Delight Springs

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Socrates & Plato in love

Another atrocity.

In CoPhi today it's another (simpler) look at Socrates & Plato.  It was on this day in 399 BCE that "Socrates was sentenced to death by the city of Athens for corrupting the minds of the youth of the city and for impiety."

But first, something not completely different...
Image result for now for something completely different

A recent John Lachs podcast interview reveals the heart and mind of "a wise old wizard" forever seeking the true pivot point between stoic acceptance of limits and a pragmatic "can do" spirit of intelligence and reason brought to bear on the boundless challenges of living. Living is hard, and Lachs loves to stir things up by saying the thing you least expect to hear. Here, for instance, he declares compassion and guilt useless emotions, and activism too often a misspent passion. In fact he's one of the most compassionate and caring people I've ever known, and one of the most committed agents of constructive change. He's a tireless proponent of liberty, hence a foe of "meddling". He says we all need to stop telling others how to be happy, and let them seek their own good in their own ways. He's a paragon of the purpose-driven life.

Another new podcast features my Vandy friends Aikin and Talisse, delivering 15 minute bursts of unscripted philosophizing. Worth a look, if you're curious to see how "analytic" philosophers philosophize.

We would be remiss, the day after the holiday of love, not to take just a bit of time and spend a few good words on the subject. In Socrates in Love one of our contemporaries says "I'm worried my beloved America is becoming as loveless as ancient Athens in its days of decline.” There's a lot not to love, lately and always, but also the reverse. The same speaker says Socrates "epitomized the fact that you're meant to stay open to all views, to all human experiences, because that's how you deepen your love for people and of wisdom." All views, in this Age of Deplorables? No. But the spirit of the remark is true.

Is there any figurative truth to the old Greek myth that humans originally had four arms, four legs and a head with two faces, before Zeus split us into two separate parts so we'd have to search for our better halves? Is that any part of the story and glory of love? Or is it a formula for frustration and self-inflicted solitude?

In Plato's Symposium, Socrates say Diotima taught him all about amor. "She was my instructress in the art of love," which she declares an intermediate "spirit" between mortals and the divine. It begins "from the beauties of earth and mount(s) upwards for the sake of that other beauty, the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is... beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he [the true philosopher of love] will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities..."

Sounds good, I guess, but these realities of a higher love sound a bit thin and wordy. Academic, even. On Valentines Day, and most days really, don't we want something a little more substantial?
Romantic love is deemed to be of a higher metaphysical and ethical status than sexual or physical attractiveness alone. The idea of romantic love initially stems from the Platonic tradition that love is a desire for beauty-a value that transcends the particularities of the physical body. For Plato, the love of beauty culminates in the love of philosophy, the subject that pursues the highest capacity of thinking. The romantic love of knights and damsels emerged in the early medieval ages (11thCentury France, fine amour) a philosophical echo of both Platonic and Aristotelian love and literally a derivative of the Roman poet, Ovid and his Ars Amatoria. Romantic love theoretically was not to be consummated, for such love was transcendentally motivated by a deep respect for the lady; however, it was to be actively pursued in chivalric deeds rather than contemplated-which is in contrast to Ovid's persistent sensual pursuit of conquests!
Modern romantic love returns to Aristotle's version of the special love two people find in each other's virtues-one soul and two bodies, as he poetically puts it. It is deemed to be of a higher status, ethically, aesthetically, and even metaphysically than the love that behaviorists or physicalists describe. IEP
That's a step in the right direction, back down the ladder. Count on Aristotle to move away from the Academy and keep us grounded. But it was bachelor Nietzsche, of all people, who knew “it is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”

If you can believe the crowd that sources goodreads, Marilyn Monroe was the great authority on love. "You'll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything... [but] Keep trying... keep smiling, because life's a beautiful thing and there's so much to smile about.”

Plato was rightly (if insufficiently) "nagged by a doubt about the Academic way of life: 'I feared to see myself at last altogether nothing but words, so to speak-a man who would never willingly lay hand to any concrete task." That's a reasonable concern. If you're holding out for "absolute beauty" you may be spending a few holidays alone. Better to climb the ladder of love in both directions. Remember what Heraclitus said about the way up and the way down? Don't kick that ladder away. The cave can be a very cozy place, with the right company, and your "better half" may not be a needle in a haystack after all.

In Fantasyland, we ponder pioneer legend Daniel Boone's picturesque pastoral fantasy and supercelebrity, Thoreau's rustic naturalism, Emerson's "transparent eyeball," and the Barnum-esque episode in 1835 when it was widely believed that life had been discovered on the moon. Plus, Chicago's Columbian exposition with its "fanstastic quasi-reality" architectural mock-ups, an early precedent-setting VR realization emulated four years later in Nashville and now, perpetually, in Las Vegas.

In A&P, Kevin regrets being "infected" by supernaturalism in Christian school when he was most vulnerable. "Indoctrination" is a hard word, but what else should we call the doctrinal training of six year olds? He intends to "inoculate" his own children against atheophobia, "the fear and loathing of atheists that permeates American culture." He's "all for reading" sacred texts, but not for sanitizing them by ignoring the distasteful bits. He finds Dan Barker's principles more humane than the ten commandments. I like the Vonnegut principle: "try to be kind to other people." (Kurt put it more bluntly.)

Amy named her daughter after Wonderland's Alice, in hopes of inspiring her to be courageous and follow her curiosity. Alice means Truth.

Adrienne is saddened that her sisters "do not seem to value their own reproductive rights" as much as they value Chik-Fil-A, and considers agnosticism a halfway house rather than a final destination.

Justus found "stilted" his friends' repeated prayerful injunctions of "Lord" (if you're a Simpsons fan you might hear what grates about that), finding more congenial company in the podcast universe.

In Bioethics, we'll ask if gene editing will be mandatory, in our future.

An ethical dilemma from the near future==
9.25.17. It’s the birthday of American novelist William Faulkner (books by this author)(1897), who once said, “If I had not existed, someone else would have written me.” Faulkner is best known for his long, lyrical, and often violent novels that explore Southern culture and history, like Absalom, Absalom! (1936), As I Lay Dying (1930), and The Sound and the Fury (1929). When President John F. Kennedy invited Faulkner, then teaching in Charlottesville, Virginia, to dine at the White House with other Nobel Prize laureates, Faulkner famously declined, saying, “Why, that’s a hundred miles away. That’s a long way to go just to eat.”

Faulkner was raised in Oxford, Mississippi, where he would spend most of the rest of his life, and was a voracious reader, though he didn’t do well in his studies...

[In his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech he said "It is the writer's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past."]

It was on this day in 1957 that nine black teenagers, six girls and three boys, entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, escorted by members of the 101st Airborne Division of the National Guard.

At the time, Little Rock was considered a relatively liberal southern city. There was no segregation on buses or in libraries or parks. But schools were still segregated three years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating integrated classrooms... So on this day in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 1,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division to escort the students up the front steps and into their classrooms. The students were shown on national television walking into the school, with stern looks on their faces, their heads held high, as the mob stood all around them... All nine of them were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1998. WA
2.14.17. Happy Valentine's Day, when "more than a billion letters of affection are sent and 60 million pounds of chocolate are purchased"... 36 questions lead to love... On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London. It expressed his philosophy that “we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality." I wish I'd said that, Oscar. Since it's my birthday, today I will.

5:30/6:37, 42/49/40, 5:25

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