?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Gorgias

Day three of my second year at Carleton University began with my immediate awareness that it was both a) twelve in the afternoon, and b) that I had cramps all over my body as a result of too much promenading about the city with friends following a day of lifting heavy boxes. After breakfast/lunch, while sitting at the cafeteria counter with a caffeinated beverage, I had the time to recall the previous night, and to relate it, with new found appreciation, to the problems outlined in Plato's Gorgias. Specifically, the problem of speaking to an enlightened nihilist. In the dialogue, Socrates is faced with the challenge of carrying on a civil dialogue with three consecutive figures of the Sophistic Enlightenment in Athens -- Gorgias the Orator; his younger and less decent student, Polus; and the completely indecent politician Callicles.

As the dialogue proceeds, the tension mounts while the direction and end of the conversation changes. With Gorgias, conversation merely reveals that the relatively decent man is doing a less than bang-up job of instilling a sense of justice into his pupils -- a failing which the sophist is existentially healthy enough to recognize as an embarrassment. His pupil, Polus, however, seems to be lacking his teacher's basic sense of decency (which only furthers Gorgias' embarrassment), for he is determined to demonstrate that Socrates too secretly believes that that which society deems "injustice" is preferable to "justice" for those strong enough to get away with it; Socrates, he charges, is only making tricky logical arguments to trip-up his opponents for the sake of winning-out in conversation, while actually conniving in their disdain for the moral "conventions" of the polis. In the end, however, Polus is forced to admit that his own definitions of "justice", "injustice", "strong", "excellent", and so forth lead to the logical conclusion that justice is in fact preferable to injustice. Though he is beaten logically, however, he remains existentially unbowed; though logic has forced him to admit the superiority of justice, he still desires the lifestyle of the perfectly unjust man -- the tyrant. In his confusion of opinions, he is forced to lapse into a sulking silence.

Callicles, however, has no qualms whatsoever in taking-up the banner of "injustice" and pressing it with full vigour, and, in the end, remains unconvinced and unpersuaded that he is, in effect, spiritually diseased -- full of contrary opinions and desires which threaten to wreak havoc on the political order of Athens. For, while the spiritual disorder of a Polus, a by-gone era's graduate student, might be put off as a merely personal failing, the disorder of the ruling class threatens to spill-out and overturn order of the city itself. And, in the democracy of Athens, the ruling class is the demos itself, represented in its menagerie of demagogues, which includes Callicles...

One perennial question which is thus presented by the dialogue is one that is increasingly apropos to our own era: what is one to do to persuade others of the value of decency and justice when everyone "knows" that human existence is nothing more than the mad scramble to fulfill their natural desires and impulses to eat, drink, copulate, reproduce, and to dominate others for the sake of doing so without limits -- when everyone "knows" in their guts that they're but the conveyance for so many thousands of selfish genes?

These are the concerns which come-up the morning after speaking frankly with Canadian university graduates.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
anosognosia
Sep. 7th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
"what is one to do to persuade others of the value of decency and justice when everyone 'knows' that human existence is nothing more than the mad scramble to fulfill their natural desires and impulses to eat, drink, copulate, reproduce, and to dominate others for the sake of doing so without limits -- when everyone 'knows' in their guts that they're but the conveyance for so many thousands of selfish genes?"

I suppose that in the immediate sense there is often nothing to do, though in the broader sense this motivates us towards intervention at the level of upbringing in the broadest sense: of the values and ideals instilled in education, media, labour structures, community structures, etc.
ccord
Sep. 8th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
I suppose that in the immediate sense there is often nothing to do, though in the broader sense this motivates us towards intervention at the level of upbringing in the broadest sense: of the values and ideals instilled in education, media, labour structures, community structures, etc.

Nowadays, I'm thinking (more acutely, now as a result of such experiences) that if spiritual crisis is the defining political issue of the age then spiritual intervention should necessarily be the prime concern of contemporary political philosophy. The difficultly, though, lies in finding the prudent form of intervention into an unhealthy situation. While the writing of papers and articles has its place, and teaching can have its effects, they both tend towards a monologic form, which only encourages such interventions to sound like one more espousal of doxa among the chorus. Dialogue seems to me to be the superior form of persuasion, but turns out to be orders of magnitude more difficult to carry off -- especially in an agonistic environment. From the political perspective this looks to be a fundamental difficulty in maintaining a healthy political order, or turning around an unhealthy one.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

September 2017
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Page Summary

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Naoto Kishi