should know because he interprets Homer better than anyone else. On hearing this, Socrates says he would like an exhibition sometime, but in the meantime asks whether Ion is familiar only with Homer or also with Hesiod and Archilocus. Ion replies that Homer is quite enough, although he can expound others as well when they say the same as Homer. Using the example of the diviner's art, which Homer and Hesiod describe differently, Socrates asks whether a diviner or a seer would expound Homer and Hesiod better when they discussed the topic, and Ion concedes this. Socrates asks whether the diviner would be able to expound them as well when they differ as when they agreed, and when Ion concedes that he would, Socrates points out that then he should, if he knows Homer so well, be able to expound the other poets, because for the most part they talk about the same kinds of things. Ion protests that other poets don't do it as well as Homer, but Socrates argues that if Homer is better, and Ion can interpret Homer, Ion must be able to interpret Homer and the other poets equally well. Ion, rather comically, protests against this on the basis of his own behavior.

The discussion turns to the question of skill or art, with Socrates arguing that if someone has the whole of an art, or the whole skill, the principles governing inquiry and evaluation are consistent (so that, for instance, if you have the whole skill of being able to compare two paintings, you have the skill to compare any two paintings). Ion agrees that this is in general true, but insists that it is wrong here because he interprets Homer better than anyone else, but cannot do so equally well for other poets. Socrates replies that he thinks this means that Ion doesn't have a skill but instead a divine power that moves him like a magnet moves iron. The divine power of the Muses 'magnetizes' the poets, who in turn 'magnetize' rhapsodes like Ion, who 'magnetize' their audience. This is why no poet is able to write every kind of poetry equally well; he does not have the skill of poetry itself, but is instead inspired by the Muses to write dithyrambs, or epics, or whatever. Poetry is a kind of divine madness, and poets themselves are the rhapsodes of the gods themselves. This, of course, makes Ion a second-hand rhapsode.

Ion is obviously somewhat pleased at the description, but somewhat reluctant to accept the conclusion that he is out of his mind when he is engaging in rhapsodic recitation of Homer; he is quite knowledgeable about everything in Homer. Socrates in response argues that different skills involve different kinds of knowledge, so that different passages in Homer would be better expounded by people who have the relevant craft -- fishermen would better expound passages involving fishing, and so forth. Ion agrees with this, but when pressed by Socrates as to which passages he, as rhapsode, interprets best, he insists that the rhapsode interprets all passages. Socrates sarcastically remarks that bad memory doesn't suit a rhapsode very well. Ion sticks to his guns, to comic effect, as Socrates gets him to admit that anyone who is a good rhapsode is a good general, so, since Ion is the best rhapsode in Greece, he is the best general in Greece, at which Socrates expresses bafflement that Ion is going around making a living as a rhapsode rather than a general. Ion answers, apparently seriously, that he doesn't need to be a general because his city is under the protection of Athens, and Athenians and Spartans wouldn't pick him to be general because they think they do well enough on their own.

Socrates is skeptical. calling him Proteus, but wraps up the dialogue by saying that Ion has a choice as to whether he wants to be called a skillful interpreter of Homer or an inspired interpreter of Homer; and Ion chooses to be called an inspired interpreter.


* Rhapsodes were itinerant lectors and storytellers; the Greek word rhapsodos literally means 'one who stitches together stories'. Much of what we know about rhapsodes comes from this dialogue, although there is a fair amount of scattered evidence elsewhere. Rhapsodes would sing a part of the Iliad or Odyssey, but break the performance up with jokes, local stories, and the like; they would also perform other poems, like those of Hesiod, as part of their act. At least late custom, and sometimes law, required them to perform from written texts. The Athenians made rhapsodic recitation a required part of the Panathanaea festival, in which the full set of Homeric poems would be recited by a series of rhapsodes, and this dialogue suggests that this was a relatively common custom, allowing for local variations. It was a contest, and prizes were given out for the best recitations.

* This dialogue is often taken to be quite critical of rhapsodic recitation, but I'm not sure it is. Rather, the criticism is of taking rhapsodic recitation to be a craft or skill. We know from Phaedrus that Socrates doesn't necessarily think that something's being an inspiration rather than a skill is a bad thing, and, whether or not it was written by Plato, the author of Theages takes Socrates' own teaching to be more inspired than skillful (and the magnetized chain of iron links is at least reminiscent of the way Socrates describes living, breathing logos at the end of Phaedrus). What makes Ion a comic character is that he wants to attribute to rhapsodic recitation what would require divine madness and yet also consider it his own skill -- which requires an extraordinarily inflated opinion of himself.


Quotations are from W. R. M. Lamb's translation at the Perseus Project.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Phaedrus (Part IV: Pharmakon and Logos)

The second major myth of Phaedrus is the Myth of Theuth; although the Myth of the Chariot has historically been the most influential myth in the dialogue, the Myth of Theuth has been increasingly influential. The story itself is fairly simple. The Egyptian god Thoth, or Theuth, who had "invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters" (274d), was plying his wares in the kingdom of Egypt, which was ruled over by the god Thamus, or Ammon. Theuth tried to get Thamus to accept his inventions, but Thamus insisted on looking at each one individually, examining its use and value, and when he thought one wasn't worth it, he refused to allow it in Egypt. Socrates then continues (274e-275b):

The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.”

(The word for 'elixir' here is pharmakon, the closest translation of which is perhaps 'drug'; like the English word, it can mean something medicinal or something poisonous.)

But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir [pharmakon] not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise."

Writing is a drug that promises much but also creates addictive dependencies!

Phaedrus says to Socrates that he's very good at making up stories from Egypt; to which Socrates replies that in ancient times, when people weren't as wise as young whippersnappers today, people were content to listen to even a rock or a tree if only it told the truth. Phaedrus accepts the teasing rebuke, and agrees with Thamus; at which point Socrates notes that if Thamus is right, the only use of writing is to remind people of what they already know.

He then goes on to say that written logos (=reason/word/speech) has the curious characteristic that, if done well, it seems to be intelligent, but it only ever says the same thing, over and over again. It does not clarify itself, it does not answer questions put to it, it does not defend itself. It is a bastard logos, whose legitimate brother is the living, breathing logos of one who knows; the written logos is only an image of this one in the same way that a portrait painting is only an image of a real person.

If you are planting a garden of Adonis, you do it for play and festivity; if you really wish a harvest, you follow the rules of farming, find appropriate soil, and prepare to wait for eight months. But surely someone who knows what is just, what is good, and what is beautiful, will have as much sense about his logoi as a farmer about his seeds:

The gardens of letters he will, it seems, plant for amusement, and will write, when he writes, to treasure up reminders for himself, when he comes to the forgetfulness of old age, and for others who follow the same path, and he will be pleased when he sees them putting forth tender leaves. When others engage in other amusements, refreshing themselves with banquets and kindred entertainments, he will pass the time in such pleasures as I have suggested. (276d)

Phadrus does note that telling stories about justice in this way is a noble way to pass the time, and Socrates agrees, but insists that serious discourse is even better, in which one uses the method of dialectic to plant intelligent logoi in the soul of another which can then bear fruit in others. Written words by their very nature are something playful, and the best and most serious purpose they can serve is to remind us of what we already know. But the person who knows about justice and the like has words of true value, and deserves to be called a lover of wisdom or, which is to say the same thing -- philosopher. Socrates then ends with a prayer to the gods of the place for beauty within.


* Gardens of Adonis were a common part of the Adonia festival in July. Seeds would be planted in very shallow containers, and women would tend them for eight days. The plants would grow rapidly but have very little in the way of roots. Then, at the end of the eight days, they would take the plants and smash them or throw them into the ocean. Saying that something was a garden of Adonis in ancient Greece was the same as saying that it was sterile, superficial, and had no further value. It's worth noting that Adonis was a favorite of Aphrodite and the Adonia was an erotically themed festival celebrated entirely privately.

* It's possible to overdo one's interpretation of the criticism of writing here. Both Socrates and Phaedrus are looking specifically at the question of what kind of writing is good writing, and this requires looking at what writing can do. The fact that writing can only remind people of what they know is not unique to writing, as one can see by reading Meno, so that writing does this is not itself a criticism but, in fact, a noble thing. The weakness of writing is not that it is a reminder but that any kind of writing is on its own a kind of ritual festivity, good for a holiday, but only able to work in a very superficial way. Serious teaching requires a level of defense, question, adaptation, that writing can never yield.

* People often have difficulties grasping the unity of the dialogue, so it should be pointed out that the Myth of Theuth is not merely tacked on to the rest of the dialogue, nor is it entirely concerned with a different subject than the parts of the dialogue that concern love. We have two clear signs of this: the reference to the gardens of Adonis to describe writing and the application of the title 'philosopher' to those who use serious discourse. Further, it is clear on a little thought that there is a strong parallel between the discussion of eros and the discussion of logos: Lysias's advice to the beloved is a written logos in which eros turns out to be as superficial and sterile in the same way as writing itself is, whereas Socrates's second speech is a living, breathing logos in which eros is made a matter of living, breathing souls, the way true teaching is.

And the dialogue itself is, of course, a written logos, put forward playfully to remind you of what you already know about eros.

Thoth. (1885) - TIMEA


All quotations are from Harold N. Fowler's translation at the Perseus Project.

Dashed Off VIII

As always, what it says on the tin, and to be taken with a grain of salt. Sorry for the length; but I am still almost a year, and nearly three full notebooks, behind on these things.

per defectum naturalis ingenii
per defectum disciplinae
per defectum plenae instructionis
per defectum aetatis

Divine essence is being God and divine energy is God being.

Dialectic search is the crystallizing of poetic play and rhetorical weighting into analytic structure.

marriage as showing all the effects of original sin

Marriage as a sacrament is constituted by mutual free consent under the blessing of the Church; in the West, this blessing is given generally, and in the East often required particularly for each case.

matrimony as sign of the Spirit as Life-giver

the cultural mandate // the Great Commission

the state as ceremonial application of constraint

French philosophy has historically been typological in approach.

the Petrine Office of the Church and Isaiah 51:1,2

the will to truth as part of the will to good

constructive, corrective, and probative rationality

suspicion // first inclination

justice as the structure of peace

Greatness is measured by the power to appreciate the good of the small.

To live in hope requires learning how not to force every issue.

Any complex urban civilization requires a servile base, of animals, machines, or men.

Usury is the sin of treating interest on loans as free of the standards of contractual justice.

semiotic Platonism: temporal things as signs of Beauty, of Truth, of Goodness; creaturely beauty is nothing other than the creature's signification of Beauty; ascent through signs to the pure form of the signification; eros and sign; etc.

Nietzschean approaches as deliberately fractured Platonisms

Every instrument of progress must simultaneously be an instrument of (selective) conservation. You cannot have progress without some ratcheting, some consolidation of prior gain.

design principles for constructing arguments and positions with retorsion immunity

Persuasion occurs by alignment of interests.

Speculative thought presupposes learned tradition.

the Word as inner gadfly (cp Malebranche)

Massive philosophical systems are germination grounds for powerful philosophical ideas. cp. Whitehead (AI): "The scope of an intuition can only be defined by its coordination with other notions of equal generality."

discovery, exemplification, interpretation

order, part, whole, correspondence, distinction/difference

the predicables as identifying the logical structure of induction

Whitehead's 'replacement' of Revelation with the speech of Pericles is interesting; it is the exaltation of the thesis of local political adequacy over that of political inadequacy in the face of universal jurisdiction -- of the citizen above the person. This is connected to Whitehead's consistent mistake in understanding persuasion, and his failure to recognize that it is persuasion that is the foundation of might-makes-right.

traditions as open source interactions

Mind is known as a condition for the possibility of objects.

An activity is analyzable into an active subject and its end.

The process of experiencing consists in the receiving beings prior to and distinct from the process, into the process itself, so that they are now objects of experience.

"creativity is the actualization of potentiality" Whitehead, AI

The primary weakness of Whitehead's philosophy of organism is that it lacks an adequate account of the organic, i.e., instrumental; or in other words nested occasions.

That we aspire shows that we are ordered to ends; aspiration is ordering of self to end.

straightness : space :: simultaneity : time

"you cannot prove a theory by evidence which that theory dismisses as irrelevant" (Whitehead)

Good counsel is rooted in respect for what is important.

Every theory with epistemological consequences affects the field of evidence.

The logic of music is inventive, not probative, and is part of logical poetics, building on consonance and dissonance, and patterns thereof (the same and the different in their cycles).

Whitehead's account of evil reduces it to (experience of) metaphysical limitation.

Human life requires a narrative background; it involves the construction of narratives against this greater narrative background.

recapitulative beauty

A learned orthodoxy presupposes adventure.

Mill's entire argument in On Liberty presupposes a social and political structure that harmonizes diversity.

speculative metaphysics as the adventure essential to civilization

That which we observe in perception through the senses does not present itself to us as a closed system.

If, in Whitehead's terms, natural science only concerns homogeneous thoughts about nature, it cannot include in its concern either the intelligibility of things or natural science itself.

Faith makes understanding of rational first principles deeper by adding new first principles, with which they can be compared.

biology as the economics of energy in living forms

The survival of a tradition depends on the continual development of means for handing down the tradition, both improving and developing already existing means and developing and refining new means.

Tradition is education.

Popular piety is the priestly work of the baptized by which they minister to and support the sacramental ministry of the Church.

One could posit a simplistic Platonist and a simplistic Hegelian as the Parmenides and Heraclitus of intellectual history.

Subalternation of sciences shows how we are social even in the realm of knowledge itself.

Human beings are capable of something analogous to commutative justice in their dealings with food animals.

philosophical similitude : sacred doctrine :: induction : metaphysics

Nothing prevents emotional reactions from fulfilling the same or similar logical functions as any other signs. This raises the question of the natural semiotic character of emotional reactions.

Habermas's dialogical principle of universalization itself requires justification in terms of natural principles of reason.

Gaus-style defenses of public reason try to make it replace natural law -- serving the same function while being constructed. Lister-style defenses, on the other hand, make it a part of customary law, but close to its first principles, springing from the natural law principles governing civic friendship plus the relevant civic conditions.

the golden mean as an experimental framework

Trust is built into every language.

prudence as concerned with mediations (manner, mode, means)

vice-resistant vs. vice-vulnerable reasoning (obviously there is no general resistance to biasing or coopting of lines of reasoning by vice; but some reasoning is mroe and some less vulnerable to such corruption)

Talk of presupposition shows that some arguments are serially related and some are not; and thus that there is a flow of inference, even considered abstractly, and thus that there is a form of logical and epistemic presentation to which arguments are not indifferent.

The word 'preferences' seems to be used in a highly equivocal way for desires of very different kinds, not all definitive or even greatly influential for choice, regardless of their own intensity. Part of this is because desires are constituted as preferences not merely by being desire but also by their role in a practical rational scheme.

Irony is the proper attitude to fortune.

Bede: formation of Eve from Adam's side an emblem of the Church, Christ's Bride, formed from the wound in His side

the creaking crickets ricochet / their quiet calls across the way

sacerdotal orders as limiting force-supported oligarchies

Making reasonable provision for oneself is often part of being of service to others.

Song is appropriate for worship because in it we send forth a word on which our spirit dwells.

the universality of poetics as epic character

Every science has a probative, a constructive, and a corrective aspect.

Every substantive philosophical position is a thinking of both person and world.

reductionism as based on 'deepities'

Human language includes things as well as words.

Sacramentalia spring up from the praying of the Church in, with, and for the sacraments.

time in terms of energy expenditure

the Beatitudes as expressive of the principles of human dignity --> human dignity transfigured into sainthood

internal testimony to human dignity: conscience, intellect qua sense of sublimity, will qua capable of love
external testimony to human dignity: revelation, history

Human dignity is the span between being in the image of God and being united to God

Only in Christ is humanity made fully manifest to humanity.

reference class problem as a natural classification problem

the difficulty of building a theory of probability in which it is not an occult quality (this difficulty spreads to other things, e.g., credences and utilities)

"In every part of natural philosophy, accidents often lead to discoveries, which reason alone might no easily have reached." William Charles Wells

A civilization can be characterized negatively by what it finds generally unthinkable, that from which its people recoil even in thought.

A theory of the external world is by its nature a theory of evidence.

Intellect has an affinity for wholes, being a power of participating being as a whole.

Perhaps God gives private revelations in general in order to insist that theology and worship have a poetic and symbolic aspect.

Determining the accuracy of a narrative cannot precede establishing an accurate interpretation of it.

four levels of providence
(1) granting capability
(2) conserving capability
(3) granting direct action
(4) conserving direct action

The pen mediates between me and the text, but it is my acting power that applies the pen to the textual effect, and thus my power mediates between the acting power of the pen and its effect, because it is my power that is immediately proportionate to the effect.

The word 'simul' in Aquinas means merely 'one in such a way as not to be distinguished by before and after'.

Tradition is the divine application of Scripture to life.

3 areas in which obediential potency is important: supernatural works of Christ as man, sacramental operation, salutary acts by human power

conservation principles a difficulty for strict regularity theories of causation

Occasional causes are in some way non-principles.

those things the verisimilitude of which requires their verity, that can only be truthlike by being true

potentiality as having one's principle of possibility in another

sacramental character as occasional cause of grace

Nothing can give itself a completion without the aid of a completing cause that is not requiring that completion.

We form our consciences through good loves.

aphorisms as seeds of philosophical inquiry, made to grow by aporetic method

Tradition is structured by gratitude, for in it we receive benefit from those who came before.

history of Europe: civic justification of imperial regime -> imperial justification of feudal regime -> feudal justification of liberal regime -> liberal justification of welfarist regime -> welfarist justification of ? regime

Divine covenants are not neutral entities mediating between parties to it, but divine activities.

Natural law is the expression of the image of God in us, being an image of eternal reason.

Faith is an act of God illuminating us.

The preaching of the Church is the means through which God communicates the benefits of redemption in word; and the sacraments are the means through He communicates them in sign and thing.

interiority (as a practice) as a precondition for formation of conscience
human dignity as creating a responsibility for interiority
Scripture as light for formation of conscience

A consumerist society is one that markets even wars.

'Making safe' is too vague, malleable, and indiscriminate a goal to be a serious military purpose.

Prediction is made possible only by the identification of constraints and limits.

time as a direction of information dependence (cf. relation to entropy; light cones; temporal paradoxes)

Treating parthood as a four-place relation is not really different from treating it as a two-place relation while being more specific about what is allowed in the places.

Location is determined by boundary and the character of that boundary (the boundary is to where as the clock is to when).

Loved by God more than we love ourselves, we learn from this love to love ourselves properly, with a love of self that includes love of neighbor, which is itself made proper by our learning from God's love.

We think of ourselves using the phantom image of our bodies in our imaginations.

We accept not merely scientific theories but scientific theories in the context of their lineages.

the sea as a weighted graph of communications between ports, weights determined by feasibility (a function of means, energy cost, and risk)

the superposition of saliences

instrumental causality as more fundamental than subject-object distinction

What Heidegger calls 'time' is more properly traditionary being.

Authenticity exists only in the context of a community, which provides what may or may not be made my own, and without which (i.e., without which at all) I would be merely feral.

readiness to appear as confirmability

Minas Tirith & Rangers as two forms of response to & defense against the dark things of the world.

transhumanism as alchemical quest

Tradition is that from which Dasein tacitly understands and interprets.

Tradition is the condition of the possibility of a history that is Dasein's own, by being the condition of the possibility of concern.

Reason is the foundational sense of proportion.

Dasein as traditionary hands down a way of life that is concerned with tradition so as to take account of it.

The primordial human tradition is human nature itself.

In human beings, worth is grounded in what one bears: all bear the image of God and participation in eternal reason, the Virgin bears Christ and the beginning of the Church, Christ bears all divine things and the ope of our salvation, the martyrs bear the Passion of Christ.

All tradition is in its way a handing down of a way of bearing God's image and living as such; but some such tradition is treason.

Guilt is an experience of a deficit.

By tradition we reflect the divine processions, and only in light of the divine procession do we reach full understanding of tradition, at least so far as this life allows.

Scripture : estate, heirloom :: Tradition : inheritance

Human nature is both handed down and a handing-down.

The love-community is a constant transfiguration of the life-community.

the intrinsic corruption of Heidegger's conception of historicity

the Catholicity of the Church as the bulwark of human dignity

Just as the purpose of medicine is not to heal simply speaking but to discern the factors for health that the patient himself or herself may draw as near as possible to health, so also the purpose of rhetoric is not to persuade but to discern persuasive factors so that the audience may themselves draw as near to persuasion as possible.

A dialogical account of rationality virtually begs to be immersed in a dramatic account of rationality.

A genre is a recurrent proportioning of means to end, considered as a typical structure for communication.

Tradition is an organized structure, not a collection of givens for us to add together but an original synthesis with structured moments.

genre as discursive affordances

beneficial vs official utilities

That pain and pleasure are multiply realizable we know from our own case.

ethos : locution :: logos : illocutionary force :: pathos : perlocutionary force

Tradition is the act of the teachable.

In orders the priest and in marriage the couple are made sacraments for the whole Church.

the vocation of all creatures to praise God, as part of creation (cf. Ps 148)

The development of doctrine is the Church as alive, coming from one, living as one, tending to one.

the supertranscendentals as a reason for the doctrine of analogy

inquiry-structuring problems vs inquiry-baffling problems

Preferences are not so much ordered as overlapped.

The action of the final cause is the action of the efficient cause, considered as arising from the intentional similitude of the final cause in the efficient cause.

Contrition arises from love, and complete contrition from complete love.

All legislation is the establishment of ritual.

The form of unction is prayer of faith for the sick.

unction as special purgatorial practice, purgatory in life -- remission of temporal punishment (the intrinsic indulgence of the sacramental system, and even when it is not plenary, it prepares the soul for any other indulgence for the dying that is) -> 'blots out sins and remains (reliquias) of sins'

The Marian prerogatives, both negative and positive, are signs of the properties of the Church, for they follow, by remotion or bestowal, from Mary's role as Mother of God, in which she is a sign of the Church.

the election of Israel as the type of Christian hope

Technology is that whereby human beings attempt to make the uncanny a matter of course.

betrothal : coronation :: minor orders : holy orders

TIMARCHY -- Received Code
OLIGARCHY -- Calculation
DEMOCRACY -- Opinion
TYRANNY -- Passion
lesser objectivity as it descends
more dependent on private willfulness as it descends (the extent to which good can be public)

That omniscience is approached by remotion shows in part in the fact that on analysis it turns out to be a family of concepts; not being omniscient, we cannot capture omniscience by going only one route.

We must believe that in Pentecost the Church is given the implicit power to overcome Babel in theology, for this is a reflection of the unity of the Church. But it does not follow that we fulfill this potential easily.

We-intentions are not special extensions of I-intentions, but rather I-intentions are the special limit case of We-intentions. We proceed from We to I.

Every probability is under the form of a modality.

Fame is a disposition to friendship; that fame worth having is a disposition to friendship on the basis of virtuous benefit to others.

Hume's account of promising is effectively positivist: it consists of resolution procedurally communicated in such a way as to create a sanction.

indelible character // obligation (this is surely right, although Hume's argument for it is defective)

HoP as applied philosophy of philosophical reasoning

What makes quietism an error sufficiently grievous to note is that is error about hope implies errors about heaven and glory.

usury // taking bribes (cf Ps 15:5)

1 Enoch 14 & 71 on tongues of fire
cp 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21

Natural resources are resources under an interpretation.

The Crucifixion becomes a sacrifice in the context of Passover.

To be called to discipleship is to be called to a mode of loving one's neighbor.

Hume's vivacity is his way of handling modalities (some of them, anyway).

Traditionary allegiance is not based on promise or consent, although it may be supplemented by such, and must be if it is to be completely developed.
- imitation, custom, interest, moral debt
- Custom is not mere imitation.

Acts 9:34 as a figure of Rome (note that it follows the conversion of Saul)
Tabitha & Hellenistic Judaism

Over time reason naturally creates customs of self-regulation that, while not intrinsic to reason as such, are rational in the sense of being appropriate to reason and its inquiry, as its end.

Morality posits an objective commonality to human life as such.

Love of God regularizes love of self so that it may serve as a standard for love of neighbor.

insurmountableness of evil vs. gratuitousness of evil

voluntary obligation : natural law :: promise : customary law :: formal contract : positive law

marriage, inheritance, adoption

Even as an office of nature, marriage is especially suitable as a sign; its significative potential is evident in marital customs around the world.

baptism : faith :: unction : hope :: eucharist : love :: orders : prudence :: matrimony : temperance :: penance : justice :: confirmation : fortitude

3 forms of the principle of solidarity : solidarity, friendship, social charity

The Cross seals the unity of the human race.

The principle of subsidiarity derives from the principle of personal primacy.

Speech acts are not units of language.

Respect for the author as the beginning of literacy.

The canonical character of Scripture is an act of the Holy Spirit performed through the Church in its preaching, prayer, and practice.

space and time as similarities of possible physical action

Talking about works of art is to the productive as talking about concepts is to the speculative; one does not in general spend much time discussing questions like "What can count as a concept?" "How are concepts individuated?" "What makes something a concept?" The point is somewhat obscured by the fact that 'work of art' often really means 'work of fine art', but the restriction of domain does not change anything. Note that the same can be said fo talking about acts/actions and the practical.

exemplar ideas // virtues

lust as imperialism of sexual body

marriage as a discovery that love is a source of knowledge

The single most important element of a dilemmatic argument is the determination of its domain of application.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Riding Shotgun

I was curious earlier today about the origin of the phrase, and found a good article on its history:

Thus, the sequence seems to be that the usage "shotgun guard" on a stagecoach in the Old West (say, the 1880s) evolved to "riding shotgun" in popular fiction about the Old West in the 1920s and 1930s, from there made its way into movies and television, was applied to automobiles in the 1950s, and finally was shortened to "shotgun" in the 1960s.

Phaedrus (Part III: Cicada-Song)

Phaedrus notes that some people have criticized Lysias for writing speeches, but Socrates points out that writing speeches is in itself not something disgraceful; even legislators are technically writing speeches when they write laws. The only question is whether one writes well or badly.

Socrates comments that they apparently have plenty of time, and in this context brings up the Myth of the Cicadas. This myth serves as a bridge-myth between the two major myths of the Chariot and of Theuth, but it is difficult to interpret and to place. Most people are lulled to sleep by the cicada-song, but Socrates suggests that if the cicadas see that he and Phaedrus continue on, unlulled by their Siren-like song, they may perhaps bring a gift from the gods. Phaedrus is surprised at this suggestion, never having heard of this before, to which Socrates replies:

It is quite improper for a lover of the Muses never to have heard of such things. The story goes that these locusts were once men, before the birth of the Muses, and when the Muses were born and song appeared, some of the men were so overcome with delight that they sang and sang, forgetting food and drink, until at last unconsciously they died. From them the locust tribe afterwards arose, and they have this gift from the Muses, that from the time of their birth they need no sustenance, but sing continually, without food or drink, until they die, when they go to the Muses and report who honors each of them on earth. They tell Terpsichore of those who have honored her in dances, and make them dearer to her; they gain the favor of Erato for the poets of love, and that of the other Muses for their votaries, according to their various ways of honoring them; and to Calliope, the eldest of the Muses, and to Urania who is next to her, they make report of those who pass their lives in philosophy and who worship these Muses who are most concerned with heaven and with thought divine and human and whose music is the sweetest. So for many reasons we ought to talk and not sleep in the noontime. (259b-d)

They agree, then, to continue their discussion. They begin by looking at the question of whether good speeches require that the speaker knows the truth about the things that make up the topic of his speech. Since the ancient Greeks thought of rhetoric or oratory primarily in the context of law courts and legislative assemblies, this is the primary point on which the discussion turns, and that one that begins to relate this topic to the rest of the dialogue's argument, because these contexts are contexts in which justice and injustice are important. Socrates argues that it is incoherent to think of oratory as an art allowing people to speak on things without bothering with what is true or not. They then re-examine Lysias's speech, which provides an opportunity for reviewing the argument up to this point.

There is then an argument that the rhetors err by teaching as rhetoric what in fact could only be the preliminaries of rhetoric (such as how to organize a discourse). This and the preceding argument, of course, raise the question of what the true rhetoric is. And this will bring us to the second major myth of the Phaedrus: the Myth of Theuth.


* The point of the Myth of the Cicadas is difficult to interpret; we are dealing here with the standing problem in reading Phaedrus: the dialogue fits an extraordinary amount of complex imagery into a very short space. But structurally it seems very important; Plato quite clearly has been setting up for it since the beginning of the dialogue when he goes out of his way to note the singing of the cicadas or locusts. The story appears to be wholly original to Plato. Neoplatonist commentators seem to have interpreted the cicadas as souls, which would relate it to the Myth of the Chariot. A number of ancient writers link the cicadas to themes of sex and love, not all of which seem to be influenced by this dialogue, so the connection of cicada-song to love is likely also in view.

On the linking of the cicadas to the Muses in the myth itself, it is worth remembering (although it seems often forgotten) that Plato's Academy was itself a religious institution officially devoted to the Muses. Here Plato indicates that the Muses that particularly look over philosophy are Calliope and Urania. Calliope is usually thought of as the Muse of epic poetry -- she would have been the inspirer of Homer. She was the wisest of the Muses, the mother of Orpheus, and (perhaps importantly for the dialogue) seems to have been associated with writing, although I don't know how far back the association goes. Urania is usually regarded as the Muse of astronomy; her reference here surely ties into the discussion of the circuits of heaven in the Myth of the Chariot.

* Socrates compares the mere orator with Zeno of Elea, and his paradoxes (SEP; IEP). Plato here lists them as paradoxes in which Zeno is able to get his listeners to agree that the same things are "alike and unlike, one and many, stationary and in motion" (261d). Plato himself discusses Zeno's one-and-many paradoxes in Parmenides, in which the discussion turns on the question of likeness and unlikeness. (Aristotle discusses Zeno's paradoxes of motion in the Physics.) Given the way the discussion goes after Socrates mentions him, Socrates is doing more than just mentioning him: Socrates is using Zeno as a reference point for what we would call sophistical reasoning, and generalizing his diagnosis of Zeno's paradoxes to oratory generally.

Socrates calls Zeno the 'Eleatic Palamedes'. Palamedes was a figure from the Trojan War (not mentioned, however, in the Iliad) who was something of a super-genius. After Helen had been spirited away by Paris, the treaties among the various Greek city-states kicked in; but Odysseus did not want to honor the treaty. Agamemnon sent Palamedes to Ithaca to convince Odysseus to join in the fight against Troy. Odysseus pretended to be mad, but Palamedes -- one of the few people who could outwit the cunning man -- uncovered the pretense. Odysseus fought in the Trojan War. He also held a grudge, and devised a scheme to frame Palamedes as a traitor, which succeeded. In the Apology Socrates mentions Palamedes as an instance of a Greek hero who died due to unjust judgment. The connection of Zeno to Palamedes is usually seen as skill in arguing, but I seriously suspect that something more is going on here. In antiquity Zeno was also said to have been killed unjustly, for instance, and raising the issue of unjust death in a discussion of justice and injustice does not seem to be out of place.

to be continued

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Phaedrus (Part II: Winged Horses and a Charioteer)

Socrates begins his palinode by insisting that the main assumption in both Lysias's speech and his first speech, that madness is always a bad thing, is certainly false, for "in reality the greatest of blessings come to us through madness, when it is sent as a gift of the gods" (244a). There is a kind of madness that has oracular power, being genuinely inspired, not lowering us below our ordinary human sanity, but above it. He gives three examples: oracles and sibyls, the mania by which cursed families manage to purify themselves of their curses, and the poetic inspiration given by the Muses which raises a poet above mere skill. Thus the point on which the question turns is not whether love is a kind of madness; it is whether love is heavenly madness or not. Thus Socrates sets out to prove that love, eros, can indeed be a gift of the gods. To do this requires that we learn about our souls, which we do by examining the ways in which they act or are acted on. ('Soul' or psyche means here what makes one a living thing, so that Plato will, for instance, go on to talk about the souls of the gods.) The first point to grasp is that the soul is immortal, because it is self-moved. What is self-moved, however, can be neither originated nor destroyed.

With this in hand, we can see that a rigorous account of the soul would be difficult and long, but we can get far if we describe the soul by a figure. This brings us to one of the two major myths in the dialogue, the Myth of the Chariot. Imagine the soul as a chariot pulled by two winged horses and driven by a charioteer.

Now the horses and charioteers of the gods are all good and [246b] of good descent, but those of other races are mixed; and first the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome. (246a-b)

We can imagine the entire cosmos as a great crowd of chariots led by the gods along the circuit of heaven; the wings of the chariots are for mounting up to the gods, thus living a life of beauty, wisdom, justice, and the like. However, not all chariots use their wings well, and some of them even lose their wings. When the gods go to feast, all the chariots follow as best they can, each in the train of some god, but in human beings the less noble steed has more difficulty rising, so that if the horse is not trained well it will drag the chariot down entirely. This can be a problem; to remain in use, the wings of the horses must be nourished, and they can only receive their proper nourishment by rising with the gods to the meadows of pure mind and truth, beyond the heavens. Sometimes souls fall to the earth, and this is how human beings have different souls, because they saw more or less in their ascension to the feast. The soul that has risen up to see the heavens most clearly, but failed to remain there, becomes the soul of a true philosopher or true lover; the next kind of soul becomes the soul of a lawful king or noble warrior; the third a politician or businessman; the fourth an athlete or doctor; the fifth a priest; the sixth a poet or talented imitator; the seventh a craftsman or husbandman; the eighth a sophist or demagogue; and the ninth, who saw least of the outer heavens, a tyrant. Each of these souls has a space of ten thousand years to rectify its weaknesses, except for the true philosophers and lovers, who only need three thousand. After each life, the souls are judged; having been judged, they are sent to whatever places of correction or reward the justice of their life deserves. Then, when a thousand years are up, they choose a new life:

Then a human soul may pass into the life of a beast, and a soul which was once human, may pass again from a beast into a man. For the soul which has never seen the truth can never pass into human form. For a human being must understand a general conception formed by collecting into a unity by means of reason the many perceptions of the senses; and this is a recollection of those things which our soul once beheld, when it journeyed with God and, lifting its vision above the things which we now say exist, rose up into real being. And therefore it is just that the mind of the philosopher only has wings, for he is always, so far as he is able, in communion through memory with those things the communion with which causes God to be divine. Now a man who employs such memories rightly is always being initiated into perfect mysteries and he alone becomes truly perfect; but since he separates himself from human interests and turns his attention toward the divine, he is rebuked by the vulgar, who consider him mad and do not know that he is inspired. (249b-d)

The true lover has this kind of madness. Seeing beauty on earth, he remembers something of the heavenly beauty he once saw. Nourished by this beauty, his wings begin growing, and he aches to stretch them out and soar to the heavens. But he cannot, and so comes across as strange to everyone else, since he neglects earthly things, so intent is he on the heavenly things to which he yearns to fly. He is like a bird with clipped wings, longing to soar.

We have difficulty recalling the perfect exemplars of justice, temperance, and the like; but if our souls have seen the beauty of the pure realm, we still retain something of it in our memories, and it shines brilliantly in the beautiful things around us. Those who cannot remember this beauty, as in the case of those who have corrupted their souls, do not easily recognize what they are seeing, but proceed immediately to lust and procreation, pursuing only pleasure. Those who are not completely corrupted, however, find themselves maddened with the sweet madness of desire. Exalted by this desire, each soul imitates the god in whose train its chariot followed; those who followed Zeus, for instance, become ennobled, being able to love greatly without being destroyed by it, whereas those who followed Ares will be in danger of jealousy that tends even to murderous rage. Likewise, those who follow Zeus, since they are made by love to revere the beloved as if the beloved were a god, will love Zeus-like beloveds, noble and philosophical, and will strive through their love to make them even more Zeus-like. And so it goes with all the gods.

In all this, there is a struggle of the charioteer to manage the chariot; the good horse is drawn to the beauty of the lover, but the bad horse must be trained so that it will do what the charioteer requires. When the lover's charioteer manages to get the bad horse under control, the beloved finds that friendship with the lover improves his life, making everything, including himself, better, until something of the lover's own love begins to overflow into him and flow back to the lover. This draws the two together, at which the bad horse begins demanding pleasure for the hard work of avoiding unruliness, while it is opposed by the charioteer and the good horse. If the better elements of the lover prevail, the two live a philosophical life of self-control and harmony, restraining evil and encouraging virtue. If the ignoble horse prevails, however, assuming that they still are partly governed by honor, they will not have such an excellent life, and will give in to weakness (perhaps, says Socrates, if they have been drinking too much) although their wings will still be nourished somewhat by the love. Only if one gives in to the non-lover will one find that there was no benefit whatsoever.

Thus Socrates ends his second speech with a prayer to the god Eros, asking that Phaedrus might be encouraged on the true path of "love and philosophical discourses" (257b).

Phaedrus is so impressed by this second speech that their conversation turns to whether there is any value in writing speeches, as Lysias does, at all.


* The Myth of the Chariot, or the Charioteer, has a number of important connections with other important dialogues -- Timaeus, Republic, Symposium (in which Phaedrus is also a character), Meno, and Phaedo all discuss ideas that are described in symbolic form here. In the Republic, Socrates describes the soul has having three parts, reason, thymos or spirit, and desire, which map quite well to the charioteer, the noble horse, and the ignoble horse. In the Symposium we find a description of how eros lifts the soul up toward true beauty. The discussion of immortality links the myth to Phaedo, the circuits of the chariots suggest the cosmos described in Timaeus, recollection is examined more closely in Meno. This myth, in short, is concentrated Platonism syrup.

to be continued

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Phaedrus (Part I: Under the Chaste Tree)

Phaedrus is one of Plato's greatest dialogues, both philosophical and literarily. Like all of Plato's greatest dialogues, it has also had an almost immeasurable influence on the history of thought. It was sometimes given the subtitle, "On the Beautiful" or "On Love and the Mind", but as Schleiermacher notes, these hardly even begin to exhaust the content of the dialogue.

Each Platonic dialogue has something unique. There are dialogues that have a clear, clean construction, unfolding things in an orderly way, like Gorgias; but Phaedrus is somewhat different. It is perhaps best described as a torrential flood of images. It has intricate scenery, elaborate symbolisms, carefully drawn myths, and it rushes from one to another in a way suggestive of the madness of love about which it speaks. Because of this, there is no way to have an easy summary of the dialogue, whose content lies as much in its tendencies, allusions, intimations, and suggestions as it does in anything more straightforward. I will therefore break up this post into several sections, and only focus on highlights.

You can read Phaedrus in English at the Perseus Project or in French at Wikisource.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)


  Phaedrus, son of Pythocles
Phaedrus was cousin to Plato's stepbrother Demos. He is also found in Protagoras and the Symposium. From what we learn of him in the dialogues, he seems to have been one of the more intellectual members of Socrates' inner circle.

  Lysias, son of Cephalus
Lysias is not actually present, but Phaedrus reads his speech. He was a major speechwriter in Athens. His father Cephalus and brother Polemarchus are characters in the Republic. A number of the speeches he wrote have survived, and are very valuable sources for understanding ancient Athenian legal practice; his most famous is probably On the Murder of Eratosthenes. Lysias's brother Polemarchus would be killed by the Thirty Tyrants; he wrote a vehement denunciation of the Thirty Tyrants for their trial after they were deposed. He was not, however, an Athenian -- his family was from Syracuse -- and therefore would not have ever been the one actually delivering his legal speeches.

The Opening Scene

Socrates opens the dialogue by asking whence Phaedrus has come and whither he is going. Phaedrus responds that he has come from speaking with Lysias and that he is now going out for a walk on the country roads. Socrates asks what the topic of conversation was, noting that it probably had something to do with speeched, and Phaedrus invites Socrates on the walk. As they walk along, Phaedrus describes Lysias's speech. It was an erotic speech, of sorts, but instead of the usual kind of love-speech, it was a seduction-speech trying to convince a beautiful youth that he should give his favors to someone who would not be an erastes, i.e., a lover-mentor. Socrates says that he will certainly hear this speech if he has to walk all the way to Megara and back again; Phaedrus responds by asking if Socrates really thinks his memory is so good that he can recite the speech from memory the way Lysias can. Socrates responds that he knows Phaedrus well enough that Phaedrus certainly did not hear the speech only once, and besides almost certainly he borrowed the written script for it so that he could learn it by heart. Which is true, of course. Phaedrus offers to paraphrase Lysias's points, and Socrates points out that this seems unnecessary given that he is hiding the speech in his left hand under his cloak, and that, much as he likes Phaedrus, he is not interested in being Phaedrus's practice-audience while Phaedrus learns how to speak like Lysias. This good-natured teasing on both sides will continue throughout the dialogue.

They decide to walk along the Ilissus river, where Boreas is said to have carried off Oreithyia, and in which they can cool their feet as they walk, until they find a good place to sit. Phaedrus asks if Socrates believes the story of Boreas, and he replies that he would be in good company if he didn't, since the Sophists come up with naturalistic explanations of the myths, but that he finds such explanations to be somewhat artificial and arbitrary, however ingenious, and there are a great many myths. He doesn't have the leisure for such things, since he is still trying to follow the Delphic inscription, Know Thyself, and if he doesn't even know himself it seems absurd to go around claiming to know other things. They come to a plane tree that provides good shade; there is also a chaste tree in full flower. The grass is thick and green, there's a good breeze, and the water to cool their feet off in, and the cicadas are singing in the trees. So Socrates lies down and Phaedrus reads Lysias's speech.

The speech, about how lovers are unsafe because they are, by their own admission, insane, does not impress Socrates, who thinks it repetitious and implies that he could do a better one. Phaedrus is delighted by this idea and insists that Socrates gives his own speech. Socrates does so with his head wrapped in his cloak, ostensibly because he doesn't want to be embarrassed by seeing Phaedrus looking at him. The speech, concise and closely reasoned, focuses on the madness aspect of love, how it overwhelms people so that they are no longer ruled by reason. Socrates prepares to leave, but Phaedrus begs him to stay, and Socrates notes that his divine sign forbade him to leave as well. He has committed sacrilege against the god Eros, and cannot leave until he has atoned for it. He must purify himself with a palinode.


* The river Ilisos ran just outside the walls of Athens; it shows up directly or indirectly as the location for a number of dialogues. Boreas, the god of the North Wind, is said to have carried off Oreithyia, an Athenian princess, after she refused him; he fathered several children on her, and the Athenians took the legend as a sign that they were related to the North Wind by marriage, thus leading them to pray to him regularly when they needed a favor done. The legend was very popular in Athens, and it was a common theme for painters. Here it provides an initial mythological picture of the madness, or mania, of love, which is a major theme of the dialogue.

* The chaste tree, as its name implies, was used at times as an anaphrodesiac, to cool the passions of love, and thus fits with the general theme in the opening of the dialogue of cooling oneself in the heat. The Greek word for it is the agnos, purportedly because it made men chaste as a lamb. However, it also was sometimes used as an aphrodesiac, so paradoxically it also stirs up sexual desire. If you think about it, though, the paradox is less severe than it might seem: the desire of those with self-restraint can grow much greater than the desire of those without it. In any case, both aspects of the tree's reputation in herbal folklore are certainly in view here.

* The basic thrust of Lysias's speech, stripped of pretty rhetoric, is that beautiful boys should give up sexual favors to people who are interested only in sex, because those who are interested in love will take over a significant portion of their lives, being inclined to jealousy, extensive demands, and excessive emotional attachments; i.e., that friendship with benefits is better for them as persons. It also takes a very naturalistic approach to the subject -- as Socrates notes, both Lysias's speech and his own speech improving on it fail to give credit to the idea that love is a movement by the god, that eros is an act of Eros, and thus are impious.

to be continued

Monday, June 09, 2014

Elements of Modal Logic V

Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

So far we have recognized two defining rules:

(1) □ on the Reference Table means the statement would be found on any table there might be.

(2) ◇ on the Reference Table means that there is a table on which the statement is found.

And we have recognized that there are two other rules that, while not universal, nonetheless are very common:

(3) □ is interchangeable with ~◇~.

(4) ◇ is interchangeable with ~□~.

In this post we'll look at another rule, not as common as (3) or (4), but nonetheless very common.

Given the way our rules are set up now, we start with the Reference Table and from there we construct any further tables we need. However, it may well be that the Reference Table does not give us enough information to construct any table. An example might be a job search. You might have a number of requirements (Box) for any acceptable candidates, but there might not be anyone meeting those requirements. Then you would have a Reference Table, but no tables following from it. The reason for this is that Box doesn't imply that there are any tables at all; it just tells what has to be the case if there are any tables. There are a number of situations in which this is true, like the various systems of predicate calculus.

A very common assumption, however, is that if you have any Box statements at all, you could conclude a Diamond statement from them. If this assumption is true, there is never a situation in which you can have a Box statement in your Reference Table but no other tables. This gives us a new possible rule, which we can call the subalternation rule, and which we will label (D):

(D) □ includes ◇.

We could also put it in a longer version, which means the same thing:

(D) □ on the Reference Table implies that there is a table on which the statement is found.

We can see what this means in practice, and why situations might often call for it, if we recall some of the examples of Box and Diamond mentioned in last post:

Box Diamond
time always sometimes
location everywhere somewhere
duty obligatory permissible
truth necessary possible
logical quantity all at least some
mereology   whole at least part
topology interior closure

If something is true always, it's obvious that we can conclude that it is also true sometimes. If something is true everywhere, we can conclude that it is true somewhere. If something is obligatory, it is also permissible. If something is necessary, it is possible. And so forth. To be sure, we could use the terms in ways in which that these assumptions are false (for instance, we could use 'possible' to mean 'merely possible' rather than 'at least possible'), but in most situations, we do want Box and Diamond to be related in this way. It makes reasoning neater and easier.

In the next post, we'll look at one more important rule, not as common as subalternation, but still very common; after that we'll look at how these rules work in some examples, before going on to a different kind of rule that we sometimes find used in modal reasoning.

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Theages was generally regarded as authentic through most of its history, but now is almost universally regarded as spurious. The major hang-up many modern scholars have when it comes to taking it to be authentic is that its characterization of Socrates's daemon, a major part of the dialogue, is more than a little difficult to square with what we are told of it elsewhere -- the characterization of it here is not only unexpected in light of what other Platonic dialogues say about it, but is one that would be considered quite implausible if only other mentions in other dialogues were taken into account. The dialogue is also, and relatedly, regarded as referring to, and misinterpreting, a passage in the Theaetetus. Stylistically, however, there are few if any grounds that would distinguish it out; it is perhaps not surprising that Middle Platonists and Neoplatonists, who would already be inclined to interpret Socrates's divine sign in a Theages-like way for independent reasons, would not have found anything in the dialogue to signal inauthenticity. And we should perhaps keep in mind that historically content-based arguments for inauthenticity have not uncommonly crumbled just by better reading.

The book, like Alcibiades, with which it has some interesting parallels, has often been regarded as an introduction to the Platonic dialogues.

You can read Theages online at the Perseus Project, as well as in French at Wikisource.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)

Demodocus is mentioned in passing in the Apology, where he is said to have two sons, Paralus and Theages. In this dialogue he is said to be a farmer or country gentleman.


Theages is referred to in the Republic, where Socrates says in passing that many things conspired to divert Theages from philosophy. According to the Apology, Theages dies fairly young.

The Plot and The Thought

Demodocus opens the dialogue accosting Socrates and asking for his advice in educating his son, Theages, who is demanding that Demodocus hire a Sophist, who will make him wise (sophon). Socrates suggests that the best way to start is to make sure they know exactly what Theages is wanting, so the dialogue moves from being advice to Demodocus to being a discussion with Theages. He begins by asking whom Theages considers wise or knowledgeable. Then Socrates goes through different kinds of wisdom -- that of the pilot, that of the charioteer, that of the doctor, and so forth. Theages isn't interested in these kinds of wisdom, though; he wants the kind of wisdom that directs all these lesser kinds of wisdom; and, in particular, the kind of wisdom that directs them by ruling them in a city.

As Socrates gets Theages to admit, though, this means that he wants the wisdom or knowledge of the tyrant, and is asking his father to pay to have him associate with someone who has this tyrant's knowledge. He turns to Demodocus and begins a discussion of what people might be suitable teachers. Theages accuses him of making fun of him: he and anyone else would want to rule over people, but "not by violence, the way tyrants do," but only over people who would submit voluntarily, the way men rule who are of good repute in the city: people like Themistocles, Pericles, and Cimon.

If Theages wants political wisdom, then it seems he must associate with politicians. But Theages notes that the children of politicians, who obviously do associate with politicians, seem to be no better than the children of anyone else. This, of course, creates a puzzle: how do you learn political wisdom if you have no respect for politicians? Socrates suggests that if this is so, perhaps it is better to save money and have Theages associate with someone who doesn't charge for it. Theages agrees and suggests Socrates himself. Demodocus thinks this is a great idea.

Socrates denies that he's a reasonable choice; Demodocus himself, who is respected in the city, would be a better choice, or even, despite the cost, teachers like Prodicus, Gorgias, or Polus. Socrates himself knows only one subject well: love, "although on this subject, I'm thought to be amazing, better than anyone else, past or present".

Theages moans to his father that Socrates is only playing games with them; he knows several people who were nothing before associating with Socrates and have since become much better people. If Socrates agreed to take him on, Theages could become like them. Socrates insists that Theages does not understand:

There's a certain spiritual thing which, by divine dispensation, has been with me from childhood. It's a voice that, when it comes, always signals me to turn away from what I'm about to do, but never prescribes anything. And if some of my friends consults with me and the voice comes, it's the same:it prohibits him and won't allow him to act. (128d)

Socrates gives a number of examples of this, then continues:

I've told you all these things because this spiritual thing has absolute power in my dealings with those who associate with me. O the one hand, it opposes many, and it's impossible for them to be helped by associating with me, so I can't associate with them. On the other hand, it does not prevent my associating with many others, but it is of no help to them. Those whose association with me the power of the spiritual thing assists, however--these are the ones you've noticed, for they make rapid progress right away. And of these, again, who make progress, some are helped in a secure and permanent way, whereas many make wonderful progress as long as they're with me, but when they go away from me they're again no different from anyone else. (129e-130a)

Thus Socrates has no control over who benefits from his teaching and how. This is an interesting move, because given how Socrates tends to talk about teaching, both here and elsewhere, it means that when people learn from him, he is nonetheless in some real sense not their teacher.

Theages suggests that they test it by associating with each other and seeing how it goes. Demodocus agrees, and Scorates ends the dialogue by relenting.


* Theages' name has the word 'god' as its root; Socrates highlights this by mentioning that it's a godly name at the beginning of the dialogue. This no doubt connects with the subject matter.

* Themistocles was one of the great generals and leaders of the Athenians during the Persian War. He became archon in 493 and convinced the Athenians to engage in a massive expansion of their naval power -- indeed, through the course of his career he convinced the Athenians to engage in several such massive expansions of naval power. Due to his arrogance, he intensified tensions between Athens and Sparta, and eventually annoyed enough people that he was forced to flee to Argos, from which he was again forced to flee by the Spartans. He went to Persia and became a governor there. Cimon was another Athenian general who made a name during the Persian War; he was pro-Sparta and led the opposition to Pericles. Pericles himself, of course, was the dominant leader of Athens through much of the Peloponnesian War. Pericles at one point had Cimon tried for treason (Cimon was acquitted). The three would have been considered great statesmen by the Athenians; it is a consistent theme with Socrates throughout the dialogues, however, that much of their greatness was illusory.

* It's possible that the explicit mentions of Gorgias and Polus are intended to link this dialogue to Gorgias, in which Gorgias and Polus are both characters.

* Socrates' daimonion is well attested -- it is mentioned several times by both Plato and Xenophon. They differ, however, in that Xenophon says the daimonion both prohibited and prescribed, whereas Plato insists that it only prescribed; the author of this dialogue, if not Plato, follows Plato.

A daemon or daimon was an intermediate spirit between gods and men; they were often held to carry sacrifices and prayers to the gods (Plato explicitly says this in the Symposium). As intermediate entities, the lines between them and human spirits, on the one side, and gods, on the other, are not always bright and clear. Socrates' divine voice or inner oracle is a daimonion, which has a diminutive ending and might be translated as 'daemonling' or 'daemon-like something'. Plato elsewhere does not conflate daimonion and daemon, but treats them as if different, with the daimonion being an impersonal sign, not a personal being; the two seem conflated here, which is a major reason why many Plato scholars take the dialogue to be spurious or at least doubtful.

* It's easy to miss, but there are three different approaches to education in this dialogue. Demodocus thinks of education along the lines of cultivation; this is exactly how he characterizes at the beginning. He is in tension with his son because his son is not satisfied with how Demodocus thinks things should be done: he wants to be taught at a school, essentially, and have his father pay for this teacher. Demodocus regards this as extremely dangerous, and worries that it will corrupt the boy. Socrates provides an alternative to both: his teaching is neither mere cultivation nor an artificial system. It differs from both in that it cannot be reduced to the hard work or expertise of the teacher; control over the result does not belong to Socrates, but to the god. Socrates explicitly presents it as a third alternative: when he suggests that there are better options, his two options are Demodocus and Theages' alternative of the Sophists or artifical teachers, and he distinguishes himself from both. But since his third option avoids the danger of corruption that had Demodocus worried and opened the possibility of wisdom, which Theages wanted, it is able to serve as something they can both accept.

* It would be interesting to compare this dialogue with Aristophanes' The Clouds, which mocks Socrates.


In his translation of Theages into French, Victor Cousin has an interesting note, which I translate here:

The purpose of this little dialogue, or at least the only serious point that we can see, is the important distinction between Socrates' manner of teaching and that of the Sophists. It was not by regular courses and lessons, like the sophists, nor books, like modern [teachers], that Socrates had acquired so much influence over the minds of his fellow citizens, and spread around him enlightenment and instruction. Instead of the often sterile apparatus of school-knowledge, artificial and mannered, all of his art consisted in putting those who associated with him in more or less intimate contact with his soul, to fertilize and develop them by sympathetic charm. Where sympathy was lacking, Socrates himself could do nothing. This mysterious instinct, whose source lies in causes beyond the human will, the bond that unites hearts without their knowing and often despite them, the rapport at once irresistible and inexplicable, was necessary for Socrates to act and be useful, and friendship was for him the condition and instrument of all great and noble influence. So, to speak truly, he had no students, only young people who clung to him. He talked and lived with them; this was his education. This teaching was by chance, on the promenade, at gyms, in public places, always and everywhere and in everything improvised, naive, varied, full of life. Perhaps he did not leave in their minds this or that determinate system; but he inculcated in them excellent habits, and in every sense opened thought along healthy and original lines. Socrates formed ​​no particular school; better than this, he created an intellectual movement which, by closer and closer communion, embraced bit by bit the whole of Greece, and through Greece all mankind.


Quotations from Nicholas D. Smith's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 627-638.