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review 2016-10-18 13:33
Plato's Dystopia
The Laws - Plato

For some reason when people think of Plato and government we seem to automatically jump to the though 'gee, what a wonderful idea' as if a Platonic government would actually be a good thing. The question that I raise is what if it isn't? What if this form of government that Plato outlines actually isn't all that good, or moreso what if it doesn't work. In a way it is a bit like the western reaction to Buddhism. For some reason the young and hip seem to love Buddhism, believing that it is the one religion that you can do whatever you like, but as long as you treat other people okay then everything will be all right. However, when they delve into it (such as offering to volunteer at the Tiger Temple in Thailand) they pretty quickly discover that Buddhism is not all that it is cracked up to be – what no sex!?! No alcohol !?! Okay, I've known Buddhists that have breached both of those restrictions – at the same time – however they probably fall into the category of 'nominal'.


As for Plato we seem to have this idea that because he is this really famous, and apparently really smart, philosopher then any form of government that he comes up with has to be good, and has to work. Well, my argument is what if it turns out that this wonderful form of government sort of turns out to look a little like this:





The thing is that the more I think about Plato's political theories the more I realise that the freedoms that we enjoy under our modern democracies will be basically non-existent. For instance, you know how when you are in school you get to choose what you want to study at University, or even if you go to university – well, that won't happen in Plato's realm – your career path will be chosen right from the word go, and if you don't like it then tough, deal with it because the state that Plato envisages is a perfect, and efficient, state, which basically means that human free will sort of takes a back seat because free will is actually the thing that causes half the problems that we face today. Oh, and you know that idea that is known as the family - well we have none of that in Plato's realm because families are bad since they work to undermine the perfect nature of the society (or was that 1984: I don't know, but I recently saw it in London, and this book was so long and, well, dull that I may have got the two mixed up).


Another interesting thing about Plato's state is that it happens to be communist – it is against the law to have excess wealth, and if you have excess wealth well, at best it simply gets confiscated, at worse you are severely punished. Oh, and don't think that you can get around it by hiding it in another form of currency because he has that area covered as well. Oh, and let us talk about punishment because in Plato's mind nobody does wrong willingly – the only reason they do bad things is because they don't actually realise that they are doing bad things – even though we have free will this free will isn't actually free because we only do things out of ignorance, and if we weren't ignorant then we wouldn't do these things. However, Plato seems to acknowledge that people will do bad things even if they are told that they are bad. Well, it seems that in Plato's mind they have some sort of inherent defect so we might as well kill them. Yep, you heard me right, Plato is a big fan of the death penalty – if you are criminal then, well, there is no way that you are going to change so off with your head (or whatever way they decided that they will kill you).


Another rather interesting thing that I noticed in this particular edition was that the editor, and I assume translator, had a go at us moderns because we look down on slavery, and because we look down on slavery then we consider the ancient Greeks to be somewhat barbaric. Well, it is probably a good thing that we consider slavery to be barbaric because as far as I am concerned we really shouldn't be owning people and forcing people to do things against their will. However, those who look down on the Greeks because of slavery really don't understand the world in which we live – we have a form of slavery – it is called employment. Okay, we can leave our job whenever we like, but when we have a mortgage, and countless other debts, then the ability to walk away from our job really doesn't exist. While our employer may not be the slave master, the banks certainly are because if you don't pay back those debts they will let you know about it.


Which brings me to an interesting point about bankers – being a Christian I have heard how a number of people have given up a promising career in banking to become ministers of religion. Most of the time I just let it go over my head however I suddenly realised that banking is hardly what you would call an ethical profession. Okay, there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with banking, just as there is nothing intrinsically wrong with law, accounting, or even politics. However, I would hardly call the lot who brought about the global financial crisis paragons of virtue. Moreso, I have never heard anybody say that somebody has given up a promising career in plumbing to become a minister of religion (despite the fact that you can make some pretty decent money as a plumber) even though plumbing is actually a lot more honest than banking. Okay, there was one minister that I knew indicated that he didn't leave the legal profession for some holy and righteous reason, but rather because his conscience really couldn't handle the rubbish that he had to deal with. Actually, the more I think about it – bankers, fund managers, and lawyers as ministers of religions – I think I'd rather go with the plumber.


As for this book, well all I can say is don't bother – it really isn't all that great. In fact it is sort of half philosophy half idealistic legal text. In fact the translator writes it as if it were a piece of legislation, or at least the parts appeared to have been like that rather confusing stuff that politicians get paid ridiculous amounts of money to argue over. Sure, Plato may have some good ideas, however what I discovered was that these good ideas were few and far between and in reality were buried deep within what appears to be little more than a totalitarian state. Sure, Plato says that the military (otherwise known as the Guardians) and the rulers were to behave in a certain way but seriously, these are humans that we are talking about – as the saying goes power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As for the Greeks being less sophisticated that we are – all I can say is that I don't think so – apparently our lust for technology and luxuries have pushed us past the point of no return – we have destroyed our environment and the global financial crises has resulted in a greater discrepancy between the haves and and the have nots that it feels as if we are returning to the middle ages, that is if we don't nuke ourselves over Syria first.



Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1768167172
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review 2016-01-09 09:45
Epicurian Physics
On the Nature of the Universe - Lucretius,Ronald E. Latham

Well, here I am, once again sitting in the passenger seat of my Dad's car on our final trek to Melbourne, and since I have been reading, sleeping, or driving for most of the day, I might as well fix up a couple of my reviews while I am sitting here (and since I have a smartphone, and my Dad has this adapter that allows me to plug my laptop into the cigarette lighter, I might as well make use of it – such are the benefits of having an electronic engineer as a father).



Lucretius (I wonder if there is a connection with Star Trek) wrote this treatise on the natural world some time during the 2nd century BC. The period is important because it gives us an idea of the background in which the text was written. In a way it is probably one of the last ancient texts that have a scientific feel to it since most later philosophical texts (unless they dealt with medicine) focused mainly on ethics (with maybe the exception of Ptolemy), as opposed to scientific explanation (though there are probably a lot that have been lost). It wasn't until the renaissance that people began to once again question the nature of the world in which they lived.



The reason behind this is probably two-fold. Firstly, there was no need for industrial development namely because the culture was a slave based culture. Who needed machines when you had slaves to do all of the menial tasks. This can actually be seen in the United States in the lead up to the civil war, as well as in England, because in the North, where slavery was illegal, there was a lot of industrial development, while in the South, where slavery was legal, the society was still very much an agrarian society. The second reason was simply that nobody saw a need to actually question the world around them. As far as anybody was concerned, if something happened, then it was because the gods had willed it to happen, and there was no need to venture beyond that (and even then, to suggest that the gods didn't exist, even in Rome, was nothing short of blasphemous).



Lucretius wrote at an interesting time: it was after the decline of the Greek culture and during the rise of the Roman culture. Lucian wrote in Latin, but at this time Latin was still a very basic language, used mostly for trade and war. However the Greeks had already had a developed language that was being used much more culturally, which suggests that what Lucretius began was the slow morphing of the Latin language, as well as the Roman culture, into the culture that ended up producing the greats such as Cicero and Tacitus, among many others.



Lucretius was not the first to write a treatise that was enquiring into the nature of the world. This had been begun centuries early, almost as early as the Seven Sages of antiquity. There were sages like Democritus who developed the idea of the atom, Aristotle who wrote treatises on zoology, and even Plato dabbled in writing a scientific treatise (not that there was a distinct field of study at the time because back then everything was philosophy). The person, however, who influenced Lucretius the most was a guy named Epicurus.



Now, during this period there were three popular philosophies: the Epicurians, the Stoics, and the Cynics. I will describe these philosophies in a nutshell: Epicurians pretty much believe 'if it feels good, do it'; Stoics believe 'no pain, no gain'; and Cynics believes 'life sucks, and then you die'. Okay, that is probably being very basic description of each of these philosophies, but that is how I remember them. Mind you, we get the term stoic from the stoic philosophers, and the word cynic from the cynic philosophers.



It is interesting to see how Lucretius understands the universe, and in a way there is a lot of what we understand in his ideas: such as the idea of the atom, that everything is made up of atoms, that there is space between the atoms which determines the hardness of the objects. We also know that Lucretius comes to his understandings through observation, something that is done very much today, however there is no well defined scientific method in the way that he performs his enquiries. Another aspect that we see is the idea of the vacuum, which Lucretius suggests is the space between the atoms. However his understanding of a vacuum is different to our understanding because he does not necessarily see the air as molacules. Because he can see anything (despite being able to feel wind, which demonstrates, at least to me, that there is something there) then he assumes that there is nothing there. Further there is no concept that nature abhors a vacuum.



Lucretius seems to see everything in the form of atoms, though this is not unusual today in modern physics where certain elements have both wave and particle like properties, however we must remember that much of what Lucretius was writing about was little more than educated guesses. Basically he had come up with a theory, based on observation, and used this basis to try to explain everything. Light (and darkness) are particles that hit the eyes, which allows us to see. Sound is also made up of particles, however we note that he does not seem to understand the concept of waveforms. By saying this I refer to where he tries to understand why one can hear sound through solid objects. We know this because the sound hits the object causing the object to vibrate, which then causes the air behind the object to also vibrate and thus continue the sound wave. We also notice, interestingly, that his concept of colour comes, once again, from particles. An object has a certain colour because the particles on that object also have that colour.



It is ideas like this that makes a typical modern like me baulk, namely because even though I may have only completed year 12 physics, I still remember quite a lot of it, and as such know that what he is suggesting is basically wrong. I know that an object has a certain colour because the object absorbs that particular part of the colour spectrum. However, Lucretius was not working from much because there was not all that much before him. In a way Lucretius is no different from the early scientists of the modern era in that much of what he was writing about were educated guesses, and it was only after further study and experimentation that we have come to understand that the beliefs of those that came before us were, well, wrong. Once again I point to the idea of light travelling as a wave. Many of us who do not understand, or have not been taught, advanced Physics believe that is the case, but those of us who know advanced Physics know that light can also travel as a particle (it's called a photon).



The funny thing that I have noticed is how much of our science is still actually based on the findings of Lucretius. The wave particle duality of light aside, we still understand sight as working on the basis of things striking the retina in our eyes. Lucretius had an understanding that the eyes were more than simply windows, or doors, that allowed the brain to see out (namely because he points out that if you remove the eyes then, well, you can't see) but rather an integral part of how we see. The same goes with the idea of smell, that we smell things because particles drift into our nose which causes the nerves in our nose to react to the particle. While Lucretius may not have had a full understanding of the nervous system, he still understands the reactions and senses that are caused when the body feels pain.



As for religion, I was going to suggest that Lucertius is a 'functional Athiest' namely that while he believed in the gods, he does not believe that they have any power or control over the way the universe functions. However I thought about this for a bit and realised that it is not that he is an Atheist, but more of what one would consider an ancient version of a Deist. The reason I say that is because he still believed in the polytheistic religion of the time, but responded in the same way to the gods that a modern Deist would respond to Christianity, namely that while God may exist, he has little or no influence, or care, over the operation of the universe in which we live.



This brings me onto Lucretius' idea of the soul. He believes in the soul but not in its immortality. In fact he goes to great pains to demonstrate that before birth the soul, and the mind, of that particular individual, does not exist, and as such, after death the soul ceases to exist as well. Lucretius has no interest or time for theories and ideas relating to the afterlife (which is probably why he holds to the Epicurian idea of if it feels good, do it). In fact, he seems to think that the whole idea of the afterlife, and in particular Hades, is absurd (and spares no haste in pointing that out). As such, Lucretius does not believe in reincarnation either, so it is clear that his ideas are purely materialistic, in much the same way that modern materialism holds their beliefs.



It is interesting to compare some of Lucretius' thoughts to the what modern evolutionists accept today. One of the things that I noted was Lucretius' ideas of the origins of various parts of the body, such as the limbs. The modern belief is that a need arose therefore the body adapted an organ to meet that need. However Lucretius holds the opposite view in that the organ exists prior to the need arising, and when the need became apparent, the body was able to meet that need with the limb. As such it appears that Lucretius is not an evolutionist (and the evolutionists claim that it is the Christians that are backward). Further, Lucretius believes in a young Earth, but his argument in this regard is incredibly flawed. His argument is that because there is no recorded history dating back before the Theban and Trojan wars then, ergo, there must not have been anything, therefore the Earth is young. Obviously he is not an anthropologist (nor has he read Herodotus, which I would find very surprising from such a learned person). Mind you, similar flawed reasonings (and educated guesses) are still made today in relation to the arguments verses the young Earth and old Earth theories. As for me, I find both postulations (namely, the Bible says the Earth is 6000 years old, therefore it must be so, to which I respond by saying, no it doesn't; and it is the best theory we have, so we might as well stick to it, to which I respond, but what if it is wrong) have their flaws.


Mind you, Lucretius' section of cosmology seems to read more like an evolutionist's, in that it is suggested that he may have come up with something similar to the big bang theory thousands of years before modern science had postulated it. It seems that he believes, just as the modern cosmologist believes, that the universe began as a chaotic mess and that it was only through the collision of particles (which is the word that I feel obliged to use, because that is what I understand Lucretius' atom to be, though it is interesting that in the modern world we seem to continue to break this building block into smaller and smaller things – these days we have quarks, which are sub-subatomic particles). However, I also notice that Lucretius believes that the Earth is stationary and that the stars, sun, and moon, move around the Earth. In reponse to that, I wonder why the Catholic Church branded Galileo as a heretic when their ideas were actually taken from the pagans. Also, finally, it is interesting to see how he describes that lightning is caused by the collision of particles in the clouds (which themselves are made up of particles) and points to the sparks that are created when certain rocks are smashed together. Once again, it goes to show how many of Lucretius' theories came about through observation and educated guessing, which in many ways is how modern scientists come up with their theories.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/679272418
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review 2015-10-11 04:47
Theorising the Perfect State
The Republic - Plato,Melissa Lane,Desmond Lee,H.D.P. Lee

Sometimes I wonder if people give this book five stars because it is either a) written by Plato, or b) if you don't give it five stars then you are afraid that people will think that you are some semi-literate mindless cretin whose reading capacity tends to extend little beyond the Harry Potter and Twilight Series. Yes, I realise that I have given it five stars, but I have given it five stars because I actually enjoyed the argument that this book outlines. Basically it is a very logical argument that examines the nature of the human soul and of justice and the structure of the argument is of the sort that you could only expect to see from a master. Mind you, some of the points that Plato makes, such as physicians role being only to maintain the health of society and not to heal or care for the sick or injured (thus simply letting them die) would be repugnant not only to us (to an extent) but also to the people of his day. However it is the way that the argument flows, and the way that Plato explores concepts that are relevant even to us today that makes me think highly of this work of literature.


First of all, let us consider the context of the book. This was written after the death of Socrates which meant that the democratic model that Athens had been based upon had failed, and this it was quite clear to Plato and his contemporaries that democracy had failed. As such, when writing about the perfect society, one could not write about a democracy, and if one did, one needed to outline how the previous experiment failed and how it could be improved. This is the case today with socialists examining how the Russian experiment failed, but seeking to build upon its ideals to create a government that will avoid those mistakes. However, in Plato's mind, this could not happen simply because he knew that the basic foundations of the democratic state could not support a functioning ideal government. The main reason for that is that, like our democratic system, the power brokers not only tended to be rich, but also very well spoken, meaning that the populace could easily be swayed and end up supporting the power-brokers flawed, and in many cases self-centered, policies.


However, while many consider that the Republic is about an idea of how to construct a perfect state, the treatise itself goes far beyond that because what it is actually looking at is the idea of perfect justice. Near the end of the treatise Plato once again outlines his theory of forms, which is that everything in this world his a pale reflection of the object's perfect form. For instance, all tables that we see are a reflection of a perfect table, and as tables can only be created by people who make tables, and because all table makers are different, it is thus impossible to create the perfect form of a table. However to help us understand this concept further, Plato brings out the idea of art. A painting of a table is a mere reflection of the table that is painted, and every painting of that table will be different and no painter is able to paint that table as it truly is – the painter is basically restrained by the medium of which the painter creates the table. The same goes with poetry, because the poet is only able to create a pale reflection of the event that the poet is writing the poem about, and no poet, through the medium of poetry, is able to create a perfect reflection of that event.


Van Gogh - A Table


Thus, what Plato is doing is he is applying his theory to that of government. Thus every government is a reflection of the perfect government, and no government can replicate the perfect form of government. Further still, being a philosopher, Plato is restrained from being able to describe exactly what that perfect government is because he is restrained by the medium of which is uses to outline what he believes the perfect form of government is. That, by the way, is very important - what he believes the perfect form of government to be. The major restraint that Plato faces in outlining the perfect form is that it is his opinion, and his opinion is quite possibly wrong.



However, let us consider what this government is. First of all, it is not a democracy, and has no democratic institutions. The government is a oligarchic state which is ruled by philosophers, with the philosopher king at the top of the chain. It is also a very stratified form of government, with three castes, namely the ruling caste, the warrior caste (known as the Guardians), and the working caste. We must remember also that there is no room for anybody who cannot fit into any of these castes, thus the sick, injured, or disabled, have no part in this society because they are not able to fulfil any meaningful role within the state. However your caste his not determined by your birth, which means that just because you are born to working class parents does not mean you are automatically a part of the working class, and as such, just because you are born among the ruling class does not mean you are automatically members of the ruling class.



A few further points that I note is that Plato endorses religion in his state, but this is not surprising considering the Greeks were very religious people. However, Plato does not see a need to comment on religion, and while it is the case that there were philosophers who were atheists, Plato, nor his teacher Socrates, were one of them. Plato also does not support the idea of family, and actually believes that it should be abolished (though he does support monogamous marriage). I suspect that is this because the family unit tends to be a very tight unit, and if allowed in such a stratified society, having a family unit would mean that the idea of a person being a member of a specific class based on skill would fall apart as the members of a family in a specific class would not allow their children to fall down to a lower class.



Plato also believes in the abolition of wealth and property, which means that his state is a socialist state. Once again this is not surprising considering that most dictatorships tend to have the wealth concentrated at the top, with the rulers effectively being the progenitors of a kelptocracy. However, it is also the case in the democracies where wealth creates privilege, and privilege creates power. Just as it is today, the wealthy of fifth century Athens were able to buy the best minds to write their arguments and promote their policies to the detriment of the poorer classes. A democracy could quite well also be considered a form of kleptocracy.


Finally, Plato advocates censorship, particularly in education. He indicates that there are some things that should not be taught to our young for fear that our young may not understand what is being taught. This is very much the case today because there is a form of censorship that is basically accepted, and that is the rating systems for our movies, and now for our computer games. One cannot release a movie in an advanced democracy without getting the approval of the ratings agency. Further, studios will purposely self censor a movie so that it will receive a certain rating so that more people will go and see it and will be willing to see it.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/740851582
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review 2015-08-26 13:51
The life of the party
Symposium - Plato,Robin A.H. Waterfield

You've really got to love the way Plato writes philosophy. Whereas everybody else simply writes what is in effect a work of non-fiction explaining some ideas, Plato seems to have the habit of inserting them into a story. Okay, he may not be the only philosopher that uses a story to convey his philosophical ideas, but he certainly stands out from his contemporaries, who simply wrote treatises. I've read a few of his works, and he always seems to structure it in a similar way, usually beginning with a conversation that has absolutely nothing to do with the ideas that he is trying to explore, but rather idle chit-chat.



The Symposium stands out from his over works because the discussion occurs during a party (nice one Plato). In fact as I was reading this I could almost imagine the exact same scenario happening today. A group, who had had a pretty heavy night of drinking the night before decide to take it a little easier tonight, order a pizza, grab a couple of six packs of beer, and sit in the lounge room for a quiet one while still nursing the remnants of a hangover. Instead of turning on the television they decide to have a conversation. However, as the night wears on there is a knock at the door, and upon opening it we find the guy that we all know with two bottles of Jack Daniels in his hands who invites himself into the discussion. However this guy is hardly the philosophical type, and his discussion simply turns into how wonderful he thinks this other guy happens to be. Then there is another knock at the door, and as it happens he has invited all his friends over, and that quiet night ends up turning into another free-for all. Come morning, one of the guys from the original group picks himself off the couch, and in the haze of a hangover sees that three of the original group are still up and are talking about something completely different. However he is way too hungover to join in so he makes his way home.



That's basically the plot of the Symposium.


However Plato simply isn't telling a story about the party, he is exploring the idea of love. In fact it is suggested that what he is actually doing is recounting the discussion that occurred during an actual Symposium years before (and from the last couple of paragraphs it appears that the person who was telling the story was Aristodemus – whoever he happens to be – but he is telling it to another guy named Apollodorus, who I suspect is then telling Plato). This book is really interesting on so many levels. Not only are we allowed to listen into a discussion between Greeks about the nature of love, we are also given a pretty detailed glimpse of what went on during a symposium (or at least one that initially wasn't supposed to be a drunken free for all, but then again I'm sure we have all experienced something similar in our lives). Not only is it a work of philosophy, it is a work that gives us a very clear picture of the Ancient Athenian culture.


Before I continue I must say one thing – Socrates is a freak. The book opens with Aristodemus meeting up with Socrates and then Socrates invites himself along to a party at Agathon's house. However when they arrive Socrates doesn't enter, he just stands outside staring into space. The ensuring conversation goes a little like this:


AGATHON: Hey, weren't you with Socrates?

ARISTODEMUS: Yeah, he's just outside.

AGATHON: What's he doing out there, invite him in!

ARISTODEMUS: I suspect he's contemplating the nature of the universe.

AGATHON: There's plenty of time to do that, I'm going to bring him in.

ARISTODEMUS: Don't bother. You know what he's like. He'll come in once he's had his revelation.

AGATHON: What! He's still out there! This is getting ridiculous, I'm bringing him inside!

ARISTODEMUS: I wouldn't worry too much about him Agathon. You know how he exists in his own little world.


Come to think of it, he sound's like that cat that stands at the open door, but really has no intention of going inside, or even staying outside.


The cat at the pearly gates



However, as I have indicated (and as many of you probably already know) this book is more than a story about what happened at Agathon's party (though I am sure many of us have had the experience where somebody we know comes along and gives us a detailed account of the party they went to the other night – though it is no where near as good as actually being there) but an exposition of love. Each of the main characters gives a dissertation of their idea of love, and as is expected, Socrates' dissertation is left until last. However I am sort of wandering whether the conversation occurred how it has been reported, or whether Plato is altering the events to suit his own purpose (I can't remember the intricate details, or the philosophical discussion I had at any of the parties I went to – all I can remember is talking about George Bush). For instance, we have Pausanius talk about how there are two kinds of love – physical and celestial. In a way there is the base love that we humans experience, a love that is expressed in physical actions (such as sex). However there is also spiritual love, that which is expressed in spiritual actions (such as self-sacrifice).



I should pause here and state that my view of love unfortunately is tarnished by my Christian upbringing. I say that because the way I view love is that it exists entirely on the spiritual level. To me the love that Pausanius describes as physical love is actually little more than lust. However, Socrates does suggest that love is the desire to possess that which is beautiful, which does fall into the category that Pausanius describes. In my mind, love is not so much a feeling but rather expressed through actions such as self-sacrifice. Love is also unconditional – it doesn't play favourites, which means that it is impossible to love one person and no another (though due to our human nature, and our natural instinct to play favourites, unconditional love is a state that is very difficult to achieve).



Now I wish to say a few things about my view on desire and sex. In my mind sex has two purposes – a means to stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain (much like a drug) and to procreate. The reason that it stimulates the pleasure centres is because it is a mechanism to encourage us to procreate. However we won't know about its pleasurable aspects unless we actually engage in it, which is why many of us develop this desire for members of the opposite sex. These desires exist to encourage us to have sex so that we might perpetuate the species. Note that I don't speak about 'falling in love' simply because I do not believe that these biological desires have anything to do with love – once again Hollywood is lying to us.



Anyway, lets get on to Socrates: Socrates describes love as being the desire to possess that which is beautiful. In a way what he is suggesting is that if we possesses that which is beautiful then we are happy. In my mind Socrates is confusing love with happiness, but let us continue. He starts off by suggesting that this love begins on a physical level where we see a single person who we believe is beautiful and we desire to possess that person. This possession is fulfilled in the sexual act. However he suggests that to seek true beauty we simply cannot rest on one person, but we must begin to see the beauty in many people. As such our desire for that one person begins to diminish as we begin to see everybody else as being just as beautiful as this one person. However, he then takes the next step and suggests that we begin to move away from physical beauty to come to see the mental beauty (that is the intelligence) of individual people. As such we begin to lose interest in those whose beauty is not intellectual to focus on those who are. As such physical beauty begins to take a back seat. From there we move on to understand absolute beauty, namely that we can see beauty in everything without differentiation.



This absolute is quite interesting – Plato rejects relativism. In his mind there must be an absolute because the universe simply cannot exist without one. A relative world is a world that is chaotic and has no form, but by looking at the world he can see that there is an absolute form, but he realises that everybody sees these forms differently. Thus his quest is the search for the absolute, and to move beyond relativism and the world of the opinion to try to understand and grasp the absolute truth. This the the goal of this book, to reject the relativism of physical beauty and to seek out the absolute of the celestial beauty.


However, he does something really interesting – once Socrates finishes his speech in comes Alcibaides and brings the entire discussion back to reality. Not only does he interject into the discussion, he turns it completely on its head by telling everybody how wonderful he thinks Socrates is (he lusts after Socrates, but Socrates won't have a bar of it). Plato understands the real world, and this is what Alcibaides represents. While we may begin to ascend the ladder towards our grasp of absolute beauty, things will happen that will bring us crashing back down to reality. As I said, Socrates was a freak, which is why he was able to rebuff Alcibaides' advances.



Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1371344385
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review 2015-04-16 13:39
Socrates debates the essence of morality
Plato: Euthyphro - C. Emlyn Jones

The scene of this dialogue is on the steps of the Athenian Courthouse (known as the King's Archon) as Socrates is preparing to answer the charges of being disrespectful to the gods and corrupting the youth. There is a discussion about this at the opening to this dialogue, however I will not go into too much detail as I will leave it for later commentaries to discuss (in particular [book:the Apology], and also the book in which this dialogue is contained, the [book:Last Days of Socrates]). Rather, I will discuss the content of this dialogue, and also some of the nasty tricks that Socrates uses when discussing the issue of holiness with Euthyphro.

Now, apparently the name Euthyphro means' right-minded', though we must remember that in Greek, the prefix <i>eu</i> gives the word that it is attached to a good meaning. For instance, the word <i>angelos</i>' means messanger, and by adding <i>eu</i> to it (creating <i>euangelos</i>, from which our word evangelical comes from) means 'good messanger' (or good message). However, and I will not go too deep into this here, these days that word has lost its original meaning and tends to refer to somebody who is self-righteous and condemning. To be honest with you, a message that constantly tells us that we are sinners and destined to hell unless we bind ourselves to a particular church and its teaching is hardly a good message. As you will see, though, this will become important, but first, a bit more of a background.

It may appear that the only two people around would be Socrates and Euthyphro, but I do not believe that this is the case. Socrates was heading into court to answer his charges, and as such he is most likely being accompanied by his students. One of the things about his students is that they were here to learn, so it would be highly unlikely that they would have taken part in the discussion. They would be listening and watching. I guess a really good picture would be similar to Jesus and his disciples, though remember that when Jesus was led to his trial, while he went willingly, he was surrounded by enemies and not friends. Further, we can be assured that Plato, and possibly even Xenophon, would have been present simply because it is through these two individuals that we have first hand accounts of Socrates' trial.

Now, onto the Socratic method of argument. One of the reasons that we were taught this dialogue at university is because it is an excellent example of the Socratic method, and in many ways it is a method that is still used today. If you were to go and watch a trial in one of the common law countries, you will see lawyers, and in particular good lawyers, using this method to arrive, not so much at the truth, but at what they want to come out as the truth. While the opening and closing arguments are simply speeches, it is during examination of the witnesses that the ability to use the Socratic method is important. What is the Socratic method? It is simply by treating the person as an expert, and then using a series of questions to have them produce answers that you want. It is not simply asking questions, but asking the right questions, that is the key to mastering the Socratic method.

Now, as we read through this dialogue, we notice two important things. First of all Socrates never claims to be an expert. In fact (while not mentioned in this dialogue) his position is always one of ignorance. 'The only thing that I know is that I know nothing'. As he says to Euphythro, he is obviously the expert in morality, and in fact suggests that if Euphythro were to claim that Socrates was his student, then Milteus would not have a leg to stand on because it is clear, and well known, that Euphythro is an expert on morality.

The second thing that I noticed is Socrates' use of what we call faulty logic, namely he completely twists the argument around, getting an answer out of Euphythro before he even realises what he has said. An example would be 'all dogs have four legs, this dog has three legs, therefore it is not a dog'. What Socrates does is that he has Euphythro agree to a number of statements ('a led object is not a led object because it can be led, but because it is led; a carried object is not a carried object because it can be carried, but because we carry it; a seen object is not a seen object because it can be seen, but because we see it'), but then he twists them around to support his argument that a moral object is a moral object because it is loved, but because the God's love it. Though, when we are considering an object we must remember that an action is also seen as an object.

Now, the reason this discussion begins is because of the reason Euphythro is at court. What happened is that on his father's estate on the island of Naxos one of the day labourers go into a drunken brawl and killed a slave, so his father bound the day labourer, threw him into a ditch, and left him there until his could get word back from Athens to find out what to do with him. Now, travelling from Naxos to Athens and back again took a lot longer then than it did does (I'd say at most a week), so during that time the day labourer died. So, Euthyphro decides to prosecute his father for manslaughter (there was no such thing as a public prosecution in 5th century Athens), and the question that is raised is not whether his father did wrong (he clearly did) but whether it is right for Euthyphro to prosecute him at all. While my answer is yes, Socrates' answer is no, the reason being is that the respect that a son should have for his father should prevent him from acting in such a way. It was his father's decision to behave in this manner, and as such Euthyphro, as the son, should then be respecting his father's decision. It is not his role to step into the shoes of the day labourer and prosecute his father, despite there being nobody to actually prosecute the father on the day labourer's behalf.

Now, the translation that I read uses the word piety, however that word is incredibly misleading. Going to church and tithing, to us, is pious, and in fact the chief priests who called for Jesus' prosecution, were also pious, but that does not necessarily mean that their actions, as is outlined here, are beloved by God. Holiness is probably a better word, though Liddel and Scott translate the word <i>osia</i> as 'divine law'. I have used the word morality in this context, and will continue to do so, as I believe that this is probably the best term to use because it seems to define, from the context of the dialogue, as an action that is loved by the gods.

Now, unlike our monotheistic culture were we only have one god upon which to base the rightness of an action, Athens had multiple gods, meaning that the rightness of an action really comes down to which god considered the action right, and which ones did not, which created a much more relativistic and pluralistic society. However, Socrates narrows this down to being an action that all of the gods considered wrong (such as murder), and the discussion is narrowed to whether there are such actions, and whether they are relativistic or not. Socrates believes that there are, but then remember that Socrates technically only acknowledged one god. Further, most of the Greeks at this time did not really pay much attention to the actions of the gods and only referred to them when they wanted to win a particular argument. This does not mean that they were not religious, they were incredibly religious, it is just that their idea of morality was quite fluid. However, there were laws, such as murder, which simply could not be washed away.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/399587432
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