Orchestra: The Timocracy We All Know

May 5, 2015

In Book VII of The Republic, Socrates discusses the five regimes: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. One leads to the next and eventually shows the breakdown of the ideal city. While discussing this in class, the notion of Timocracy caught my attention. Dictionary.com defines it as “a form of government in which love of honor is the dominant motive of the rulers.” In a Timocratic society, the soul is ruled by the spirit, resulting in a controlled appetite but desire for glory. Being a violinist and participating in several different orchestras, I couldn’t help but notice that the establishment of the orchestra is synonymous with a Timocracy.

Honor and glory are the ruling principles of the modern day symphony orchestra. This is perfectly exemplified by the seating order. Every violinist wants to be concertmaster. Why? It comes with a lot of glory. The concertmaster gets to walk on stage after every other member of the orchestra has taken his/her seat. Upon walking on stage, the audience roars and the concertmaster gets to take a bow in acknowledgment. He/she also gets to play any violin solos written in the music. This unquestionably provides a greater sense of glory.

Each member of the orchestra is fuelled with this desire for honor whether it be violins, cellos, oboes, flutes, french horns etc. Everybody wants that big solo and the honor that comes with it. That being said, the typical orchestra also exemplifies a Timocracy in that it desires to sound better than other orchestras, for that comes with glory. Why do the best symphony orchestras rehearse for several hours each week? Because they desire to sound better than the other orchestras. They want the glory of saying they are the “best in the state” or even “best in the country.”

Unfortunately, as Socrates described how the ideal city would further degenerate from a Timocracy to an Oligarchy, the same can be true for the orchestra. Although it doesn’t happen often, those with money can bribe the people in charge into giving them first chair. The orchestra then goes from an establishment ruled by the spirit to one ruled by the appetite, as it is now governed by the rich. This of course results in an orchestra that doesn’t function as efficiently, for he/she who did the bribing may not be best fit for first chair. In sum, I think Timocracy is an effective regime in the case of the orchestra.


Fate Life or Random Life?

May 5, 2015

A question stands unanswered among many of us whether fate is real or not. Is it true that everything that we experience is mapped out or is everything just by chance? If it was real, is it possible to change it? These scenarios were sketched out quite humorously in the play, “Oedipus the King.”

It seems that in this play, fate exists, and there are people who have the ability to read it. I found the play to be quite amusing because the main character, Oedipus, had tried to escape his fate, but unknowingly met it. Whether he was fortunate or not, Oedipus had something that we do not have certainty of in the real world, which was basically a reading of his future.

An oracle had told Oedipus that he was to kill his father, and to have sexual intercourse with his own mother! Afraid of committing such actions, he decides to run away from his home. After running away, he goes to kill the king not knowing that he was his real father, and to take over the throne and marry the king’s wife, a.k.a. his real mother.

When I first heard this part of the play, it got me wondering. What if Oedipus had not met the oracle, and had gone living without knowing his fate. Would he have gone to kill his real father and have sex with his real mother? Would his fate have been changed if he hadn’t known about it?

The reason why he had left his foster parents was because the oracle had told him that he was to commit those actions. However if he’d not been told that these things were to happen, he wouldn’t have run away to kill his father. He would have remained in his foster parents household. Therefore, the fate that he had been told would have been false because he wouldn’t have gone near his real parents.

However, is this theory false? If this were to be actually his fate, would he have done these horrid things regardless of whatever? Maybe no matter what he did, nothing could stop him from killing his real father and having sex with his real mother.

This scenario reminds me of a scene from the movie, “Looper.”

SPOIL ALERT! Bruce Willis’ character, the future self of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, comes to the present from the future to shoot and kill a child who in the future would become a dangerous man. The mother of this child comes to protect him by standing right in front of him to block the Bruce Willis from shooting him. Meanwhile, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is standing on the side and has an epiphany. The reason to why the child was to become such a horrid being was because of the fact that if Bruce Willis were to shoot the mother, the child would run away motherless, developing mental problems, and therefore become a psycho. However, Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes a very unexpected route by killing himself, and therefore killing off Bruce Willis as well.

This is obviously a very complicated subject. Maybe the only way to that Oedipus was to alter his fate was to kill himself? Then, he wouldn’t be able to do anything else! 🙂

Response to: Disappearance of the Finest Good

May 5, 2015

Hi Sarah! To preface what I am about to say, I must say that I agree with what you have said for the general public. As a larger society and the American stereotype, we seem to have gone straight for consumerism. But the cause (which is not the topic of this response) is that our anscestors have typically wanted more success for their descendents, not by nihilism as some others in the class say. How that is measured has changed over time, but it is typically monetary. And this concept is not new; consider the myth of King Midas, whose obesession with gold led to his own demise. He was a consumer to the point of death.

Now consider something totally different: we can pinpoint pockets of society where they do pursue the “highest good”, something that is good for both its consequences and its own sake. In my opinion, one example is the musical community. We are constantly putting ourselves through physical, mental, and emotional stress for something greater. How do we turn out in the end? We turn out happy. We may see something that can help us to better materially, but it is (hopefully) because we were the ones making music the most passionately and greatly so that we could stand out from everyone else. If we look at a situation of playing with a good orchestra or a bad orchestra and were told to play in one or the other, I imagine that most would choose the good orchestra. It would pay more (consequence), but we would also be able to better enjoy what we do- make music for the sake of making music.

Another thing that I argue is that we are not only going towards consequence-oriented actions, but also doing things because we do them for their own sake. One example could be hiking. Going from personal experience, I went on a backpakcing trip to get experience of doing such a trip, but I would go on a trip to go on the trip. Yes, it would gratify a want to backpack more, but I would not do it for any consequence that could come from it. I would do it for its own sake.

Divergent as Socrates’ Ideal City

April 26, 2015

In Plato’s Republic, he discusses Socrates’ description of the “ideal city” -a city that is completely rooted in justice. To Socrates, justice means that every person does what he or she is meant to do, whether that is to provide for the city (merchants, musicians, educators, etc.), to guard, or to rule. To facilitate this, each individual is tested to see what he or she is best fit to do. Of course, where justice exists, so does injustice: not doing what you’re meant to do. For example, if someone who is best fit to be a merchant were to rule, s/he would be committing injustice. In this case, that individual would be punished.

While on this topic in class, someone stated that the unjust person was “divergent,” which got me thinking. I realized that Socrates’ ideal city is very similar to the society in the book/movie, Divergent.

I had never seen nor read the book because I’m generally not interested angsty teenage dramas that inevitably end in romance, but I was able to sacrifice some time to watch the film. Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago, around the year 2100. A great war has left the city to be quite dystopic, and there are now five different factions that a person can belong to. These are: Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Erudite the intelligent, Abnegation the selfless, and Dauntless the brave. At the age of 16, each teenager is put through a series of tests to find out what faction they will join. Then comes along our main character, Tris Prior (played by Shailene Woodley). While she goes through these series of tests, she is found to be “divergent,” not belonging to any specific faction. The “divergents” are endangered, for they pose a threat to this dystopic society. Tris and her divergent teenage romancer then fight the system for the rest of the movie (soon to be two more movies). Sound familiar?

As was aforementioned, Socrates believed there should only be three types of people: the workers, the guardians, and the rulers. In the story’s futuristic Chicago, there are only five types of people (theoretically), Amity, Candor Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless. In Socrates’ ideal city, people are tested to see what they are best fit to do. In futuristic Chicago, teenagers are put through a series of tests to see what faction they best fit into. Those who do not perform the function they are best suited are deemed “unjust” by Socrates, and should technically be punished. Tris, who did not adhere to any of the five factions, was deemed “divergent,” and hunted down.

It is safe to say that there are clear parallels drawn between the two societies, though one was considered utopic, while the other was dystopic. Perhaps Socrates would support the latter, for it holds his same ideals. One must do what he or she is meant to do.

Celebrity Spotlight: Socrates

April 18, 2015

As I was waiting in line at Javas Cafe down Gibbs street, I wondered what it would be like if I had a chat with Socrates.

First of all, I know I would be interrogated greatly by Socrates about everything. Something that struck out to me though, was Socrates’s explanation that he was not the wisest man.

“What ever is the god saying,
and what riddle is he posing? For I am conscious that I am not at all
wise, either much or little. So what ever is he saying when he
claims that I am wisest? Surely he is not saying something false, at
least; for that is not sanctioned for him.” (The Apology, 21b)

Like the majority of the Athenians, this was taken by surprise that Socrates’s, the man who can easily bash and interrogate and argue with any kind of subject of life disagrees with the oracle of Delphi  statement that he is not the wisest man, and being Socrates, he goes and interrogates men who were highly esteemed of wisdom-first the politicians, then poets then craftsmen, and concludes that none of them have knowledge but rather that their “wisdom” is not in fact wisdom but came from some sort of inspiration. Socrates agrees that possibly he is the wisest because he knows he is not the wisest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qob4Rg6sJZk This video gives a good summary of Socrates’s  point of view.

This part of the Apology caught my attention because Socrates is basically a ancient greek celebrity. Although he didn’t have the most appropriate attitude most of the time, and back then his wisdom basically put him to death, we still study about Socrates and his life and his knowledge. But why do we study about someone who isn’t really a hero or the typical “great” man that everyone looks up to?

Even though Socrates was hated so much it’s hard to deny that he wasn’t clever. He most definitely was. So if I were to ask Socrates. “why are we studying about your wisdom in school?” What would he say?

I can imagine him take a sip of his black coffee, and mention that he knows he is not the wisest man, and that he doesn’t even know why we are learning about him. But that every idea mentioned about society and politics are in fact true, even after 2,500 years. Our society today just proves Socrates ideas, and we are the examples of Socrates’s ideas of society, politics, knowledge, virtue etc. Although not everything is in fact as planned by some of his ideas, Socrates would say it’s because there are those who have corrupted society by not learning and practicing philosophy, as he takes another sip of his bitter coffee. No sugar, no cream. “It’s simple”, he would say, “as long as you stop playing cello and continue learning about philosophy, you can live your life with the highest value of life.” That, is where I dismiss myself containing my annoyance and walk out. He takes another sip of his coffee in peace.


Nihilism as a Basis for Society

March 9, 2015


It seems to me as though most people begin life with a sense of happiness that encourages an achievement of his/her hopes and dreams. For example, small children wake up at the crack of dawn every day excited about the new things that they are going to discover. Life is pleasure. As children grow older, this excitement to wake up and experience the world diminishes. They fake sickness to stay home from school and instead immerse themselves in material pleasures such as television and video games. The more that they are forced to experience the agony of being involved in things that they don’t want to do, the more they dislike life itself and escape in materialistic pleasures. In this way, the society we live in promotes nihilism.

I myself have been told many times that it doesn’t matter if I want to do something because it has to get done whether I like it or not. So, in order to force myself to endure this agony I will promise myself some sort of materialistic reward once I reach the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, recently I had a big paper due that I hadn’t started at all and had procrastinated until the last moment. I encouraged myself to write this paper by rewarding myself with a cookie after I finished each section of the paper. This reward of food offered an escape from the agony of writing the paper and helped me get through the tasks of the day by indulging in materialistic pleasures.

These materialistic rewards aren’t just seen in college life, but are also seen in everyday jobs throughout society. Many people grudgingly force themselves to go to work every day while  disliking many aspects of what they do. But, they keep working in the hopes of having a wealthy retirement or a nice vacation to distract them from the lives that they live and the world itself. From a very young age, people have been shown that they must do what they don’t want to do and that this can be made up for with rewards and materialism. For this reason, we now see the epidemic of material consumerism that creates the platform for today’s society.


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.


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.