2019-08-02

Dialogue on the City/Soul Analogy

This was originally composed as a class essay.

Lysander and Socrates meet to discuss the city-soul analogy that is used in Plato’s Republic.  Lysander is sceptical of the analogy, and attempts to argue that it is not a useful one.

LYSANDER: Dear Socrates, can you please remind me of what the city-soul analogy entails?

SOCRATES: Of course.  The analogy starts as a response to Glaucon’s question at the beginning of Book II as to whether justice fits into one of these three categories: good for the sake of the reward, good for its own sake, or good for both.  I wanted to show that justice was good for its own sake.  By doing this, I crafted an ideal city: one in which everyone was just.  It had to be an ideal city, because real cities are comprised of both justice and injustice.  From there, just as justice is to be found in the city, so too is it found in each individual.  What accounts for a just city must also account for just individuals.

LYSANDER: How is that an analogous comparison?  What makes a soul and a city morally equivalent enough for that to be a useful analogy?

SOCRATES: The strategy is to use the city as a starting place, as the city is what is visible, to discuss it as an image of the soul, which remains invisible.  It is that the city being just is the same as man being just, that justice is the quality in both, as it is justice that is being examined. The city is just because the constituent population is just.

LYSANDER: Even if those two statements are granted, that still does not make the individual soul analogous with a city.  A city may be just because the people are just, but what makes the person just in the first place?

SOCRATES: That is the question of the entirety of the Republic:  what is justice?  A just city would be a well-ordered city:  where all citizens would do their part for the benefit of the city.  The producers would produce what is needed for the city, the warriors would protect the city, and the rulers would guide the city.  As long as all three classes are doing their part, then the city would remain just.  As a well-ordered city is a just city, using the city/soul analogy, a well-ordered soul is a just soul.  This brings in the tripartite nature of the soul.  The appetitive part would crave the necessities to keep the individual alive, the logical part would crave the truth, and the spirited part would crave the virtues.  In a well-ordered soul, the spirited part of the soul would agree that the logical part should rule the soul, and suppress the appetitive part.

LYSANDER: So a well-ordered soul is a just soul, as a well-ordered city is a just city?

SOCRATES: Correct.  If the rulers produce just laws, the guardians will carry out those laws, and the producers accept this authority, then the city is well-ordered and therefore a just city.  If the logical part produces just thoughts, the spirited part carries out those thoughts, and the appetitive part accepts this authority, then the soul is well-ordered and therefore a just soul.

LYSANDER: And how do the rulers produce just laws as opposed to unjust laws?

SOCRATES: The well-ordered city would produce just rulers.  The rulers to be would be taught justice from their youth, and all instances of injustice would be banned from the city wholesale.  Analogously, the well-ordered soul would be taught justice from just people, and all injustice would be banned from the soul.

LYSANDER: Unfortunately, Socrates, this leads us back to our disagreement from our previous dialogue:  virtue, or in this instance justice, is more than just knowledge, but also a practice.  This analogy even works in my favour on this argument, and not in yours.  In order for the rulers to be just and produce just laws, they must first practice justice from their youth.  In order for the guardians to be just and carry out just laws, they must first practice.  Same goes for the producers. Without this practice, the producers (which would be the largest part) would not obey the rulers, and the guardians would be too overwhelmed to control them.  The producers, not the rulers, would end up controlling the city.   Analogously, in order for the three parts of the soul to be well-ordered, those three parts need to practice being well-ordered.  Without this practice, the appetitive part would end up ruling the soul, and the spirited part would align with it instead of the logical part.

This also leads me to my next point.  Justice in an individual is not having a well-ordered soul.  It is about acting in a certain way, as are the other virtues.  Justice is acting altruistically with others, and maintaining a proper relationship with those around you.  A just man is a righteous man, giving to his neighbours, serving the community, and living for the betterment of those around him.  This is why the icon of justice is a balanced scale.  Justice brings out the equal dignity of all and leads to a balanced society and injustice tips the scale leading to an inequality between classes.  A just city is a city that is filled with just people acting justly.  That the city is well-ordered is incidental.  The producers are working properly because justice demands they produce fairly, and not cheating their consumers, and also they obey the laws given to them.  The guardians are working properly because they carry out the laws given to them in a fair and consistent manner.  The rulers are working properly because they are making laws for the betterment of the city, and not for their own vainglory.  Within the individual, the soul would be well-ordered not because of the knowledge of justice, but because of the rigorous practice of living a just life, which of course, cannot be separated from the other virtues.

SOCRATES: Since this dialogue is concerning the analogy of the city/soul and not whether virtues are knowledge or practice, I will have to respond to that.  What you described is still a well-ordered society based on justice.  From that city, you were still able to extrapolate what makes a soul just.  You still described the different classes working in balance, and then extrapolated from that the parts of the soul would also be well-ordered.  Remember, the city is an image of the soul, and we can describe out of how well-ordered the city is to describe how a soul would be well-ordered.  You were able to do this, even when defining justice as an action of a well-ordered soul, and not the structure of the well-ordered soul.

You are correct in that we disagree on how one is a virtuous person.  You seem to follow the Aristotelian-like concept of “you are what you repeatedly do.”  Also, if we continue with discussing all the virtues instead of just justice, then the analogy still stands.  A well-ordered city is a city that virtuously, and all its parts act in accordance of the virtue of themselves and their station.  Likewise, a virtuous person will have the three parts of their soul well-ordered, meaning that their appetitive part is under control of the logical part, and the spirited part is aligned with the logical.

Because of our disagreement of what virtue is, we may disagree with how a well-ordered city would act, but since we both can agree on the tripartite nature of the soul, and both agree that the spirited part aligning with the logical to control the appetitive is what makes a well-ordered individual, we can still both use the city/soul analogy by using the city as a visual of the invisible soul.

LYSANDER: There is still the issue though with how the city/soul analogy would play out in my definition of a virtuous person.  Yes, we can agree that a city of virtuous people would collectively act virtuously, and that a well-ordered soul would indeed be led by the logical part, controlling the appetitive part.  Yet that is why the city/soul analogy ultimately fails.  What makes a city unified in virtue is substantially different than what makes a soul “unified” in virtue.  The city is virtuous because of the just actions between the citizens to one another.  The appetitive part is in control because of the temperance practiced by the individual, thus allowing the other virtues to flourish, and then the person can act justly.  A city and a soul are both well-ordered, but by different virtues, not the same virtue. The city arises from a community of people, not the image of the invisible soul.  That is why, ultimately, the city/soul analogy is not useful.

2019-07-31

DIALOGUES ON WEAKNESS OF WILL

This was originally composed as a class essay.

Socrates in the Protagoras argues that weakness of will is not real, and is not a result of will being overcome by pleasure. His claim is that an apparent weakness of will results in a miscalculation of pleasure instead of a desire for evil. Lysander takes the position to question Socrates on this position. We should also assume this takes place out of time, so they can use examples of topics that came well after Socrates’s life and death.

LYSANDER: I enjoyed your defence on your position that all virtues are really one and the same, and are all parts of the same thing: virtue. However, I still struggle with your position on weakness of will. Reiterate your position, and elaborate on that for me?

SOCRATES: Of course. Just as acting boldly in a situation where the best action would be to avoid acting boldly is not courage, but a miscalculation in the correct course of action, an unjust person acting unethically or intemperately is not acting out of malice, or choosing ethics over pleasure, but merely ignorant of the proper choice. The bold person, while meaning well, lacks proper courage and chooses wrongly, the intemperate or unjust person lacks proper justice or temperance and thus chooses wrongly. It is not a case of weakness of will, but a weakness of knowledge.

LYSANDER: By the end of the dialogue with Protagoras, you reach the position that all virtue is a type of knowledge, and therefore is teachable.

SOCRATES: Correct.

LYSANDER: For something to be teachable, the student has to learn it.

SOCRATES: Yes.

LYSANDER: For a student to learn something, he can either choose to accept what is taught to him or choose to reject it?

SOCRATES: I suppose.

LYSANDER: We look at this example. A student is in a climatology course, and he is presented with evidence towards climate change and its manmade accelerators. This same student comes across convincing arguments to the contrary: that climate change is caused by humans. Despite being taught that climate change is manmade, this student wilfully chooses to reject this and chooses to accept something else.

SOCRATES: This is a plausible scenario. Disregarding the validity of those counter arguments, the fact that those counter arguments exist shows that the student needs to choose between one and the other. However, by choosing to reject climate change is still a miscalculation. This still is an example of a weakness of knowledge.

LYSANDER: Then we look at a drastically different example. Another student is in a trigonometry course. He is given the definitions of sine and cosine. There are no alternatives to these definitions. To reject these definitions is to reject what a sine or a cosine is. Stubbornly, this student still rejects them. He possesses the knowledge, knows there is no alternative, and rejects them anyway.

SOCRATES: This is still an example of weakness of knowledge. This student is lacking the wisdom needed to learn from his teachers, and placing his puddle of knowledge above the fount that is his teachers. It is not a weakness of will, as it takes a strong will to be that prideful. However, what this student needs is not more trigonometry, but a lesson in humility, temperance to quell his prideful spirit, and wisdom to accept the teachings of his elders and superiors.

LYSANDER: Then we should look to an example that is commonly used as a weakness of will: lust. Sex is a powerful force in humanity, and this force has caused both the gods and men to do some pretty stupid things. The early Christian saints even spoke on this power, and did what they could to temper this. Two famous examples include Saints Moses the Ethiopian and Mary of Egypt. Both have similar backgrounds in terms of sexual history. Saint Mary would take great pride in her sexual activity, and gave herself over to sex as her form of pleasure, even to the point of giving up her riches to consume more. Eventually she would repent of this and live in the desert to temper this lustful passion. Saint Moses was a perfect picture of an evil man. He would not only rape, but also murder and steal. Like Saint Mary, he would also come to repent of this past and live in the desert to temper his passions. These early saints are the success stories for a common struggle in humanity. An entire chapter in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans discusses this very issue. The seventh chapter deals with serving the law of God, but the flesh of sin and desire overtakes the person and then the person falls into passion. This person knows fully well what he should be doing, but when the temptation is too strong, the desire overtakes the knowledge, and he falls. Unlike my previous two examples where the students choose to reject knowledge taught to them, this person is not rejecting any knowledge. This shows the weakness of the will, and not weakness of knowledge. Let us also look at the tripartite of the soul. An unjust human possesses a weak spirit which aligns itself with the appetitive part and struggles with the logical part.

SOCRATES: This still shows a weakness of knowledge as opposed to a weakness of will. You are correct in that in one moment, a person knows that vices are to be rejected, but in another moment, the vices overtake the person’s desire. In these moments, a person loses temporarily the knowledge of this and then chooses the incorrect action. This is an action of forgetfulness, not weakness of will. The wise and temperate man, as seen in the examples of the saints you provided, knew of this forgetfulness in temptation and cast themselves from possible occurrences of temptation. They, unlike those who continue to fall into vices, had the knowledge to remove themselves from these temptations prior. This was well within their wisdom and temperance, and also piety, but since all virtues are one in the same, all within their virtue. These saints were then regarded as virtuous sages, and celebrated in the Christian world as such, as examples of those who could overcome temptation on Earth and as teachers to show how it could be done.

LYSANDER: This still only goes to prove my point: well-taught Christians know to keep themselves from occurrences of temptation, but in weakness of the will still find themselves in this dilemma. What makes the saints truly saintly is not necessarily constant removal from the world, but picking themselves up when they fall, repent, put another obstacle to keep those vices from overtaking them, and moving forward. They desire a relationship with God, and out of piety, work to move the spirit part of the soul away from the appetitive part and towards the logical part. Again, I reiterate that it is not a lack of knowledge, but the fallen nature of the spiritual part of the soul to feed an always hungry appetitive soul. The temperate man has worked to tame the appetite, and is wise enough to keep from temptation prior to it, but those with weak temperance and wills still contain the knowledge that what they continue to fall at is wrong. Ultimately where we continue to disagree is that I separate knowledge from wisdom as two distinct features whereas you hold that virtue is a type of knowledge. With you, any apparent weakness of will is simply a lack of knowledge within the part of virtue that continues to fall. With me, virtue is more of an exercise than a type of knowledge, one can only grow in virtue with the practice, failing, and trying again of that virtue, but he can still know what is at the end of that struggle. The virtuous man is one who continues to achieve perfection within virtue through struggle and a vicious man is one who continues to give in to vice. If the vicious man contains knowledge of a virtuous life and its benefits, but maintains his vicious lifestyle, then he is not only vicious but also a fool. However, he still possesses the knowledge. The weak man can either choose to give up the struggle to be a virtuous man or take up the struggle when coming across this knowledge and choice.

SOCRATES: This is a fair assessment of our disagreement. You see virtue as a choice whereas I see lack of virtue as a miscalculation based off of a lack of knowledge.
Aporia

2019-07-29

How Bacon Destroyed the Meaning of Existance

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I have shown no hesitation in stating my dislike for the Enlightenment, and I stated in the past that René Descartes laid the foundation for the Enlightenment to take hold. He took the scientific method and applied it to both philosophical and theological thought. He subverted philosophy as a subset of science, instead of the proper order that natural science is a subset of philosophy. However, the problem with Descartes lies further back, and that is with Francis Bacon.


Francis Bacon is most known as the developer of the scientific method. He emphasised using empirical data as made through observation, and then making a set of facts from these observations. 

I. Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature, either with regard to things or the mind, permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.1
He continues:
XIX. There are and can exist but two ways of investigating and discovering truth. The one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from them, as principles and their supposed indisputable truth, derives and discovers the intermediate axioms. This is the way now in use. The other constructs its axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, till it finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true but unattempted way.
XX. The understanding when left to itself proceeds by the same way as that which it would have adopted under the guidance of logic, namely, the first; for the mind is fond of starting off to generalities, that it may avoid labor, and after dwelling a little on a subject is fatigued by experiment. But those evils are augmented by logic, for the sake of the ostentation of dispute.2
The goal is to remove any metaphysical conjecture from the natural sciences.

Or rather, remove two of the four causes, including the final cause, or teleology.

This is not a mere accident, but rather the ultimate goal of Bacon. There is nothing wrong with getting closer examinations of the material or formal causes in nature. Through that, we get medicine. We get technology. Having the natural sciences focus on the first two causes is not inherently a bad thing. However, if we can deduce the material and the formal, then we can also deduce the efficient and the final.

By rejecting the final cause, he inadvertently rejects the material cause. Nature does not cease to exist simply due to rejection, though. The worldview of such a rejection is inherently materialistic, as there is nothing left to point us to the Divine. Unfortunately, this flattened view of the universe  has lead to nihilism and the death of the soul. That is Bacon's legacy.

Notes


  1. Original Latin: "I. HOMO, naturae minister et interpres, tantum facit et intelligit I quantum de naturae ordine re vel mente observaverit : nec J amplius scit, aut potest." pg 185 
    1. The original Latin, as will all subsequent quotes, come from this copy of the Novum Organumhttps://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=tH4_AAAAYAAJ&rdid=book-tH4_AAAAYAAJ&rdot=1
    2. The translations come from here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/45988/45988-h/45988-h.htm
  2. XIX. Duae viae sunt, atque esse possunt, ad inquirendam et inveniendam veritatem. Altera a sensu et particularibus advolat ad axiomata maxime generalia, atque ex iis principiis eorumque immota veritate judicat et invemt axiomata media ; atque haec via in usu est. Altera a sensu et particularibus excitat axiomata, ascendendo continenter et gradatim, ut ultimo loco perveniatur ad maxima generalia ; quae via vera est, sed intentata.
    XX. Eandem ingreditur viam (priorem scilicet) intellectus sibi permissus, quam facit ex ordine dialecticae 23. Gestit enim mens exsilire ad magis generalia, ut acquiescat ; et post par- vam moram fastidit experientiam : sed haec mala demum aucta sunt a dialectica ob pompas disputationum. pgs 193-196

2019-07-26

On telos

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Teleology is the study of the telos, or the goal, the purpose, of something. I lament that it is no longer a major part of contemporary philosophy. It comes from Aristotle's Four Causes:
  1. Material cause, or what something is made of, the raw material
  2. Formal cause, or why that material is one thing and not the other, its form
  3. Efficient cause, or what brings something about
  4. Final cause, of the purpose of something
Aristotle lists these and explains them in both Physics and Metaphysics.

For example, we take a candle. Its material cause is wax and string. Its formal cause is wax enveloping the string in a cylindrical shape and the string poking above the wax, the efficient cause is the chandler, and its final cause is to provide light and warmth.

To disregard an object's telos is to destroy that object. To disregard the purpose of the candle is to destroy its existence as a candle. Without its telos, it is just a ball of wax with some string.

Even nature has a telos. Aristotle uses the example of the seed: the goal of the seed is to become an adult plant. The goal of sperm is to fertilise the egg, which in tern has the goal to be fertilised by the sperm. The goal of adult organisms is to do adult organism things (tiger doing tiger things, like hunting smaller animals), and then passing on its genetic material. Even "[t]he reasonable man, at least, always acts for a purpose, and this is a limit; for the end is a limit (Metaphysics, Book 2, II)."
"[W]here a series has a completion, all the preceding steps are for the sake of that. Now surely as in intelligent action, so in nature; and as in nature, so it is in each action, if nothing interferes. [...] It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. [...] It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose (Physics, Book 2, VIII)."
If something exists in nature, then it has a material and formal cause. If it has those two causes, then it must have an efficient cause, and of course, a final cause. 

2019-02-07

On Political Burnout

It has been a long while since I last posted. Almost a year, actually. This time last year, the semester at school was really picking up, and I realised that I may have been involved in too many things at once. This was especially hard on my marriage, and I had to vow to my wife that I would not do so many things all at the same time again. Unfortunately, this means that my blog had to take a back seat as I focused on school and my musical ensembles.

Then during the summer, the American Solidarity Party (ASP) had its annual convention. For those who do not know or remember, I was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the ASP, but I had to step down last March for health reasons. The months leading up to the convention were contentious. The majority of the National Committee (NC) seats were up to be filled by election, and differing factions were vying for its control. The two major factions were neoliberal centrists and social conservatives. At the time, the centrists had the majority of the NC seats. These months were ugly. Being purposefully vague, there were people lying about others, libel, backstabbing, mischaracterisation, rancorous blogging and Tweeting, collusion, and more that makes what is otherwise an insignificant third party sound like House of Cards.

Ultimately, the social conservatives won. By a landslide. It was such an upset that the Chair, who was actively supporting the centrists, resigned from the NC. Then, she and the majority of the centrists left the party, taking their donations to the party with them (minus the $10 required donation to be a voting member).

For a long while, they still made opposing blog posts and Tweets against those that remained in the ASP. However, others, many of whom I would otherwise consider political allies, joined the ranks of opposition. The problem with that is that these otherwise smart writers are straight up wrong in what they write. Either (again, purposefully vague) they know they are mischaracterising and thus lying, or they no longer care to seek out the truth of who they speak out against and simply are tilting at straw-windmills just to be heard.

From all this, I burned out. Though it taught me an important lesson about politics. American politics is not the politics of Aristotle. By that, I do not mean the obvious that the problems of Athenian society are different that the problems of American society, but that the very word "politics" is different. Politics in its classical sense means the art of which the rulers allow the ruled to live out the virtues. To add Tolkien in his letter to his son: "Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people (Letter 52 from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien)."

While I disagree with Aristotle that "the telos of politics is the best telos" (Nicomachaen Ethics 1099b30), I do find contemporary politics wanting in contrast to classical politics. The best telos of man is not politics, but theosis. Like Aristotle and Plato before him, I concur that it is the cultivation of the virtues (among other things) that drives us towards this end. Governance is best to allow each person to cultivate the virtues, so that each person can obtain theosis.

If a society comes together and claims that the best way to cultivate the virtues is through democratic socialism, then so be it.1 I am too burned out to argue them at the moment. As long as day by day, I can still practice the virtues as I work towards my theosis.

The casting off of the virtues from American political discourse is nothing new. All Western post-Enlightenment political discourse has been materialistic in nature, and the material well-being of the citizenry has been the end of this discourse instead of the means of working towards sainthood. Where my burn out comes from is that other people of whom I align with on most issues (I was in the social conservative faction) are as caught up in the materialist discourse as anyone else, that the means of political discourse is towards material ends and nothing else.

Do not misunderstand me. The physical well-being of the polis is important, and in obeying Christ and in practising the virtues, the poor, weaker, and less well-off among us will be taken care of in physical means. The discourse of political bodies should include taking care of the physical needs of all, especially the poor. The problem arises when the material well-being is seen as the ends, instead of the means. Unfortunately, this will not be changed in America any time soon.


NOTES
1. This is not an endorsement of democratic socialism. I am still opposed to socialism of all kinds, democratic or otherwise.

2018-03-15

2018-03-11

Nihilism and the Buddha

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Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra); This work was created by Tevaprapas.
As I continue to study nihilism and its effects, I came across a book titled Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities. In my younger days, I was attracted to Buddhism, especially in its Zen varieties. Since my metanoia back to Christendom, and my journey from modern Catholicism to traditional Catholicism to Eastern Catholicism to Orthodoxy, I have kept Buddhism in a special place in my heart. However, I am ever distrustful of nihilism. This book forced me to come to terms with some latent prejudices.

As Nietzsche was formulating his works, he was introduced to East Asian thought (therefore Buddhism) by works by Arthur Schopenhauer. He made up his mind that Buddhism was a "passive nihilism," a nihilism that ends the search for meaning upon reaching the conclusion that past beliefs and traditions are meaningless and empty. This is in contrast with "active nihilism," where upon reaching the same conclusion, destroys the past and moves forward with a new belief system. The logical conclusion of active nihilism is "complete nihilism," where nihilism itself is rejected, and man can finally move forward with a deeper understanding. It was the active nihilist, Nietzsche claimed, who was the freest, for the passive nihilist never reach complete nihilism.

Nietzsche, philosophically, disapproved of Plato, and he passed off Christianity (among a many other reasons) as "Platonism for the people," where the Platonic Forms are the thoughts of God, and the Platonic true world is the Kingdom of God. He also claimed that Kant is the true beginning of the end of "truth," as Kant made the claim that the limitations on knowledge are to the material world. This signalled to Nietzsche the end of metaphysics.

Then enter Buddhistic thought. Like himself, he read that Buddhism progressed from "God is truth" to "all is false." Since all is false, one rejects all to achieve nirvana, or complete nothingness. With this nothingness, one empties himself of desire, which achieves honest happiness. This strive towards emptiness is not a struggle against sin; it is not a system of morals or believes. Instead, this strive is a struggle against suffering. This is not a metaphysical belief system, but instead a psychological and physiological one. Yet, since this strive of emptiness does not pass onto an understanding that even emptiness is meaningless, and one should move on with a new set of morals based on himself, Buddhism fails to be active, but instead passive, nihilism.

However, was Nietzsche correct in this analysis? Is nirvana truly a weakness? A systemic depression caused by understanding that our morals and desires are utterly meaningless, only to be overcome by achieving emptiness of life and desire?

In short, the answer is no.

Nirvana is not absolute nothingness, nor is it Buddhistic teaching that all is suffering. Rather, nirvana is culmination of the Eight-Fold Path. Nietzsche was correct in identifying desire with suffering, and that is the goal of achieving nirvana: an emptiness of desire. In Buddhistic eschatology, life is seen as a wheel. Life is born, dies, and is reborn anew. It is a seemingly endless cycle. Nirvana is a break from this cycle. Instead of being reborn, when one has become enlightened and emptied of desire, free from all karmic debts, then he passes into nirvana. What happens is something unintelligible, but the goal in Buddhism is not oblivion, but instead impermanence (not subject to destruction or change). Please see a true Buddhist for further information.

Nihilism is only possible in a post-Christian society. Buddhism started well before Christ's earthly ministry by 400-600 years and about 3000 miles where the Jews lived. The two philosophies (though Buddhism is more than a philosophy) are just not compatible. To accuse Buddhism of being nihilistic, even passively, is grossly misunderstanding what Buddhism is.