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To: cornelis; Alamo-Girl; beckett; Phaedrus
Dear cornelis, you appear to be in high dudgeon about something lately; but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what. So until such time as I might be better informed as to the particulars, I’ll just assume that your interest may be in a reconsideration of Plato’s Gorgias (380 BC) in terms of its meaning and relevance to our own time.

You wrote, “confusion about the orders of monism, dualism, as well as kinds and genus is the one of the greatest cause for disrupted dialogue (the other is egoism, willfulness, or other such hubris--an ordering all the same).” You worried that use of the Kabbalist (sp?) “metaphors” of nephesh and neshamah might muddy up the waters of discourse: “The placement of these two sources, in a sort of opposition between an ‘us’ and ‘them,’ does not answer whether these two sources belong to the same orders, as if they belong to the same genus.”

Plato draws dualistic distinctions; he speaks of body and soul. But he also had a myth that accommodates the view of one common humanity, a vision of unity. That was the myth of the divine puppeteer, and the “golden” and “base” cords that animated the actions of the human “puppets” – where the golden cords could draw the individual human soul into a divine life “in the fullest measure that human nature can admit.” The way I look at it, the terms nephesh and neshamah refer to propensities in an individual human soul to respond to either the pull of the “golden,” or the pull of the “base.” And I think this is within Alamo-Girl’s description of those terms. (I hope she will let me know if that’s not the case.)

You later wrote: The metaphor of these two sources was furthermore complicated with the body soul dichotomy, the supremacy of common (or public) reason, as distinct from the private I presume.

I don’t presume that. I’ll take the body-soul duality the way Plato saw it. More on that in a minute.

All of this then is found to come together in a master receptacle called the consciousness, some central nexus that lies passive to a monolithic and ubiquitous nature, or reality, which is something I don’t believe.

Well, I don’t believe it either, cornelis. Consciousness is not some kind of passive nexus mediating “a monolithic and ubiquitous nature.” That was Callicles’ entire argument, in a nutshell – wouldn’t you agree?

The unique understanding of Plato led him to record the Gorgias and suggest ways of realizing dialogue after failure. It provides a unique answer that has not yet been discussed.

Let’s take a look at this “gorgeous” work. The mise en scene: Callicles invites Socrates to his house, where the eminent guest of his hospitality, the great “rhetorician” Gorgias, has been holding forth all afternoon to a very large company of other invited guests. Socrates particularly wants to meet Gorgias, because he has a few questions he wants to ask of this famous and highly esteemed figure. We soon learn that what Socrates had in mind is the test of the statement or postulate: It is better to suffer evil than to perpetrate it.

Fast forward. (Lurkers, please go read the dialog. I promise to put up the link presently.) Socrates is able to maneuver Gorgias into total silence, on the basis of the logical inconsistencies of Gorgias’ argument. The only way that Gorgias had left to him to assert his position would have required him to say out loud the most despicable and “base” things about human nature and the general constitution of reality. So he presently clammed up.

Then stepped into the breach one Polus, a disciple, I gather, of Gorgias. In due course, Socrates made short order of him, on identical grounds. Polus presently clammed up as well, and for identical reasons.

Which left the field to Callicles. One gathers he was also a pupil of Gorgias. But he was not as scrupulous in his discernment of moral truth as either of his predecessors in the dispute with Socrates had been.

Of Callicles, what can one say? To my mind, a description of his character is best summed up in these lines from Heraclitus (Plato’s “long shadow,” on Voegelin’s view):

Eyes and ears are bad witnesses/For men whose souls are barbarous.

In Callicles we have a human creature of the 4th century B.C. maintaining with perfect equanimity that all human laws are but conventions, in effect fabricated out of the perceived need by whatever ruling class might hold the reins of power at any given point in time, to support whatever happens to pass for the cultural, political, and economic status quo. To this concept he opposes the idea of “natural law” – which is decidedly not the idea of “natural law” that Christian theology has advanced. The “natural law” of which Callicles spoke was, in fact, the law of the jungle. The law of brute power: the law of “human advancement” at the expense of one’s fellow human creatures. Arguably, it is a kind of “law” of which both Thomas Hobbes and Charles Darwin would have approved. [And then would presumably have had to devise ways -- instantly -- to constrain precisely this behavior, so deleterious in practice to the welfare of human societies down the ages.]

Throughout this dialog, Callicles sneers at, and makes veiled threats against Socrates. And Socrates recognizes the bad faith, the animus towards himself; yet he bears it all in good grace and good humor – despite being well aware of the personal danger he faces in confronting this character. In particular, Callicles was quite prescient in this regard, for he informed Socrates that Socrates might himself be brought up on public charges sooner or later, and have to answer for his “crimes” in due course.

But Socrates is not to be daunted by these veiled threats. Well he understands that, in the end, the final judgment is not man’s to make. And it’s here we have to remember the “dualism” of Socrates/Plato which prefaces, IMHO, the idea of a Unity that can contain the two:

“Death, if I am right, is in the first place the separation from one another of two things, soul and body; nothing else.”...

Socrates further maintains in what follows that, in an improvement by Zeus over the former order of Chronos, human souls are judged “naked,” by “naked” judges.

Which is the very approach or posture taken by Socrates toward Callicles all along. For all of Callistes’ barely contained spite, Socrates was generous towards him in all respects. The suggestion is that Callistes, when he must confront the final judgment, “naked spirit to (fearsome!) naked Spirit” – as inevitably he must, on Plato’s view -- would probably not fare so well, or be so generously treated….

And from the merely human point of view, why should he be, since Callicles thought fit to espouse the following:

“…how can a man be happy who is the servant of anything? On the contrary, I plainly assert, that he who would truly live ought to allow his desires to wax to the uttermost, and not to chastise them; but when they have grown to their greatest he should have courage and intelligence to minister to them and to satisfy all his longings. And this I affirm to be natural justice and nobility. To this however the many cannot attain; and they blame the stong man because they are ashamed of their own weakness, which they desire to conceal, and hence they say that intemperance is base….they enslave the nobler natures, and being unable to satisfy their pleasures, they praise temperance and justice out of their own cowardice.”

Unfortunately, this voice seems to sound a great resonating chord in our own time -- echoing down the course of a couple millennia by now, and yet so timely to the modern ear.

In the discourse of Callicles, you are hearing a case mounted in favor of unaccountable power, of the invasion and usurpation of the sphere of the individual human being, of totalitarian thought and behavior.

Of contempt for all life, human or otherwise. And a rebuke to God Himself into the bargain.

Who needs this sh*t??? What kind of civilized polity can be constructed on Callicles’ stated grounds?


141 posted on 02/14/2003 7:11:55 PM PST by betty boop
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To: betty boop; Phaedrus
Thank y'all so much for the heads ups on your excellent analysis and background! I just scanned the link. It looks fascinating. I'll be reading it tomorrow. Hugs!
144 posted on 02/14/2003 8:41:38 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: betty boop
Unfortunately, this voice [of Callicles] seems to sound a great resonating chord in our own time -- echoing down the course of a couple millennia by now, and yet so timely to the modern ear.

Chilling. Callicles, thy name is Clinton.

145 posted on 02/15/2003 5:20:06 AM PST by Phaedrus
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