Plato’s Forms in Response to Bonnie Honig

March 9, 2015

Socrates’ Antigone has been the subject of countless debates over the the course of nearly two and a half millennia. Who performed the first burial? How do we make sense of Antigone’s dirge? What, if anything, do the characters symbolize? In 2009, a profound political theorist by the name of Bonnie Honig approached the last question in this article. In summary, she interprets this play as Creon representing democratic values, while Antigone represents that of the aristocracy. Honig asserts that Creon’s emphasis on total equality and the replaceability of individuals is demonstrative of democracy. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Antigone believes her brother is utterly unique, prompting her to wail in excess at his death; Honig takes this as an example of her Homeric/aristocratic values.

Naturally, at the end of the play, just about everybody Creon loved has killed themselves, leaving him to feel mournful, for he seems to realize that his wife and son were utterly unique to him. All the while he mourns in silence. Creon mourns these losses and decides to bury all those who he swore not to bury, in respect for the dead (an Homeric/aristocratic act). However, at the same time, his mourning is subdued and not outward (a democratic response to death). Honig assesses this to mean that Creon has become a combination of both himself and Antigone.  This poses the problem I will attempt to address.

For now, let’s briefly set this aside and think about Plato’s Forms.

Plato believed that everything existed in both a physical and metaphysical sense. The physical world is constantly changing, but in the metaphysical world, everything is constant and unchanging. A good explanation of Plato’s Forms can be found here. What we see are not physical objects, but rather “Forms” of the object. Why is a rotting apple still an apple? Because its Form is still an apple. A rotting apple still holds the same “apple-ness” as that of a perfectly ripe one because it still holds the Form of an apple.

But how does this relate to Honig’s analysis?

As stated before, Honig suggests that by the time Antigone draws to a close, Creon is the embodiment of both Homeric/aristocratic values and democracy. In other words, Creon has “Creon-ness” and “Antigone-ness.” According to the Theory of the Forms, one’s Form exists only as one’s self. Creon should theoretically exist as Creon, not Creon and Antigone. Therefore, Honig’s reading of Antigone does not adhere to the Theory of the Forms; by these standards, Plato would deem her reading incorrect. Of course, it was Plato, not Socrates who came up with the Forms, so Honig’s reading can still be considered a plausible analysis.

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Reading questions for Plato’s Euthyphro

February 24, 2015

Platonic dialogues are peculiar things. Situated somewhere between what we traditionally call “literature” and philosophy, we have to evaluate them on both levels. That is, we need to examine both the text’s literary devices and the philosophical arguments presented in them. And we also need to be thinking about why Plato might have chosen to write this way: why present a philosophical position via the mechanism of a dialogue? Why not instead present it as a traditional argumentative essay?

 

  • What is the subject of this dialogue?
  • What is the setting? Include the two characters, their traits, why they are talking, and so on.
  • What is Euthyphro doing when he encounters Socrates? What traits does Euthyphro display?
  • Do you think Euthyphro’s efforts to bring charges against his father are just? What do you think Socrates thinks about that question?
  • Most of the dialogue is structured around three basic definitions that Euthyphro offers; he offers his first definition on p. 46; the second appears on p. 48 (with a modification on p. 52); and the third appears on p. 57.
    1. List each definition; it is useful to write it out.
    2. How does Socrates go about refuting each definition?
  • The most famous portion of the dialogue concerns Socrates’ refutation of Euthyphro’s second definition of piety (pp. 52-54). It is also a somewhat weird refutation; what is Socrates getting at in his argument?
  • What do you think Socrates’ conception of the pious is? Are there any hints of it in this dialogue?
  • What do you think is the general social purpose of piety? Are pious actions done to please God (or the gods), or do they serve some other purpose? Given this general purpose, are Euthyphro’s actions pious?
  • What do you suppose Socrates aims to show Euthyphro?

NPR Story: “What If I Don’t Have A Passion?”

May 12, 2013

This is a story that was featured on Nation Public Radio entitled: “I Know I’m Supposed To Follow My Passion. But What If I Don’t Have A Passion?” I found this very interesting especially after reading Socrates’ stance on the different roles that he feels people should fill in society. In this story, Max Kornblith is questioning what to do with his life. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from a prestigious Ivy League institution, he found everyone around him being driven by his or her “passion”. In fact, it seems to Max Kornblith that the main argument that everybody is making for having a successful and meaningful life is to follow that passion that every person has. However, Mr. Kornblith has not found this driving force in his life, and does not know whether he has a passion or not.

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Socrates believed that every person has a place in society, and that every person should be content with that position. He said that if every person dedicated their energy towards the position that they fill in society that the city could function to its full potential. This is a very different philosophy than the one that is most present in our society today. In today’s world, people, like Max Kornblith, are encouraged to “follow their hearts”, “follow their passion”, and “follow their dreams”. It takes about five minutes of watching American Idol to truly understand that a person who is passionate about something shouldn’t necessarily be doing that thing at all. The most successful people today, in my mind, seem to be the people who have both the passion, and the natural ability that Socrates looked for in a person when deciding which profession they were best suited for.

Max Kornblith is somewhat the opposite of the prototype of the conventional successful person. He is a very smart person, having graduated from a prestigious Ivy League institution, with many skills. However, he does not have the “passion” which would motivate him to strive for greatness in career. He explains that he became frustrated when all of his peers had their “one thing” that they found brought meaning to their life. Still it seems to me that Max is looking for depth and meaning in his career that will satisfy the overall goals that he has for his life.

Socrates would not have a problem with Max Kornblith being unable to find his passion. In his mind, Socrates believes that the passion a person has for certain things is irrelevant to the success of their career. This is because Socrates would not have had people in a certain line of work based on their passion and interests, but what their natural skills (determined at a very early age) were.


Just an individual in a Just society

May 10, 2013

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On several occasions recently I have watched a group of people struggle to grasp the logic behind Socrates’ plan for the ideal city, as stated in Plato’s “The Republic”. I have been thinking about why it is difficult for people, including myself, to understand where Socrates is coming from when he tries to explain his reasoning for the just city. I think that the underlying concept of what success, justice, greatness etc. is and where it truly comes from is different in our minds and the mind of Socrates. Whether the difference lies in the society that Socrates was a part of, or Socrates himself, I don’t know. I do believe that what makes it hard for some people to understand why in the world Socrates would believe the things that he did that would make a better and more just society is the fact that we are focusing on such different things.

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First of all, the society that we live in today places its focus on the individual, not the city, state, or country. We tend to place significance in a person’s achievements and success. The people that I have talked to about things that we feel are greater than the shallow achievements of a person, still usually speak of the potential for an individual. Socrates more often spoke of the potential of a just city, versus the potential for a just individual. I believe that this is the difference that makes it hard to relate to Socrates when he is talking about the ideal society. We are used to the focus being on an individual’s greatness, while Socrates is giving us his plan to form a society that is great.

The concept of “everything in its right place” is one of the most important elements of Socrates’ ideal city, and happens to be one of the ideas that spark the most discomfort among readers of “The Republic”. In this situation, Socrates explains that the ideal city would benefit from every person doing the job that they are most fit to do. This means, for example, that a person with steady hands (among other features) would be a surgeon, because that is what the city needs. Socrates explains that the city will benefit most from every individual doing what their natural skills enable them to do best. Most people find some conflict with this and I think it is because we live in a society where the individual is revered as being able to do whatever they want. “The American Dream”, for example, represents the idea that anybody can become anything that they want in this country, regardless of background, race, gender, sexuality, skills, knowledge, or experience. Obviously skills, knowledge, and experience would need to be acquired before the greatness of the individual could be achieved, but the underlying idea that appeals to people in “The American Dream” is that you are not destined to one career path, status, or lifestyle.

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My experience, and seemingly others experience as well, has been a sort of conflict of interests. I have been more focused on being a just individual, while Socrates looks for justice in a society. He does explain how he believes a person can have a just soul, but this is mainly a factor in his ideal city. He believes that a society consisting of just individuals will be the foundation of the just city. However, part of being a just individual to Socrates means knowing your place in society, and being content with that. I think that most individuals in today’s society, however, are not ready to give up their aspirations and submit themselves to the construction of a just city.


“A Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness”

May 9, 2013

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I have found that it is easiest for me to understand what a person is trying to say if I am able to relate to their situation. This is how I attempted to understand Socrates’ explanation of “The Forms”. I have often thought about the world as having a “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” covering everything. Imagine yourself looking at a tree, but there is this layer of Saran Wrap over top of it. You would be able to see the tree somewhat, although its’ shape, color, and definition etc. would be altered and impossible to see clearly. I was able to follow “The Allegory of the Cave” so well because I related this metaphor to my own experience.

In “The Allegory of the Cave”, Socrates describes prisoners who are seeing shadows of figures, which are made to represent real things in the world. These figures are in the shape of trees, people, animals etc. Because the prisoners have not seen anything except the shadows of these figures their entire lives, they accept the limits of what they are seeing to be true. In my own opinion, there is a metaphorical layer, which covers everything in front of a person, which disables them from seeing the truth and reality of whatever it is that they are looking at.

I think this layer that comes between the average person and reality is something that is created by many things. The media, for example, definitely keeps the public from understanding the truth in a situation, in a number of ways. For example, each news station has a certain set of values, morals, and opinions, which are injected into the stories that are told. When the news stations report on a story, the public is not just presented with the facts that make up the situation, but a certain set of opinions about the events as well. The opinions are not the problem, but the way that they are presented does not make it clear to the viewers that there are more than just facts being reported.

It is my belief that society, whether this is intentional or not, does this same thing. As we grow up, we take some things to be true simply because that’s how we were taught. For example, we are taught that achieving a certain amount of success will result in happiness. This, to me, is like putting a “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” (bull crap) over everything; or putting a bag over someone’s head. The happiness that is obtained when a person follows the lifestyle that society places on a pedestal is not true happiness, and in my opinion, doesn’t really mean anything. Conventional success, as defined by society today, focuses on things like money, status, material things and fame. While these things may bring some sort of happiness to some people, there is not enough substance and depth to keep me satisfied or interested. The “Saran Wrap layer” that is put over everything restricts people to seeing certain things a certain way, and keeps them from knowing more. In this example, people can obtain a certain type of happiness and will be content with that, because they have not been able to see that there are greater, more powerful, and more beautiful forces than the feelings that having lots of money can bring.

Although I do not agree with everything that Socrates says, I found it interesting to see how far the analogy of the “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” can correlate to the “Allegory of the Cave” and other readings. In general, I felt that I was able to follow what Socrates was saying because I had this other analogy to compare and relate it to.

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Formness As It Relates To Languages

April 12, 2013

I have slowly become more and more fascinated by the implications of languages in everyday life.  Finding that most areas I enjoy learning about are in fact the study of a language, despite my deplorable use of English.  From my self study of German, to computer programming languages such as Java and Python, and Music.  I am starting to see my life through a lens of language analysis.  And so I would like to offer these ‘thoughts’ on Plato’s Theory of Forms and what, to me, are some implications of his theory.

1.) Plato’s Forms, Forms as an Idea

Plato discerns Forms through a series of examples, the result of which leave us with a definition roughly:

the Form(X) is the most perfected example of X

so what does this mean? It means that the Form(Toy Poodle) is the perfected ideal of the Toy Poodle

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“Wha?”

Lets think of it this way, if I ask you what makes a Toy Poodle a poodle you might say:

It is a dog

It is small

It walks on four legs, barks, and likes to chase the mailman, etc…

But wouldn’t all of this be true of say a Yorkshire Terrier?

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“Back off Beotch!”

They are a dog, small, walk on four legs, bark, and trust me, love to chase the mailman.

Then we would need to find more descriptors to further define the Toy Poodle from the Yorkie such as “the Toy Poodle is a species originating from Germany or France, where as the Yorkshire Terrier is from England

This type of differentiation is a classic example of how many (if not all) language gather the bulk of there validity.  We cannot know the Toy Poodle from the Yorkie without the Yorkie.  In fact right now we don’t know the difference between a Toy Poodle and a Smarfuldorg, and being such they could very well be one and the same.

So a word/Form (noun to be more specific) is a direct resultant of its containing of attributes that define itself and its differences from another.

This methodology is abundantly available in the programming language JAVA, where you have the ability to create Classes and Objects.

Our class could be:

Dogs (

size;

hair_type;

weight;

)

In this statement we are saying “all things considered dogs have AT LEAST a size, hair type, and weight” without which we cannot call it a dog.  (note: hairless is still a hair type, the type without hair.  Where as weightless is most certainly an Alien).  You could also make the subclass Toy_Poodle e.g.

Dog(

Toy_Poodle(

country_of_origin(Germany or France)

))

Now after passing the test of ‘is it a Dog’ it can undergo the subtest of ‘is it a Toy_Poodle’

Then within the Class Dog(Poodle()) we could have the Object(Toy_Poodle(Frankie)) that, is to say an ACTUAL TOY POODLE NAMED FRANKIE!

FRANKIE

Dog(

size(small)

hair_type(short_curly)

weight(5lbs)

Poodle(

country_of_origin(Germany)

))

Congradulations Frankie is indeed a Toy Poodle by our standards =D

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“I always wanted to be real…”

So where does this tie back into other language.  Well I like the example of computer programming because it really takes out all of the emotion from the communication and gives us the meat of the process, allowing us to ask the question “why is it that the Form/Object/Noun Frankie (the now official Toy Poodle) coming to be in the first place and is Frankie really a Poodle?

I would argue the only reason Form/Object/Noun Frankie is coming to existence is because we are in fact trying to reach a consensus or impose our ideas on or with others.  This very act of Form/Object/Noun creating is the fabrication of ‘common knowledge’, which I would define as: any knowledge prerequisite to interaction.

And if this is the case then isn’t it possible this form of Knowledge is entirely fabricated?

I will leave you with this last thought as well (as this is already a lengthy post)…

Can one prove we can not communicate w/o forms?

If so then forms are a prerequisite to communication?

-RcM


Re-posting Republic reading questions, Book I

March 18, 2013

Let me start with some background information about the setting of this dialogue. The Republic occurs in the port town of Piraeus. This was the port for the city of Athens, and it had a whole slew of cultural connotations. First, like many port cities, Piraeus was a bustling and disorderly place. It had a high concentration of non-citizens (resident aliens), criminals, and so forth. Second, after the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War (in 404), Sparta installed a government known as the “Thirty Tyrants.” During this time, Piraeus became a hotbed of democratic resistance to this government. If we keep in mind that Socrates will, later in the Republic, designate democracy as the second worst type of regime, we might try to think about what Plato is doing in setting this dialogue in this location.

Next, the Republic takes place in around 422; this is during the so-called Peace of Nicias (a brief suspension of hostilities during the Peloponnesian War). Plato wrote the dialogue around 375 (so about 50 years later). Most of the characters in the dialogue were historical figures. Cephalus, the first participant in the dialogue with Socrates, was a wealthy businessman. But it also turns out that the Thirty Tyrants confiscated his wealth. The Tyrants also executed his son, Polemarchus (Socrates’ second interlocutor). Thrasymachus, Socrates’ main opponent in Book 1, was also a historical figure. He was a well-known sophist (alas, his writings have been lost). Adiemantus and Glaucon—the main figures after Book 1 ends—were Plato’s brothers. This provides another set of questions for you to consider: do Cephalus’ and Polemarchus’ fates shed light on their respective definitions of justice?

OK, now onto the proper discussion questions:

(1)  What is Cephalus’ definition of justice? What is wrong with this definition?

(2)  What is Cephalus like as a character? What are his limitations?

(3)  Polemarchus soon steps in to take over his father’s argument. What is Polemarchus’ definition?

(4)  Is Polemarchus’ definition a genuine definition in the Socratic sense? A more general question: what is the difference between a Socratic definition and a dictionary defintion?

(5)  How does Socrates go about refuting Polemarchus’ definition (he offers three critiques)? Now, generalize for a moment: what is the overall lesson that one can learn from Socrates’ refutation?

(6)  What is Thrasymachus like as a character?

(7)  What is Thrasymachus’ first definition of justice? In what ways does it differ from the other accounts we have seen so far? In what sense is Thrasymachus’ definition of justice challenging to Socrates’ method of philosophy? (Hint: to my mind, it is a profound challenge to Socratic philosophy; if Thrasymachus is right, then Socrates’ whole method is flawed from the start).

(8)  How does Socrates first criticize Thrasymachus’ definition? How does Thrasymachus modify his definition to meet the critique?

(9)  How does Socrates’ refute Thrasymachus’ modification?

(10)  After this second set of criticisms, Thrasymachus launches into a new speech where he compares a politician to a shepherd. What is the significance of Thrasymachus’ analogy?

(11) With this new speech, the dialogue takes an unexpected turn. We now no longer are talking about the definition of justice (here I think Thrasymachus and Socrates have reached a stalemate), but instead the question of whether a just life or an unjust life is happier and more profitable. What is Thrasymachus’ position on this question?

(12) How does Socrates try to refute Thrasymachus’ claims about whether justice or injustice is more profitable? Again Socrates has two responses. Be ready to identify both of them.

(13) What are the flaws with Socrates’ refutations of Thrasymachus’ position? What general lessons can we learn from this discussion so far?