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.

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Finding the easy way thru life?

April 26, 2015

We can all agree on the fact life sucks at one point or another. No matter what background we come from, we all are challenged by everyday circumstances that test our will and character. This inevitable struggle through life is a shining poster child for nihilism, which is an understandable standpoint of coping with life’s hardships. I believe these hardships we encounter are reflective to what we have experienced in the past, which aspects of our conflicts have been addressed and, consequently, which aspects we haven’t resolved. What’s more, I believe these unresolved problems we harbor contribute to one’s overly self-conscious and insecurities which can lead to the rejection of reality.

We have seen this rejection of reality in class when we read the Allegory of the Cave. When the man returned to the cave after seeing the outside world, the reaction of the other prisoners was indifferent to what new ideas he may have. Existentially speaking, wouldn’t the idea of one’s reality being shattered by an outside force be alarming? Of course, this man shouldn’t completely trust the delinquents of the cave to understand his point of view, but rather view them as just delinquents. This then brings up the point that the life of a philosopher would be rather lonely, considering his reality and understanding is unique and shared by few.

What this post is addressing is not the lifelong objective of the philosopher, but those poor men left behind in the cave. What does one do in light of alternative, possibly superior knowledge? Do we attempt to defend our pride and ego against these outside forces? Or should we accept that which we might not understand and embrace the outside influence? I believe it is our duty as human beings to progressively be seeking out far more superior realities in order to progress through life. If the theory of the Form of the Good is true, and holds immeasurable merit, striving to accomplish the most just way of life is the only true way to live.


Finding more instance similar to the fate of Socrates

April 10, 2015

After talking and discussing Socrates’ apology, I started wondering if there were any parallels of the state’s accusation of “corrupting the youth” to today’s world and society and if Socrates would have the same gripes with our society today than he did when he was criticizing Athens’ values and reasoning for his actions.

When thinking about similar circumstances to that of Socrates, The first things that came to mind were the Salem Witch trials and McCarthyism. Although they’re not quite the same circumstance, all three of the situations featured accused and punished people for crimes that were not necessarily crimes. Both McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials were issues because the perceived safety and matters of the state were valued higher than the matters of the family and the values of the state emphasized and were set firmly on the importance of conformity, consensus, and compliance. And all share and ideal figure or thought that must be upheld. For Athens, it was Achilles and his sacrifice, for McCarthyism, it was capitalism and the abolishment of all its enemies, and for the Witch trials, it was the notion of purity and godliness or piety. Dissent or wavering thought, in McCarthyism was treated with immediate accusations of un-patriotism and the intense suspicion of being a communist, which was on par with being an outright traitor and corruptor of the youth. The Salem trials treated different thought or behavior as a sign of witchcraft and a sign of anything ungodly.

In the McCarthy era, those who were accused of being a communist were most often accused because, like Socrates, they were criticizing society’s current values and could gain an audience to their concerns. Similar to Socrates’ situation where, instead of admitting that he corrupted the youth or committed a crime, he debated why what he did was considered illegal and how instead, he was improving society, those accused in both the McCarthy era and the Salem trials were required to admit their guilt and their wrong doing to be freed from persecution and those who did not and maintained that they were innocent were left punished for the suspicion of a crime.

I thought this was interesting to tie into our discussion about the apology because sometimes I feel as though the struggles and philosophies that we talk about are outdated and unproblematic for our world today, which is the same thing I first thought about the apology. The fact that someone could be killed because they challenged the vales of society seemed unrealistic for today because we seem more reasonable than that but I was able to find similar situations that are much more recent that show the relevance of these topics to modern times.


At the risk of running afoul of British authorities…

March 14, 2015

One curious difficulty that emerges when teaching Plato’s “Apology” is that students often have a difficult time understanding how Socrates could be put on trial for things like corrupting the youth and impiety. At least according to the social studies textbooks students read in 8th grade, the U.S. (and “western societies” in general) have realized that freedom of speech is an essential value, and we have declared that religious worship is an individual matter. The government should not coerce speech, nor should it dictate which God or gods one worships (or does not worship, as the case may be). So Socrates’ trial seems to be an anachronism, perhaps an historical curiosity, but also one with rather few contemporary implications.

In class, I tried to refute this assumption by presenting Socrates’ position in different terms. Socrates isn’t interested in what we call freedom of speech or freedom of religion; he is, I argued, offering a meditation on the fraught relation between politics and philosophy, or between the appearances that sway public opinion, and the philosopher’s orientation toward a truth that transcends such appearances and opinions.

However, I leave this aside for now so as to focus on this contemporary concern about impiety and corruption of the youth. The British government has now published its final version of what it calls the “Prevent” program, which is a counter-terrorism policy designed to prevent youths from being drawn into terrorist networks. The premise of this program is that people are first drawn into “extremist” networks by being exposed to:

vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of the armed forces.

To prevent exposure to such extremist beliefs, “All relevant curriculum areas will need to be engaged, with a single contact point for delivery of Prevent-related activity.” So here we have a call for a curriculum review to prevent students from being exposed to anti-democratic ideas or ideas that challenge individual liberties, and compliance with these principles will be “monitored centrally via the Home Office and through appropriate inspection regimes in each sector.”

I hope the themes of the “Apology” are apparent here. The Prevent guidelines are more or less explicitly concerned with the corruption of the youth, and they have set up certain values (“democracy,” “individual liberty,” and so on) have effectively been set up as gods, such that any challenging of those attitudes becomes an act of impiety.

It is not too much of a stretch to say that these guidelines, if taken literally, would mean the end of political philosophy. Historically speaking, almost no philosophers defend democracy or individual liberty (Plato, as we’ll see, detested such ideas). Even those who defend some notion of democracy often have bad things to say about it. But of course, not to worry: It seems quite unlikely that the overseers of the Prevent guidelines will use them to prevent the teaching of Plato. Rather, it seems much more likely that these guidelines will be used (and abused) to target other groups. I’ll leave it to you all to figure out who these other groups might be….


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.


Socrates and Justice

May 6, 2011

The Republic offers a very interesting array of definitions of the term justice, and the development between each of the definitions is what really catches attention as a reader. From Thsymachus’, justice is the advantage of the stronger, to some of the definitions we came up with in class that dealt with morals and power, the question comes up as what really determines what is right or wrong? Isn’t justice the way of determining what is right and wrong? If justice is harmony between the three parts of the soul, then what does that make our own legal justice system?

My own realization is basically this. Our legal justice system is composed of people who have learned as much as they can about past experiences of right and wrong in order to do the best they can to determine whether a persons actions fit their impression of what is just and what is unjust. A good judge who would make a well-guessed decision would be familiar with the Socratic form of justice and maybe even use it to keep their own judgment as clear and clean as possible, maintaining the strength and dignity necessary to rule over a challenging trial. Were nothing but reason involved in the justice system, you’d get nothing but trials like OJ Simpson’s. An answer is ignored despite obvious evidence, because one link is missing in the grand scheme of a brutal murder and because of the combination of reason and the appetites of fame and fortune, a shrunken glove is proof of innocence. A spiritually engaged trial would have probably been ruled differently, however when something is ruled entirely by spiritual guidance, trials end up biased. It seems that most unfair trials are the result of either lack of knowledge or lack of balance within the soul. When a trial becomes about something other than justice, which it seems that it has in many cases throughout the United States legal system as well as around the world, the trial is either useless or creates another evil where justice should have been. For example, when a religious group begins to take action against something that has no real place in their religion or the members personal lives, it becomes an issue that they aggressively parade against to the point where it causes more harm than good. Wars in the middle east, crusades, all the violence the Jews have faced throughout history, even social issues in America like gay marriage and equal rights are all things that have been put on trial and heavily examined by a group of people who have deemed themselves fit to oversee and control another party. This is not a form of justice, even though in many cases a system of justice is involved. Bold issues and conflicts stem from fundamental beliefs of superiority and other false things that cause twice as much trouble as they should. No situation where people have been put to trial and the result has been biased or untrue has the right to be called justice, or be part of a set system of justice. Which is why Socrates’ definition of justice is so fitting for most any situation. When conflict has arisen and emotions rise; reason, spirit, and appetites last. If you can rationalize what has occurred and search for what is going to make your soul be at rest, justice should happen incidentally. Also, in this way of thought, very little crime would happen to begin with, therefore someone deciding these things should only have to deal with rare instances where people were “off-key” with their souls. Regardless, with a concept of justice that follows what Socrates supports, little conflict and crime would arise in society.


I’m sure someone has blogged about this already

May 6, 2011

So, I’m sure you’ve heard, Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2nd 2011. Since this has happened, an unbelievable stream of media and news stories have erupted, and there has been much controversy over the action of the US going in and killing this man, despite his reputation as one of the most evil and most wanted criminals of all time. Especially since the peace and hope loving president Obama has been the one to order this attack, it seems to be more of a shock than a pleasant surprise. Between the suddenness and unexpectedness of this action, as well as the 9 hour car ride home, I spoke with my conservative minded father about this change of wind.

While many see it as a convenient timing for Obama to receive more credibility and backing in the “tough guy” department, my dad who I assumed would be opposed to any sort of Obama glorification at all seemed to be pretty happy with the recent series of events. While someone’s death is never a reason to celebrate, not many can say they will miss Osama Bin Laden, and my dad is currently thinking along those lines. He, like many, appreciate our countries lasting efforts to make a worldwide statement against terrorism and improve the safety and image of our country. However, does this really improve the safety and image of our country? My dad seems to think that completing what you start is a matter of great importance, and I agree, however while our country’s persistence is something to be admired, the whole entity of this war and the past ten years has been nothing to approve of.  Regardless of Osama’s unspeakable deeds that caused many deaths and other horrible events, killing anyone, even a truly evil man, is nothing to flaunt or brag about. With t-shirts being made and photo-shopped photos of Obama saying slanderous jokes and rejoicing in the death of our enemy, all America has done is turn the opportunity for a little bit of redemption for our countries piggish-image into even more piggish image. Thankfully, Obama has done an amazing job giving appropriate speeches and deciding not to release the photos to the public. Looking around the internet, the media doesn’t need anymore photos than what they’ve created for themselves. I can only imagine what our “culture” would do if some of its people were given pictures of dead Osama and the like. As someone else discussed in a blog post, a noble lie is being put to use by keeping information about the killing from the masses. This is for the best, nothing but further proof of the total desolace of the American society would be created by allowing such potent information to be leaked into the public. While this event is one of the true victories of the decade and even of the century, America in its current state is doing its best to turn it into a funny viral scam. This is something that I, as well as my dad, and probably Socrates as well were he around, find disgusting. Osama received justice as it should be, in my opinion. In the opinion of countless Americans, Osama received “a proper ass-kicking”. What a disgusting thing to relate to such an influential event, that will hopefully turn things around for modern America.