Saturday, August 02, 2014

Eugenia Price, The Beloved Invader


Opening Passage:

When he swung into the saddle on the borrowed mare at daybreak on a December morning in the year 1879, young Anson Dodge could think of nothing except that he hated his father.

The New York streets had been rutted with ice when his mother and Ellen had seen him off for the south a few days ago. Now, as he galloped coatless across the southern end of St. Simons Island, through the red gold of the lingering Georgia autumn, the city seemed unreal. As unreal as that Anson Green Phelps Dodge, Sr., could be his father.

Summary: Anson Dodge, only nineteen at the beginning of the novel and only thirty-eight at his death, came to St. Simons Island, Georgia, as an invader, an outsider, a Yankee during the Reconstruction years after the Civil War. His family owned the Mill on the Island, the last bastion of the place against the destitution caused by the war. While visiting, and learning why his father is the black sheep of the family, Anson came across a little Episcopal church, Christ Church at Frederica, battered and beaten and broken, and fell in love with it. The church had been taken over by the Union soldiers during the brief stay on the Island; they had used it as a place for slaughtering cattle to feed the troops, and then used the building itself for some target practice. Ever since, the Episcopalians of the area have had no church; and Anson decides that he is going to rectify the situation, plunging completely into it as he does into all his work. It will end up being a labor full of loss.

There are repeated references throughout the work to Thomas Carlyle's essay on Reward, which sums up this, not answer, but solution, to loss; the following passage from that work seems to me to capture the heart of the matter:

My brother, the brave man has to give his Life away. Give it, I advise thee;--thou dost not expect to sell thy Life in an adequate manner? What price, for example, would content thee? The just price of thy LIFE to thee,--why, God's entire Creation to thyself, the whole Universe of Space, the whole Eternity of Time, and what they hold: that is the price which would content thee; that, and if thou wilt be candid, nothing short of that! It is thy all; and for it thou wouldst have all. Thou art an unreasonable mortal;--or rather thou art a poor infinite mortal, who, in thy narrow clay-prison here, seemest so unreasonable! Thou wilt never sell thy Life, or any part of thy Life, in a satisfactory manner. Give it, like a royal heart; let the price be Nothing: thou hast then, in a certain sense, got All for it!

In the face of loss and suffering people often want explanations, answers; Anson Dodge will search in vain for explanations. But answers do not heal broken hearts. We do not overcome suffering and loss with explanations. We overcome them by picking ourselves up and moving on and doing something; we heal our broken hearts by letting them be used for new good.

Favorite Passage:

Except for the time spent with Ellen, when they could both escape school, Anson faced the fact that he had lived through hours and days and months like a man digging in darkness, desperately and alone. Digging for a treasure which had to be there, a treasure he had not found. God had to have an answer to the human suffering of those left behind when a loved one dies. The answer could not be merely submission -- that was Islam. It could not be merely a resolute going on -- that was Stoicism. God must have a creative answer. Not necessarily an easy one, but one on which a grieving heart could lay hold.

Recommendation: It probably takes a certain taste, but it tells a straightforward story of real people in a way that brings out the fact that they are real people with the problems real human beings have, while at the same time being a story about our ability to rise above such problems. Recommended.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Edge of the Propeller

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Dr. Sattler, Dr. Grant, you've heard of chaos theory?

Dr. Ellie Sattler: No.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: No? Non-linear equations? Strange attractors? Dr. Sattler, I refuse to believe that you aren't familiar with the concept of attraction.

Plato and Xenophon So Far

I've made a pretty sizable dent in Plato's corpus by this point, two and a half months in, although there are still some fairly hefty dialogues to go (including the two longest). I will be taking a break from Plato of about five days or so to catch my breath (and get some things done for Fall term), and then come back with the relatively short dialogues, Alicibiades Minor and Clitophon, before doing the Symposium (both Plato's and Xenophon's) mid-August and doing the Republic the last week of August; there will no doubt be some additional works fit in around these anchorpoints, but the trilogy of Minos, Laws, and Epinomis will definitely be saved for September. Plato will certainly be entirely done before the end of September.

Plato: Widely Recognized as Authentic

Phaedrus: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Hippias Minor
Gorgias: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Timaeus: Part I, Part II
Menexenus: Part I, Part II
Phaedo: Part I, Part II

Plato: Heavily Disputed

Alcibiades Major

Plato: Usually Regarded as Spurious

The Platonic Definitions
Rival Lovers
De Justo
De Virtute

Memorabilia: Book I, Book II, Book III, Book IV

Related Posts

Some Thoughts Toward Reading Plato's Dialogues
The Golden Villain of Athens
Sydenham's Scheme for the Platonic Dialogues
Hermocrates: A Non-Reading
The Last Days of Socrates
Philosophos: A Non-Reading

Still to do

Plato: Parmenides, Philebus, Symposium, Alcibiades Minor, Protagoras, Hippias Major, Clitophon, Republic, Minos, Laws, Epinomis, Epistles, Epigrams

Xenophon: Symposium, Oeconomicus, Hiero, Cyropaedia, Cynegeticus (probably), Anabasis (probably), Agesilaus (possibly), Constitution of Sparta (possibly), Hellenica (possibly, but probably only if I can do Thucydides' History as well), Hipparchikos (if time allows), Hippike (if time allows), Poroi (if time allows)

Aristophanes: The Clouds

Plutarch: Socrates' Daimonion, Life of Socrates (possibly)

Apuleius: The God of Socrates (possibly)

Libanius: Defense of Socrates (probably)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Phaedo (Part II: The Journey from Here)

(beginning at 88c)

Echecrates remarks that he himself sympathizes with those present who thought that the apparent collapse of Socrates' argument indicated that no headway could be made on the subject, and Phaedo replies that Socrates received the young men's argument in a "pleasant, kind and admiring way" (89a) and brought everyone around. Socrates began by discussing with Phaedo himself the importance of not becoming a misologist, or hater of reason. Just as a misanthrope becomes such because he put his trust in someone who failed him, then makes the mistake of generalizing it to all human beings, so too there is a danger that people will find that this or that argument failed them and become misologists by making the error of generalizing it to other arguments indiscriminately.

Socrates makes short work of Simmias's suggestion that the soul is just the harmony of the body by pointing out that he had already agreed with the claim that learning is recollection, which is inconsistent with it. To this he adds the fact that if the soul is a harmony it is governed by its components rather than a governor of them, and also that virtue is a kind of harmony and vice a kind of disharmony, which seems to cause a problem for the idea that a soul could have vices.

Cebes's argument is more difficult, and after making sure he understands what it is, Socrates pauses a while in order to think about it (95e). He decides that the way to address it is to look at the question of generation and corruption, and gives an account of his own intellectual history. When he was young, he was interested in the question of the causes of things, and tried to give material explanations of everything. He came to the conclusion, however, that he had not ability in this kind of inquiry, because all it did was leave him unsure of anything. One day, however, he heard someone read a passage from Anaxagoras, in which that philosopher claimed that "it is Mind that directs and is the cause of everything" (97c) and he realized that it made a certain measure of sense, because then it would be possible to resolve the problems he was having by recognizing that what you are actually trying to do in explanation is not identify the materials, which are merely conditions and not causes, but instead identify what it is that is best. Not looking for what is best results in crude absurdities. He found, however, that Anaxagoras himself, rather than recognize this, simply continued with the material explanations:

This seemed to me much like saying that Socrates' actions are all due to his mind, and then in trying to tell the causes of everything I do, to say that the reason that I am sitting here is because my body consists of bones and sinews, because the bones are hard and are separated by joints, that the sinews are such as to contract and relax, that they surround the bones along with flesh and skin which hold them together, then as the bones are hanging in their sockets, the relaxation and contraction of the sinews enable me to bend my limbs, and that is the cause of my sitting here with my limbs bent. (98c-d)

The problem, of course, is not that any of this is wrong, but that it fails to explain what is to be explained, and leaves out things that are obviously true causes, like the fact that the Athenians condemned him to death and that he refused to flee because he thought it "more right and honorable to endure whatever penalty the city ordered rather than escape and run away" (99a). The error lies in treating a sine qua non condition as if it were properly a cause.

Because of this, Socrates began to focus on logoi, accounts/words/explanations, rather than material things, and came to the conclusion that there are certain things necessary for any account -- the beautiful, the good, the great, and so forth. It is only these that actually explain anything; getting to them, we find we've explained matters, and without them we do not have a true cause but only a condition. Thus he says that it is only through the beautiful (for instance) that things are made beautiful, only through bigness that they are made big and bigger, and so forth.

But of course, this brings us back to contraries in a smooth transition. If Simmias is taller than Socrates but shorter than Phaedo, he seems to be made so by both tallness and shortness; and what it means is that Simmias' shortness is outdone by Phaedo's tallness and Simmias' tallness outdoes Socrates' shortness. But tallness and shortness cannot be mixed in this way. Someone remarks -- Plato, apparently deliberately, leaves out any name -- remarks that this seems to conflict with the original argument from contraries. Socrates points out, however, that there he was talking about things that gain or lose the contraries, and here he is talking about the contraries themselves.

But we notice in dealing with mathematics that even can become odd (for instance, two things can become three things) even though two and three themselves are not opposites in the way even and odd are. Thus if we are talking about bodies, we can go further than just saying that they are made odd by oddness, and say that they are made odd by oneness. And likewise, we do not have to rest content with saying that things are made hot by heat, but can say that they are made hot by that which has heat, e.g., fire.

But if we think about the soul, it is that which, being present, makes something alive. (This is literally all it means in Greek, which is why it is often important not to import our own assumptions about what 'soul' means in to discussion of the Greek word psyche). But if the soul is to life what one is to odd, then it excludes the opposite of life just as one excludes the opposite of odd. The opposite of life is death; so the soul is deathless. But it seems that the deathless must be indestructible; the god, and the Form of Life itself, are indestructible because they utterly exclude death. So, since the soul is deathless, it must be indestructible. When we die, our mortal part dies; but our deathless part stays deathless.

Cebes concedes the argument; Simmias continues to have misgivings, but they have to do not with the argument itself but with his general view that human ability to think in these matters is somewhat weak. Socrates concedes that this is reasonable, and notes that the arguments really do need to be examined more carefully until they become clear -- the implication seems to be to insist that this is fine as long as Simmias is not becoming a misologist.

Assuming that the argument is right, in any case, the care of the soul becomes crucial:

If death were escape from everything, it would be a great boon to the wicked to get rid of the body and of their wickedness together with their soul. But now that the soul appears to be immortal, there is no escape from evil or salvation for it except by becoming as good and wise as possible, for the soul goes to the underworld possessing nothing but its education and upbringing, which are said to bring the greatest benefit or harm to the dead right at the beginning of the journey yonder. (107c-d)

Socrates then transitions into an afterlife myth, in which souls are guided to the underworld by guardian spirits and judged. Those who have been mediocre live on an island in the Acherusian lake, where they are purified of wrongdoing and rewarded for rightdoing; those who have done terrible evils are hurled into Tartarus, where they remain forever if their evil was incurable and for a while if they are curable. Those who have been pious are allowed to ascend and live on the surface of the earth. And there is one more kind of soul:

Those who have purified themselves sufficiently by philosophy live in the future altogether without a body; they make their way to even more beautiful dwelling places which it is hard to describe clearly, nor do we now have the time to do so. Because of the things we have enunciated, Simmias, one must make every effort to share in virtue and wisdom in one's life, for the reward is beautiful and the hope is great. (114c)

Thus we return to where we started: the philosophical life is training for death, because through it one ignores the merely physical things like pleasure and pain and adorns oneself with "moderation, righteousness, courage, freedom, and truth" (115a).

Saying this, Socrates says he wants to take a bath so that the women will not have to wash his corpse. Crito asks if Socrates has any instructions, and Socrates replies that they are the same as always, that they should care for their souls. Crito asks how he wants to be buried, and Socrates laughs, saying that Crito thinks that the real Socrates is the thing that will soon be a corpse, and replies that he can be buried any which way. He bathes, and his students talk while he is gone, then the women and children return and Socrates gives them his last instructions. Then the women are sent away, and since it is now close to sunset, the officer of the Eleven comes to see him, and testifies that he was "the noblest, the gentlest and the best an who has ever come here" (116c).

Socrates prepares to drink the poison, but Crito tries to delay pointing out that the sun is still above the hills, and other men would not hurry; but Socrates says that that is fine for them, but he sees no benefit in waiting. Socrates prays to the gods "that the journey from here to yonder may be fortunate" (117c) and drinks the poison. His students and friends start weeping, and he rebukes them. The poison works slowly and quietly and his last words are to remind Crito not to forget that they owe a cock to Asclepius. Crito closes his mouth and his eyes and the Phaedo, and the series of dialogues devoted to the Last Days of Socrates, reaches its end:

Such was the end of our comrade, Echecrates, a man who, we would say, was of all those we have known the best, and also the wisest and the most upright. (118a)

  Additional Remarks

* The frame narrative breaks into the narrated story at the exact midpoint of the dialogue. Of this, Zuckert says (Plato's Philosophers, p. 766):

The defense Socrates presents of himself and his philosophy in the Phaedo has two parts. In the first part he argues that a philosophical ife is best not merely because it relieves philosophers from the fear of death but also because it results in their possessing the true forms of all the virtues. Socrates' initial arguments seem to depend on the immortality of the soul, however, and he admits that these arguments are open to doubt. So in the second part of his defense Socrates makes himself, his experience, and his central teaching concerning the ideas into the example of the way in which human beings can live with the inescapable ignorance associated with their mortality and the uncertainty to which it gives rise.

However, concern with immortality does not disappear after the break, and thus appears to be much more load-bearing than Zuckert suggests.

* It is worth noting that Socrates' discussion of the best in the causes of generation and corruption gives it a functional role exactly like that of 'necessity' in modern discussions of scientific explanation and the laws of nature.

* Two elements of Socrates' death scene have been hotly debated, and there is still no consensus on them. The first is the hemlock. The symptoms shown are not usually associated with hemlock poisoning, although there are a lot of varieties; so one dispute has been whether the death scene is plausible or simply made up by Plato.

The second is what Socrates means by the reference to owing a cock for Asclepius (the god of healing). Some people take it as a symbolic way of saying that all of life is a sickness. On the other hand, we learn early in the dialogue that Plato is out sick, so perhaps it is for Plato. Or is simply a way of showing that Socrates, condemned for impiety, was pious to the end?


Quotations are from G. M. A. Grube's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 49-100.

Phaedo (Part I: Separations)

We have been looking at the Last Days dialogues, and end with Phaedo, which is not just a Last Days dialogue but the dialogue of the last day. It is one of the better known of the dialogues, with a richly dramatic setting and a structure vaguely suggestive of a Greek play, in which the interruptions and pauses sometimes speak as much as the words. The subtitle for the play is "On the Soul", which is apt. It is usually taken to be primarily concerned with the immortality of the soul, and this indeed takes up a good part of the discussion, but I think that it is in fact on the nature of philosophy, and that the arguments for the immortality of the soul are themselves intended to say something about the philosophical life itself. For what is really at issue is separation of body and soul, of which death, we discover, is only one kind; philosophy and the pursuit of virtue are another. It is in any case quite clear that the subject under discussion is not merely immortality but why the philosopher should welcome death without hurrying it, with immortality of soul being an element of the full answer. Plato is not a two-bit mind throwing together an argument; arguments in Plato are often doing double and even triple duty.

You can read Phaedo online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource.

The Characters: The Frame Narrative

Little is known of Echecrates, but there is a later tradition in which an Echecrates was among the last serious Pythagorean philosophers, and since Pythagorean ideas permeate this dialogue, it is likely the same person.

  Phaedo of Elis
According to a later legend, Phaedo came to Socrates' attention because he was being sold as a slave, probably as a prisoner of war captured in Sparta's war against Elis a couple of years before. Socrates insisted that Crito buy him and set him free, and Crito did; but some versions of it say that it was Cebes rather than Crito (we have no way of knowing if this is presupposed by this dialogue, or if the dialogue is a reason why Cebes is sometimes part of the story). He is almost certainly the youngest person in the scene. He would go on to found a philosophical school at Elea and write dialogues, but none of the dialogues have survived even in fragments and nothing is known about what he taught at his school. A later legend says that there was a rivalry between Plato and Phaedo, and that Phaedo accused Plato of misrepresenting his views, but there are later legends about Plato having rivalries with almost anyone else who founded a philosophical school, so it is difficult to know what to make of any of them.

The Characters: In the Prison

Phaedo divides the students and friends actually present according to their cities. There are Athenians (Apollodorus, Critobulus, Crito, Hermogenes, Epiganes, Aeschines, Antisthenes, Ctesippus, Menexenus, and some others including Phaedo himself), Thebans (Simmias, Cebes, Phaedonides), and Megarans (Euclides, Terpsion). Note that the two cities besides Athens noted as especially well governed in Crito are Thebes and Megara. Also, most, although not all, of the people in attendance would go on to write Socratic dialogues.

[Three students are explicitly noted as absent: Plato (who is sick), and Aristippus and Cleombrotus (who are both away at Aegina). Later gossip, recorded by Diogenes Laertius, claimed that Aristippus actually was there, but was written out of the scene by Plato, who hated him. Almost the only thing we know about Cleombrotus is that a legend grew up, based on something written by Callimachus, saying that he committed suicide on reading this very dialogue, for reasons never made entirely clear -- at least, assuming that it is the same Cleombrotus, since the name was not uncommon. (Xenophon, it should be noted, is in exile. But perhaps he is represented by proxy through Hermogenes?)]

The speaking parts are:

The first to speak in the prison are the guard and Xanthippe, Socrates' wife, who is there with their son.


  Cebes of Thebes
Cebes is said here to be a student of Philolaus, the Pythagorean philosopher. Xenophon also depicts him as in the circle of Socrates, in the episode with Theodote in Memorabilia. There is a famous work, the Tablet of Cebes, that was attributed to him in antiquity and is still extant

  Simmias of Thebes
Simmias is also a student of Philolaus, and Xenophon also identifies him as being in the circle of Socrates. In Phaedrus he is said to like arguments more than anyone else Socrates knows.


  Phaedo of Elis

  There is also an officer of the Eleven, in charge of making sure the law is followed properly.

The Plot and The Thought

Echecrates opens the dialogue by asking Phaedo questions about Socrates' death; Phaedo notes that he was there himself and explains why Socrates was not executed immediately after his trial. He agrees to tell Echecrates the details, noting that it was a strange experience. Although he was witnessing the death of a friend, he did not pity Socrates; but as they engaged in philosophical discussion, he felt a strange mixture of pleasure and pain, as they all did.

They arrived at the prison on the day, early before dawn. They had developed a routine of visiting Socrates, and would gather outside before the guard let them into his room, which was usually quite late. But the evening before they had been told that the ship had arrived from Delos, so on that day they were as early as possible. When they arrive, the official for the Eleven is releasing Socrates from his chains and explaining the process. They enter and find Xanthippe there with their little boy on her knees. On seeing them, she cries out with "the sort of thing that women usually say" (60a) and Socrates has Crito have some of his people take her home. (One of the things the dialogue will expressly signal at the end is that, as the end draws near, all the male friends are themselves having difficulty not saying "the sort of thing that women usually say", so there's a bit more going on here than the usual ancient Greek misogyny.)

Socrates sits up and rubs his legs, remarking that the relation between pleasure and pain is curious; you cannot exactly have both at the same time, but they seem joined together:

I think that if Aesop had noted this he would have composed a fable that a god wished to reconcile their opposition but could not do so, so he joined their two heads together, and therefore when a man has the one, the other follows later. (60c)

Note the fact that this point has been stated twice just a few pages into the dialogue, both in the frame narrative and in the narrative within the frame.

Cebes remarks that this reminds him that he was talking with Evenus the poet, and had been asked why Socrates, who never wrote poetry, to start putting the poems of Aesop into verse and to compose a hymn to Apollo. Socrates replies that heis doing it because of certain dreams he has always had. He would often have a dream with the message that he should practice what pertains to the Muses (musike). He had always taken this to mean that he should continue doing as he had been doing, practicing philosophy, "the highest kind of art" (61a), but after the trial while waiting in prison because of the god Apollo's festival, it occurred to him that he had better cover all his bases, just in case the dream actually meant that he was to practice music in the popular sense. Thus he set out to write poetry, starting with the hymn to Apollo. Then it occurred to him that the thing that is to poets what argument is to philosophers is story, so he began versifying the stories he had on hand, which happened to be various fables of Aesop. He then ends;

Tell this to Evenus, Cebes, wish him well and bid him farewell, and tell him, if he is wise, to follow me as soon as possible. (61b)

Simmias remarks that Evenus probably would not want to do so, and Socrates remarks that if he is a philosopher, he would be willing to do so, although, indeed, it is perhaps not right to take one's own life. (As if to mark this as important, Phaedo notes that Socrates at this put his feet on the ground so that he was sitting, not lying, and remained this way for the rest of the discussion.)

Cebes asks what he means by this, because it is somewhat strange to say that we should welcome our deaths and yet not hasten them. So Socrates begins his explanation with what seems to be an allusion to Crito, saying that one account is "that we men are in a kind of prison, and that one must not free oneself or run away" (62b). However, he goes on to say that the account seems appropriate that holds that we are possessions of the gods, who are our guardians, and that we must not kill ourselves before the gods indicate that it is necessary. But Cebes turns this around and says that it seems unreasonable, if that is so, for anyone not to resent leaving the service of the god, so it is wiser not to want to die.

Socrates likes this argument, but replies that he does not resent it because he thinks he will in fact go to "other wise and good gods, and then to men who have died and are better than men here" (63b), although he does not insist on the latter, only on the former. It's very important to see that this is the set-up for all the discussion of immortality: Socrates will be arguing in particular that on death we do not leave the service of the gods, but continue, and if we have prepared ourselves properly for the state we will be in, we will have more of a share in divine things than we do in this life through philosophy and virtue.

Socrates notes that "the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death" (64a). Death is separation from the body, but philosophy, too, is separation from the body. The philosopher must rise above the bodily character of pleasures and pains (note that they come up again) and go beyond the potentially misleading information of the senses. The senses do not provide us any direct grasp of the just, the beautiful, the good, or anything like this; in order to understand these things we must go beyond the senses, and think them through purely intellectually, at least as much as possible. The body drags us down with distractions, both distractions keeping us from knowledge and distractions keeping us from virtue; philosophy is a discipline of not being bogged down by this. Thus we see that "if we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe things in themselves with the soul by itself" (66e). Thus philosophy is in reality a state of life in which one tries, as far as possible, to live so that one's soul is separated from one's body; but separation of soul and body is death. Thus "those who practice philosophy in the right way are training for dying and they fear death least of all men" (67e). Anyone who is resentful of death is not a lover of wisdom (philosopher) but a lover of body or bodily things. And we see this with fortitude and temperance as well as with prudence: those who have these virtues rise above bodily things like pleasure and pain: "moderation and courage and justice are a purging away of all such tihngs, and wisdom itself is a kind of cleansing or purification" (69b-c).

Cebes remarks that this is all quite excellent, but that most people will have difficulty believing it, because they will have difficulty believing that the soul survives death and still possesses reason and ability. So is there reason to think that souls continue to exist in the underworld? Socrates remarks that if we look at the whole of nature, we find that opposites come from opposites. The opposites he has in mind here are comparative oppositions: larger-smaller, stronger-weaker, and so forth, these things in which a smooth transition from contrary to contrary is possible. It may seem odd to think of living-dead as one of these, but recall that we just finished recognizing death as separation of body and soul, and the recognition that philosophy is also such very clear requires us to recognize separation of body and soul as a sort of sliding scale allowing precisely this kind of smooth transition. Thus more alive comes from more dead and more dead from more alive. Thus it seems that the living can come from the dead, and thus that there are enduring souls of the dead.

Cebes jumps in and notes that this seems to fit what Socrates has said before about recollection. (It seems often forgotten by commentators that it is Cebes, not Socrates, who brings up this argument at this point.) The dialogue here alludes to the argument of Meno: we are capable of learning because learning is like being reminded of what we already knew when we came into the world. Socrates explains the doctrine of recollection (since we don't get the idea of the equal from the senses, we must already have acquired it, but we need to be reminded of it). Thus it seems that we existed before we were born. Simmias notes that this does not seem to establish that we continue to exist after we die, but Socrates returns the discussion to the previous argument about contraries.

Socrates jokes that they seem to think that the soul disperses at death, especially if there is a high wind, but points out that things that disperse or scatter are composite. The equal, or the beautiful, or the just are all things that remain the same, and they are things that can only be properly grasped by intellect, not by senses; but we have body and soul, and our soul, too, is known in the same way that the beautiful itself and the equal itself are known, and, moreover, we have alrady seen in the discussion of philosophy that for the soul to fully live a life of wisdom and virtue, it must rise above the things of the body. When it has wisdom and virtue it becomes even more like the beautiful itself, remaining the same rather than straying through distractions. We recognize that the body is mortal because it has all the properties indicating that it dissolves easily; but since the soul has properties that make it more similar to "the divine, deathless, intelligible, uniform, indissoluble, always the same as itself" (80b), one would expect it to be indissoluble. A philosophical soul has been training to be more like these indissoluble things, and has taken on something of the purity and stability of them; so what reason could one have for taking it to dissolve with the body? In other words: the fact that philosophy is separation of soul and body indicates that the soul survives the separation of soul and body that is death; death is just a continuance of what philosophy is in life, and the soul of the philosopher is already trained and prepared for it.

After some discussion of this, Socrates falls silent for a long time. Cebes and Simmias start whispering, though, and Socrates asks them whether they think the argument is missing something important. Simmias replies that he and Cebes do have some difficulty, but were hesitant to bother Socrates with it in his misfortune. Socrates remarks drily that the two Thebans must think him less of a prophet than the swans, which sing beautifully just before they die because "they rejoice that they are about to depart to join the god whose servants they are" (85a). Since Socrates, like the swans, is dedicated to the god Apollo, he has received a gift of prophecy like theirs and so is no more sorrowful to leave life than they are. (Note, incidentally, the implied link between Socrates and music again.)

Simmias suggests a problem for Socrates' argument by introducing the Pythagorean idea of the soul as a harmony of the body. It seems that one could run a parallel to Socrates' argument using harmony: "a harmony is something invisible, without body, beautiful and divine in the attuned lyre, whereas the lyre itself and its strings are physical, bodily, composite, earthy and akin to what is mortal" (85e-86a). Thus someone could argue that if the lyre is destroyed, the harmony must still exist. On the other hand, if the soul is a harmony of the body, it seems it must be destroyed as soon as the lyre is destroyed, regardless of how divine it might be.

Cebes suggests a different problem. While he accepts the argument from recollection that the soul existed before the body, and does not agree with Simmias's objection because a soul seems stronger than the body, nonetheless it seems that the soul could wear out many bodies and yet still not survive the last of them, just as a man could wear out many cloaks and yet still have a cloak that outlasts him. Perhaps the soul can indeed survive the death of the body, but is worn out or harmed at each birth and death, until it is itself finally destroyed.

Phaedo says that on hearing these objections, everyone (except Socrates) became depressed, because they had been carried along by Socrates' argument, but these seemed to them to show that this was a subject on which perhaps no one could know anything; and at this point (88c) the frame narrative breaks in again.

  Additional Remarks

* Socrates directly refers to Aristophanes' The Clouds at 70c (cp. Apology).

* We've seen the idea elsewhere that philosophy is under the province of the Muses (Phaedrus), the Muses Calliope and Urania, in particular; and as noted there, Plato's own Academy was technically a religious institution devoted to the Muses.

* By alluding to the argument in the Crito, this dialogues deepens the implications of that dialogue, by showing that its argument, mutatis mutandis, applies not just to Socrates in prison but also to the philosopher in life.

* As noted above, Socrates places no real weight on the argument from recollection at this point; he explains recollection, but it is Cebes who repeatedly emphasizes it. In Meno, Socrates says the idea is based on things he has heard from those who say the soul is immortal, so it may well be that he thinks using it would be circular. People sometimes try to suggest an opposition between this argument and Socrates' comments about philosophy as a separation from body by noting that recollection is understood in terms of sense experiences reminding us of the intelligible, thus giving the senses a role in cognition; but the attempt to turn this into an opposition strikes me as remarkably implausible, since it assumes that recollection of the equal and understanding of the equal are the same, which they manifestly are not. In addition, it cannot explain why Socrates goes on to reaffirm what seems to be the same idea of philosophy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fido the Faithful

For reasons I don't quite remember, I was curious about how the association of the name 'Fido' with dogs came about. As one might expect, it goes back to a particular dog; the Fido lived in the 1940s and 50s in Italy.

He was found as a puppy, injured on the side of the road, by a man named Carlo Soriani and nursed back to health; the Sorianis decided to name him 'Fido', which means Faithful. Fido became very attached to Carlo. He would follow Carlo to the bus stop every morning, and when Carlo came back on the bus, he found Fido waiting for him. This continued for two years.

Then in December of 1943, there was a terrible bombardment of the town where Soriani lived; factories, including the one at which Soriani worked, were hit, and Carlo Soriani died in the bombardment. Fido waited for him to get off the bus. He waited and waited. Eventually he went home, but the next day, he was back at the bus stop waiting for Soriani to get off the bus. And every day for fourteen years, he went back to the bus stop and waited. He became an institution in the town, being profiled in Italian magazines and given a medal by the mayor. He became known in the English-speaking world when Time magazine did an article on his story in 1957. When Fido died on June 9, 1958, it was national front page news in Italy.

Apparently if you go to the town of Borgo San Lorenzo, in Tuscany, you can go to the Piazza Dante and find a statue that was erected to Fido while he was still alive, with the inscription in Italian:

To Fido, Example of Faithfulness

Monday, July 28, 2014


This short little dialogue is generally recognized as important, but not necessarily easy to interpret. The subtitle of it, by long tradition, is "What Is to Be Done", and while the subtitles are not necessarily by Plato, we do know (from Aristotle's citation of Menexenus by its subtitle) that some of them are at least very early. And it does seem to be a good subtitle for the work.

You can read Crito online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource.

The Characters

Socrates is in prison, already condemned; he is waiting because of the current religious celebration, which requires that a ship sail to the island of Delos and back, during which time no one can be executed.


There is also a guard who lets Crito in, although he doesn't seem to be present for the dialogue; he will, however, have a speaking part in Phaedo.

The Plot

Socrates wakes up and finds Crito sitting with him. He asks him why he is there so early, since it is just before dawn, and why Crito had just sat there in silence rather than awakened him. Crito replies that he did it because Socrates was sleeping peacefully. He has always regarded Socrates as having lived a life that was happy (eudaimonisa), and especially does so now that he bears his misfortune so well.

Socrates replies that at his age it would be absurd to resent dying; Crito responds that this has not stopped other people. Socrates says that this is true and asks again why Crito has come so early.

Crito says that he has heard form a reliable source that the ship sent to Delos is almost at Athens, and will arrive within a day, so that Socrates' execution will be the next day. Socrates replies that that's fine, but he thinks it will not; he has had a dream that suggested that it would actually take another day.

This leads into the discussion, in which Crito tries to convince Socrates to leave the prison: the guard is bribed, there is a ship waiting, and all he has to do is walk out of the door and escape death. But Socrates, of course, refuses, arguing that this would be inappropriate, and the dialogue ends:

CRITO: I have nothing to say, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Let it be then, Crito, and let us act in this way, since this is the way the god is leading us. (54d-e)

The Thought

Crito has several arguments for Socrates. Interestingly enough, he clearly seems to anticipate that Socrates will not be easily convinced, and so he begins not by any ordinary appeal but by arguing that Socrates should escape for Crito's sake. If he doesn't, everyone will think Crito loved money more than Socrates. Socrates dismisses this -- why should they worry about the opinions of the majority -- but Crito replies that Socrates' own case shows that the majority have the power to inflict the greatest evils. Socrates dismisses this as well; he wishes the majority could inflict the greatest evils, since then they would have the capability for the greatest good (cp. Hippias Minor).

Crito asks if Socrates is worried about what would happen to the people he'd be leaving behind, and Socrates says he is, so Crito argues that they will be fine. He then returns to his argument: by staying, Socrates is not being just, and he is betraying his family, and he is leaving his friends in a shameful position. Socrates responds that they should examine the matter, since "I am the kind of man who listens only to the argument that on reflection seems best to me" (46b). They both agree that people should only value the good opinions of wise man, not any other kind of opinion. "We should not then think so much of what the majority will say about us, but what he will say who understands justice and injustice, the one, that is, and the truth itself" (48a). But the just stays the same regardless of whether one is put to death or not.

They then both agree that it is always wrong to mistreat others, even if one is mistreated oneself, and that one should fulfill one's agreements. This leads to the most famous section of the dialogue, the Speech of the Laws, in which Socrates imagines the Laws of Athens themselves coming to him and confronting him.

The Laws argue that the city depends on the verdicts of the courts having force; without them the Laws themselves fail. But Socrates as an Athenian is obligated to the Laws of Athens, since they made possible the marriage of his parents and his birth and his education. He owes to them an even great debt of piety than he owes to his parents. And if Socrates didn't like the Laws, he was always able to leave, no harm done; but those who remain in Athens are thereby agreeing either to do what the Laws of Athens say or to 'persuade' them (i.e., change them by lawful means). Socrates has very definitely stayed, and lived out his life, under the Laws of Athens, and even insisted in his defense speech that he would prefer death to exile (cp. Apology).

Moreover, the Laws argue, he will leave his friends open to danger by leaving, and if he goes to Thebes or Megara ("both are well governed" (53b)), people there would be right if they regarded him as a danger, since he is so willing to disregard laws when convenient for him. He would have to go out among the barbarians, and what would he do then? And how absurd it would be to go through such lengths given that he certainly does not have a very long life ahead of him, anyway! As for his children, his friends will educate them as much if he goes to the underworld as they will if he goes to Thessaly. Thus, the Laws say,

Do not value either your children or your life or anything else more than goodness, in order that when you arrive in Hades you may have all this as your defense before the rulers there. (54b)

And if Socrates is killed, he will have been wronged by men, not by the Laws.

  Additional Remarks

* Diogenes Laertius notes some interesting gossip about this dialogue, in his Life of Plato. He says that Plato hated Aristippus, and was antagonistic to Aeschines because of his good relations with Aristippus: "And Idomeneus says, that the speech which Plato attributes to Crito in the prison, when he counselled Socrates to make his escape, was really delivered by Aeschines, but that Plato attributed it to Crito because of his dislike to the other."

As with most of the gossip of Diogenes Laertius, we don't know how much there is to it. But it is interesting that there was the idea that it was really Aeschines, not Crito, who discussed this matter with Socrates, and it raises an interesting question: Is there anything Plato can get out of attributing this discussion to Crito rather than to another student of Socrates?

I think this gives us interesting food for thought, because the discussion is consistent with how Plato depicts Crito elsewhere (firm supporter of Socrates, regards philosophy as a good in an abstract way, yet is somewhat detached from the practice of philosophy), and it's perhaps not insignificant that by this time Crito is one of Socrates' oldest living friends -- perhaps his oldest living friend, since Chaerephon has already died. One way to read the dialogue is as Socrates reminding his old friend of what he and Socrates have always held to be important.

* The force of the Speech of the Laws is easy for us to miss, I think, because we don't have the filial piety of ancient Greece. What the Laws are arguing is that Socrates owes to the Laws of Athens an obligation even greater than that which he owes to his parents, and of the same kind; thus all the cultural backing behind proper behavior to parents should also be applied to the Laws. This is a powerful and very forceful argument in a culture like ancient Greece in which piety towards one's parents was a major feature of common decency, and failures of such piety terribly shocking (cp. Socrates' response to Euthyphro prosecuting his own father for impiety). (It would continue to be a forceful statement in the Roman empire, for the same reason, and if it had ever made it to China, it would have been a very forceful statement there.) There is also, of course, the fact that Socrates was tried for impiety; and, ironically, if he owes the Laws piety, by doing something harmful to them he would be doing something impious for the first time in his life.

* Due to Grote, it is often said that the argument of the Laws at 51b-c is inconsistent the passage in the Apology where Socrates said that even if the men of Athens gave him life on the condition that he not philosophize, he would disobey them. But it should be noted (a) in the Apology the point is that the god's authority trumps human authority, and that he would be obeying the god; (b) the Laws here do not argue that one should obey one's city without question, but that one should either obey it or "persuade it as to the nature of justice" (51c). The latter, of course, involves philosophizing.

* The flutes of the Corybants, mentioned by Socrates, refers to an ecstatic cult devoted to the goddess Cybele. The expression means that Socrates, inspired by the words of the Laws, is made heedless of anything else.


Quotations from Crito are from G. M. A. Grube's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds. pp. 37-48.

Music on My Mind

Jackson Browne, "The Pretender". As songs about being utterly crushed by life go, it's a catchy one.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Xenophon's Apology

There's a longstanding dispute about the relation between Xenophon's Apology and Plato's. Is one of the two dependent on the other? At least dramatically, Plato's knowledge is firsthand, and Xenophon attributes his account to Hermogenes, so they could very well be independent. This would explain the fact that while they are both similar in broad outlines, there are some curious discrepancies -- the most notable being that Plato's Socrates proposes a counter-penalty (indeed, Plato attributes direct involvement to himself and a few others on this point) and Xenophon's Socrates simply refuses to give one. If Xenophon is drawing on Plato, it is difficult to see why he would make this change. On the other side, there's not any reason to think that Plato is drawing on Xenophon, particularly since he places himself as an eyewitness on the scene. Thus the commonalities seem to go back to Socrates himself, through different channels.

One of the clear differences between the texts is that Xenophon makes more of an effort to put the speech in a context. He is very concerned, for instance, with the fact that Socrates comes across as high-handed in his defense speech (indeed, he comes across as more high-handed in Xenophon's than Plato's). With Plato we just get the speech. With Xenophon, we get the lead-up to the trial, in a section that is very, very close to parts of the last section of the Memorabilia, and then the speech, and then we get some events in the aftermath of the speech.

You can read Xenophon's Apology online in English at the Perseus Project.

The Characters


Xenophon's source. He is mentioned in Plato's Phaedo and is a character in the Cratylus.

One of the accusers; Socrates will dialogue with him during the speech, just as in Plato.

  Apollodorus of Phaleron
Both Plato and Xenophon depict Apollodorus as being very emotional; Xenophon describes him as unintelligent. He happens to be the narrator-character of Plato's Symposium, and he will be with Socrates on his last day.

One of the accusers; he does not speak here, although Socrates makes some remarks as he walks by. He is, of course, a character in Plato's Meno, where he has an irrational hatred of sophists despite not knowing anything about them.

In addition, there are a great many jurors and spectators

The Plot and The Thought

Xenophon opens by reflecting on the fact that others having written on Socrates' trial have touched on his high-handed tone, and says that what they've failed to convey is that Socrates was already willing to go to his death. He then gives a version of the discussion with Hermogenes that is also found at the end of the Memorabilia.

With this preface, he gives a summary version of Socrates' defense speech. First, Socrates addresses the charge that he does not recognize the gods of the state, pointing out that everyone has seen him performing sacrifices on the appointed days. If it's the divine voice that's the problem, however, is it really so much of a problem? Listening to voices with divine force is found throughout Greek culture, from people taking bird-calls or thunder to be omens, all the way to the Pythoness herself at the Oracle at Delphi. Everyone recognizes that the god knows the future and can communicate it however he wills. But his divine voice is as divine as these things, and more, and it has never been wrong.

There's an uproar among the jury at this point, but Socrates charges on with the story of Chaerephon and the Oracle: Chaerephon went to the Oracle and the Oracle said that Socrates was the most free, most upright, and most prudent of all people. Which, of course, causes an even greater uproar. To which Socrates replies that it's not so amazing; the Oracle once said of Lycurgus that it could not tell whether he was a god or a man, but the Oracle never suggested that Socrates was a god, only that he was better than all other men.

Moreover, they should investigate the Oracle's claim. Can they find anyone more free from enslavement to bodily desires than Socrates? Does he not refuse fees? Has he not divested himself of unnecessary things like an upright person? And has he not been investigating and learning every good thing he could since he learned how to speak? Did not many Athenians who were looking to become virtuous associate with him? And so on, and so forth.

But what about the charge of corrupting the young? Socrates demands of Meletus to name one person who has become a drunkard, or an atheist, or a libertine, because of Socrates. Meletus replies that there have been plenty of young people who have learned from Socrates not to listen to their parents.

Socrates replies that everyone recognizes that there are occasions where you should listen to other people and not your parents -- for instance, people trying to get well should listen to doctors rather than their parents. And Athenians elect people whom they think have knowledge for important positions like strategos. So it is strange that Meletus is prosecuting him because other Athenians think he knows something relevant to education.

Xenophon breaks off his summary here, saying that he is not interested in giving everything that was said, but simply showing that Socrates considered it important to answer the charges, but did not think it good to beg for his life. This is seen in the fact that he refused to propose a counter-penalty, or to let his friends do it; and by the fact that when his friends wanted him to go away secretly, he refused to go. Xenophon skips to Socrates at the end of the trial. Socrates in his last speech is defiant, saying that the fact that they have voted him guilty leads to him lowering his own opinion of himself not one bit, because they have not actually shown that he is guilty of impiety or corrupting the youth.

Nor should he be ashamed by the injustice of the condemnation, since the shame belongs to those who voted for it. He takes comfort in the example of Palamedes, who was unjustly killed by Odysseus, and yet is given greater eulogies, and ends by saying he has no doubt that those in the future will testify that he did no wrong but instead "benefited those I conversed with by freely teaching them any good thing I could" (section 26).

At this he was led away, but when he met any of his friends weeping for him, he replied that they should remember human nature condemned him to death since the day he was born. This brings us to one of my favorite Socratic passages:

One of those present was Apollodorus, who was a great devotee of Socrates, but was not particularly bright. He said, 'But the most difficult thing for me to bear, Socrates, is that I see you being unjustly put to death.' Socrates (as the story goes) stroked Apollodorus' head and replied with a smile, 'You're a good friend, Apollodorus, but would you rather see me put to death justly or unjustly?' (section 28)

Socrates also sees Anytus walking by, and comments that he walks as if he has done something excellent, when he is actually putting Socrates to death because he heard that Socrates made the comment, when Anytus was trying to get political office, that he should not be educating his son in a tannery. But he is really the worse off, because the victor of the contest is the one whose achievements will be the more excellent. Then he prophesies that Anytus' son will end badly because of the education his father gave him. And Xenophon says that Socrates turned out to be right.

Thus, says Xenophon, Socrates more or less forced the jurors to condemn him, and by doing so he died before senility and in an easy way, with the greatest kind of fortitude, never flinching from his death. And Xenophon ends with a famous passage of his own:

When I consider how wise the man was, and how high-minded, I am bound to remember him; and when I remember him, I am bound to admire him. If anyone in his search for virtue has encountered a more helpful person than Socrates, then he deserves, in my opinion, to be called the most fortunate of men. (section 34)


Quotations are from Xenophon, Conversations with Socrates, Treddenick and Waterfield, trs. & eds. Penguin (New York: 1990).

Heidegger and Nazism Again

Michael Marder throws yet another lob in the continual dispute over Heidegger's Nazism:

As a Jew, who suffered from anti-Semitic discrimination in the final years of the Soviet Union, I am weary of the contemporary manifestations of this hateful ideology. But I also find irksome the attempts to use the label “anti-Semitism” as a tool for silencing dissent. Both opposition to Zionism and the thinking inspired by Heidegger now incur this charge, which is leveled too lightly, thoughtlessly, and therefore without a minimum of respect for the actual victims of ethnic or religious oppression.

The obvious problem with this is that the attribution of anti-Semitism to Heidegger is not some smear thrown out. Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party. He became Rector under the auspices of the Nazi party and is known to have cooperated in removing Jews and blocking people discontented with Nazi views from university positions. He uses a vocabulary that can sometimes be traced to Volkische philosophy common among intellectuals attracted to the Nazi party. He himself on several points directly connected his philosophical views to his support of the Nazi party. There is no "too lightly, thoughlessly" here. Not explicitly recognizing the connections would be intellectual irresponsibility. Now, of course, one is entirely free to argue, as Marder wants to do, that in fact "his anti-Semitism contradicts both the spirit and the letter of his texts, regardless of the ontological or metaphysical mantle he bestows upon anti-Semitic discourse," but this must be established -- established, not presumed.

And one sees immediately the problem in how Marder himself characterizes the issue. Let's repeat that:

his anti-Semitism contradicts both the spirit and the letter of his texts, regardless of the ontological or metaphysical mantle he bestows upon anti-Semitic discourse.

So, in other words, his anti-Semitism contradicts the spirit and the letter of his texts regardless of the mantle he bestows upon anti-Semitic discourse -- in his texts. Perhaps Marder means 'texts' in a very narrow sense; he would have to mean it so, eliminating speeches, letters, and notebooks, for this not to be a self-contradictory claim. One must pick and choose texts to govern the interpretation, and this directly implies that one must already, at the beginning, work out a point-by-point, issue-by-issue disentangling of Heidegger's broader philosophy from Heidegger's Nazism and especially his explicitly philosophical understanding of the importance of Nazism.

Marder himself seems to think that saying an idea or argument or analysis can be tainted by association is, as he puts it, "an amateurish trick"; but this is obvious nonsense. Context matters to the interpretation of argument. Philosophical positions influence each other by analogy. Broader attitudes and positions can influence the mood of reasoning, and differences in mood can mean differences in valence, emphasis, connotation; a shift in assumed context can change precisely what question an answer is supposed to answer, and thus change what is essential to the answer. To be sure, these things might not be determinative on any given particular point. But serious interpretation requires that these things be taken into account. And that does mean taking into account the problem in the first place and not running from it.

We see this with many of Marder's analogues. It matters to the interpretation of Nietzsche that in works off the beaten path he showed contempt for anti-Semites. If we're interpreting Augustine on the treatment of heretics, it matters that he came to the position that heretic should be punished under law only after a long string of violent attacks and assassination attempts by Donatists, and that even then what he was arguing is just that Christians could appeal to the law for punishments already provided by law. If we're interpreting Aristotle on slavery, it matters that the kind of slavery Aristotle accepts in his written works is more restricted than slavery as typically practiced by the Greeks. It matters, if we are to understand what Plato is doing in his arguments that women should have the same education as men, that Greek society was highly, highly misogynistic. And with Heidegger, it matters both that he was a Nazi and what kind he was -- that he did not spring up suddenly but had volkish roots, and that even later he would admit that he saw Nazism as an answer to one of his most important philosophical questions (technology and humanity), and that he was not a rabid Hitlerite (most old-school Nazis were not, and some were actively, if quietly, anti-Hitler) but that he did see the rise of the Nazi regime as a way to oppose what he saw as serious philosophical errors. Sure, how this affects interpretation is a matter for further inquiry, but it is hardly an amateurish trick to insist that contextual associations not be ignored.

We see again the problem with Marder's mention of Levinas. Yes, Levinas was heavily influenced by Heidegger, whom he studied closely. But Levinas was not so certain that there was a "profound disconnect" between Heidegger's Nazism and his philosophy, and saw exactly the problem: Heidegger cannot be used with innocence. One must unwind his thought and shake it out and examine it closely. And, indeed, Levinas was not as sure as Marder that such a procedure could exonerate Heidegger's philosophy. There are ways and ways to approach Heidegger; what is at issue here is whether intellectual responsibility requires that one simply dismiss the worry that Heidegger's philosophy may not be a wholly innocent victim of Heidegger's political views, particularly given that Heidegger himself did not think the two were completely disconnected. Nothing Marder says actually addresses this concern. What we get instead is the equivalent of a politician wrapping himself in the flag: Marder is wrapping Heidegger in the importance of philosophical inquiry to discourage criticism. But the same problem arises: the flag is not really about the politician, and so is not harmed by criticism of the politician, and philosophical inquiry is not actually harmed by criticism, even sharp criticism, of Heidegger and those who draw from his philosophy. If the criticism is answerable, great; if not, then that was the whole point in the first place. Either way, philosophical inquiry is furthered.

But the problem, of course, is that Marder himself doesn't really think political actions are sharply distinguishable from philosophical discourse; otherwise he could never see political actions like banning a Nietzsche club in one university as contributing to a "freeze on thinking" or the Heidegger dispute as "a fight over the very meaning of philosophy". So your political commitments can have a direct relevance to the very meaning of philosophy -- unless, apparently, you are a particular Nazi of whom we've all heard.