Saturday, October 04, 2014

Violations of Remotion

The principle of remotion in natural theology can be put, roughly and at first approximation, in something like these terms:

(R) God is known only by causal inference from effects, in such a way as not to fall under a genus.

The basic implication of this is that we know God not by having a definition of His nature, which would require identifying a genus and specific difference for deity, but only by differences that are not specific differences, which themselves arise from specific causal inferences.

One thing that is fairly easy to see is that lots of arguments in analytic philosophy of religion appear to violate this principle; you can often recognize them by conditionals beginning, "If God exists..." (although conditionals of this form do not in themselves violate the principle of remotion). For instance, here is a standard simple version of an argument from gratuitous evils:

(P1) If God exists, then there is no gratuitous evil in the world.
(P2) There is gratuitous evil in the world.
(C) Therefore, God does not exist.

On its own, this is fine, but the obvious question is why one would accept (P1). And it is here that the violation often occurs. So, for instance, a commonly given reason given for (P1) is something along the lines that it follows from the nature of God, who as a morally perfect being would necessarily, given his power, wisdom, and goodness, not allow evil he has no morally adequate reason to allow. All three of the italicized phrases, or anything equivalent to them, raise immediate questions relevant to remotion: talking about what follows from the nature of God appears to require some kind of real definition of God's nature itself; the rationale appears to identify God as falling within the genus of morally perfect beings; and the necessity seems to be the kind of natural necessity that comes from knowing the real definition of a thing's nature. But what binds it all together is what we do not get, which is any establishment of the content of these terms from a causal inference that does not make any assumptions about the genus of the cause. All the terms can be used in a way consistent with (R); but they can only do so in combination with a causal inference of the kind noted in (R), which then fixes the content of the term.

Here is another one:

(P1) If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.
(P2) Reasonable nonbelief occurs.
(C) Therefore a perfectly loving God does not exist.

All well and good, but what is the justification for (P1)? A common justification is that a perfectly loving God would necessarily be open to a personal relationship with every willing person. But, again, this 'necessarily' seems to require the kind of necessity resulting from its being implied by the real definition of a nature, and there is no hint of what kind of causal inference would give one the relevant content of the term 'perfectly loving'.

It is perhaps not especially surprising that atheistic arguments tend not to fix the content of the terms they apply to God by giving the causal inference to God's existence that would fix them; but there has to be at least some hypothetical or for-the-sake-of-argument inference, or the argument violates the principle of remotion.

Here is a theistic argument that also, as usually understood, violates the principle of remotion.

(P1) If God is perfectly loving, God saves all those who can possibly in any way be saved.
(P2) God is perfectly loving.
(P3) Therefore God saves all those who can possibly in any way be saved.

Again, all well and good, but the question arises as to how one knows (P1), and again the usual answers do not seem to appeal to a causal inference or avoid the assumption that we have a real definition of God's nature from which we draw a necessary conclusion.

There are many views on which violation of remotion is not a problem; my point is not that this is an issue arising all the way across the board. Rather, my point is that the principle of remotion is regularly violated, and the arguments thus created are inconsistent with, already ruled out by, any view that accepts the principle of remotion. It is in fact the case that there are a lot of historical theologians (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) who accept the principle of remotion, either explicitly or by accepting things that effectively imply it, which is, of course, where I got it. And for anyone who accepts the principle of remotion, a great many arguments one finds in analytic philosophy of religion look as if they are, not tight arguments dealing with rigorous necessities, but sloppy reasoning involving pure speculation.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Xenophon's Hiero

Hieron, or Hiero, as it is usually called in English, is a short non-Socratic dialogue that Xenophon uses to discuss the relationship between happiness and power. It also briefly touches on the same topic as that of the Cyropaedia, namely, how to have a society in which the ruled want to be ruled. It was a very popular work among Renaissance humanists.

You can read Hiero online in English at the Perseus Project.

The Characters

  Simonides of Ceos
Simonides was one of the great lyric poets of ancient Greece. He lived in the late sixth or early fifth century BC. His poetry often had a didactic cast, and he was reputed to be a wise man; quite a few of his sayings have survived, although it is, of course, possible, that some of them just collected around him because of his reputation. He is the poet whose poem Socrates and Protagoras argue over in Plato's Protagoras; there and elsewhere in the Platonic dialogues there seem to be suggestions that he is excessively inclined to pander to power -- one of his innovations as a poet was to write hymn-like poetry to eminent men, as if they were already heroes.

Hiero was what the Greeks called a tyrant -- he came to power through means that were not exactly legal or customary -- in the Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily. He was a ruthless ruler, but also an active patron of the arts, inviting poets and philosophers from all over the Greek world to his court, including Simonides.

The Plot and The Thought

Simonides asks Hiero how the lives of a private citizen and a tyrant differ. Hiero asks Simonides to remind him of the joys and sorrows of a private citizen, and Simonides talks about the things we all know -- we get pleasure and pain through the senses, and pleasure from sleep, and the like, to which Hiero responds that he doesn't understand why anyone would think things would be different for a despot. Simonides suggests that the despot has more pleasures and fewer pains by the same channels. Hiero responds that the reverse is true. They cannot devote themselves to entertainments like a private citizen can, for instance.

Simonides points out that the despot receives more praise, but Hiero counters that it is mostly flattering and self-serving, and thus not as pleasant as it might seem. Similar problems arise for the pleasures of smell and taste. Simonides suggests despots have greater sexual pleasures; Hiero counters that a despot cannot marry a woman of superior or equal family, and he has many things that interfere with the passion that makes sex sweet.As for young men, the despot can never be sure that they comply from genuine affection or from mere obedience -- and they are often the very people involved in plots against the despot. Simonides continues with the luxurious dwellings of despots, but Hiero's counter is that a despot must always live and move in his own country as if he were in enemy territory, and they cannot have friendships in the way private citizens can. Further, while a private citizen might crave a nicer house or some such, the despot is not satisfied with such things; he craves entire cities and the like.

Moreover, a tyrant cannot relate to admirable people the way a private citizen can:

They recognize a stout-hearted, a wise or an upright man as easily as private citizens do. But instead of admiring such men, they fear them,—the brave lest they strike a bold stroke for freedom, the wise lest they hatch a plot, the upright lest the people desire them for leaders. When they get rid of such men through fear, who are left for their use, save only the unrighteous, the vicious and the servile,—the unrighteous being trusted because, like the despots, they fear that the cities may some day shake off the yoke and prove their masters, the vicious on account of the licence they enjoy as things are, the servile because even they themselves have no desire for freedom. (5.1-2)

Hiero continues in this vein for some time, leading Simonides naturally to ask why people work so hard to be despots, if all of this is true. He suggests that it might be desire for honor. Hiero dismisses this, however, saying that tyrants have honor in much the same way tyrants have romantic relationships, so Simonides asks why he doesn't just stop being a tyrant. To this Hiero replies that the greatest misery of being a tyrant is that you cannot stop being a tyrant.

Simonides suggests that tyrants have the advantage that, even if their own honors are not desirable, they can most easily confer honors and benefits on others; but Hiero insists that a tyrant is often forced to do things that will cause other people to hate him. Simonides points out that this can be handled by delegation and can be compensated for by contests and prizes. To this Hiero at last replies that it makes sense, and asks Simonides what he would do with mercenaries, who make a tyrant unpopular. Simonides' suggestion is that the mercenaries should be used not as a private bodyguard, but as a guard for the whole community. Simonides also offers advice on how the tyrant should use his wealth, namely, that he should devote it to the common good of the city. The most important victory of one city over another is the victory of greater prosperity: a tyrant who devotes all of his means to this will draw the affection of citizens and the sincere praise of the world.

He ends his counsel with a summation of his point:

Take heart then, Hiero; enrich your friends, for so you will enrich yourself. Exalt the state, for so you will deck yourself with power. Get her allies [for so you will win supporters for yourself]. Account the fatherland your estate, the citizens your comrades, friends your own children, your sons possessions dear as life. And try to surpass all these in deeds of kindness. For if you out-do your friends in kindness, it is certain that your enemies will not be able to resist you.

And if you do all these things, rest assured that you will be possessed of the fairest and most blessed possession in the world; for none will be jealous of your happiness. (11.13-15)

Thus the secret to overcoming all the travails involved in being a tyrant is to cease to be despotic and work for the common good of all.


Quotations are from the Marchant (or perhaps Bowerstock) translation at the Perseus Project.

Recollection and Longing

...[W]e may term poetry the mind's transcendent recollection of the eternal. For the first and most ancient poetry, as the common memory of the human race—its higher organ of remembrance—passes on from century to century, and from nation to nation; and though ever dressing itself in the changing fashion of the day, yet, through all time, it refers us back to the primary and eternal.

Music, on the other hand, is eminently an art of longing. To this it owes all its ravishing enchantments—its magic and irresistible charms. In music, however, as in every other form of art, the higher and the earthly—the soul, as it were, and the body—the heavenly longing and the terrestrial are often blended together in the same note and tone, so as scarcely to be discriminated.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr., p. 419.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

On Arguing with Polytheists

John Michael Greer, who is himself a polytheist, somewhere notes that most arguments used by atheists don't make any sense against polytheists; and it doesn't take much to show this to be true. I was put in mind of this today by someone talking about how, to an atheist, 'God', like 'Zeus', does not refer to anything that exists.

The problem, of course, is that polytheists can usually point to their gods, at least some of them. We see this with the dialogue Epinomis. If you asked Philip of Opus, assuming that he was the author, whether the god Ouranos existed, all Philip would have to do is take you outside and point up at the sky. And he could also point out Zeus to you, without any trouble whatsoever; later Roman polytheists, of course, following along, would point to the same exact, obviously existing, thing, and tell you that it was Jupiter. The entire reason we call it Jupiter is because some polytheists pointed it out as their god, Jupiter. 'Zeus' refers to something that exists; someone who disbelieves in Zeus just thinks that the existing thing is not, in fact, a god.

In general, the rule with polytheists is that they cannot be refuted by arguing that their gods simply don't exist; as I said, they can usually point to at least some of their gods. The only way a polytheist can generally be refuted is to argue that what he is pointing to in the world is not actually divine; arguing that it doesn't exist is not a viable way to go. Long ago, in reading something or other on (I think) scientific reduction, I came across a passage in which the author repeatedly used the example of Thor's Hammer: Once lightning was thought to be Thor's Hammer, and now it is known that it is electrical discharge. It was, of course, just a stand-in example, rather than any serious comment about Mjölnir. But if you were to ask any actual Asatruar, he will point out that in Ásatrú, there is no denial of the electric discharge description when one uses the Mjölnir description; the point was never that lightning was an ordinary warhammer, which any ancient Viking could easily have already told you it wasn't, but that it was Mjölnir, i.e., lightning, which is Thor's, and it is called a warhammer because it can do what a warhammer or battle-ax does on a scale suitable for a god. And no matter how thoroughly atheistic your theory of electricity is, I can without any hesitation guarantee that it has not established the nonexistence of lightning.

This is, interestingly enough, a feature that polytheists share with pantheists; it is even more obviously impossible to argue that what the pantheist calls 'God' does not exist, because you have only to look around to see that it does. The only question is whether it is, as they say, divine.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Voilà mes fleurs!

Jeter des fleurs
by Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux

Air : Oui, je le crois, elle est immaculée.

Jésus, mon seul amour, au pied de ton calvaire,
Que j'aime, chaque soir, à te jeter des fleurs!
En effeuillant pour toi la rose printanière,
Je voudrais essuyer tes pleurs!

Jeter des fleurs!... c'est t'offrir en prémices
Les plus légers soupirs, les plus grandes douleurs.
Mes peines, mon bonheur, mes petits sacrifices
Voilà mes fleurs!

Seigneur, de ta beauté mon âme s'est éprise;
Je veux te prodiguer mes parfums et mes fleurs.
En les jetant pour toi sur l'aile de la brise,
Je voudrais enflammer les coeurs!

Jeter des fleurs! Jésus, voilà mon arme
Lorsque je veux lutter pour sauver les pécheurs.
La victoire est à moi: toujours je te désarme
Avec mes fleurs!

Les pétales des fleurs caressant ton Visage
Te disent que mon coeur est à toi sans retour.
De ma rose effeuillée, ah! tu sais le langage,
Et tu souris à mon amour...

Jeter des fleurs! redire tes louanges,
Voilà mon seul plaisir sur la rive des pleurs.
Au ciel j'irai bientôt avec les petits anges
Jeter des fleurs.

28 juin 1896.

From here. It is, of course, Saint Thérèse's feast day today; known as the Little Flower, she is also a Doctor of the Church.

Plato and Xenophon

So Plato's all done, and as to what's left, it's mostly a question of how much of Xenophon to do. I definitely want to do Hiero. It would be nice to do Anabasis and Hellenica, but they make a fairly massive task; since Socrates appears briefly in both, I might just do something on Socrates' appearance in each, and leave tackling them in full to another time. I also want to get in Plutarch's dialogue on Socrates' daimonion, and I would like to do Aristophanes' The Clouds, which made fun of Socrates and would be the only source actually contemporary with Socrates, to top it all off. I might leave Apuleius and Libanius for another time, although the latter might be interesting to compare to Xenophon.

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
Republic: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Protagoras: Part I, Part II
Laws: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Plato: Heavily Disputed

Alcibiades Major
The Platonic Letters: 7,8
Hippias Major

Plato: Usually Regarded as Spurious

The Platonic Definitions
Rival Lovers
De Justo
De Virtute
Alcibiades Minor
The Platonic Letters: 1,5,9,12 ; 2,4,10,13 ; 3,6,11
The Platonic Epigrams

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

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
A Philosophical Bendideia
Life in This Present Hades

Still to do

Xenophon: Hiero, Cynegeticus (possibly), Anabasis (probably only in part), Agesilaus (possibly), Constitution of Sparta (probably not), Hellenica (probably only in part), Hipparchikos (possibly), Hippike (possibly), Poroi (possibly)

Aristophanes: The Clouds (possibly)

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

Apuleius: The God of Socrates (possibly)

Libanius: Defense of Socrates (possibly)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Xenophon's Cyropaedia (Books V-VIII)

Book V

Cyrus calls Araspas, an old Mede friend of his, to take care of the Lady of Susa, who has been captured and given to Cyrus. Araspas, after beginning his duty, asks Cyrus if he has ever seen her; Cyrus has not (well, he has seen her, but she was veiled). Araspas points out that she is stunningly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful woman in that whole part of the world, and says that Cyrus must see for himself. Cyrus refuses, since if she is really beautiful, he might fall in love and neglect his duties. This leads to a long philosophical discussion between them about whether falling in love is voluntary or not, with Araspas arguing that it is voluntary and Cyrus pointing out problems with this. Unfortunately, in taking care of the beautiful woman for Cyrus, who is graceful and courteous and grateful for his assistance, Araspas falls in love with her.

In the meantime Cyrus gets confirmation of the continuance of several of the alliances he has made, then sets off with his cavalry to visit Gobryas. Gobryas is hospitable and Cyrus confirms his promise. Gobryas is surprised at how plain the food the Persians set for themselves is, but he quickly comes to realize that their temperance is part of their excellence as soldiers. Gobryas joins formally into the alliance, and they all march away.

Cyrus, however, is reflecting on how he can make his enemy weaker, and consults with Gobryas and the Hyrcanian king about who else might join their alliance. The Hyrcanian mentions the Cadusians and Sacians. Gobryas mentions that he knows of a man, of a small but important kingdom, whom the current king, while still a prince, castrated out of jealousy. However, to get to him in order to join forces, they would have to march by the walls of Babylon, a vast city in Assyrian hands which can field an army even larger than that of Cyrus. Nonetheless, Cyrus decides that this is what they must do. However, they must not do it in secret; they must do it in a way that makes the enemy afraid.

At Babylon, the Assyrians are disinclined to do battle, because they are still in the midst of preparations. So Cyrus has Gobryas, whose change in loyalties has not yet gotten abroad, ride up to the city and ask the king to fight Cyrus and protect his country. The Assyrian king gives a rude answer. When Gobryas returns, Cyrus tells him to go to the eunuch king, whose name is Gadatas, when he can, but to keep any alliance secret. They arrange to have Gadatas reinforce one of the key Assyrian forts, so as to deliver it into Cyrus's hands, which he does. Having the fort makes it possible to unite forces with the Cadusians and the Sacians. This touches off several small chain reactions: the Hyrcanians, impressed at the swift success of Cyrus, send more troops, and a number of smaller, more local, Assyrian garrisons surrender.

At this time, however, Gadatas learns that the Assyrians are marching in retaliation against his kingdom. This creates a problem -- Gadatas can get there in a day and a half, although perhaps not before the Assyrians, but Cyrus's army, which is really needed, is now so large that it will move much more slowly, and will take about a week. Gadatas heads out and Cyrus summons his men to organize the march. The men are impressed, since it turns out that Cyrus remembers their names, and Xenophon notes that Cyrus regards it as a tool of his trade: if you want to honor a man, you must remember his name, and if you know someone's name, he will strive harder not to let you down.

Due to the treachery of one of his officers, Gadatas is ambushed by the Assyrians; Gadatas and his men flee, but as Cyrus has been marching quickly and with good organization, they soon run into Cyrus. Cyrus is a bit surprised at finding Gadatas going the wrong direction, but on understanding the situation, he destroys the ambushing army.

The Cadusians, meanwhile, have been at the rear of the march and are starting to be restless. The Cadusian prince takes it into his head to do some raiding without letting anyone else know. They run into the army of the Assyrian king, so that many Cadusians are destroyed before they can get back to Cyrus's army. Cyrus helps the Cadusians to return to bury their dead and they ravage the country in retaliation for the losses. At this point, Cyrus sends a message the Assyrian king, saying that if the Assyrian will let farmers who have supported Cyrus continue to work their farms, he, Cyrus, will treat laborers for the Assyrian in the same way. The Assyrian king's advisors beg him to take the offer, so both sides agree that the farmers will have peace, and that war will only be between the soldiers.

Cyrus returns to the border of Assyria and Media and captures three forts -- one by assault, one by intimidation, and one, through Gadatas, by persuasion. He then sends to Cyaxares to arrange a war council. Cyaxares is jealous of the huge alliance that Cyrus has pulled together in so little time. Cyrus, however, reassures him that his honor is not injured by the success of Cyrus, and that all that Cyrus has done is for his uncle's benefit. So they reconcile.

Book VI

A major question now arises as to whether the alliance army should be disbanded. Gadatas is a vehement supporter of the importance of continuing. There's a general sense among the captains, especially the Hyrcanian and Cadusian leaders, that continuing is essential. Cyrus assures them he has no actual intention of disbanding, but there are serious problems on the horizon: winter is coming, rivals are gathering, provisions are mostly exhausted. So his proposal is that they need simultaneously to cut off the enemy's ability to hole up in strongholds while establishing strongholds themselves. Thus the first step in planning is to procure siege engines and builders.

Meanwhile, Araspas, in love with the Lady of Susa (whose name, we learn a little later, is Pantheia), has been proposing a union with her. She, however, deeply in love with her husband, consistently refused to move one step in that direction. In anger, he threatened her; and at this she appealed to Cyrus. Caught doing something he should not have been doing, Araspas was ashamed and afraid. But Cyrus had use for him; he sent Araspas to Lydia to spy on the Assyrian king, who was building forces there. They decide to arrange a cover story, in which word will be let around that Araspas deserted Cyrus. When word gets out that Araspas has deserted and fled, Pantheia sees an opportunity, and sends to Cyrus, saying that even though Araspas was unfaithful, she can vouch for the loyalty of her husband, Abradatas, especially since he also has reasons to hate the current Assyrian king. He lets her send a message, and Abradatas joins the alliance.

At this time, emissaries come from India with monetary support for Cyrus. He convinces them to send three people to the Assyrian king under the pretence of beginning an alliance. They return with information that the Assyrian's allies, under Croesus, are forming a vast army. Cyrus rallies the morale of his men and determines to move quickly to avoid fear spreading in his ranks. He finishes preparations and organizes the march. As they approach Croesus's army, Araspas returns, and Cyrus clears his name in public. Araspas provides precise information about the disposition of the enemy, allowing Cyrus to plan his countertactics. Abradatas takes a key position in the lines, although he has to draw lots to beat the Persians to it. Pantheia helps him with his armor, weeping. She follows behind his chariot for a while, but eventually he must tell her to take heart and fare well.

Book VII

The battle proceeds. Cyrus's counterplan works, although there are a few hitches (including his horse being killed), requiring him to make swift adjustments. Croesus flees to Sardis. Cyrus follows, taking Sardis and capturing Croesus. During the capture of Sardis, the Chaldaeans abandoned their posts to raid the houses. He calls their leaders and tells them to leave; when they beg to stay, he allows it only on the condition that they give what they took to those who kept their station.

Cyrus then meets with Croesus and works out a deal in which the army will not plunder the city or carry off prisoners of war as long as the Lydians give generously from their treasuries. Croesus tells his story. He sent to the Oracle at Delphi, but failing to ask the god if he needed anything, he tested the god by asking if he would have children. The god, but only after many gifts, said there were; the children were indeed born but one was mute and the other died early in life. Croesus sent to the gods again and asked how to live a happy life. The god replied, "Knowing yourself, Croesus, you will pass through it happily" (7.2.20). Croesus took this as a claim that he would be happy, since, he thought, there is nothing easier than knowing oneself. Croesus blames his loss on his taking the generalship, thus showing that he did not, in fact, know himself, since if he had, he would have had the sense to recognize that he was not one who could outmaneuver Cyrus. Cyrus promises protection for his family.

The next morning, Cyrus asks why he hasn't seen Abradatas, and receives the news that Abradatas died in battle. Cyrus immediately goes to the place Abradatas lies dead, where his wife is weeping beside him. Cyrus tries to comfort her and then leaves. Then Pantheia takes out a dagger and stabs herself in the chest, placing her head on her husband's chest as she died. The eunuchs attending her stab themselves and die with her. Cyrus makes sure the sacrifices and funeral are appropriate to their stature.

While Cyrus is making siege machines at Sardis, the Carians have a civil war, and both sides appeal to Cyrus. He sends an army with one of his captains, Adousius, to handle the matter. To each side Adousios says that their side was more just and that it was important to keep their alliance secret. He gets permissions to fortify the fortresses of each side with Persians -- then takes them over. He pressures the leaders to make peace under the Persian cloak. At the same time, Cyrus sends another army under Hystaspas against the Phrygians; Hystaspas is successful. Cyrus returns to Babylon, conquering people here and there as the opportunity arises.

Babylon's walls are very impressive, and not certainly breachable by the siege engines they have, so Cyrus proposes that hunger may be a better way to get past it. Chrysantas proposes the river flowing through the city, but it is too deep. Cyrus starts building massive trenches. The people inside are not worthy; they are very well provisioned, and can last for years and years if they absolutely have to do so. Using the trenches, he draws water off from the river so that it becomes traversable. They then march up the river into the city and take it. Gobryas and Gadatas kill the Assyrian king. Cyrus establishes himself as king in the city. This is a new kind of problem for him, since Babylon is a huge city, but he immediately sets about handling things in his customary way.


Cyrus sets his kingdom in good working order, and even throws in a bit of showmanship:

We think we learned of Cyrus that he did not believe that rulers must differ from their subjects by this alone, by being better, but he also thought they must bewitch them. (8.1.40)

He even makes use of things like platform shoes and cosmetics to make a good impression.

The biggest challenge, though, is what to do with stronger subjects who might take it into their heads to rule. So he handles it the Cyrus way:

In the first place, he continually made his benevolence of soul every bit as visible as he could, for he believed that just as it is not easy to love those who seem to hate you, or to be well disposed toward those who are ill disposed toward you, so also those known as loving and as being well disposed could not be hated by those who held that they were love. (8.2.1)

He also gives gifts freely and sets up contests among potential rivals for achieving great deeds, thus making them rivals with each other, not him, and getting praise for encouraging virtue. He has the Pheraulas the commoner organize a great procession and rewards him greatly for his success; and, indeed, had a general policy of honoring most those who did the best, regardless of what else might be said about them.

Once things are established in Babylon, he takes a trip back home, visiting Cyaxares in Media and Cambyses in Persia. Cambyses names Cyrus his heir and Cyrus marries Cyaxares's daughter. Then he returned to Babylon, where he prospered:

Human beings were so disposed to him that every nation though they got less if they did not send to Cyrus whatever fine thing either naturally grew in their land, was raised there, or was made by art; and so too with every city, and every private person thought that he would become wealthy if he could gratify Cyrus in something. For Cyrus, taking from each whatever the givers had in abudance, gave in return what he perceived them to be lacking. (8.6.23)

Xenophon then tells of his death, when he was very old, and very powerful. After Cyrus's death, however, the empire fell apart, for it was Cyrus alone who held it together. And thus Xenophon ends the book by summarizing the deterioration of the Persians.

Additional Comments on the Work

* Cyrus definitely made an impact on the world;

Median Empire

Achaemenid Empire 559 - 330 (BC)

* While Cyrus is obviously the main character of the work, the Assyrian king plays an important role. The Assyrian king falls so completely to Cyrus not just because he is unjust (although he is), but because he does the opposite of what Cyrus does: he rules people in such a way that they hate him. Gobryas lost a son to him; Gadatas was castrated; he attempted to take Pantheia from Abradatas; and the Hyrcanians, Cadusians, and Sacians are all badly used by the Assyrians. Cyrus, on the other side, does everything right to make people want to be ruled by him.

* There are many, many different stories about the Fall of Babylon. Xenophon seems to be following Herodotus in at least broad outlines. The Cyrus Cylinder commissioned by Cyrus claims that the Babylonians opened their gates to him freely. Most sources that give a name take the Assyrian king to be Nabonidus, although sometimes they take him to be captured in Babylon, sometimes in a battle after Babylon, and sometimes killed and sometimes not; the Biblical book of Daniel says it was Belshazzar (Belsharusar), who was Nabonidus's son and not actually the king (although it's very possible he was co-regent by that point). What seems to be the one common thread in it all is that Cyrus captured Babylon suddenly, unexpectedly, and definitively, so that no one knew exactly what happened.

* One of the notable themes throughout (and which would make it a good basis for a movie!) is that Cyrus will set something up that will come to fruition considerably later. To take just one example, he gets the Armenians and Chaldaeans to send messengers to India in Book III, then proceeds through a considerable part of a military campaign before the Indians finally come back with monetary support in Book VI. He is also very good at taking advantage of whatever happens to be at hand and setting it in motion for his ends. But, of course, the major key to his success is that he repeatedly treats people so that they know that being in his good graces is a very good place to be. He dominates because, when he does, everyone benefits.


Quotations are from Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus, Wayne Ambler, tr., Cornell UP (Ithaca, NY: 2001).

Music on My Mind

Dion, "The Thunderer". Feast of St. Jerome, of course.

Bentham and Mill on Judging One's Own Happiness

I have seen recently an upsurge in people exalting Bentham at the expense of Mill; I'm not sure the reason. Certainly it is a matter that is generally of little significance. Mill is so much the superior of Bentham on nearly every count that no one could seriously begrudge Bentham a count or two in which he overtops Mill. But there is a real danger in such cases of not capturing Mill's view fairly in an attempt to improve Bentham in the comparison. An example of this, I think, is a claim in Robert Wolff's recent eulogy of Bentham:

Indeed, Bentham's principle, as he quite well intended, constituted a very powerful argument for democratic government resting on universal suffrage. [Strictly speaking, to get to that conclusion required adding the lemma that each person is the best judge of his or her own pain and pleasure, an assumption with which Bentham was comfortable but that proved a bridge too far for his godson John Stuart Mill.]

But it is certainly a bridge Mill himself passes over. Mill gives exactly this argument in the first chapter of The Subjection of Women, which is, notably, an argument for universal suffrage:

I have dwelt so much on the difficulties which at present obstruct any real knowledge by men of the true nature of women, because in this as in so many other things "opinio copiae inter maximas causas inopiae est"; and there is little chance of reasonable thinking on the matter while people flatter themselves that they perfectly understand a subject of which most men know absolutely nothing, and of which it is at present impossible that any man, or all men taken together, should have knowledge which can qualify them to lay down the law to women as to what is, or is not, their vocation. Happily, no such knowledge is necessary for any practical purpose connected with the position of women is relation to society and life. For, according to all the principles involved in modern society, the question rests with women themselves — to be decided by their own experience, and by the use of their own faculties. There are no means of finding what either one person or many can do, but by trying — and no means by which anyone else can discover for them what it is for their happiness to do or leave undone.

To a very great degree, what separates Bentham and Mill is not so much the radicalness of their views at the individual level but the differences in the way they think we should assess happiness from the impartial point of view. This is as one might expect given that the real importance in utilitarianism is placed not on who is the best judge of an individual's happiness but in how one makes the judgment of what contributes to, or is required for, the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Mill puts a considerable emphasis on the need for utilitarian judgments to go beyond what must or ought to be done (in Mill's account our assessment of good advice and of good art are also to be utilitarian) and also to take into account connoisseurship of pleasure. This does give Mill's account a less democratic 'feel' than Bentham's -- but it's not, I think, because Mill is less of a democrat at the individual level than Bentham.

Monday, September 29, 2014

D. G. Myers

I was saddened to learn that D. G. Myers has recently died. He wrote at "A Commonplace Blog" and has an excellent book on the history of creative writing programs (which I have on my shelves and have read more than once), The Elephants Teach.

You can listen to David talk about dealing with cancer at EconTalk:

D.G. Myers, literary critic and cancer patient, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the lessons he has learned from receiving a cancer diagnosis six years ago. Myers emphasizes the importance of dealing with cancer honestly and using it as a way to focus attention on what matters in life. The conversation illuminates the essence of opportunity cost and the importance of allocating our time, perhaps our scarcest resource, wisely. The last part of the conversation discusses a number of literary issues including the role of English literature and creative writing in American universities.

And you can also read a reflection on the subject from June of this year, The Mercy of Sickness Before Dying.

David had a knack for finding the complacent certainties people had about literature and pressing on them -- sometimes hard -- with a bit of critical thought. I've linked to a number of his discussions over the years. Some of my favorites:

Plot and Thought
Influence and Literary History
On Satire
Jewish sin and repentance
Literary Fiction: An Autopsy
Reading the Holocaust

Xenophon's Cyropaedia (Books I-IV)

The Cyropaedia is probably the non-Socratic Xenophontic work that has been most popular through the ages. It asks the question: What must a ruler do to make the ruled want to be ruled? It answers the question by purporting to give an account of the education and rise to power of Cyrus the Great, king of the Medes and Persians. Significant parts of the work are highly fictionalized, and fictionalized in a way that Xenophon must surely have done deliberately, so the work seems not to be intended as a historical work. It is a matter of considerable dispute, however, whether it fits any other genre or is sui generis. This has made interpretation of the work somewhat difficult. It seems clear that he used no documentary sources, but we don't know how much of this is Xenophon giving us oral legends about Cyrus and how much of it is Xenophon making up Cyrus in the form suitable to the question. We don't even know for sure what the title of the book would have been originally; it is given several different names in antiquity (Life of Cyrus, and so forth). The title it is usually known by today, Kyrou paideia (Cyrus's Education), seems to be due to Aulus Gellius. (Cyropaedia is the latinization.) Another puzzle people have had is the fact that most of the book lauds Cyrus in the highest terms, but the book ends in a way that raises questions about Cyrus's achievement. Some people have even suggested that the last book may not be by Xenophon, although this is the only serious argument for such a conclusion. My suspicion, though, is that many of the puzzles of interpretation can be resolved by keeping clear about what Xenophon's question is. It is not, "How does one make a just society?" nor even (contrary to the way it is often stated) "How does one make a stable society?" The question is, "How does one make a society in which people don't want to change the government?" And Cyrus shows us, roughly, that the key is for the ruler to seem unquestionably powerful and be good at giving benefits to people that they cannot otherwise get. Nothing about this requires that Xenophon admire everything about such a ruler, even if he does admire the excellence with which Cyrus meets these goals of appearing powerful and beneficial.

Even though this work is a non-Socratic work, it seems everywhere to suggest the influence of Socrates: everyone talks in a Socratic way, and some of Cyrus's excellences are clearly understood in Socratic terms. And there seem to be a number of ways in which Xenophon deliberately adjusts Cyrus to give him a Socratic hue.

You can read the Cyropaedia online in English at the Perseus Project. There is an online collaborative commentary on the work called Cyrus' Paradise, which has a number of interesting discussions.

Book I

Book I sets the theme of the work and gives us the first basic education of Cyrus. Xenophon begins by noting that all sorts of governments are often overthrown by the people who are ruled by them, so that it seems that human beings have no art by which to rule other human beings. However, having thought of this, he also thought of Cyrus the Great, "who acquired very many people, very many cities, and very many nations, all obedient to himself" (1.1), and that the obedience was given despite vast distances and differences in language and culture. So what is the secret to a Cyrus? This is what the rest of the work will discuss.

Cyrus is said to have been the son of Cambyses, king of the Persians. He was educated in the laws of the Persians, which are very focused on what is common rather than what is individual. (Xenophon's account of Persian education is very clearly a slightly adapted account of Spartan education.) Cyrus only had this education until he was about twelve; at that age his grandfather on his mother's side, who was king of the Medes, sent for his daughter and grandson. Thus he learns the ways of the Medes, which are rather different. As Cyrus's mother, Mandane, puts it, in Persia being equal is what is accounted just, and the law rules the king, whereas in Media the king is master of all and ruled by no law. Because Cyrus loved to learn, he grew adept in the ways of the Medes. Then he returned, before fully adult, to Persia. Soon his grandfather in Media died, and was succeeded by Cyrus's uncle Cyaxares. At this point, the king of Assyria, seeing a possible opportunity, began to plan to defeat the Medes, and to that end started building an alliance. Cyaxares sent to Persia for help, and so Cyrus found himself in Media again, at the head of an army. After taking thought to the gods and offering sacrifices, he receives some advice from his father about caution and preparation. His father also gives him advice as to how to make soldiers obey. After Cyrus remarks on the importance of praising those who obey and punishing those who disobey, Cambyses says:

"Yes, son, this is indeed the road to their obeying by compulsion, but to what is far superior to this, to their being willing to obey, there is another road that is shorter, for human beings obey with great pleasure whomever they think is more prudent about their own advantage than they are themselves....Yet whenever people think that they will incur any harm by obeying, they are not very willing either to yield to punishments or to be seduced by gifts, for no one is willing to receive even gifts when they bring him harm." (1.6)

Being prudent about advantage, however, can only be learned by actively learning what you can. And while it is true that always doing good for someone will tend to win them over, it is nonetheless difficult to do this. Thus a ruler must rejoice at good given to others, grieve at evils that befall them, be enthusiastic about joining them in solving their difficulties, and carefully plan to avoid failure. The ruler must have more endurance than the ruled. As to enemies, the only way to maintain power over them is to "be a plotter, a dissembler, wily, a cheat, a thief, rapacious, and the sort who takes advantage of his enemies in everything" (1.6). Cyrus notes that this is the opposite of what everyone is taught as a boy, and Cambyses notes that many of the things one learns as a boy has to do with the treatment of friends, not of enemies, for the same reason that we wait to teach boys explicitly about sex rather than doing so immediately (i.e., they do not yet have the restraint required); but in fact, boys are also taught to deal with enemies, just not by practicing on enemies. They learn to hunt, to trap, to outmaneuver, to deceive, in games and sports like the hunting of deer.

Book II

When Cyrus gets to Media he learns that the Assyrian king's alliance has grown considerably, and that the army that is coming against the Medes is huge in comparison with anything they can field. This is a problem, since both sides are heavily stocked with archers and spearmen, which suggests distance-skirmishing. But skirmishing at a distance tends to favor the more numerous army. Thus Cyrus argues that they should armor their Persian Peers, a relatively small but very well trained group, so that they can close the distance and force close quarters. This will put the opposing enemy in a bind by making it in their interest to flee rather than to continue to fight. In addition, Cyrus lets any common soldier who wishes have a chance to receive honors like those of the elite soldiers. They train in fighting at close quarters, and he holds contests for those who fight well and obey orders to receive higher rank. He forces them to bunk together so that they will see that everyone is treated equally and, in addition, will be more likely to be ashamed not to fight if they know who else is fighting. He dines not just with officers, but with anyone whom he sees as doing well what they should be doing.

After discussion with people over dinner, Cyrus decides to put it to the army whether it will be better for everyone to share equally or for those who work hardest to receive the better share. A number of people respond with speeches (including one by Pheraulas, one of the common soldiers), and the general consensus is that it is better for those who work hardest to receive more -- as Cyrus had expected, people are ashamed to suggest that they should receive an equal share even if they do less, or do their work poorly.

Cyrus proposes to Cyaxares that they should secretly go against the king of Armenia. He is not technically part of the Assyrian alliance, but as the alliance has grown he has shown an increasing tendency to show contempt for the Medes, neglecting to provide tribute or support. Under the guise of a big hunt, Cyrus goes forth with his cavalry, and at the border of Armenia he lets his officers in on the plan. He has part of the army go forward dressed as if they were bands of robbers, to reduce the chance of the Armenians having early notice of the full army and hiding away in the mountains. The robber-dressed part of the army is also there to impede the flight to the mountains should it come to that. Cyrus in the meantime will go against the Armenians directly with the main cavalry.

Book III

Cyrus sends to the Armenian king and demands that he do what needs to be done to make up for tribute and lack of military support; the Armenians, caught by surprise, are found running around pell-mell trying to hide away their possessions or get their families to safety; Cyrus promises that those who stay will not be considered enemies, but those who run away will be treated as such. In the meantime, the king's own family is caught in flight to the mountains and the king is besieged; he surrenders and is put on trial by Cyrus. The Armenian king is forced to admit that he would be harsh with any subordinate who did as he had done, but the Armenian king's son, Tigranes, argues that Cyrus should only punish when it is in his interest to punish -- and the Armenian king, having been shown that he can easily be beaten, is now more useful as an ally than as someone to be punished. Cyrus agrees, and asks the Armenian king what he will do to show himself useful. Thus Cyrus comes away with more troops for the fight and also a considerable amount of money, given to ransom the family.

Taking away the Armenian troops, led by Tigranes, Cyrus comes to the mountains on the borders of Armenia, which are controlled by the hostile Chaldaeans. They go against the Chaldaeans. Tigranes warns him that the Armenians will not press the matter all the way, but he incorporates this into his plan by telling the Persians that the Armenians will pretend to flee in order to tempt the Chaldaeans into close-quarters combat. When the Armenians do really flee, as Tigranes had said they would, the Chaldaeans pursue (as they are accustomed to doing with Armenians in the mountains) and the Persians mop them up. Cyrus then uses his leverage with the Chaldaeans, who are now worried about what Cyrus will do, to establish and force a peace treaty between the Chaldaeans and the Armenians, which will be enforced and supervised by the Persians; he is careful to make sure that each side gets something that they need, as a real practical matter, from the peace -- in particular, the Chaldaeans have a labor shortage and the Armenians a labor glut -- and also from the Persian supervision, since if the Persians hold the key points they don't have to worry about the other side using the strategic advantage to retaliate against the other side. He then uses this collaboration between Chaldaeans and Armenians to pull the Indians, who have been temporizing about who to support, on to the Persian side. Cyrus needs money, he tells them, but given that they are new-found friends, he'd rather not have to take theirs. So he recommends that each side send messengers to the Indians playing up the value of supporting the Persians.

Back with the Medians, Cyrus recommends going on the offensive: as long as the armies are in Median territory, there is inevitable damage done to Median territory. There are no real advantages to waiting -- they will still be outnumbered even if they wait -- but by pushing on into enemy territory they will be doing damage to the enemy, even if it is just unsettling them by how ready the Medes and the Persians are to fight. One of the things they do as they advance is only cook during the day; at night no campfires are allowed in camp. They also sometimes burn campfires at night far behind the actual camp. Thus the enemy scouts are in constant confusion about where the army actually is. The Assyrians usually defend their camps by digging trenches around them; thus the Assyrian army made their camp where it would be convenient to dig trenches -- and at this point it just so happened that the best place was in full view. Cyrus, however, deliberately camps his army in the place where the Armenians will be least likely to see what he is doing, so that he could spring something on them suddenly.

Cyaxares and Cyrus, who have largely been in agreement up to this point, disagree about the best tactics for the situation. Cyaxares wants to try to intimidate the enemy by assaulting the fortifications. Cyrus, however, argues that this will not work, for the Assyrians will trust their fortifications and see that they outnumber their enemy. In addition, any failure will give the Assyrians heart. He recommends that they wait until the Assyrians themselves come out. This is agreed upon, and the Assyrians do indeed prefer to come out rather than sit in camp. Cyaxares wants to assault the first group out, but Cyrus insists that it will be as good as a loss if less than half the Assyrians are defeated; if they fight too small a group at first, the Assyrians will get a second chance at coming up with a battle plan and will be able to pursue the second battle on their own terms. Cyaxares is not convinced, and presses Cyrus to move; Cyrus instructs his returning messenger to tell Cyaxares in front of everyone that there are still too few, but he will comply. The Persians rush the Assyrians, who turn to flee to the fortifications. The Medes and Persians press, but Cyrus pulls back the Persian Peers before they get caught inside the fortifications themselves, and the fact that they obeyed Xenophon notes approvingly as a sign that they were properly trained.

Book IV

The Assyrians, having lost the leaders of their army, flee in the night, leaving behind their provisions. He opposes pursuing the Assyrians, saying that they lack the horses required for such a task. At this point there just happens to arrive an embassy from the Hyrcanians, who are subjects of the Assyrians. Because the Hyrcanians are good with horses, the Assyrians use them for hard cavalry work. Hyrcanian cavalry had been guarding the Assyrian retreat. But the Hyrcanians see that this is a possible opportunity for breaking free of the heavy Assyrian yoke, so they offer their services to Cyrus, providing information as a show of good faith. Since the Hyrcanians tell them that the Assyrians can be caught before reaching their strongholds, if only one starts early enough and leaves behind heavy gear, this raises new possibilities. The Hyrcanians offer to bring hostages from stragglers among the Assyrians, to prove that they are right, and Cyrus promises that the Hyrcanians will have equal place with the Medes and the Persians if they give him their support. Cyrus asks for volunteers, and all the Persians and most of the Medes are willing to do so, especially when the latter hear about the Hyrcanians. The Hyrcanians realize that Cyrus is trusting them without requiring that they bring any hostages as proof of their word, as they had said they were willing to do, and are astonished. But Cyrus tells them that they have all the guarantee they need in their souls and in their preparation; although he does happen to mention the fact that if the Hyrcanians were to betray him, the Hyrcanians are the ones who would be at a disadvantage. This is actually the single best reply he could have made -- the Hyrcanians are impressed, even a bit frightened, at the fact that Cyrus is so confident about not needing to worry about the matter, and when the Persians and Medes catch up to the main Hyrcanian forces, they are equally impressed by the ease with which Cyrus treats them as allies worthy of trust, who are to be brought in not out of desperate need or through force, but simply by being asked to do so as allies.

The alliance of Persians, Medes, and Hyrcanians quickly overtakes the alliance armies, putting them into disarray. When Cyrus captures the camp servants, he realizes an opportunity to have appropriate provisions for his men, so he has them set aside provisions, which they are willing to do for the obvious reason that they see it as a way to keep from dying. Cyrus convinces the Persians to let the Medes and Hyrcanians be in charge of distributing the loot, even if they get less by it. The loot ends up being quite considerable, as are the number of female captives, because, says Xenophon they claim that soldiers will fight more fiercely if what they regard as precious is present. Xenophon is skeptical; as he says drily, "Perhaps this is so, but perhaps they also do this because they take delight in the pleasure" (4.3).

Cyrus takes the occasion to argue that the Persians should develop their own cavalry, and Chrysantas, one of his captains, agrees, saying that he has always envied the centaurs. As a result, they all agree that it will be a law among them that whoever is given a horse by Cyrus will regard it as shameful to be seen on foot, until people start to wonder whether the Persians might not actually be centaurs. This starts a custom that Xenophon says has continued until his day. He then turns his attention to the captives who are starting to come in. Cyrus points out that even good land is useless without people working it, and so he proposes that they release the captives , and to the captives says that they will be allowed to go home, on condition that they promise not to fight against the Persians and the Medes again; and in the future, if anyone does something unjust to them, the Persians and the Medes will fight on their side. Obviously the captives promise.

Cyaxares, somewhat hilariously, has been unaware of what was happening, since he has been partying in his tent after the first victory over the Assyrians. He has quite a surprise when he comes out the next morning, and is not at all happy about it. When he discovers the whole story of the Hyrcanians, he is even more furious, and recalls the Median cavalry by sending a small contingent of what he has left. The Medes are uncertain as to what to do, since he obviously has the right to call them back, but is also famously savage when angry. Cyrus sends a messenger to Persia, asking for reinforcements, and leverages his new alliance with the Hyrcanians by having them keep the contingent of Medes in charge of the recall entertained. He then sends a message to Cyaxares reporting what has happened. Cyrus does as he intended and puts the Hyrcanians and Medes in charge of distribution of loot. They give the horses to Cyrus, and he tells them to give generously to Cyaxares, as well. He then frees anyone who had been enslaved by the Assyrians in exchange for joining the ranks.

At this point, a captured Assyrian named Gobryas is brought in and asks to speak to Cyrus. He was good friends with the old Assyrian king, who had died in the battle at the fortifications, and was not on good terms with his son, the new Assyrian king, since he had caused the death of Gobryas's son. Gobryas asks Cyrus to become his avenger, and Cyrus promises he will, and will let him keep all that was his, if Gobryas can prove he is not lying. They agree, and Gobryas is allowed to return home. In the meantime, the distribution is done; the Medes have given Cyrus the most beautiful tent and the most beautiful woman, the Susan woman. The Hyrcanians gave the extra tents to Cyrus and distributed the coined money fairly.

The saga of Cyrus is, of course, far from over, and we will see both the Susan and Gobryas, as well as the response of Cyaxares, in the next books.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fortnightly Book, September 28

The next fortnightly book is Bret Harte's Tales of the Gold Rush. Harte, born Francis Brett Hart in Albany, New York, went to California at the age of seventeen. There he taught school for a while in Oakland, doing various odd jobs for additional income. In 1868 he became editor for The Overland Monthly, which would change his life. There was a paucity of literature about California life, so Harte wrote up a story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp", to be included in the periodical. By his own story, he got called to the office of the publisher, who was very worried: when the printer received the story, he had returned the proofs not to Harte but to the publisher, insisting that the story was so scurrilous and indecent that his proofreader could hardly read it. Harte was utterly baffled as to what this meant. He read it again, and was convinced that this was wrong. He convinced his publisher at least to let it through as a test of his editorial judgment -- and the story, about a group of miners stuck with an infant after the death of a prostitute, garnered Harte instant acclaim. For a brief period, he made a considerable amount of money as a writer for periodicals, although he spent much of his last years struggling as his popularity waned.

Tales of the Gold Rush is an anthology of thirteen tales from various of Harte's collections of short stories:

The Luck of Roaring Camp
The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Tennessee's Partner
Brown of Calaveras
The Idyl of Bed Gulch
The Iliad of Sandy Bar
The Poet of Sierra Flat
How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar
An Apostle of the Tules
An Ingenue of the Sierras
A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's
Prosper's "Old Mother"

The one I'll be reading is a Heritage Press book illustrated by Fletcher Martin, the American painter. The typeface is a version of Walbaum called 'Waverly', with a fair mix of other typefaces fulfilling other functions. The book has a plain linen spine and marbled gold covers that are quite handsome.

I've been snowed under with grading recently, but even if this continues, this should be a fairly manageable book to handle.